There is no sensible snow adventurist that will venture out without having one of the best avalanche beacons in their arsenal. It is a piece of rescue gear that is critical in transmitting and locating a person that gets buried in the snow. As dreadful as it may sound, instances of an avalanche burying people is not uncommon on the slopes. If you’re going out in the backcountry, it is essential that you have an avalanche beacon, snow shovel, and a good pair of crampons.
Depending on where you may be located in the world, avalanche beacons are also called avalanche transceivers. However, we will be using the term avalanche beacons throughout this post for the purpose of consistency and easy reference.
For cross-country skiers, this essential gear is of utmost importance. Some of the reasons why you need the best avalanche beacons for the countryside include:
- Transmitting and receiving radio signals about the location of the skiers.
- Locating where an avalanche victim is buried in the snow.
However, beyond its safety functions, it is just common sense to use an avalanche beacon while out in the snow. If you are in a group, it also shows your respect towards the other group members. After all, it can be fun to fly down a slope and explore the beauty of the white-capped mountains as a solo skier. But it takes the collective effort of a group in case of eventual rescue.
If you have a level of experience in snow activities such as skiing, you are well aware that there are two types of avalanche beacons – digital and analog. You should also have no problem narrowing down on the best avalanche beacons for your gear. But for someone new or outside the industry, it can be quite a challenge to select the best avalanche beacons.
Therefore, we have compiled the four best avalanche beacons (in our opinion!).
Let’s start the review.
1. Pieps Micro BT Button –Editor’s Choice.
Pieps Micro BT Button Avalanche Beacon Review
Product Name: Pieps Micro BT Button
Product Description: The Pieps Micro BT Button has three antennas and a generous display. It consists of water-repellent components and a hard case. The only manual button on the beacon is the send/search, but it also switches automatically when the user gets buried in the snow. The Micro BT Button is Bluetooth compatible and also has a vibration motor and a proximity sensor.
Offer price: $292.46
Ease of Use
- This beacon comes with triple antenna for picking up signals up to 50 meters.
- It is Bluetooth compatible and has a vibration motor and proximity sensor.
- This product eliminates interface by picking up only verified 457kHz signal.
- It has a large display with send/search manual button.
- The beacon allows equipment check for self and group.
- Small and lightweight.
- Excellent antenna.
- Water-repellent components.
- Outstanding battery life.
- A proximity sensor is not up to expectation.
- Price is on the higher side.
The first beacon on our list is this small yet fantastic one from Pieps. It is easily one of the smallest avalanche beacons on the market. But don’t be fooled by its tiny size, because it packs a punch!
As expected from the best devices, this beacon comes with three antennas. The transmission on this one is outstanding with a 50m range. Another excellent feature that we love on this beacon is that it switches from search to send automatically in case the user gets buried. This feature also makes it an excellent choice for beginners.
Despite its small size, the display on this beacon is a considerable size. You will have no problems reading from it irrespective of the weather conditions. The beacon also allows you and others in the group to perform extensive equipment checks – both self and group. Its compatibility with Bluetooth devices is also a feature that we love.
In addition to its stellar features, the materials in this beacon are also water-resistant. Moreover, the hard case harness comes in very handy while using and storing it. Overall, this is a very efficient avalanche beacon, which is rightfully our top choice.
Summary of our review.
Overall, this compact avalanche beacon can easily rival premium and massive beacons. It is lightweight yet has fantastic features which make it a champion in the countryside. Apart from its stellar antenna and the ability to eliminate interface, the battery is also long-lasting. The proximity sensor is sometimes hit and miss, but its other features make up for it.
Check out our full review of the Pieps Micro BT Button.
2. Backcountry Access Tracker S Avalanche Beacon Transceiver – Best Value.
Backcountry Access Tracker S Avalanche Beacon Review
Product Name: Backcountry Access Tracker S Avalanche Beacon
Product Description: The Tracker S comes with three antennas and picks up 457 kHz of frequency. Its LED display is a good size and is also temperature resistant. In addition, the big picture mode scans larger areas at once. Other mentionable features are multiple burial indicator, close proximity indicator, mute mode, and signal suppression modes.
