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Black Diamond Guide BT Review

One of the best models for advanced and beginners alike, it's easy to use, and is one of the best priced "pro-level" beacons
Black Diamond Guide BT
Photo: Black Diamond
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $450 List | $447.00 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Easy to use, many features, Bluetooth and smartphone based app, good range, fast processor, best battery life in our review, excellent multiple burial and flagging features
Cons:  Battery 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 pocket
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 18, 2020
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92
OVERALL
SCORE


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

Our Verdict

The "BT" in the name Black Diamond Guide BT refers to Bluetooth, as the Guide BT (and its more basic sibling, the Recon BT) can be adjusted or updated via a downloadable app from Pieps, which uses your smartphone's Bluetooth functionality. The settings can be configured via your smartphone, such as the time before auto-reverting back to send. You can also set it up in an analog model and can select alkaline versus lithium-ion batteries. Bluetooth aside, this is a capable beacon aimed at professionals or advanced recreationists. as it is stacked with advanced features.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $447.00 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$500 List$349.94 at Amazon$229.95 at Amazon$260.99 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Easy to use, many features, Bluetooth and smartphone based app, good range, fast processor, best battery life in our review, excellent multiple burial and flagging featuresSuper fast processor, differentiates between beacons fantastically during multiple burials, best range in this review, best model for multiple and pro-level examinationsVery fast processor, crushes in the fine search, easy to use, light and compact (great for beacon-in-pocket users), low stress soundsOne of the easiest beacon to use, lightning fast, great value, extremely intuitiveLightning fast processor, top-tier bracketing performance in the fine search, effectively differentiates between close proximity burials, low profile designs, easy to use interface
Cons Battery 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 pocketExpensive, more complicated than other models, okay but not the best for newer or less practiced usersDisplay 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 good for multiple burials, slightly below average range, not as low volume as other modelsMediocre range, flagging/marking feature works, no option to update software
Bottom Line One of the best models for advanced and beginners alike, it's easy to use, and is one of the best priced "pro-level" beaconsOne of the most capable and highest performing beacons on the marketTakes previous Tracker's top-notch ease-of-use, speed, and intuitiveness, and adds a marking function and a low profile designEasy and intuitive for experts or novices, making it straightforward to help zero in on the buried signalAn easy to use capable beacon with a lightning-fast processor
Rating Categories Black Diamond Guide BT Mammut Barryvox S Backcountry Access... Backcountry Access... Backcountry Access...
Range (15%)
9.0
10.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Speed (20%)
9.0
9.0
10.0
10.0
9.0
Single Victim Search (20%)
9.0
9.0
10.0
10.0
9.0
Fine Search (15%)
9.0
9.0
10.0
10.0
10.0
Multiple Burials (15%)
9.0
10.0
8.0
6.0
8.0
Features (15%)
10.0
10.0
8.0
5.0
6.0
Specs Black Diamond Guide BT Mammut Barryvox S Backcountry Access... Backcountry Access... Backcountry Access...
Weight 210 g / 7.4 oz 210g / 7.4 oz 215g/ 7.6 oz 255g / 9.0 oz 165g / 5.8 oz
Number of Antennae 3 3 3 3 3
Manufacturer's Range 60 meters 70 - 95 meters 50 meters 50 meters 55 meters
Flagging Feature? Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Battery Life (send) 400 hours 300 hours 250 hours 250 hours 250 hours
Digital/Analogue Both Both Digital Digital Digital

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Guide BT is one of the more advanced models in our review. It offers a competitive price point, and has a similar range, features, and processor speed as many other top models. It is, however, one of the least expensive in the top-tier level of beacons. The Guide BT is a significant overhaul from its older version, the Pieps DSP Pro — most notably, the "BT" or Bluetooth enabled software updates and feature/option configurations, but also more subtle upgrades in its searching functionality. All of this helps this beacon to be one of our favorite models, and it strikes an excellent balance of features and performance, combined with ease of use.

The Black Diamond Guide BT is essentially the newest version of the tried and true Pieps DSP Pro and is functionally the same as the new Pieps Pro BT. The Pro BT is essentially the same beacon as the Guide BT but branded and sold under the Pieps label (BD has owned Pieps since around 2012).

