Occasionally cams will need some maintenance to continue to operate smoothly. If you find the trigger and springs in your cams getting “sticky” use a mild soap like Nikwax Tech Wash followed by a lubricant like Metolius Cam Lube to restore them to like new operation!
Usually I review outdoor gear and provide technical tips for climbing and backcountry skiing here but today I’m reviewing something a little different… a video editing service. I first heard of Spivo through a sponsored Instagram ad soon after returning from a 7 day backcountry ski trip to Iceland. The timing was great as I had a lot of video and still footage from the trip so I reached out to see if I could get a sample of there service to share with you. The response was positive and I was soon logging into the service to upload my videos and photos to see what they could do with.
It’s pretty simple actually. You start by requesting a video edit quote for yourself, someone else (great gift idea), or a business. Next question is what kind of video you would like with choices being; Travel or Adventure Video, Action Sport or Motorsport Video, Vlog Video, or Event, Honeymoon or Wedding Video. Then you select how long you want the finished edit to be with options ranging from less than a minute to a full half-hour, with “3 to 6 minutes” being labeled as “most popular”. Pricing will then be displayed with discounts and promotions available if you purchase more than one editing project. Here’s a couple examples of current pricing with a few different selections:
Cinematic Adventure Video Edit 1-3 minutes long in 1080p HD Quality: $219
Cinematic Adventure Video Edit 1-3 minutes long in 4K/360 Videos: $319
Cinematic Wedding Video Edit 6-9 minutes long in 1080p HD Quality: $349
Once you select your options and checkout you will receive an email with a link to upload your files. My sample order was for a 3-6 minute edit and allowed up to 20Gb of uploading. I was interested in going through the entire process only on my iPhone and it was quite simple to select the videos and photos I have in My Photos and start uploading them. I selected about 5Gb (everything I took in Iceland) and started uploading. At some point I must have disconnected from WiFi and it appeared everything wasn’t uploaded. I couldn’t easily see which videos or pics from my phone didn’t get uploaded so I reselected my geo-tagged Iceland photos and did a second upload assuming the editors would recognize any duplicate images/files.
Once everything was uploaded I wasn’t exactly sure if I needed to do anything else. A quick message to the company was responded to promptly directing me to log back into my video edit order page (easy) and answer just a few more questions before their editors would start working on the project. There were just a few questions about any direction I wanted to give, key moments, creative thoughts, and a chance to select a music theme from possible hundreds of unlicensed options. I really wanted to let the company do what it felt was appropriate creatively so I basically just answered “editor’s choice” to each of the customizable options. Once that was completed I received an email stating they would get to start on my edit and I would receive the video within 7 days!
Six days later I received the email that Felix had finished editing the video and it was ready to view and download! You can watch the video before downloading and share it via a link. This is helpful if you watch it and decide it needs any revisions (free revisions until you are happy with the video or full refund offered).
Downloading the video on my iPhone was pretty simple but it took me a minute to figure out where it was located. I found it “Files” on my iPhone, and could then click on “Save Video” to have it findable in the more convenient “Photos” app on the phone. I could then easily upload it to YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.
The original edit ended up being 4 minutes and 48 seconds long. I immediately liked the soundtrack that Felix selected as it fit the Icelandic landscape quite well. The cuts were smooth and polished and in great time with the music. My overall impression was it was a quality edit of the probably hour or more of videos and photos I had uploaded if but just a tad long. Here it is with out any revisions being requested if you’d like to see.
Being an Instagramer I reached back out to the company to see if 60 second edits were an option and was told a 60 second highlight edit can be requested for an additional $50. A few days later I received another email with my shortened highlight edit. I really liked the cadence and length of this edit for today’s busy digital consumer clocking in at 1:07. Here it is:
So the big question, is the service worth it? With prices ranging from low 200s to high 300s for most projects the answer is it depends. Ever since my first iPhone and discovering the iMovie app I’ve enjoyed learning to edit my own home family movies and adventure projects. I rate my editing skills as solidly mediocre. If you are not great at editing this service makes a lot of sense after a cool vacation or adventure somewhere. There’s also the time it takes to edit these projects… My own amateur edit of the same trip ended up being about two minutes in length but took me 5-6 hours of editing to get it down to something I wanted to share. You can see my edit of this trip here if you’d like to compare. A lot of people might not have the free time, or the motivation, to sort through all the video and images you captured on your latest adventure to create something memorable and entertaining. I think it’s also clear my edit is pretty amateur and the Spivo edits have a professional level of polish! I can definitely see why this service has a market and is probably doing quite well!
