2-Way Radios Review – FRS, Talkabout, Ham, More for Backcountry Skiing


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

I’m a big advocate of using 2-way radios for communication while backcountry skiing, especially in avalanche terrain. To minimize risk in avalanche areas, it is essential to spread your party out, often traveling or skiing down one at a time. Thus, communication can be a challenge; shouting and wild gesturing only go so far, especially in storm conditions. In one documented fatal accident, party members below a skier tried to gesture and shout for the skier to turn out of the avalanche path, but the skier keep heading down and was killed.

If every backcountry skiing party member carries and uses a 2-way radio, you can prevent these types of situations, more, you’ll find you can relax a bit more, and your whole day of backcountry skiing or other outdoor recreation may yield more fun. (Tip: rig heavily used 2-ways with a small speaker mic that’s clipped in a convenient location on the exterior of your jacket or pack strap, so you don’t have to dig for your radio every time you use it.) A wide choice of small consumer “blister pack” two-way radios are available. What is more, if you choose to acquire an amateur (ham) radio license, you can use a variety of well made mil-spec radios that are perfect for backcountry sports.

Family Radio Service (FRS & GMRS, see glossary at bottom of this article) “talkabout” are the radios most commonly marketed to average consumers, and are known by hobbyists as “blister pack” radios such as those in our recommended shopping links (as opposed to higher quality units).

Blister pack radios use frequencies (AKA channels) specified by the FCC with little to no licensing requirements. Low-end versions work fine if you’re chatting strictly line-of-site a short distance. Indeed, they’re so meager you can lose contact with someone as soon as they round a corner on the trail. More more powerful models using GMRS frequencies will work slightly farther apart. GMRS frequencies are included in nearly any good quality FRS “blister pack” radios these days, and we’d say having them is essential. How to know? Generally, any blister pack radio sold these days with 22 channels has GMRS and provides more transmit power to some degree. Again, for an example of such models see our shopping links to right.

Sadly, all blister pack radios are nearly useless for calling help in an emergency (as in most areas the channels are not monitored), and they’re usually restricted to line-of-sight unless you get lucky with your signal bouncing around and projecting into a nearby valley. Also, you’ll usually have no system of repeaters (as sometimes exist for ham radio, some business systems, etc.) that’ll get your FRS/GMRS signal some distance to the right people in an emergency. Thus, for backcountry emergency help calls, you’ll still need something like a SPOT or satphone.

In terms of specific product recommendations, we’ve tested dozens of blister pack radios over the years. We’ve enjoyed using some of the smaller ones that save weight and bulk, but such models frequently lack features, power and battery life. Instead, we favor slightly larger units with more battery and larger, easier to operate controls. Best we’ve found in that class are the Motorola MJ270R (slightly smaller) and Mj35OR (larger, more power options) models. These take AA batteries or a rechargeable battery pack, have LCD flashlight feature, Denali tested. One such model, the Garmin Rino, even combines a decent quality GPS with an FRS/GMRS radio, and has tested out well. New models of blister pack radios are constantly introduced, suggestions welcome, please leave comments.

When you shop for a radio, look for these features:
- 22 channels, radio sold as “FRS/GMRS”
- AA battery capability, along with rechargeable option
- Control key lock (most better radios have this)
- Easily accessed dial/knob volume/on/off control rather then fiddly buttons
- Speaker mic and/or earphone connector
- Privacy codes
- Weather channels
- Lots of options to turn OFF annoying beeps and rings
- Battery life meter

When shopping, you’ll see packaging verbiage about how the radio is good for “22 miles, 37 miles” and so on. I have no idea where they get those numbers, they’re stupid, but do indicate relative power of different models within a brand. Even so, the claimed mileage rating is of little concern for backcountry skiing or ski mountaineering use so long as you’re buying a good quality unit in the upper ranges. Essentially, any radio that uses the FRS/GMRS frequencies is limited to line-of-sight, though a signal may skim and reflect over ridges and other terrain features, thus allowing “blind” communication.

