The 5 Best Avalanche Beacons – [2021 Reviews]

Stay safe skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry with an avalanche beacon, we look at the years top models.

Our Editors independently research, test, and rate what we feel are the best products. We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.

Ever wondered how they get those sick skiing shots of big mountain powder riding with the dude jumping over a pine tree? Backcountry skiing and boarding involves first climbing a mountain and then skiing or riding down it.

Sounds fun, right? Well, all that fluffy white powder comes with a price – avalanche danger.

When skiing, riding, or snowmobiling in the backcountry there are no ski patrollers coming to rescue you if you get injured. Avalanche danger is very real and you’ll be on your own to deal with any potential ramifications.

This means carrying your own supply of avalanche safety gear such as transceiver, probe, shovel and of course an avalanche beacon. In this article, we’ll talk about what to look for in an avalanche beacon (transceiver) and how to choose one.

Best Avalanche Beacon

 Black Diamond Pieps DSP SportBackcountry Access Tracker 3Backcountry Access Tracker S
editors choice
Run Time:200+ hour run time250+ hour run time200+ hour run time
Range:160+ ft range150+ ft range165+ ft range
Features:Three antennas plus a self-checking reference antenna Real-time display, plus a third receiving antennaThree antennas plus a self-checking reference antenna

For more of my ski gear recommendations, have a look through these popular Outside Pursuits guide links: Ski Jackets, Ski Pants, Base Layers.

Quick Answer: The 5 Best Rated Avalanche Beacons For 2021

  1. Black Diamond Pieps DSP Sport Avalanche Beacon
  2. Backcountry Access Tracker 3 Beacon 2015 B-30000
  3. Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon
  4. Backcountry Access Tracker S Avalanche Beacon
  5. Mammut Barryvox S Avalanche Beacon

Our reviews of the top rated avalanche beacons with our buyers guide will help you choose the right beacon for you.

Avalanche Beacon Reviews

This is a solid new-age transceiver that comes from a company focused on great backcountry gear.

Black Diamond has one of the best reps in the industry and I’ve yet to see a bad product from them – this company is used to making gear people depend on for their lives.

Circular ranging technology allows the beacon to search in a more complete path.

The beacon automatically adjusts to optimize itself for multiple-burial scenarios and allows you to mark locations. Works with older analog beacons, too!

PIEPS Sport and Pro Beacons

It’s also possible to keep the device software updated via a USB link cable so that you’ll have the best beacon on the market for years. Round it all off with a harness-style carrying pouch for security and ease of access.

It’s pretty hard to find a beacon packing more features than this one and the 200+ hour run time and 160+ ft range is pretty darn solid.

Like the Black Diamond PIEPS DPS Sport, this beacon runs on three antennas and three batteries. This allows the maximum efficiency in signal reception and location.

BCA guarantees at minimum one hour of battery life in search mode after 200 hours in transmit mode. That’s a really reliable number I’d feel pretty confident in.

This digital unit shows distance and direction when receiving and has a super streamlined interface featuring minimal information to make it easier to use in emergency situations which can be high stress.

Multiple-burial indicator will light up when the unit detects more than one signal in the search zone and a special use button allows for practice modes and battery level indication. This is a really cool, sleek design that will wear and use easily.

If you’re looking for the absolute simplest to use transceiver on the market right now, this is probably it. Sharing most of the details and styling of the DSP Sport and similar features.

High contrast display is optimized for great readability in any lighting condition and the screen is kept simple with only a few readouts.

Exact signal processing using any combination of three on-board antennas provides redundancy and accuracy.

Auto-search-to-send mode changes the beacon from search mode to send mode if the beacon ceases to move for a duration of time – a great backup feature.

Tracker S™ Avalanche Beacon - How it Works

Scan function gives you overview capability of all buried beacons in the range which is one of the largest ranges on the market at 55m.

On board inclinometer is a great avalanche awareness tool and with a 200-hour transmit time you won’t be scared to use it so much as you need to! The Backcountry Access Tracker S might be the best backcountry beacon on our list!

Ortovox 3+ (Recco Inside) Avalanche Beacon

Like most modern three-antenna beacons, this one packs some serious firepower for searching and transmitting. Range and search width are both a little low, however, at 40m compared to the 60m range of the DSP Pro. Overall, however, the unit packs some new age features and great display.

Like the DSP Pro, the Ortovox 3+ has auto-search-to-transmit capability in case a secondary avalanche takes your group by surprise. Serlf-test function and backlit screen are some necessary features in my opinion and this unit delivers.

