Hands-on Gear Review

Backcountry Access Tracker3 Review

This beacon takes previous Trackers top-notch ease-of-use, speed, and intuitiveness, and adds a marking function and a low profile design.
Backcountry Access (BCA) Tracker 3 avalanche beacon.
By: Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 30, 2018
Price:  $335 List  |  $289.82 at Amazon - 13% Off
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
91
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 14
  • Range - 15% 8
  • Speed - 20% 10
  • Single victim search - 20% 10
  • Fine search - 15% 10
  • Multiple burials - 15% 8
  • Features - 15% 8
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Top Pick Award

Our Verdict

The Backcountry Access Tracker3 is a slick-looking, relatively new beacon in BCA's extremely popular line of Tracker avalanche beacons. Contrary to popular belief the Tracker3 is supposed to complement the Tracker2 rather than replace it. The Tracker2 is designed to be user-friendly and straightforward. The Tracker3 still has user friendlessness in mind but is designed for a more advanced user such as a mountain guides, avalanche industry professional or advanced trip leaders. The difference between the Tracker2 and the Tracker3 is that the new "3" is lighter, more compact and has a more traditional marking function.

The Tracker3's multiple burial function can suppress (i.e., flag or mark) a signal whereas the Tracker2 can't. It also has some functions like a Big picture "scan mode," an optional auto-revert setting, which the Tracker2 doesn't have. The Tracker3 is among 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 among our overall favorite to wear in a pant pocket. Coupled with a reasonable price point, this was our Top Pick for an All-Around Beacon in the $300-$400 price range.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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The BCA Tracker3 is among the best overall beacons out there. It is straightforward to use 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 among the best during the bracketing/fine search, which is where users often struggle. Its low profile design was among our favorite to carry whether in a pants pocket or in its included harness. We didn't love its multiple burial functionality as much as other models because it would un-mask/un-mark the buried victim after one minute, which could become an issue.

Performance Comparison


The Tracker3 isn't quite as easy to use overall as the Tracker2, but again this is where the T3 isn't designed to replace the Tracker2. 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.

Range


In our side-by-side tests, the Tracker3 averaged a real-world maximum range of around 40-45m. While that is not ultra 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 more extended range is nice in real-world testing, not one of our testers felt the Tracker3's range held them back or lack of range 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 matters a lot less than overall speed and ease of use, which help you find a buried signal quicker.

Speed


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 thought it was comparable with all the other top 2-4 quickest beacons.


The Tracker3 was extremely close in speed but not faster than a Tracker2 while searching for a single beacon. Once there was more than one beacon involved, the Tracker3 was marginally slower than the Tracker2 (talking about processing speed here not speed at finding multiple burials), but this was a small difference in speed and with that said the Tracker3 is still one of the top three or four fastest beacons out there.

Ease of Finding a Single Victim


The Tracker3 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 and scored near the top of our review.


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. The Tracker3 doesn't have a turnaround or back arrow, but we were still able to move noticeably quicker, specifically below 5 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 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 vanished at three meters, such as the Arva Neo, and found it was easier to come in directly above our buried victim.

BCA Tracker 3 in search mode  taking us to the closer victim but displaying that the beacon senses two signals.
BCA Tracker 3 in search mode, taking us to the closer victim but displaying that the beacon senses two signals.


Ease of Use in Multiple Burial Scenarios


We had some mixed results with this beacon's ease of use in multiple burial situations. The Tracker3, like nearly all beacons, brings the searcher to the closest signal in a multiple burial scenario. The Tracker3, unlike both previous Tracker models, can suppress/mask a single, which is useful.


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 were three beacons (while an even less likely situation) the Tracker3 didn't perform as well as our Editors' Choice winner, the Mammut Barryvox S.

The BCA Tracker3 displaying SS (single suppression) representing that it has just market/flagged a beacon. This feature is used during multiple burial situations with multiple searchers.
The BCA Tracker3 displaying SS (single suppression) representing that it has just market/flagged a beacon. This feature is used during multiple burial situations with multiple searchers.

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 far away, difficult travel conditions, etc.), it will bring you back to the first beacon you had been looking for and thus waste precious time. While the amount of real-life application is small, we 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.

Multiple burial symbol breakdown on the BCA Tracker 3
Multiple burial symbol breakdown on the BCA Tracker 3

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 apart, a bracket "[ ]" appears around both of the people.

There is also 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 liked. The BP mode works by taking out the function of locking onto the closest signal while ignoring/not displaying other signals. Instead, it shows the direction and a distance for each of the beacon signals it picks up, similar to an older analog style beacon.

As the BCA Tracker 3 boots up  it gives us a battery life percentage  a light check and then a TR for transmitting.
As the BCA Tracker 3 boots up, it gives us a battery life percentage, a light check and then a TR for transmitting.

Features


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 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 to help the user easily identify that their beacon is on and sending without having to remove the beacon completely.

The on-off-search-send dial on the top of the BCA Tracker 3. TR is transmit (AKA send mode)   SE is search.
The on-off-search-send dial on the top of the BCA Tracker 3. TR is transmit (AKA send mode), SE is search.

Comfort to Carry

This is where the Tracker3 stands out in some ways and is subpar in others. It's dimensionally the second smallest triple antenna beacon on the market, and it feels small. The only triple antenna beacon that is smaller is the Pieps Micro. The Tracker3 was designed for guides and backcountry skiers who like to wear their beacon in their pocket, and for that we 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.

The BCA Tracker3 was the smallest and lightest triple antenna beacon in our review and was a favorite among our testers who preferred to wear their beacon in a zippered pant pocket. Here we compare the Tracker3 (always on the left) with the Tracker2 (next right) and original Tracker DTS.
The BCA Tracker3 was the smallest and lightest triple antenna beacon in our review and was a favorite among our testers who preferred to wear their beacon in a zippered pant pocket. Here we compare the Tracker3 (always on the left) with the Tracker2 (next right) and original Tracker DTS.

If you prefer to wear it in a harness though, the Tracker3 has an okay to below average harness system. It is 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.

We loved the BCA Tracker 3's stretchy  easiest-to-use in review keeper cord. This feature added to this beacon being a favorite among in-pocket carriers.
We loved the BCA Tracker 3's stretchy, easiest-to-use in review keeper cord. This feature added to this beacon being a favorite among in-pocket carriers.

Revert to Send

The Tracker3 has a Revert to Send function or "Auto Revert" mode — 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 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.

Best Applications


The Tracker3 is for more experienced and advanced users who will benefit from its more complex functions. If you liked the Tracker2 but wish it had a flagging function and a few other features, then the Tracker3 could be your beacon. If you're not someone who is going to practice as much or just want something simple, go with the Tracker 2.

Value


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.

Conclusion


The Backcountry Access Tracker3 is a welcomed addition to the Tracker family, offering more options and functions than the Tracker2 or DTS models, while still being on the affordable side of the beacon market. For this, we've highlighted it as a Top Pick for anyone looking to have some extra features without breaking the bank.

Ian Nicholson

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Most recent review: March 30, 2018
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