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Avalanche Safety

Top Picks

How we choose: The best avalanche safety highlighted here were selected based on 45 reviews of 32 products. Our top picks are those that are readily-available in the United States and have received the highest overall ratings from reviewers.

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Top Snow Shovel

SnowClaw Guide

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (6 reviews)

I find the Snow Claw an essential item for backcountry snow play. I am going to disagree with it not being an effective avalanche rescue tool. I researched these long and hard before buying one. Some rescue crews report having tested them directly against standard $75 portal avalanche shovels. They were in fact surprised to find them more durable, faster at moving snow, and easier to carry. Furthermore they were found to be the superior tool at getting cars and trucks dug out of snow banks. Typical portable avalanche shovels are not strong enough out here in our heavy often icy snow! Those long handles cause leverage allowing them to be easily snapped off. In the summer I have found broken off avalanche shovel blades here in the PNW. Having said this, note that the Snow Claw does not effectively replace a well designed, quality avalanche shovel for snow that is wet and refreezing quickly after falling, as happens in many avalanche conditions. In avalanche country, I would pre-test equipment and talk with local suppliers familiar with your area! My main use for the Snow Claw is in snowshoeing for potential tree well rescue, snow shaping for seating, and for some help if I or someone else gets stuck in a snowbank or the parking lot when getting to the play zones. Might it be in your best interest to not go alone, and carry both kinds of tools on your outings? I think my Snow Claw should aways be with me, under my car seat, while driving in snow country, for roadside safety.

Reasons to Buy

  • Capable of moving large quantities of snow quickly
  • Two digging surfaces so built in backup
  • -- Soft snow edge digging surface to move large quantities quickly
  • -- Hard snow edge digging surface to leverage bite on hard snow
  • No long handle to be leveraged against and broken off
  • No long handle to leverage snow weight and digging angle against your arms
  • Natural intuitive digging action, with symetrical two handed digging actionveasy on your body
  • Comfortable rubber covered handles (recommend using gloves)
  • Two handed, strong easy snow packing ability
  • Flat flexible water proof surface makes it useful for dry lunch seat
  • Very light weight, thin profile makes for easy storage
  • Strap eyelets are provided, giving flexible options for attachment
  • Other outing and survival uses, e.g., butt strappable snowy hill slider seat, carrier for kindling and moss, useful as kindling if essential for survival, or you don't like it

Reasons to Avoid

  • Ease of use and lower price might lure one to get this instead of an avalanche shovel. Decide on your use and research carefully (you might decide that you or your group needs both!)
  • Not as capable at working with hard ice snow composites or packing and leveraging blocks in igloo building
  • Lack long handle so may be harder throwing snow out of a deep hole.
  • Might need to put down a coat or rest pad so knees stay dry in wet snow.
  • Need to have body closer to where you are working.
  • Not as good of a deterrent or defensive tool against predator/foe attack
  • Won't work as Frisbee or Boomerang (ditto for a shovel)

No rescue tool is perfect, but for coping with snow storm challenges, or fresh avalanche fall, this one comes closer than many! With their hard metal edges, and leveraged pressure made possible by the long handle, avalanche shoves can dig through icy settled avalanche snow. The blade shape and leverage effect of the handle also helps in forming snow bricks to make survival igloos. However, avalanche shovels are expensive, bulky and add significant weight to your pack. Thus, many do not carry them.

Read more: SnowClaw Guide reviews (6)

Snow Shovel

Lifeline Alum Sport Utility Shovel

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

The Lifeline Sport utility shovel may be sold at places like Fred Meyer and WalMart, but don’t let its cheap price fool you. This is an excellent shovel. It is often marketed for auto and snowmobile use. But don’t let that fool you. It is just as, if not more, capable than many shovels many times its price, not to mention a lot lighter. I would highly recommend this to anyone needing a good low cost lightweight backcountry shovel. Works excellent in making snow caves.

