From transceivers to avalanche backpacks, here are some top avalanche safety products that’ll help you stay safe out there
90% of avalanche victims release the avalanche themselves, or have it released on them by a member of their group. It’s therefore vital that we are able to read and make decisions on snow stability and, in the event of an avalanche, have the correct avalanche safety equipment and training with us to carry out a companion rescue in efficient, potentially life-saving, time.
We’ve not selected this kit because of trends, or marketing pushes from the equipment brands, we’ve selected it based on its merits and ease of use when out in the backcountry.
“We’ve not selected this kit because of trends, or marketing pushes from the equipment brands”
When planning on heading out into the backcountry, your first thought should be on making the correct decisions to ensure yourself and your group are never putting each other in any unnecessary danger. After this planning, you should always ensure your safety equipment is correct and in full working order. The bare minimum of a transceiver, shovel, and probe should always be carried by each member of the group.
Saying that, it’s no good owning all of this equipment and not having a clue how to use it. Get yourself, and your mates, out there on an avalanche safety course to brush up on your skills. After this, ensure you’re always getting out there practicing rescue scenarios with your transceiver shovel and probe. You should be looking to refresh your skills on a monthly basis.
Staying Alive In Avalanche Terrain – Bruce Tremper
We can’t put out an avalanche equipment roundup and not include what is, to many, the bible of avalanche safety. There is, after all, no point in going out and buying all of this equipment while not having a clue how to keep yourself and the group you’re with away from avalanche prone terrain.
As mentioned already at the top of this roundup, be sure to spend time with a certified guide and learn about snow science and mechanics before heading out there. Then, when you’ve done that, be sure to grab yourself a copy of Bruce’s finest work so you can swot up on avalanche safety whilst at home. This book is even small enough to bring with you on your next hut-to-hut ski tour. Who knows? It might just save your life one day.
BCA Tracker 4
Maximum Range: 55 m
The Tracker series of avalanche transceivers have remained a mainstay in many backcountry skier’s avalanche safety kit list, ever since the development of the original Tracker 1. This success is largely thanks to BCA’s tried and tested simple yet tough mantra in creating their avalanche transceivers.
We have consistently found the Tracker series is the easiest to use avalanche transceiver out there on the market, giving you intuitive controls for when every second counts. All-new for this season is the updated Tracker 4. Updates feature a new rugged design, with a tough rubber case and recessed screen to help protect the large (and easy to read) LCD display.
Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the BCA Tracker 4 here
Black Diamond Jetforce Pro 35L
Weight (per ski): 3,060g
Sizes: S/M, M/L
Black Diamond changed the way we look at avalanche airbag technology with the first all electric airbag system in the original JetForce 1.0. Now for this season, they’ve continued this innovation in the all new Jetforce Pro. This update brings Bluetooth technology for updates on the fly, and the ability to zip off different volume sizes.
We’ve been using the original JetForce 1.0 for some time and have been left extremely impressed with the electronic avalanche airbag technology featured in that pack. From multiple deployments, to easy airline travel, check of the video review above to see all the benefits of these electronic systems.
Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the Black Diamond JetForce Pro here
BCA RS EXT Avalanche Shovel And Stealth 300 Probe
Shovel Weight: 947g
Probe Weight: 330g
Probe Length: 300 cm
Price: £70 (shovel, £70 (probe)
The BCA RS EXT Avalanche Shovel And Stealth 300 Probe is a pretty hard to beat shovel and probe combination to bring with you into the backcountry. It may not be the lightest duo out there, but it strikes that sweet spot between weight and durability.
We here at Mpora have been using the RS shovel and Stealth probe combo for the past few years and it’s quite simply faultless. We’re big fans of the ability to turn the shovel into a dozer. With the shovel sitting at a right angle to the shaft, you’re able to excavate snow at a much quicker speed than a regular shovel layout – saving you and your companions some much needed time when it counts.
Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the BCA RS EXT Avalanche Shovel And Stealth 300 Probe here
Mammut Barryvox S Avalanche Transceiver
By far the strongest performing transceiver in our roundup of backcountry safety equipment, the Mammut Barryvox S continues the strong family tree of Mammut transceivers. In an effort to reduce companion search times, it now comes in a more user-friendly and streamlined package.
Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Mammut Barryvox S here
Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Transceiver
Ortovox have done well to make a powerful and easy to use transceiver, all at a price point that’s not going to seem like a barrier for those who are looking to get into backcountry skiing. Three antennas, and Ortovox’s tried and tested Smart Antenna Technology, means that as long as your companions are on the ball and trained up they’ll have a much higher chance of getting the strongest signal lock on the transceiver. This, in turn, will make it easier for them to hone in on your location at speed.
Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Ortovox 3+ here
Ortovox Free Rider 20 S Avalanche Backpack
Comfort and a low weight are the main talking points of the Ortovox Free Rider 20 S Avalanche Backpack. At just 2,410g, with a carbon canister and form-fitting design, the Free Rider has made it possible for more people to feel comfortable carrying the extra weight of an avalanche airbag around. The Avabag system used in the Free Rider 20 is also removable, meaning that you’ll be able to swap it between compatible packs.
Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Ortovox Free Rider 20 S Avabag here
Slope Angel Halo
Whilst this product doesn’t replace the need for avalanche safety training and the mandatory avalanche safety equipment that is transceiver, shovel, and probe, it is a useful tool to help you and your party make informed decisions in the backcountry. Cutting straight to it, that’s the main reason we’ve included it in the Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide.
The Halo is able to provide you with five key bits of information that’ll help you make informed decisions whilst out in the backcountry: slope angle, current height, temperature, time and transceiver send checker. This is all achieved in a handy device that easily clips onto a pole or bag strap. Readings are instant, and it comes with a battery that, it’s claimed, will last for up to two years of moderate use.
Black Diamond Evac 7 Shovel & Quickdraw Tour 320 Probe
Price: £70 (shovel) and £65 (probe)
Weight: 794 g (shovel) and 385 g (probe)
We’ve long been fans of “hoe” features on avalanche shovels. Funny name for sure, but it just means that the shovel is able to be pointed directly down towards the snow to efficiently clear snow at a pretty staggering rate. This is most useful if you’re clearing the snow away from the lead digger in a companion rescue scenario. It also makes digging snow pits that bit easier.
We’re also big fans of the large D-shaped handle found on the Evac 7 Shovel, which’ll really come into play if you find yourself needing to rapidly clear as much snow as possible in the event of an emergency. Topping off this package is Black Diamond’s Tour 320 Probe, which features rapid deployment at a length of 320cm. We always recommend going for the longer length as you never know when it might come in use.
Ortovox Pro Light Shovel & Alu 320+ Probe
Price: £70 (shovel) and £70 (probe)
Weight: 440 g (shovel) and 430 g (probe)
Whilst the Black Diamond Evac 7 comes in at a weight of 794g, the Pro Light shovel from Ortovox comes in at a measly 440g. Whilst we’d always recommend avoiding getting dragged into worrying about the weight of avalanche gear, it’s heavy for a reason, we realise that many will be looking to shave weight from their pack weights – a lightweight shovel and probe is a great way of achieving this.
Not only is the Pro Light Shovel a lightweight number, it’s also pretty fast to put together with a locking feature that doesn’t require the press of a button (something that differentiates it from most shovels currently on the market). The Alu 320+ PFA Probe comes in at a low weight of 235g, and is also available in a carbon construction or 240cm length.