Gear Review- Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support/Lite Boots

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

This will be my third winter skiing and climbing in my Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots and I should have shared this review much sooner! The good news is since they are not new-this-season you can score a pair at amazing savings (like 45% off!). That’s basically pro-deal price available for everyone! But you still probably want to know if it’s a good boot for you right? So let me share my experience with them to help you decide!

I got these at the start of the 2016/17 winter as part of a back-country setup optimized for uphill efficiency but that could still slay on the downhill.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boots Review
Finding the line in flat light- photo by Brent Doscher

How I tested

I’ve since skied over 50 days in them including two week long ski trips to Iceland. This includes skinning at least twice a week while teaching avalanche courses every weekend from mid-December until April. I ice climbed in them a half dozen times up to leading grade 4 waterfall ice. I’ve skied them on powder days and more typical east coast crud days. I’ve worn them all over Mount Washington and on groomers at local ski mountains. Suffice it to say I’ve put enough time, miles, and elevation on them to form some opinions!

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Leading Within Reason, WI4 photo by Benjamin Lieberman

Let’s start with…

Fit/Sizing

I went with a Mondo size 27.5 for my US Men’s size 9 feet (slight Morton’s toe, medium arch/width). I wear my favorite Darn Tough ski socks with them. They fit like comfy cozy slippers for walking and skinning. They are comfortable “enough” for vertical ice climbing… but I’ll get into that more under climbing performance. When cranked tight for downhill performance they are as comfy as any ski boot I’ve ever worn, but I’ll go into a little more detail on that under ski performance.

Climbing Performance

When I say they are the most comfortable ski boots I have ever ice climbed in you must take it with a grain of salt. Why would someone climb vertical ice in ski boots? Well if it involves a ski approach/descent having a one boot system is a pretty sweet option. With out a doubt I’d say these climb better than any dedicated climbing boot skis. Simply put climbing boots do not ski well as they have virtually no “forward lean”. I learned this lesson the hard way skiing out of Chimney Pond in Koflach Vertical mountaineering boots many years ago. Long story short dedicated mountaineering boots might be great at hiking & climbing, but they will always come up short for real downhill skiing.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boots Review
Lowering off after leading an ice climb at the Hanging Gardens, Frankenstein Cliffs, New Hampshire. Photo by Benjamin Lieberman

Enter the Arcteryx Procline. In touring mode this boot is definitely comfortable enough for a 12 mile approach even if it includes quite a bit of walking. However it is to stiff laterally for classic “French Technique”. You will find yourself switching to front pointing as soon as the angle is too steep for simple heel to toe walking. While leading waterfall ice up to grade 3 it performs quite well and I even led Grade 4 in them.

I climbed in these with both my Petzl Vasak’s and Petzl Leopard FFL crampons.

A modern dedicated ice climbing boots like my Arcteryx Acrux AR are noticeably more comfortable (and warmer) for real technical rock and ice climbing… they also are terrible for downhill skiing. Perhaps the best way to explain it is route and condition dependent. While everyone reading this might not be familiar with my local terrain I think these examples should work.

  1. Early season or low snow years ascent of Pinnacle Gully on Mount Washington (Grade 3) which involves a 2000 foot 2.5 mile approach. I’d stick with a comfy mountaineering boot and leave the skis at home.
  2. Mid-late season or great skiing conditions ascent of Pinnacle Gully, this would be a perfect boot!
  3. My next Katahdin trip.

Finally you should know these are not the warmest boot out there. I have some freakishly warm feet so I tend to get by with less insulation than some of my climbing partners but there was one sub-zero day in Tuckerman Ravine where I got pretty cold toes while teaching an avalanche course. Standing around in them in arctic conditions is not the best idea. I still think they are plenty warm for fast & light adventures or summer trips to the Cascades.