Nearly any 2-way radio will let you set a “privacy code” or “interference eliminator code” with each frequency (aka channel). These are simply subaudible tones known as CTCSS tones. The idea is your radio will only let you hear transmissions that include the code. This works fairly well, but can be of limited usefulness if someone else nearby of with high power is transmitting on your chosen frequency, as you’ll still get “stepped on” and momentarily be unable to transmit or receive despite the use of privacy codes. Remember this glitch if you’re using your radio in places where radio use is heavy, such as ski resorts. Solution is to simply turn off all privacy codes, then switch channels (or scan, if your rig has that option) till you find one that’s being used less. Communicate use of that channel to your friends, set a mutual privacy, and you’re good to go.

Note that beyond the blister pack models, FRS/GMRS radios of ostensibly better quality and more power can be had. While some of these might be worth considering, we’ve found the blister pack units to work so well we see little need to spend more money. If nothing else, we like the feeling of using a radio that’s inexpensive enough to not worry about dropping or loosing.

In our experience, the biggest problem with blister-pack radio durability is moisture damage. At the least, acquire a unit that’s rated as “water resistant” or “water proof” to standard JIS4. This means you can probably use the unit in light rain without damage. Mainly, if you come back from the wild with a soaked radio, dry it out before storage. Use of corded speaker mic allows storage of the radio inside your backpack and is the best solution to weather issues. As with all electronics, carry a few spare ziplocks in case you need to weather a torrent.

Other radio options

Citizen Band (CB) The trucker “10-4″ type radio. For backcountry use don’t bother with this interference prone, limited range band, filled with bandit high power operators shouting profanity and clogging the airways (thanks for nothing FCC). It can be useful to have a small inexpensive CB mounted in your vehicle, left off most of the time and used to chat with truckers on the open road or with others while on 4×4 trails. Some CB radios are sold with weather channels, a useful feature (use it as your weather radio, while using your other radios for communication). In our experience, FRS/GMRS radios have pretty much taken over from CB, and the only people still using CB are truckers and the occasional group of 4×4 enthusiasts.

Amateur Radio (ham). If you’re serious about using a two-way radio for trail “inter-comm” — and for emergencies — get your amateur “ham” license (easier than you think). Doing so allows you to use a wide selection of high power “dual band” handheld radios, many of which are waterproof and shock resistant. Pricy, however.

The beauty of ham radio is that ham clubs everywhere in the country have amazing systems of repeaters that allow effective emergency communication from places where a cell phone call is a joke.

The problem with using a ham radio for backcountry skiing or other recreation is that very few of your buddies will take the time to get a license. It’s best if they do so, but if you fail to convince them here is the solution: They can still carry a ham type radio configured for all the emergency frequencies, but they can only transmit on those freqs in an emergency (it’s legal to transmit on any freq in a life/death emergency). For inter-party communication (inter-comm) on the trail, simply get an FCC business license for one of the frequencies in the business band (see information later in this article). Keep everyone on your licensed frequency, and you’re cool. I’ve also heard that many people simply use the FRS frequencies with a ham radio (see below) for trail intercomm. Using FRS/GMRS with a programable ham radio possibly breaks FCC rules, but in some expert’s opinion can be done in ways that make it acceptable.

For example, if you make the correct hardware modifications to a dual band ham radio, you can use such a radio to monitor (scan) the the blister pack FRS/GMRS frequencies. To keep this legal, you can’t transmit anything but emergency calls on the FRS freqs. Some experts say you can also follow a few rules and transmit FRS/GMRS, mainly by limiting your transmit power and using an antenna that’s permanently attached directly to your radio. Others have told me that the rules require you to be using a radio certified by FCC for FRS or GMRS. Whatever the case, we’ve found that simply using blister pack radios is brilliant for 95 percent of our needs so using other radios has become a non issue.