I also think the idea of using this to create a wedding video is a very novel idea and likely a few thousand dollars cheaper than hiring a professional videographer for your wedding. Just think about it, if you have everyone who is at your wedding taking videos and pictures and they can all just upload to a central place like Spivo where they then edit and produce your wedding video in 7 days for less than $500? I’ll be suggesting this to my brother who is getting married this June in fact!
See you in the mountains.
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample of this service was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created here at no additional cost to you. Thank you!
I think most people who follow me know I have a thing for “sun-hoodies”. They are literally my favorite type of active outdoor clothing and I’ve had the opportunity to review quite a few different brands. When I saw the KÜHL’s AIRKÜHL™ Men’s Hoody I immediately placed an order. For those who are not aware of what a “sun-hoody” is it’s basically the best thing to happen to outdoor clothing since the use of synthetics! It is by far the BEST protection from both sun/UV and the incoming mosquito/black fly season! Every outdoors-person should own at least one (I won’t disclose how many I currently have in my gear closet).
Let’s start with…
Incredibly soft with superior moisture management and breathability, KÜHL’s AIRKÜHL™ Men’s Hoody displays excellent abrasion and snag resistance for increased durability. Maximum sun protection (UPF 50+) paired with odor resistant properties keep you fresh and confident throughout the day.
Five-panel hood constructed to lay flat without bulk when not in use
Featuring the original thumb loop
DIFFERENT BY CONSTRUCTION
Open-air construction for advanced breathability
Odor-resistant infused fabric keeps you fresh longer so you can wash less and wear more
UPF 50+ sun protection
Sun-hoodie season is from the end of April to the late September so I spend a lot of days wearing one of these! I can tell from the weight of the fabric KÜHL has found a great balance in lightweight comfort and durability. I’ve worn mine for about 20 days so far this season without washing so I can attest to the “odor-resistant” technology. My wife would let me know right? The weave is somehow a bit tighter than other models which reduces snagging but is still super soft and breathable. Using the size chart I went for a size large and it fits great, just slightly snug in the forearms.
If you have already joined the sun-hoodie movement then you already know how great these are! KÜHL has joined a few other top-of-the-line companies in producing a seriously excellent sun-hoodie and this one is available and in-stock in 4 different colors (I’m really partial to the two lighter colors, Sea Breeze and Cloud Gray). A slightly different model is offered in womens, the KÜHL ENGINEERED™ HOODY. A great addition to any outdoor wardrobe made by an ethical company! A couple more KUHL reviews will be coming soon!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: The author purchased this item with his own money. Affiliate links help support this blog! Thank you.
I rarely shop for non-technical casual pants but when a marketing email from KÜHL® came across my desk for the KÜHL® THE LAW™ Pants I decided to pull the trigger on purchasing a new pair of casual work pants. After a couple of months of wear not only am I really happy with the purchase I’m also motivated to write a short review for these comfy rugged canvas pants!
The fit of these pants is excellent in part because KÜHL® offers them in multiple inseam lengths and waist combinations and actually has most options in stock!
The KÜHL® THE LAW™ Pants are a “Full” style which is wide through the knee and leg opening. I went for a 34 Waist, 30 Inseam for my build and they hit the spot like no pair of cargo pants or jeans I’ve ever worn!
The KÜHL® THE LAW™ Pants are based on the “Full” style which definitely makes them feel like a casual work pant vs. a more technical hiking/climbing pant that I usually review. The material is 98% cotton, 2% Spandex, and while a rugged “canvas” type pant they feel soft and breathable for daily casual wear.
These have become my favorite pair of every day wear pants. Manufacturer listed features are:
Two side pockets; one zip for security
Gusseted crotch for freedom of movement
French fly interior button closure
Double ply front
My favorite feature of these pants, other than how well they fit, is the side zippered pocket which fits my Flowfold Minimalist Wallet and passport easily… these were the only pair of non-technical pants I wore to travel internationally last month and the size and added security of that side zippered pocket was perfect. Both that zippered pocket along with a non-zipper side pocket on the right side is suitable for EDC items.
I’m not accustomed to reviewing pants not designed for ice climbing or backcountry skiing but I like these pants so much I felt they deserve some attention! If you are in need of a rugged but comfy pair of casual work pants you can’t go wrong with the KÜHL® THE LAW™ Pants! I also have some other great KÜHL® items, including an amazing sun hoody, I’ll be reviewing shortly!
