Avalanche transceivers are devices that emit a pulsed radio signal. If one gets buried in an avalanche, other transceivers carried by the party pick up the signal being emitted from under the snow. The receiving transceivers interpret the signal into a visual and audible display that assists the search.
Transceivers are effective only when carried as the manufacturer recommends. They must be strapped around the waist or over the shoulder—worn underneath the outer layer of clothing—rather than stowed in a pack.
Each must be set to "transmit" mode while the group is underway. When buried, a transceiver set to "transmit" mode will continue sending its signal. Other transceivers in the area can then be set to "receive" mode to receive the signal.
When searching for buried victims, speed really matters. It's critical that you understand your avalanche transceiver and regularly practice using it before you ever enter the backcountry. Each manufacturer provides detailed instructions on how to use its technology. Practice using it at home and take an avalanche safety course with a qualified instructor.
WARNING: Avalanche victims can die from either asphyxiation or trauma. For those victims who are buried alive, transceivers can be highly effective tools in saving lives. There are no guarantees, however. First and foremost, you must recognize and avoid dangerous avalanche conditions.
For more information, read the REI Expert Advice avalanche basics articles.
All avalanche transceivers intended for use in North America transmit and receive electronic signals in the same way. How they process or interpret that signal for the user to read differs among models.
Nearly all transceivers sold these days are digital models, as they are easier to use and generally faster at locating victims. Many digital transceivers include an analog mode so they can be compatible with both types of transceivers.
Frequencies and compatibility:
Most transceivers today feature 3 antennas. This offers the critical advantage of having 3 points of orientation and 3 signaling apparatus.
Transceivers most strongly broadcast the plane in which the antenna is oriented. Thus, a horizontally oriented searcher and a horizontally buried victim line up best. Advanced transceivers can identify the best potential antenna signal to more quickly pair up the orientation of victim and searcher.
Display screen: This communicates the direction and distance of buried victims.
Multiple burials: Many newer models let you flag the location of each buried victim so you can quickly move on to search for additional victims.
Audio reinforcement: Some models provide acoustic search guidance in addition to the display’s visuals.
Range: The distance given by the manufacturer often represents the optimal antenna alignment/signal. Transceivers with a greater range may allow you to pick up a signal from a farther distance, but range is still dependent on the orientation of the transmitting transceiver to the receiving transceiver.
Batteries: Always use the type of batteries recommended by the manufacturer as battery types will affect the transceiver’s run time and efficiency. Shop REI's selection of batteries.
The leading manufacturers each offer their own technologies:
RECCO® reflectors are not transceivers. They are thin, card-size units that are embedded by some manufacturers into ski products such as jackets, pants, boots, helmets—and even inside the Ortovox 3+ and S1+ transceiver models.
RECCO reflectors complement—but do NOT replace—the use of avalanche transceivers. These passive reflectors enhance the radio signals sent by the RECCO detector units used by many search-and-rescue organizations. This may mean quicker acquisition of a victim's position in an avalanche.
The RECCO system offers many benefits:
Shop REI's selection of avalanche transceivers.
By Steve Tischler
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Last updated: 10/10/2013
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