2-Way Radio Reference Information

FRS and GMRS Radio Frequencies (aka freqs or channels, indicator (channel) numbers used by Motorola and many other brands but are not a standard)
1—462.5625 GMRS/FRS
2—462.5875 GMRS/FRS
3—462.6125 GMRS/FRS
4—462.6375 GMRS/FRS
5—462.6625 GMRS/FRS
6—462.6875 GMRS/FRS
7—462.7125 GMRS/FRS
8—467.5625 FRS (limited power in any radio)
9—467.5875 FRS (limited power in any radio)
10–467.6125 FRS (limited power in any radio)
11–467.6375 FRS (limited power in any radio)
12–467.6625 FRS (limited power in any radio)
13–467.6875 FRS (limited power in any radio)
14–467.7125 FRS (limited power in any radio)
15–462.5500 GMRS/FRS
16–462.5750 GMRS/FRS
17–462.6000 GMRS/FRS
18–462.6250 GMRS/FRS
19–462.6500 GMRS/FRS
20–462.6750 GMRS/FRS
21–462.7000 GMRS/FRS
22–462.7250 GMRS/FRS

FRS freqs 8 through 14 can be best for short distance communication, since they don’t overlap more powerful GMRS frequencies other people may be using. On the other hand, if you’re in a relatively unpopulated area I’d suggest figuring out what higher power options your radio has, and using those channels/settings if your party tends to get spread out. Penalty for doing this is battery life, but keep your transmissions short and you shouldn’t have any problem (transmitting is what uses up battery, listening uses minimal power unless your radio speaker is constantly blaring).

Tips for better radio range: Radios have much better range between units if the antennas are oriented in the same plane. Standard in radio use is to orient antennas vertically, thus, remind all party members to hold or locate radio so the antenna is vertical. Know that any solid object between you and your intended receiver can attenuate your signal, that includes your body and backpack. If you’re having problems with reception, try holding the radio as high as possible at arms length above your head, or seek higher ground. If you’re in the fringe of performance, sometimes simply walking around while receiving can help you find a sweet spot.

If you and your friends use programmable ham type radios and don’t want to attempt using FRS/GMRS, the following business “Dot” Frequencies are good for radio chat. Always listen before you talk, so you won’t interfere with someone — use of these frequencies is common. These frequencies require an easy to obtain license. One license for one business covers any number of radios used by that one operation. For license information, contact the FCC at 717-337-1212 or http://www.fcc.gov. An itinerant freq is one used when moving around (such as by a delivery service). Before licensing a freq, monitor it when you’re at your backcountry haunts to make sure it’s not being heavily used by someone else. Hopefully, the FCC will try to analyze this when you get a license, but nothing is better than checking for yourself.

color and freq
Red…….151.625 itinerant
Purple….151.955
Blue……154.570
Green…..154.600
White…..462.575
Brown…..464.500 itinerant
Yellow….464.550 itinerant
no color..151.505 itinerant
no color..158.400 itinerant
no color..469.500 itinerant
no color..469.550 itinerant

GLOSSARY OF RADIO TERMS

Blister Pack Radio… FRS/GMRS radio sold in plastic packaging, lower priced for general consumer use.

HT… handheld transceiver or handy talkie.

Freq … radio frequency.

GMRS … General Mobile Radio Service (consumer frequencies that FCC allows to be used with more power though license may be required).

Ham … an amateur radio operator licensed by the FCC.

FCC … Federal Communications Commission.

Broadcast … to transmit like television or commercial radio.

Transmit … to talk on a 2-way radio.

Receive … listen to a 2-way radio.

Hand Mic … a small microphone/speaker attached by a cord to your radio, aka Speaker Mic.

PTT … Push-To-Transmit, usually refers to the switch you press to talk.

Speaker mic … same as above.

VOX … voice operated transmit switch, acronym for VOX or Voice Operated eXchange (usually works poorly in backcountry sport environments due to incidental noise).

More two way radio shopping options

Comments

52 Responses to “2-Way Radios Review – FRS, Talkabout, Ham, More for Backcountry Skiing”

  1. Robert September 8th, 2011 11:59 am

    Do any in-helmet radios exist? Any suitable for ski touring?

