Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Easy to use, long range, may be the wave of the future.
Cons: More experienced users will have to slightly retrain themselves, expensive.
Best Uses: Back country skiing, back country snow boarding, snowmobiling.
The Ortovox S1+ is the most technically advanced avalanche beacon on the market but it still has a few quirks and it takes a little longer to get used to the interface. It was one of our higher performing beacons and was also fairly easy to use. However, it is different than all other beacons on the market because it doesn't follow flux lines in a conventional way. This is where very experienced users will have a harder time than less experienced users and the Beacon feels different than any others on the market. The S1+ is also a little harder to use at three meters and under; it would generally take a little longer for our rescuers to "bracket" the victim. While it is expensive, it is not that much more so than its competitors.
The range is among the best we tested, which allows large search strip widths. Its closest competitors are the Pieps DSP and Mammut Pulse Barryvox. In choosing between the three, it comes down to if you are comfortable with the more advanced digital display of the S1 or prefer a more standard display. Some of our testers (especially those with more experience) were more skeptical at first because the S1 looks for victims and assists you in finding your victim in a totally different way. Unlike all other beacons we've ever used, the S1 doesn't assist you in following a flux line to your victim. Instead it uses "sensors" (hence the name S1) and calculates distances and angles of the flux lines and takes you straight to the victim. If you are only doing a few trips a year, we recommend the Ortovox 3+, which is $110 cheaper and even easier to use, especially for beginners, but does not have nearly as large a range.
In a recent training with experienced mountain guides, we all took turns using the three devices mentioned above in practice burials. Everyone traded off in multiple burials. No matter which guide had which device, the Ortovox S1 always came out on top, followed by the Pieps DSP and then Barrybox and then the Tracker. But all devices performed great.
New for 2011, the S1 became the S1+. The + is just a feature that the Ortovox 3+ already had and now is featured in the S1+. The + is the transmitting antenna and affects only the transmit mode of the beacon and has no effect on the beacon's search abilities. It basically chooses which is the better antenna to transmit from, thus giving the wearer a better chance to be found. Kinda sweet.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
We consider the S1+ a potential game-changer like the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS was years ago. The Tracker was the first digital beacon and way easier to use than the competition. Fast forward to today – the S1 similarly stands out with technology that is likely to be the way of the future. That said, Ortovox has had several issues with this beacon's softwear and we feel it isn't quite there yet. We do think that in a few years it's possible that all beacons will be like this: three antennae and able to take you straight to the victim without having to follow the flux line in a traditional way.
In some ways this is the most user friendly beacon we tested. It is the only beacon that takes you straight to the victim. You don't follow flux lines (do not have to corkscrew in), a system that all other beacons use. Instead of displaying directional arrows and distance, the S1 shows the victim(s) on a map. It almost feels like a basic video game – line the victim up in the sights and make the distance numbers get smaller.
In our tests, whether in the hands of a professional guide or a backcountry novice, the S1+ found victims fast but not the fastest. Where the device really excels is with multiple burials. It shows up to three victims with the distances displayed under each victim. You can then hide the victims you are not searching for and later unhide them. The processing speed was slower than the Backcountry Access Tracker 2, Pieps DPS and the Mammut Barryvox Pulse.
In the event of a secondary avalanche, it will switch back to transmit mode once it senses you have not moved for 30 to 120 seconds (you choose the setting).
It has updatable software. You either have to do this in a retail store or mail it in for a small fee. Updating the software is important as there were some early problems with coarse search.
The S1 deals with signal spikes and eliminates the shadow box phenomenon.
While this beacon is very easy to use, it does have a longer learning curve than most beacons because it is quite different. This learning curve occasionally results in seasoned veterans finding it "weird" at first. There are many different icons and instructions that are mostly intuitive, but some require reading the user manual to figure out. Plan on a little extra time to get comfortable with the beacon menus and icons before using it.
We also noticed that this beacon is a little slower under three meters and we felt it was a little slower the many other triple antennae beacons during the "bracketing" phase of the search.
It does not automatically turn on when you clip the waist strap. This means you have to remember to turn it to transmit mode. Not a big downside but it would be nice if the auto feature was restored (it was in past models).
There have been some problems reported when searching at the maximum of the coarse search range. The beacon will point you away from the victim until you are out of range.
— Chris McNamara and Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: January 3, 2013
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