Junk in the Trunk: Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon

A little tech goes a long way in the backcountry

The Ortovox 3+ Beacon. PHOTO: Kade Krichko

The Ortovox 3+ Beacon. PHOTO: Kade Krichko

Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon
MSRP: $368.95

Testing avy gear isn't something to get jazzed about. It's not like shredding a fat pair of powder spoons or working out GoreTex at the annual pond skim. Let's put it this way: you don't come away excited to try out your gear in the field. In fact, it's the one piece of gear you hope you'll never have to use.

But as we've all heard a million times before, accessing the backcountry comes with inherent risks. While the first lines of defense should kick in well before you reach an avy prone slope, sometimes you need technology as a last line, and you want that last line to be as functional and technologically sound as possible.

That's what first drew me to the Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon. I had heard of the company, but I felt comfortable using my beacon and was tentative about learning a new product. However, Ortovox promised a few advances that I just couldn't ignore.

The thing that immediately stuck out with the 3+ was the Smart Antenna Technology—a feature that switches between transmitting antennas to maximize signal strength no matter which angle an avalanche victim is positioned. To break that down, most traditional beacons operate on a single axis, meaning that if someone is buried at an angle, the signal transmitted back to the searching transceiver could be off by multiple meters. The 3+ operates on two axes, and switches between the two based on its position to give the most accurate reading possible. Think twisting your iPhone sideways to make the keypad bigger, it's the same thought process here.

In addition to the dual axes search system, the 3+ can also track multiple signals in case of a group burial. Up to three signals will appear at a time on the device's oversized front screen and after locating the first signal, a simple click on the transceiver's flag button cancels out the initial pulse and allows you to search for remaining victims quickly and easily. If you are caught in a secondary slide while locating your group, the 3+ automatically switches over to search mode after 120 seconds stationary use—an innovative feature that could be the necessary difference in a tight spot.

But perhaps the most important feature of the 3+ is its ease of use. Just like the ever-popular BCA Tracker 2, the 3+ is easy to read and has a simple and accurate search mode. Unlike the Tracker 2, the 3+ only requires a single AA battery and has the same 250 hour battery life. The Tracker 2 has a slightly larger search strip width (50m compared to 40m with the the 3+), but both are about as intuitive as they come.

In addition to the shorter search strip width, there have also been murmurs about interfering signals with the 3+. Personally, I had no issue with any wayward signals while testing out in the snow, but, as always, I had my other electronics powered down.

Overall, the Ortovox 3+ was as easy to use as any beacon I've ever owned, and I was impressed by the added tech. While I might not be giddy about using the thing, at least I know there is some legitimate technology that has my back next time I step outside the gates.