See you in the mountains!
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: I purchased these pants with my own money. Affiliate links above support the content created here. Thank you.
I’ve had a few months to demo and review the Italian made AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots and I’m ready to share my opinion on them! Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first. I first heard of this company through a social media ad and I purchased a pair of the AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes because I have a thing for approach shoes! The shoes performed so well I published this review and later reached out to see if I could get a media sample of the AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots to review. AKU supplied me with a pair to check out but this has in no way effected my opinion of the boots. Read on to see how they were tested and how they performed!
How they were tested:
Test period: December – March
Use: Winter hiking, mountaineering, and waterfall ice climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Approx. 20 days of use, 100+ miles, over 40,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.
Bottom Line (TL;DR version)
These are a solid choice for the winter hiker/climber who spends equal time between general winter mountaineering (snow climbing) and more technical waterfall ice climbing that won’t break the bank!
I went with a UK 8, EUR 42, USA M 8.5 and the fit was perfect for my medium width foot with a regular arch and a slight Morton’s toe. The lacing system has a great pulley system at the lower top of the foot, 6 “mini” pulley’s to be exact then a self-locking ratchet mechanism. This system makes securing the foot in the boot super quick and efficient. The result is zero toe-bashing while kicking up waterfall ice while wearing crampons or while descending of any steep hiking trail. I never felt a need to “snug up” my laces for the descent with these boots feeling comfortable and secure all day long!
For general winter hiking and mountaineering these performed quite well! AKU doesn’t list how much Primaloft insulation is in the liner but there is enough to keep my feet toasty down to 10 degrees below Fahrenheit with wind chills around -20 to -30 above tree-line. My feet stayed warm throughout each trip (wearing my Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks)! For general winter hiking and mountaineering I paired them with my Petzl Vasak 12-Point Mountaineering Crampons and they worked great together!
For ice climbing I was quite impressed with their performance, especially at the price point! The lasting board, which gives the sole its stiffness, is made out of “6-4 MM Nylon & Die Cut EVA for Rock Protection & Stability”. More important to me is the welt is fully compatible with my technical ice climbing crampons with a solid front and back lip on the welt. My Petzl Dart Crampons fit perfectly on the welt and felt secure on many pitches of Grade 3 waterfall ice.
The AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots are a great winter “all-a-rounder” that will basically perform well in pretty much any snowy situation below 8000 feet. This makes them an excellent choice for winter hikers working on their “Winter 48” 4000 footer list, and for winter hikers who are considering breaking into the waterfall ice climbing sport. They are technical enough to handle waterfall ice and mixed climbing at almost half the price of most technical ice climbing specific boots. The fact that they are made in Italy is apparent in their craftsmanship and I have no doubt these boots can survive a decade of winter exploration. If you’re in the market for a great pair of winter hiking boots you should give these a try!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support this blog. Thank you.
In preparation for the Spring hiking, camping, road-tripping season VSSL is offering 20% off it’s two available First Aid models, the regular and the mini! The sale ends on Monday, March 28th so if you need a solid first aid kit for your pack, car, or kayak you should take a look here! I originally reviewed in detail the VSSL Survival Model all the way back in 2015! If you’re interested in that review you can check it out here!
In almost every avalanche course I teach we have a discussion about the use of avalanche airbags. My opinions on this matter have changed over time in light of new information and advancements in technology. Earlier in my avalanche education days I would cite statistics such as 75% of avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington were caused by trauma, not asphyxiation, the mechanism of death that an avalanche air bag is supposed to reduce the chance of in certain situations. Therefore I would conclude, perhaps wrongly, that avalanche airbags did not seem as valuable in our unforgiving terrain. In this article I will present a new argument for the use of avalanche airbags in the East, specifically for the backcountry touring community. First, a bit of background information that may be useful to the uninitiated.
How They Work
Simply put an avalanche airbag backpack has a handle or “trigger” that gets pulled by the wearer when caught in an avalanche which then causes a deployment system, either compressed air or electronic, rapidly fill a large rugged “ballon” that was stored inside the backpack. This “ballon” basically works to keep the wearer closer to the surface of the snow in a moving avalanche via “granular convection“, often referred to as the “Brazilian nut effect”. This video shows the effectiveness quite well.