  2. Lou September 8th, 2011 12:02 pm

    Robert, I’m not sure of any units that are totally in the helmet, but it’s easy to wear an earbud with a tiny mic and transmit switch, and keep the radio in a pocket. Louie and I did that for a while, I suspect it’s pretty common on ski movie making.

  3. Lou September 8th, 2011 12:06 pm

    Cool stuff here, including wireless: http://www.pryme.com/

  4. Dave September 8th, 2011 12:35 pm

    Lou, I’ve heard that cell phones can interfere with transceivers working properly. Not sure of the accuracy of this (but heard via ski patroller friends). Thus, I am wondering if there is any similar concern with two-way radios?

  5. Jonathan Shefftz September 8th, 2011 1:05 pm

    Beacon interference from a simple cell phone or FRS/GMRS radio is typically only when actively transmitting and even then is usually pretty minor.
    “Smart” phones though are another situation entirely: even when not [apparently] doing anything, a smart phone can cause nearly crippling interference when worn somewhere on the body, and with the searching beacon held fairly closely to the body as it often is.
    So, although good to test with your particular setup, I highly doubt that an FRS/GMRS radio sitting in your pocket or strapped to your pack is going to cause a problem when searching with a beacon (unless you’re calling someone on the radio, in which case simultaneously trying to talk on a radio and conduct a beacon search isn’t a good idea anyway).

  6. Lou September 8th, 2011 1:44 pm

    Dave, nothing more than a headlamp would cause, unless you choose to transmit, and in that case even if it did happen it would be intermittent and cease as soon as you quit talking.

    Most of this concern is blown WAY out of proportion. It’s like, you know how they ask everyone to turn off electronic devices during aircraft landing and taking off? You want to bet that a good proportion of folks don’t bother. Does it affect anything? Probably not, or planes would be falling out of the sky left and right.

    Nonetheless, just as they ask us to do in aircraft safety, it’s probably a good idea to turn off your smartphone/cellphone and not transmit on your radio when you’re doing a beacon search.

  7. Hojo September 8th, 2011 3:02 pm

    Here are a few other useful frequencies for the masses:

    Weather Band Frequencies:
    162.400
    162.425
    162.450
    162.475
    162.500
    162.525
    162.550

    And if you happen to be coastal or hitting the vast and treacherous Minnesota Backcountry around the Mississippi:
    Marine 14: 156.700
    Marine 16: 156.800 (hailing/emergency).

  8. Lou September 8th, 2011 3:35 pm

    Nice Hojo, thanks.

  9. Dave September 9th, 2011 11:48 am

    Thanks Lou and Jonathan! Good beta.

  10. Jonathan L September 9th, 2011 8:37 pm

    After getting my ham license few years back, I splashed out for a Kenwood TH-6A. Tri Frequency, dual band, programmable. 400 channel memories. Programmed via my laptop and an obscure cable. Lithium battery, AA adapter if you need. You can limit the TX power per frequency so you don’t blow up your friend’s half watt FRS radio.

    After a little surgery, you can also expand the transmit range into a lot of frequencies the FCC doesn’t think you should be on. These include all the SAR and Ski patrol frequencies. I have the surrounding 500 miles of freqs on my radio. Why would you do this? Cause in an emergency, if my buddy is bleeding out, I’m going to use them. And if the FCC wants my radio and license they can have it. And I’ll pay the fine.

    Meantime, I don’t transmit on them. Ever. But I do listen. On 2 bands at once. One band for my buddy’s blister pack radio and the other on ski patrol when I’m in-bounds so I know when the chute you don’t know about is about to get opened. Radiostays tucked inside my jacket where it’s warm with a PTT speaker mic clipped on my lapel.

    Because it’s line of sight, it’s kind of a crappy emergency tool. In the states I’m carrying a SPOT in the backcountry, overseas I rent a sat phone and pay for GlobalRescue. But I have to carry another GPS to tell them where I am to send the heli if it all goes to hell. More weight, more gear. I’m lusting after buying the new Iridium Extreme with GPS and the emergency button but the yearly fees are still holding me back. But, they’re coming down, and it’s less stuff to carry, so who knows.

