BCA Tracker 2 Review

March 15, 2012
BCA Tracker 2
GEAR INSTITUTE RATINGS
86
Beginner Friendly
10
Accuracy
7
Speed & Responsiveness
9
Ease for Multiple Burials
3
Range
7

The Good

  • 48-plus meter range
  • Fast response time
  • Multiple victim alert
  • Intuitive to use
  • Recognizes more than one victim

The Bad

  • Multiple victim scenarios require practice (duh)
  • Doesn't list number of victims, only “more than one.”
THE VERDICT

This is still an extremely easy-to-use beacon with the added feature of being able to search for multiple victims. It has a reliable, best-case 48-meter range and fast response time with no distance spikes in close. This is still a beacon you want your friends to have if you are the one buried.

FULL REVIEW

Backcountry Access turned the avalanche transceiver world upside down with the Tracker DTS, which pioneered the use of two antennas to derive distance and direction to victims. Tracker 2 builds on that heritage by practically doubling the range to 48 meters, adding a third antenna to eliminate spikes in close (those erratic and frustrating signals your beacon will read when you’re zeroing in on the victim), and improves an already fast response time with real-time display updates. It even indicates when there are multiple signals, but you need a strategy and lots of practice to deal with more than one victim reliably. For only one victim, relax, Tracker 2 has you covered.

Simple to use
I doubt you practice with your avalanche beacon much. (If I didn’t do reviews of them I wouldn’t either.) For that kind of user, the Tracker 2 is tops on my list—which is not quite idiot-proof out of the box, but certainly can be learned quickly no matter what your avy experience level. It’s easy to use, intuitive, and has great range.

Turning it on is easy. Just flip the switch on the back clockwise a quarter turn. It has a decent harness for carrying on your chest but I’ve adopted the European method of clipping the tether to a belt loop and stashing it in the cargo pocket of my ski pants. That provides easier access and it doesn’t get in the way of my camera bag that is usually covering my too generous midsection.

Range
Switching to “search” is pretty obvious: pull out on the bottom knob. It clicks into place then beeps thrice as the LED flashes “SE” to indicate it is searching for a signal. If you’re lucky, you might pick up a signal as far away as 48 to 50 meters as long as the victim’s antenna is horizontal and parallel with the long axis of the Tracker. If horizontal and poorly coupled, the range may be as little as 30 meters,  but usually more like 35. When the victim’s beacon is vertical, in the worst case, range drops to 25 meters, but even the Pieps DSP drops to 35 meters in this case, so the range is still respectable.

Speed at Locking On
More important than range, however is how well the Tracker locks on to a signal and then indicates what direction to move and how far away you are. In my test, the distance numbers were a bit off when I was far away, generally indicating I was a bit further than I really was, but that degree of error reduced as I got closer. Anything inside of 20 meters away and the numbers jive with reality pretty accurately; the margin of error is rather small inside of 5 meters. Only the Pieps DSP is more accurate farther away, and the further away you are, the less important precision is anyway.

Speed of Display
Where Tracker has always outshone the competition has been the speed with which it updates its display. Except for analog beacons, every other avy beacon on the market updates their display with some delay after the victim’s pulsed signal is received. The delay may or may not be significant depending on the accuracy of the display and how close you are. Without doing a scientific study with hundreds or thousands of datapoints to verify the accuracy, my sense is Tracker is typically within 10% of the true distance when it first updates, occasionally it is off by 20%, but is still quite accurate. Other digital beacons seem to be off by 20% consistently on the first update for position when you’re in close.

Here’s the real hook. It does that while the victim’s pulse is still on. In other words, you’re getting the update while the signal is on – in real-time, just like an analog beacon only with more information – not just volume but distance and direction. Most pulses are at least 90 mS long, usually more like 110 mS, but by the time 70mS have passed, or while the signal is still on, Tracker has detected the signal, analyzed it, and sent the new distance and direction info to the LED display.

Multiple Burials
If there is more than one signal within range, Tracker 2 has a pair of LEDs on the R side that light up if it senses two signals. If more than 2, the dual LED will blink.

This is where you actually need to think about how you’re using the Tracker, because it will not guide you between multiple signals like other digital beacon can. It will hang on to the strongest signal and take you there without interruption. It can not “mark” a found signal so that it can ignore the signal and concentrate on others, but it does have a special mode which can help you do that provided you have practiced using special function a lot and know what you’re doing. (Yeah, fat chance of that happening, right?)

That’s one weakness of Tracker 2. It is certainly capable of finding two signals quickly, especially if they’re more than 10 meters apart. In close though, you better have a plan. Either practice with “special mode” where the search beam is narrower, to help ignore a known signal, and/or learn a method like the micro-grid search that is more or less fool-proof as long as you apply it to the right area.

Multiple burials are a pretty extreme scenario. Factoring that into your decision on the Tracker 2 depends whether you believe you should be prepared for a no-win worst case scenario, in which case you better be practicing no matter what beacon you have, or you’re hoping that the odds are in your favor and you’ll only be dealing with one, which will be plenty enough.

Summary
Bottom line, response time with a Tracker remains top notch, and still the standard by which others are judged.

In addition to more range and real-time display updates, Tracker 2 also has three antennae, the better to see you buried beneath the snow with no matter which way your beacon is pointed. No more spikes to the distance reading when you’re close, just a nice steadily declining distance number as you get closer.

Like I said, either way, if I’m the one buried, I’ll drift into unconsciousness a wee bit easier knowing you have a Tracker 2.

 


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