Backcountry Access Tracker3 Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Very fast processor, crushes in the fine search, easy to use, light and compact (great for beacon-in-pocket users), low stress sounds
Cons: 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
Manufacturer: Backcountry Access
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The BCA Tracker3 is straightforward to use, ultra-quick, and very intuitive. In our side-by-side testing with both novices and seasoned pros, the Tracker3 consistently produced some of the best times across the board for finding a single victim. It boasts a fast processor and helps its user to stay on the flux-line, scoring well during the bracketing/fine search, which is where users often struggle and where the most significant differences between models existed.
Its low profile design was among our favorite to carry, whether in a pants pocket or in its included harness. We loved this model's big-picture mode to help with complex rescues but didn't love its mark/signal suppression mode as much as other models because it would un-mask/un-mark the buried victim after one minute. With that said, as long as you were quick and the buried singles weren't too close together, this was not problematic. We didn't have almost any issues with this design in any of our tests.
We agree with the concept the simplicity is speed while trying to deal with stressful situations. Minutes matter, and your friend or loved one could be dying under the snow.
In our side-by-side tests, the Tracker3 averaged a real-world maximum range of around 40-45m. While that isn't mega far, it is pretty average among models in our review. More range is always nice, but the Tracker3's range is more than adequate.
While a longer range is nice, not one of our testers felt the Tracker3's range held them back due to a lack of range or that it added time to a search compared to other models. Many people like to make a big deal about maximum range, but in reality, most people are going to use the 40-meter search strip widths that are recommended to them in most avalanche courses, nullifying most time-saving advantages that a more extended range would give you. So while the range is a consideration when buying a beacon, it may matter less than overall speed and ease of use, which help you find a buried signal quicker. Even though this model was supposed to have the same range as the Backcountry Access Tracker S, we actually found it to be consistently 5-10m longer when tested side by side both on a football field as well as in the snow.
Like the rest of the BCA Tracker family, the Tracker3 is one of the faster beacons on the market. After our extensive side-by-side testing, we found it was among the absolute quickest models available.
Ease of Finding a Single Victim
The Tracker3 is one of our quickest beacons at finding a single victim. Time-and-time again, even with a multitude of users, this model consistently produced the fasted rescue times. The Tracker3 uses two speedy processors and an easy-to-use interface to get to the buried beacon. It scored near the very top of our review in this category.
The Tracker3 uses five 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 useful, but they also sound like they were taken right out of Nintendo's Mario Cart, something our testers actually didn't mind as it was useful but not as stressful sounding as other models. The Tracker3 doesn't have a turnaround or back arrow, but we were still able to move noticeably quicker, specifically below five meters than many of the other beacons we tested.
Ease of Use in Fine search
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 and more accurate than most of the other top picks during this stage of the search.
The Tracker3's directional arrows disappear at two meters, indicating the searcher should start bracketing. We liked this compared with other beacons, whose directional arrows vanished at three meters, such as the Arva Neo, and found it was easier to come in directly above our buried victim. The Tracker3 also proved very precise and was among the best beacons for performance at centering the buried transceiver. More than nearly any other beacon we tested, we would get a probe strike first go, due to its ability to center the buried signal.
Ease of Use in Multiple Burial Scenarios
We love nearly everything about the Tracker3 except its multiple burial functions, which we think are above average but not our favorite. The Tracker3, unlike both previous Tracker models, can suppress/mask a single (the Tracker S can do this), which is useful, but it is slightly different in design than any other model we tested. Thus, it can be confusing at first if you aren't aware of it.
The Tracker3 signal suppression works to "mark" a beacon by pressing the "options button" (the only button on the face of the beacon), and then the screen 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 close together. Once there were three beacons (while an even less likely situation), the Tracker3 didn't perform as well as the the Mammut Barryvox S.
What we didn't like about the Tracker3's multiple burial functionalities 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 far away, difficult travel conditions, you need to gather your rescue gear, etc.), it will bring you back to the first beacon you had been looking for, wasting precious time.
While the amount of real-life application is small where this could be a problem, we also didn't like that the Tracker3 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. While we feel this is a legitimate concern we must admit this issue didn't arrive during our testing.
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 a little practice, it was easy to remember how to use it, 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. 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 apart, a bracket "[ ]" appears around both of the people.
There is also a function that we absolutely loved and works to help with the potential problems of the 60-second mark/flag/signal suppression and only being able to mark one bacon at a time. This is the Tracker3's "BP" or Big Picture mode, a feature advanced users and guides will appreciate and that our testers liked. The BP mode works by taking out the function of locking onto the closest signal while ignoring/not displaying all possible signals at once by quickly bouncing between signals, giving distance and direction for each.Micro Strip Searching
For Micro strip-searching and concentric circles methods, the Tracker3 was easily one of the best for its ability to easily jump between signals.
Unlike the other beacons in the Tracker family, the Tracker3 has a USB port in the battery compartment of the beacon, which facilitates a software update. Currently, it is set up for PC users, but a Mac version is stated to be "coming soon". Updatable software is one of the two biggest differences between the Tracker3 and the Tracker S as the "S" doesn't have a USB port, and thus there is no option to update software.
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 Send to Search. LO will appear on the screen, and all the sounds associated with searching will become muted.
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 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; this helps the user easily identify that their beacon is on and sending without having to completely remove it.
Comfort to Carry
This is where the Tracker3 stands out in some ways and is subpar in others. It's dimensionally nearly the smallest triple antenna beacon on the market, and feels small. The only triple antenna beacon that is smaller is the Pieps Micro and the Arva Avo 5. The Tracker S uses an identical housing and is equal in size to the T3. We really appreciate that the Tracker3 was designed for guides and backcountry skiers who like to wear their beacon in their pocket, which fits fantastically, and for that all of our testers love it. We also really liked its corresponding coiled spring leash that is truly designed with the idea of carrying the beacon in a pant pocket.
If you prefer to wear it in a harness though, the Tracker3 has an okay harness system. It is light and low bulk just like the beacon, but it uses padded one inch 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 (Transmit) function or "Auto Revert" mode — if the beacon hasn't felt any movement for one minute, it will switch back into Transmit/Send mode. Or it will revert back to transmit/send mode even with motion after five 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 enable this function, hold down the "options" button while powering up the beacon until Ar appears confirming that the function has been turned on.
The Tracker3 is one of the few beacons that we think can work well for nearly everyone. It's simple and precise enough that first time users generally do well with it with its short learning curve. Its ability to micro-strip search and differentiate two signals helps it with ski guides and avalanche educators who demand more from their beacon.
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 more. It is comparable in price to the Black Diamond Recon, which is fairly comparable overall. It is similar in price to the more basic Mammut Barryvox, but we prefer this model hands down overall. We do think the slightly cheaper Tracker S should also be on people's radar and has all the same features minus the USB for updating software, a motion sensor so it has a set time to auto-revert, and at a slightly shorter range (in our findings).
One of the top beacons on the market, the BCA Tracker3 suits a wide range of users. It's hard not to love its low profile size, coupled with its laser-like precision and lightning-fast speed, which consistently produced some of the fastest times of our review. If you are a pro, this is a great beacon for you, but think it could be worth considering the Mammut Barryvox S or the Black Diamond Guide BT which have even more features to help deal with complex scenarios (AKA beacon rescue drills/test/assessments) and the ability to tweak those features to suit a given user's personal preference.
— Ian Nicholson