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Hands-on Gear Review
Ortovox 3+ Review
Cons: Range isn't as good as some others, less precise when bracketing
The Ortovox 3+ is a solid triple antennae beacon that is easy to use, with most of the features that backcountry users are looking for with not a lot of extras. The 3+ has a little below average maximum range and was good, but not great during the bracketing stage of our search; but it does have one of our top rated flagging functions and is very easy to use. The Ortovox 3+ used to be one of the better priced three-antennae avalanche beacons and the former winner of our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award. Now with beacons like the Pieps DSP Sport ($275), Mammut Element Barryvox ($350), Arva Neo ($350), Arva Evo3+ ($290) and Ortovox Zoom+ ($300) the 3+ is more average in price but still a great beacon. The new Best Buy winner is the Pieps DSP Sport, which is a little faster, was a little more precise while bracketing and has a longer range. The Ortovox 3+ processor was noticeably slower than our Editors' Choice, the Mammut Pulse Barryvox, or the Arva Pro W but also didn't "bracket" quite as well and we had to move slower under five meters compared with the BCA Tracker 2.
While the 3+ did not score as high as the Ortovox S1, it is easier to use. Therefore, for more casual backcountry adventurers who are honest with themselves and are not going to practice as much as they should, we recommend the 3+ (You do still need to practice).
RELATED: Our complete review of avalanche beacons
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
The range of the Ortovox 3+ is toward the lower end of the spectrum of beacons and nearly the lowest of the three-antennae beacons we tested. The 3+ had a maximum range just below 40 meters. That means it has a few meters longer range than an original BCA Tracker DTS and the Ortovox Zoom+ but a few meters shorter range than the new BCA Tracker 2 and had a shorter range than the similarly priced new Pieps DSP Sport beacon.
Ease of Use
The 3+ beacon is among the simplest and easiest to use and was just as easy to use as the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS and BCA Tracker 2 as well as the Ortovox Zoom but had a few more features. The Ortovox 3+ has very simple controls and is a great Beacon for novice backcountry travelers or even experienced users who could appreciate its simplicity. It's easy to operate with the small exception of going from send mode to search mode. Similar to the Mammut Pulse and Element you simultaneously move to buttons outward.
Ease of Use in the Fine Search
The Ortovox 3+ has average accuracy in fine search mode while bracketing our victim before you get out your probe. During our side-by-side testing we felt like the 3+ wasn't as precise during the bracketing stage of our search as the Tracker 2, Pieps DSP Sport or Mammut Element. It did bracket better than many of the other more priced pointed options though. The 3+ has a fast processor but it wasn't as fast as the similarly priced BCA Tracker 2, Pieps DSP Sport or Mammut Element. It is noticeably faster than the older BCA Tracker DTS, Ortovox Zoom or Pieps Freeride. The Ortovox 3+ uses a directional arrow that can point up to seven different directions to help the user stay on the flux line. This is more directions than most other beacons on the market with the exception of the Ortovox S1+ and Mammut Pulse Barryvox which use a "free floating directional arrow". The sounds the 3+ uses are very intuitive and were helpful during the search.
Ease of use in Multiple Burials
The Ortovox 3+ uses an easy to understand display to show 1-3 victims and puts an intuitive mark around each flagged victim. The Ortovox 3+ has one of the better flagging features on the market and we rarely found we had to hit the flag button more than one time. Compare this with the Pieps DSP Sport and DSP Pro which claim to have a "tighter" flagging range in the event that two beacons are close together but we would have to press the flag button more than once and have to look at the numbers and read the display to see if it worked. Unlike the new Pieps DSP Sport, Ortovox S1+ or the Mammut Pulse Barryvox, you can't "unflag" a beacon with an 3+.
Revert to Transmit Mode
After 120 seconds of no movement, the beacon switches from search to send mode in case you get buried in a follow-up slide. Before switching back this beacon beeps loudly for 10 seconds to alert the searcher that this function is taking place. This feature is sometimes debated and you can read more about it in our main Best Avalanche Beacon Review.
Smart Antenna Technology
The 3+ was one of the first avalanche beacons to implement smart antenna technology. This technology is now being implemented by more and more avalanche beacon manufactures each year. This technology helps the beacon realize how it is oriented on the victim who is buried in the avalanche. Using gravity the beacon picks the antenna that is the best orientation to broadcast it's signal to maximize the range that searchers might be able to pick up the buried beacon.
Not that this is a big deal, but the 3+ one of the few beacons to give buyers a color option.
Like many other higher end beacons you can update the software on the Ortovox 3+ to help keep it running more smoothly. You can do this at some retailers or by mailing your beacon into Ortovox directly.
As of the winter 2013/14 season, Ortovox is installing a RECCO reflector on the Ortovox 3+. We don't think this is a super necessary feature, offering assistance in only a few scenarios, but it doesn't offer much of a down side and could assist in finding a body once the beacon has run out of power or help to potentially save someone who is just straight up lost by being found by a helicopter flying overhead with a RECCO gun.
The 3+ does have a group function feature but it was complicated to access and we didn't find ourselves using it very often.
The 3+ harness system is not the most comfortable to wear. It moved around on our testers more than other beacons, which wasn't a lot, but was noticeable. That said, it is very light, and its thin profile was nice to wear in an inner zippered pant pocket.
Best Application and the Bottom Line
The Ortovox 3+ is a beacon that can be appreciated by everyone from the most novice user to very experienced and avid backcountry travelers. Only professionals and the most demanding users will wish the 3+ had more to offer. Those types of users are more likely to want more complex beacons like the Mammut Pulse Barryvox and the Ortovox S1+. The 3+ simple and easy to understand with one of the better multiple burial functions on the market. Its only downsides are its average speed, okay bracketing and slightly below average maximum range.
— Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: January 3, 2014
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