We’ll start with the ‘holy trinity’ of transceiver, shovel and probe; no snowboard backcountry mission - or ski, for that matter - should be attempted without all three. Transceivers may seem prohibitively expensive, but they last for a long time and pay for themselves with their first use. Shovels and probes are cheaper, although forking out a little extra cash will get you lighter options with more features.
"While you can never eliminate all risks, there are other things you can do to improve your odds"
Even with those three, there are still risks, and while you can never eliminate them there are other things you can do to improve your odds. ABS Airbag backpacks can keep you near the top of an avalanche, and an AvaLung will increase the amount of time you can survive when buried. Other items such as 2-way radios may help you avoid getting in any bother in the first place, so are definitely worth considering too.
One thing you can’t buy is knowledge and experience. Books, videos and websites are available to help you brush up on backcountry basics regularly, and avalanche safety courses run all over the world throughout the winter months. Get clued up, then grab yourself some of this stuff:
Scroll through the list to your heart’s content, or skip to your favourite brand using the links below.
All photographs by Sami Tuoriniemi
Production: Ed Blomfield / Mike Brindley / Andrew Duthie / Sami Tuoriniemi
Backcountry Access Tracker3 Avalanche Transceiver
Click all images to enlarge
For all that goes into making a transceiver reliable, hardy and functional – they really should be easy to use, and BCA’s Tracker3 is exactly that.
- PRICE: £280
A combination of clear LED display and loud audio packed into a neat, low-profile package is what you get at the top end of Backcountry Access’s range (claiming the title of thinnest multiple-antenna avalanche transceiver available) as well as the additional options that you’d expect to find in transceivers above a certain price point.
A single top locking dial allows the user to simply switch between ‘Off’, ‘Transmit’ and ‘Search’ modes – with, arrows, distance indicators, and audio aiding in coarse search. Then for fine searching (within 2m) the arrows disappear so you can focus on the distance to find your probing grid.
Claiming 250 hours battery in transmit, and 50 hours in search mode (with remaining charge displayed on start-up), and a 55 meter range, all the bases are covered well – and extra functions like Signal Suppression and Big Picture modes help out in multiple-victim slides.
Finally, auto-revert ensures that should the worst happen twice, your beacon will go back to transmit in case you are buried in secondary avalanches.
Backcountry Access B-1 Ext Shovel
A shovel is an endlessly useful tool when you’re working with snow, not to mention it’s essential role in avalanche rescue. But if you’re looking to carry one around while you ride, you won’t be wanting to use that hefty one from the back of the garden shed.
- PRICE: £50
The Backcountry Access B-1 is a properly packable snow shovel that trumps many other competitors by the fact that it’s been made incredibly lightweight, without sacrificing strength.
The elliptical shaped handle fits both ways around giving you options for grip while simply guiding the blade into the locked position – and the blade itself has raised sections to give additional torsional strength. If you’re looking to go compact and retain shovelling power, this is the one for you.
Backcountry Access Stealth 240 Avalanche Probe
The common thought that ‘a probe is a probe’ may have some grounding, but it’s instantly obvious when you break out the BCA Stealth 240, you’re dealing with something a bit special.
- PRICE: £50
Not only is it as light as you could possibly need, but when you take it out of it’s easily-opened zip up bag, you instinctively find yourself with a locked-off, extended probe in seconds.
Cleverly the mechanism is string-free, and all comes housed in the top section of the probe, so there’s no tangling risk, and each individual section has a tapered tip so they link up as quickly as possible. Depth markings are laser-etched too, so you won’t have to worry about them wiping off.
The pointy end is rubberised to minimise injury should you catch the avalanche-victim in a sensitive spot, and it packs down as quickly as it was constructed in the first place. It’s very hard to fault this one.
Backcountry Access Float 22 Airbag Pack
An airbag backpack is obviously quite a large investment for most – but thankfully if you’re making the decision to get one, you’re investing in something that could prove invaluable in keeping you alive in an avalanche situation.
- PRICE: £460
Once you’ve reached that point, it obviously makes sense to find a system that isn’t excessively costly, and doesn’t obstruct you when you ride – which is where the BCA Float 22 here comes in.
The BCA Float 22 is a compact, lightweight pack, which strikes a happy medium in terms of storage, and certainly isn’t short on features.
It splits into two storage ‘zones’, the outer pocket for your avalanche rescue gear is clearly marked with a red zipper and offers plenty of space for the kit you’ll need quick access to. The main storage space that houses the airbag neatly tucked away at the top, with a zip-up sleeve for the air cylinder, and a velcro panel to hide canister cables away safely. There’s then still space for a reasonable supply stash in there too.
Although our sample photo doesn’t show it – BCA have now installed double zips in the shoulder straps, one for your airbag trigger, and one for a hydration system or radio. Then at the waist you’ll find a sturdy fastening with a leg-loop option that effectively creates a harness so you’re not at risk of loosing the pack itself.
