Emergency Avalanche Beacon




Introduction: Emergency Avalanche Beacon

I made a beer mug with only a knife & a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.

When we talk about survival we often think about geeky objects, cool designs, making-fire-the-old-way and who to eat first when that plane's going down.

I'm not an exception - toys 'n boys, you know. I had a lot of fun designing tools & pooping on steep slopes, but despite the overall satisfaction of these projects I know, for sure, that these creations & reflections won't really save lives.

They'll offer some comfort - especially on steep slopes - or some crafty entertainment at the end of the day.

But saving lives? I'd like to say 'of course', but untill now no-one sent me a 'thanx-for-saving-my-life'-card.

Except one: my ex-wife. Just after the divorce. Ha!

'Survival' has become a term on itself. 'Something we do in the weekend.'

Or in the week, also, when being married to the wrong person. Haha!

Often we like to forget the real meaning of it. We skip that 'survival' is about 'staying alive'.

About fighting for that life.

About being freakin' scared to die.

There's nothing cool about it.

If there's one I'ble of me that can save your life, it'll be this one.

Step 1: Avalanche!

Touched by another heavy avalanche accident - 6 casualties at once - in the French Alps a few days ago I started thinking.

Many years ago, it could have been me. During a snowshoe trek we went totally off cape in a storm. Complete whiteout. Because we knew that part of the mountain was bad business to get stuck, we tried to move on the best we could and then, somewhere, all of a sudden, the whole earth started moving. The crispy snow crumbled in a million pieces under our shoes and I felt washed away before I could realize what was happening. Impossible to define up and down. Bodies kept by gravity.


'This is it.' My only thought of that moment.

We were on the wrong place at the wrong moment. Call it like that.

We all make mistakes, but at high altitude you pay them cash. Always.

We made it that day, alive. My buddy broke his arm & I broke a few ribs. The loss of half of our gear was the smallest of our problems. It took us 39 hours to reach safety, suffering in cold & pain but surfing on emotions & endorfines. We made it. Alive! Survival-mode, you know.

I'll never forget those moments. Never. The surprise, the panic, the fear, the pain.

And the relief, the overwhelming happiness I felt when I smashed into those trees who dispersed the avalanche - and crushed my chest as their way to make me pay for their service.

When years passed by, I started thinking what could have saved our lives that day, if we would just have been a few meters further.

It wasn't that crazy knife. It wasn't that cool fire starter. It wasn't that high-tech survival kit.

What, if we didn't meet that bunch of trees?

Image credits: pixabay - public domain

Step 2: Fact Check

In the French Alps only, 45 people died in avalanche accidents in the season 2014-2015.

In the same season, 11 people died in avalanches in the US.

In 20 years (1995-2015), hundreds of people died in avalanches in Switzerland (map above).

Just a few numbers. This list can fill the whole page.

Did you know that in the first 10 minutes after an avalanche, 90% of the victims are saved?

And that after one hour, the survival rate is less than 40%?

Being found on time. That's what it's all about.

This instructable is not, in the first place, about you how-to-survive that avalanche.

It's about you, being washed away.

It's about you, trapped inside.

It's about you, hoping that someone will get you out of there.

I know, the best way to survive an avalanche is to avoid the avalanche.

I know, you need knowledge about ice & snow conditions, knowledge about the weather, knowledge about trails & slopes. Common sense.

Despite all this knowledge, every year people die.

Every year lives are lost because help just didn't arrive on time.

Think twice, in those snowy mountains. And then once more.

Step 3: Commercial Designs

The past few years a lot of devices have been thrown on the market to increase your chances when gravity is tearing you down.

The avalanche airbag is such a thing.

This device, incorporated in a backpack, helps you to stay above the raging snow. They're two designs, grosso modo: those who block your neck like a life jacket and those who give you 'wings'.

These devices are great. But these devices are expensive and not that compact. They're readymade incorporated in a backpack and thus perfect for daylight-gliders like skiers & snowboarders.

The avalanche balloon is such a thing, also.

This device explodes like previous devices but instead of harnessed to your body it's floating with a rope behind or above you.

I like this device. More than the airbag, it will act as a beacon, guiding rescuers to your location.

I like that idea. A lot. It's compact, not that expensive and so within reach of the moderate mountaineer.

Also in water sports these devices are becoming familiar. Same idea: in case of accident, inflate the balloon and use it as a beacon or a floating aid.

Image credits: pixabay - public domain

Step 4: Me Thinking

The more a device is cheap, the more people will get it.

What I wanted, was a piece of equipment everyone would stick to his survival kit. Not one, but more of them depending the destination.

Knife, fire-starter, water purifying tablets, and That Device.

You're going to cross a risky zone? Fix it to your belt, waist, backpack, wherever it's easy to reach with your hand and the best of luck!

Aim was to make a device that everyone could make at minimum cost. Compact, easy to carry, no nonsense.

When the slope moves, push a button and give yourself a joker to make it alive. Something like that.

I copied the avalanche balloon, in some way.

My version is a lot more basic, but it's so simple that it's zero effort to add it to your survival kit.

It's not a replacement for the commercial ones, don't get me wrong. It's just a superlightweight addition to your survival gear.

Mine's not field-tested, btw. Not yet.

Step 5: 4 Shops

All you need:

  • a cilinder of carbon dioxide (16 gram) & its quick release - available in every bike shop
  • a big strong balloon - available in every fun shop
  • a length of paracord - available in every outdoor shop
  • some powertape - available in every sex shop

That's it. No kidding. Just visit 4 shops.

