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What is a RECCO reflector and how does it work?

23 April 2024

Exploring the outdoors is an exciting adventure, but it's important to remember that nature can sometimes pose unexpected challenges. From avalanches to outdoor accidents, there are risks we need to be prepared for. That's why proper search and rescue tools are crucial for outdoor enthusiasts like us.

RECCO reflectors, integrated into your clothing and gear, serve as an additional layer of protection, aiding professional rescuers in locating you in emergencies. In this article, we'll explore how RECCO reflectors work and why they're a valuable addition to our outdoor gear.

What is a RECCO reflector?

A RECCO reflector is a small, lightweight (it only weighs four grams) transponder that is a simple solution for outdoor enthusiasts to always be searchable. It's securely attached to clothing and gear, making it highly unlikely to be torn off during avalanches or accidents. This means you won't accidentally leave it behind in the car, lodge, camp or home.

It's a passive device, so there's no need to switch it on or worry about batteries. Plus, it never loses its signal and requires no maintenance. With an unlimited lifespan, it's a reliable tool for any outdoor adventure.

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”We are very happy to work with brands like Revolution Race, who where one of the first to integrate RECCO reflectors into the hiking segment and making people searchable year round.”

Fredrik Steinwall, CEO at RECCO.

How does a RECCO reflector work?

The RECCO technology is a two-part system involving a detector and a reflector. The detector emits directional radar signals similar to the beam of a flashlight. When the signals encounter a reflector, they are reflected back to the detector and point the rescuer in the direction of the victim

There are two types of RECCO detectors: handheld devices used by rescuers on the ground and helicopter-mounted detectors for scanning larger areas swiftly. Handheld RECCO detectors can locate reflectors within a range of up to 80 meters through the air and 20 meters through packed snow. They are used worldwide by over 900 ski resorts and mountain rescue organisations in over 32 countries.

The RECCO SAR helicopter detector can cover larger areas faster - searching from a height of 100 meters and covering an area approximately 100 meters wide; it can search an area of 1km² in six minutes. The helicopter detector is operational at several locations in the Alps, North America, and Scandinavia.

Application of RECCO technology

Avalanche rescue

When Magnus Granhed invented the RECCO system, it was in response to his personal experience with an avalanche tragedy in the 1970s. The aim was to make people electronically searchable for professional rescue teams.

While companion rescue with avalanche transceivers, probes, and shovels remains the primary method for locating buried individuals even today, the RECCO system acts as a valuable complement. When a transceiver signal isn't available or proves ineffective, rescuers equipped with RECCO detectors can swiftly scan the avalanche debris. Using several ways to search for buried individuals increases the chances of a successful rescue.

Outdoor rescue

In outdoor rescue scenarios beyond avalanches, RECCO technology serves as a vital tool for locating individuals in remote areas. The system offers assistance to search teams, whether it's a lost hiker in dense forests, a stranded skier in a vast mountain range, or any outdoor enthusiast venturing into the wilderness.

The RECCO SAR helicopter detector can cover an extensive area quickly when searching for missing people outdoors year-round.

Limitations of RECCO Reflectors

While RECCO technology is a valuable tool for avalanche rescue, it's essential to understand its limitations. First, it’s important to note that RECCO technology is not made for companion rescue or to replace companion rescue with transceivers, probes, and shovels.

The effectiveness of the RECCO system also relies on organised rescue teams having detectors and being deployed, which may take time depending on the situation. Therefore, while the system can aid in search and rescue efforts, it might not always provide an immediate solution and should be considered part of a broader safety strategy during outdoor activities.

The importance of being educated

Prioritising knowledge and education is paramount before embarking on any adventure in the backcountry or remote areas. Knowledge of snowpack stability, terrain assessment, and avalanche rescue techniques can mean the difference between life and death in avalanche-prone areas.

Similarly, hikers should be equipped with navigation skills, first aid knowledge, and awareness of wildlife and environmental risks. If unsure of your skills, stay on well-travelled paths or marked ski runs, or consider hiring a professionally certified guide.

Benefits of RECCO Reflectors

One of the greatest advantages of RECCO technology is that you are always searchable. Thanks to the reflector being permanently built into your clothing and gear, you won’t ever accidentally leave it behind. Plus, it requires no maintenance, activation, or batteries, making it hassle-free. Since it's passive, it won't interfere with personal locator beacons or transceivers.

It's the reliable backup you don't have to think about, but it'll still be there when you need it. Universally applicable across various outdoor activities and available in locations worldwide, having RECCO reflectors in your gear offers an added safety measure whether you're exploring remote terrain or sticking to established trails.

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