The Float’s built in facilities unfortunately don’t hold a snowboard, but there are four loops which can be used to attach the Snowboard Carry Attachment (horizontal) which BCA sell separately, or your own strap solution.
The Air Cylinders for the Float 22 are sold separately, and can be refilled at licensed locations.
Backcountry Access BC Link Two-Way Radios
We gave the BCA Link Two-Way radios a try on the bustling streets of London – and even through the incredible amounts of interference you’ll find in inner-city environments, they were still going strong half a mile away.
- PRICE: £150
Out in their natural habitat in the backcountry, these communication devices can keep parties connected up to four times that distance. They’re simple, well thought out, and certainly more effective than even your best hollering when you get stuck in a situation.
Designed with two parts, the main body of the radio can happily sit in your pack, while a wire connects it to the control and microphone unit. 22 channels and 121 sub-channels ensure you’ll be able to find a secure line of communication to the rest of your crew. Invaluable for finding other members of your party, warning about changing terrain, calling shots for video and much more.
NOTE: Not approved for use in Japan.
Black Diamond Anarchist AvaLung Pack
Probably a little bit excessive size-wise for day-to-day use or short excursions, but if you need to carry a lot of kit, the Black Diamond Anarchist AvaLung pack is the biggest integrated AvaLung option Black Diamond offer, with up to 45L of storage available!
- PRICE: £235
If you haven’t been introduced to AvaLung tech, the concept is simple, a breathing tube is tucked into the shoulder strap, and in the event of burial it has two points for the intake of air, and outlet of Co2, allow you to breathe for considerably longer, increasing your chances of survival.
Elsewhere, the pack isn’t lacking features either, there’s a tuck-away helmet holder, internal insulated hydration sleeve, dedicated snow safety pocket, back-panel and top load access, and even a fancy dynamic waist belt that moves with your torso for a comfortable ride.
Unfortunately Black Diamond haven’t provided board carrying options with this pack, but if you’re using splits, you’ll find the A-frame carry straps handy – and there are points for packing pick axes too.
Black Diamond Evac Shovel
Black Diamond’s Evac shovel is a large volume shifter, with two configurations that allows you to move snow around with speed and efficiency.
- PRICE: £80
Standard shovel and hoe modes give digging options depending on your need, while a D-shaped handle provides plenty of comfortable, sturdy grip, regardless of which way you’re holding it.
Black Diamond have designed the durable anodized blade of the Evac with a flat bottom, so you can get a clean wall when digging test pits, and the handle is telescopically extendable (although be sure to consider the curve of the handle towards the blade end when packing your gear). It’s certainly a serious bit of kit, designed for both daily and emergency use working with snow.
Black Diamond Quickdraw Carbon 320 Avalanche Probe
Carbon has long been the buzzword when it comes to strong lightweight gear, and the Black Diamond Quickdraw Carbon Probe is no exception to the rule. As with all longer probes, it’s designed for really deep snow and glaciated terrain - but unlike some, you’re not going to be packing much extra weight.
- PRICE: £90
The design of the probe itself is coupled with a quick-draw velcro closure stuff sack, and the large glove-friendly pull-loop acts to rapidly bring the whole thing together. The probe sections all have a non-slip grip, and highly visible 1cm markings are placed up to 280cm with red markers acting as dividers.
As a final pointer, Black Diamond have implemented an oversized tip to create a hole wider than the shaft of the pole, which apparently improves sensitivity when you’re in the middle of your grid search.
Mammut Pulse Barryvox Avalanche Transceiver
When you’re working with the Mammut Pulse Barryvox transceiver you’ll probably notice that it’s right at the top in terms of early detection – its 60m max range means that you may well be the first to get an indicator directing you towards the burial site – which gives you an essential edge when time is of the essence.
- PRICE: £350
In single victim events, the audio and visual search guides work to clearly to help you local the signal source, while triple antenna help pinpoint in fine search. Then for multi-victim events, a digital signal processor kicks in, and gives an overview of distance, direction and number of victims, allowing you to select and prioritise different signals, and also mark various dig sites.
A 3D movement sensor functions to automatically switch the device back to send should you find yourself caught in a secondary slide, and intelligent group test, auto self-test on startup, and simple two-button operation (easily done with gloves on) cap this one off as one of the best transceiver options available.
Mammut 240 Fast Lock Probe
Mammut have had a re-think of their Fast Lock system for the latest incarnation of the Mammut Probe 240 Fast Lock, so it’s now even more glove compatible than ever. Simple pull the chord and clip off the end and you’re ready to go.
- PRICE: £50
The probe itself is made of lightweight aluminium with a drop shape tip to save energy, and clear markings so you can quickly and accurately judge depth. The cover even comes with emergency plan should you need a reminder, preferably to be used to practice before the shit actually hits the fan.
Mammut Alugator Twist Shovel
The Mammut Alugator Twist shovel is a snow tool with a rotating handle to allow you to tweak the digging angle depending on your needs - vertical alignment that’s optimal for cutting into hard pack, or an angled scoop set-up for shovelling large volumes.
