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Hands-on Gear Review
Backcountry Access Tracker3 Review
Cons: Display screen is just okay, multiple burial function un-suppresses the last marked beacon in only 1 min leading to confusing and wasting time, Can only mark one signal
Number of Antennae: 3
Manufacturer's Range: 50m
The Backcountry Access Tracker3 a slick looking new beacon in BCA's extremely popular line of Tracker avalanche beacons. Contrary to popular belief the Tracker3 is supposed to complement the Tracker 2 rather than replace it. The difference is: the Tracker 2 is designed to be simple and super user friendly, and the Tracker3 has user friendlessness in mind but is designed for a more advanced users such as a mountain guides or trip leaders. The difference between the Tracker 2 and the Tracker3 is the new "3" is lighter, more compact and has an more functional, but more complicated multiple burial function that can suppress (AKA flag or mark) a signal where as the Tracker 2 can't. It also has a number of functions like a Big picture "scan mode" and an optional Auto revert setting among other things that the Tracker 2 doesn't have. The Tracker3 is the lightest and lowest profile triple antenna beacon out there. While we don't think weight is a super factor when considering beacons, the Tracker3's exceptionally slim design was our over-all favorite beacon to wear in a pant pocket.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Avalanche Beacon Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
In our side-by-side tests we thought the Tracker3 averaged a real-world maximum range of around 42-45m, very similar to the slightly older BCA Tracker 2. it's not a huge range, but more than adequate, and we never felt like the Tracker3's range held us back while searching. People always like to make a big deal about over-all range, but we'd like to remind folks that while range is a consideration when buying a beacon, it matters a lot less than overall speed and ease of use or even certain features.
Like the rest of the BCA Tracker family the Tracker 3 is one of the faster beacons on the market. After our extensive side-by-side testing we thought it was comparable with all the other top 2-4 quickest beacon. The tracker3 was extremely close in speed but not faster than a Tracker 2 while searching for a single beacon. Once there was more than one beacon involved the Tracker 3 was marginally slower than the Tracker 2, (talking processing speed here not speed at finding multiple burials) but this was a very small difference in speed and with that said the Tracker3 is still one of the top three fastest beacons out there.
Single victim search
The Tracker 3 was among our quickest beacons at finding a single victim. The Tracker3 uses two speedy processors and an easy-to-use interface to get to the buried beacon near the top of our review. The Tracker3 uses 5 directional arrows and can combine arrows to help the user to better stay on the flux line. The Tracker3 uses audible sounds in addition to directional arrows, these sounds are super useful but they also sound like they were taken right out of Nintendo's Mario Cart. The Tracker3 doesn't have a turn around or back arrow but we were still able to move noticeably quicker, specifically below 5 meters with the Tracker3 than many other beacons we tested.
Like the rest of the Tracker family the Tracker3 crushes nearly all other beacons during the most crucial part of the search and is among the very best during the fine search and bracketing stages. During our side-by-side tests we thought it was faster than most of the other top picks during this stage of the search. The Tracker3's directional arrows disappear at 2 meters indicating the searcher should start bracketing. We liked this compared with other beacons whose directional arrows disappeared at 3 meters such as the Arva Neo and found it was easier to come in directly above our buried victim.
During multiple burial situations the Tracker3; like nearly all beacons brings the searcher to the closest signal. The Tracker 3, unlike both previous Tracker models, has the ability to suppress/mask a single. How it works is when you are ready to "mark" a beacon press the "options button" (the only button on the face of the beacon) quickly and the Tracker3 will flash SS (for Signal Suppression) displaying that is has suppressed/marked the closest signal. If you continue to hold down the options button on the Tracker3 it goes into BP or Big Picture mode, explained below. In our side-by-side beacon tests the Tracker3 worked well even if two beacons were pretty close together but once there was three beacons (while an even less likely situation) the Tracker3 didn't perform as well as other beacons we tested like the Pieps DSP Pro or Mammut Barryvox S.
