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Gear School: Avalanche Beacons

Travel safely through snowscapes with this lifesaving locator.
avalanche beaconsavalanche beacons

Text by Kelly Bastone, Illustration by Don Foley

beacon

A. Basic models use colored lights to indicate search direction in receive mode; more advanced beacons use LED and LCD screens to display search data like distance and direction.

B. All beacons have a transmit/receive switch. When hiking or skiing, set your beacon to “transmit.” To search for a victim, switch
to “receive.”

C. The sending beacon’s electromagnetic field travels in a naturally curved pattern of waves called flux lines, which guide receiving beacons to the transmitter.
An internal antenna (a coil-wrapped ferrite rod) transmits an electromagnetic signal at 457kHz. Since beacons use the same frequency, they’re all compatible. Searching beacons interpret this signal as an audible beep. The louder the beep, the closer the transmitter.

Use only alkaline batteries (AA or AAA, as specified), which discharge power at a slower, steadier rate (avoiding power dips that could interrupt functionality) than lithium and rechargeables, whose output fluctuates.

Basic models use colored lights to indicate search direction in receive mode; more advanced beacons use LED and LCD screens to display search data like distance and direction.

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