  11. Lou September 10th, 2011 6:52 am

    Jonathan, good job with that radio. Not sure about the Iridium Extreme GPS, as it probably eats batteries like a grizzly munching on strawberries, and if the firmware in the model 555 is any indication, the GPS functions will be at the stone age level, but we’ll see (To be fair, 555 menu system, while primitive, is easy to navigate when you don’t use the phone daily). I’ve found my satphone to be the ultimate solution. Somewhat expensive, but I save the yearly SPOT fee of course, as well as lots of time I would have otherwise spent messing around with other systems. I’m on the Iridium plan where you buy minutes in advance, and I buy the minimum every year. I don’t recall exactly, but I think I spend about $550/year. Per month, not bad for a guy like me who is out of cell phone range at least several days a week.

  12. mike zweifel September 20th, 2011 11:43 am

    I cannot find any information regarding the “dot” frequencies mentioned in the story on the fcc.gov site. Do you have any links?

  13. Lou September 20th, 2011 12:06 pm

    Mike, perhaps that’s an antiquated term. Whatever the case, the FCC allocation for those frequencies still exists as far as I know and they can be easily licensed for business use. I’ve heard quite a few folks transmit on those frequencies without license, in places where they won’t step on other users, but doing so is illegal no matter what.

    Here is an FCC page: http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/index.htm?job=service_bandplan&id=industrial_business

    Lou

  14. Andy December 19th, 2011 11:56 am

    you’re also supposed to license your GMRS radios- once that’s done, your whole family is covered. The “dot” frequencies are called itinerant frequencies in FCC rules. Get acquainted with the rules and possible penalties- your buddies definition of emergency might not be the same as the fed’s.

  15. James Hamaker January 7th, 2012 8:44 pm

    I reccommend a Wouxun hand held for an everything radio. Not water(proof). $125 at Wouxun.us. Get a ham licence and the programing cable.

    NB: The CTSS tones (privacy codes) are not standard between makes or modles of FRS/GMRS radios. Get a modle w/ the option of no privacy code when mixing makes and modles.

    When licenced FRS (Ch 8-14) is legaly limited to .5 Watts.
    GMRS is licenced up to 2 Watts and can reach about twice as far.

    Repeater operators, including Gov’t entities often chance repeater frequencies et al. Repeaters can also go off line, many are seasonal . . . Don’t count on them.

    Also leave the frequency info that you monitor with whoever is going to call the sheriff to rescue you.

    If all your devices (avy beacon, camera, GPS, headlamp, radio . . .) reqire the same batteries (I use AA), then you will have batteries when you need them. Rem fresh Lithium batteries may fry some devices.

  16. RobinB February 24th, 2012 7:02 pm

    Some of the “dot” frequencies are also known as Multi Use Radio Service I believe. The MURS freqs are license free in the US and will also be able to be used in Canada next year. The regs state that they are only to be used with a MURS radio that is limited to two watts.

  17. Lee March 27th, 2012 12:35 am

    I agree with James Hamaker & Jonathan L. amateur radio is the way to go. I come from a background of 37 years as back-country forest/park ranger. Worked throughout the U. S. I personally carry both a SPOT & 5 watt VHF/UHF amateur radio while in the back-country. Side note Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) with both GPS & 406 mHz FM transmitter are better than SPOT with GPS transmitter/receiver for emergencies. But back to amateur radios, there are networks thousands of radio repeaters worldwide for most countries in the free world. There is no morse code required anymore to study for amateur license. Today newer amateur handhelds radio also can send text messages, email, and live tracking through repeaters link to computers on internet (D-STAR / APRS). Several amateur radios radio are mil spec for cold, heat, dust, waterproof, & falls. Lastly a basic 5 watt amateur handheld radio with a basic external antenna attachment can use repeater to satellites (about 10 minute windows) and are capable to talk to astronauts or cosmonauts on the International Space Station (ISS).