Here are a few other things I will note that are relevant to this video. First, backcountry snowboarders and split-boards should see the value in an avalanche airbag perhaps at a higher level than skiers. The reason for that is these travelers do not have release-able bindings and therefore are more likely to be pulled under the snow during the type of avalanche motion seen in this video, referred to as “wet flowing” in the snow science community. Second, this avalanche path is a good example of a path with a safe runout. An avalanche airbag deployment is less likely to result in a positive outcome if you have terrain traps below you i.e. rocks, trees, cliffs, gullies, crevasses, creeks, etc.
A Change in Demographic
Before 2019 the main demographic for avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington were either ice climbers or winter hikers (11) and only three skiers. There has been an obvious shift in how people are recreating in the terrain with a noticeable explosion of the backcountry touring population (AT skiers, Split-boarders, Tele). This change in usage increases the chance of a survivable avalanche in a few ways.
First, getting caught in an avalanche while on foot or while skinning low in an avalanche path is often more serious than triggering something from the top. While there’s obviously a fair amount of luck surviving any avalanche the first avalanche involvement of our season resulted in no injuries for the person who triggered the avalanche and was carried the full slide length while the victim who was hit mid-path suffered serious trauma. In January of 2016 while teaching an avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine I watched 4 people get caught and carried in an avalanche right next to our class. The avalanche also hit a 5th person in the runout resulting in the most serious injuries of the incident. Last year’s well reported Wilson Glade quadruple fatality (Utah) also showed how getting caught in the up track while ascending can have more dire outcomes.
Second, while it is suggested that anyone recreating in avalanche terrain carry the appropriate safety gear (transceiver, probe, shovel, and perhaps an avalanche airbag) this author believes these items are still less likely to be carried by the eastern ice climber or mountaineer. The merits and justifications of this choice are for another topic but I will suggest the fact that the majority of backcountry touring parties are carrying basic avalanche safety gear this user group is more likely to survive an encounter with an avalanche than a group without these items.
A Increase in Acceptable Risk
In a recent survey of backcountry touring groups who travel in avalanche terrain I asked two questions. The first:
While not unexpected the majority responded they would consider touring in avalanche terrain under a “Moderate” danger level. The North American Avalanche Danger Scale describes the likelihood of a human triggered avalanche as “possible” under a Moderate level, and “likely”, under a Considerable level. Almost one in three respondents would consider traveling in avalanche terrain when both natural avalanches are “possible” and human triggered are “likely”.
While some research has shown that the most avalanche fatalities occur during a “Considerable” danger level:
Other research shows that “Moderate” is actually the danger level where most fatalities occur:
Since these stats can be adjusted based on what data sets you are looking at I will just look at the fatalities and involvements I have personal experience with.
At least four of the last 6 fatalities on Mount Washington occurred under a “Moderate” danger level. The majority of reported “near misses” and involvements occur under a “Moderate” danger level. As a region we also see a fair share of incidents when under a “General Advisory” early in the season before the Mount Washington Avalanche Center starts issued daily forecasts.
The second question I asked in the recent survey was:
These results confirmed my suspicion that avalanche airbag usage in the East is still an exception and not common place. Based on the change in demographics, risk acceptance, and improvements in technology I believe we should see this change.
Improvements in Technology
Probably the biggest change an avalanche airbag technology is the growing availability, lower costs, and convenience of electronic airbag systems. Traditionally canister style avalanche airbags were the most common. Having to maintain a canister type system is likely a deterrent for many who might otherwise benefit from owning an avalanche airbag. Air travel with canister systems can be difficult, requiring you to discharge the system and find someplace at your destination that can refill your canister. You’d be less likely to practice deploying your airbag if the system only allowed one deployment. Now there are multiple electronic models that allow for multiple deployments, are easy to fly with, and can be charged anywhere you have an electric outlet. Some notable electronic models now available:
The real reason for my change in opinion on the validity of avalanche airbags in the East is a bit personal. When looking at the last two avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington the case for more common airbag usage is clear to me. There is a very important similarity between the tragic deaths of Nicholas Benedix in 2019 and Ian Forgays in 2021. Both of these backcountry riders were caught and carried in their avalanches, likely with the “wet flowing” motion shown in the previous video, and both ended up buried under the snow without suffering any trauma. Certainly a nearby partner who was not caught in the avalanche and had the right rescue gear and training may have been able to make the “save”, but unfortunately both were alone and unwitnessed avalanches. Take home point for me here is riders who occasionally travel solo in avalanche terrain should certainly consider the added layer of protection an avalanche airbag might provide. On the same day as Nicholas’s avalanche I myself triggered a large avalanche a few drainages away and was lucky to only be buried up to my waist. One of my only thoughts as I saw the snow coming down from above me was I was not wearing my avalanche airbag. Even more recently was a miraculous save in the Adirondacks just a week ago after two skiers were caught, one fully buried and the other just enough to still get out and save his partner. They were the only two in the area and if but a few more inches of snow this would have been a double fatality.
