Hands-on Gear Review

Ortovox S1+ Review

Price:  $490 List | $366.75 at Backcountry
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Pros:  Easy to use, long range, may eventually be the wave of the future, performs well in complex rescues and multiple burials
Cons:  More experienced users will have to slightly retrain themselves, expensive, not as intuitive as other models
Bottom line:  One of the most technically advanced avalanche beacons on the market, but has a few quirks that can take a little longer to get used to.
Editors' Rating:   
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Weight:  260g / 9.2oz
Number of Antennae:  3
Manufacturer's Range:  30 meters
Manufacturer:   Ortovox

Our Verdict

The Ortovox S1+ is one of the most technically advanced avalanche beacons on the market, but it has a few unique quirks that can take a little longer to get used to. It was one of our higher performing products in nearly every category and was also reasonably easy to use. However, it is uniquely designed from all other contenders on the market because it doesn't follow flux lines in a conventional way. Instead of following a generally rounded flux-line that brings the rescuer in on a curved line, it instead calculates the flux-lines and brings the searcher straight to the buried signal. It also likely has the most features and options of almost any beacon out there (with the newer Mammut Barryvox being the possible exception). While its straight-to-the-victim design is quite cool, it does take some getting used to just because it feels different than any other beacon.

The S1+ is easy to use for basic functions, searching and sending, but going through the icon based menu was sometimes more challenging than we expected. The S1+ was one of our top scorers for speed at finding a single victim or multiple victims and had a fantastic display of these features, similar to an older style video game. We did notice that with the S1+ we had to move marginally slower than with some of the other top scoring products. While it is expensive, it is not that much more than its competitors.

The overall maximum range is among the best we tested, which allows large search strip widths. Its closest competitors are the Pieps DSP Pro and Mammut Pulse Barryvox. In choosing between the three, it comes down to if you are comfortable with the more advanced digital display of the S1 or prefer a more standard display. Some of our testers (especially those with more experience) were more skeptical at first because the S1+ looks for victims and assists you in finding your victim in a totally different way. Unlike all other models we've ever used, the S1 doesn't assist you with directional arrows to help you stay on a flux line to find your victim in a traditional way. Instead it uses "sensors" (hence the name S1) and calculates distances and angles of the flux lines and takes you straight to the victim. You just line the body icon on the screen up in your "sights" and walk. If you are only doing a few trips a year, this product might be a little too complex and may not be for you, but for intermediate to advanced users the S1+ has plenty to offer and with a little practice can be super fast.



RELATED REVIEW: The Best Avalanche Beacons


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Chris McNamara and Ian Nicholson

Last Updated:
Friday
March 30, 2018

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The Ortovox S1+ is easily among the most capable and fully featured beacons on the market. However, what truly sets it apart is its ability to calculate flux lines and take its rescuer straight to the buried beacon rather than curving in a long a flux-line. We aren't sure if this feature necessarily equals speed, but in more complex burials, mainly if the buried beacons are in close proximity to each other, the S1+ is among the best performing. Despite its interface that would lead you to believe it was for best for more novice users, we'd recommend the contrary. We think it is okay for more casual backcountry travelers but shines for more advanced users, ski guides, or other avalanche professionals who will take full advantage of this exceptionally capable beacon.

Performance Comparion


Showing the Ortovox S1+ while searching for a multiple burial situation. On the display the bigger number 5.0 is how far away the victim whom the directional arrow is going to. The smaller body with the 9 over it is how far away the other beacon is.
Showing the Ortovox S1+ while searching for a multiple burial situation. On the display the bigger number 5.0 is how far away the victim whom the directional arrow is going to. The smaller body with the 9 over it is how far away the other beacon is.

Range


The Ortovox S1+ has one of the better overall maximum ranges among products available on the market today and has a maximum range around the mid 50-meter range. The S1+, along with the Arva Axio, Pieps DSP Pro, and Pieps DSP Ice, had some of the longer maximum ranges for a digital beacon. We consistently picked up a signal between 50-55 meters away. This was very good and more than you need, but it still wasn't as much as the Mammut Barryvox S or more standard Mammut Barryvox.