Video: Overview of the Ortovox 3+ features and functions.

Ortovox 3+ - Avalanche Transceiver Overview

Recco reflectors are gaining in popularity and you may find them featured in backcountry clothing, jackets, backpacks, etc.

The Ortovox 3+ has an emedded Recco reflector which allows search and rescue units to pinpoint the location of the transceiver with great accuracy and efficiency. This is a good thing, in case you hadn’t picked that up.

Another modern three antenna transceiver with great range and width of search. 70m range and 70m width mean you can find buried beacons faster, easier, and in a larger area.

Again, powered by the standard three battery operation and featuring a triple antenna setup for maximum transmission and reception. The unit can process, mark and decode multiple signals at once and makes searching easy with a standard digital view interface.

Video: Overview of the Mammut Element Barryvox.

Mammut Barryvox - How to use it

Automatic switching is activated after 8 minutes of inactivity for some backup in case of the worst scenario. Self-test on startup and one button operation make your day in the backcountry easy, but this isn’t really any different than the other beacons we’ve reviewed.

Like the BCA Tracker 3, this unit will send for 200 hours with at least enough battery power to search for a full hour.

Updateable software is a great addition and W-Link for additional communication and search performance. Overall there’s not a lot to stand out, but a clear and robust device keeping up with the march toward better and safer gear.

How to Choose the Best Avalanche Beacon

Choosing a great avalanche transceiver is only one step in staying safe while enjoying backcountry snow sports. Be sure to take appropriate education courses and safety courses on avalanche awareness before spending time in avalanche terrain.

Best Avalanche Transceiver

Digital vs Analog Transceivers

When choosing an avalanche beacon, you’ll want to understand the difference between digital and analog transceivers.

Digital beacons use a small computer and several signal antennas to calculate general distance and direction of a potentially buried victim and their transceiver. Digital beacons usually feature a small visual display to show valuable navigational information.

Analog transceivers use a simpler setup by beeping continually once you’re within transmission distance.

These beacons can be a bit more difficult to use as the sounds can often be drown out among frantic shouting, or wind noise in emergency situations. Multiple buried transceivers can also cause detection issues for these devices in general.

Most transceivers are now digital due to their improved interface, reliability, and ease of use. Remember to always check that each member of your group has an operating and functional beacon before heading into avalanche terrain.

Visual Screens

Some beacons, mostly newer models, feature various types of visual display. These screens usually increase the speed and efficiency with which one can use the device and navigate to buried victims.

Mostly these displays are small, low resolution panels featuring direction and rough distance to other transceivers. Be sure to check what type of information may be displayed on the screen of your chosen beacon.

Backcountry Basics: Practicing with your Avalanche Beacon

Multiple Buried Victims

Today we’re lucky enough to have advanced features on most beacons which allow for searching and marking multiple buried victims. Most transceivers are not capable of this feature so be sure to look for this feature specifically if it is important to you.

Range / Batteries / Antennas


Most beacons have specified ranges and effective distances set by the manufacturer. The more powerful and advanced the transceiver, the further distance and stronger signal the beacon will throw out.
A typical range is 50 meters with some having slightly more. Naturally longer is better but also a consideration is the search width. The wider the search width, the faster your search will be.


Be sure to use only the best batteries in your beacon and keep them replaced regularly by whatever method the manufacturer recommends. Here again more battery life is better. Typical battery life of an avalanche beacons is 200-400 hours.


Almost all modern avalanche beacons have 3 antennas. The benefit having 3 or more antennas is a longer range AND a wider search strip allowing you to find someone faster. In this case speed really does matter!

Most beacons have specified ranges and effective distances set by the manufacturer. The more powerful and advanced the transceiver, the further distance and stronger signal the beacon will throw out.

Be sure to use only the best batteries in your beacon and keep them replaced regularly by whatever method the manufacturer recommends.


Most avalanche beacons come with a strap to wear on the outside of your ski jacket. With the miniturazation of electronics, many will now fit inside your jacket or pants. While keeping the beacon in a pocket is more convinent, it may make it harder to get to in an emergency situation.

Ease of Use / Controls

In a emergency situation have controls that are easy to use and intuitive can mean the difference between life and death. Easier to use controls will allow you to find functions and features faster. Be sure to consider can the controls and beacon be used with your gloves on. Many beacons are not glove compatible.

FAQ About Avalanche Beacons

Q: Do I really need to take an avy beacon?

A:  YES.

