Are you looking for the best two-way radios for hiking or backpacking? To help narrow down your options, we’ve listed the best radios you can use for your outdoor adventure. Some call them handheld transceivers or walkie-talkies.
Most outdoor enthusiasts carry them for safety and navigational purposes. You can use two-way radios to communicate with your team for long distances. These radios are affordable, lightweight, rugged, and compact. To help you decide which model is right for you, read on for some tips.
Types Of Two Way Radios
It’s also essential to know the difference between analog and digital two way radios. Analog radios are still used by the military, air traffic control, industrial, and construction business.
However, there are downsides to using analog radios. It can only handle a single transmission at a time on each channel. High usage can limit the effectiveness and clarity of analog radios.
There is no available software or technology update for analog radios when compared to digital radios. However, these radios are rugged, reliable, and very easy to use.
On the other hand, digital two way radios offer wider coverage and make them more reliable in long-range communications. Digital radios also provide higher audio and signal quality. Unlike analog radios, technology has provided digital radios with privacy features.
You can also integrate a variety of data applications and access a wide variety of software upgrades. Not to mention using a digital radio that has GPS features, which is extremely important when you’re out in the wilderness. When it comes to portable radios and battery consumption, the batteries of digital radios can last 40 to 50% longer than analog radios.
Analog and digital radios are both excellent when it comes to communications. But analog radios are more affordable than their digital counterpart because of their simplicity in design. On the other hand, digital radios offer more features and often come with a price.
Advantages of Two Way Radios
The benefit of using two way radios or walkie-talkies is to have clear communications with your backpacking team. For instance, if you’re on an outdoor adventure and cell phone coverage is not available in that area, you can use two way radios to communicate with each other.
Also, you’ll be able to navigate or guide your team and even respond to emergencies. Two way radios are very easy to use, more reliable, rugged, and cost-effective. In the event of a disaster or emergency, cell towers and landlines may fail, but two way radios will continue to work as they don’t rely on cell towers.
Two Way Radio Features
Size and Weight
When choosing the right radio for backpacking, it’s essential to consider a lightweight radio. Find a model that is easy to use and has an ergonomic shape so you’ll be able to use them easily and it also helps you avoid dropping your radio.
Two Way Radio Channels
There are different radio classifications and these include FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service). Typically, there are 22 channels available. However, you’ll need a license to operate on the GMRS band.
For outdoor recreational activities, you can choose FRS radios. On the other hand, anyone can use MURS (Multi-Use Radio Service) channels, but for hiking and backpacking adventures, we would prefer using FRS radios.
VHF and UHF Radios
VHF (Very High Frequency) is a simplex communication system that covers the frequency range from 144 to 148Mhz. UHF (Ultra High Frequency) ranges from 300MHz to 3GHz and covers the frequency range from 420-450Mhz.
For backpacking, hiking, or any outdoor adventure, FRS radios will help you keep track of your group. Most FRS models put out a maximum of 0.5 watts for a radius of 6 miles. GMRS radios offer higher power wattage and cover a wider coverage area.
Base stations can put out 50 to 60 watts of power and the range depends on your location, terrain, obstruction, and antenna setup. A GMRS radio with basic functions and features can reach up to 10-16 miles and higher models may reach up to 36 miles.
Keep in mind that radios with high power are more expensive, not to mention they use more battery power. But the signal coverage is wider and clearer. If you simply want to track your family, friends, or your team when hiking or backpacking, then a low-watt FRS radio will serve its purpose.
CTCSS and CDCSS
An FRS radio features a CTCSS Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) or CDCSS Continuous Digital Coded Squelch System) that helps eliminate interference, especially when the channels are all occupied. CTCSS and CDCSS codes are extremely helpful when you’re transmitting on a busy channel.
VOX or voice-activated feature helps you operate your radio hands-free. This function is useful especially if you’re using trekking poles for hiking, snowboarding, or skiing.
Helps you scan empty channels and find the channels your team is using.
You can call the attention of your hiking team by using the paging feature. Before you start transmitting, a calling tone will be sent to your team.
The keypad lock feature prevents accidentally changing the settings of your radio.
For hiking and backpacking adventures, you can listen to the NOAA weather channel for weather forecasts.
High-end radios offer GPS tracking features. Your team will be able to broadcast their location on your radio’s screen and vice versa.
Most portable radios come with a rechargeable battery pack. Other models can run on AA or AAA batteries. Some of the common types of batteries include Li-Ion, NiMH, and alkaline batteries.
Keep in mind that using high power on your radio will drain your batteries fast. You can use low power to save battery and only use high power when needed. If you’re out hiking in the wilderness, it’s always a good idea to bring a solar battery pack charger.