Total cost: 15 $ - 14 euro - 1000 Indian rupee

Not bad, for a device that can save your life.

Step 6: A + B

Screw the cilinder to the quick release, insert both halfway in the balloon, seal the joint with powertape & add paracord.

You're done!

Step 7: The Testing

Push the button and way you go. The balloon will inflate in a few seconds.


  • It's a good idea to remove the spring of the quick release, because in the original design the valve closes when you stop pushing. Aim is to empty the small cilinder in one push, so exit spring.
  • The stronger the balloon, the better - maybe a strong condom might work, also - think about the 4th shop.
  • Try to find a cilinder with more volume. 16 gram gives limited volume aka a small beacon.

Modify, adapt, hack & improve depending your needs.

Test it & get familiar with it.

Make it yours.

I hope you like this concept and I hope that this ible has been motivating enough to add a small piece of equipment extra to your survival kit.

Stay safe, out there.



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    22 Discussions

    Ooh... Also, thought of another idea... how bout adding a... heating source to the backpack? If you activate that, then... Won't it at least help to melt some of the snow, helping rescuers or simple just letting you live if it's a minor avalanch?

    Great call on trying to think of something cool that provides additional safety. I think your idea is sound but needs a bit more POW to it, The C02 is going to be heavy compressed air might be a better call or some how a small canister of HYDROGEN lol just kidding,, I mean helium. As crappy as it seems to be at the moment, the avalanche vest seems to be the (safest) best bet, but a single vest is like $800-1000 bucks !!

    (the rest of this comment is for people who may not know how a avalanche vest works, I fully believe you know exactly how it works and I am not trying to explain something to you that you already know)

    The reason I say that vest is the best (along with good knowledge of the area) is that it works on science. The vest when triggered, expands and increases your overall surface area. The more surface area you have during and avalanche the more collisions with the surrounding environment, bouncing you upward (more collisions = more energy - bigger objects move upward). This can be easily recreated with a bag of popcorn at the movies, if you have a bag of popcorn and you find all the pieces are small when you grab some to eat, simply vibrate or tightly shake the bag and watch how all the larger pieces of popcorn will migrate to the top and the smaller pieces fall to the bottom.

    Sorry for the crazy long comment but I really like your story and I have also voted for you.

    Cheers Instructabro
    I just made that up,,,,not sure if its cool but what ev.

    2 replies

    Hi corasaurus, thanx for that crazy comment. You know, I tried without succes to get a bunch of small helium canisters - which would have been a much better idea indeed - but I only found a manufacturer in germany and one in china.

    I explained the project to the germans, they looked interested at first view but when I talked about the open source character of it I never got a reply.

    So I stucked to CO2. Now you've got the whole story. Stay safe out there!

    Hah, the part about the Germans crack me up...

    Hm... Thinking bout this... make the carbon thing helium or hydrogen instead... with an aluminum canister... Then, make the balloon bigger, so when you release it, it will fly up a little, ensuring that people can see it. Also, hacking into it to make a way that multiple beacons are released at once will be useful. Imagine, a mob of 20 big balloons flying right around where you got buried... Even blind people would be able to see that.


    2 years ago

    Has anyone created the LED strobey yet? Think a flashing LED throwy- a coin cell powering a high power LED emitting short pulses. That could make this double up as a high-visibility beacon if you got lost up on the slopes after dark. I'd imagine if you are mountain rescue searching for a person in miles of snowy terrain, a big flashing orange circle would be a lot easier to spot than a person in black snow gear among all the trees and rocks.

    2 replies

    At some party stores they sell balloons that have small led lights in them. When the balloon is inflated a tab is pulled and the light begins flashing.

    Idea of a genius, thanx! I presume it's only a small effort to combine both ideas to get something really awesome.

    But, avoid those slopes after sunset in the first place. When you aren't found before your chances are next to nothing...

    Very happy to see a unique and lifesaving creation in this contest. Great work! Btw...is "power tape" different than duct tape? Just asking since duct tape can be purchased at a wide variety of places.

    1 reply

    Glad it made you happy and thanx for the feedback! Power-, duct-, NASA-, that-grey-sticky-one - all the same, only the brand is different.

    By the way, there ARE differences in quality. Once I used the industrial version and those hostages are still plaining...

    Interesting! No avalanches where I do any of my activities, but I do a lot of water sports, and I think would be useful there. Nice problem solving!

    1 reply

    Amazing!!! This is a grate device. where is the button??? Inside of the balloon? if this is attached to your belt how do you release it fast enough so it can float in the snow?

    1 reply

    Look at that blue thing, thàt's the button!

    great and simple! even prefilling if you think you are in a avalanche area would be better and if it does not collapse not a big cost spent on some cheap insurance.

    1 reply

    You're completely right, the best point of this concept is that it's almost a free insurance!

    would a sturdy kids punch balloon be better at least less likely to pop in avalanche?

    1 reply

    Nice Idea.

    Please note that CO2 ballon will "float" over the snow but the rope can compromisse that.

    CO2 ballon will not float in the air as a Helium ballon as CO2 is heavier than air.

    Stay home, nice and warm as I do!!! ;)

    Very good ideia!! This can be very usefull in many other situations!!!

    Best regards

    1 reply

    Thanx anyway, same remark on the helium as earlier!