According to International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IMFGA) ski mountaineering guide Martin Volken, the most important requirement for safe travel in the alpine backcountry is having your avalanche beacon and being well trained in how to use it. But when it comes to how you wear that beacon, Volken thinks there is some room for personal preference. While most backcountry travelers strap their beacons to their chests, Volken wears it in his pants pocket. He’s not alone; many guides and pros choose to wear beacons in their pockets.
“The idea was born in the guiding community,” says Volken. “Guides got tired of strapping yet another thing around their bodies. Harnesses, backpack, ropes—the bacon gets buried.”
What about safety? Volken claims, as long as it is secured, a pocket-carried beacon is just as safe as one strapped to your chest. He points out it may be an advantage to have it in your pocket during warm spring skiing trips, when you shed down to a baselayer and the beacon is exposed and could possibly be ripped off during a slide. Plus, a pocket-secured beacon is far easier to access quickly after a slide when every second counts—you won’t have to shed layers to get to it.
But the beacon must be safe in the pocket. It can’t fall out. To that end, Volken worked with Outdoor Research to design a unique, dedicated avalanche beacon pocket in the pants of our Sidecountry and backcountry skiing lines. The pocket features a burly key-clip attachment to fasten the beacon so it won’t fall out. The beacon pocket is actually a sleeve within the front pocket that keeps the beacon out of the way and secure against the front of thigh, so it won’t be damaged in falls or interfere with skiing or riding. Of course, the pocket is simply an option for those who prefer to carry their beacons this way.
“It’s there and it’s secure, but if you don’t want to use it, don’t,” says Volken.
The beacon is included in Volken’s favorite pair of Outdoor Research pants—the TrailBreaker Pants™. Volken, who owns Pro Guiding Service and guides clients across the planet, gave OR input on the TrailBreaker Pants™ in hopes of creating the perfect backcountry touring pant. Beyond the pocket, they were designed for the rigors and athleticism of serious backcountry skiing. They feature tough Ventia Hybrid™ construction—waterproof-breathable material on the lower legs, where the pants are more exposed to moisture, and stretch-woven soft shell on the upper part of the pants, where breathability for the uphill is more important—and they come with removable snow gaiters.
For more information on avalanche safety in North America, go to the following websites: the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, the American Avalanche Association, Avalanche.org, The National Snow and Ice Data Center and your local avalanche education and forecasting centers.