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Hands-on Gear Review
PIEPS Freeride Review
Cons: Slower, takes more practiced to become proficient
The Pieps Freeride is the smallest, lightest and cheapest avalanche beacon on the market today. The Freeride achieves this by using a digital processor but only using one antenna to process information on. What this means is that it is slower and less precise while searching and bracketing a buried beacon. So while the Freeride is a fully functional unit, it takes a lot more skill and practice to efficiently search with and as a result we feel it has a more limited application. We feel the Freeride has a similar learning curve to an older all analog version like the Ortovox F1. With all that said, it is far better than not wearing one and it makes for an excellent option for kids or as a "loaner" unit.
RELATED: Our complete review of avalanche beacons
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
We found the Pieps Freeride to have a functional maximum range of around 34-35 meters. Along with the Arva Evo3+ and the Ortovox Zoom+ that was among the shortest maximum range of any of the products we tested.
Ease of Finding a Single Victim
Ease of use while finding a single victim is the biggest downfall of the Pieps Freeride and it was possibly the overall worst performer in this category. Unlike all the others we tested which use either two or three antennas, the Pieps Freeride uses one. This makes the Freeride function similar to an older all analog model, but with the addition of distance numbers. What this means is that the Pieps Freeride takes significantly more practice before most users will be proficient with it. Even with some practice the Freeride had much more lag time while we followed the signal and we found that we had to move more slowly during every stage of the search even when we were more than ten meters away. Functionally the Freeride uses a triangle with five layers that help you to determine signal strength in a very similar manner to an older all analog design like the Ortovox F1, except you don't have to manually dial it down and you have the visual of the numbers rather than just sound.
Ease of Use in Fine Search
During the fine search while bracketing our victim in our side-by-side tests the Pieps Freeride had one of the slowest processors and was one of the slowest products we tested during this stage of the search. Its precision was not far below the majority of the products we tested, but we needed to move more slowly to make sure we wouldn't confuse or overwhelm it.
Ease Of Use In Multiple Burial Situations
The Pieps scored poorly in multiple burial situations. It doesn't have a flagging feature to mask beacons nor an indicator light or an icon to let you know that it is sensing multiple beacons. So only older/standard multiple burial techniques like micro strip searching or the Expanding circle technique can be used in these situations. On top of that, the slow processing speed gets only more bogged down as you add more beacons to look for.
Smart Transmitter Technology
One of the cool things about the Pieps Freeride is that even though it's a more basic model it shares Pieps Smart Transmitting Technology like its more expensive cousins the DSP Sport and DSP Pro. Smart Transmitting technology is a feature designed for the buried unit to help the searching unit to differentiate the buried beacons in a multiple burial situation. This feature works when the buried unit hasn't moved for two minutes (like when a person is buried) it searches (while it is transmitting, so yes it is doing both) to see if there is another beacon sending nearby. If the beacon with the Smart Transmitter Technology senses another beacon within around five or six meters, it will adjusted the cadence so that it doesn't overlap singles with the other buried beacon to make it easier on the searcher.
The Pieps Freeride is the smallest and lightest model we tested and is half the size of several of the contenders.
The Pieps Freeride operates on a single AA battery, there are few models that operate on one battery including the Ortovox S1+. This is part of what helps the Freeride be the lightest, smallest product on the market.
At $170 the Pieps Freeride is the least expensive model on the market and nearly half the average price among all we tested. It is harder and takes more practice to search with than any other all digital model out there and takes almost as much practice as an all analog design, making it less ideal for most novice through intermediate users, and still not ideal for even advanced users.
The search ability makes this beacon less ideal for most backcountry travelers as their go to product, but because of its price and weight it is good for certain types of users. These user groups could include, children or backcountry ski/snowboard clients who will likely never need to search for another beacon, but need to be wearing one in the event that they need to be found.
Rando/Ski Mountaineering races where wearing a beacon is often mandatory so why not wear the lightest one there is? Its also a great loaner option, to hand out to some of your friends who don't normally go backcountry touring. Its also a great product for a lot of side-country/slack-country/Top-down touring (Or whatever the current hip term might be) users that might not otherwise be wearing one if it was more expensive.
The Pieps Freeride is a great price; but it's not great for everyone. As we mentioned earlier, it's great for people who need to be found in an avalanche but likely wont be doing much if any searching, or as a good loaner or emergency beacon. Most of all, we think wearing the Freeride is much better than not wearing one at all and that a lot of the general market will fall into this category.
Pieps DSP Pro
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 29, 2014
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