Research shows avalanche airbags save lives, suggesting a deployed avalanche airbag will reduce mortality by 50% . While they should not be considered 100% protection against getting hurt or killed in an avalanche wearing one in avalanche terrain adds another layer of protection from the hazard. While the increase in backcountry travelers wearing avalanche transceivers has noticeably increased in the last 10 years I expect to see an increase in avalanche airbag use in the east over the next ten years, and for good reason. We just recently had our first avalanche transceiver full burial save in the eastern US, and I believe the first avalanche airbag save might not be that far in the future.
Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start. Thank you!
Every holiday season I hand pick just 10 items I think would be an excellent gift for the hiker, climber, back-country rider, in your life. These are items I either already own and love or items that are at the top of my own wish list for Santa. I hope this list helps you find the special gift for someone you are shopping for this holiday season!
Definitely the greatest hand grinder for serious coffee lovers ever designed! We use ours daily to perfectly grind 20 grams local coffee. And speaking of quality coffee if you are local to Mount Washington Valley you know there are only two places to shop for coffee! If you are not local both of these small amazing coffee shops ship so order up some great coffee today from Frontside Coffee Roasters and Ski The Whites Coffee Company!
I am a diehard fan of the Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker for our caffeine needs both at home and on the trail! It is simply the fast way to brew an amazing cup of Joe and clean up is so much easier than a messy French Press!
I bought the DJI Mini 2 Drone Fly More Combo last Spring and have been having a lot of fun making amateur video clips with it. I did quite a bit of research before I bought it and I think this is one of the best values for a quality starter drone! There’s a few examples on my YouTube channel of what kinds of clips you can create… here’s a short clip I made last month:
An incredible rugged and easy to use pair of hand held radios can greatly improve safety while enjoying mountain sports. You can read my full review of these here and get 10% off with promo code “AlpineStart10”.
Only until tomorrow MPOWERD is offering BOGO on the Luci Pro Series! Awesome for outdoor light both at home and while backpacking that really is a killer deal. I’m also a fan of the new Luci Base Light that can charge your smartphone while also providing great back-up light. We have that model and a few of the Original Luci Lights that we use while car camping and during power-outages at home.
This socially responsible company makes the coolest water bottles and tumblers out there! Super high quality stainless steel technology keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 6 hours! Customization and tons of color and style options means there is a Hydro Flask out there for just about everyone!
I’m pretty sure the 10 seconds of silence from my girlfriend after asking her to marry me was enough time for her to accept that she loved a man with some seriously stinky feet. Luckily she said yes and I would soon find this foot powder, seriously the only product that works on my feet! 10 years later she is quick to remind me if she notices my supply running low. This one is a PERFECT stocking stuffer, pick it up on Amazon here.
Possibly the best socks I’ve ever owned and made right over the border in Vermont! For mountaineering and ice climbing check out this model! These socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and make an excellent stocking stuffer!
Every home in the Northeast should have one of these! It’s effective enough that I can easily dry my boots and gloves along with my wife’s in just a couple hours. No balancing them over the floor base heaters or getting them too hot near the wood-stove and risking early de-lamination! You can pick on up on Amazon here.
The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work!
While I do love these online deals I want to take up this space by encouraging you support local businesses, especially small specialty climbing shops, with your business! To that end if you can physically visit these stores please do!
Well there’s my small contribution to the every growing list of Holiday Gift Guides that are undoubtedly hitting your mailbox this season. My suggestions are heartfelt and I hope they help you find something for the outdoor person(s) in your life!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Affiliate links above support this blog. Thank you!
We are about to hit the season of savings on outdoor gear! I’m organizing my annual Holiday Gift Guide and it will be ready by Black Friday. One item that will certainly make my “top ten” Holiday Gift Ideas is a quality first aid kit. MyMedic is currently offering 35% off their most popular first aid kit, The Solo, one I’ve reviewed in depth!
