Avalanches are one of the most common obstacles that skiers face out in the backcountry. Luckily, there are many modern tools made to combat them. One such item, which is extremely useful for finding those trapped in an avalanche, is a probe.
Unfortunately, as with all snow items, there are many probes on the current market. That can make it hard to pick just one model. If you’re someone who wants a good probe outfitted with top-of-the-line features, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll break down the best ones, and explain why they’re so exceptional, below.
- The PIEPS iProbe is a technological option for skiers who like innovation. This model is sturdy, comes with a unique tip, and is easy to use. The quick touch activation also works like a dream.
- If you want something small and easy to carry, check out the Stealth 240. This is an incredibly lightweight probe that’s easy to operate. It’s strong and long-lasting as well.
- The Ortovox Alu 240 is a solid avalanche probe for people who want something sturdy. It’s strong and has a large tip for extra sensitivity. Perfect for packed or deep snow.
Who Should Get This?
Anyone trekking out into the backcountry needs a reliable probe. The items are often overlooked, but they are extremely paramount when it comes to locating someone caught up in an avalanche. If you travel off-piste with others, make sure you have one in your pack. The only people who likely won’t need one are those who tend to stay on groomed runs or ride far away from any avalanche danger.
Best Avalanche Probe: What to Consider?
Weight and Size
First, you need to consider your probe’s weight. Every seasoned backcountry skier knows that adding weight to your bag matters. Do your best to get something that’s sturdy, but still light enough to carry around as you traverse uncharted areas. In that same vein, you also want your probe to be a certain length. If buried in an avalanche, most people will sit roughly 80 inches under the snow. As such, your probe should be between 95 and 118 inches.
When picking a probe, you have the choice of getting a carbon, stainless steel, or aluminum option. Carbon is the lightest of the three, while stainless steel is the heaviest. That’s why so many beginners choose to take carbon on their trips. However, it’s also worth noting that stainless steel is the most durable, with aluminum sitting somewhere in the middle. Don’t be afraid to try different builds until you get a strength and weight you can handle.
Ease of Use
Most of the time, you’ll use a probe out in tough, unforgiving conditions. That’s why it’s important to get something you can easily deploy. Buy a probe that you can “whip” out or pick a string/cable option that instantly clicks together. While there are some ski pole hybrid options, such models are too slow to operate in the event of a real avalanche. You want something you can take out and assemble right away.
Best Avalanche Probe: Our Picks
1. PIEPS iProbe
If you want a sturdy probe that’s easy to use, look no further than the PIEPS iProbe. This is one of the most technologically advanced options on the market, as it’s powered by a battery and uses a unique button activation system. You can turn it on or off with just three clicks, which adds to the functionality. In addition, it has a built-in audio-visual target indicator on the probe tip to detect multiple buried skiers at once.
There are several other great features here as well. First, the quick-closing latch is reliable and locks up right away. That adds to the fast assembly to ensure you can take the probe out and get to work right after an avalanche. The tough aluminum construction is also durable and gives this the raw strength to punch through even thick snow. Just be sure to practice with it ahead of time, as the digital aspect can be tricky for first-time users.
What We Like:
- Easy to use
- Integrated receiver aids
- Innovative probe tip
- Tough aluminum construction
- Optical and acoustic target locator
- Strong lock
- Quick closing latch
What We Don’t Like:
- Can be tricky to get used to
2. Stealth 240
If you want a well-rounded probe with premium traits, it’s hard to do better than the Stealth 240. This model has a strong tip and is quite long. That enables it to easily push into the ground and find anyone buried underneath. It also comes with visible laser-etched depth marks so you can always keep track of how far down you’re looking.
The Stealth 240 also gets high grades for how easy it is to assemble right out of the box, as well as how quickly it can be put together when you’re out on the mountain. The innovative quick-lock mechanism enables you to deploy it quickly, which is incredibly handy in any emergency situation. On top of that, the model is rather compact, which allows for easy storage, and the top part slides into the next one so it can truly pack down.
What We Like:
- Compact and lightweight
- Strong construction
- Quick lock design
- Fast deployment
- Visible laser-etched marks
- Easy assembly
What We Don’t Like:
- None. A well-rounded avalanche probe
Though a bit bigger and a tad less portable than the other options on this list, the Ortovox Alu 240 is a large, sturdy probe for skiers who value tough design. Not only will the aluminum construction hold up to harsh weather or tough environments, but the large 11-mm probe can push through snowpacks with ease.
At the forefront of this well-made device is the excellent assembly system that’s easy to both set up and collapse. You never want to waste time in a rescue-style situation, and this cuts down on that wonderfully.
The Aramid tensioning system, which helps compensate for any shrinking or stretching of the internal cable, works well too. It’s also worth noting that, while the Alu 240 is on the bigger side, it’s also lightweight and rather portable for its size.
What We Like:
- Quick setup and collapse
- Visible depth markings
- Strong internal cable
- Intuitive adjustment system
- Aramid tensioning system
- Large tip
- Striking colors
What We Don’t Like:
- Not the most portable option
Useful Tips and Resources
Avalanches are extremely dangerous. You always need to be prepared when heading out into the backcountry. Though many think they can brave it alone, it’s always better to understand basic safety tips and know what to do should something go wrong.
It’s also important to note that traversing the backcountry even in the best conditions is not easy. There’s a lot you need to know, especially if you’re new to the discipline. Consulting this video will help you get started.
You never know when an avalanche might hit. That’s why it pays to be prepared. There are several key items you need in any backcountry pack, but a probe is one of the most important. If you’re planning on heading into the unknown, the above options will make sure you’re ready for whatever might come your way.
Where do you like to ski off-piste? What are your favorite spots? Let us know
Joseph Scalise is an avid writer, editor, and snow sports enthusiast who loves to spend his time outdoors. He began his love of writing early on in life and continued to pursue it as he grew older. While his time behind the computer doesn’t get him into the wild unknown as much as he would like, he never misses a chance to head up (or down) a mountain, across a river, or through a lush forest. When he’s not planning new trips, you can always find him typing away on his next project.