Lacking Cell Reception? What Kind Of Radios Do Off Roaders Use?
Most everyone that Boogies with friends out on the trail has a Walkie Talkie type radio but might not have a long range (over 5 miles) device other than their cell phone. It can be a challenge given the locations that we go to to have fun in our trucks.
It can be a painstaking event to research the right radio and electronics for your rig, but have no fear we’ve gone that extra mile for you to avoid cell signals and their unreliability. In this article we’ll share what we’ve found so you can make the best radio decision for yourself.
Cell Phone Calling and using Apps
Successfully using Apps or simply making a phone call to your buddies to communicate can be meager at best. The reliability and consistency is lacking when out on the trail just due to location. Even if you have a Signal Booster such as WeBoost or Wilson Amplifiers, it’s only as good as it is.
It can improve your signal and improve connection but the most remote areas of the desert are in fact that…remote. We do not suggest relying on this option for communication.
HAM Radios: Is a HAM Radio Still Relevant?
The Amateur Radio Service genre has continually embraced technology because the goal is to reach further than before with the clearest audio as possible. This can be achieved with a HAM Radio (pejorative nickname). With repeater stations across the country it’s possible to reach out for thousands of miles on a clear day and with the proper equipment.
Understand that this HAM radio option will require a license. Rest assured that it is quite easy to obtain a license but be sure to study up on the latest information as it’s updated quite often. Study material and exams are a paid venture.
A HAM radio comes in different bandwidths and has many styles and options so be sure to do your research before purchasing. Getting on forums and Facebook Groups is a good place to start so you can make an informed purchase with the best compatibility for your intents and purposes.
Once you’ve received your FCC license and have the receiver/transmitter mounted in your truck you have not only upped your communication game but equally joined a community with a vast array of knowledge and experience. Dive into local groups to learn all that the HAM community can offer.
Citizens Band Radio (CB): Is It Legal To Own A CB Radio?
Entry level is where most people start out right? As for simplicity and reliability it doesn't get much more simple than a classic Truck Drivers style CB Radio. A Citizens Band radio or CB for short, might be entry level but it’s hard to beat the price especially since you don’t need a special FCC license to operate it. With no age limits and no license required to operate one legally, this is the voice for most off road applications and travel in general, just ask Long-Haul Truck Drivers.
Range for a CB radio can stretch for 10 miles with a clear line-of-sight to your buddy’s rig. In the tight canyons or various terrain you can reach out for a couple of miles but that can be improved with a higher Watt rating. Most CB radios are compact in design and fit in the cab of your truck without taking up too much room.
VHF or UHF Radios have become more and more popular in the off-road community because of their small size and range capabilities. They operate on the high end of the FM band range, therefore giving the audio clarity and useability for most if not all off road applications. Some types, especially those using VHF and UHF radio spectrum, encounter significantly less static, noise and fading than CBs or walkie-talkies.
A small downside to having all this range is that of becoming legally able to operate your radio. An FCC Commercial Broadcast License will require training and testing at an approved facility or completed online. With many companies offering online courses nowadays, most people opt for the online course
UHF/VHF radios can be found with many options and price ranges. A few we can recommend that have stellar service and build quality are:
Some of the higher end models even come with Bluetooth™ technology so you can listen to your favorite music and seamlessly interrupt-to-talk while out on the trail. For best listening and communication we recommend getting a headset.
Is GMRS Better Than CB?
The choice of most off roaders and the best range for your money is hands down GMRS. General Mobile Radio Service has a total of 22 channel bands. Including 8 channels that are allowed up to 50 watts of power. Most setups come with weather channels as well.
GMRS uses UHF waveforms which are smaller and can travel easier in dense surroundings. Line of sight is not required to get the best possible connection to your buddies on the trail.
When using a CB Radio, the optimal antenna size is around 108” while GMRS handsets can obtain the same performance gains with antennas as short as 30”-35”. If you’re going to use your GMRS radio for trail talk, a few miles apart, the stubby 5”-10” antennas work perfectly and you don’t have to worry as much when it comes to trees trying to rip your antenna off your rig.
Manufacturers such as Midland or Rugged Radios make a compact and reliable, high power, handset that will give you the confidence over other communications to reach out and talk to everyone on the trail.
Hand-Held Walkie Talkie Radios
Hand-held walkie talkie radios have come a long way since your Batman & Robins set from your childhood. With line of sight these can reach up to 2-3 miles and still have good quality audio. Options such as the Motorola Talkabout Two-Way or the Midland Long Range Walkie Talkies have claims of a 35 miles range.
If you don’t want to break the bank and don’t have a need to reach out for beyond 10 miles, the classic Walkie Talkie might be the option for you. The higher end models usually come with a base to charge the handsets and accessories such as clips and lanyards.
The Wrap Up
There are many things on your truck you can get by with by going for a cheap option, Radios and communication are not one of these things. We absolutely advocate for leaving your cell phone on photography duty as much as possible and investing in a quality handset to talk to your buddies.
A quality radio and good line of communication between you or even possibly Emergency services makes all the difference in the event things go bad. We hope you have plenty of good times on the trail and we hope we have helped you to make the best decision for your rig when it comes time for you to buy your next communication device. And remember, Cell Phones might take great photos of your adventure but are not the most reliable for comms out on the trail.