Today Ortovox officially added two new avalanche transceivers to the market, the Diract and the Diract Voice. While a few preproduction samples have been checked out by other avalanche professionals I received a post production model about a week ago and want to share some preliminary opinions and thoughts at this revolutionary avalanche transceiver. A more in-depth review will be published after I’ve had some considerable real world field time with this model. I know a lot of people may be looking for a new avalanche transceiver before the snow really starts to fly and I hope this “first look” report will help you decide if you should consider the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice avalanche transceiver!
After unboxing the initial set up was straight forward. As soon as you open the box instruction on the lid include a QR code directing you to download the Ortovox app for either iOS or Android. I selected English from the nine available languages and register the device through the app while synced to my smartphone via Bluetooth. Registration is a great idea since not only will up be sure to receive any important software update notifications it automatically extends the two year warranty by an additional 3 years giving you 5 years of total protection on your investment! More information and links to the apps along with some video tutorials can be found here: https://ortovox.com/us-en/service/information-user-manuals/avalanche-transceivers/diract-start
After registering the device I was instructed to calibrate the internal electronic compass used to ensure the device is held level in SEARCH mode and to analyze orientation when buried for the “Smart Antenna” technology (more on that later). I chose to do this outside in the yard away from the house and my cell phone to ensure no interference.
Let’s start with the obvious biggest feature of the Ortovox Diract Voice. This is the first ever avalanche transceiver that gives the user verbal feedback during the stressful times of an avalanche rescue. Like others, I wasn’t exactly sure about the name Ortovox chose for this new model, but a quick Google Translation search revealed that “diract” is the Hindi word for “direct”. And that is what this avalanche transceiver attempts to do… direct your actions during the course of an avalanche rescue with important voice prompts. I demonstrate this in this video with some initial hands on practice in a nearby field:
POST PRODUCTION NOTES:
While filming the first couple test runs with my iPhone in AIRPLANE mode the transceiver experienced electronic interference which caused a false signal while outside the range of the transmitting transceiver and caused the transceiver to instruct me to start a fine search while still 18 meters from a second transceiver. Both of these errors were user-error, not software error! Any electronic with a GPS chip, Bluetooth, WiFi, radio transmitter, or microchip, should be more than half a meter away from a transceiver in search mode, or better yet powered off completely! I’ve left these first test runs in the final video as they demonstrate how the voice commands work and I believe that is useful. Twelve more test runs were conducted (6 filmed by the drone) and no other errors were observed.
My overall impression of this novel idea is positive. As an avalanche course instructor with over 100 avalanche courses taught I really do believe voice prompts can help rescuers react appropriately. Reminders like the initial “Run in 50 meter search strips and look out” encourage both urgency and situational awareness. Directional corrections like “run to the left/right” can help keep the searcher on the “flux line” while they are constantly conducting a quality visual search (often a part of rescue new rescuers struggle with). Getting outside of the fine search area the transceiver clearly tells you “You were closer!” When I publish my updated full review (ETA mid-winter) I will cover every voice command that’s possible and how best it fits into the rescue strategy.
There is one voice command I would have liked to have seen integrated. If the transceiver registers a number less than 1 meter during the search I would have loved for it to tell me to “Start probing here!” I have observed for years students will spend too much time on the fine search trying to get the lowest possible number when in reality if they are actually searching for a human sized target (and not a small stuff sack) and have a number under 1 meter they should halt the fine search and start probing. A probe strike is imminent. In that same line of thought it would be great if the transceiver could tell a quality fine search was carried out and if 1.6 meters in the lowest number after the fine search it could also direct the user to start probing.
That said a practiced rescuer should be able to make these transitions without the voice command, so the omission of this one command is no deal breaker!
Internal Lithium Ion Rechargeable Battery
The next biggest innovation in both the Diract and Diract Voice is the use of an internal lithium ion rechargeable battery. I think this is a great choice from a design point and I’m confident other manufacturers may follow suit as there are few disadvantages and many advantages. First of all having an internal rechargeable battery means no more pulling half used alkaline batteries out when they reach 60% and adding them to the draw of “not full batteries” I have in my gear room. This is better for the environment. The next advantage is you do not need to remember to remove your batteries at the end of the winter season. I’ve seen quite a few transceivers ruined with corroded batteries when owners left their batteries in them over the course of a humid summer. With this style battery it is best to not constantly “short charge” they battery, i.e. plugging it in every night to get it back to 100%. The user manual states to not charge until under 80%, and even states “once the battery charge falls below 40%, the device should be charged as soon as possible”.