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
I’m wearing my blue jeans here since we were on our way to the airport when I saw this line an hour from Reykavik that needed to be skiied- photo by Matt Baldelli

Skiing Performance

The Arc’teryx Procline boots are only compatible with tech bindings like the Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings (my setup) or the G3 Ion 12 Bindings. I’ve been using them to drive the DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1 Skis (168cm). I assembled this set up to focus on uphill efficiency. Total weight for skis, boots, bindings is only 6.5 pounds per ski! Thanks to the 360 degree rotating cuff these are incredibly comfortable to walk and skin in. The carbon plate to switch from walk to ski mode has an easy to operate lever. In practice if you are not leaning forward enough while switching to ski mode the plate might not align perfectly with some raised nubs that really lock the plate in place. It’s quite easy to lean forward during this process and after a little practice you’ll get the plate to lock completely with little fuss.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boot Review
Walking back to the car after another great day in Iceland

Once switched into ski mode you can crank the two buckles down and the “power-strap” adds even more control. The boots definitely feel laterally stiff enough to ski fairly aggressively. Edge to edge control is sufficient enough for any black diamond in-bounds runs and I find the boots supportive enough to drive the skis in spring corn and mid-winter powder. When conditions are icy New England crud you’ll find me skiing these in a fairly conservative manner.

Summary

The Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots are the most comfortable boot I have ever skinned uphill in. They also are the only ski boot I’ve climbed technical ice in. They perform so well on the downhill that I ski them on in-bound groomers but really appreciate the all day comfort during long back-country days. They are not the warmest boots out there, but I have others for days when it’s really really cold out there. If you are in the market for a boot that is as efficient for uphill travel as it is for downhill travel you should take a close look at these! I’m really excited for my third winter season in these!

Buy on Backcountry (currently 45% off!)

So what’s changed with the new model this season? Check out this video from ISPO 2018 to learn about the upgrades the new version of this boot has! (Thanks to Ron B. for sharing this with me through Facebook!

 

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above help support Northeast Alpine Start to bring in-depth reviews and how-to articles to you! Purchasing through these links sends a small commission to Northeast Alpine Start to keep this content coming. Thank you!

Winter Prep Time, Gear & Head Check!

I usually wait until November to share some tips on getting ready for the upcoming snow & avalanche season but since I got my first turns in today over at Wildcat I just can’t help it. I am so stoked for this winter let’s go go go! If you are excited for winter like I am let’s get down to business so we will be ready to climb, shred, huck, slide, and skip our way up and down our amazing mountains all winter long!

Skiing Mount Washington
Photo by Corey Fitzgerald

First order of business…

Gear Check!

Time to find your avalanche beacon in that mess of a gear closet and put some new batteries in it. You remembered to take the batteries out at the end of last season right? Wouldn’t want any funky corrosion in such an important device. If you have one of my favorite beacons, the Ortovox 3+, make sure you check your software version. If it is running version 2.1 you gotta send it in for a quickie update. Ortovox covers the shipping both ways and I sent in my fleet of 8 beacons and got them back in a week! All the details on that process are here!

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons
Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon- photo by Cait Bourgault

Oh you don’t own a beacon yet? Well we probably should get you one if you have plans that include slaying back-country pow or climbing alpine gullies. I can help you pick out the right model with this post from last year.

Maybe you have an old beacon and thinking it’s time to update? Great timing because Ortovox will give you $75 towards a new beacon! Read up on this recycling program here! Oh, and this is when I put fresh lithium batteries in my headlamp, cuz I’m planning on being a more active member of my local Dawn Patrol squad this winter!

Head Check!

Are you thinking about avalanches? You should be! The Mount Washington Avalanche Center has posted its first general advisory of the season. It is important to understand that very small avalanches can have very large consequences this time of year as our run outs are basically big cliffs and large rocks. Size-able avalanches can happen before the center switches to the 5-tier North American Avalanche Danger Scale. You can read about one such local occurrence here if you need some convincing.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Hands on learning about snow stability- photo by Alexandra Roberts

If you want to venture out and play on some 30+ degree snowy terrain (I sure do!) then you should be thinking about stability (or lack thereof). If you’re not sure what to look for then now might be a good time to sign up for an avalanche course. This is my tenth year teaching avalanche courses and this year I’m teaching AIARE 1, Avalanche Rescue, and AIARE 2 for Northeast Mountaineering.

Our schedule:

AIARE 1

 3 days, $370pp, includes two nights lodging!

