Indispensable gear is the equivalent of a PFD on a boat or a seat belt in a car - the basic stuff that everyone needs. A transceiver, shovel, and probe are really one piece of rescue gear, you need to have all three pieces, not just one or two.
In the event of an avalanche the difference between the life and death of a buried victim is minutes. You cannot afford to waste anytime trying to figure out your gear! You need to be well practiced and efficient with the functions of your gear and your search and rescue system. Take a course and PRACTISE, PRACTISE, PRACTISE!!
Avalanche transceivers should be worn by every person entering the backcountry. Transceivers are small electronic devices that transmit a radio signal, thus in the event of an avalanche the people who were not buried can switch their transceiver to the search mode and follow the signal towards a buried person(s). Transceivers have changed dramatically over just the past few years and innovative developments continue to appear.
Each type has its own way of working. Some require you to make volume adjustments, while others do it for you. Some change the sound they make depending on how close you are, while others have lights or arrows pointing in the direction of the buried person. Some can give you instructions on what to so next and some return to transmit mode after a set amount of time.
Digital transceivers convert the signal from the buried set into visual and audible signals that aid the searcher. Analogue transceivers do not apply any enhancement to the signal; the beep you hear is the actual unprocessed signal from the transmitting set. There is a change in volume when the searching analogue set receives a stronger signal.
It is important to know how to use these features on your transceiver. It is also important to know how to use the generic search techniques described in this pamphlet that will work with all 457 kHz models.
Older transceivers with a frequency other than 457 kHz, or that feature more than one frequency, are either incompatible or they are technically insufficient and should be destroyed. If you are uncertain whether your transceiver complies with the EN* standards, contact the NZ agent of the manufacturer.
Remember avalanche transceivers require lots and lots of practice to acquire and maintain proficiency.
Shoveling is an extremely important aspect of avalanche rescue. A proficient and strategic shoveling technique can save you minutes, which is critical for the buried person. Please check out the V-Conveyor Strategy. It is extremely important that you select a good shovel and practice as often as possible.
What makes a good shovel? Needless to say we all would like a light shovel, but you need to make sure that that strength isn't compromised. Bigger is better, but it does need to fit into or on you pack. Plastic is not good!!! When exposed to cold temperatures and hard avalanche debris plastic breaks! Another important aspect is an extendable shaft. A shovel blade with a flat top is helpful for stepping on when chopping blocks and in hard avalanche debris.
Avalanche transceivers will bring you close to the buried victim, but a probe is what will actually find the person. Probes are like sectional tent poles that snap together. Systematic probing allows you to exactly pinpoint the location of the buried person, which indicates the direction you need to start digging towards.
Probes vary in length, stiffness, and materials, which translate into differences in weight, durability, and cost. Generally, the smaller diameter the more they'll bend and deflect. Carbon is light and strong (with a sufficient diameter) but more expensive. The locking mechanism and line are quite important: you want a reliable and durable mechanism and a cable that doesn't stretch (slack means wear, tear, and breaking).
240 cm is the shortest standard length which works fine in drier climates and for rescue; if you're in deeper snowpack areas or using it for snowpack observations consider a 320 cm version.
Some probes have centimeter markings, which is a great tool that allows a probe to serve as a ruler when you're probing the snow making observations or digging for your partner.