Offer price: $224.96
Ease of Use
- It has three antennas that pick up 457 kHz of frequency.
- The LED display is temperature resistant.
- The proximity sensor indicates multiple people.
- It has an auto revert mode that activates for five minutes.
- The beacon comes with a big picture mode for scanning areas that are more extensive.
- Multiple burial indicators.
- Can scan large area at once.
- No static sound while booting.
- Reasonable pricing.
- Auto revert mode is only for five minutes before it needs activation.
- Displays only two digits on the screen.
- Reception range could be better.
Our choice of the best value avalanche beacon is a great performer as well. There is nothing fancy about this beacon, whether in terms of design or features. But that is what makes it efficient in the snow.
In fact, this beacon is a simple version of the fancier Tracker3. The Tracker S, which stands for simplicity, obviously does not include all the features in the original. However, this beacon works great as it picks frequencies up to 457 kHz through its three antennas. Most avalanche beacons come with three antennas, but this beacon can easily outperform them.
Another feature about the Tracker S’s antennae is that it does not have the annoying sound that is synonymous with the Tracker3. If you are familiar with the T3, this video game-like sound pierces your ear, especially during boot-up, and is extremely distracting and irritating. In this regard, the TS wins by a mile.
Other features that are outstanding in the Tracker S are the scan mode and the proximity sensor, which senses multiple burials in the snow. You will also find that the battery life in this beacon is top-notch. It works on three AAA batteries, so it gives you enough power for any activity in the snow.
On the flip side, this beacon only displays two people and two digits on the screen, which can feel a bit restricting. However, considering its reasonable pricing, it can be overlooked.
Summary of our review.
This digital avalanche beacon does not come with advanced features like the T3. However, with its smaller size and addition of features such as the multiple burial indicator, it is reliable in the countryside. In addition, it has a good battery life, which is what you expect from a great device, especially while you are out in the wild.
Check out our full review of the Backcountry Access Tracker S.
3. Black Diamond Guide BT Avalanche Beacon – Premium Pick.
Black Diamond Guide BT Avalanche Beacon Review
Product Name: Black Diamond Guide BT
Product Description: The Black Diamond Guide BT has three antennas and a range of 60 meters. It is Bluetooth compatible, as well as other analog beacons. The switch, as well as the contact points, are soft-touch housed inside a sturdy body. Its features include multiple burial detection, easy angle assessment, direction, and distance indication, among others.
Offer price: $349.29
Ease of Use
- It has a circular range of 60 meters.
- The beacon is compatible with Bluetooth and other analog beacons.
- Its soft-touch contact points inside a professional grade body.
- The beacon has multiple burial detections with mark and scan functions.
- It supports both alkaline and lithium batteries.
- Outstanding circular range.
- Excellent battery life.
- Compact and easy to carry.
- Compatible with multiple devices.
- Does not display the transmitting frequency.
- The pro/guide mode is not user-friendly.
- Carries a premium price tag
Black Diamond needs no introduction when it comes to mountaineering gear. Their products have always been top-notch, and this beacon is no different. Let’s start with the design features on this one.
This beacon has an ergonomic design with soft-touch contact points. It is easy to use and is, of course, very convenient. The display is by no means large, but it works great. It has a light blue-switch on the side that is also a good addition. Another practical addition to this beacon is the carrying pouch that has a harness-style design.
Similar to other great beacons on this list, the Guide BT also has three antennas. This avalanche beacon has one of the best circular ranges, which is up to 60 meters. It is also compatible with Bluetooth. It also works with older analog models through the continuous carrier mode. This beacon can also be optimized with the PIEPS mobile app, so upgrading the software is very easy.