- PRICE: £50
Made with hardened, anodized aluminium blade, it has an extendable handle with grip zones, and a symmetrical handle that works efficiently in either orientation. The blade also features a 3D design to maximise rigidity, and thanks to a low profile design, fitting it in your pack shouldn’t be a problem either.
Mammut Ride Protection Airbag Pack
The Mammut Ride Protection Airbag pack is a fantastic option if you want need one where the airbag system itself is optional. You’ll be able to find this in both airbag-ready and complete options when you’re looking to buy.
- PRICE: £175
The bag itself is a mid-size 22L pack – with a good amount of space for day trips and stowable storage for a snowboard, helmet and axes, and an external pocket for avalanche safety gear.
Then there’s the airbag itself, which is a little different from some others in that it comes around the back of the head and down over the chest. This serves multiple functions of protecting the head, and helping to ensure that the head will have the best chance of staying atop the snowpack – subsequently helping reduce some risks associated with suffocation and blocked airways.
To ensure the design fits all riders, Mammut have made the Ride Protection Airbag with an adjustable back length, so it’s one size fits all – and there’s a safety leg loop integrated (as well as the waist strap) so you’re less likely to loose the pack altogether.
Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Transceiver
The Ortovox 3+ Transciever is a genuinely great all-rounder that functions with fantastic simplicity. A dial on the base clearly allows you to turn the device on or (turned the other way) find access to the single AA battery chamber.
- PRICE: £229
Once on, you are automatically in transmit mode, unless you flick the double triggers on top, which release a button and switch you on to search mode. Once in search, a visual display on the screen reminds you to zig-zag your coarse search, before showing a distance indicator and direction arrows, which in trained hands help with rapid victim location. When you’re within 2.5m, the fine search function kicks in with very clear audio and visual signals allowing you to decide on a search grid.
In the case of multiple victims, the Ortovox 3+ will display and allow you to flag up to three burial sites, as well as showing ‘4+’ on the display if there are more signals still transmitting. Extra functions like automatically switching back to transmit after two minutes of non-movement, and partner transceiver check are also invaluable.
Ortovox Beast Shovel
Ortovox’s Beast 2.5 shovel has pretty much all you could possibly need in a backpack size snow tool. The handle connects rapidly to the blade with a satisfying ‘ding’, and it can then be quickly extended to give you maximum leverage as you start to dig.
- PRICE: £39
The blade itself has high walls for strength and high volume shovelling, as well as grippy foot grooves either side of the handle, should you need to step through hard pack. On the shaft of the handle you’ll find a rubberised grip zone, as well as a ridged main grip to help you get stuck in.
Unless you’re looking for a shovel with a saw or multiple blade mounting options this’ll certainly do the job for you.
Ortovox 240 Light PFA Avalanche Probe
You may find yourself initially wondering with PFA stands for – but once you’ve had a go on the Ortovox 240 Light PFA Probe you’ll realise that ‘Patented Flash Assembly’ makes perfect sense in describing this one.
- PRICE: £49
Grab the lightweight probe out of its easy-open bag, toss the end away from you and pull the rope on top and it quickly gathers itself together and locks in place so you can get on with locating your buddy. Throw in a comfortable EVA foam handle, easy deconstruction, and a clip so you can lock off the pull cord and keep it out of your way, and there’s very little else you could ask for.
Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Rescue Set
The Ortovox Avalanche Rescue Set 3+ makes perfect sense for first time buyers. There’s no sense in ‘collecting’ avalanche gear over time, as you need the shovel, probe and transceiver together from the word go - and by buying all three at once you’ll be saving yourself some cash.
- PRICE: £279
The Ortovox3+ Avalanche Rescue Set contains the Ortovox Beast 2.5 Shovel, Ortovox 240 Light PFA Probe, and Ortovox 3+ Transceiver, alongside the Safety Academy Guide Book (strictly to provide a reminder – actual, physical avalanche safety training is still essential). Effectively it’ll set you up with the vital equipment in one fell swoop.
Pieps DSP Pro Avalanche Transceiver
The PIEPS DSP Pro transceiver is the top of PIEPS’ range for rapid search and rescue – and notably features a smart transmitter, so should you be the unfortunate one caught in a slide, it’ll give searching beacons the best signal possible.
- PRICE: £299
Equipped with three antennas and a self-checking reference antenna (which automatically tests while the beeper powers up), it has a symmetrical 60 meter search range and plenty of smart features to help you stay safe, and maximise efficiency if the worst happens.
As well as the standard direction and distance indicators in search mode, you’ll find a flagging option for multiple burials, and an integrated inclinometer also helps assess the angle of slopes – to help you avoid issues associated with steeper terrain in the first place. It’ll also auto-revert to send if it detects a lack of movement – providing an additional safeguard in case of multiple slides.
The locking slide mechanism on the front of the Pieps DSP Pro switches simply between modes – and they’ve made the display clear and bold so that it can be easily seen in any kind of weather condition.