If you enter avalanche terrain, a beacon, shovel, and probe (BSP) are considered the minimal equipment to pack. (I also encourage a first aid kit, a fix-it kit, and a shelter.) Buying a Package is often going to be the cheapest way of acquiring this gear; the question is, do all the items fit your needs in the best way?
Before I start talking about BCA’s Beacon, Shovel, & Probe, I want to share that none of this equipment is worth carrying if you do not know how to use it. Even better, you want to be capable of deploying it without thinking, and that requires training and lots of practice.
The other and arguably most important piece in this giant puzzle is knowing how to assess if you are in avalanche terrain. In my mind, this is the price of admission. Please invest as much in educating yourself as you do in the equipment itself. The good news is that investment in learning does not always have to be financial.
BCA’s T4 Avalanche Rescue Package includes their newest beacon, most sought-after shovel, and a well-established probe.
The package hits the sweet spot of someone starting in the art of traveling in the winter backcountry and is ideal for those taking their time to develop their skills.
Once upon a time, when prehistoric equipment made skiing in the backcountry significantly more tricky, there was plenty of time to gather an understanding of snow and avalanches. Needing a few 100 day seasons to mature the pre-requisite skiing skills also provided a chance to delve into snow science.
Telemark on skinny skis and leather boots, anyone? The first few seasons were usually on backcountry green runs; more often than not, you did not even ski in avalanche terrain by being careful of what was above. With modern equipment, this is no longer the case.
Most people can ride avalanche terrain shortly after acquiring touring gear. Therefore it is vital to carry and know how to use all the safety tools. As stated earlier, this package is a perfect place to start.
As your needs develop, the likelihood is that the desire to have a quiver for different days out will also. If you know that you are jumping in with both feet and intend on an accelerated trajectory, it may be worth buying the parts separately. Here is why. Steeper terrain often leads to deeper avalanches. If buried in debris that is 10+ feet (3+ meters), you better hope your friends can move a lot of snow and have the tools for the job.
At this point, you are looking for a longer probe and a larger shovelhead, maybe one with a hoe and the muscles to power it. Check out BCA’s Stealth 300 and 330 probes and B-2 and RS shovels; both are suited for shifting large volumes of snow. They say size isn’t everything, but I find myself looking at my partner’s gear before choosing to ski a line with them. While it isn’t the only deciding factor, I need to have faith that they can extract me if something does go wrong. Also, be aware of terrain traps and how they can quickly stack the odds against you.
So the real question is, what makes this rescue package worth buying? BCA has been doing this for a long time (25 years), and they have built their reputation on innovation. What they create is simple, and it works.
BCA B1 Ext Shovel
Take the shovel; the blade is super light. The oval shaft makes locating it in the blade a snap, gives it more torsional rigidity, and provides an impressive strength to weight ratio. Due to its shape, the blade fits easily in a pack’s safety pocket, and it cuts through dense snow. It also shaves snow off walls well to create clean and even snow pits. Assembling and extending the shovel is accompanied by a series of sturdy sounding “thunks.” The shovel balance is excellent for hurling snow, and it moves blocks and loose snow reassuringly.
BCA Stealth 270 Probe: (Stealth 300 shown)
The probe is a smart design. After the initial throw, you pull a nesting segment out of the top section relieving the need for a flapping cable. It also provides a better pole to segment size ratio making it more packable. Again there is a reassuring sound when the probe is assembled and ready to deploy. There are two sets of markings etched on the outside of the pole. There are prominent, easily read numbers on one side and a more detailed scale for accurate readings of snow depths on the other. Collapsing the pole is equally simple and merely requires pushing a pair of buttons.
BCA Tracker 4
Finally, Tracker 4. BCA shook the backcountry world up with the first digital beacon. Now, they have combined the best features of the Tracker 2 with Tracker 3 to create their flagship model. Let’s start by saying this beacon is fast; Kilian Jornet on a cocktail of steroids and amphetamines fast. There are three stages to a beacon search: finding the signal, following the indicators in close, and finally, the fine search, or bracketing. Typically, when watching students, it is the last stage where things go awry. Traditionally, you have to slow down and smooth out your movements when bracketing; otherwise, you go too fast for the beacon. This is challenging and counter-intuitive in a rescue situation. The Tracker 4, though, will keep up with you.
Tracker 2 has been a staple of guiding outfits due to its ease of use, sturdiness, and value for money. Tracker 4 has significantly more capability while coming in a smaller package. The casing has rubber overmolding and feels solid in hand. Like all beacons, simplicity is the name of the game. There are two buttons, one to turn the device on and switch between transmit and search and another to suppress the signal and gain a big picture view when searching for multiple burials. Following the signal is made intuitive by an easily read screen and good audio indicators. Finally, searching for multiple beacons has been simplified by pressing a button to see how many beacons you are searching for, how far each of them is away, and then flagging the one you seek. Please practice using this feature before you need it.
I cannot say enough good things about the big, bright numbers on the face. Regardless of how old your eyes are or how bright the sun, you can see these. They are also accompanied by loud beeps that change tone as you come closer to the target. As a member of the old guard who used to carry an earpiece to listen to the analog sounds, I appreciate it. I often find the subtlety of using the sounds a quicker way of locking in, and it has certainly sped up my ability to bracket.
BCA T4 Avalanche Rescue Package Review
So the final verdict? BCA’s T4 Avalanche Rescue Package is a great way to go if you are looking to buy the backcountry essentials in a single purchase. BCA sells more beacons in the US than anyone else because they are a Colorado company that makes a reliable, fast, and easy-to-use product. They are also innovative, introducing features mimicked by the rest of the industry. They have scored another winner here.
One last thought. If you are new to all this, take the time to find a mentor, attend classes, and practice like your life depends on it. It may well do.