Reasons to Buy

  • Light weight 1.3 lbs
  • Cheap price
  • Good quality
  • Packs well
  • Sharp edge

Reasons to Avoid

  • Aluminum gets scratched easily
  • Might bend if under enough pressure

When I bought this I was looking for something lighter that my Voile Mini Shovel but not a compromise on strength. The funny thing is that I found it completely by accident. I was shopping for Mountain House meals at my local Fred Meyer. Then I noticed the bright red shovel with the vehicle safety accessories just down the aisle. The first thing I noticed was its super light weight and quality construction, then I noticed the price. At $15 I couldn’t pass it up so I grabbed the red one and took it to the snow that weekend.

Read more: Lifeline Alum Sport Utility Shovel review (1)

Top Avalanche Beacon

Backcountry Access Tracker 2

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

This is such a simple transceiver to use. I'd recommend it for any recreational user. It's also commonly used by ski patrollers.

Reasons to Buy

  • Easy to use
  • Good value

This transceiver is very simple to use and that's what makes it so great. When I do practices with friends with other digital units, they seem to get hung up on other features and confused about how to interpret what the transceiver is telling them. This is due to not practicing enough, but with the Tracker 2, it is far more intuitive and even without much practice can be effectively used.  Some people express concern over multiple burials with this unit but Backcountry Access has good information about this on their website.

Read more: Backcountry Access Tracker 2 review (1)

Snow Shovel

Black Diamond Deploy 3

user rating: 4 of 5 (2 reviews)

It's a great portable collapsing aluminum snow shovel, that definitely more than pulls its own weight, while still being very robust and easy to use. Advertised primarily as a lightweight avalanche rescue shovel, it also functions very well for a winter camping, shelter building, and as an emergency backup in a motorized vehicle. Would definently recommend, especially for those looking for an extremely light and compact shovel for backcountry use.

Reasons to Buy

  • Compact
  • Made from lightweight aluminum (565 grams)
  • Collapsable (43 cm collapsed, 63 cm extended)
  • Durable
  • Easy to use and "deploy"

Reasons to Avoid

  • Fairly costly
  • Could have a slightly longer handle
  • Uses a T grip instead of a D grip, can't use mittens

Included in this review is a short video of me constructing a one-man Quinzee with this small shovel. This should help illustrate just effective this small lightweight shovel really is at moving snow and building snow shelters. The Black Diamond Deploy 3, is a very easy to use, always works as expected, and can be deployed even with thick gloves on. The 3 in the name "Deploy 3" is used in reference to the overall blade volume with it being 0.3 gallons for the Deploy 3, along with 0.7 for the larger and heavier Black Diamond Deploy 7.

Read more: Black Diamond Deploy 3 reviews (2)

Snow Shovel / Accessory

Grand Shelters IceBox Igloo Tool

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (2 reviews)

I've been building with this each winter, 1-2 per season, since 2012 in Banff National Park. Great tool once you've learned the fine details!

Reasons to Buy

  • Well, you get igloos out of this! Everyone is happy inside an igloo. Kids love it as well as childish adults. It is an iconic winter experience. Sturdy and reliable, and geometrically pleasing.

Reasons to Avoid

  • There are skills to be developed here, and the end panel would be better if it had a built-in torpedo level for the first level of blocks.

Ideally you'd build this with three people—a form packer, form loader, and snow supplier/conditioner. I've done it solo, but of course it takes much longer and requires some innovation. Most important notes I have to offer users of this: Build the 7-foot model for your first attempt. You can ELIMINATE snow condition issues by making piles of snow and packing them with snowshoes before build day, and then breaking up this snow (removing all clumps fist-sized or larger) to build with. Makes for easy packing and a very dense/durable igloo.

Read more: Grand Shelters IceBox Igloo Tool reviews (2)

Snow Shovel

Voile Mini Shovel

user rating: 5 of 5 (2 reviews)

If you are going winter camping and not carrying one of these (or a comparable model), you are not carrying an essential winter survival tool.

