Saving a few bucks on gear that save lives is false economy. In the past couple of seasons, a flood of cheap avalanche probes has reached the market and may not be "better than nothing." It's rather like carrying a tiny shovel -- both clearly state that the owner cares little about their backcountry partners.
Consumers and stores often don't realize that these "lightweight" probes can seriously compromise safety. A probe that is only 6 feet (190 cm) long is just effective to a depth of about 4 feet while there is still a reasonable chance of survival for victims a couple feet deeper; anything under 230 cm should neither be sold nor carried. A probe that is too flexible is easily deflected rather than going straight down, rendering a search less effective. And a probe that takes a couple minutes to assemble during a crisis (or a tension cord that breaks) slows the race for survival.
The new Life-Link Pro Series avalanche probes have several features that place them well ahead of the competition. An auto-locking handle makes assembly easier and faster than any other probe we've tested; just pull. Because the handle wire is rigid, the full 280 cm length of the probe can be used if necessary. While seemingly trivial, the rounded bullet heads at the male end of each pole section make a huge difference in speed of assembly. The bullet heads also increase durability by preventing nicks in the ends of tube sections.
The Carbon Fiber Probe 280 weighs a mere 10.2 ounces (290 g) -- just 4 ounces more than the so-called "light probes" that are too short. It retails for $76 versus $40 for the dinky probes -- only $36 more for a decade of superior service. And the 10 mm carbon fiber tubing is stiffer than the wimpy probes. Other features are what you'd expect on any good probe: depth markings every 5 cm, stainless-steel cable that will not wear out like cord, an over-sized head, and a nylon stuff sack.
Although Life-Link offers four other probes, the Carbon Fiber Probe 280 is the best buy for any backcountry skier. This sets the new standard for performance in a category that has only emerged among backcountry skiers in the past few years.
SNEWS Rating: 5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $65
For more information: www.life-link.com