  18. Alex P October 2nd, 2012 8:07 am

    Are there any combination earphone/microphone accessories for two-way radios out there that folks would recommend? I think I’d rather keep the radio tucked away in a jacket pocket while in the backcountry.

  19. Lou Dawson October 2nd, 2012 8:40 am

    Alex, in my experience what works best for tucking the radio away is to simply run a speaker mic. I don’t like the way an earphone plugs up one ear, since being able to hear situation sounds from both ears is important for safety etc.

    I’m pretty sure this speaker mic works for most Motorola radios, many others are available if this one doesn’t

    Speaker Mic for MOTOROLA

  20. Theron January 13th, 2013 7:36 pm

    I always liked the idea of coupling a FRS radio with a police scanner, which increases the range tremendously. You could put the Yagi antenna on the police scanner and program the freq of the channel the person out in the wild is using to hear them better. If you have a FRS that has the remote antenna that mounts on a car even better, as you can put this on the roof of the shack and have reliable communications as well.

  21. Lou Dawson January 13th, 2013 11:16 pm

    Theron, is there an FRS sold with remote antenna?

  22. Terry January 17th, 2013 2:02 am

    Big appreciation to all the “hams” – James H, Jonathan L & Lee – for bringing up the advantages of VHF/UHF. I’ve ordered some books and am going to study up for my ham license. This extra knowledge and ability to use amateur radio seems like it’ll be a big convenience and extra safety in the backcountry! Thanks so much, guys!!!

  23. Ben Arie May 3rd, 2013 2:22 am

    This is a very complete list, thank you for the article. I’m another amateur radio user. FRS and GMRS are nice, but ham radio is just in a whole ‘nother class. The ability to hit repeaters 10 or even 30 miles away is fantastic, and adds a new communication capability to the backcountry. Thanks again for the article — Ben, KD8POH

  24. UV3R July 9th, 2013 2:11 pm

    One quick note, the type of radio that you use can vary, depending on the area. Some places have repeaters in place for GMRS radios — then, obviously, that type of radio exists. In other ski areas, there is good amateur radio coverage. There are some good websites that list the different repeaters and radio frequencies used in an area.

  25. Jim Milstein September 27th, 2013 10:11 pm

    All these short range and HAM radios are fine if you need another hobby. I don’t and just sold mine. The new DeLorme inReach SE does what I need. It combines GPS and two-way Iridium satellite texting to any email address or SMS capable phone. It does world-wide emergency dispatch like a SPOT. It also texts directly to other inReach units.

    It’s pricey, $300 MSRP, and requires a subscription; the Safety Plan is cheapest at $10/month. When paired with a Bluetooth device you can do GPS mapping as fancy as you like. It’s also easier to compose messages with an iOS or Android device than directly on the SE.

    I pair the SE with an iPod Touch, 5th gen, which weighs only 3 oz and has a really good display. The SE and ‘Pod together weigh 10 oz, pretty bearable given that they combine good GPS function, two-way satellite texting, emergency dispatch, and a decent small camera. And, because the SE uses the Iridium network, it’s good anywhere you can see the sky. Texting does not require a connection as good or as lengthy as voice communication. Uploading and downloading messages takes no more than 22 seconds, they say. Often much less. So far, it’s been reliable. Haven’t tried the SOS function yet due to lack of emergency.

  26. Lou Dawson September 29th, 2013 5:53 am

    Thanks Jim, all good points and we think inReach is a viable option. I’m not a fan of how the unit has to be paired with a smartphone or tablet, but your iPod solution sounds excellent. 10 ounces total weight is excellent as well. I agree that texting is the way to go with this type of communication. That’s the big detriment of the Spot/Globalstar phones, you can’t send text over them. And the Iridium phones make sending text very difficult. Thus, we are indeed fans of inReach if it’s set up with care for weight and battery life.

    Everyone, our inReach coverage:

    http://www.wildsnow.com/backcountry-skiing-search/?cx=partner-pub-8093284038752434%3Ayxtlw7-4zut&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=inreach&sa=SiteSearch

  27. Phil September 30th, 2013 10:13 am

    Lou, I think the point is that the inReach SE does NOT need to be paired with anything for 2-way communication. All Jim was saying is that if you are in a situation where you want easier typing than using the small built-in screen, you can CHOOSE to pair it with a phone/tablet/etc. The new version (SE) is stand-alone. Very nice.

    Spot isn’t terrible – it works well for some applications – but it has some big negatives: 1-way communication, not knowing if your message was received, and global star.

    The Delorme is clearly the superior product for remote travel//emergency use due to having 2-way communication and iridium.

  28. James Hamaker October 9th, 2013 8:24 pm

    The DeLorme inReach SE looks like quite the tool, esp. if all the software extras are usable.

    http://k5ehx.net/ seems to have re-vamped his repeater mapping site. I often head out to a new area w/ a dozen or so repeaters programed in, then I chat up other hams (esp. durring rush hour) who in turn turn me on to other local repeater.

  29. Stuart Fraser October 14th, 2013 7:20 am

    In Europe VHF handhelds that are set up for Channel E are available and these connect directly to the Emergency services in Switzerland, Haute Savoie and Val d’Aosta. A friendly retailer will also programme in the standard international marine channel frequencies; in the mountains you can use one of the frequencies designated for yacht marinas for communications within your group. See http://www.rega.ch/en/operations/additional-services/emergency-radio.aspx for further informationo

  30. Lou Dawson October 14th, 2013 8:58 am

    Stuart, any idea what frequency Channel E is on, and if it uses repeaters, or tones, or whatever? Thanks, Lou

  31. Lou Dawson October 14th, 2013 9:02 am

    Whoops, by using your link I answered the question…
    161.300 for Switzerland, requires tone squelch of 123.0 Hz

    Yet more reasons to just buy a programmable handheld Ham rig.

    Lou

  32. Stuart Fraser October 14th, 2013 9:25 am

    The radios are configured for the emergency services, they have a yellow button to press in case of emergency and a test function to enable you to see how many relays are in reception. They are pretty much idiot-proof and very light. Maybe better to get one which is programmed specifically for the service rather any old HAM kit.

    The radios are available from: http://www.baechli-bergsport.ch/Fr/VX-354-Rega-Notfunkgerät-Vertex-Radios-1.htm and other retailers listed at http://www.rega.ch/fr/missions/autres-prestations-de-service/radio-de-dtresse.aspx

    Coverage maps can be found at: http://www.rega.ch/pdf/einsatz/Merkblatt_Notfunk_fr.pdf
    and
    http://img71.xooimage.com/views/3/b/e/emergency3-1–2ebec6e.gif/

    For maximum utility you someone who has a license to programme VHF radios and then you could get the frequencies used by emergency services in mountainous areas. I am still looking for someone!

  33. travis October 14th, 2013 9:37 am

    I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the BaoFeng UV-5R. For $35 it’s a great alternative to a blister pack radio. Fully programmable from 136-174 / 400-480MHz, up to 5 watts transmit. For less than $75 total one can get the radio, a better/longer antenna, an extra battery up to 3800mAh, and speaker mic.

  34. Shaun October 25th, 2013 4:54 pm

    Hi,

    I had a question about combining a two-way radio with a gps unit. The Garmin Rino series looks like a good choice. I feel it would be beneficial to combine the two devices to save weight and size. Do you have any suggestions or advice? Thanks

  35. Lou Dawson October 25th, 2013 5:40 pm

    Shaun, the Rhino works quite well. Recommended. Just be sure to test the touch screen in the types of situations you’ll be in. Lou

  36. Shaun October 26th, 2013 1:47 pm

    My one concern with the touch screen is in really cold conditions when I don’t want to take off my gloves. They say it works with gloves but I don’t buy it. When I ski tour normally I have no issues with cold hands and sometimes don’t even wear gloves. It is snowmobiling where I see an issue. It’s too bad they don’t make one with buttons. Anyways, I suppose I have to weigh all the factors and come up with my best fit. Cheers

  37. Steve Gslts November 16th, 2013 6:01 am

    I’ve always found that taking radios on the ski slope is a wonderful way to stay in contact with the family, if you buy radios from the uk, i would make sure that your radios are in the 446 band.