Performance Comparison


One of the best overall models for advanced users, yet remains...
One of the best overall models for advanced users, yet remains easy-to-use and packed full of features. It's one of the best priced among the "pro-level" beacons.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Range


The Guide BT, like the Recon BT, has a maximum range and search strip width of 60 meters. Originally, the Recon BT was slated to have a slightly shorter 50 meter maximum range and search trip width, which was going to be one of the key differentiating features between both of these models. However, in production, both ended up having a similar maximum range, which is claimed by Black Diamond and varied in our tests.

The Guide BT's 60 meter range was pretty accurate, which gives it...
The Guide BT's 60 meter range was pretty accurate, which gives it some of the better range in our review.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Black Diamond makes several notes that they have a larger circular range with this new model compared to their old one. The idea behind a better "circular" range is BD is implying that this new beacon has better range in perpendicular alignment, which is the orientation that you get the least amount of range in. In our testing where we pitted the Guide BT against the older PIEPS DSP Pro, we found that their ranges were more-or-less identical in both maximum ranges, with near-perfect coupling and in perpendicular/worst orientation positions. Having a 60 meter search strip width is ideal when practicing in larger, more complex scenarios. We did, however, appreciate the 60 meter range, which is one of the longer ranges in our review.

One design aspect that every single tester commented on was how stiff the slider was to move up and down, toggling between off, search, and send. This is, of course, a response to the older Pieps version, which slid very easily and would occasionally switch back to search mode if bumped while shoveling or probing. We generally don't mind this aspect, but it's worth noting that transitioning between functions can be difficult with thicker gloves on. It's also easy to slide past your intended setting, but you can also easily slide it back.

Photo: Ian Nicholson

Ease of Finding a Single Victim and Speed


The Guide BTuses five directional arrows, which can be displayed two-at-a-time to help accurately keep the user on the flux line. We felt that when approaching the fine search on our final approach, users of all abilities consistently had a much easier time with this beacon than the Mammut Barryvox or Arva Axio, and were more commonly able to come in right over the buried beacon rather than off to one side.

The Guide BT featured some of the best overall speed and ease of use...
The Guide BT featured some of the best overall speed and ease of use for finding a single victim. Its controls and overall design were intuitive and easy to use - something our testing team valued in a life-saving device.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Ease of Use in Fine Search


The Guide BT rocks in the fine search, and was one of the easiest beacons to come in right over the top of our beacon as we started the fine search. Like many beacons, the Guide BT's directional arrows disappear at two meters and then just give the user an audible tone and distance numbers. The Guide BT was consistently precise, allowing us to have a small bracket. This precision means it is more likely that an assistant who is probing out in front will get a probe strike and the precision and smaller bracket mean there is less area you have to probe once you finish your bracket.

The model was one of the best at multiple burials scenarios. It...
The model was one of the best at multiple burials scenarios. It excelled in differentiating models in close proximity burials and offered a host of sweet features to better deal with complex, multi-signal situations.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Multiple Burials


The Guide BT was a high performer for multiple burial situations. It did well at differentiating between beacons in close proximity burials. The Guide BT, Axio, and Barryvox S rarely flagged/mismarked the correct beacon. One small and very controversial feature on the Axio, S1+, and Barryvox S was the option to scroll through victims, depending on the application. This is a nice function during large-scale rescues or complex professional level rescue drills, but obviously controversial if applied to trying to figure out whom you may want to save first.

The Guide BT is an excellent model for professional-level rescue...
The Guide BT is an excellent model for professional-level rescue exams. Here you can see its easy-to-interpret display of one marked/flagged model, with the person icon with a box around it.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Features


The Guide BT uses Bluetooth to connect with your smartphone via an application that is pretty much the basis for most of this model's unique features. This connection allows the user to configure many of the options and settings in a very easy-to-use fashion using the Pieps smartphone app (Pieps has been owned by Black Diamond for a number of years and at least two generations of beacons now).

Revert to Send

This beacon has a revert to send option that can be turned on or off using the Pieps smartphone app.

This model has a group check mode, which more-or-less needs to be...
This model has a group check mode, which more-or-less needs to be used for the trailhead check/function check. This is because the Guide BT doesn't like to "jump" between models very easily. That said, the group check mode works great and is easy to initiate.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Group Check Mode

Black Diamond improved the "group check" function, which makes function/trailhead/beacon checking with your group far easier, particularly with more than three people. The group check function is activated by holding down the flag button when CH is displayed (while the beacon is booting up). This makes a "function check" go much smoother and faster, as you can go relatively quickly from one beacon to another while searching.