The technical specifications claim that a full battery will provide a minimum of 200 hours in SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH. I will do some extensive testing of this battery over the next month and update this post accordingly by for now I’ll say I’m quite confident in this performance. After 2 hours of SEND and about 30 minutes of SEARCH my battery is still reporting 100%. Depending on how often you tour I imagine you’ll only need to recharge once or twice a season. I will be teaching rescue skills weekly from December through March and will report back detailed battery performance.
As for concerns about not being able to access or self-replace the lithium-ion battery Ortovox has had a third-party verify that this battery is good for at least 450 “cycles” and will still produce enough power to meet the 200 hours of SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH performance. A “cycle” is basically each time you charge the battery, which is why “short charging” is discouraged. Ortovox is working on a consumer focused solution for when it does become time to replace the battery, which based on my estimates of heavy use, won’t be needed for 5-7 years, if even then. The truth is with these numbers and proper charging habits the battery may last as long as the widely recommended “upgrade/replace your transceiver” suggestion of ten years. If that holds true that equals about 30-60 AA alkaline batteries from my own use staying out of a landfill!
The software is designed to self test the battery at every start up and will display a percentage, along with a alert if 30% or less, or “empty”. It also checks the health of the battery so if you ever do reach the end of the life of the battery it will display “Battery service necessary” and direct you to the Ortovox website for service/repair.
Finally it should be noted that you can not charge the battery when it is under 0 degrees Celsius. This may concern some users but I feel with proper planning this should never be an issue. My plan is to let my battery deplete for during day trips to within 40-50% capacity then recharge to full (one cycle). If I am heading out on a week long trip somewhere (Iceland this April?) I’ll recharge it to 100% for the trip. If you are spending two months on some amazing expedition I’m sure you can get the transceiver above 0 degrees Celsius in your sleeping bag if you need to recharge it.
Standby Mode and Auto-Revert
The next unique feature of the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the addition of a “Standby” mode. Typically avalanche transceivers have only two modes, SEND/TRANSMIT or SEARCH. In a rescue scenario we teach everyone in the group not caught in the avalanche to switch their transceivers to SEARCH so that rescuers don’t waste time by “finding” people who are not buried in the snow. The issue is in a group rescue scenario you often do not need 5 people searching for a signal on a debris pile. For example if one person is missing and there are 5 rescuers you might only have 1 or 2 people actually searching with their transceivers while the rest of the group spots from a safe location and starts assembling probes and shovels to be ready for the extraction part of the rescue. These rescuers can utilize the standby mode to get their transceiver to stop transmitting, and, especially in the case of the Diract Voice, quiet the scene. We don’t need all the beeping and voice commands confusing the overall scenario. While in Standby mode the transceiver does have a motion sensor that is monitoring your movement. If no movement is detected in 90 seconds a loud alarm and display warning will indicate the unit will revert back to SEND in 30 seconds if 1) no movement is detected (i.e. you were caught and buried by a secondary avalanche), or 2) You press the FLAG button to cancel the revert.
The next thing I’d like to talk about is the shape and layout of the unit. Applicable to both models these transceivers are a slim design that fits comfortably in my hand and in my dedicated transceiver pocket on my ski pants. While I traditionally prefer to pocket carry my transceiver I believe I’ll start using the harness carry more often due to some innovative choices by Ortovox. The first is the decision to move the Recco technology from the transceiver to the carrying system. The second is the harness pocket holds the transceiver perfectly and adjusts with ease.
The layout of the controls is simple but well thought out. I am able to operate all functions on the transceiver with one hand regardless.of using my dominant (right) hand or not. With only two buttons and the SEND/SEARCH switch operation is really intuitive. To test the intuitiveness for a non-trained user I asked my 10 year old son to turn the transceiver on, put the unit into SEARCH mode, return to SEND mode, and power off the device. He accomplished all four tasks in less than two minutes with no further instruction.
Smart Antenna Technology
A feature of all Ortovox transceivers I have long been a fan of is the patented “SMART-ANTENNA-TECHNOLOGY ™. This basically makes locating your signal faster regardless of what orientation the transceiver is buried in by using intelligent position recognition and automatically switching to the best transmission antenna. Ortovox transceivers are the only transceivers that use this technology and I believe it’s an excellent feature.
