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How to Choose an Avalanche Probe

Avalanche probes help you pinpoint the exact location of an avalanche victim and measure the burial depth. If there is one piece of avalanche safety equipment that people tend to forget, it's the probe. All three pieces of avalanche safety gear are mandatory: transceiver, shovel, and probe. Without any one of these pieces, recovery time in an avalanche rescue situation goes up dramatically.

Things to consider when choosing an avalanche probe:


Consider snow depth when choosing your probe. 2 meters should be a minimum length, and longer than that is better. Probes on the short end of the spectrum are lighter and pack more easily. Somewhere between 240 and 300 centimeters is typically best.

Longer probes provide more space between your hands, which minimizes the chance of breaking the probe. Longer probes are also easier on your back when working a probe line for long periods of time and tend to be made of heavier gauge and more durable material.

Material: Aluminum or Carbon?

Both aluminum and carbon are quality materials; carbon is lighter in weight but also tends to be more expensive. Slightly heavier aluminum probes tend to penetrate tough and dense snow more effectively – remember that avalanche debris sets up and becomes difficult to probe very quickly. In general, fast-and-light ski tourists who cover big distances and rack up a lot of vertical favor lighter, shorter carbon probes, while avalanche professionals and patrollers tend to choose longer, heavier aluminum probes. Some people have more than one probe for different conditions.


The probe you choose should be easy and fast to deploy and you should be familiar with how to use it. Practice at home with gloves before taking it into the backcountry. Most modern probes can be deployed in seconds by “whipping” them out and pulling on the string or cable that holds the sections together. If you have difficulty removing your probe from its bag, consider leaving the bag at home.

Note: A dedicated avalanche probe, not ski poles that turn into a probe, is the most functional and quickest to deploy. When a partner is buried you don’t want to spend an extra minute or two removing baskets and screwing pole sections together.

We recommend that backcountry travelers take an AIARE Level One class or equivalent and practice the skills they learn there regularly with their partners. Here are some great resources for avalanche safety education:

— American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education
— American Avalanche Association
— Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center

You should carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe when travelling in avalanche terrain and know how to use them. Backcountry travel requires an acceptance of the risks involved (avalanches are not the only danger) and implies a willingness to take responsibility for educating oneself about these dangers and ways to mitigate them.

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