In addition to its outstanding range, this beacon also has the best battery life of any of the beacons we tested. With up to 400 hours of send life, this beacon beats out the others by a mile. It runs on 3 AAA batteries, which is the best kind battery setup in an avalanche beacon. It is no wonder that this avalanche beacon is an award winner.
Something we would like to point out about this beacon is its striking resemblance to the Pieps Pro BT. The features are very similar, and in addition, Black Diamond is the company that owns Pieps. The only way the two beacons can be easily differentiated is the color of the switches. Pieps Pro BT has bright yellow switches while the BD Guide BT has a blue switch.
Summary of our review.
This avalanche beacon carries a premium price. But it has all the features to make it a total standout from the other beacons. With a range of 60 meters, it has one of the best circular ranges in any avalanche beacon on the market. Moreover, the battery life in this beacon is about 400 hours, which is remarkable on its own.
Check out our full review of the Black Diamond Guide BT.
4. ARVA Evo5 Avalanche Beacon – Best Overall.
Arva Evo 5 Avalanche Beacon Review
Product Name: Arva Evo 5
Product Description: The ARVA Evo5 has three antennas and a digital range of 50 meters. LED is a good size with backlit function in low light. The buttons on this avalanche beacon are glove-friendly. Important features in the Evo5 include mark function, group check, and multiple burial indicator. The beacon also includes a carry strap.
Offer price: $239.96
Ease of Use
- Three antennas and a digital range of 50 meters.
- Large LED screen with backlit function.
- Flagging button and three-position slider that is glove-friendly.
- Multiple burial indicator functions.
- The software can be updated.
- It is compact, and lightweight design makes it very portable.
- This model is extremely easy to use as it does not come with a complex setting or complicated user interfaces.
- Offers exceptionally good real-time victim marking.
- It’s large LED screen allows the messages to be displayed in words.
- It has a 50 meter range, which is more than enough for most skiers.
- This beacon comes with two years warranty from the date of purchase. It does not include battery leak damage, removing the battery when not in use is advised.
- Battery features could be improved.
- The auto-revert function is fixed.
- Send/search switch is not very smooth.
Our pick of the best overall avalanche beacon is a stellar gadget in every sense. It is incredibly lightweight and is just a little heavier than the Pieps Micro BT Button. This beacon also comes with three antennas and a range of 50 meters. This excellent digital range is one of the best features of this avalanche beacon.
In terms of design, the Evo5 is also a champ. It is significantly smaller than its predecessor the Evo4, but the screen size is not compromised. In fact, it is of considerable size and also has a backlit feature. You will not have an issue using this beacon in low light. Other notable features of this beacon are the flagging button and the position slider. These buttons are also glove and mitten friendly.
When it comes to features, this beacon does not compromise at all. It has automatic modes for revert to transit, U-turn alarm, group check, and interference management. It also has a multiple burial indicator that shows more than three people at a time. These features are extremely useful while you are in the countryside and can literally be lifesaving additions. In addition to its excellent features, this beacon also has a carry strap for added convenience.
Quite contrary to its other excellent features, the battery life on this beacon is a bit of a let down. It uses the power of 1 AAA battery, which will give you enough power for a single session of skiing. However, it is not suitable for rescue missions.
Summary of our review.
This avalanche beacon hits the right balance of great features and performance. It has one of the best digital ranges in a beacon. But apart from this feature, the backlit display and the multiple burial indicators are some of the features that make this beacon one of our top favorites.
Check out our full review of the Arva Evo 5.
How we chose the best avalanche beacons.
There are numerous reviews and buying guides on avalanche beacons. However, what sets us apart from all of those is our strict selection policy. To bring you a curated list and the best information on the beacons, we have referred to some criteria to choose the avalanche beacons on our list.
We are sharing these criteria in this section.
For the majority of online shoppers, the first section they head to is the reviews. Aside from its many advantages, the internet is a great place where people share their honest experiences with the online community. Up to 90% of potential buyers make their decisions based on online reviews.
