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Pieps Powder BT Review

One of the better basic beacons on the market, especially for the price
pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review
Credit: Pieps
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Price:  $340 List
Pros:  Easy to use, Bluetooth compatible, good range, fast processor, great multiple burial and flagging functionality
Cons:  Bulky for a pocket, slider toggle is stiff, harness tether is somewhat short
Manufacturer:   Pieps
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 8, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
84
OVERALL
SCORE


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

Our Verdict

The updated version of the popular Pieps DSP Sport, this model packs in a nearly unmatched level of performance for its price. In our side-by-side testing, the Pieps Powder BT had one of the faster processors, is above average in bracketing precision, and sports one of the more user-friendly multiple burial designs currently on the market. It also consistently produced some of the faster rescue times (for both pros and recreationists), making it a solid beacon for anyone uncertain if they're ready to throw down for a "pro-level" model.

Voluntary Recall for Manufacturing Issues — July 2022


PIEPS/Black Diamond has now issued an official voluntary recall for its PIEPS and Black Diamond branded avalanche transceivers, following a Safety Check Notice issued in April 2022. The manufacturing issues are related to the device switch, and these transceivers should be retired immediately. PIEPS/Black Diamond will issue a replacement free of charge.

Compare to Similar Products

 
pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review
This Product
Pieps Powder BT
Awards   Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $340 List$350 List
$349.95 at REI
$360 List$350 List$300 List
$299.95 at REI
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Easy to use, Bluetooth compatible, good range, fast processor, great multiple burial and flagging functionalityVery fast processor, crushes in the fine search, easy to use, light and compact (great for beacon-in-pocket users), low-stress soundsGreat performance and features for the price, cool analog feature, very good at multiple burials, intuitive design, ultra long range, fast processor, super featuredEasy-to-use, configured with Bluetooth and an app, good range, fast processor, great multiple burial and flagging functionalityLightning fast processor, top-tier bracketing performance in the fine search, effectively differentiates between close proximity burials, low profile designs, easy to use interface
Cons Bulky for a pocket, slider toggle is stiff, harness tether is somewhat shortDisplay screen is so/so, multiple burial function un-flag the last marked beacon after 1 min, can only mark one signalBulky, bracketing takes more patience, tones are ear-piercing, old school plastic housing looks "cheap"A little on the chunky side for pant pocket beacon wearers, slider toggle is stiffMediocre range, flagging/marking feature works, no option to update software
Bottom Line One of the better basic beacons on the market, especially for the priceTakes previous Tracker's top-notch ease-of-use, speed, and intuitiveness, and adds a marking function and a low-profile designThis ultra-capable beacon packs in a ton of features and great performance at an awesome priceWill suit most recreational backcountry travelers well, from beginner to advancedAn capable, easy-to-use beacon with a lightning-fast processor
Rating Categories Pieps Powder BT Backcountry Access... Arva Neo Pro Black Diamond Recon BT Backcountry Access...
Speed (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Single Victim Search (20%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
Fine Search (20%)
9.0
10.0
7.0
9.0
10.0
Range (15%)
8.0
7.0
10.0
8.0
7.0
Multiple Burials (15%)
8.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Features (10%)
8.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
Specs Pieps Powder BT Backcountry Access... Arva Neo Pro Black Diamond Recon BT Backcountry Access...
Weight 225 g / 7.9 oz 215 g / 7.6 oz 246 g / 8.6 oz 225 g / 7.9 oz 165 g / 5.8 oz
Number of Antennae 3 3 3 3 3
Manufacturer's Range 60 meters 50 meters 70 meters 60 meters 55 meters
Flagging Feature? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery Life (in "Send") 200 hours 250 hours 250 hours 200 hours 250 hours
Digital/Analog Digital Digital Both Digital Digital

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Pieps Powder BT is nearly identical to the Black Diamond Recon BT. These models are functionally the same beacons with slightly different housing and appear different for marketing and branding purposes only. These beacons have the features that most backcountry travelers are seeking, such as precise bracketing, above-average processing speed, long range, and reliable flagging/marking functionality.

The older version of this model, the Pieps DSP Sport, made social media headlines when pro skier Nick McNutt was completely buried in an avalanche during the shooting for the ski film by Teton Gravity Research (TGR). In this avalanche, McNutt's beacon switched out of SEND mode and his partners — including well-known pro skier Ian MacIntosh and several ACMG Ski guides — were not able to use their beacons to find McNutt. They were only able to find him due to a mix of luck and probing techniques. This new version has an updated slider lock and does not have the same problem.

Performance Comparison


pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - the powder bt packs a ton of performance for the price. while...
The Powder BT packs a ton of performance for the price. While marketed as a "more basic" beacon, this model still offers most of the features that backcountry travelers are looking for.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Speed and Ease of Finding a Single Victim


We found the Pieps Powder BT to have an above-average processing speed that was in line with the fastest beacons in our review (the majority of which were more expensive). This model uses 5 directional arrows that can be used in pairs to help keep their user moving efficiently along the flux line. This model's range and intuitive design consistently helped our testers complete test searches quickly. The only other beacons that could match this model's time for single burial searches (besides the very similar or identical models from BD and Pieps) are the BCA Tracker3 and BCA Tracker4.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - the powder bt proved to be one of the easier and more intuitive...
The Powder BT proved to be one of the easier and more intuitive beacons to use and consistently clocked some of our faster overall rescue times.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Ease of Use in Fine Search


