Transceiver testing

Having just retested the Ortovox 3+ avalanche transceiver and also taken part in a short transceiver practise session at Glenmore Lodge using the BCA Tracker. I got to thinking about the way I am reviewing avalanche transceivers. All the transceivers I have tested in the last couple of years have worked well and in order to distinguish between them I have focused on small quirks or minor flaws that they may have. I have also placed more or less emphasis on these quirks than other testers according to my personal opinion.

After talking to very active guides and instructors on the subject, who have no brand loyalty at all, I came away with the opinion that ‘It doesn’t really matter at all‘. A number of transceivers from a number of brands have quirks when searching which normally occur at a particular distance from the target, under some orientation combinations. All of these quirks (previously problems) are overcome by continuing to move in the direction you were already going. Analogue transceivers worked by allowing you to compare the signal in one location against another. Digital transceivers work by comparing the signal in one antenna against another. A digital transceiver in the hands of someone who doesn’t stand still can do both. The differences in how transceivers deal with the last few metres of the search is mute when you realise that the most current advice is to change to pin pointing whenever your transceiver shows a distance less than 10m. Sure there is slightly better way of doing it, but if you want to get your training done in 15 minutes, (which is the goal of guides and may also encourage those who do no training at all to do some) then this system works.

The simple truth is that if you wear a transceiver and do 15mins practise with it, you will have a good chance of finding a buried person. You would be better off to spend 2 more hours practising with your transceiver or even better reading about avalanche assessment and avoidance than agonising over which transceiver functions best in a triple burial scenario in a poor plane of alignment. If you have a preference then go with that, if you don’t then take a recommendation but the most important thing is to get one, practise a bit, read a lot and then try to stay out of trouble.

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