The best part of checking out the reviews is that these are independent reviews and are totally unbiased. Therefore, in our attempt to bring you the best avalanche beacons, we took a thorough look at online reviews. Since the reviews are very influential in the decision-making process, we couldn’t overlook this goldmine of information.
Features of the beacons.
Another important criterion while choosing the avalanche beacons is the features. Similar to other gadgets and devices, avalanche beacons are packed with features. Nevertheless, some of them win over the others by a significant degree. For instance, most beacons come with transmission range. But some of them have ranges of 60 meters, which keeps them ahead of many other beacons with lower ranges.
But out in the countryside where every second becomes precious, nothing but the best avalanche beacons will do. Therefore, we compared several beacons and their features against each other before settling on the ones on our list.
Price versus performance.
The price of avalanche beacons is a very subjective manner. Nevertheless, we decided to include it as one of the criteria to choose the beacons on our list. However, we made sure that we did not cross the $400 range and keep it below this figure.
Avalanche beacons are not your everyday electronic gadgets. They are literally lifesaving equipment. So, we took careful consideration to not have any on this list that we didn’t feel confident could stand up to that weight. Similarly, the features were also a deciding factor in their pricing. But the price of the beacons needed to not overshadow the performance on the field.
The brand name of the avalanche beacons was also a deciding criterion. This is because brands that have been in the avalanche gear industry have an in-depth knowledge about what works and what does not. Many of these brands have also kept refining and upgrading their devices. And this has become detrimental to the beacons’ overall performance. On top of that, we feel much more confident recommending an avalanche beacon made by a company with a history of good customer service and reliability.
So, although we are quite open to trying out the new brands on the market, there was no way we could ignore the credible companies too.
Features to look for in avalanche beacons.
If you are in the avalanche gear business, you know the features of the best avalanche beacons like the back of your hands. However, if you are outside the industry and are just trying out these gadgets, it can be challenging to settle on just one. That being said, here are the features in an avalanche beacon that are non-negotiable.
Type of the beacon.
There are two types of avalanche beacons, as we have briefly mentioned – digital and analog.
- Digital Avalanche Beacons – These are the most common types of avalanche beacons, and they are also the easiest to use. Digital beacons typically have multiple antennas as well as microprocessors. These beacons use a combination of visual display and audible signals to relay precise information. In the case of snow burials, the distance and the direction of the victim’s location are also displayed.
- Analog Avalanche Beacons – These beacons have a wider range than digital beacons. They also come with multiple antennas. Moreover, the being sound they produce as you get nearer to a buried person is a great advantage. However, analog beacons have a bit of a learning curve and require some time to use efficiently.
Most of the older models of avalanche beacons had just one antenna. Thankfully, this is not the case anymore. Modern-day avalanche beacons typically have multiple antennas with the ability to use them separately. Ideally, the best avalanche beacons should have three antennae, and you should also be able to electronically choose the best one among the three depending on the situation.
The range of the avalanche beacon is a critical feature to consider. Although you may not require this feature all the time, it can be vital in locating someone in an even of snow burial.
You should look for an avalanche beacon that has a range of not less than 50 meters. This excellent range will allow you to search for a buried person and save a life quickly. Some of the best avalanche beacons also have a circular range up to 60 meters, so it increases the search radius significantly. However, these beacons tend to be on the pricier side and are typically classified in the pro category.
The batteries and its performance is another critical feature in an avalanche beacon. There is no predicting the events or how long you will be out during a snow activity. Beacons that have a battery life between 300 and 400 hours is a good choice.
Beacons that use alkaline or AAA batteries also tend to have a better lifespan. On the other hand, rechargeable and lithium batteries have the advantage of getting reused. However, they can drain faster than alkaline batteries. Moreover, the discharging rate of lithium batteries and the beacon battery meters are not compatible. Nevertheless, you should always have spare batteries in your gear irrespective of what type you use.
Multiple burial indicators.
This is another feature in a beacon that you cannot overlook. This feature is critical when locating multiple victims in the snow. The best avalanche beacons with this feature display multiple persons on the screen. In addition, some beacons also have the option to ignore a signal after marking the buried person’s location and proceeding with the search.
