Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $250
Pros: Hella range, good battery life.
Cons: Takes far more work to be proficient.
Best Uses: Back country skiing, back country snow boarding, snowmobiling.
For better, or for worse in the winter of 2013/14 the old school Ortovox F1 has been discontinued. While the F1 is a tried and true analog single antenna avalanche beacon, all modern beacons are better in nearly ever way. If you have owned an F1 in the past and want something similar because there is nothing quite like it. The closest thing is the Pieps Freeride, a single antenna all digital beacon. Function wise the Freeride is like an automatic car version of the F1 because you don't have to dial it down, but if you were really stoked on the F1 for its range and simplicity you likely wont be stoked on the Pieps Freeride. Instead look at the BCA Tracker 2, the Ortovox Zoom+ or the Ortovox 3+ which are all relatively simple beacons, that will be much easier to use and significantly faster during rescues.
Most people today don't know why it's called the F1. It came after the Ortovox F2, so why did the F2 come first? Well there used to be two frequencies that beacons used, one in Europe and one in the USA, but not everyone in either region always had beacons with the same frequency. So the F2 was the first beacon to accommodate both. Then users around the world settled on 457,000mz. They then updated the F2 to the F1 (Or one frequency) to a similar model that is sold today. It works but you really need to know what you are doing. We don't recommend it unless you have a ton of experience and it's really that important to save a little money. For just a little more you can get the Ortovox 3+ or the Backcountry Access Tracker 2, which have three antennae and are much easier to use.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Ortovox F1 is a single antenna beacon. As a result there is more power going to one antenna and thus the F1 has the best range in the review (80 meters). The reduction in range with digital beacons seemed shocking at the time. Imagine all beacons going from 70 or 90 meters down to 30 meters. The other huge advantage, besides range, of the F1 is battery life. The F1 has 50-100 percent more battery life than most other beacons on the market. Why, with these two big advantages, do very few people use analog beacons? Well, the digital beacons are just so much easier and faster to use, thus you are more likely to find your victim alive.
This beacon takes a lot of practice to use. It does work but to be proficient with the F1 takes a lot more energy. For example, one of our testers is a seasoned avalanche instructor who learned on an F1 and still practices with it to teach folks who still use/own them (though he uses a triple antennae model for his own use). During our side by side comparison for a single victim the seasoned instructor had about the same rescue times with average to casual users with a triple antenna beacon. In multiple burials an F1 can't keep up with multiple antennae beacons no matter how dialed in you are.
Also, with the F1 used on multiple burial scenarios there is no flag/mark feature, not even a "special button" as on the Tracker.
— Chris McNamara and Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: January 3, 2013
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