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March 2022

Gear Review: Ortovox Avalanche Essentials

Written by & Photos By: David Wilson & Chris Kimmel (Alpine Edge Photography)

The three avalanche essentials that people traveling in the backcountry should have with them at all times include: an avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel. Recently, I had the opportunity to try out the Ortovox Diract Voice transceiver, Aluminum 320+ PFA Probe, and Kodiak shovel. Skiing conditions were not ideal, as we were in the middle of a warm dry period on the West Coast, but the sun was out, which made for a great opportunity to test out this equipment and practice some of our searches, probing, and shoveling techniques.

Diract Voice Transceiver

This Diract Voice is a feature rich transceiver that has not lost the importance of making its use simple, reliable, and intuitive. Two features that really stood out about this Ortovox transceiver are the voice prompts that guide you during a search and the internal lithium ion battery.

Voice Prompts

Before I used the transceiver I wasn’t convinced that I would like the voice feature. However, after spending some time doing some practice searches, I have found huge value in this feature. Like an AED used in cardiac emergencies the Diract Voice gives calm and clear verbal prompts to guide you in a potentially chaotic emergency environment.

Some of the prompts that were encountered include “Run in 20m search strips and look out”, “walk left”, “walk right”, “Bring beacon down to snow”, “search in a fine pattern”, “you were closer”, and "send activated". These commands in no way replace the need for proper avalanche rescue training or practice, but they do bring calm, clear reminders in an emergency and allow you to keep your head up, looking for hazards, victims, and clues. The verbal prompts do not replace any of the visual directions that would typically be found on a transceiver screen. All of these directions, symbols, etc. are indicated clearly on the screen as well.

Internal Lithium Ion Battery

Anyone who has had experience with avalanche beacons likely shares the frustration of checking battery levels before a trip, ripping out the old ones, and tossing them in the heap of other half spent batteries when replacing them with new ones. With the Diract Voice there is no need to replace batteries again. You don’t even need to remember to remove them for the off season to avoid the dreaded exploded battery corrosion surprise in November!

One issue that likely comes to mind with the internal battery is that there are no options to quickly swap batteries if they die in the backcountry. Although I have not tested out how long the battery will last to the point where there is no juice left, this lithium ion battery is engineered to be cold tolerant and is advertised to last a minimum of 200hrs on send with an additional 1hr of search power.

The couple times I have been out with this transceiver I have watched the battery level closely and it only dropped a couple percent after an entire day of use in both send and search mode. With this sort of battery life it is possible that for some users this battery could last the entire season! Additionally, if you are really concerned about running out of battery on a longer trip, you would likely have a phone or battery bank along you can draw power from to top up your transceiver. I think the use of an internal lithium ion battery specifically designed for cold weather use is a great addition to this transceiver and a huge plus over the AA’s or AAA’s you get at the grocery store.

Additional Features

Although the voice prompts and internal lithium ion battery are two of the main features that stood out to me, there are many more that help make the Diract Voice an excellent transceiver.

  • Bluetooth Connectivity: This is evident from right from set up as the Diract Voice is capable of bluetooth connectivity which makes “out of the box” set up, warranty registration, and software updates very simple.

  • Harness and Comfort: Wearing the Diract Voice is made very comfortable due to Its ergonomic lightweight design (210g) and excellent harness design. The harness also includes the addition of a RECCO® reflector which is a great additional safety device that can aid rescuers in identifying your location.

  • Secondary Avalanche Switchover: Another useful feature Ortovox has built into this transceiver is its ability to revert to send mode. This is an extremely beneficial feature if there happens to be a secondary avalanche. After approximately 90 seconds of little movement or light reaching the built in light sensor, an audible alarm will sound for 30 seconds warning you that it is switching to send mode.

  • Group Check: Additionally, I found the group check function a nice extra to simplify checking the functionality of everyone's transceivers before heading out into the backcountry. This feature works by suppressing all signals except those with a 1m range so that it is very clear the one near you is the one sending the signal.

  • Multiple Burials: In the event that there are multiple burials, the Diract Voice will show the number of identified signals at the bottom of the screen with an icon of a person and guide you to the closest victim. Once a victim is found they can be flagged to suppress their signal allowing the search to continue for the next closest victim. Once flagged, the person icon is replaced with a flag icon on the screen.