Reasons to Buy

  • Simple design
  • Metal blade
  • Low cost
  • Well made

Reasons to Avoid

  • None I have found.

The Voile Mini is one of several small snow shovels that anyone winter camping on snow should carry. This is not a full size shovel, but for all that I have done with it, it was the perfect size. I would take mine even on day trips. It is fairly light, has a metal blade, and is well made. The handle comes apart and fits back together easily. It can be used wearing gloves or mitts. I strap mine to the back of my pack so it is easy to get at. You will see some shovels with Lexan blades; I would take the metal blade Voile over them any day.

Read more: Voile Mini Shovel reviews (2)

Top Avalanche Airbag Pack

Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

A great evolution on the airbag concept with terrific selection of features.

Reasons to Buy

  • Multiple Air Bag deployments
  • Simple system
  • Lots of cool features
  • Comfortable to wear

Reasons to Avoid

  • Pretty small interior size (28L is accurate)
  • Huge exterior size

So I got to take this pack out for a spin the other day on a Ski Mountaineering objective. It was a pretty short day and we didn't get into any terrain that we felt was particularly risky, so I never felt the need for its key feature. The pack is accurate to the rest of the BD M/L sizing. It's surprising comfortable, and breathable for a winter pack. I certainly found it rather enjoyable to wear. The bag is burly, and feels super durable. The buckle was easier to operate then other avi bags I've seen.  The pack is much smaller than it looks due to the airbag taking up a lot of volume.

Read more: Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack review (1)

Top Avalanche Probe

Mammut Probe 320 Fast Lock

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

Sturdy probe with quick lock.

Reasons to Buy

  • Quick locking
  • No pinch points
  • Fast deploy

Reasons to Avoid

  • Lid on pouch

The Mammut 320 Fast Lock avalanche probe feels very strong (13mm diameter) and is operable with gloves. The measurements on the side are easy to read. I haven't had a chance to use it in the field yet, but so far I like it more than the older Black Diamond Quickdraw that I used last winter as there are no pinch points. (Although it looks like the new BD's have a similar style to this Mammut) My first concern was hoping the locking mechanism and cable hold up. The inner cable appears to be made of a very strong cord (not metal) and so far it's working well and the segments stay together tightly.

Read more: Mammut Probe 320 Fast Lock review (1)

Snow Shovel

Glock E-Tool

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

We all know that when venturing out in the snow you must have a shovel... but which one? Are you going to be digging a shelter in soft snow, or clearing iced snow, or making a wind block? Plastic shovels are light and wide, but ineffective against ice or hard snow, and metal shovels can be heavy and or worthless when digging down through lofty drifts (I know of both!). Welcome then, the Glock e-tool! (yeah, the same gun company). It has a steel head for chipping through those iced over areas, yet with a lightweight polymer telescoping handle, multi angle adjustable scoop, and (for the mcgyver's) a steel saw in the handle.

Read more: Glock E-Tool review (1)

Avalanche Probe

Ortovox 240 HD PFA

user rating: 3.5 of 5 (1 review)

This is a good stiff avalanche probe that has all the basic features you would expect in a backcountry avalanche probe.

Reasons to Buy

  • Good stiff design
  • Reasonable weight
  • Quality construction

I have had the Ortovox 240 HD PFA avalanche probe for several years and carry it whenever I go into the backcountry here in the Cascades when avalanche conditions are present. The basic probe is 240 cm long (94.5 inches), 13 mm in diameter (.51 inches) and it weighs 12.5 ounces. The probe comes with a nylon case that has a unique closure system. The closure system is opened by squeezing the ends and has internal steel springs that allow it to snap open and closed. I think that this is a good design approach over something like a simple drawstring like you would have on a stuff sack because it always allows you to get the probe out of the case.

Read more: Ortovox 240 HD PFA review (1)

More Reviews of Avalanche Safety

Trailspace reviewers have shared 45 reviews of 32 different avalanche safety.

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