What we don't like about the Tracker3's Multiple burial functionality
What we didn't like about the Tracker3's multiple burial functionality is the signal suppression mode only lasts for one minute. After that the beacon goes back to normal search mode where the rescuer is directed to the closest beacon, regardless of which beacon that is. The obvious problem with this is; if you haven't gotten close enough to a second beacon due to whatever reason (it could be really far away, difficult travel conditions, etc) it will bring you back to the first beacon you had been looking for and thus wasting precious time. While the amount of real-life application is small, we didn't like that the Tracker 3 could only suppress one beacon's signal, meaning if you tried to mark a second beacon it would "undo" the single suppression/mark on the first potentially bringing you right back toward it.
Multiple Burial Displays
The Tracker3 has an arsenal of marginally different displays to represent different things. While this isn't rocket science it wasn't as easy to interpret as other beacons we tested. With that said with a little practice it was easy to remember, but we question the ease of use and understanding.
When the Tracker3 is picking up two beacons, it displays two people highlighted in red on the bottom of its screen (see photo). If there are more than three beacons a plus "+" sign appears to the right of the people. If two beacons are six meters or less a bracket "[ ]" appears around both of the people.
BP or Big Picture mode
The Tracker 3 has a function that allows the beacon to go into "BP" or Big Picture mode, a feature advanced users and guides will appreciate and that our testers really liked. The BP mode works by taking out the function of locking onto the closest signal, while ignoring/not displaying other signals. Instead it displays the direction and a distance for each of the beacon signals it picks up, similar to an older analog style beacon.
Ease of use
The Tracker 3 isn't quite as easy to use as the Tracker 2, but again this is where the T3 isn't designed to replace the Tracker 2, instead it's a beacon BCA is offering for more advanced users who can handle a little more complexity to get more advanced features. The Tracker3 still only features one button and an on-off-search dial.
When you turn it on, it boots up and flashes T3, then the battery life, then TR, for transmit. When you boot up the Tracker3 it sounds like an opening scene of Star Wars. When searching the audible sounds are very helpful, but sound they sound like they may have been taken from the Mario Cart video game; which is a little different than we were used to, but intuitive and effective. One small but useful feature of the Tracker3 is it has a blinking light that is visible while it's in the chest harness to help the user easily identify that their beacon is on and sending without having to completely remove the beacon.
Comfort to carry
This is where the Tracker 3 really stands out in some ways and is sub-pare in others. The Tracker3 is dimensionally the smallest triple antenna beacon on the market and it feels small. It was designed with guides and backcountry skiers who like to where the beacon in their pocket and for that we love it. We also really liked its corresponding coiled spring least that is truly designed with the idea of carrying the beacon in a pant pocket. That said on the other harness side of the spectrum the Tracker 3 has an okay to below average harness system. Its super light and low bulk just like the beacon, but it uses padded 1" tubular webbing that rubbed on a couple of our testers necks. We did like the oversize glove friendly buckle but thought BCA could have done a little better on their harness.
Revert to send
The Tracker3 has a revert to send function or "Auto Revert" mode that if the beacon hasn't felt any movement for one minute it will switch back into transmit or "send" mode. Or it will revert back to transmit/send mode even with motion after 5 minutes. Under both of these circumstances the searcher is warned 30 seconds before the beacon switches by loud audible beeping and can be avoided by pressing the Tracker3's option's button.
If you want to use the Auto Revert mode you must activate it every time you turn on your beacon, otherwise there is no auto-revert mode. To activate this function hold down the "options" button while powering up the beacon until Ar is appears confirming that the function has been turned on.
Unlike the other beacons in the Tracker family the Tracker3 has a USB port in the battery compartment of the beacon that can update software. It is only for PC users and at the time of this review it was unavailable and "coming soon".
If you don't like the Mario Cart-esque audible sounds to help you in your searches or beacon practices? You can turn them off by pressing the "options button" while switching from transmit to search. LO will appear on the screen and all the sounds associated with searching will become muted.
Value and the bottom line
At $335 the Tracker 3 is a great deal for a beacon that has as many features as it does and is as fast and easy to use as many other beacons costing $15-$100 more. The Tracker3 is for more experienced and advanced users who will benefit from its more complex functions. If you liked the Tracker 2 but wish it had a flagging function and a few other features then the Tracker3 could be your beacon. If your not someone who is going to practice as much or just want something simple go with the Tracker 2.
Backcountry Access Tracker 2
Backcountry Access Tracker DTS
— Ian Nicholson
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