Tips for Using Two Way Radios
Many factors affect the signal, transmission, and receive function of your radio. These include topography such as mountains and hills. If you’re in the wilderness such as dense forests, the surrounding trees can also affect the performance of your radio.
To achieve the best performance with your two way radio, it’s essential to achieve a good line of sight between you and the other person you’re communicating with.
Best Two Way Radios For Hiking
Motorola T200TP Talkabout Radio, 3 Pack
The Motorola T200TP Talkabout Radio has 22 channels with 121 privacy codes. You can use NiMH rechargeable batteries to power the T200TP for up to 12 hours or you can also use three AA batteries that can last for up to 29 hours.
When the batteries are running low, you can recharge the NiMH batteries using a micro-USB cable into an outlet, computer, or using a vehicle adaptor.
One of the best things about using the T200TP is that they’re compatible with any two way radio, whether GMRS or FRS, as long as you are using the same channel with privacy codes. On the other hand, the Motorola TP200 also features 20 Call Tones, Eco Smart, Low Battery Alert, and Keypad lock.
Motorola TLKR T80 (or T460) Extreme
The Motorola TLKR T80 (or T460) Extreme features 8 channels that can transmit a maximum power of 0.5 watts with a 6-mile radius. The VOX or Voice Operated Transmission for hands-free operation.
Not only does the Motorola TLKR T80 (or T460) feature a clock and stopwatch, but it also has a built-in LED flashlight. The rechargeable NiMH batteries can last a maximum of 16 hours, and you can also use four AAA batteries.
BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two Way Radio
When it comes to the Baofeng BF-F8HP, it features a maximum power output of 8 watts as compared to other Baofeng models that can only transmit a maximum of 4 watts. The rechargeable Li-ion battery is at 7.4v and 2000mAh.
This handset also features a V-85 high-gain antenna with a larger battery and a hardened durable radio shell. You’ll also find an in-depth user guide inside the box.
The power settings include a low power of 1 watt, medium power of 4 watts, and high power of 8 watts. This handheld transceiver can transmit and receive on both VHF and UHF frequencies, VHF: 136-174 MHz and UHF: 400-520 MHz. However, you’ll need a license to operate the Baofeng BF-F8HP or you might get into trouble with the FCC.
Cobra microTALK ACXT1035R-FLT
The Cobra microTALK two way radio is not only waterproof, but it can also float when soaked in water. This handset also features FRS communication with 22 channels, packed with emergency weather alerts and NOAA weather channels.
This handset is perfect for hiking since it has a rubber grip to prevent them from slipping in wet conditions and is JIS7/IPX7 waterproof. The BURP function eliminates water from the speakers so you can hear the other person on the radio loud and clear.
This radio also features a VibrAlert® silent paging, Tri-Watch scan, and Cobra’s Rewind-Say-Again® that automatically records the last 20 incoming transmissions. Outdoor enthusiasts, backpackers, and hikers can benefit from the flashing SOS function and LED flashlight of this two way radio.
You can also operate this handheld transceiver hands-free with the VOX option. The ACXT1035R-FLT runs on six AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and you can also use three AA alkaline batteries.
You can charge this radio with a standard Micro-USB charger and connect it directly to the radio or use the desktop charger that comes with the Cobra ACXT1035R-FLT. This handset also comes with a user manual and warranty.
Midland GXT1000VP4 Two Way Radio
The GXT1000VP4 operates on both FRS and GMRS frequencies and features 50 channels with 387 privacy codes. This handset can receive NOAA weather broadcasts. This handset also has an NOAA All Hazard Alert Radio Whisper that allows you to whisper and you can still be heard clearly.
On the other hand, the VOX feature allows you to use the radio hands-free. The Direct Call feature allows you to alert a specific person without alerting other stations.
The Midland GXT1000VP4 comes with rechargeable batteries and you can also use four AA alkaline batteries. The box comes with a desktop charger, AC adapter, belt clip, mic headset, and an owner’s manual.
For any outdoor adventure, you need a long-range and robust two way radio. While waterproofing is essential, portability is also a crucial factor. Choosing the best two way radio depends on your preference, how much power transmit you need, and if you’ll be using them in extreme conditions.
Your level of experience will also determine what type of handset you’ll need. We recommend the Motorola TLKR T80 (or T460) Extreme since it has a longer battery life as compared to other handsets and it can transmit at a 6-mile radius with 0.5 watts of power.
Keep in mind to familiarize yourself with state laws about using certain radio frequencies. On the other hand, the BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) provides 8-watt power with wider coverage, but you’ll need a license to operate the BF-F8HP. Always choose a radio that will suit your needs and preference.