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Avalanche Safety Series: 3. Equipment

How will you help someone if something goes wrong?

Before you head into the NZ backcountry you need to take rescue equipment (and know how to use it) with you so you can help others make it home safely. However, it’s important to remember that this is rescue equipment and not safety equipment, it won’t stop you getting caught!

Did you know the survival rate of avalanche victims drops by 70% in the first 30mins. So you need to act fast.

Why do you need rescue gear?

If someone in your group gets caught in an avalanche, you need to be carrying the necessary equipment to get them out alive. You’ll need to find them in the avalanche debris, pinpoint their location and then dig them out in as little time as possible.

What do you need?

1. Transceiver

This is so you can locate someone who has been lost in an avalanche. They cost around $400–$900 and can be purchased from most outdoor stores.

  • 1. Put your transceiver on before you first step onto the snow. Wear it under your outer layer of clothing and leave it switched on at all times. It must be easily accessible.
  • 2. Check everyone’s transceiver is transmitting properly. Repeat this check two or three times during the day. Get one person to listen for a response while the others file past one at a time. The last person then checks the first person’s transceiver before the party sets out. Everyone needs a transceiver!
  • 3. Ensure that the transceiver is more than 50 centimetres from any other electronic equipment such as a cell phone, camera or radio. These devices might interfere with the transceiver’s ability to operate effectively.
  • 4. Check and change your transceiver batteries regularly. Use alkaline batteries. Never use lithium or rechargeable batteries as the range and working life of these batteries is significantly shorter. At the end of each season, or in summer, remove the batteries. This makes sure you put new batteries in for the new season.

Learn more about transceivers >>

2. Probe

Probes are long compactable sticks — similar to a tent pole — that you poke into the snow in order to find the missing person. They are ‘used’ after you’ve located the person with a transceiver search. They cost around $75-$200 and can be purchased from most outdoor stores.

3. Shovel

Shovels are used to dig the person out once you’ve found them using the transceiver and probe. They cost around $75-$200 and can be purchased from most outdoor stores.

4. Skills to use them

If you’ve got the gear, do not go without first learning how to use them and testing they work. First take a free online avalanche course and then a recreational training course to learn how they work and how you can do a quick and efficient rescue. A free online course can be found here →

Want to know more?

Get knowledge of the basics with a few handy online videos and tools we have compiled.

Epic TV Avalanche Awareness Video Series — 5 Short Videos taking you through the basics of avalanche safety. >>Watch them online

Online Avalanche Training Course — MSC’s free online learning tool introducing you to avalanche types, triggers and how to avoid them.>>Try it out

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This is the 3rd of 3 steps make sure you read about the Training and Forecast you take with you as they are essential for Avalanche Safety in NZ.

For more information on avalanche safety: Visit

Produced by the NZ Mountain Safety Council #MakeItHomeNZ

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For over 50 years MSC has been NZ’s national organisation promoting safety in land based outdoor activities #MakeItHomeNZ |

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