DTS Trakker/F1/Barryvox Comparisons - This is an informative article, though it does not address the Ortovox M2 which uses the same receiver as the F1, but a different/better visual display of information.
It was in the Anchorage paper on Sunday:
Pete Robinson, a long-time Alaska mountain man, and I checked out three recommended by the state's leading avalanche gurus Doug Fesler and Jill Fredston: DTS Tracker, the Ortovox F1 and the Barryvox.
Pete and I are both familiar with beacons. We have taken avalanche safety classes. We both backcountry ski. And we both have spent lots of time messing around in the backcountry -- Pete, a pioneer of big climbs in the Alaska Range, far more time than me.
The purpose of an avalanche beacon is simple.
When turned on, the beacon transmits a signal. If victim is buried, searchers can switch their beacons to pick up on the signal and hone in on the victim.
An avalanche rescue -- which neither of us have ever done -- can be a dicey, high-pressure task.
In the past 10 to 15 years, manufactures have introduced a number of new beacons with a range of options. Of the ones we looked at, we found that the simplest beacon works best: the DTS Tracker made by Backcountry Access.
The Tracker has a visual read that shows distance from the victim, an arrow which shows the path to take and a beeping sound that increases in frequency as you close in on the buried person.
Fesler says that even young children can search using the Tracker -- a good sign we reckoned as we headed up Bear Valley toward McHugh Peak.
We buried one beacon to emit a signal and practiced. With the Tracker, we picked up a signal about 100 feet away. Following the arrow and listening to the beeps, we went right in.
"This thing is sweet," Pete said.
The only obvious downsides are that the Tracker does not pick up a signal until you are close to the victim. An avalanche debris zone can be huge. A rescuer can waste precious minutes stumbling through the snow to get within 100 feet of a victim.
Another downside, says Kip Melling, an avalanche safety instructor with the Alaska Mountain Safety Center, is that rescuers can get so focused on the Tracker's visual display, they can walk right over visual clues on the surface -- a hat, a ski pole or a glove poking through the snow.
The Tracker lacks some of the bells and whistles of other beacons. But most of us, who are not in the avalanche rescue business, want a beacon that can find bodies quickly. The Tracker works.
Next, we tried out the Ortovox F1, considered the gold standard of beacons for the past decade. This beacon is a proven performer and the choice of many avalanche rescue professionals.
Unlike the Tracker, it has no distance display. It has flashing light which changes colors the closer one gets to the victim. But the primary tool is a beep which gets stronger as one narrows in on the victim.
Pete owns an F1. We have practiced with this beacon before. But in test runs last week, we were noticeably slower with the F1 than the Tracker. With a practiced ear we would no doubt improve, but what's the point?
"It's not even close to the Tracker," Pete said.
The F1 has a couple attributes worth thinking about, say Fesler and Melling.
With practice it can be as fast as the Tracker and can pinpoint a victim more precisely. Also, the beacon can simultaneously pick up two signal tones of different victims. In practice rescues, I've found that for rookies like myself it can be bewildering to sort out the different signals. But for the practiced rescuer, it allows pursuit of multiple victims.
The third beacon we tried was the Barryvox. The beacon is marketed through Mammut -- a Swiss climbing company. Snowboard company Burton also markets this beacon.
Melling likes this beacon. It has a digital display with arrows and a distance readout as well as an audible beep mode. The user can customize the search to his or her preference -- an important attribute for an advanced rescuer, Melling said. Also, it has a function for doing multiple searches.
"The Barryvox may be the beacon of choice for professional searchers because it performs better in complex situations and it gives searches various options on how to search," said Fredston. "The Tracker only has only one method of searching."
Pete and I both disliked the Barryvox. The range is minimal -- close to that of the Tracker. When one moved around quickly, the beacon seemed to blank out for several seconds. Finally, we could not get the beeping mode to work, even after reading the directions and several practice runs.
"Ahh, this thing sucks," Pete said in disgust. With practice and, perhaps, a more careful read of the instructions, we could probably find the upside to the Barryvox. But I've got a Tracker and Pete's got an F1. "Why would you even bother with it?"