Essential Gear

Essential gear is the equivalent of a PFD on a boat or a seat belt in a car – the basic stuff that everyone needs. Although you buy them separately, think of the Transceiver-Probe-Shovel as a single piece of gear – two out of three isn’t good enough. Every person needs all three parts.

When a person is buried in an avalanche, minutes can make the difference between life and death. You can waste tens of minutes if you don’t use this gear effectively – especially when it comes to shovelling Take a course and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, then PRACTICE some more!


Avalanche transceivers are small electronic devices worn by all members of a team. When travelling, everyone sends out a radio signal; in the event of an avalanche those not buried switch to search mode and follow the signal towards a buried person. Transceivers have changed dramatically over just the past few years and innovative developments continue to appear.

Thinking about upgrading your analog transceiver? Read the Obsolete section for reasons why we consider single antenna transceivers outdated.

Looking at a new unit? Three antennae digital transceivers with a visual display and audio speaker define the standard for ease of use, speed, and accuracy. Remember, not all digital transceivers are created equal! For example, be careful to identify if you are looking at a single antenna digital transceiver designed for a very specialized application, making it unsuitable for general use. Users face important decisions when selecting a transceiver because manufacturers offer different features and emphasize different functions (including but not limited to: “marking” multiple burials, “vital data” to support triage, super-fast processing speed, and various configurations of buttons and switches that can be either intuitive or confusing.)

Amongst three antennae digital transceivers, the fastest search times are posted by people who PRACTICE. Practice is more important than brand!


Transceivers fget you close fast, a probe is how you actually find someone. Probes are like sectional tent poles that snap together. An assembled probe inserted in the snow in a systematic pattern lets you physically pinpoint someone under the snow so you don’t waste time digging.

Probes vary in length, stiffness, and materials, which translate into differences in weight, durability, and cost. Generally, the smaller diameter the more they’ll bend and deflect. Carbon is light and strong (with a sufficient diameter) but more expensive. The locking mechanism and line are quite important: you want a reliable and durable mechanism and a cable that doesn’t stretch (slack means wear, tear, and breaking).

240 cm is the shortest standard length which works fine in drier climates and for rescue; if you’re in deeper snowpack areas or using it for snowpack observations consider a 320 cm version.

Centimeter markings is a great feature that allows a probe to serve as a ruler when you’re poking in the snow making observations or digging for your buddy.

A recent innovation an electronic probe that works with your transceiver – this probe is discussed in the Your Choice Section


You think shovelling is straightforward? Think again fand check out the V-Conveyor Strategy (see links). Good shoveling technique can save you tens of minutes if you’re trying to get someone out of a 150cm deep hole! But you need the right tool – not all shovels are created equal!

What makes a good shovel? Obviously we all like lightweight, but have to balance that with strength. It has to fit in your pack, but within reason bigger is better. Plastic isn’t good – plastic breaks in cold temperatures and hard avalanche debris! An extendable shaft is important. A flat top that provides a platform for stepping on is valuable when chopping blocks.

related links

related attachments

  • Transceiver comparison

  • Interference Issues Concerning Avalanche Rescue Transceivers

  • Shovel Comparison (Genswein, 2009)

  • Conveyor Shovelling Technique (Genswein 2008) How to save tens of minutes in a rescue!

  • Probe Comparison (Genswein, 2009)

  • Probing Technique (Jamieson & Auger) Line Probing (searching)

  • Probing Technique: Pinpoint Search (Spiral probing)