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Backcountry Access Tracker S Review

An easy to use capable beacon with a lightning-fast processor
Backcountry Access Tracker S
Photo: Backcountry Access
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $300 List | $224.96 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightning fast processor, top-tier bracketing performance in the fine search, effectively differentiates between close proximity burials, low profile designs, easy to use interface
Cons:  Mediocre range, flagging/marking feature works, no option to update software
Manufacturer:   Backcountry Access
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 18, 2020
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83
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 14
  • Range - 15% 7
  • Speed - 20% 9
  • Single victim search - 20% 9
  • Fine search - 15% 10
  • Multiple Burials - 15% 8
  • Features - 15% 6

Our Verdict

The Backcountry Access Tracker S is a slightly trimmed down, less expensive option than the mega-popular Tracker3. It's built in the same low-profile casing as the T3, which was one of our favorite overall models for pocket-carrying backcountry travelers. The Tracker S has a fast processor and the same multiple burial function; this function can suppress the closest signal for one minute to assist when dealing with several beacons buried in close proximity — and has the same range. What it doesn't have is the motion sensor that the Tracker3 has, which can help the beacon decide when to auto-revert or not and instead just auto-reverts to send after five minutes. It also doesn't have a micro-USB inside to update its software; while hardly a dealbreaker, this beacon isn't updatable.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award  
Price $224.96 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$499.95 at Amazon$446.49 at Amazon
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$349.94 at Amazon$261.80 at Backcountry
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Pros Lightning fast processor, top-tier bracketing performance in the fine search, effectively differentiates between close proximity burials, low profile designs, easy to use interfaceSuper fast processor, differentiates between beacons fantastically during multiple burials, best range in this review, best model for multiple and pro-level examinationsEasy to use, many features, Bluetooth and smartphone based app, good range, fast processor, best battery life in our review, excellent multiple burial and flagging featuresVery fast processor, crushes in the fine search, easy to use, light and compact (great for beacon-in-pocket users), low stress soundsVery fast processor, excellent range, easy-to-use, comfortable to carry, top-notch multiple burial capabilities with excellent signal lock and marking/flagging functions
Cons Mediocre range, flagging/marking feature works, no option to update softwareExpensive, more complicated than other models, okay but not the best for newer or less practiced usersBattery life is only displayed in thirds and not a percentage, some force required to toggle switches, can be chunky feeling if carrying in a pant's pocketDisplay screen is just okay, multiple burial function un-suppresses the last marked beacon in only 1 min, leading to confusion and wasting time, can only mark one signalNot as user friendly in the bracketing stage as other models, sometimes tells user to keep the orientation earlier than we would like during the fine search
Bottom Line With an easy to use interface and a lightning-fast processor, it's a great option for a wide range of usersPerfect for pros or advanced users, this model is one of the best performing products in every categoryA high-end beacon that is packed full of features, with an interface that is easy to use for the less experiencedA fantastic all-around model that combines ease of use in a smaller than average packageHas better range and superior multiple burial capabilities while still being fairly quick in the fine search
Rating Categories Backcountry Access Tracker S Mammut Barryvox S Black Diamond Guide BT Backcountry Access Tracker3 Mammut Barryvox
Range (15%)
7
10
9
8
10
Speed (20%)
9
9
9
10
9
Single Victim Search (20%)
9
9
9
10
9
Fine Search (15%)
10
9
9
10
8
Multiple Burials (15%)
8
10
9
8
9
Features (15%)
6
10
10
8
7
Specs Backcountry Access... Mammut Barryvox S Black Diamond... Backcountry Access... Mammut Barryvox
Weight 165g / 5.8 oz 210g / 7.4 oz 210 g / 7.4 oz 215g/ 7.6 oz 210g / 7.4 oz
Number of Antennae 3 3 3 3 3
Manufacturer's Range 55 meters 70 - 95 meters 60 meters 50 meters 70 meters
Flagging Feature? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery Life (send) 250 hours 300 hours 400 hours 250 hours 300 hours
Digital/Analogue Digital Both Both Digital Digital

Our Analysis and Test Results

Don't let its below-average price or the "S" for simple fool you into thinking this isn't a capable beacon. With its lightning-fast processor, easy-to-use interface, and top-tier precision during the bracketing stage, this model was consistently quick at finding a single beacon. It's not our first choice for guides or avalanche educators, as its software can't be updated, it has a so-so range, and there's an inability to adjust several of its features. However, it's an extremely solid beacon for the vast majority of backcountry travelers.

