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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Expensive, fast processing but not the fastest.
The Mammut Pulse Barryvox is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice winner because it scored the best or very close to the best during all of our side-by-side tests as well as in every comparison category. In multiple burial situations, the Pulse was faster than the Tracker 2 and just barely edged out the Arva Pro W, the new Pieps DSP Pro and the Ortovox S1+. The Arva Pro W preformed very comparably to the Pulse but the Pulse has even more options and longer range. When compared with our other Top Picks the Pulse became more and more efficient the more complex the rescue situation became. The Pulse offers an unmatched number of features and much more control over those features and specific options.
If you are after a high preforming product but the nearly $500 price tag seems out of your range, consider the Pieps DSP Pro ($375), Arva Neo ($350) or the Mammut Element Barryvox which all have all of the features that most backcountry travelers consider the most essential for a high-end product but without a lot of the extras, or options within each setting.
RELATED: Our complete review of avalanche beacons
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Mammut Barryvox Pulse had just below 60 meters of maximum range which was the best maximum range among digital beacons in our review. With that said, the Ortovox S1+ and the Pieps DSP Pro were very close and only had a couple of meters less range. To extend the Pulse's range even further it can be switched from digital into analog mode. When the Pulse is switched to analog mode we found we gained around 17-18 more meters of range. While our testers agree this is a cool feature for experienced users and professionals who have previously spent time learning how to use analog beacons we don't think that very many people will use or benefit from the analog feature and we do think most rescuers will save the most time by just keeping their product in digital mode and just continuing with their normal search patterns to locate a signal instead of messing with a quite likely analog search for the first 20 some odd meters.
Ease Of Use And Controls
Turning the Pulse between search, send, and off isn't to complicated but it is easily the most complex and requires the most fine motors skills of any of the products we tested. To turn it on you simply press one of the buttons and slide the switch to the send position. To offer some safety both buttons need to be pressed if you want to turn the Pulse from send mode to off, or to search mode. While moving the primary features requires a little more fine motor skills compared with others, once in search or send mode the Pulses menu is easily accessed using two buttons on either side of it. We found we could easily operate these buttons even with thick gloves or mittens on.
Ease Of Finding A Single Victim
The Pulse with its long range and speedy processor was one of our top scorers in our ease of finding a single victim category. After our side-by-side comparisons we thought the Mammut Barryvox Pulse has one of the quicker processors compared to most options on the market today.
Ease Of Use In Fine Search
The fine search is the last part of the search and includes the bracketing stage, for our side-by-side comparisons we also reported our comparisons of the last 5 meters during the search as well. This is again where the Pulse scored near the top of the list. There were a few instances during our side-by-side while bracketing comparisons where the we could move the DSP Pro and the Tracker 2 at a slightly faster rate where the Pulse would give us a stop sign, indicating we needed to slow down, this was a very small difference in speed but a difference nevertheless. We did think the Pulse was a little bit faster during the fine search than our other OutdoorGearLab Top Pick the Ortovox S1+. A really nice feature of the Barryvox Pulse is instead of having three to five directional arrow lights, the pulse has a free floating digital arrow that spins 360 degrees. This means if you are heading in the wrong direction or need to turn around, the arrow will indicate as such. While the Ortovox S1+ has a very similar feature, with most other models, if you go too far past your victim during bracketing the directional arrow will keep pointed in the wrong direction potentially leading you further and further away. The Pulse comes with a default of having the directional arrow go away at three meters, and just displaying a distance and sounds. Just like so many other features on the Pulse this feature is modular and the operator could choose to not have the directional arrow go away.
Ease Of Use In Multiple Burial Situations
The Pulse Barryvox flags beacons in multiple burial situations similar to other top models like the Arva Pro W, Pieps DSP Pro and the Ortovx S1+, where the Pulse Barryvox "blinds" one beacons signal from the search. A useful but rarely found feature is the ability to go "back" and select a beacon the searcher might want to resume looking for. This obvious feature is only found on the Arva Pro W and the Ortovox S1+. The Pieps DSP Pro has a "undo" type button where you can "de-flag" the most recently flagged beacon.
The Pulse Feature
The truth is, the Pulse feature is slightly over emphasized, and a lot of people overlook this product because of things that they have heard about the Pulse feature. The name "Pulse" comes from the fact that if both the searcher and victim have the Barryvox Pulse, it can sense through even the smallest slight movements (such as breathing) if the victim is still alive. The Pulse will even remember how long ago the movement has stopped, so when the rescuer digs the victim up it's just another piece of information to use for decision making. For example if someone stopped breathing 25 minutes ago but there are still three other people buried, you could use that information to help direct your attention. These features are certainly nice and distinctive. However, it is only really useful if all your backcountry partners have the Pulse. This feature has sparked some debate in the community (take it or leave it) but there are a lot of other reasons to choose the Pulse other than the "pulse" feature. Some large heli-ski and Cat-ski operations outfit their guides and guests with the Pulse to help in decision making. If not everyone in the group has a Pulse on, it wont work, but just because your friends don't have Pulse beacons isn't a reason to ignore the dozens of other rad features, excellent range and quick processing speed.
The Pulse Barryvox has a "simple mode" to make it more streamline and easier to use. We thought this mode certainly helped less experienced people use the Pulse, but still didn't make it as easy to use as several others we tested like the BCA Tracker 2 or DSP Sport or Pro. We are glad that Mammut included this feature, but we wouldn't recommend that people spend the extra money to get all the extra features just so they can turn them off, but its nice if you want to start out or loan it to your buddy.
