Best Buys

Best Avalanche Safety Gear For 2020 – 2021 | Transceivers, Probes, Shovels and Accessories For Staying Safe In The Backcountry

Our selection of the best avalanche safety equipment for snowboarding off-piste and out in the backcountry

There’s no hiding the facts. In 90% of avalanche incidents, the avalanche is triggered by either the victim or someone within their group. Survival statistics show that just over 90% of avalanche victims are found alive, providing they are dug out within fifteen minutes. After this point, the numbers rapidly fall off. After 45 minutes the survival rate diminishes to 20-30% and to virtually 0% after two hours. It, surely, goes without saying that if the shit hits the fan then time is of the essence and that having the correct avalanche safety gear is absolutely paramount.

“If the shit hits the fan then time is of the essence and that having the correct avalanche safety gear is absolutely paramount”

The market is full of quality and affordable avalanche safety gear and there’s an abundance of educational resources for snowboarding and splitboarding in the backcountry online these days, not to mention the near-endless options of freeride snowboards and splitboards to choose from.

But venturing out into the backcountry – or even the lift-accessed sidecountry – comes with inherent risks and you should always be prepared for such eventualities. This means bringing along a load more gear that you ordinarily would for a day in-bounds.

“We’ve laid out what we believe to be some of the best avalanche safety products on the market today”

In the list below, we’ve laid out what we believe to be some of the best avalanche safety products on the market today. These include the essentials – transceiver, probe and shovel – along with the non-compulsory (though increasingly popular) airbag backpack systems. Though it isn’t absolutely vital to have the latter when you head out of bounds, they drastically reduce your chances of being buried when deployed, should an avalanche occur.

Of course, if you don’t opt for an airbag system, you’ll still need a decent backpack for carrying everything in, or potentially just a backcountry vest if you’re going on a fast and light mission. There’s also a whole host of additional accessories and gadgets to consider, like a GPS smartwatch – far from an essential bit of kit, but something that provides useful info and data throughout the day and could become a potential lifesaver if the weather hinders navigation.

As these items tend to be less trend-driven, many of them are effectively the same as in previous years. Nevertheless, there are new developments and products released each season. As such, we’ve presented you with some key models from both camps that should help you on you muddle through the jargon and equip yourself to the safest possible standards.

Selecting “the best” avalanche safety gear is arguably the most subjective of all the categories in this year’s Buyer’s Guide. Ultimately, for the individual, “the best” is whatever you are most effective at using under pressure.

“Above all else, educating yourself before going into the backcountry is key”

Above all else, educating yourself before going into the backcountry is key. Having the latest technology or the most expensive gear won’t prevent the worst-case scenarios from occurring. Never travel alone in the backcountry. If your group is still relatively inexperienced or exploring a new location, hire a guide. Lastly, make a plan, move safely through the mountains and, if in doubt, be prepared to turn back or cut your mission short.

Apologies If this all sounds a little doom and gloom. In reality, backcountry enthusiasts have never had so many resources at their fingertips to maximise the safety and enjoyment of their group. So check out the list below, get yourself equipped for the season ahead, and we’ll see you out there. Happy (and safe) shredding!

Scroll down to view all the best avalanche safety equipment, or skip to a particular category using the following links:

Transceivers | Probes | Shovels | Airbag Systems


Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Transceiver

PRICE: £220

The ol’ reliable. Ortovox’s 3+ transceiver still remains one of the best selling beepers on the market and has made a name for itself thanks to an incredibly intuitive and easy to use system.

Despite being one of the more affordable transceivers out there, none of the most important safety features are compromised. Ortovox’s Smart-Antenna-Technology is able to recognise which of the three antennas is best positioned for transmitting a signal in the event of an avalanche. This means, whatever position a person becomes buried in, the 3+ will always select the best antenna axis to transmit from and give the strongest signal to pinpoint their location for the rescuers.

With a maximum search strip width of 40 metres, illuminated display with only the bare essentials (direction, distance and number of beacons detected), and just a single button on the front panel for flagging, it’s one of the most straightforward digital transceivers to operate.

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    Mammut Barryvox S Avalanche Transceiver

    PRICE: £350

    Although a popular beacon of choice for more experienced guides and ski patrollers, the Barryvox S offers intuitive functionality and features that will also benefit more novice backcountry enthusiasts. Granted, it’s not the cheapest transceiver out there, but it boasts some impressive tech.

    First off, it has one of the largest search strips in the industry – up to 70 metres. Secondly, the interface is extremely intuitive. The screen is larger and brighter, while and arrow and distance marker clearly tell you where you need to be heading. If you’re walking in the wrong direction, it will alert you and tell you to turn 180° – hardly revolutionary, but still surprisingly rare on most transceivers.

