The Ortovox 3+ is a solid triple antennae beacon that is easy to use, with most of the features that backcountry users are looking for but without a lot of extras. The 3+ has below average maximum range and proved to be just okay during the bracketing stage of our search, but it is very easy to use. The Ortovox 3+ used to be one of the better priced three-antennae avalanche beacons and the former winner of our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award. Now with beacons like the BCA Tracker 2 ($300), Arva Evo4 ($290), the Pieps DSP Sport ($320), and Mammut Barryvox ($350), the 3+ isn't the super deal it once was.
Ortovox 3+ Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Easy to use, fast, good flagging feature, intuitive design, easy-to-interpret display, low profile
Cons: Range isn't as good as most others, consistently produced a larger box while bracketing, flagging/marking function often got confused with more than three signals in close proximity
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Ortovox 3+ was among the more intuitive beacons to use and scored reasonably well when it came to finding a single buried beacon. Its pleasant interface and easily decipherable displays are a welcome sight for most users during what is almost undoubtedly a high-stress situation. However, the 3+'s drawbacks of a relatively short maximum range and consistently larger brackets (boxes) during the fine search kept it from scoring better.
The range of the 3+ is toward the lower end of the spectrum of beacons and nearly the lowest of the three-antennae beacons we tested. The 3+ had a maximum range just below 40 meters. That means it has a few meters longer range than an original BCA Tracker DTS, Arva Evo4, and the Ortovox Zoom+, but not by much. It consistently came up meters shorter than the new BCA Tracker 2 and had a shorter range than the similarly priced Pieps DSP Sport and Mammut Barryvox beacons.
Ease of Use in Single Burials and Speed
The 3+ beacon is among the simplest and easiest to use, and was as easy to use as the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS and BCA Tracker 2, as well as the Ortovox Zoom, but with a few more features. The Ortovox 3+ has straightforward controls and is a great beacon for a novice or less practiced backcountry traveler. Ease of use and easy to understand displays are this model's strongest advantage.
Ease of Use in the Fine Search
We found the 3+ has slightly below average accuracy during the fine search and while bracketing our victim we would consistently get larger sized brackets compared with other beacons in the same spot. We also found that it generally would take less practiced users longer to complete a bracket than with other models, like the BCA Tracker 2, BCA Tracker 3, Arva Evo4, or Pieps DSP Sport.
Ease of Use in Multiple Burials
The 3+ uses an easy to understand display that shows 1-3 victims and puts an intuitive mark around each signal as that beacon has been flagged. We used to feel that the Ortovox 3+ had one of the better flagging features on the market, but now as technology has gotten better it's pretty average. During real-world use we rarely had to hit the flag button more than one time and as long as there weren't too many signals in close proximity the 3+ marks the buried beacon easily. Unlike the new Pieps DSP Pro, Arva Axio, Ortovox S1+ or the Mammut Barryvox S, you can't "unflag" a beacon with a 3+.
Not that this is a big deal, but the 3+ one of the few beacons to give buyers a color option. Like many other higher end beacons you can update the software on the Ortovox 3+ to help keep it running more smoothly. You can do this at some retailers or by mailing your beacon into Ortovox directly. As of the winter 2013/14 season, Ortovox is installing a RECCO reflector on the Ortovox 3+. We don't think this is a super necessary feature, offering assistance in only a few scenarios, but it doesn't offer much of a downside and could assist in finding a body once the beacon has run out of power or help to potentially save someone who is just straight up lost by being found by a helicopter flying overhead with a RECCO gun.
The 3+ does have a group function feature but it was complicated to access, and we didn't find ourselves using it very often.
The 3+ harness system is not the most comfortable to wear. It moved around on our testers more than other beacon's, which wasn't a lot but was noticeable. That said, it is very light, and its thin profile was nice to wear in an inner zippered pant pocket.
Revert to Transmit Mode
After 120 seconds of no movement, the beacon switches from Search to Send mode in case you get buried in a follow-up slide. Before switching back, this beacon beeps loudly for 10 seconds to alert the searcher that this function is taking place. This usefulness of this feature is sometimes debated, and you can read more about it in our main review.Smart Antenna Technology
The 3+ was one of the first avalanche beacons to implement smart antenna technology. This technology is now being applied by more and more avalanche beacon manufacturers each year. This technology helps the beacon realize how it is oriented on the victim who is buried in the avalanche. Using gravity, the beacon picks the antenna that is in the best orientation to broadcast its signal to maximize the range that searchers might be able to pick up the buried beacon.
The 3+ is a beacon that can be appreciated by everyone, from the most novice user to very experienced and avid backcountry travelers. Only professionals and the most demanding recreational users will wish the 3+ had more to offer. Those types of users are more likely to want more complex beacons like our Editors' Choice winner, the Mammut Barryvox S, or the Ortovox S1+.
There is a lot of competition in this price range, and unfortunately, the $340 3+ just didn't perform as well in our tests and some similarly priced models.
While the Ortovox 3+ is simple and easy to understand, and has solid multiple burial functions, its downsides of average speed, okay bracketing and slightly below average maximum range mean similar priced models like the BCA Tracker 2, BCA Tracker 3, Pieps DSP Sport or Mammut Barryvox should also be on your radar.
— Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara