BCA Tracker S Avalanche Transceiver Review: Budget-Friendly. High Performance.

BCA Tracker S Avalanche Transceiver Review: Budget-Friendly. High Performance.

Backcountry Access avalanche transceivers are some of the most popular on the market. They’re reliable, easy to use and the BCA Tracker S continues that trend. “Simplicity is Speed” is the BCA mantra.

The Tracker S is essentially a slightly pared down version of the excellent Tracker 3. The performance, ease of use and physical characteristics are the same but BCA has removed motion sensing auto-revert-to-transmit (aka revert-to-send) and USB upgrade capabilities. Neither of these are essential to an avalanche beacon and the result is a highly capable but slightly less expensive BCA transceiver. Win? We think so…for most people.

I’ve been using this as my transceiver since early last season and have done tons of practice searches. I’ve had time to get a good feel for the Tracker S and the quick one-liner is that I feel confident and safe with the Tracker S as my avalanche transceiver.


BCA Tracker S: Overview

Pros: overall ease of use, less expensive than comparable transceivers, signal suppression works well, big picture mode is useful in complex burials, fine search performance is excellent
Cons: range is fairly average, no ability to update software

Based on the hugely popular Tracker 3, it would be really difficult for BCA to screw up the S. And they haven’t. They removed a couple of features that don’t add a ton of benefit to the average user but kept all of the good stuff. It’s also around $50 cheaper than the Tracker 3.

The Tracker S maintains the paradigm of ‘one button to do it all’, having just one button aside from the off-transmit-search switch. This keeps things easy to use, a good thing when in a high-pressure situation. The Tracker S also has signal suppression and big picture mode, which are very useful in multi-burial situations. More on all of this below.


Related: Barryvox S Review, Tracker 2 Review


Specifications

bca tracker s avalanche transceiver front shot

MSRP: $299.95
Weight:
165g (including batteries, no harness)
Harness Weight: 120g
Range:
55 meters
Number of Antennae:
3
Revert-to-send:
Yes
Flagging/suppressing:
Yes
Multi-burial Indicator:
Yes
Battery Life:
250 hours (transmit only); 50 hours (search only)
Warranty:
5 year limited
User Manual: Download

Buy Now: Backcountry.com, evo.com, REI.com, Backcountry Access


BCA Tracker S: The Review

Physical Design

Both the Tracker 3 and Tracker S remind me of a chunky smartphone and that isn’t a bad thing. When images of the Tracker 3 first hit the news I was as stoked as everyone else with how it looks. The Tracker S shares the same physical profile of the Tracker 3 so it’s low profile, lightweight and fairly attractive as far as avalanche transceivers go.

Switching from Off to Send or Search is a two-handed affair so you can be confident your transceiver won’t accidentally turn off. To be fair you can do it with one hand it’s just tricky. Getting into Search mode is still fast even though it requires two hands. Using the dial switch while holding back the safety catch takes a few tries to find the best hand position, but after that it’s easy.

backcountry access bca tracker s on/transmit/search dial switch
Dial switch to enter transmit or search mode.

BCA keeps their design simple yet effective, with one button (the Options button) on the front of the unit controlling additional features. In Search mode, holding the button until SS appears suppresses the strongest signal. Signal Suppression lasts for one minute, which should be long enough for the searcher to move on to the next signal. Holding the options button a bit longer shows BP which is Big Picture mode. This is akin to searching with an analog transceiver and shows all signals in range with distances and directions.

backcountry access tracker s options button
See that big blue button? That’s the options button.

The harness is well designed with a padded section over the shoulder and is fairly lightweight. The clip to access the Tracker S is easy to operate with gloves on. No complaints at all here.

backcountry access tracker s in pouch harness

Interface and Display

The Tracker S maintains the same sleek look of the Tracker 3, with a large digital display front and top-center. When you turn on the Tracker S, you’ll see all the lights illuminated followed by the percentage battery life remaining and ‘tr’ to indicate you’re in transmit mode. While in transmit mode, a red light blinks regularly at the bottom right of the unit.

When searching, the display shows the distance to the signal and uses arrows to show the general direction. When multiple signals are detected it flips between each reading. The display is easy to read and really intuitive, even for beginners. Just follow those arrows.

There is also a staged multi-burial indicator which differentiates between a variety of situations. This can be really useful in complex situations. Check out the chart below for more info.

Tracker S multi-burial indicator.

