Combo packages have pros and cons. Buying everything at once is convenient and mindless, plus manufacturers usually discount product slightly if you making a bigger purchase. But avalanche safety gear isn't necessarily where you want to skimp, and your process should be anything but mindless. Depending on terrain, experience, skill, a combo package might not be the best choice. As for me, I tend to stick to lower-consequence terrain throughout the winter and ease my way into more dynamic environments as the snowpack strengthens. As a recreational backcountry skier, I wanted tools that were easy to use and reliable. Earlier in the winter, I opted for the T3 Package from Backcountry Access ($420). The package includes a Tracker3 transciever, a Stealth 270 probe, and the B-1 EXT shovel. It's BCA's most advanced (and expensive) safety package, and it's a great jumping off point for backcountry touring. Here's a bit about each element of the package.
The Tracker3 is a major upgrade from BCA's popular Tracker2. My one beef with the Tracker2 was addressed in BCA's new design, which is smaller and slimmer, making it more comfortable and almost unnoticeable in the skintrack. Once it's in search mode, the large-format display is easy to read, which makes for more efficient pinpointing and less confusing multi-victim rescue. It has a max range of 55 meters and a search strip width of 50 meters. The carry holster and padded shoulder strap add to the beacon's comfort and ease of use.
Stealth 270 Probe
Like the Tracker3, the Stealth 270 has minor design changes that make a major difference. One is the enlarged numerals along the probe's side. The bigger numbers are easier to read and BCA etched them on with lasers, so they won't wear off after repeated use. Another nice feature is the self-stowing cable, which nests in the last segment of the probe so there's no dangling cord interfering with a rescue. BCA reinforced the probe tip to make debris-penetration easier, which I haven't been able to test much with this year's faceted snowpack. BCA claims the fastest assembly on the market, which I can't corroborate, but one thing is for certain: once the Stealth 270 is assembled, it stays together and feels sturdy. Fully extended, the probe is 270cm, but collapsed it measures just 45cm, meaning it stows nicely in your pack.
B-1 EXT Shovel
I've used a variety of BCA products in the past, but the one item that I was repeatedly disappointed with was their B-1 shovel. The extendable shaft stuck, negating the shovel's efficiency, and it was hollow, meaning it clogged with snow. BCA has addressed the snow-clogging by adding an end-cap to the shaft, keeping the snow out; and so far, the new B-1 EXT hasn't shown the same tendency to jam. The shovel is lightweight at only 1.3 lbs., so it stowes nicely in my pack, but it can feel flimsy at times when digging in hard snow.
Again, for the backcountry beginner still learning the ropes, a combo package like the T3 is a great bargain and simplifies the buying process. You'll most likely want to custmoize your kit as you practice more with your tools, identifying each item's pros and cons and how they work for you. The BCA package is available at retailers around town, and online at backcountryaccess.com.