Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TECH TIPS: Alkaline vs. Lithium Batteries

Winter was a little slow to kick in this year with warm temps throughout most of North America. But, now into the first week in December, most areas have enough snow to get even the most reluctant early season skiers into the mountains.

So, if you are just pulling your beacon out of the closet, make sure to have a look at your battery contacts. Did you leave batteries in the unit all summer? I hope not. If you did, your beacon may look like this:

Alkaline batteries can leak over time. If you have any corrosion on the battery contacts of your PULSE or ELEMENT beacon, then it needs to be inspected and tested at Mammut. Corrosion on the contacts can damage the electronics in the beacon. It is not adequate to simply brush the corrosion off the terminals and play through. It is critical that the beacon is tested, repaired, and possibly replaced.

Alkaline batteries should always be removed when the beacon is being stored during the off season. Additionally, a close inspection of the battery contacts should be done each time batteries are replaced. There should never be any visible corrosion and the contacts should always have ample spring to them.

To eliminate the possibility of alkaline corrosion, Mammut developed LITHIUM capability into the 3.2 (and newer) firmware for the PULSE Barryvox,which was released in early 2012. (If you are not sure which firmware you are running, simply look at the display during start-up--it should say 3.2 or higher.) Lithium batteries have several advantages. They last longer and they are lighter--but even more importantly, they do not leak.

However, there is a catch. Lithium batteries present their own problem--they maintain a "full" battery reading until they suddenly die. Electronic devices struggle to determine the battery's strength because of this unusual life-cycle. So, with firmware 3.2, your PULSE can run lithium batteries by using a timer. When the PULSE 3.2 firmware (or 4.0, etc) identifies lithium batteries, it will ask you if they batteries are new. Never put old lithium's in your beacon--the battery reading will not be accurate unless you begin with new batteries and continue with those batteries until the timer tells you they need to be replaced.  If you remove your lithium batteries, when you replace them it will ask if they are the SAME batteries--if you answer "yes", it will restart the timer where it left off, so it's important these batteries are not used in any other devices while they are removed from the beacon or the timer will be inaccurate.

While this timer system is not perfect--user error could create a situation where bad lithiums are not identified--it does eliminate the problem of damaged electronics due to corrosion which we see as a real issue. Some large user groups, like Canadian Mountain Holidays, have switched to lithium to eliminate any possible damage due to corrosion. So, if you opt for lithium batteries, make sure you start with new batteries and continue with those batteries until the timer runs its' course. If you opt to continue using alkaline batteries, be sure to inspect for corrosion regularly.

Note, that the Element Barryvox can not use lithium batteries.  ONLY alkaline batteries should be used in your Element Barryvox beacon.


  1. When this function of capability with Lithium battery (timer) will be available also in Element model ? I suppose this functionality is dedicated directly for Pulse model at this moment. Am I Right ? I hope not.

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