So, for the first time this year, my Ortovox S1 avalanche transceiver went from a battery indicator of 3 beeps…to 2 beeps. The S1 has three settings to indicate battery life. 3 beeps means the batteries are at 100-75%, 2 beeps mean 75-50% and only 1 beep means a battery power of below 50%. The S1 also has gives an overall battery power level when you turn it on with the screen flipped open. After I got only the two beeps, I did this and it stated that my batteries were still at 84%.
Ortovox S1 seft-test start-up screen.
I used to change the batteries in my transceiver all the time. The minute it would show signs of decreased power….I’d be running to the shop, spending $6 and popping in three new AAA batteries to assure that I was running on full power…using the slightly degraded batteries for a headlamp or whatever. These days, I tend to be a bit more bold I guess, and usually wait for my batteries to be at about 50-60% until I change them. Most manufacturers suggest you change them before they get below 50%…so I feel like I’m still within the margin of safety.
It’s tempting to stick fancy-pants lithium type batteries into transceivers. Lithium batteries tend to be lightweight, resistant to cold temperatures and have a high power output which tends to be a benefit for electronic devices. Problem is that most lithium batteries have a high power output for a given period of time, but then suddenly drop off dramatically. Most transceiver units are rigged to specifically test the power output of only alkaline batteries, so you could easily get hosed with some pretty bunk battery level results some morning at the trailhead if you use lithiums. Alkaline good…lithium bad!
Anyway, how often and at what level do you change your transceiver batteries? And when are they gonna come out with a rechargeable battery pack of some sort for transceivers? I know this would be hard to recharge in the field, like on longer expeditions, but it seems like there could be an option or something to have regular batteries…or a rechargeable pack? BTW, Ortovox just put out a new firmware update for the S1 (yes…even since this fall), so get ‘er updated if you can. Ciao for now!
In my DTS Tracker I change batteries before each season and also if the charge level is below 80%. 3 AAAs (Varta, Sanyo etc) do not cost more than a few euros and I am sure that my Tracker is fully prepared.
Good point about the lithium batteries! I tried them once, Tracker showed 100% charge level; however, it was not possible to search! High output of fresh lithium batteries probably confused the circuits or what… So, good advice is to use only quality alkalines.
“The S1 also has gives an overall battery power level when you turn it on with the screen flipped open.”
— This can also be accessed by opening the lid at any point (as opposed to only at initial start-up) and then using the menu.
I like changing my transceiver batteries… it usually means I have been getting out!
Thanks for the comments guys. It’s nice to have fresh batteries at full power all the time in your transceiver…but spending $$$$ on batteries can get pricey if you use your transceiver a lot.
On a bit of a different topic but still about batteries in transceivers:
Couple of weeks ago I met with ARVA representative – ARVA is a French avalanche beacon manufacturer. And one of the benefits of their beacons as he claimed is that they use 4 batteries instead of 3.
He explained that with 4 batteries the beacon can perform better as being more consisted, which I took as any beacon would be better with 4 instead of 3.
I am no engineer, so I could only nod at this, but it seems logical.
Any engineering or electrician minds have an opinion on this?
That is a good question Stano. I always thought size and weight were the limiting factors for only 3 AAA batteries in most transceivers. If I recall, didn’t the old 457 analog beacons run on only 2 AA batteries?
Yes, the Ortovox F1 runs on 2 AA batteries. However, lots of power sucking in today’s beacons is done by processors. I don’t know what the ratio for power antennas/processor is but in general processors in computers suck a lots of power.
Anyways, will see whether someone has an idea about my question.
I’ve heard that ARVA beacons are a wee bit stronger in signal transmission — I haven’t tried to test that though. And I have no idea if it might be related to the 4th AAA battery. (ARVA does make some very nice beacons – shame they aren’t more widely available in North America.) Either way, the spec for minimum battery life is so long that battery cost has to be the only cheap thing about backcountry skiing gear.
Single-antenna beacons like the Barryvox VS 2000, Pieps Opti 4, Optifinder, SOS F1-ND, and Ortovox F2, F1, M1, M2, all use/used 2x AA batteries. But so do the Ortovox D3 and X1/Patroller (which share the F1 housing).
ARVA beacons will be soon available in North America more or at least up here in Canada. We are ordering some for our online store.
(Just so no one is confused I speak here either as Stan or Stano. If only Steve’s comment settings would allow me to change then I would prefer to go always as Stano.)
one thing to consider is the electro-interference full power batteries cause. not 100% about the others but its proven that Tracker recieves better with 40-80% as opposed to full charge.
So Gringo…you’re saying that a BCA Tracker works better (in receive mode) at only 40% battery power than at 100%? Cuz that sounds weird…and a little hard to believe.
I love it when people get all geeky about beacons. My kind of people! Anyway, here are a few tidbits from BCA, manufacturers of Tracker avalanche beacons:
• There was indeed a beacon that ran on rechargeable batteries: the Skadi units that went out of style around 1996 when the frequency changed from 2.275 to 457 kHz. Back in the ’80’s and early ’90’s, most beacons were used by professionals who could recharge their beacons overnight, alongside their radios. Since then, the market has evolved and is now about 95 percent recreationists. Since most of us barely ever practice, it’s unlikely we will notice when our power drops off the table like it does with rechargeables. Remember, the stakes are a lot higher with beacons than with radios and cell phones.
• All beacon manufacturers design their transceivers to meet the European standard for battery life: 1 hour in search after 200 hours in transmit. For most digital beacons, 3 AAA batteries is what is required to meet this standard. Adding more batteries requires a larger, heavier beacon.
• Our first year (1997), we suggested that people replace their Tracker DTS batteries when they got below 80 percent. This was extremely conservative. We have since changed our recommendation to 20 percent.
• It is true that you’ll get a little more receive range at low battery power than at full power. But there’s only about a 5 percent difference between the range you get with a Tracker DTS at 100 percent versus the range you get at 10 percent. But you’ll lose 10 percent transmit power at these same battery levels. So you could say it’s a toss-up.
• Lithium batteries have higher voltage than alkaline. This can throw off the battery power measurement, which is calibrated for alkaline. It will also throw off your distance readings and make it very difficult to search. Use alkaline only. And make sure all three batts are of the same brand and shelf life: like a team of mountaineers, all three will perform to the level of the weakest member of the team.
• We’re finally shipping both our Tracker2 beacons and our Float 30 airbags! For updates on both products, check out our blog, http://www.backcountryaccess.com/blog and our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/BackcountryAccess.
Loved the paramarking video! It’s going around here like a wildfire!
Thanks for the info Edge…that’s some good stuff! I would think that a rechargeable beacon would be attractive for some still.
Glad the Paramarker video is still entertaining ya!!!! 🙂
Steve – I use a Tracker 1 and put in fresh alkalines at the start of the season and then replace when they show below 85%. Similar to you, I then use the batteries for something else around the house.
Also carry a set of 3 spare batteries with me in my first aid kit.
yeah nick…backup batteries are key. been saved by friends many times.