The fine search is where most people make mistakes in real life, and most of those mistakes stem from moving too fast and poor bracketing techniques. That is where we appreciated this model's above-average processor speed, longer-lasting arrows, and consistently more precise brackets in the hands of both professionals and recreationists. This model consistently produced some of the smallest and most precise brackets. The buried beacon was most commonly in the dead center of our brackets and we'd frequently hit it with our first or second probe strike.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - the pieps was one of the best in the fine search, offering the most...
The Pieps was one of the best in the fine search, offering the most precise bracketing.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

We like that the Pieps's arrows disappear at 2m instead of the 3m found on some other models. In the hands of less experienced or less practiced users, keeping the directional arrows longer helped more people to come in right on top of the buried beacon. We also like the tones that this model uses and found them to be intuitive without sounding overly stressful.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - this model had a 60m range, around average among our test fleet...
This model had a 60m range, around average among our test fleet. While a long range is hardly one of the most impactful features when it comes to reducing search time, having a 60m search strip width is pretty nice.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Range


Black Diamond/Pieps claims this beacon uses a "circular range for an extended, symmetrical search area". We tried our best to compare this model's maximum range with other models claiming a similar range, but didn't find much difference based on orientation compared to the other models.

Regardless of the "circular range", this model's 60m range proved pretty spot on with our findings and the Powder BT easily offered one of the longest maximum ranges of any of the beacons in our test.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - the powder bt also uses an intuitive display for its multiple burial...
The Powder BT also uses an intuitive display for its multiple burial functionality, showing multiple "person" icons at the bottom of its screen to indicate that it's picking multiple signals. Once a given signal is marked/flagged, a box is displayed around the "person" icon.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Ease of Use in Multiple Burials


This is one of the best-priced beacons to perform as it does in complex multiple burial scenarios. All of our testers loved the Powder BT's display which showed 2, 3, or 4 "people" in the bottom of the screen to inform its user it was seeing multiple signals.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - besides the on-off-search switch, the only other button on this...
Besides the ON-OFF-SEARCH switch, the only other button on this model is a single "flag" button used to mark/flag a signal. This is one of the only visual differences between this model and the more feature-rich Pieps Pro BT, which features a second button to work through several additional functions.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Its marking/flagging button was both easy to use and easy to understand. When you held the flag button down it beeped and put a box around one of the buried person icons on the bottom of the screen. As you "flagged" more signals it would be subsequent boxes around those person icons. We were also impressed at how well it differentiated close proximity burials and proved to do just as well as several beacons that were much more expensive. We found it could keep track of 2-3 signals in a smaller area (less than 30m x 30m) extremely well but would start to struggle to differentiate them with 4 or more signals. Luckily this is an unlikely real-world event, but it's a possible scenario in some professional-level transceiver exams.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - we found the powder to strike a nice balance of enough "signal lock"...
We found the Powder to strike a nice balance of enough "signal lock" to help with close proximity burials, but not so much that we couldn't micro strip search if there were too many nearby signals.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Micro Strip Searching

The Powder BT doesn't have as strong of a signal lock as models from Mammut or Arva making this beacon very reasonable to micro strip search with for more complex rescue drills or close proximity burials.

Features


The BT in Powder BT refers to its ability to use Bluetooth and connect to your phone via the Pieps/Black Diamond app. This connection is the basis for most of the Powder's settings and allows its user to configure many of the feature options and update firmware.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - a "group check mode" helps the beacon jump between signals when it's...
A "group check mode" helps the beacon jump between signals when it's picking up lots of other beacons, which is helpful in large groups or at busy trailheads.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Group Check Mode

The Powder BT's Group Check mode makes leading a function/trailhead check quite easy. It saves you from having to wait for 10-30 seconds to get it to jump to the next person when there are a lot of other beacons nearby. To access this function, simply hold down the flag button when the beacon is turned on and CH is displayed.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - the powder felt a bit bulky for a zippered pants pocket, but it...
The Powder felt a bit bulky for a zippered pants pocket, but it comes with one of the more comfortable harnesses on the market.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Comfort to Carry


The Powder BT's harness is one of the more comfortable out there and the molded foam pouch for the beacon tends to stay in place better than other models when adjusted appropriately. For folks who like to carry their beacon in a zippered pants pocket, it should be noted that this model is one of the "chunkier" feeling models, as it is one of the thickest beacons on the market.

pieps powder bt avalanche beacon review - these two beacons look pretty similar, but the pro is geared towards...
These two beacons look pretty similar, but the Pro is geared towards professionals. For Pros taking rescue exams involving more complex rescues, we would certainly recommend the Pro over the Powder. For casual users, either beacon is great, but you may end up spending extra money for features you'll never realistically use.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Should You Buy the Pieps Powder BT?


Though it's not as feature-rich as the most advanced models, the priced pointed Powder BT still includes the feature set that the majority of backcountry travelers need. Its above-average processor speed, higher range, precise bracketing, and ease of use in multiple burial scenarios make this a great beacon. You can buy a nicer beacon, but its tough to buy a nicer beacon for as nice a price.

What Other Avalanche Beacon Should You Consider?


The Powder BT is the more "basic" version of the Pieps Pro BT. If you're a professional or experienced user who wants more high-end functionality, the Pro BT or its identical cousin, the Black Diamond Guide BT, are great options. Features of these beacons that the Powder BT lacks are a scan function to assess a "lay of the land" for complex rescues, a frequency check mode, and the ability to use a quasi-analog mode — all features the vast majority of recreational users will never utilize. If you're a novice who just needs a basic beacon to learn on and get out there, have a look at the Backcountry Access Tracker S, which is an affordable model with an intuitive interface.

Ian Nicholson
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