December 14-16, 2018
December 28-30, 2018
January 4-6, 2019
January 11-13
January 19-21
January 25-27
February 1-3
February 8-10
February 16-18
March 1-3
March 8-10
March 15-17
March 29-31

With this many AIARE 1 courses running you might think you can wait to book. Well might I say… don’t! Historically we are 80% sold out by mid-December. If you want to chose the date you take your course do so early! You can register directly here. Be sure to enter “DavidNEM” in the promo code box for a good chance at winning a free guided day of your choosing (and to let Northeast Mountaineering know you heard about this from me right?).

Avalanche Rescue

$150pp, includes one night lodging!!!

January 18
March 21

AIARE 2

3 days, $485pp, includes two nights lodging!

March 22-24

Only one date… ya I know wish I could run more but the demand for AIARE 1 is still quite high… we might find a way to squeeze another 2 in during the winter but don’t bet on it. If you have taken a recent 1, and the Avalanche Rescue course, jump on this one quick before it sells out (we have an Avalanche Rescue course scheduled the day before so you can meet that requirement the day before this course!)

Ok, moving on…

Head Check Part 2

If you’ve been spending time learning about snow and avalanches for years now something you’ve definitely figured out is there is still more to learn. To sound cliche… the learning never stops! So to that end here’s a few ideas to get those wheels spinning (and skins gliding)…

Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop!!!

This is coming up Saturday, November 3rd! It’s in Fryeburg, ME. It’s an amazing full day of knowledge and winning shwag. There’s always good food and beer there. There is no reason you should not go to this if you have bothered reading this far. It’s only $50 for a full day of brain boost and you have a pretty decent chance of walking away with some nice schwag by the end of the day! Register now and come high five me at the AIARE/Ortovox table or creeping-on-the-DPS-table!

Avalanche Podcast you say?

Slide: The Avalanche Podcast

Can’t make it to ESAW? That’s okay… I understand… sometimes schedules just don’t work out you know? But guess what? You can still start priming that back-country brain by listening to some wicked smart guy talk about avalanches on a Podcast! I just finally finished the first two seasons of “Slide: The Avalanche Podcast” by Doug Krause. Find it on iTunes or where-ever you get your podcasts…

Rescue Practice

EMS Schools Avalanche Course
Real life rescue practice, full story here

It’s time to refresh those beacon skills. Run some drills. Dig! Don’t neglect the importance of “big picture” type scenarios. Sure, you bracketed that beacon buried under 6 inches of freshly fallen maple leaves in only 2 minutes 13 seconds flat but did you see that glove sticking out of the ground over there? That ski pole? Did you remember to fake-call 911 before you started your search? I’ll refer you to the Quick Reference- Avalanche Rescue flow chart at the back of your AIARE Field Book… oh… you don’t have one? Scroll back up to that stuff about signing up for an Avalanche Course… oh and how’s that First Aid training going? Taken that Wilderness First Aid Course yet?

Ok enough preaching… I’m just really really really excited for this winter. I think it’s going to be a good one. I just feel it. Fingers crossed, snow dances complete, sacrifices made… here it comes!

avalanche courses mount washington
A powder day on the Cog- Photo by Corey Fitzgerald

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Beacon Retirement FB.JPG

Affiliate links support this blog. Shopping through them, even for just a nice new shiny carabiner, helps me keep this dream alive. Thank you!

Gear Review- Avalanche Safety Gear Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

For the third installment of this multi-post series on avalanche safety gear we take a look at the Ortovox line of avalanche shovels.

Ortovox Avalanche Shovel Comparison
Ortovox Avalanche Shovel Comparison- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

Like your beacon and probe you should put some thought into what you want out of your avalanche shovel and Ortovox has models that cover the full range of desires! In order to determine which model is right for you I will point out the key differences between models within the Ortovox line and highlight my favorites!


If you plan to carry a shovel and an ice axe consider the ingenuity of the Pro Alu III Shovel + Pocket Spike! Currently you can use “Take20November” at checkout to get 20% off!


I demonstrate this awesome feature in a short YouTube clip I did last year:

 


Ortovox Badger Shovel $49.95

Ortovox Badger Avalanche Shovel
Ortovox Badger Avalanche Shovel (1 lb 6 oz)

The lightest and most affordable option in the Ortovox line this shovel performs well but lacks some of the things I really like in avalanche shovels, i.e. telescoping shaft and optional “trench” mode. None-the-less for the price point this model features high end materials and efficient design and is an excellent choice for those who spend limited time in avalanche terrain or digging snow-shelters, pits, tent platforms, etc.


Ortovox Beast Avalanche Shovel $59.95

Ortovox Beast Avalanche Shovel
Ortovox Beast Avalanche Shovel (1 lb 9 oz)

For $10 more and 3 ounces more weight the Ortovox Beast adds both a telescoping shaft and a rubber coated glove friendly grip that allows better power transfer and control when digging furiously for your partner. A solid mid-range choice but for $10 more the feature list grows considerably!


Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel $69.95

Ortovox Pru Alu III Avalanche Shovel
Ortovox Pru Alu III Avalanche Shovel (1 lb 12 oz)

The added flexibility of this lightweight and pack-able shovel has won me over as to this being my favorite shovel on the market, which led to a long form review here. The telescoping handle and rubberized “power grip” is nice but where this shovel shines is how it has an intuitive and quick to use “trenching mode” as well as pairing with the incredibly innovative Pocket Spike to provide an extra layer of “fall protection” on those ski tours where you didn’t think carrying an ice axe would be needed. I demonstrate this awesome feature in a short YouTube clip I did last year:


Ortovox Kodiak Avalanche Shovel $89.95

Ortovox Kodiak Avalanche Shovel
Ortovox Kodiak Avalanche Shovel (1 lb 12 oz)

A behemoth in the category of avalanche shovels this model boasts a 3.1 liter blade with telescoping capability and a mitten friendly D-shaped handles. If you suffer from cold hands and ski or ride with mittens, or are a member of professional search and rescue, this is the model for you! It’s still my go-to when I am winter camping or doing heavy snow-pack analysis and less focused on counting the ounces in my pack. I posted a long form review of this 4 years ago and still love this model! I highlighted this model quite a few years ago in this YouTube clip:

 


Protip

Like avalanche transceivers (beacons, and probes, avalanche shovels require practice to become proficient with. Store your shovel in a dedicated avalanche tool pocket in a quality avalanche backpack and practice deploying it on a regular basis. Do not take for granted the seconds that can be lost when you are unfamiliar with your equipment!


Training

Consider upgrading your rescue skills with the all new 8 hour AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course! This is a fantastic addition in the field of avalanche education and something you should consider if you’ll be spending time in avalanche terrain in the future! If you haven’t taken an AIARE 1 course yet, or maybe it’s been awhile, it’s not to late to get in on a course this season! See what dates we have left here! (Use promo code “DavidNEM” when booking)!


Purchase

All of these models can be purchased directly from Backcountry.com here. A small percentage of your purchase will go to Northeast Alpine Start to support creating content like this. Thank you for your support!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

Affiliate links above support this blog. Author is an Ortovox Team Athlete and so received any product mentioned at no cost.

Gear Review- Avalanche Safety Gear Part 2: Avalanche Probes

For the second part of a multi-post series on avalanche safety gear we will take a look at avalanche probes and answer some questions to help you pick the right model.

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

Ortovox Avalanche Probes Review
Avalanche Probe Reviews- photo by Cait Bourgault

An avalanche probe is so much more than just a rescue resource! In fact it is one of my most used tools to make snow-pack observations, both formal and informal.

For example, tracking average snow depth over the terrain helps me better understand the high degree of variability in our terrain. By “gently” probing I can feel for denser layers over weaker layers (possible slabs) and get a sense of how complex the snow-pack I am traveling over is, including the number and prevalence of melt-freeze crusts in our snow-pack, which often are quite relevant to assessing snow stability.

When taking the time to look more closely at the snow-pack via digging a snow-pit the probe helps me identify the depth of any questionable layers. Finally the probe must deploy quickly and reliably in the event of an avalanche accident and provide that critical piece of info, burial depth, once you get a “probe strike”. For all these reasons I would suggest you think critically about what probe you should carry, and below I will help you narrow the field to the model that is right for you.