Performance Comparison


Thanks to this model's speed, precision, and ease-of-use, there are...
Thanks to this model's speed, precision, and ease-of-use, there are not many better options for the price.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Range


Backcountry Access claims a maximum range of 55 meters and recommends a search strip width of 50 meters. On a dry football field and side-by-side range testing on a snow-covered parking lot, we consistently found this model to have a maximum range between 40-45 meters; we think the 50 meter search strip width is a bit on the more aggressive side. We do find that many manufacturers are slightly more cautious in many cases.

While we didn't feel it affected our overall rescue times, the...
While we didn't feel it affected our overall rescue times, the Tracker S's maximum range is one of its few aspects that underwhelmed us. BCA claims a 55 meter maximum range, but in all the tests we performed, we never got much above 47 meters; 38-45 was more consistent with the model we tested. In our tests, this was less than the Tracker3, which BCA also claims to have a 55 meter maximum range.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

The Tracker S meets AIARE and AAI's recommendation of a 40 meter search strip width (effectively searching an area of 20 meters on either side of you), but not much more.

The controls on the Tracker S are very intuitive, with a manual...
The controls on the Tracker S are very intuitive, with a manual switch on the top of the beacon to go between search, send, and off. In this photo, you can see the slender nature of this beacon.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Ease of Finding a Single Victim and Speed


An avalanche beacon's ability to find a single burial is by far its most important design characteristic. For finding a single victim, the Tracker S is one of the fastest. The user interface is easy to use with a combination of five directional arrows. It also has intuitive sounds that change dramatically as you move toward the buried signal.

Ease of Use in Fine Search


The directional arrows vanish at two meters. This tells the searcher to keep that orientation and start bracketing. We prefer this configuration as opposed to other beacons with directional arrows that vanish at three meters. With models having arrows that disappeared at three meters, we found it consistently harder to keep the same orientation over the longer distance, especially in lumpier debris or in steeper inclines.

The Tracker S, along with the Tracker3, had our review's best...
The Tracker S, along with the Tracker3, had our review's best performance in the fine search; bracketing the buried signal was where we found this model consistently provided smaller bracket. Regardless of user ability, it most frequently had the buried signal in the dead center of our box.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

All of our testers loved the precision of the Tracker S in the fine search, and it is a consistent model, putting the buried beacon at the dead center of the bracket. This leads to a quicker probe strike and generally increases the odds of finding the buried signal longer. Of note, newer or less practiced users had an easier time bracketing with this beacon than most of the more expensive models in our review.

Sharing the same processor as the Tracker3, this beacon is fast at finding victims. Even with a lot of signal overlap, it rarely gets bogged down, and while all rescuers should strive not to move too fast in the fine search, this beacon manages to keep up most of the time.

The Tracker S has one of the quickest processors on the market...
The Tracker S has one of the quickest processors on the market, enabling its user to quickly and less smoothly.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Multiple Burials


The Tracker S, like its cousin the Tracker 3, is built to easily jump to the closest (strongest) signal; it can also supress a signal for 60 seconds. Like most things, both of these designs have advantages and disadvantages.

Like most beacons, the Tracker S takes us to the closest signal and...
Like most beacons, the Tracker S takes us to the closest signal and displays multiple people symbols at the bottom of the screen to indicate that it sees multiple signals with two people. It shows two and a plus symbol for more than two.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

The ability to easily jump from one signal to another is fantastic for micro strip-searching during truly complex burials or in situations where you have three or more beacons buried nearby. When you have three or more beacons buried in close proximity of one another, most beacons are more likely than not to have their signal supression mode (the flag or mark feature) fail or not blind the intended signal (or blind both of them, depending on the feature). The Tracker S, along with the Tracker 3 and the Mammut Barryvox (in analog mode), were among the best for micro strip-searching.

To engage the mark/flag/signal suppression, just push the blue...
To engage the mark/flag/signal suppression, just push the blue button in the middle of the beacon as seen here until SS flashes, confirming that the beacon has suppressed the signal.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

If attempting to flag a specific beacon, we felt the Tracker S did a very good job at differentiating beacons and not blinding two beacons by mistake. To flag/mark a given beacon, simply press the button on the face of the beacon until it flashes SS for signal suppression, which lets you know the beacon has completed this function.

