Kit: Avalanche Probes
The probe is one of the items of kit we carry we hope to never use and probably only ever play with when we first buy it and perhaps once a season…maybe!
We all know checking and practising with your kit regularly is a must, yet how many of us can say we do it regularly or even ever? Over the last couple of years, I have seen an increasing number of issues with kit, in particular avalanche probes.
Here are a couple of examples of what to look out for. Some are my own probes and others are what I see course participants struggle with, mostly due to not having inspected or practised with their it.
First, off the nice neat sac your probe comes in. There are some that have useful info printed on them and they all have various ways of opening, mostly fiddly if you haven’t done it for a year or two. However, these are storage sacs for staying in your cupboard and not used in the rucksack! Why? On two separate occasions, I have had course participants take their probe out of the sac and the thread of the sac has worked itself around the internal cable of the probe rendering the probe useless as you cannot put it together without cutting the thread away from the cable. Think about it… assuming you have a knife or similar you have
to get that out, first trying to find it in the depths of your rucksack, fiddle about with it with cold hands, cut the thread without cutting the cable in the probe. You get the gist.
With cables in mind, when selecting a probe choose one with a metal cable. There are ones with nylon cord. This year I witnessed a brand new probe with nylon cord being deployed and the cord breaking and the probe then useless. I have also seen the cables and cord rub on the edges of each section of the probe and fraying weakening the cable and potentially snapping, again rendering the probe useless.
A few other things to regularly inspect are the individual joints. In the pictures, you can see where one probe section has split.
This is not so bad as the probe still works and it's just a pain to try and take it to bits. I have had to use pliers and grips to separate it. The other one has nylon sleeves in the ends of each section to help align and reduce friction when putting the probe together. These can get easily damaged and fold in on themselves. When this happened to me I had to find my knife to cut out the folded section so that the probe could be put together.
The final thing I have witnessed is the insert of the probe sections, usually at one end of each. These can slide back into the section they are attached too meaning there is no way of that section connecting to the next!
So what to look for when you’re buying a new probe. Forget the ‘super’ light slim probes. You can almost tie them in knots and the weight-saving is minimal. There are some decent carbon probes from BCA and others which are looking pretty good. Many are aluminium or alloy of some description. They need to be a minimum of 240cm, 11mm in diameter and have a metal cable in them for joining the sections. The way the lock at the top end of the probe varies. I prefer a mechanical ‘click’ and ‘lock’ but there are some that use a gromet into a slot. Both work, get to know how yours works so you can do it with your eyes closed.
The one currently in my rucksack and am really liking is the BCA Stealth 270:
Note: The pictures of the probes in this blog are G3 and Black Diamond. The corded one mentioned was made by Camp and the thread ones were Mammut and Arva, from memory.