Backcountry Access Tracker4 Review
Cons: Takes more practice to be proficient when searching for more than two signals, signal suppression "ends" after 60 seconds
Manufacturer: Backcountry Access
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Backcountry Access Tracker4
$399.95 at REI
|$499.95 at REI|
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$349.95 at Evo
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|Pros||Intuitive to use, very fast processor, excels at fine search, consistently produced quick rescue times with 1-2 burials, comfortable to wear in a zippered pocket||Easy to use, many features, Bluetooth and smartphone app, good range, fast processor, best battery life in our review, excellent multiple burial and flagging features||Great performance and features for the price, cool analog feature, very good at multiple burials, intuitive design, ultra long range, fast processor, super featured||Fast processor, precise bracketing, compact size, good multiple burial functionality, Bluetooth capability, grippy exterior||Lightning fast processor, top-tier bracketing performance in the fine search, effectively differentiates between close proximity burials, low profile designs, easy to use interface|
|Cons||Takes more practice to be proficient when searching for more than two signals, signal suppression "ends" after 60 seconds||Battery life is only displayed in thirds and not a percentage, some force required to toggle switches, somewhat bulky to carry in a pocket||Bulky, bracketing takes more patience, tones are ear-piercing, old school plastic housing looks "cheap"||Stiff on/off toggle is hard to use with gloves, less battery life than some models||Mediocre range, flagging/marking feature works, no option to update software|
|Bottom Line||One of the fastest, most intuitive, and easiest to use beacons on the market||This easy-to-use beacon is one of the best models for advanced users and beginners alike||This ultra-capable beacon packs in a ton of features and great performance at an awesome price||Don't be fooled by this beacon's small size; it's packed full of features and easily matches the performance of any full-sized model||An capable, easy-to-use beacon with a lightning-fast processor|
|Rating Categories||Backcountry Access...||Black Diamond Guide BT||Arva Neo Pro||Black Diamond Recon LT||Backcountry Access...|
|Single Victim Search (20%)|
|Fine Search (20%)|
|Multiple Burials (15%)|
|Specs||Backcountry Access...||Black Diamond Guide BT||Arva Neo Pro||Black Diamond Recon LT||Backcountry Access...|
|Weight||215 g / 7.5 oz||210 g / 7.4 oz||246 g / 8.6 oz||158 g / 5.6 oz||165 g / 5.8 oz|
|Number of Antennae||3||3||3||3||3|
|Manufacturer's Range||55 meters||60 meters||70 meters||50 meters||55 meters|
|Battery Life (in "Send")||250 hours||400 hours||250 hours||200 hours||250 hours|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Backcountry Access Tracker4 is very intuitive and ultra-quick. In extensive side-by-side testing in the hands of both novices and pros, this beacon consistently produced some of the fastest search times for finding one or two burials. The Tracker4 sports one of the fastest processors, helping its user to stay on the flux line, and it was among the most precise during the bracketing/fine search, which is where many users struggle and where we find the most significant differences between models.
Our review team loved its slim profile design, whether in the included harness or a zippered pant pocket. For more complex rescues, we loved this model's big-picture mode which allowed us to see all of the signals. However, with more than two burials, this beacon's performance was sub-par because it could only flag/mark one beacon at a time and because it would un-mask/un-mark the buried victim after one minute. Statistically, you are much less likely to be involved in a real-world avalanche situation with more than 2 buried victims, but you should be aware that a bit more practice is required to master the more complex situations you would encounter in a professional-level avalanche exam.
Backcountry Access states that their design philosophy is simplicity is speed. Lead tester and review author Ian Nicholson, an IFMGA guide and a veteran instructor of over 100 AIARE avalanche courses, finds this point tough to argue with, particularly during stressful situations. Sure, some beacon have more features, but the Tracker4 has the main features that most users want while consistently providing the fastest rescue times for 1-2 person burials.
The BCA Tracker family are some of the fastest beacons on the market, and the Tracker4 is no exception. In our testing, we found it consistently provided some of the fastest rescue times and was among the absolute quickest models available.
Ease of Finding a Single Victim
The Tracker4 is hands down one of the fastest beacons at finding a single victim. Time and again, whether in the hands of a brand new user or a seasoned pro, this model consistently produced some of the fastest rescue times. The Tracker4 utilizes two speedy processors and a user-friendly interface to find the buried signal as fast as any model conceivably could.
The Tracker4 uses five directional LED arrows and can combine arrows to help the rescuer move efficiently along the flux line. In addition to directional arrows, the Tracker4 uses audible sounds that change pitch depending on the distance. BCA tweaked the sounds on this model — the Tracker3's alerts literally sounded like they were taken right out of Nintendo's Mario Cart. We think the Tracker4's sounds are audibly informative without adding stress (or sounding like a video game).
Ease of Use in Fine Search
During the fine search and bracketing portion of the rescue, the Tracker4 is phenomenal. This is a huge advantage, as this is the portion of the search that many folks find the most challenging and is also where most mistakes occur during real-world rescues. In our side-by-side tests, our review team consistently found the Tracker4 faster, easier, and more precise in pinpointing the exact location of the buried signal over nearly any other beacon we've tested.
This is likely a combination of a few factors — like the Tracker4's internal processor and the sensitivity of its antennas — but from a user standpoint, we think it's really helpful that the directional arrows disappear at two meters instead of three, indicating the searcher should start bracketing. Pieps and Black Diamond's arrows also disappear at 2m, while Arva and Mammut's arrows disappear at 3m. In our experience, the extra meter necessitates more care to come in right over the buried signal, especially for less practiced users.