Ian Nicholson testing a S1+ in the fine search.
Ian Nicholson testing a S1+ in the fine search.

Ease of Finding a Single Victim


As we've mentioned about five times now, you don't follow the typical curving pattern of the flux lines with this model; instead, the S1+ takes you straight to the victim. It works by displaying the victim(s) on a screen and then from there it is almost like a basic video game — line the victim up in the sights and make the distance numbers get smaller. In some ways, you'd almost think this would be the most user-friendly beacon we tested, but that's not quite the case. It's not hard, but it is different and takes practice to get used to.

The S1+ loses its directional arrows below 3 meters and shows this display to remind the rescuer to soon start bracketing.
The S1+ loses its directional arrows below 3 meters and shows this display to remind the rescuer to soon start bracketing.

Ease of Use in the Fine Search


The fine search is the bracketing portion of the search, and for our tests, we included the last 5m as well in our findings here. Once we practiced with this beacon searching for one victim, the fine search became easy and eventually intuitive. While it worked well, we couldn't move quite as quickly as the Pieps DSP Pro, the Mammut Barryvox S, Arva Axio, or the Tracker 2. It wasn't a big difference, but it was noticeable.

The S1+ doesn't follow flux lines like a traditional beacon. It uses sensors and calculations to take the rescuer straight to the victim. Finding the victim is a bit like a 1980's video game - simply line the body icon in the cross marks and walk to them.
The S1+ doesn't follow flux lines like a traditional beacon. It uses sensors and calculations to take the rescuer straight to the victim. Finding the victim is a bit like a 1980's video game - simply line the body icon in the cross marks and walk to them.

Ease of Use in Multiple Burial Situations and Speed


Once we'd practiced a bit with this device, whether in the hands of a professional guide or a relative backcountry novice, the S1+ performed at or near the top in our various multiple burial tests because of this model's "lay of the land" style display.

Multiple burials are where the S1+ technology excels because of the S1+'s ability to show the user where all the beacons are in relation to each other rather than just displaying one marked with distance numbers. It shows up to three victims with the distances displayed under each victim simultaneously. Even if you aren't used to this design, it quickly becomes the most straightforward model to interpret for multiple burial searches. You can then hide/mark the victims you are not searching for and later unhide them. The processing speed was a little slower than the Arva Axio, Pieps DPS Pro, DSP Ice, and the Mammut Barryvox Pulse but not by a lot. It also gave you input on all your victims (up to three) distances simultaneously, so it is giving you more information and making it harder to mess up for offering a little slower operating speed.


Features


The S1+, like several other higher end contenders on the market today, has updatable software. You either have to do this in a retail store or mail it in for a small fee. Updating the software is important as there were some early problems with coarse search.

The S1+ has a built-in inclinometer. This is a cool feature we often find ourselves using and recommending to AIARE Level 1 students to help evolve a better eye for guessing slope angle, but we don't know if we love the idea of always taking it out to measure slopes — what if we get hit at that moment?

The S1+ has a group check mode similar to the Barryvox Pulse's group check mode and a typical function check performed by most backcountry users every time they go out. The S1+'s group check goes one step further — beyond the standard tests of making sure everyone's beacons can send and search, the S1+ also checks the other beacons' transmission frequencies to see if they have suffered any frequency drift.

Some of the self-checks and boot-up screens while the S1+ turns on.
Some of the self-checks and boot-up screens while the S1+ turns on.

Comfort to Carry

The Ortovox S1+ has our favorite harness system among all the products we tested. It is very comfortable and well-labeled, making it easy to put on. While we liked several other of the harness systems including the Mammut Barryvox S, we thought the S1+ was the best. If you are someone who wants to carry their beacon in a zippered pant pocket, then the S1+ is good but not excellent. Its "flip phone" style closure is a little thicker than others but surprisingly not by much.

Showing the On-Off switch on the S1+.
Showing the On-Off switch on the S1+.