Aluminum vs Carbon vs Steel

Aluminum probes are likely the most common out there. A solid balance between weight, durability, and affordability. Carbon probes are gaining popularity. Ounce counters will justify the higher cost to save a couple ounces. Steel probes are the choice of organized rescue teams around the world, trading extra weight for long-term durability.

*One experienced reader (@whats_thematterhorn) has pointed out that those who spend a lot of time in glaciated terrain might avoid carbon poles… frequent probing through glacier hard snow/ice to designate “safe areas” and assess snow bridges can lead to pre-mature wear or failure of a carbon probe. In addition a longer probe might be more beneficial in big mountain terrain (Alaska) than in our lower 48 BC terrain.

Length- 240 cm, 280 cm, 320 cm?

Avalanche probe length can vary, with the most common length for recreational users being 240 cm. Considering the average burial depth is 1.4 meters this gives us an extra meter in length over “average” to account for deeper burials. Longer probes do allow one to probe deeper without having to bend over but are best suited for professional rescue where weight/pack-ability isn’t at a premium. The extra length, unfortunately, is more for “recovery” rather than rescue as someone buried over 2 meters deep has a very low chance of survival.

Let’s look at some of the Ortovox models and who they would be best suited for…

Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe $39.95

Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe- 200 grams (7 ounces)

A “budget” choice but one that really beats any other model at this price on the market. 5 cm depth markers, a high visibility first section combined with a visible 1 meter mark and quick lock system all make this a very fine option at a bargain price point.

Ortovox Alu 240 PFA Avalanche Probe $59.95

Ortovox Alu 240 PFA Avalanche Probe

A significant upgrade in the Ortovox Aluminum line the 240 PFA model adds a faster assembly system, a strong and light steel tensioning system (instead of the thin rope used in the Alu 240), and a better top hand grip for precise control during a systematic probe search. This would be my best recommendation for the majority of recreationalists!

Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Avalanche Probe $89.95

Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Probe
Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Avalanche Probe- 185 grams (6.5 ounces)

The lightest probe in the Ortovox line this is the model of choice for those who like to shave ounces from their kit, yet it still has great durability and the quick lock assembly system as well as the “visual guide system” that is a feature of all Ortovox probes. If you like to streamline your kit this is the one to look at!

Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe $99.95

Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe 355 grams / 12.5 oz

Longer than the 240 cm models and extendable (can be extended with another probe) this model is the choice of mountain guides and rescue groups around the world. Light weight carbon with a high strength steel tension system and the rubberized top grip make this a solid choice for, ski patrol, rescue, and mountain professionals everywhere.

Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Probe $109.95

Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Avalanche Probe- 670 grams (1 lb 7.6 oz)

The biggest and most robust of the line-up, the high weight of this work-horse really lends itself to professional rescue and the back-country snowmobile crowd where an extra pound of weight will not be noticed.

Practice

No matter what probe you have it is imperative that you practice with it regularly. From my experience of teaching avalanche courses for over 10 years I can say that most people, even those who have owned a probe for a few seasons, have not practiced with them enough. How should you practice? Consider running “deployment” drills where you must remove your backpack, access your pack, and deploy your probe correctly, all under a stopwatch. Race your friends and touring partners. Make it a game. You will be surprised how much people can fumble and struggle with the locking mechanism on their probe. The bottom line is in an avalanche rescue every second counts and a lot of time can be lost if you are not efficient at deploying your probe. Take the time to get proficient!

Pro-tip

Don’t take your avalanche probe storage sack into the back-county. Leave it at home and use it for home-storage and travel. Taking it into the field slows your ability to deploy your probe quickly and they often get blown away and lost in the lightest of winds.

Summary

I hope you’ve found this post informative and educational. At the end of the day there are a ton of great probes on the market these days from quite a few different companies. I obviously love the Ortovox line and I think when you objectively compare features and get some hands-on time with any of these models you’ll feel the same way.