For very close proximity burials, you need to be aware that the Tracker S disengages the flag/mark after 60 seconds. This design aspect isn't as important when people are buried further apart, and its ability to lock onto the closest signal will make sure you stay closer to the next beacon; however, when two models are buried very close, and you aren't able to bracket the second beacon very quickly, it can be problematic.

One of our favorite features for multiple burials or complex rescue...
One of our favorite features for multiple burials or complex rescue situations, this model has a "bP" or Big Picture mode, which is designed for guides or other more experienced users. When using this function, it lets the user see all the signals simultaneously but quickly, bouncing between the direction and distance of each. We loved this for any complex burial situation, particularly the ones put on for guide exams by organizations like the AMGA, ACMG, AIARE, and the CAA.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

One of the most helpful features for multiple burials is the big picture mode, which is also found on the Tracker3. To access big picture mode, continue holding down the flag button (which BCA calls the options button) until it displays BP and then starts displaying all the signals simultaneously by bouncing quickly between each buried model distance and direction. For guides and avalanche educators trying to pass their respective beacon drills, we think this is one of the most helpful modes. We also found this was extremely helpful to obtain a good overview of the scene for more complex burial situations in general.

Features


Comfort to Carry

This model's slim profile ensures it's comfortable to wear. Sharing the same low profile body as the Tracker3, it is one of the lowest profile models in our fleet.

One of the lower profile beacons on the market, this model was a...
One of the lower profile beacons on the market, this model was a favorite for folks who prefer to carry their beacon in a zippered pants pocket.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Showing the narrow profile of the Tracker S.
Showing the narrow profile of the Tracker S.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Revert to SEND mode

One of the two major differences between the Tracker3 and the Tracker S is this model doesn't have an internal motion sensor; thus, it has a fixed five minute time frame before it reverst to sending/transmitting. Thirty seconds before the five minute mark, the beacon will start to flash, indicating that it will go back into send/transmit mode. To stop it, simply hit the options button, which is the only button on the beacon. The idea behind this design characteristic is that if a secondary avalanche occurs while the rescuer is still searching, they have some hope of being rescued once their beacon switches back over.

The lanyard featured on this beacon is one of our favorites. While...
The lanyard featured on this beacon is one of our favorites. While basic, its long stretchy cord didn't get in the way, but elongated enough for us to reach at full arm lengths while on our knees in the bracketing stage of the search.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Battery life

The Tracker S has above average battery life, with 250 hours in transmit, or 50 hours in search only. Even after 200 hours in transmit/send mode, the Tracker S can still search for an hour.

The Tracker S performing a function check before a day of ski...
The Tracker S performing a function check before a day of ski touring. While most beacons need a special mode to easily jump between beacons in a larger group, the Tracker S had no problem without a specific function. It offers approximately 250 hours in transmit and 50 hours with a fresh set of batteries (during a search).
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Value


For the price, this is our favorite for overall speed and ease-of-use. The more basic beacons have gotten a lot more capable in recent years, including this one, but they have also all gotten a little more expensive, and we believe this is the best of the bunch for performance versus price.

While it faces a lot of solid competition, we find this to be one of...
While it faces a lot of solid competition, we find this to be one of the best beacons you can buy for the price, thanks to its ease-of-use, capable design, laser-like precision, and lightning fast speed.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

The Tracker3 and the Tracker S are quite similar. The T3 offers an...
The Tracker3 and the Tracker S are quite similar. The T3 offers an internal USB for updatable software and an internal motion sensor but have all the same features otherwise. It's hard to go wrong with either of these beacons, as both are fast, precise, and extremely capable; however, we do like the T3 slightly better. Dring testing, the T3 had a consistently longer range than the Tracker S, despite BCA claiming they were supposed to be the same.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

The Tracker S is one of the few beacons that performs well for...
The Tracker S is one of the few beacons that performs well for essentially every backcountry user, something very few beacons can claim (the Tracker3 and the Black Diamond Recon BT being some of the others). Its performance and capability are decent enough for a guide or a more advanced trip leader but it is easy enough to use for a total novice to excel with.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Conclusion


The Tracker S is a fantastic all-around beacon and will suit the needs of most backcountry travelers. Its fast processor and easy-to-use interface make it perfect for folks just getting into the backcountry as well as experienced users. For guides, avalanche educators, and trip leaders, we would recommend a more featured beacon that has software you can update.

Ian Nicholson