Any time you are skiing or boarding out of bounds you need to take an avy beacon.

Sidecountry skiing is often referred to as the areas just outside the ropes of a resort. They’re still “in bounds” but they will have avalanche danger signs everywhere and ski patrol won’t manage those areas for avalanche risk. Ski patrol will still be able to respond to you here, but not as quickly.

Backcountry is totally outside the boundaries of any ski resorts and is totally unmanaged. You won’t find any ski patrollers here. If you get in trouble you’ll be waiting for a full SAR team.

In both side country and backcountry you need to have an avy beacon with you. Your friends, ski patrol, and rescuers will all be looking for you by using the avy beacons.

Q: What is RECCO?

A:  RECCO is a different type of searching technology from standard beacons. RECCO search devices send out a signal which is then bounced off of special RECCO reflectors that can be sewn, glued, or otherwise attached to skiing gear.

RECCO reflectors are often sew into high end winter clothing like jackets, gloves, etc. When rescuers start searching their signals bounce off these little tiny reflective panels in your clothing and the RECCO devices can then tell where you are!

Q: Will my beacon work with my friends beacons?

A: In short, yes it will.

Within the last dozen years all avalanche beacons have become standardized. Before about 2002 or so avy beacons were operating on all sorts of different frequencies and bands. Today you’ll find that your beacon will play nice with those around you.

Q: How do I use my avy beacon?

A: I won’t go too detailed and I will still tell you that you must get properly trained by taking an avalanche safety course. However, let’s briefly go over the basics so you understand what you’re buying.

In the field you turn on your beacon before you start skinning up the mountain. Then, if an avalanche were to trap you, your beacon would be emitting a radio signal pulse. Your friends, or rescuers, then switch their beacons to “search” mode.

At that point their beacons are able to read the direction of the radio signal from any buried beacons.

The problem becomes if there are too many beacons buried near one another it may confuse some receivers. That’s why multiple signal receivers have become popular so that if you’re in a rescue situation your beacon can read more than one incoming signal.

Q: Will an avalanche beacon guarantee my safety?

A: Unfortunately, it will not.

Avalanche beacons help rescuers to find buried victims much more easily than otherwise. However, the rest of the formula for survival comes down to luck, skill of the rescuers, and a bunch of unpredictable variables.

In order to maximize your safety you need to take avalanche training courses, employ the use of a good airbag safety device, and make sure you’re wearing a helmet. Even with that said and done, you’re still at the mercy of mother nature and avalanches claim victims every year.

Skiing is inherently dangerous and backcountry skiing is even more so than in-bounds. Be safe out there but have fun.

Outside Pursuits Overview

Today most digital beacons are packing most of the same features: triple antennas, microprocessor function, multiple signal mark and search, extended battery life, and many other great improvements.

Overall, the most technical device on our list is probably the Black Diamond PIEPS DSP Pro for sheer specifications but I really like the 60m distance and 50m search width of the Mammut Element.

Ortovox 3+ might be a serious contender for the Recco reflector, however.

Remember that even the best avalanche gear can’t help you if you’re not trained. Be sure to gain avalanche safety certification and practice search techniques regularly.

Always travel with experienced partners in the backcountry and perform a group test before entering avalanche terrain to ensure the function of all devices.

How We Researched

To come up with the top avalanche beacons we researched a variety of sources for reviews such as REI, Backcountry, Moosejaw, EVO along with our own personal experience.

We also consulted online magazines for product research and reviews to get as much unbiased information as we could. To help weed out fake reviews we used to make sure we only looked at genuine reviews.

With so much quality gear available, we had to narrow it down based on what we felt were the best options were for the price. The author, Casey Fiedler was a full time ski instructor for Park City and The Canyons in Utah.

To help narrow down the selection he used his personal experience along with recommendations from fellow ski instructors.

After extensive research, we came up with our list to help you choose the right one for you.


I hope this guide was helpful for finding a good avalanche beacon to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a transceiver I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and be careful out there!

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Casey Fiedler

Casey is a qualified ski instructor, naturalist educator, hunter, and avid outdoorsman based in Mason, Michigan. He spends much of his time in the wilderness where he tests outdoor gear supplied to him by companies such as Patagonia, Smith Optics, and Wolverine. Casey has guided backpackers, kayakers, and skiers on backcountry trips all around the US. He taught Alpine skiing at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah for several seasons before transitioning into freelance writing. When he is not working, Casey enjoys fishing and participating in adventure and orienteering races.
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