Training

Consider upgrading your rescue skills with the all new 8 hour AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course! This is a fantastic addition in the field of avalanche education and something you should consider if you’ll be spending time in avalanche terrain in the future! If you haven’t taken an AIARE 1 course yet, or maybe it’s been awhile, it’s not to late to get in on a course this season! See what dates we have left here! (Use promo code “DavidNEM” when booking)!

Purchase

All of these models can be purchased directly from Backcountry.com here. A small percentage of your purchase will go to Northeast Alpine Start to support creating content like this. Thank you for your support!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

Affiliate links above support this blog. Author is an Ortovox Team Athlete and so received any product mentioned at no cost.

Gear Review- Avalanche Safety Gear Part 1: Transceivers (Beacons)

Over the last ten years I’ve had the opportunity to thoroughly test many of the most popular avalanche safety products on the market while teaching close to a dozen avalanche courses each winter. I was already a huge fan of Ortovox products before I was invited to join their Athlete Team and have been sharing my love of the brand personally with my students for two winters now. In part 1 of my avalanche gear series  I’ll explain what makes Ortovox beacons different and try to help you decide which avalanche transceiver* (beacon) best suits your end goal!

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons
Ortovox Avalanche Beacons- photo by @photocait

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

*Note to the reader, the words “transceiver” and “beacon” will be considered synonyms.

Part 1: Transceivers

If you have ever taken an avalanche course and asked the instructor “What’s the best beacon?” you will probably get the same non-endorsing answer, “The one you practice the most with”.

While there is some good-natured truth to that boxed statement let’s get real. There are some specific features and design choices someone shopping for an avalanche beacon should consider. In no particular order;

  • Is the beacon intuitive (especially under stress)?
  • Can the beacon handle multiple burial situations?
  • Does the beacon have a “flagging” function?
  • How “search-able” am I? <- We will get into that in more detail

Ortovox has three models of transceivers which completely cover the range of user groups who are looking for a beacon. Before we get into what makes each model different let’s look at the single most important feature that sets Ortovox beacons apart from all others out there!

SMART-ANTENNA-TECHNOLOGY™

What does that mean? Well all Ortovox beacons (and any decent modern beacon these days) uses triple antenna’s while searching. We know that triple antenna’s are faster and more accurate at locating a buried partner than extinct single antenna beacons and outgoing dual antenna beacons, especially during the final moments of a fine search (getting you closer to the victim before you start probing). I would strongly encourage, regardless of brand, you only shop triple-antenna beacons at this point.

So when a triple antenna beacon is in search mode it uses two antenna’s during the signal search phase and turns on the third vertical antenna when you get close to the victim to aid in pinpointing there location and reduce probing time.

Ortovox takes this technology one step further though to make it easier to be found! Simply put, when searching with a triple antenna beacon any beacon will use all three of its antenna’s.  When transmitting however it can only use one. All other beacons on the market will only transmit on the biggest antenna regardless off orientation. Before we move on with how Ortovox has innovated a great feature here let’s make sure we understand what a “flux line” is.

A flux line is the pattern of the radio signal a transmitting beacon sends out. A searching beacon must get within this “flux line” area to start picking up the buried persons beacon.

Ortovox Transceiver Beacon Review
Flux lines and orientation

In the above image you can see both an example of how these flux lines radiate out from the buried beacon, and at the top right an internal look at a triple antenna beacon. Take note of the three antenna’s, X, Y, and Z. So any other beacon on the market will only transmit on the X antenna. If the beacon is buried “flat” the flux lines will spread out far making it easier for a searching beacon to locate from distance. This is referred to as “strong coupling”.

If the victim gets buried with their beacon held in a vertical orientation, the flux lines radiate out more “vertically”, which is less than ideal for being found quickly. This is referred to as “weak coupling” between the searching beacon and the transmitting beacon. Essentially you are “less visible” and searchers must get closer to you before they can pick up a signal. Unless you have an Ortovox beacon.

With the previous information understood we can start to see what Ortovox does here. They have built in software and an internal gyroscope so that the transmitting beacon can analyze its orientation and select which ever of the three antennas will provide the best “coupling” with a searching beacon. While antenna X might send a farther signal than antenna Z that doesn’t help you much if the beacon is orientated vertically, essentially sending the signals straight up and down from the victim, instead of horizontally across the debris field. Because of “Smart-Antenna” technology you are essentially “more visible” regardless of what orientation you are buried in!