Some of the beacons have a user-friendly user interface, while others come with a learning curve. Good working knowledge of the multiple burial indicator is a must for anyone who wants to venture out in the snow. However, multiple burial searches is an advanced feature. So you might want to take a course that will familiarize you with it in a realistic scenario or get someone experienced to show you how it works.
Note: Irrespective of how fancy an avalanche beacon might be, it is only as good as its operator. So familiarizing yourself with the device in a realistic situation is the best way to efficiently use the beacon. Without practice, there is nothing that will prepare you for an emergency in the snow.
What is the best way to wear an avalanche beacon?
As simple as it seems, there is a wrong way to wear an avalanche beacon. It should not be exposed while you use it.
Therefore, the best way to wear an avalanche beacon is under a jacket. At the very least, there should be one layer of clothing between the beacon and the environment. Many times, the beacon is ripped from the body on the impact of an avalanche due to incorrect use.
In this regard, avalanche beacons with straps or other provision to strap it to your body is a good choice. Some of the best brands also have a hard case for secure fit around the body.
What is auto revert mode in a beacon, and why is it important?
Auto revert mode is paramount while you are performing a search. It is especially useful while you are in a location where a second avalanche is still a possibility.
If your avalanche beacon has this feature, it will revert to transmit mode anytime the tracker does not move for more than a minute. This function will kick in, especially in the search mode, which is why it is such an essential feature in a beacon. In most beacons, it will still revert to transmit after about five minutes even if you are on the move and in search mode. In this case, the search mode needs to be manually activated again. The time it takes for the auto revert to kick in differs from one beacon to the other, but most of them have a limit of five minutes.
Is a PLB the same as an avalanche beacon?
A straightforward answer? No.
PLB or Personal Locator Beacon is a device that you use to send an SOS signal. This signal will then be picked up by search and rescue teams in the area. PLB is also called a satellite messenger. PLB can be a useful device in cases where you need to evacuate or are in need of medical support. But although PLB is also a piece of rescue gear, it is not sufficient in case of an avalanche rescue operation.
On the other hand, an avalanche beacon can help you receive and send signals. It can also help you locate a person buried in the snow, provided the device has the features.
In some areas, people in the countryside prefer to use the term transceiver in place of avalanche beacons in order to avoid confusion between the two rescue gears.
Can electronic interference reduce the efficiency of avalanche beacons?
Avalanche beacons work by transmitting radio signals. Therefore, electronic devices such as radios, cameras, headlamps, and cell phones can interfere with their operation. These devices can interfere with the signal leading to problems including:
- Incorrect reading of distance and direction.
- Reduction of signal strength, thereby losing precious time when someone is buried in the snow.
- Some beacons can even display a non-existent beacon, which can be very misleading if you are in a rescue operation.
The best option is to minimize the number of electronic devices you have on you. This will allow the beacon to work its full potential and enhance its effectiveness. When it comes to mobile phones, it is always best to leave it somewhere safe with your gear.
However, if you must take it with you, keep it in airplane or flight mode. It will not interfere with the beacons signal in any way. Plus, it saves the phone’s battery, and you won’t suffer in an emergency.
In addition to electronic devices, metal objects such as knives and magnetic buttons can also interfere with the beacon’s signal. In this case, you can be strategic and place the beacon and metal objects as far away from each other as possible.
Can I use my smartphone as an avalanche beacon?
This is a legit question that has been asked by many people. However, if smartphones could double as an avalanche beacon, the latter would not have been invented and vice versa.
The reason why cell phones cannot be used as beacons is that its antenna cannot pick up 457 kHz. This is the international standard for avalanche beacons. Although a cell phone can receive Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS, it cannot transmit or receive the frequency mentioned earlier.
In addition to this, it is less than ideal trying to navigate a touchscreen with half-frozen fingers. Despite their fantastic uses, cell phones simply do not qualify as avalanche beacons.