Speed

Lightning fast. Some transceivers make you wait a noticeable amount of time before updating readings. The Tracker S isn’t quite instantaneous but it’s speedy. I would put it close to if not right up there with premium transceivers.

Range

This is one area where the Tracker S doesn’t shine but it also doesn’t stumble. Its range is definitely decent and in the critical zone of 40 meters or less it does very well. When the signal gets above 40 meters away, readings become a bit spotty and nearing 50 meters readings are intermittent. Sometimes you get a signal, sometimes you don’t. This isn’t really a knock against the Tracker S as a 40+ meters of range is good but it’s something you should keep in mind when searching. Especially in situations where a deep burial is possible.

Ease of Use – Single Burial

If a transceiver does one thing well it should be finding a single buried victim. The Tracker S doesn’t disappoint – in a single burial scenario its excellent display helps you find the buried signal quickly. Following those arrows until you reach fine search range is dead simple. Another helpful feature is that the sound changes as you get closer, giving you another cue that you’re heading in the right direction.

bca tracker s direction arrows and distance indicators
Clear and intuitive distance reading and direction arrows.

Ease of Use – Multiple Burials

The Tracker S doesn’t have the ability to suppress multiple signals or a fancy display showing the rough location of each signal. But what it does have is an easy-to-use Signal Suppression feature and a Big Picture mode that both help in multi-burial situations.

In testing I found that when the signals are more than 10 meters apart, the Tracker S easily differentiates between the two signals. You can treat these as two single burials, as the Tracker S locks onto the stronger signal once you get close.

In complex situations where two signals are fairly close to each other, the signal suppression seems to work quite well. The Tracker S does a good job of suppressing only one signal instead of accidentally suppressing two signals that are fairly close. Keep in mind that signal suppression is only enabled for 60 seconds, so that second signal will pop back up eventually. Only an issue in truly close burials, as it will lock onto the stronger signal in other situations.

Big Picture mode is also useful when 3+ transceivers are buried. More for advanced users, BP mode quickly bounces between all available signals giving you directions and distances for each so you can hone in. Remember to switch back to standard Search mode when doing fine search.

Fine Search and Bracketing

Performing a fine search with the Tracker S is very painless. The distance readout updates almost instantly and it gives an accurate search point time after time. As long as you don’t rush and keep the orientation consistent, the Tracker S is an excellent performer when doing a fine search.

Value

This is where the Tracker S really shines. Although guides and more advanced users may not love the lack of software updates and motion-sensing auto-revert, most backcountry travelers won’t miss them. And the savings versus the Tracker 3 make this transceiver very attractive at its ~$300 price point. Combined with its ease of use and fast performance, it’s hard to find a worthy competitor in this price range.

Additional Features

Auto-revert to Transmit

Earlier I mentioned that the BCA Tracker S doesn’t have motion-sensing auto-revert, but it does have a time-based auto-revert feature. If there are no interactions with any of the buttons for 5 minutes, the transceiver will switch to transmit mode. This is a nice fallback in case of a secondary slide. It isn’t quite as nice as the motion-sensing auto-revert (with a one-minute revert timeout), but it’s a decent compromise for an unlikely scenario.

Signal Suppression

The Tracker S has a signal suppression feature that will suppress the strongest (i.e. closest) signal. To activate Signal Suppression, you simply push the options button until you see SS on the display. The transceiver will then show the next strongest signal. The signal that you suppressed will be hidden for 60 seconds, which should be enough time to move closer to the next strongest signal. You can also manually return to regular search mode by holding the options button until SE is displayed on the screen.

Big Picture Mode

In multi-burial situations, Big Picture mode is useful as it gives you readings on all of the transceivers in range. You can use this to get approximate distances and directions of all burials and then proceed to search. You have to hold the options button to stay in BP mode and releasing it returns you to regular search. Be sure to return to regular search mode before doing a fine search.

Integrated Battery Access Panel Driver

Okay, so I didn’t even notice this feature until just now but it’s a good one. The battery door needs a small screwdriver or coin to get in, but BCA has strapped a super minimal driver to the leash so you don’t have to hunt for a coin or whatever. Nice one! Now I’m wondering if any of the other transceivers I’ve used had this and I never noticed…


Conclusion

Overall the Tracker S is another really solid avalanche transceiver from Backcountry Access. They took the fantastic Tracker 3 and removed a couple of features that aren’t critical for most users and dropped the price…what’s not to love? The range isn’t outstanding and more advanced users might miss a true signal flagging feature, but for the vast majority the Tracker S is a great choice for a transceiver.

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