The Other Features category is were the Pulse Barryvox is easily the most stacked option on the market easily offering some the most features and options within those features of any product on the market. The Ortovox S1+ also has stacks of features but not nearly as many as the Barryvox Pulse.
The Pulse Barryvox has a screen-less mode where if it is to become damaged and the screen is broken and unreadable you can still use it. This is NOT something you want to try and do on the fly. It is very difficult to use the Pulse in this fashion, but for those who practice with the function can add another level of redundancy to their rescue skills.
The Pulse has a group check mode, this is a feature on the Barryvox Pulse to help guide the leader (or the person who is leading through the check) to preform a basic "Function Check", which should ideally be done every time a group heads out into the backcountry. During this function it limits the range of the Pulse helping it focus on each beacon to make sure it is Sending/Transmitting. The Pulse will even tell the checker if they are too close to another beacon by displaying "Too Close" on the screen.
Like many of the other high end options on the market today the Pulse has the ability to plug into a computer in order to update software and help keep it running more smoothly. Unlike with your phone or home computer where you might get lazy or think the new operating system isn't as good, with beacons you should always get it updated at least once a year.
The Pulse has a feature that allows the owner to put their contact information into it and once there it will display every time it is turned on.
We haven't even touched on all the possible features and options of the Pulse, but we did discuss the most used and appreciated ones. Some of the other features include, setting several different profiles and keep the beacon in analog mode for longer or short distances while searching. Or in the event that your beacon is on very low power, it can search entirely in analog mode. Very few other beacons offer any of these possibilities. This can be confusing for the novice but some experts will appreciate the versatility.
Reverting To Send
The Pulse is one of the few options on the market that not only has the function of reverting back to Send mode so in the event of a second avalanche the beacon will go back to Send mode but this feature (like so many other things on the Pulse) is optional to turn both on or off and also the amount of time before that happens is adjustable. You can set the revert time to be four or eight minutes if it doesn't sense any motion then it goes back to Send mode. Before the Pulse reverts back to send it gives a load beep sound to help alert the user of what is happening.
Comfort To Carry
The Pulse Barryvox is 25% smaller than a Tracker 2 and around 20% smaller than an Ortovox S1+ and was one of the most comfortable to wear. The Pulse's harness system is above average for comfort and among the simplest and easiest to use. For users who like to carry their beacon in a zippered pants pocket the Pulse was above average scoring better than our other OutdoorGearLab Top Pick the new Pieps DSP Pro or the Ortovox S1+. We did think the Pulse was similar in comfort to carry in our zippered pants pocket as the Arva Neo and Arva Pro W.
At $490 the Pulse Barryvox is one of the more expensive options out there but you get a lot of bang for your buck. While expensive, the Pulse is inline with the other high end models like the Ortovox S1+. There are a lot of reasons to buy a Barryvox Pulse, being a price pointed product isn't one of them.
The number of options this beacon gives you can be overwhelming. With so many options, this could be the reason the processing speed feels a little slower than Pieps (but it is still relatively fast overall).
The Mammut Pulse Barryvox Versus The Mammut Element Barryvox
The Pulse is essentially a "fully loaded" upgrade from the Element but not necessarily everyone will benefit from this upgrade. The Element has all the major features and functions of the Pulse like a fast processor, solid flagging capability and excellent range. The Element, like the Pulse can switch into analog mode for great reception range and allows the searcher to switch between victims during the search if necessary. A difference that most people won't notice at first is that the screen the Pulse's arrow can point in any direction where as the Element is limited to nine directions. Because the Element has far fewer features Mammut/Barryvox only gave it one side button instead of the Pulses two to help the user navigate through the menu options. The Element doesn't have the "Pulse" feature or nearly as many options within features. Is the Pulse right for you? We think guides and trip leaders wanting all the extra's should get the Pulse but most people will likely be better off and spend $140 less by purchasing the Element.
The Mammut Pulse Barryvox is best used by experienced backcountry users, trip leaders and mountain guides. Its number of options is amazing and the Pulse offers some extraordinary features, but for the casual recreationalist this will be a henderance and will likely be overwhelming. For Mountain Guides and trip leaders who will spend the time to dial in the Pulse and all its features will be rewarded by an amazingly capable, fast product that will do better, even during the most complex situations and will excel even more if those situations involve a lot of people.
The Mammut Barryvox Pulse is one of the best preforming productss in every category. It has a ton of features and options that will satisfy even the most demanding user. With that, the Pulse isn't for everyone, for folks just getting into the backcountry or more causal or occasional users the Pulse is a little over whelming even while in its simple mode. The Pulse is best suited for more experienced users, guides and trip leaders who will benefit from paying the extra money for all the added extras.
The Mammut Barryvox Element, $350, was one of the overall best preforming beacons in our review and was a top scorer in nearly every category. It is the more "Basic" version of our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice Pulse Barryvox, with all the same basic features including the best maximum range for an all digital beacon, a solid flagging feature and one of the faster processors. It doesn't have as many of the more advanced features like the pulse feature, the analog function, the ability to number and scroll through victims during multiple burials.
The Mammut Light Protection, $900, wins our Top Pick Award for multi-day and hut-to-hut adventures. Like the name indicates, the Mammut Light Protection Airbag is light. At 6 lbs for everything (airbag/canister/pack) the Light Protection Airbag is one of the lightest airbag packs on the market and far lighter than almost everything in this volume category.
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: January 1, 2014
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