If you are running function check in typical search mode, the Guide BT takes far longer to jump signals than a majority of beacons on the market. The Guide BT's ability to lock onto a signal longer is an advantage in complex multiple burials; however, it can take 10-20 extra seconds per person (while waiting for the signal to jump) when function checking more than 4-5 people (without using the group check mode, especially if they are standing relatively close to each other).

Several models, particularly the more advanced ones, don't like to...
Several models, particularly the more advanced ones, don't like to "jump" between signals. Most of these models have a "group-check" mode which should be utilized when performing a trailhead/function check.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Scan Mode

Scan mode is one of the biggest differences between the Guide BT and the Recon. While tricky to use, scan mode can be extremely helpful in complex rescue scenarios or professional level avalanche rescue exams. The scan mode basically lets the user toggle through the buried beacons, giving a direction and distance for each; however, it is worth noting that you cannot mark/flag a beacon while using the beacon under this setting.

Here we're pointing at the "scan mode" button on the Guide BT...
Here we're pointing at the "scan mode" button on the Guide BT. Besides enacting "scan mode", this also gives the operator one more button to navigate the menus of this model with.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Analog Mode

You can enable the Guide BT's ability to switch into an analog mode if done so ahead of time via Bluetooth and the app. To switch into analog mode, simply hold down the scan button. The analog mode functions similarly to the Mammut Barryvox and can be helpful in complex rescue scenarios. While we love the Barryvox's analog mode and liked that this model could go into an analog mode, we didn't feel it was anywhere as close to the Barryvox because when the Guide BT is in analog mode it doesn't give a distance or direction (something the Barryvox does), nor is the sound quality quite as good.

Alkaline or Lithium-Ion Batteries

This model can be configured to use either alkaline or lithium-ion batteries; however, you must select the appropriate battery type while your beacon is connected to your phone (via Bluetooth) for it to accurately read the remaining battery life. This beacon already has an impressive 400 hours of send mode with normal alkaline batteries, but with lithium-ion batteries, the number jumps to around 600 hours. While lithium-ion batteries no doubt perform better in the cold and offer an overall superior battery life, there are currently only three other beacons where lithium-ion batteries can be used and the remaining battery power can be accurately read.

Built-in Inclinometer

The Guide BT has a built-in inclinometer; however, it receives mixed results from both professionals and recreationalists. The function of the application is fine, but with so many other tools to measure slope angle — from smartphones, to compasses, to lightweight and relatively inexpensive dedicated tools — even our testing team wonders if taking out and exposing your beacon to confirm the slope angle is actually the best use of a beacon.

Black Diamond Guide BT Versus the Recon BT


The Guide BT is the more advanced version of the Recon, with the two sharing similar range, flagging/marking abilities, bracketing, and fine search functionalities. They are both Bluetooth compatible and can be updated and adjusted via the smartphone app. Both have a Revert to Send Function and both can use Lithium-ion batteries. Basically, the Guide costs more and gives its user a handful of higher-end features geared towards pros or advanced trip leaders. These features include a scan function to help survey complex multiple burials, the option of an analog mode, or a frequency drift check. While we appreciate these features for more advanced users, the majority of backcountry users would be more than satisfied with the Recon.

The Guide BT is a more slightly more complex product that is best appreciated by guides and trip leaders. While it's an excellent beacon for casual or recreational users, it has a host of features that many backcountry enthusiasts will never use (and it comes at a higher cost).

Value


The Guide BT is an excellent value among the higher across-the-board performing models. It has almost all the same features as the Ortovox S1+, Arva Axio, and the Mammut Barryvox S, but costs less than any of these. The Guide BT is a little more expensive than many of the more basic models and has more features.

Conclusion


The Black Diamond Guide BT is an excellent avalanche beacon. While we undoubtedly find this beacon to be sweet and easy to use given its advanced features, most backcountry users will not require a beacon with this level of sophistication. Instead, casual or occasional backcountry users should strongly consider the Black Diamond Recon BT or Backcountry Access Tracker3.

Ian Nicholson