Backcountry Access has announced a new avalanche beacon, the Tracker S — S for Stupid Simple Searching (my interpretation, not their claim).
It’s the most intuitive avalanche beacon out there. You can find other beacons with more features, or more range, but not easier to use. In the hands of a pro who practices regularly it doesn’t matter what beacon you have. As long as you practice you should be a wiz. If you lose your head in the heat of a real situation, possible for anyone depending on the circumstances, don’t blame this beacon.
For the average guy or gal who doesn’t practice, we need simple ‘cuz we might be stupid and ignore the signs to stop where we’re going to avoid a “situation.” The Tracker 3 is as simple and easy as it gets. The S uses the same engine as T3, but without some of the software that allows upgrades to the operating system.
You can look at the loss of an upgrade function as a benefit or a loss. I see it as a confidence by BCA that the beacon does what it says it can do, and the algorithm by which it processes the signals is simple enough to not need an upgrade. Simple interpretation – it’s dependable. And stupid simple.
The range is a respectable but not record setting 45m. What IS impressive is the speed of processing signals. That’s because BCA focused on staying focused on the closest beacon and showing the distance and direction for the signal received in real time, no delay. It shows where to go while the signal is active, not delayed by an interpretive algorithm.
Where this really helps is when you’re trying to narrow down the probe zone, usually inside of seven feet. When you’re bracketing in a grid, you want to know the distance on the first beep. With real time processing the distance when it beeps is the distance at that time and that place (with a 10% accuracy tolerance) With other beacons, it is an average of the current and previous beep, or beeps, which means you have to wait an extra beep, and extra second (or two), for the distance shown to be accurate. When someone is buried every second counts. With an averaging algorithm fast movements can lead to erroneous readings because the display will indicate an average for where you were, not where you are unless you slow waaay down. I’ve noticed distance errors with other beacons as high as 50% on the first beep. Tracker 3/S updates while the sending signal is “ON;” there are NO delays between detection and display.
What Tracker S, or it’s predecessor Tracker 3 do not do is keep track of multiple signals simultaneously, or mask them after being “found” for the duration of a search. Instead they ignore a signal that has been “found” (the current signal when closer than 3m) for one minute only, so you can move away and let the S find and focus on the next strongest signal. To help with that, the Tracker S has the same Big Picture function as Tracker 3, which lets you see the direction and distance of multiple signals – again – in real time. Just hold down the blue button, and keep holding it, to see all the signals at once, whenever they’re transmitting. It may take a bit of practice to understand this method of resolving multiple signals but it doesn’t take long and won’t ever get it’s brains tied up in a knot because it’s trying to keep track of too much information. Instead it just shows, while the signals are on, how far and what direction they are.
For most folks, the obvious reason no software benefits becomes a benefit is the price. $300 for full retail, probably less at the counter or anywhere online.