Confessions: Tracker 3 Review
Over the years I have used a lot of different avalanche beacons while skiing with different partners, assisting on AST courses and owning several myself. I have used beacons manufactured by Ortovox, Pieps, Mammut, BCA and probably a couple of others that I'm forgetting at the moment. A couple of years ago it was time to update my beacon and I went with the BCA Tracker 3 for several reasons and now after using it a fair bit I felt like a review was in order. Admittedly I also wanted to do a review on another BCA product after my Shaxe Review to showcase a product I recommend from BCA. I have owned several BCA products over the years and have always found them to be well made, reliable and of good value until I ran into the Shaxe. (and no, BCA didn't put me up to this).
KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid
When shopping for a beacon there is one underlining design component that I look for, simplicity. I need the beacon to do one job really well without any bells and whistles, I need it to find a signal and quickly lead me to it. I don't want a compass, inclinometer, fancy "vitals" signals or other gadgets that I'm sure we'll see in the future. I want to turn it on in the morning, test with my partners and keep it close to my body undisturbed for the rest of the day until needed for rescue (and only rescue). The Tracker 3 delivers in simplicity, a basic and easy to use switch to change modes, a LED display to show you distance, an arrow system to tell you direction and a single "option" button to switch search modes.
It's A Digital World
Obviously these days you won't find too many analog beacons for sale outside of used gear shops and facebook buy and sell pages. At this point in the game there is no reason not to buy a three antenna digital beacon, this is the standard on most modern beacons. The Tracker 3 is three antenna digital beacon. I have found it to handle deep burials, close burials and spikes well.
Multiple burials can be a bit complex even with the simplest of beacon design but Tracker 3 keeps it bare bones and to the point. There are two multiple burial features with the Tracker 3, "signal suppression" and "Big Picture" which are accessed by holding the "option" button. The "signal suppression" feature allows you to "mark" a signal (the stronger one at the time of marking) as found so you can focus on other weaker signals. If the two signals are close burials (considered within 6m for the Tracker 3) then a bracket will appear around the multiple person symbol. The "mark" only lasts for one minute so if you have not gotten closer to the weaker, unfounded, signal then you can press it again to mark the stronger, found, signal and continue with the weaker signal search. This is different than other beacons I have used with this feature (most block without a time limit) but the Tracker 3's approach still works well with practice. By holding the option button longer you will put the beacon in the "big picture" mode. The big picture mode shows information for all signals it is receiving, switching back and forth from different signals (both distance and direction).
Update At Home
One thing that I believe only the Tracker 3 has is upgradable software that the user can do themselves. BCA has a downloadable software updating program and with an USB cord and a computer you can make sure everything is up to date before every trip. You can do a self test that creates a text file that shows all the information needed to know the device is working outside of actually testing it. A nice change from other beacons that I have needed to ship back to the manufacture for updating.
Small Package, Big Value
Outside of everything else the one thing I really love about the Tracker 3 is it's size. It's small, light and is very comfortable to wear. Most seasons I'm on more multi day trips than day trips with a large pack so the comfort and size are a big plus to me. The Tracker 3 is also slightly cheaper than other mid range beacons and much cheaper than the high end ones with the unneeded bells and whistles.
What's To Dislike?
Nothing is prefect in life and the Tracker 3 does have a few things I would change if I could. First off the sound is just bad. When I start the beacon up I feel like I'm leveling up in a video game and it reminds me of Pac Man when searching. I do like playing video games from time to time but I don't want to be reminded of them when I'm trying to enjoy nature. The switching device is a bit small to be used with thicker gloves, I personally like it more than the Tracker 2 but they seem to have gone too far in the other direction for the Tracker 3. I've heard complaints about the limited display but if you are using a beacon you should be able to remember what each 2 digit code means after practicing with it enough to use in the backcountry.
The Big Picture
In the end the Tracker 3 is a simple to use beacon with the right amount of features to get the job done day in and out. It's small, light, comfortable and with the savings compared to other models you can help pay for an AST course too!