Best avalanche beacons for 2020-2021
Heading into the backcountry during winter 2020-2021 and need a new avalanche beacon (also called a “transceiver”)? Then look no further, because we have put together a list of the best avalanche transceivers on the market.
As a personal aside, we do not list the Pieps DSP Sport in this list because its reliability has been called into question by many professional skiers. The lock mechanism, which holds the setting in place (“Send” when you’re skiing and not searching for someone), seems to fail after a while. A few deaths have already been attributed to this occurring, and I personally had my beacon slide out of Send mode at least twice last season. Because of this my wife and I have retired our Pieps DSP Sport beacon and will be investing in new ones this year.
What is an avalanche beacon?
Before we get into the best avalanche beacons for you to consider for winter 2020-2021, let’s talk quickly about what an avalanche beacon is and why you need one if venturing into the backcountry.
Traveling and skiing in backcountry terrain is very different and much riskier than at the ski resort. At the ski resort, ski patrol and other resort staff control for avalanches by a myriad of activities, such as bombing potentially problematic spots with mortars to try to trigger avalanches that otherwise could be triggered by skiers. Because ski resorts are businesses and carry liability, they do all they can to ensure safety on the mountain. This does not mean that avalanches do not ever happen inbounds – they just happen very rarely.
But in the backcountry, avalanches can occur more easily because skiable area has not been controlled. This is why it is recommended that anyone partaking in backcountry skiing (also called “touring”) should take an avalanche course such as the AIARE Level 1.
In that course, you’ll learn about avalanches and avalanche mitigation as well as the gear needed to be safe in the backcountry. This includes your avalanche beacon (usually just referred to as a “beacon”).
Avalanche beacons are worn over one shoulder and around your midsection, with the actual transceiver around the top of your abdomen. They are best worn one to two layers of clothing deep, as long as they are accessible enough via a quick unzip should something go wrong.
Avalanche beacons have three settings:
When you’re not wearing your beacon, it should be turned off and stored with the rest of your gear (according to our backcountry skiing packing checklist). Before you head out each time, do a battery test to ensure your batteries are at least 2/3 full. If not, you should replace them before heading out.
Most (hopefully all!) of the time your beacon will be in Send mode. Turn it on when in the parking lot, do a beacon check with your crew, then get to hammering on the skin track. Your beacon should remain on Send while descending as well, as it is transmitting a signal that others will try to find in the unfortunate (and thankfully unlikely) event you are caught in a slide.
If someone in your party or near you is caught and buried, then you go into rescue mode with the Receive setting. Use your avalanche training to quickly find and uncover the victim, then if qualified treat them for injuries and work to get them out of the backcountry to professional aid.
As you can see, an avalanche beacon worn correctly is one of the best ways to be saved or save someone in the unlikely and unfortunate event someone is caught and carried and buried by an avalanche.
Best avalanche beacons for 2020-2021
With all that explained, here are the best personal avalanche beacons for winter 2020-2021.
We purposefully have not listed the Pieps DSP as it has recently had safety issues where it will slide out of Send Mode at times upon being put into the holster. Pieps has not done a recall and has not admitted responsibility to fix these. We recommend these below instead. I (John) am trashing my own and getting a new beacon for this winter.
Know how to use your beacon!
While we’ve listed the best backcountry skiing and touring beacons for 2020-2021, it is paramount that we mention that buying the best does not guarantee you safety.
The best way to be safe out in the mountains is to know how to use your beacon, practice safe avalanche mitigation and route finding, go with a team you trust and make decisions together, and read the weather and avalanche reports to inform your decision making.
Backcountry skiing is dangerous. Respect the mountains and all their powerful glory.