An avalanche transceiver is one of the single most important purchases you will make when preparing for backcountry skiing. Whether you are an insatiable snowshoe enthusiast, just beginning to ski your ski area’s out-of-bounds terrain, or a veteran backcountry skier looking to update your rescue kit, finding a beacon that you can quickly and accurately locate a buried person with is of the utmost importance. No matter how or why you travel in the winter backcountry, this is a necessary ability for you and your ski partners.
The BCA Tracker 3 is a sleek and solid avalanche beacon. It has three antennas, long battery life, operates on the standard 457 mHz frequency, and a handful of special functions including a flagging function, auto revert mode, and (quirky) auditory search aids. The BCA Tracker 3 will 10 out of 10 beam you up.
BCA has long been known for making simple and trustworthy beacons. The Tracker 3 is relatively intuitive to learn how to use, especially for people familiar with the Tracker 2. The beacon is appropriate for all user groups, from avalanche educators to lift-access backcountry (aka sidecountry/slackcountry) skiers. That being said, venturing into avalanche terrain comes with the responsibility to be educated. So take an avalanche class, practice rescue skills, and make sure your ski partners are doing the same.
Design and carry
The Tracker 3 has a unique sleek and slim design. Advertised as the “thinnest multiple-antenna avalanche transceiver” on the market, the Tracker 3 weighs about 20% less than the Tracker 2. While reducing the weight of my beacon isn’t a priority, the low-profile design did make the Tracker 3 great for carrying in a pant pocket.
The Tracker 3 can be carried either in a chest harness or a pant pocket. I prefer to carry my beacon in a pant pocket for easy access without having fumble to unzip my jacket and upper layers. The beacon comes with a useful coiled bungee leash that is easy to stuff in pocket before beginning a probe search. The chest harness system is similar to that of the Tracker 2, and is adequate for those who prefer to use a chest harness. The leash is long enough to reach the beacon a full arms length from your chest, unlike some other beacon harnesses. One drawback is that it is difficult to adjust the chest harness to an appropriate size for smaller users, and that the webbing straps tend to rub on some users neck.
Range and speed
The Tracker 3 has a reliable range of about 45m, similar to most three antennae beacons on the market. During range checks, the Tracker 3 consistently showed a range of 50-55m, but the beacon’s real strength is in its processing speed. This is especially apparent during the fine search phase.
The most notable update over the Tracker 2 is the addition of the “signal suppression” function. This acts much like a flagging function, but only lasts for a minute before allowing the marked signal to be picked up again. This is nice if you’re quick (which you should work to be!) but some more novice users may find this fast reversion frustrating. The Tracker 3 also boasts the “big picture” mode. While most beacons locks onto a signal and ignore all others when the searcher is within 2-3 meters of the victim, switching to big picture mode removes this function, allowing the search to quickly determine if there are multiple victims buried very close together. While most recreational users probably won’t find this particularly useful, it may be valuable for guides or professional rescue personnel. The Tracker 3 also indicates when it believes there are multiple victims within 6 meters, which is likely sufficient in almost all rescue situations. While these special functions are useful and becoming part of industry standards, it is always important to train with and without using them in case system failure or a rescue scenario that necessitates a simpler search.
The Tracker 3 also is equipped with a motion detecting “auto revert” mode, in which the beacon reverts from search to transmit if the beacon has not moved for one minute, or if the beacon has been in search for five minutes. This is a useful safety precaution in the event that the searcher is caught in an avalanche, but can interfere with the search process. If the user wished to use auto revert mode, it must be manually activated every time the beacon is turned on.
The LED screen is simple with big red graphics that are easy to see in all weather conditions. Unlike some LCD screens, the LED screen can be used while wearing polarized glasses or goggles, a definite perk. The Tracker 3 also has a mini USB port for firmware updates and self-tests, and users should keep an eye out for updates on BCA’s website.
Alyssa Young transplanted from California to the San Juan Mountains, where she oscillates between teaching avalanche courses in the winter and environmental education in the summer. Alyssa is a dedicated search and rescue volunteer and is passionate about botany, social and environmental justice, and wild places.