    There’s only a single button on the front panel, used for flagging up victims in a multiple search scenario and the side panel switch for changing between transmit and search mode is nearly impossible to accidentally switch over.

    For those with more backcountry experience, there’s a host of unique specific features. You can also manually change the auto-revert setting from between two to four minutes. In scenarios where you may be searching for a victim is terrain that remains prone to additional slides, selecting a quicker revert time could make all the difference.

    Lastly, there’s a pretty noteworthy feature for the old guard. The Barryvox S comes complete with three antennas to optimise the search signal, but also allows the user to switch between digital or analogue mode. Although the latter is somewhat less intuitive, those who are familiar with the older system will often find this the most effective method for searching.

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    Jones Strike 240 Avalanche Probe

    PRICE: £49 / $60
    WEIGHT: 226g
    LENGTH: 240cm

    Naturally, we’ve come to expect the highest levels of quality from the Jones brand when it comes to any backcountry equipment. Rather than going in-house for their backcountry safety gear, however, they’ve partnered with ARVA, the snow safety equipment specialist with over thirty years experience in making backcountry avalanche gear for the backcountry.

    The Strike 240 probe is a simple yet solid bit of kit that you can count on when you really need it. With a tough aluminium construction and stripped back on any bulky features, the Strike 240 comes in at an impressive 226 grams. Weight shouldn’t be the priority withthis kind of kit though, durability is paramount and the strike is built to last. Featuring six 11cm diameter aluminium sections and a new Rack Locking System with Kevlar cord, it comes together in seconds with just the flick of a wrist.

    The Strike is also available in a 320 length, built to the same spec, and coming in at £70 / $85.

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    Ortovox 280+ Carbon PFA Avalanche Probe (280+ cm)

    PRICE: £85
    WEIGHT: 355g
    LENGTH: 280cm+

    Research has shown that it takes around twice as long to dig out a victim without the use of a probe. When every second counts, it’s paramount that you’re confident in not only in using your equipment but in trusting that it works effectively. The Ortovox 280+ Carbon PFA probe isn’t just one of the lightest on the market, it’s also one of the most user-friendly probes out there.

    At only 355 grams and packing down to 43.5cm, it won’t take up precious space or add excess weight to your backcountry setup. Thanks to Ortovox’s PFA Quick Assembly 2.0 system and Quick Grab Strap, you can get it fully assembled straight out the cover in only a handful of seconds, even with your gloves on.

    It’s then securely held together with a steel tensioning wire that holds rock steady until the need to collapse the probe again, via the quick-release button at the top of the handle.

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    Ortovox 240 Alu PFA Avalanche Probe (240cm)

    PRICE: £55
    WEIGHT: 310g
    LENGTH: 240cm

    Sure, aluminium ways a little more than carbon, but in the case the Orotovox 240 Alu probe it’s long enough to suffice for burials almost two and a half metres deep, but won’t take up too much space in the bag or weight on your shoulders (310 grams, to be precise).

    Speed is of the essence which is why, like its carbon counterpart, the Alu probe features the same quick-assembly strap to enable immediate opening and assembly possible in one motion. It also features clear markers along the shaft in order to determine burial depth – something that will allow you to determine the best shovelling strategy. The rubberized handle also has improved grip that won’t ice up.

    It’s not exactly easy to wax lyrical about the features and spec sheet of an avalanche probe, but now with over 40 years of experience in the industry, Ortovox truly set the bar for avalanche safety equipment and continue to tweak and refine their products to the highest possible standards.

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    Jones Excavator Shovel

    PRICE: £55 / $65
    WEIGHT: 565g

    As a companion piece to the Strike Probe, the Excavator shovel from Jones is another robust and lightweight backcountry tool built for both avalanche rescue, but coming in equally handy for winter camping and backcountry kicker building use.

    It features high volume aluminium blade, but the Excavator’s two-section collapsible aluminium shaft (32 to 49cm collapsable length) can comfortably fit in any backpack.

    T-handles are known for their ease of grip – especially when switching hands when you’re busy digging in an emergency – but keep in mind that if you ride with mitts you may find a D-handle more comfortable.

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    Ortovox Beast Shovel

    PRICE: £50
    WEIGHT: 580g

    As one of the lightest and durable avalanche shovels, the Ortovox Beast remains one of the best selling bits of backcountry kit in the industry. Weighing only 580 grams, excess weight has been cleverly stripped away from non-essential areas such as the handle and the centre of the blade, without compromising any of its structural integrity (thanks to high sidewalls and a central ridge for tensile strength), nor its surface area when digging out avalanche debris.