The LCD display is quite visible in bright daylight and the brightness is adjustable via the free Ortovox app. I’ll be leaving it on the brightest setting while testing the battery performance this winter. The screen has a smart light sensor so when the transceiver is stowed in either a pocket or the carrying case it will shut off. After removing it from the harness a quick press of either of the two buttons will waken it.
Range and “smart” Search Strip Width while in SEARCH
I tested the Ortovox Diract Voice in an open field with a measured distance with the following results. I will update these this winter with other models buried 1.5 meters down in the snowpack. While in SEARCH for an Ortovox 3+ transceiver a signal was always acquired around on average between 30-40 meters with on result of 28 meters when the transmitting transceiver was in a poor coupling orientation. These results support Ortovox’s suggestion of a 50 meter search strip width in this open terrain with no interference. Yet another innovation feature of both the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the unit somehow analyses the surrounding area for interference and adjusts the recommended Search Strip Width to be optimized. For example, in the open field (and even with my cell phone interference) the Search Strip Width was displayed as 50 meters. In my house while testing the Auto Revert function and surrounded by Wifi, electronics, etc the displayed Search Strip Width was reduced to 20 meters.
The Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice transceivers have an intuitive system for helping the user manage the incredibly complex scenario of a multiple burial. The first is the display with indicate multiple signals with little “person” icons on the bottom of the display (up to three). This is another moment where I would have loved if the voice command could have verbally alerted me with something like “Multiple signals detected”. This addition would really help a searcher understand the bigger picture faster and manage their resources appropriately. Once you have finished your fine search and achieved a positive probe strike you can press and hold the flag button to have that signal suppressed, at which time the transceiver will direct you to the next closest burial. From my limited testing and reading of the manual there is not an option to “un-flag” a flagged victim. Should that be needed (and it shouldn’t if you use this feature with the caution taught in rescue courses) you will need to place the transceiver back into SEND then revert to SEARCH to remove all “flagged” targets. <insert info on any verbal instructions during FLAGGING>
This is a big moment in the history of avalanche transceivers. While there are a few great transceiver manufacturers out there I’m not surprised that Ortovox was the first to produce a transceiver that is so different from everything else out there. The benefits of a talking transceiver might vary by the user. Those who consider themselves “experts” in avalanche rescue will likely feel the effects of the voice commands less important as they are used to “listening” to the visual and audio clues of the various transceivers they have used over the years. In my opinion those advanced users might decide to upgrade to the Ortovox Diract (without voice) simply for the solid performance and benefit of the internal battery over transceivers that burn through alkaline batteries. Those who are new to avalanche rescue, or (gasp) rusty on their rescue skills (take an Avalanche Rescue course!), will likely find the voice commands from the Ortovox Diract Voice to be quite beneficial at guiding actions during the stressful moments of an avalanche rescue.
As mentioned this is an initial “first look” type review as I’ve only had this transceiver in my hands for about a week. I will test it throughly this winter while instructing over a dozen avalanche courses and will update my findings and opinions likely by late January. If you were planning on upgrading or buying you first avalanche transceiver this Fall in preparation of the winter I hope this information has helped you decide if the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice is the right transceiver for you, and if it is you can purchase one from these online retailers:
At the end of the day as an avalanche educator I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this review with the classic avalanche educator’s disclaimer. The BEST transceiver in the world is the one you practice with most! When was the last time you practiced avalanche rescue? How about taken an avalanche rescue course? Make avalanche rescue practice part of your seasonal preparation! There are SO many courses out there, if you are looking for one here’s some links to get you started:
Yet another way you could up your Avy Savvy brain is taking IMFGA Guide Mark Smiley’s newest online course “Beyond Level One*”. This is a massive online course designed to be taken over the course of a whole season with 120 episodes and contributions from some of the best avalanche professionals in the industry! I have taken other online courses from Mark and the quality is top-notch! I will be enrolling in this course myself to see what Mark has created and am especially excited about how much of the content I will be able to absorb à la podcast style!
Disclaimer: Traveling in avalanche terrain is dangerous and nothing in this review is intended to be “instruction” or assumed to be accurate. The author is a member of the Ortovox Athlete Team and received this transceiver at no cost as part of that partnership.
*Affiliate links above help support Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Purchasing a transceiver or online course through those links earn the author a commission. Thank you.