Your avalanche beacon is one of the most important pieces of gear you need while in the backcountry wilderness, along with a shovel and probe. Our buying guide will walk you through the different features of the top avalanche beacons on the market for 2021. All beacons featured here are 3 antenna.
Avalanche beacons are a critical safety tool in avalanche terrain. Like any tool, they are only effective if you know how to use them. Read your beacon’s manual thoroughly and learn how to use it before you head out. We highly recommend taking an avalanche education course as well. Make sure you have the necessary safety gear – beacon, shovel, probe – and are educated on the many hazards of winter travel in the backcountry before you hit the trails.
1) Mammut Barryvox
The Barryvox ranks high on the list of our top picks for its processor speed, features, and ease of use. It has a clear, 2 inch depolarized display to help visually guide you to the victim. If you’d rather keep your eyes on the snow, it has loud acoustic search guidance. It has a battery life of 300 hours in send mode and updatable software.
Price – $384.95
Range – 70 meters
Weight – 210 grams
Power – 3 x AAA alkaline batteries
Auto Revert from search to send
In the event of a secondary slide, this beacon will revert to send mode so you can be found. After 4 minutes of inactivity, detected by an internal motion sensor, the Barryvox will assume that a secondary avalanche has occurred and will switch from search mode to send mode.
Multi burial marking
In the event of a multi burial, you can use the flagging button to mark a beacon signal as found. This beacon will then ignore that buried subject and move on to the next closest beacon signal.
Self and group test
This beacon performs a self-test on startup and has a handy group test feature that you can use at the trailhead to check your partners’ beacons. When you turn the beacon on, you’ll press the flag button to bring up the group test screen. When you get close to your partner’s beacon, the skier icon will darken and say go, indicating that your partner’s beacon is sending properly.
2) Mammut Barryvox S
If you love Mammut’s Barryvox but want some more functionality, check out the Barryvox S. It’s our top choice for pros. The Barryvox S brings you all of the great qualities of the Barryvox with a ton of extra features. You get a blazing fast processor, an easy-to-use interface, and a 70 m range. In send mode you’ll get 300 hours with alkaline batteries and 400 hours with lithium batteries.
Price – $549.95
Range – 70 meters
Weight – 210 grams
Power – 3 x AAA alkaline batteries
- Visual interface shows distance, direction and number of buried subject
- Smart search interacts with rescuer’s actions
- Buried subjects can be selected from a list, mark and un-mark
- Auto guidance guides the rescuer to the buried subject in the event of signal failures or overlaps
- Vital data from a 3D sensor
- Advanced, configurable search settings including pro search, acoustic and visual guidance, Auto Revert
- Alternative search mode (analog mode)
- Personalize the start screen and texts
- Uses W-Link for additional communication and improved search performance
3) Ortovox Diract
The Diract is a simple, easy-to-use beacon with great features. It provides audio and visual support for coarse and fine search and is designed with an added safety measure, Smart Antenna Technology, to help you be found faster. It also has a Recco reflector to help searchers find you. The Ortovox Diract has a rechargeable, low-temperature, battery that is especially long-lasting and environmentally friendly. It has a clear, illuminated display and intuitive acoustics to guide you to your victims. You can get automatic updates via the free Ortovox app (Apple iOS & Android)
Price – $320.00
Range – 40 meters
Weight – 210 grams
Power – Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery
Multi Burial Flagging
Use the flag button to hide a signal during a multi-burial event. Once that signal is hidden, the Diract will locate the next closest signal and begin directing you towards it.
Self Test and Partner Check
A self-test is performed every time you power on the Diract. The beacon tests its transmitter, receiver, smart antenna, and sensors. To check your partner’s beacons, turn the Diract into search mode and turn it on. Hold down the flagging button until PC appears. One at a time, you can test each beacon within a 1 m range. If your partner’s beacon is fully functional, EO will be displayed on the screen.
Smart Antenna Technology
This unique feature of the Diract and Diract Voice will ensure that you send out the strongest possible signal regardless of your orientation in the snow if you are buried. It determines your position and chooses the best transmission antenna accordingly.
Auto Switch to Send
If you are caught in a secondary avalanche while searching for a buried victim, this beacon will automatically switch from search mode to send mode. A motion sensor will detect inactivity, and after two minutes the Diract will give a 10-second warning tone and then switch from search mode to transmit mode.
4) Black Diamond Recon Guide BT
We are excited about Black Diamond’s new beacon, the Guide BT. It has unique features like bluetooth compatibility and a built in inclinometer to measure slope angle. It has an incredible battery life, 400 hours with alkaline batteries and 600 hours with lithium batteries. This beacon is a great choice for those that ski with a pup. It’s compatible with the Pieps TX600 dog transmitter, so you can keep your furry friend safe on the trails.
Price – $479.95
Range – 60 meters
Weight – 225 grams
Power – 3 x AAA alkaline or lithium batteries
Scan and mark for multiple burials
Using the flag button, you can mark (and un-mark) a beacon signal. This tells your beacon to ignore that signal and locate the next closest victim in a multi-burial situation. There are two scan modes, regular and detailed. The regular scan feature gives you an overview of the number of buried victims within a distance range. The detailed scan mode directs you to each buried victim and allows signal selection.
Auto Antenna Switch
If any external interference impacting the transmitting antenna is detected, the beacon will automatically switch to transmit from the other antenna to send the best signal possible.
You can manage the Guide BT directly through the Pieps mobile app via Bluetooth connection. You can manage settings, update software, enable certain features, and optimize battery from your smartphone. There are also tons of avalanche education training tools on the Pieps mobile app. *There is a risk of this beacon not transmitting when in Bluetooth mode, so make sure to disable Bluetooth before heading out into the field.
Auto Search to Send
This feature can be enabled through the Pieps App device manager. Once enabled, if there is a secondary slide this beacon will switch from search to send after a specified amount of time of inactivity (60s, 90s, or 120s).
Self and group checks
A self check on start up ensures all antennas are functioning properly. A regular and extended group check can be performed with the Guide BT. Extended group check is recommended for checking older beacons.
5) Backcountry Access Tracker 4
The new Tracker 4 is even further updated for this year. It has a lightning fast processor, rubberized over-molded case, a larger LED display, and long battery life, 250 hours in transmit and 50 hours in search. Acoustics help guide you to your victim but you also have the option of turning off the sound in mute mode. Like the other beacons in this review, you can update the Tracker 4’s software.
Signal suppression mode lets you ignore the closest signal for one minute. This gives you enough time to lock onto the next closest beacon signal when there is a multi-burial.
If you haven’t moved in one minute, or if more than 5 minutes have gone by in search mode, the Tracker 4 will automatically switch from search to send mode, protecting you in the event of a secondary slide.
Big Picture Mode
This mode helps you get an overview of a multi-burial scenario and allocate resources efficiently. When you’re in big picture mode, the Tracker 4 will pick up all transmitting signals within range and give you a general direction and distance to those signals.
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Former park ranger turned writer/marketer. Always down for a sufferfest, as long as it ends with ice cream. Favorite activities include backcountry skiing, trail running, and backpacking.