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Thread: Two way radios..

  1. #1
    Senior Member SherpaWill's Avatar
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    Two way radios..

    I’ve been thinking about getting a couple of two way radios for hiking. Does anyone here use them and how well do they work in the Whites?
    Last edited by SherpaWill; 08-01-2018 at 10:17 AM.

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    Senior Member richard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SherpaWill View Post
    I’ve been thinking about getting a couple of two way radios for hiking. Does anyone here use them and how well do they work in the Whites?
    I use them on occasion. Mine are an old pair of “Audiovox” low cost ones and they work very well. The only problem I have is they take a large amount of AAA batteries. The new ones don’t use many batteries.If you hike with a partner they can really come in handy.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by richard View Post
    I use them on occasion. Mine are an old pair of “Audiovox” low cost ones and they work very well. The only problem I have is they take a large amount of AAA batteries. The new ones don’t use many batteries.If you hike with a partner they can really come in handy.
    What kind of a range do they have? I have contemplated getting a set for when I am in Baxter. If my wife ever actually comes with me my usual InReach messages to her cell phone will not work so I'd need some alternative method of contacting her in camp when I am out on the trail. Not sure if how radios work when I am on the other side of a ridge, in a valley, etc. Have zero experience with radios.
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    Senior Member nartreb's Avatar
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    I've used various radios a few times, from lightweight drug-store single-frequency cheapos to more serious sets, with mixed results. There are a number of pitfalls which mean that radios are least likely to work when you need them most.

    1) limited range. Even in ideal conditions, your cheap walkie-talkie will not reach very far. A mile? So if you're more than fifteen minutes apart, you're on your own. You might as well just hike together. More expensive radios (around $200 for a pair) advertise ranges of 20 miles or more, but that's a wild exaggeration in practice, due to the next problem.

    2) line-of-sight limitations. Radio waves won't penetrate rock, and are seriously attenuated by thick trees (also rain and snow). So unless you've got a base station, repeater, satellite, etc (and a radio powerful enough to cover that distance), you're largely limited to talking to people in the same valley as you, and mostly in good weather. That means that if somebody takes a serious wrong turn and goes down the wrong side of a ridge, or gets lost in nasty enough terrain or conditions, they're gone. You might get a couple miles out of your "thirty-mile" radio; more if you're both standing on open summits.

    3) interference. Other people using the same wavelength can be very confusing.

    I've had some success with radios on a climbing trip - cuts down on shouting between leader and belayer, and between rope teams. That was short distance, line of sight stuff. Other uses were not very reliable.
    Last edited by nartreb; 08-01-2018 at 12:21 PM.

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    Senior Member richard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post
    What kind of a range do they have? I have contemplated getting a set for when I am in Baxter. If my wife ever actually comes with me my usual InReach messages to her cell phone will not work so I'd need some alternative method of contacting her in camp when I am out on the trail. Not sure if how radios work when I am on the other side of a ridge, in a valley, etc. Have zero experience with radios.
    Iíve used mine when hiking with a partner. Whenever I would lose sight of him on the trails. They work fine under those circumstances. I never tried them for long distances. I would assume the better quality ones would be better suited for longer distances.

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by richard View Post
    I would assume the better quality ones would be better suited for longer distances.
    Not necessarily... All such radios are under federal frequency, power, and antenna limitations.

    BTW, the OP did not specify a type of radio. I'm assuming he is referring to FRS radios. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_Radio_Service

    If you are lucky, you might get the advertised range over a line-of-sight path, but as nartreb noted the range in trees and/or hills will be far less. At times I've been unable to make contact with another user at 1/4 mile under such conditions.

    Doug
    Last edited by DougPaul; 08-01-2018 at 06:23 PM.

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    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    FRS is good for ski areas and following cars on a road and not a whole lot more than that, in my experience. We used them extensively in the bike racing business years ago, mainly for the pace car to communicate to marshalls to stop traffic at upcoming intersections. On a short enough course (criterium) most places could reach the registration and start/finish and officials.

    GMRS is better (higher power) but requires an FCC license to be legal. Everyone in my family now owns a mobile phone and ski areas have excellent coverage so radios are not helpful there. They are helpful up in the logging road mazes of Maine where there isn't any cell coverage.

