Mar 01 2013

Beacon Review: Tracker DTS


How do you spell revolutionary in beacon-speak? Tracker DTS!

Note: The following review was penned while Tracker DTS was still the best selling avalanche beacon in the USA. Since then it’s sales have been largely taken over by BCA’s Tracker 2. Although a 2-antenna beacon is considered outdated relative to current, 3-antenna technologies, it is still far superior to single antenna transceivers, especially in the hands of an average (non-practicing) backcountry skier. If you’re on a budget, these remain a good beacon to have, even if they aren’t state of the art.

Ten years after its introduction this is still the best selling avalanche transceiver in the North American market. As the pioneer in multiple antenna, digital transceiver technology, Tracker created a new paradigm for searching technique, and almost every other beacon on the market is a copy of the intuitive mix of directional LEDs and distance readings. In single victim searches, this remains the standard by which all other beacons are judged, largely because it still has the fastest response time of any beacon on the market, thanks to the X-patterned antenna, yielding a virtual antenna that helps the processor determine the critical element of direction.

The Tracker comes with a simple, padded, easy to use harness. The beacon sits in the harness with the front panel cradled by a padded pouch and the on switch visible on the outside. To begin searching, with the beacon removed from the harness, simply press the big red button in the middle of the front panel for a full second and the display flashes SE indicating you’re in search mode.

Audio Visual
Once a signal is detected, five bright LEDs indicate in what direction to move, and how far away, in meters, along a curved flux line you are. The Tracker will beep in time with the signal it is receiving (although not in real time due to digital processing delays) when you are more than 15m away. As you get closer the number of beeps per cycle will increase, until, when you are less than two meters away the train of beeps will begin to run together and rise in pitch, like a shrill child screaming that you’re really close.

Typically, as you get within three meters, you will be following the flux line directly in line with the transmitting beacons antenna. You can grid the beacon for the minimum distance but I find the audio beeps give a faster response. At this point you should switch to probing. Be aware that as a dual antenna beacon you may run into a phenomenon called a “spike” or shadow point. This is common with buried beacons that are horizontally oriented and occurs because at that specific point the flux lines are actually perpedicular to the plane defined by the beacon you’re searching with. You’ll notice the beeps skip a beat, and go quite for a moment, and the distance number will jump up 2-4 meters from the previous reading. Keep moving in the direction you were, but slower because this can happen when you’re only 2-3 meters away.

Multiple Victims
Where Tracker takes heat is dealing with multiple victims. True, it doesn’t have an idiot light indicating the presence of more than one signal, but it does give solid clues to the practiced user. If more than one signal is in range you should notice the regular cadence of the digital beep do a sort of digital hiccup where the tempo of the beeps will be interrupted and you’ll simultaneously see the distance numbers jump to a different value. Then it will hiccup again, and resume the former beat. It may continue to toggle irregularly, depending on the distance to the targets (two or more). This is Tracker’s warning that more than one signal is present. Eventually one signal will dominate, and you can continue locating that.

At that point Tracker DTS can narrow the angle of reception to favor signals directly in front or behind, while muting signals to the side. In practiced hands this helps to distinguish between multiple signals so you can focus on one at a time.

As mentioned above, while the speed and technology of BCA’s Tracker DTS have been surpassed by newer designs, this beacon remains simple and easy to use, especially for novices. If I’m buried and know you have a Tracker DTS I’ll breath a lot easier than if you have an outdated analog (single antenna) beacon.

Backcountry Access
Tracker DTS
Cost: $289.95
3 AAA batteries

© 2007