Smart Antenna Technology

The S1 recently became the S1+. The + is just a feature that the Ortovox 3+ already had and now is featured in the S1+. The + is the transmitting antenna and affects only the transmit mode and has no effect on the beacon's search abilities. It chooses which is the better antenna to send from, thus giving the wearer a better chance to be found. Kinda sweet.

Revert to Send Mode

The S1+ has a revert to send mode so that in the event you are hit by a second avalanche while searching; your beacon will eventually switch back over. While there is some debate as to the level of usefulness of this feature because of the odds that it will still be with you, it is for some people an important feature. What's nice with the S1+ is that this is an optional feature that can be turned on or off. If the function is on, it can be adjusted to Revert to Send after 30, 60, or 120 seconds of no movement.

Showing the main menu of the S1+. While there are a lot of features  we felt the menu on the S1+ was fairly easy to use and understand.
Showing the main menu of the S1+. While there are a lot of features, we felt the menu on the S1+ was fairly easy to use and understand.

Dislikes


While this beacon is very easy to use, it does have a longer learning curve than most because it is quite different. This learning curve occasionally results in seasoned veterans finding it "weird" at first. Many different icons and instructions are mostly intuitive, but some require reading the user manual to figure out. Plan on a little extra time to get comfortable with its menus and icons before using it.

We also noticed that this beacon is a little slower under three meters and we felt it was a little slower than many other triple antennae designs during the "bracketing" phase of the search. It does not automatically turn on when you clip the waist strap. This means you have to remember to turn it to transmit mode. Not a big downside but it would be nice if the auto feature was restored (it was in past models).

There have been some problems reported when searching at the maximum of the coarse search range. The beacon will point you away from the victim until you are out of range.

Best Applications


The Ortovox S1+ is like no other product, but if you were to compare it to another top contender that is also geared toward professionals it would be the Mammut Barryvox S. Like the Barryvox S, the S1+ has a pile of features and functions with several options to truly cater the beacon to its user. Being able to interpret what's best for you takes some time and experience, and while the basic functions of both are well-designed and easy to understand, they have so many other things that more experienced users will get the most out of them. Both beacons are among the most difficult to fool or fool even close proximity burials. The S1+ consistently gives you a better sense of the big picture, but the Barryox S is a little faster. For less experienced users we found the S1+ was able to bracket slightly more easily when dealing with a single burial.

Value


At nearly $500, the S1+ is one of the more expensive options on the market and the most expensive model in our review. The S1+ does have unique technology, and like any new technology, it is almost always more expensive. So while it costs more than pretty much any other model, the S1+ certainly serves up a lot of features and technology for the extra cash.

What Sets The S1+ Apart


We consider the S1+ a potential game changer, like the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS was years ago. The Tracker was the first digital beacon and way easier to use than the competition of the time. Fast forward to today — the S1+ similarly stands out with new technology that is likely to be the way of the future. The S1+ still uses flux lines and the same 457Khz frequency that everyone else uses, but instead of a directional arrow to help you stay on the flux line, the S1+ takes you straight to it. It uses sensors and calculation to locate the buried beacon and displays it using a body icon on the screen which you then line up in the hash marks and walk straight to. This display's superiority is even more obvious in multiple burials where the S1+ gives a "lay of the land" type view, where the user can see each buried victim on the screen at the same time, each with its own distance number and different sized icon to help differentiate the closer and farther victims. That said, Ortovox has had some issues with its software and we feel it isn't quite there yet, but each year it gets significantly better. We do think that maybe one day it's possible that all beacons will be like this: three antennae and able to take you straight to the victim without having to follow the flux line in the traditional way.

Conclusion


The Ortovox S1+ is a capable beacon that's not for everyone. This is where the S1+ really is unique, because in some ways it's super easy to use and really intuitive while searching for victims, and it can make more sense to beginners as well as seasoned veterans. On the flip side, the layout and the sheer volume of features make it harder to get completely dialed.

Chris McNamara and Ian Nicholson

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