Unlike a few of the higher-end beacons, the Tracker4 does not have a "turn around" or "back" arrow, but if the arrow was pointing further and the numbers started getting bigger, it meant we needed to turn 180 degrees and start moving in the opposite direction.
BCA claims the Tracker4 to have a maximum range of 55m and recommends a search strip width of 50m. This is a slight increase over the previous Tracker3, but we found them to be pretty similar and found it closer to 50m. While everyone loves more range, longer range doesn't necessarily translate into faster rescue times.
Ease of Use in Multiple Burials
This metric is where the Tracker4 performance varies a bit depending on the complexity of the rescue and the number of signals being transmitted. The Tracker4 will display up to two individual "person" icons, but any more than two and it will simply display a + sign next to the two icons. If two beacons are buried less than six meters apart, brackets "[ ]" will appear around both of the people symbols.
The Tracker4 has a signal suppression feature that can be used to "mark" a buried beacon by pressing and holding the "options" button (the only button on the right-hand face of the beacon). When SS (for signal suppression) flashes across the screen, let go and you should see the numbers change, displaying that the closest signal has been suppressed/marked.
We found the marking function super effective, but it should be noted that this "marking" will wear off after 60 seconds before it goes back to directing the beacon back to the closest buried signal. We didn't find this characteristic to be an issue with two buried beacons, but if you're not moving fast enough in more complex rescues, it could potentially create some issues. Also, unlike a lot of other beacons in this price range, it can only "flag" one beacon at a time. This is actually where the 60-second design could have an advantage as you move closer to "new" beacons, but it takes practice to be accustomed to.
Big Picture Mode for Help With Multiple Burials
The Tracker4 has a function called Big Picture mode which will help the rescuer size up the scene and assist in managing the beacons you are looking for. Hold the options button until SS flashes, then keep holding until "BP" flashes. The BP mode works by displaying all the signals within range at once by quickly bouncing between signals, giving a distance and direction for each, and suppressing the function of locking onto the closest signal.Micro Strip Searching
Along with the rest of the Tracker family, the T4 also has the least amount of "signal lock" of the beacons we tested. This has various pros and cons, but a huge pro is the Tracker4 is a micro strip searching champion. Micro strip searching is a technique used in multiple burials that is a good option when there are two buried beacons close together. When 3-4 beacons are buried, depending on their proximity and orientation, even high-end beacons sometimes struggle to keep track and may end up mismarking, unintentionally unmarking, or may simply be unable to mark a buried victim. In this case, micro strip searching becomes the answer.
The Tracker4 offers a Revert-to-Send (transmit) function which BCA calls "Auto Revert" mode. If you want to use this feature, you must activate it every time you power up your beacon. Simply hold down the "options" button when you turn the beacon on and wait for the Ar to appear, confirming that Auto Revert has been switched on.
The Tracker4 is able to sense if its user is moving via an internal motion sensor. When the beacon hasn't felt any movement for one minute, it will switch back into Transmit/Send mode and emit a loud audible tone. After five minutes in search mode, the beacon reverts back to Transmit/Send mode even if it senses motion. Under both circumstances, the searcher is warned 30 seconds before the beacon switches to Transmit/Send with a loud audible beeping. This can be deactivated by pressing the options button.
Comfort to Carry
Thanks to its reasonably slim design, the Tracker4 is one of the more comfortable beacons to carry, though it should be noted that it is a bit chunkier than the Tracker3 and TrackerS. The slim design is especially nice for guides and backcountry skiers who like to wear their beacon in their pants pocket. We also really like its long coiled spring leash that seems truly designed with the idea of users carrying their beacon in a pant pocket.
The Tracker4 has a descent harness system that was functional but otherwise pretty basic. It uses a simple nylon pouch with an oversized, glove-friendly buckle to close it and keep the beacon secure. The harness itself is just basic nylon webbing which provided a large range of adjustment and proved light and low bulk but wasn't anything special.
Tracker4 vs. the Tracker3 and TrackerS
The differences between the new Tracker4 and Tracker3 are actually pretty small. They have nearly all the same functionality and features as one another and most of the differences are on the beacons' exteriors and in their displays. The Tracker4 has rubber over-mold for added durability durable and easier grip. Its display is also brighter and its audible tones louder than the Tracker3. However, the two beacons appear to have the same processors, overall speed, and multiple burial functions.
The differences between the Tracker4 and the Tracker S are also small. The two beacons share the same functionality, but the Tracker4 offers a more durable exterior, an internal motion sensor for "Auto-Revert" mode, and a USB port on the outside instead of the battery compartment to enable software updates.
Should You Buy the BCA Tracker4?
The Tracker4 builds on BCA's extremely popular line of Tracker avalanche transceivers. Compared to the bulk of the beacons on the market, the Tracker4's speed and ease of use, particularly during the bracketing stage of the search, are virtually unmatched. Whether in the hands of a novice or a pro, during our tests searching for 1-2 signals, few beacons could consistently match the times of the Tracker4. For pros training for exam scenarios with more complex burial situations (3+ beacons, which is a statistically unlikely situation in real life) the Tracker4 requires a little more practice than other high-end beacons.
What Other Avalanche Beacon Should You Consider?
If you're searching for a pro-level beacon, this is a good one. We'd also take a look at the Pieps Pro BT or Black Diamond Guide BT, which are functionally the exact same beacon, so grab whichever you can find at a better deal. The other BCA Tracker models, the BCA Tracker3 and BCA Tracker S, are also worthy of consideration, as they contain much of the same functionality found in the T4 and are good for pros and novices alike.
— Ian Nicholson
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