I am very impressed with the Diract Voice transceiver. The physical design is simple and well thought out, the functionality is smooth and intuitive, and at the same time Ortovox managed to break through into new transceiver territory with voice guidance and a long lasting internal lithium ion battery.

Aluminum 320+ PFA Probe

Strong, long and easy to deploy! The Ortovox 320+ PFA probe is 320cm long, 13mm diameter, and weighs 430g. It would be nice if Ortovox made a carbon probe that was this length to shed a little bit of weight without sacrificing strength. However, despite its weight I think the aluminum 320+ PFA Probe has really good value and is still an excellent choice for a probe.

Probe Dimensions

I appreciate the thickness and length of this probe as I’ve seen a number of people using short and flimsy avalanche probes (I was one of them a number of years ago). A long probe like this is especially important on the west coast where snow packs can be a lot deeper than other, drier regions. The added strength and stiffness of a 13mm probe is also beneficial in an avalanche where you are more likely to be pushing it through very dense, compact snow and ice. Additionally, the wider probe makes it easier to handle, especially when wearing gloves.

Depth Markers and Colours

The depth markers are very easy to read and the orange and blue on the first two segments are a nice, obvious visual cue indicating where the sharp tip is and when you are getting close to a victim that is being dug out after a successful probe.


The feature that stands out the most to me is the ease of deployment. As advertised, the Patented Flash Assembly (PFA) makes it easy to deploy this probe in one quick motion. Ease and speed of use are two critical things in avalanche rescue equipment so this feature holds a lot of weight for me. I have deployed this probe many times and never once was it tangled and I was often able to have it all together before it hit the snow!

Kodiak shovel

The Ortovox Kodiak shovel is a workhorse and a very strong, functional snow mover! The weight of the shovel is 770g which is very comparable to some other brands but the Ortovox Kodiak shovel has several other additional features that make it stand out.


I really like the oval shaft as it adds a lot of strength and stiffness to the shovel. I never felt that feeling of, “I better not push this shovel any further or it might break”. It always felt strong. The oval shape of the shaft also keeps the inner and outer pieces in the same orientation at all times ensuring the locking mechanism easily finds the hole to make a secure connection. It is a lot faster and a lot less frustrating experience extending this shovel compared to similar locking mechanisms on round shafts. Like I mentioned with the probe, speed and ease of use are very important, especially in a potentially chaotic emergency environment. This oval shape also provides extra strength to this shovel. The connections are firm with very little play.


The ergonomic D-grip handle and the rubberised shaft helped this shovel always feel secure in my hands, even when I was digging in a hurry!


The large blade of this shovel can quickly move a lot of snow and it’s efficiency is aided by its ability to easily cut through the toughest snow pack. Its sharpened edge can quite easily cut through hard avalanche debris and ice layers. We appreciated this feature building an igloo one night as we had no problem cutting through a couple of thick ice layers that were present in the snow pack at the time. My only caution is to be a little strategic in how you put it in your pack to make sure it doesn't damage anything, but a little bit of forethought is well worth this blade's functionality.

“Hoe Mode”

One additional feature that I really liked was the “hoe mode” of the shovel. Being able to reposition the blade 90 degrees isn’t a gimmick. It functions super well in clearing loose snow from an excavation in a hurry. It takes only two motions to insert the blade into the snow and pull away in “hoe mode” vs inserting the blade, lifting up, and dispensing snow in the regular position. It may not sound like much but in the right situation it has the potential to save a lot of time and effort over time. This position is also a lot more effective when digging in small places like when you are digging out a snow cave.

Overall I am very impressed with the Ortovox Diract Voice transceiver, 320+ PFA Probe, and Kodiak shovel. It is evident that the team at Ortovox puts a lot of effort and care into the development of their gear. Although these products may not be the lightest on the market, the many extra features Ortovox has engineered into their products stand out. We all want our avalanche essential gear (transceiver, probe, and shovel) to be intuitive, effective and reliable, especially if we ever have to use it in an emergency situation. Ortovox expertly delivers this in their Diract Voice transceiver, Aluminum 320+ PFA Probe, and Kodiak shovel.

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