    With other features such as the T-grip with switchover function for left and right-handers, the BEAST focuses on the essentials to make your rescues as time and energy-efficient as possible, all while coming in at a reasonable price point.

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    Ortovox Kodiak Shovel

    PRICE: £80
    WEIGHT: 770g

    This is the top shelf shovel offered from the backcountry safety gear masters at Ortovox. It’s been redesigned and tweaked over the years, but it remains their toughest and most efficient snow clearing shove in the line. While, at first, it appears quite similar to other models, there are a few things that set it apart.

    Firsty, the D-grip is considered more ergonomic and aids powerful snow clearance when time is of the essence. Secondly, the shaft can be repositioned perpendicularly to the shovel blade into what Ortovox call their Easy Plug position which enables super-efficient snow clearing if there are several rescuers on site.

    It has the largest shovelling volume from Ortovox (3.1 litres), which naturally contributes to its slightly higher weight, but the collapsable shaft prevents it from taking up valuable space inside your pack.

    It’s maybe a bit overkill for some, especially if backcountry trips are a rare occurrence in your season. But for guides, professionals and regular backcountry riders, this is about as good as it gets.

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    Avalanche Airbag Systems

    Black Diamond Jetforce Pro Pack 25L

    PRICE: £1,120

    Yes, we know, there’s a good chance this backpack cost more than your last snowboard holiday to Bankso. For our money, though, the Black Diamond JetForce Pro 25L is worth every penny. It sets the gold standard in backcountry avalanche airbags for the 20/21 season, nailing all the key criteria or user-friendliness, safety specs, weight and versatility.

    The fan is powered by a travel-friendly rechargeable lithium battery, so it won’t pose any issues going through airport security. Nor do you need to worry about costly canister refills or that split second of hesitation on whether or not to deploy the airbag. Practice away to your heart’s content at home and have the confidence to activate it in the backcountry at the first hint of a slide, as every charge has the capacity for multiple deployments.

    “The statistics on the effectiveness of these backpacks to keep you afloat in the event of an avalanche are seriously impressive”

    After the bag is deployed, secondary inflation pulses allow it to remain inflated, even in the unlikely event of any small punctures or tears. After three minutes, the airbag will automatically deflate and (assuming you were fully or partially buried) creates a substantial air pocket that could buy you valuable minutes in a worst-case scenario.

    Bluetooth connectivity enables you to wirelessly connect to the PIEPS app for system diagnostics and firmware updates from your smartphone.

    The modular design is compatible with various zip-on Booster Packs. Depending on the nature of your tour, choose from 10L, 25L, 35L and a splitboard specific 25L Booster Pack with vertical snowboard carry. In any case, the Jetforce Pro is impressively light, with both the S/M and M/L 25L packs weighing less than 3kgs.

    Best of all, none of this comes at the expense of still having a fully functional and practical backcountry pack. There’s a designated helmet carry pouch, avi-tools compartment, ice axe holder and retractable leg sling strap.

    While airbag systems aren’t a necessity in the backcountry – compared with a transceiver, probe and shovel – they’re certainly not just a flashy luxury accessory, either. The statistics on the effectiveness of these backpacks to keep you afloat in the event of an avalanche are seriously impressive. When they’re as light, versatile and convenient to travel and practice with as the Jetforce Pro, they’re an investment well worth any backcountry enthusiast strongly considering.

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    Ortovox AVABAG Free Rider 22

    PRICE: £610

    And what if you want to one-up the safety spec of the Ortovox Freerider backpack? Easy. Add an airbag system to it. By no means does an airbag guarantee your safety in the event of an avalanche, and it’s certainly no substitute for carrying all the other compulsory avalanche safety gear (and being well practised in using it), but an avalanche airbag significantly decreases your chances of being buried in an avalanche. When deployed, the AVABAG Freerider inflates a single airbag around the top of the backpack and ups the overall surface area to push you to the surface of the slide.

    The Ortovox Free Rider 22 pack is among the lightest, sleekest designs out there, even down to the activation grip that stashes away neatly into one of the shoulder straps. The airbag system itself is remarkably compact, so even with its low-profile outline there’s still 22 litres of usable space for the rest of your gear. Plus the AVABAG’s removable nature means that you can free up even more space for the days when you’re staying well within the resort boundaries.

    It remains surprisingly durable, though. The nylon construction is actually incredibly tough and has a water-repellent coating to prevent it from taking on more weight as it comes into contact with snow or rain.

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