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    Senior Member Tom Rankin's Avatar
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    Many years ago, I was at the summit of Katahdin, and chatting on the radio with others in our group. I heard whatever they said thru the device, and then a few seconds later, I heard it again from the air!
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    Senior Member jniehof's Avatar
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    Reasonable options are ham or FRS.

    Ham requires a license but it's not that hard to get; the problem is that of course then everybody needing to use a radio needs a license. Performance in the Whites is pretty good because there are some well-positioned repeaters. Last I checked some of the repeaters did have emergency phone-patch capability so you'd have a chance of getting in touch with 911 (although they wouldn't be able to call you back.) Expect to pay ~$100-$200 for a good radio; reasonable used can often be had for less.

    FRS is no license, no repeaters, limited antenna, limited power. However late last year the power limit on some frequencies was increased so that the performance is closer to GMRS (without repeater). Some GMRS handhelds are now legally usable in "high power" mode without a license. No phone patch or other way of getting in touch with help. Expect to pay $10-$20 for a crappy radio that might be as useful as a tin can with a long string, or $40-60 for a decent unit. After much research I picked up a two-pack of the Motorola T600 on Amazon for $85; haven't had a chance to test them in the mountains yet. I don't expect more than a mile of range. I had a few situations this summer where I had to split a group and would have appreciated being able to keep in touch with my coleader over that sort of distance.

  10. #10
    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jniehof View Post
    Reasonable options are ham or FRS.

    Ham requires a license but it's not that hard to get; the problem is that of course then everybody needing to use a radio needs a license.
    As far as the difficulty of obtaining a Ham Radio license IMO that is relative to oneís knowledge base. If you are familiar with electrical theory already for instance then it might not be that difficult. For most I would say that obtaining the entry level license would require some studying. Here is an example of the test. https://hamexam.org/exam/12-Technician

    As far as everyone in your group needing a license that is correct if you want to talk to each other. If using a repeater or simplex (direct line of sight transmission) you are allowed to talk with other licensed operators that may not be in your group. Depending on what your goals are your type of radio needs may vary. Licensed Ham Radio will enable you to operate within the VHF frequencies which has a better range than the UHF frequencies which is where GMRS and FRS reside. If you are keeping your group together then most of the time you should be within line of sight therefore you should be able to communicate via a UHF radio. Although many terrain features will inhibit those transmissions. In other words you are not within line of sight when the person you are trying to talk with is over the side of a ridge. VHF will be better in that regard but still subject to line of sight but to a lesser degree because of a lower take off angle of the transmission itself. The biggest advantage to VHF in the Whites is the availability of repeaters. Repeaters are strategically placed. For example there is a very good VHF repeater on top of Mt. Washington. The use of a repeater enables the operator to transmit their signal to the repeater then having the repeater retransmit the signal. The effect is that the original signal is usually being retransmitted from the repeater from a higher location therefore increasing the range of line of sight. The network in the White Mountain region of repeaters is reasonably extensive. Enough that most of the area is covered except for the deepest valleys. If your goal is to talk short distances GMRS or FRS will probably work OK. If you are looking to communicate in a situation beyond the distance of what would be considered safe of a group together then VHF (Licensed Ham Operator) has way better capabilities. Being able to use repeaters is a big advantage. For example: You are at Kinsman Pond. You are using a GMRS Radio. The person you are trying to communicate with is on the Fishing Jimmy Trail over the side of the bench towards Lonesome Lake out of the line of sight. Not likely you are going to communicate. Or...you are on VHF Radio. There is a Repeater on Cannon Mt. which there is. You can transmit to the repeater from Kinsman Pond. The other operator down towards Lonesome Lake can also transmit to the repeater on Cannon Mt. The two of you can now communicate together. Also being able to talk to VHF repeaters gives you the capability of getting outside help. There are GMRS repeaters but they are more prevalent in urban areas. If any are in the White Mountain region they are limited if any. VHF repeaters are much more prevalent and have greater range capabilities. For example from my home base in the MWV the Mt. Washington repeater enables me to talk into northern Vermont, Maine, and even into Quebec. Without it I would be limited to the local area of about a 20-30 mile radius.
    Last edited by skiguy; 08-03-2018 at 04:36 PM. Reason: spelling
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