The Best Avalanche Probes for 2018

The Best Avalanche Probes for 2018

In the world of avalanche safety, the avalanche probe is one of the three key pieces of gear. Beacon, shovel, probe is the mantra. Although probe is third in the list, it is no less important than your beacon and shovel. This article discusses the best avalanche probes for any budget.

What is an Avalanche Probe?

best avalanche probes black diamond quickdraw
A collapsed Black Diamond Quickdraw probe

During an avalanche rescue, a beacon (or transceiver) is used to find the general area where a skier or boarder is buried. You then use your avalanche probe to pinpoint exactly where you want to start digging by probing the snow until you ‘get a hit’. That is, until your probe makes contact with your target below the snow.

Avalanche probes are stored in a ‘collapsed’ state, kind of like collapsible tent poles. They have a cord running down the center of hollow tubes, and you extend them, pull the cord, and lock it to assemble the probe.

‘Probing’ the snow is exactly what you think: poking your probe vertically into the snow over and over in a specified pattern. You generally use expanding concentric circles starting at the point where you got the lowest reading with your beacon. When you make contact with the buried object, you leave the probe in the snow. This provides a permanent(ish) marker for your digging target.

A Probe is a Only Tool

You know that old saying ‘A tool is only as good as the person using it?’ Well that definitely applies to avalanche probes. I can’t stress this enough: before going out into avalanche terrain, get yourself some avalanche safety education/training. There are providers virtually everywhere there is backcountry skiing, so do some searching in your area.

Also check out my Avalanche Safety Tips article and the Beginner’s Gear Guide for more tips and info. If you’re looking for an avalanche beacon, shovel or an airbag pack, we have you covered for those too.

Choosing the Length of Your Avalanche Probe

You need to probe as quickly as possible, as a burial victim has a limited amount of air. One thing that affects probing speed is the length of your probe – longer probes are generally slower, but you don’t want a probe that is too short.

Another thing to consider is the depth of snow where you typically ski. If you ride in a high snowfall area with a deep snowpack, you should have a longer probe, as the potential burial depth is higher.

The minimum probe length is generally recommended to be 240 cm (7 feet 11 inches). The maximum probe length is typically 320 cm (10 feet 2 inches).

240 cm (7 feet 11 inch) probes are typically nice and light and pack well, as they take up less space. 320 cm (10 feet 2 inch) probes are more commonly used by patrollers, guides, and backcountry skiers in really heavy snowfall areas. Longer probes are typically a bit heavier and sturdier, but take up more space in your pack as well.

Whichever length you choose, be sure that the probe (when collapsed) fits in your pack. Probes have varying lengths when collapsed, so be sure to check this out.

Avalanche Probe Materials

Probes come in three materials, each with its pros and cons: carbon, aluminum, and steel. They are all suitable for avalanche probes, but at varying levels of weight and cost.

Carbon is the lightest material used in probes, and is generally the most expensive. High end probes are almost always carbon.

Aluminum isn’t quite as light as carbon, but is still reasonably light. The upside is that aluminum probes are a bit cheaper than carbon probes.

Steel is a very durable material, but is also relatively heavy. Cheaper probes are typically steel, but some of the most heavy duty probes used by guides and patrollers are steel.

Wood – just kidding. This isn’t a thing. If you have a friend with a wooden probe you may want to reconsider touring with them.

Other Design Factors to Consider

Depth Markers

Most probes now come with markings to help give you an idea of how far down the victim is buried. Some manufacturers etch the markings into the probe while some use paint. The etched markings are far more durable.

Depth markers are also useful for measuring the total depth of the snowpack and for measuring the depth of problem layers.

Carry Case

Many probes come with a small bag that neatly stores your probe when it is collapsed. Some backcountry travelers don’t tend to use this, as it can cost you precious seconds in an emergency. That said, if you don’t have a dedicated probe pocket to help keep your probe organized, there is nothing wrong with using a case. Just be sure you have practiced getting your probe out.

Ease of Assembly

In a burial situation, time is key, so being able to quickly put your probe together is essential. The mechanism manufacturers use to lock the probe in it’s fully assembled state varies, so choose one that you’re comfortable and fast with.

The Best Avalanche Probes: 2018

Black Diamond QuickDraw Tour

 

Material: Aluminum
Length: 240 cm (7′  10″), 280 cm (9′ 2″), 320 cm (10′ 6″)
Weight: 303 g (10.7 oz), 342 g (12 oz), 385 g (14 oz)
Price Range: Mid-High

Current price: Amazon.com

Features

With three lengths to choose from, the quickdraw caters to many users. The shorter version is great for shallow snowpack tours or practice, while the longer models are excellent for patrollers or guides.

The updated QuickDraw mechanism is integrated with the stuff sack, so with one pull it’s out of the bag and assembled. Speed is good, and the QuickDraw has it in spades.

