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Black Diamond Guide BT Review

This easy-to-use beacon is one of the best models for advanced users and beginners alike
Black Diamond Guide BT
Credit: Black Diamond
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $500 List | $499.95 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  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
Cons:  Battery life is only displayed in thirds and not a percentage, some force required to toggle switches, somewhat bulky to carry in a pocket
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Ian Nicholson  ⋅  Sep 8, 2022
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88
SCORE

RANK
#2
of 14
  • Speed - 20% 8.0
  • Single Victim Search - 20% 9.0
  • Fine Search - 20% 9.0
  • Range - 15% 9.0
  • Multiple Burials - 15% 9.0
  • Features - 10% 9.0

Our Verdict

The BT in the Black Diamond Guide BT refers to Bluetooth, as this beacon can be adjusted or updated via a smartphone app using Bluetooth functionality. You can configure it to analog mode via the app and can select alkaline versus lithium-ion batteries. Bluetooth aside, this is a capable beacon aimed at professionals or advanced recreationists as it is stacked with advanced features.

Material and Assembly Voluntary Recall — July 2022


Black Diamond has now issued an official voluntary recall for PIEPS and Black Diamond branded avalanche transceivers. This is a follow-up for the Safety Check Notice the brand issued in April 2022, for issues related to the device switch. These avalanche transceivers should be retired immediately, and Black Diamond/PIEPS will issue a replacement free of charge.

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Overall Score Sort Icon
88
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Bottom Line This easy-to-use beacon is one of the best models for advanced users and beginners alikeOne of the most capable and highest performing beacons on the marketThis ultra-capable beacon packs in a ton of features and great performance at an awesome priceAn capable, easy-to-use beacon with a lightning-fast processor
Rating Categories Black Diamond Guide BT Mammut Barryvox S Arva Neo Pro Backcountry Access...
Speed (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Single Victim Search (20%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Fine Search (20%)
9.0
8.0
7.0
10.0
Range (15%)
9.0
10.0
10.0
7.0
Multiple Burials (15%)
9.0
10.0
9.0
7.0
Features (10%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
Specs Black Diamond Guide BT Mammut Barryvox S Arva Neo Pro Backcountry Access...
Weight 210 g / 7.4 oz 210 g / 7.4 oz 246 g / 8.6 oz 165 g / 5.8 oz
Number of Antennae 3 3 3 3
Manufacturer's Range 60 meters 70 - 95 meters 70 meters 55 meters
Flagging Feature? Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery Life (in "Send") 400 hours 300 hours 250 hours 250 hours
Digital/Analog Both Both Both Digital

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Guide BT is one of the more advanced models we tested. It offers great range, excellent features, and fast processor speed. It is Bluetooth enabled, making software updates and feature/option configurations a breeze. These elements make this beacon one of our favorite models, as it strikes an excellent balance of features and performance, combined with ease of use.

The Black Diamond Guide BT is functionally the same as the Pieps Pro BT, which is just branded and sold under the Pieps label. BD has owned Pieps since around 2012. Both beacons scored and performed identically in our review.

Performance Comparison


Black Diamond Guide BT avalanche beacon - the guide bt featured some of the best overall speed and ease of use...
The Guide BT featured some of the best overall speed and ease of use for finding a single victim. Its controls and overall design were intuitive and easy to use - something our testing team valued in a life-saving device.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Speed


Speed accounted for 20% of each beacon's score and takes into account not only the processor speed, but speed in finding single victims as well as bracketing. The Guide BT performed very well here, and we found its processor to be very fast.


Ease of Finding a Single Victim


The Guide BT uses five directional arrows, which can be displayed two at a time to help accurately keep the user on the flux line. We felt that when approaching the fine search on our final approach, users of all abilities consistently had a much easier time with this beacon than some of the other pro-level models, and could more frequently come in right over the buried beacon rather than off to one side.


Ease of Use in Fine Search


The Guide BT rocks in the fine search, and was one of the easiest beacons to come in right over the top of our beacon as we started the fine search. Like many beacons, the Guide BT's directional arrows disappear at two meters and then just give the user an audible tone and distance numbers.


This beacon was consistently precise, allowing us to have a small bracket. This precision makes it more likely that an assistant who is probing out in front will get a probe strike. Precision and a smaller bracket also mean there is less area to probe once you finish your bracket.

Black Diamond Guide BT avalanche beacon - the model was one of the best at multiple burials scenarios. it...
The model was one of the best at multiple burials scenarios. It excelled in differentiating models in close proximity burials and offered a host of sweet features to better deal with complex, multi-signal situations.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Multiple Burials


The Guide BT was a high performer for multiple burial situations. It did well at differentiating between beacons in close proximity burials, rarely mismarking or flagging the incorrect beacon. It has a scan mode, allowing you to get a lay of the land by quickly browsing through multiple burial locations, which we go into more detail about in the Features section.


Range


The Guide BT's max range and search strip width is 60 meters. Black Diamond notes that they have a larger circular range with this new model compared to their old one. The idea behind a better "circular" range is BD is implying that this new beacon has better range in perpendicular alignment, which is the orientation that you get the least amount of range in.

In our testing where we pitted the Guide BT against the older PIEPS DSP Pro, we found that their ranges were more-or-less identical in both maximum ranges, with near-perfect coupling and in perpendicular/worst orientation positions. Having a 60-meter search strip width is ideal when practicing in larger, more complex scenarios. We appreciated the 60 meter range, which is one of the longer ranges in our review.


