“Hey, do you think it’s time I get myself a new avalanche transceiver?” is a question we often hear during avlanche safety courses. But anyone asking that question usually knows the answer is yes.

1. In general, you should follow these guidelines for any emergency / safety / protection equipment on the mountain

  • If in any doubt, don’t use it anymore.
  • Have it inspected by the manufacturer or an expert.
  • Where possible, fix it or update it.
  • If not, then buy a new one.
  • Destroy the old device or retire it, but do not pass it on.

Top tip: Use the PIEPS app to check through all the transceiver’s functions (SEND > SELF-CHECK > SEARCH > SEND > OFF) and familiarize yourself with the menu and how to use it.

2. Is my transceiver broken?

If an error warning appears during a self-check, a crack has appeared after a fall, a switch is suddenly difficult to use or even too easy, or a battery has leaked, then you must stop using your device immediately and take it back to a specialist retailer or send it to the manufacturer for inspection. They will then look at the problem, check the hardware/software, and if possible, fix it.

Sadly, it often transpires in the case of avalanche casualties that the avalanche transceiver being used was no longer in full working order and should not have been in operation.

3. Is my transceiver too old?

It’s not just climbing harnesses and ropes that have a recommended lifespan but avalanche transceivers too. The user manual for any transceiver, or the manufacturer’s website will clearly indicate how often a device should be serviced/ inspected. The older an avalanche transceiver is, the more its performance declines, which might be evident in its range, for example. 

PIEPS recommends sending in its devices for a service at 3 years and 5 years, and then every year after that. Once the device has been inspected, it’s returned with a service record so you can rest assured that it can be used safely.

Top tip: Mountain guides and smart backcountry skiers like to have a backup avalanche transceiver in the car with them. Then, if you realize that someone’s transceiver isn’t working properly or someone has forgotten theirs, having a spare one handy can save the day for everyone.

4. Will a new transceiver be better?

Manufacturers make every effort to keep on improving their avalanche transceivers. Some improvements and bug fixes can be made with software updates on an existing device. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your software is always up to date. Obviously, it’s much easier if you can update your transceiver by app.

But some functional improvements require new hardware, in other words, a new device. The following features distinguish high-end devices from more basic devices: they are more expensive, have other/ additional components such as sensors, extra controls and an extended menu or a more stable and powerful range.

A basic device, for instance, will not have a ‘back-up/ standby’ function when you’re searching an avalanche site that allows you to switch your own transceiver to special SEND mode instead of switching it OFF completely. That kind of function is only available in high-end models.