It also features a non-slip grip, which comes in handy when using this probe with certain types of gloves.

Comments

The only minor downside to this probe is that the markings, although highly visible, are not etched. With a lot of use (and I do mean a lot), they are likely to wear off. Until then, they are some of the easiest markings to see, so that’s a plus.

Aside from that minor complaint, you can’t really go wrong with the BD Quickdraw Tour Probe.


Black Diamond QuickDraw Tour Carbon

best avalanche probes black diamond quickdraw carbon 320

Material: Carbon
Length: 240 cm (7′  10″),  320 cm (10′ 6″)
Weight: 271 g (10 oz), 342 g (13 oz)
Price Range: High

Current price: Amazon.com

Features

This is the carbon sibling to the aluminum probe above. The features are the exact same – it still has a sweet integrated carrying case and non-slip grip. But it’s an ounce or so lighter, depending on the length you get. If you’re after the lightest gear possible, this might be the probe for you.

Comments

Same comment as for the aluminum quickdraw – non-etched depth markings. Minor complaint.


Backcountry Access Stealth

best avalanche probes backcountry access stealthMaterial: Aluminum
Length: 240 cm (7′  10″),  270 cm (8′ 10″), 300 cm (9′ 10″)
Weight: 270 g (9.5 oz), 310 g (10.9 oz), 320 g (11.2 oz)
Price Range: Low-Mid

Current price: Amazon.com

Features

Backcountry Access is know for quality avalanche safety products, and the Stealth Probe is no different and offers great bang for your buck. The Quick-Lock system allows for a speedy probe assembly, and the weight of this probe is quite reasonable for the price.

The top segment fits inside the next segment, reducing the space required in your pack. Laser etched depth markings will stand the test of time.

Comments

The collapsed length of the 300 cm (9′ 10″) Stealth Probe is pretty long…19.7 inches (50 cm) to be exact, and may be too long for some packs. Be sure to test this before taking it out to the field.

There is also a BCA Stealth Carbon probe available that shares the same features but is a bit lighter and a bit pricier. Solid choice if you can afford carbon.


Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA

best avalanche probes ortovox carbon 280+ pfa probe

Material: Carbon
Length: 280 cm (9′  2″)
Weight: 355 g (12.5 oz)
Price Range: Mid-High

Current price: Amazon.com

Features

The Carbon 280+ PFA is a solidly built probe, with a 13mm (0.5″) diameter making it quite rigid. The 280 cm (9′ 2″) length is a good middle ground between short and long, and the PFA quick-assembly system has stood the test of time.

There is a handy rubber grip on the handle end, and it has a quick release cover to the stuff sack. This probe has clear depth markers and a colorful end segment to clearly and quickly differentiate different depths.

Comments

It’s carbon, but it’s heavier than some aluminum probes in this roundup. That said, it’s likely more durable in the long run due to the relatively large diameter.


Pieps iProbe II Electronic Probe

best avalanche probes pieps iProbe ii electronic probeMaterial: Aluminum
Length*: 270 cm (8′ 10″), 310 cm (10′  2″), 350 cm (11′ 6″)  *includes electronic section (+50 cm/20″)
Weight: 390 g (13.8 oz), 430 g (15.2 oz), 470 g (16.6 oz)
Price Range: Very High

Current price: Amazon.com

Features

One of the more interesting (and most expensive) probes in the group, the iProbe II contains an electronic sensor. Here’s a short video explaining how it works:

Aside from the fancy electronics that are said to make detection much faster (up to 60%), this probe has a kevlar pull system and quick-closing latch. It also has depth markings, and an auto on/off switch to save battery power.

Comments

I just said it – battery power. Remembering to check the battery level before you go out is one more thing to add to the list. This probe is also the heaviest of the lot, but is by far the most technologically advanced.

Be sure to do lots of practice with this one. It’s bordering on getting too complicated at this point, but if you are very familiar with how to use it, that shouldn’t be a problem.


Voile Tourlight Probe

best avalanche probes voile tourlight probeMaterial: Tempered Aluminum
Length: 260 cm (8′ 6″)
Weight: 266 g (9 oz)
Price Range: Low-Mid

Current price: Amazon.com

 

Features

This is a great example of a simple yet functional avalanche probe. At 260 cm (8’in length, it is great for most backcountry skiers or boarders. It is also quite lightweight for the price at 266 grams (9 oz). A single ‘pop-button’ allows for quick assembly.

Comments

The only thing this probe is lacking is a quick release bag, but aside from that it’s an excellent, if basic, avalanche probe.


Well there you have it – those are the best avalanche probes on the market in 2018. And remember, what’s more important than the probe you choose is how often you do practice searches.

If you have any comments or questions, please start the discussion below. If there are any other probes that you’d like to see reviewed, just let me know!

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