One design aspect that every single tester commented on was how stiff the slider was to move up and down, toggling between off, search, and send. This is a response to the older Pieps version, which slid very easily and would occasionally switch back to search mode if bumped while shoveling or probing. We generally don't mind the stiff slider, but it's worth noting that transitioning between functions can be difficult with thicker gloves on. It's also easy to slide past your intended setting as you're figuring out how much force to use.

Black Diamond Guide BT avalanche beacon - the guide bt's 60 meter range was pretty accurate, which gives it...
The Guide BT's 60 meter range was pretty accurate, which gives it some of the better range in our review.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Features


The Guide BT uses Bluetooth to connect with your smartphone via an application that is pretty much the basis for most of this model's unique features. This connection allows the user to easily configure many of the options and settings using the app.


Revert to Send

This beacon has a revert to send option. You can turn this on or off with the app via Bluetooth.

Black Diamond Guide BT avalanche beacon - this model has a group check mode, which more or less needs to be...
This model has a group check mode, which more or less needs to be used for the trailhead check/function check. This is because the Guide BT doesn't like to "jump" between models very easily. That said, the group check mode works great and is easy to initiate.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Group Check Mode

Black Diamond improved the Group Check function, which makes function/beacon checking with your group at the trailhead far easier, especially with more than three people. When the beacon is booting up, you can activate this function by holding the "flag" button when CH is displayed. This makes a "function check" go much smoother and faster, as you can go relatively quickly from one beacon to another while searching.

Black Diamond Guide BT avalanche beacon - the guide bt is an excellent model for professional-level rescue...
The Guide BT is an excellent model for professional-level rescue exams. Here you can see its easy-to-interpret display of one marked/flagged model, with the person icon with a box around it.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

If you are running function check in typical search mode, the Guide BT takes far longer to jump signals than a majority of beacons on the market. The Guide BT's ability to lock onto a signal longer is an advantage in complex multiple burials; however, it can take 10-20 extra seconds per person (while waiting for the signal to jump) when function checking more than 4-5 people (without using the group check mode, especially if they are standing relatively close to each other).

Black Diamond Guide BT avalanche beacon - several models, particularly the more advanced ones, don't like to...
Several models, particularly the more advanced ones, don't like to "jump" between signals. Most of these models have a "group-check" mode which should be utilized when performing a trailhead/function check.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Scan Mode

Though it requires more practice to use, scan mode is a great and useful tool for avalanche rescue exams and complex rescue scenarios. The scan mode basically lets the user toggle through the buried beacons, giving a direction and distance for each; however, it is worth noting that you cannot mark/flag a beacon while using the beacon under this setting.

Black Diamond Guide BT avalanche beacon - here we're pointing at the "scan mode" button on the guide bt...
Here we're pointing at the "scan mode" button on the Guide BT. Besides enacting "scan mode", this also gives the operator one more button to navigate the menus of this model with.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Analog Mode

You can enable the Guide BT's ability to switch into an analog mode if done so ahead of time via Bluetooth and the app. To switch into analog mode, simply hold down the scan button. This mode is useful in complex rescue scenarios. However, this beacon's analog mode doesn't give a distance or direction (something other models' analog modes do), nor is the sound quality quite as good.

Alkaline or Lithium-Ion Batteries

This transceiver can be configured to use either alkaline or lithium-ion batteries; however, you must select the appropriate battery type while your beacon is connected to your phone (via Bluetooth) for it to accurately read the remaining battery life. The Guide BT already has an impressive 400 hours of send mode with normal alkaline batteries, but with lithium-ion batteries, that number jumps to around 600 hours. While lithium-ion batteries no doubt perform better in the cold and offer an overall superior battery life, there are currently only three other beacons where lithium-ion batteries can be used and the remaining battery power can be accurately read.

Built-in Inclinometer

The Guide BT has a built-in inclinometer; however, it receives mixed results from both professionals and recreationists. The function of the application is fine, but with so many other tools to measure slope angle — from smartphones to compasses to lightweight and relatively inexpensive dedicated tools — our testing team wonders if taking out and exposing your beacon to confirm the slope angle is actually the best use of a beacon.

Black Diamond Guide BT avalanche beacon - one of the best overall models for advanced users yet remains...
One of the best overall models for advanced users yet remains easy-to-use and packed full of features.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Should You Buy the Black Diamond Guide BT?


The Black Diamond Guide BT is an excellent and premium avalanche beacon. If you're a professional, we don't think you'll be let down. While we undoubtedly find this beacon to be sweet and easy to use given its advanced features, most backcountry users will not require a beacon with this level of sophistication. However, the interface is easy enough that even a novice will easily get the hang of it.

What Other Avalanche Beacons Should You Consider?


For guides and professionals, we'd also recommend taking a look at the Mammut Barryvox S, which is a fully-featured beacon great for industry pros. But for the majority of casual or occasional backcountry travelers, we recommend something a bit lighter-duty like the Backcountry Access Tracker S or the Black Diamond Recon BT. The Recon BT is very similar to the Guide BT. The major difference is that the Guide BT gives its user a handful of higher-end features geared towards pros or advanced trip leaders, such as a scan function to help survey complex multiple burials, the option of an analog mode, and a frequency drift check — features most novice users will never employ.

Ian Nicholson

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