Backcountry Access Tracker S Review
Compare prices at 3 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
Compare to Similar Products
Backcountry Access Tracker S
|Price||Check Price at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|Check Price at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|Check Price at REI|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$349.95 at Amazon|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$229.95 at Amazon|
|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||Very fast processor, crushes in the fine search, easy to use, light and compact (great for beacon-in-pocket users), low stress sounds||Easy-to-use, configured with Bluetooth and an app, good range, fast processor, great multiple burial and flagging functionality||Very fast processor, excellent range, easy-to-use, comfortable to carry, top-notch multiple burial capabilities with excellent signal lock and marking/flagging functions||One of the easiest beacon to use, lightning fast, great value, extremely intuitive|
|Cons||Mediocre range, flagging/marking feature works, no option to update software||Display 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 signal||A little on the chunky side for pant pocket beacon wearers, slider toggle is stiff||Not 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||Not as good for multiple burials, slightly below average range, not as low volume as other models|
|Bottom Line||An easy to use capable beacon with a lightning-fast processor||Takes previous Tracker's top-notch ease-of-use, speed, and intuitiveness, and adds a marking function and a low profile design||Will suit most recreational backcountry travelers well, from beginner to advanced||A great all-around and very capable beacon that works well for the majority of users||Easy and intuitive for experts or novices, making it straightforward to help zero in on the buried signal|
|Rating Categories||Backcountry Access...||Backcountry Access...||Black Diamond Recon BT||Mammut Barryvox||Backcountry Access...|
|Single Victim Search (20%)|
|Fine Search (15%)|
|Multiple Burials (15%)|
|Specs||Backcountry Access...||Backcountry Access...||Black Diamond Recon BT||Mammut Barryvox||Backcountry Access...|
|Weight||165g / 5.8 oz||215g/ 7.6 oz||225 g / 7.9 oz||210g / 7.4 oz||255g / 9.0 oz|
|Number of Antennae||3||3||3||3||3|
|Manufacturer's Range||55 meters||50 meters||60 meters||70 meters||50 meters|
|Battery Life (send)||250 hours||250 hours||200 hours||300 hours||250 hours|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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