While that is one of my favorite features that sets Ortovox apart in the market let’s look at some of the other features you should consider when beacon shopping.


Auto-Revert

Or as Ortovox calls it “automatic switch-over”. What is that? Well if you are searching a debris field for a victim and your beacon is in search mode it is not transmitting a signal. If a secondary avalanche hits you it is crucial that your beacon go back into transmit mode so you can be located. Different brands have different strategies for getting a beacon to go back into transmit without user input. Some require specific boot-up steps every time you turn them on, others are based on long times in search modes or lack of motion (5 to 8 minutes in some cases). Every Ortovox beacon has an internal motion sensor and if the software does not sense significant movement within two minutes the beacon will automatically return to transmit mode. I greatly prefer this to other brands that take 5+ minutes to switch to transmit! If I’m not moving (i.e. buried in debris) I would much prefer my beacon to start transmitting again sooner rather than later!


Recco

Becoming more common across the industry Ortovox has placed a Recco reflector in every one of their models. This can speed up recovery in places with professional rescue teams (700+ ski areas around the world) and act as a back-up if your beacon is damaged or you forgot to put new batteries in (which should never happen with a proper Trailhead Function Check!).


Now that we’ve covered all the similarities of Ortovox beacons let’s look at the three individual models and decide which one is right for you!

Zoom+ Transceiver (Beacon)

Ortovox Zoom+ Transceiver (Beacon)
Ortovox Zoom+ Transceiver (Beacon)

Simple, effective, intuitive, compact. The Zoom+ fits great in my zippered ski pants pocket where I choose to carry it. Its straight forward design is a boon for both stressful situations and less-experienced back-country travelers. The advanced features mentioned above make this a great choice at the price point when compared to other beacons on the market. Highly recommended for those who spend limited time in avalanche terrain or stick to lower danger days (great for ice climbers, high-altitude mountaineers, etc). MRSP $289 This model also comes in a set with a great shovel and probe here!


Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Transceiver

Ortovox 3+ Transceiver (Beacon)
Ortovox 3+ Transceiver (Beacon)

With better visuals to aid during pinpointing and the ability to “flag” victims that you have a confirmed probe strike on this model should be attractive to the largest group of back-country travelers. Back-country skiers, riders, search & rescue members, and snow-mobilers would find this a solid choice in the category and this has been our rental transceiver of choice for the past two winters!


Ortovox S1+ Transceiver

Ortovox S1+ Transceiver (Beacon)

The top-of-the-line model in the Ortovox lineup the S1+ impresses. With a unique “flip phone” design the S1+ automatically goes in to search mode when you “flip open” the device.

Ortovox S1+ Transceiver (Beacon)
Ortovox S1+ Transceiver (Beacon)

Beyond that the most significant difference is the S1+ has one of the fastest, if not the fastest, processors on the market which allows it to display a digital visual “overview” of the scene which can greatly help you triage multiple burial scenarios. With a search strip width of 50 meters (10 more than the other two models and most other beacons out there) you can cover more ground and find poor coupled signals faster. Intuitive flagging functions help recover more people faster (when you have enough people to dig). Customization to suit your preferences and level of training are built in along with a digital inclinometer to help with terrain assessment/choice. This should be the choice of professional mountain guides, trip leaders, and those who simply want the best possible beacon on the market. MRSP $490


Summary

I hope you’ve found this post educational. At the end of the day there are a ton of great beacons on the market these days from quite a few different companies. I obviously love the Ortovox line and I think when you objectively compare features and get some hands-on time with any of the three models you’ll feel the same way. I’ll end with that most often cliche statement, that the best beacon really is the one you practice with the most! To that end consider upgrading your rescue skills with the all new 8 hour AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course! This is a fantastic addition in the field of avalanche education and something you should consider if you’ll be spending time in avalanche terrain in the future!

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above support the content created here at no cost to you. Author is an Ortovox Team Athlete so any product mentioned was received at no cost.