  38. Jomalo November 19th, 2013 1:22 pm

    I’m looking for a dependable radio system to use while operating in mountain ranges. I’d prefer not to get a license, but would consider it if it would yield the best results.

    Thanks!

  39. ionpaul December 8th, 2013 4:31 pm

    Hello, Sir. Can a two-way radio like the Baofeng UV5R communicate (transmit and receive) with blister pack radio like Motorola MR350?

  40. Lou Dawson December 8th, 2013 5:08 pm

    Ion, sure. You’d have to program in the freqs. How you conform to FCC regulations is up to you, or use in countries where regulations don’t apply, which is the majority of the world. Lou

  41. ionpaul December 8th, 2013 5:36 pm

    Great. Thanks for the swift reply, Lou.

  42. John December 11th, 2013 8:53 am

    Lou – I’m relatively new and am trying to look for the best type of radio for skiing. You don’t mention anything of MUR transmission – what is the range for this type? Also, what would happen if you used higher output on FRS? Do you get more range? Is there a way I can utilize the repeaters that ski patrol uses to communicate, without interfering? thanks in advance!

  43. John December 11th, 2013 9:17 am

    John, not real popular with the dynafits-n-tights set, but quite reliable:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/PRC-77_Portable_Transceiver

  44. Lou Dawson December 11th, 2013 9:26 am

    John, no way you could use someone business repeater. But get a ham license and you can usually find a bunch of repeaters to use. In any case, the common standard is the FRS frequencies so stick with that, and as mentioned above most of the blister pack radios work fine, just keep them in a ziplock if you’re out in the wet.

    Using more power can improve range of transmission but makes no difference with reception.

    Lou

  45. Garrett Evridge December 12th, 2013 10:59 am

    Lou and company, thanks for the post. So what happens if you are using a radio without the necessary license?

  46. Lou Dawson December 12th, 2013 11:13 am

    FRS/GMRS blister pack radios require no license.

    But to answer your question specifically, it’s situational. If you use the Amateur radio bands without a license you might be reported to the FCC. What happens after that is a mystery. For starters, they’d have to prove that you actually did the heinous deed. Ditto, if you programmed an FRS frequency into your radio and used it, even though that’s technically illegal unless it’s an emergency, it would be a miracle if anyone at FCC cared, or actually busted you for doing so. For starters, define “emergency.”

    As for other radio bands requiring licensing, any sort of enforcement is almost non existent, so if you don’t abuse you’d rarely have problems. For example, there are some business bands that millions of radios are built for, and are in common use. No one is ever going to check your license for those unless you do something really obnoxious, like transmitting at high power and stepping on another business trying to use their radios. Even then, they’d have to know who you were and catch you in the act.

    As for what actually happens if you do get taken to court, you get fined.

    I’m not advocating breaking the law, just stating the reality of the situation.

    Lou

  47. John December 16th, 2013 3:23 pm

    Thanks for the info Lou! I have another question: Would I need a HAM Operators license to be able to use the MUR frequency? (it is explicitly stated that no license is required for this frequency; wasn’t sure if that included a HAM license: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-Use_Radio_Service).

  48. louis dawson December 16th, 2013 3:55 pm

    I’m not sure, should be easy to find out.

  49. James January 5th, 2014 11:24 pm

    <>
    Semantics.

    In the U.S.A. you can use *any* frequency in a life threatening situation. But the information to use the frequency (repeater codes) is “official use only.” and *secret*.

  50. James January 5th, 2014 11:29 pm

    Last I checked GMRS *does* require a licence. Possibly FRS too unless they changed the rules. It is not, however, illegal to *buy* them. Like guns.

    I believe that FRS is limited to 2.5W whereas GMRS can transmit up to 5W – wich gives you a little better range. Some (cities) have GMRS repeaters.

  51. Lou Dawson January 6th, 2014 2:08 am

    James, FRS definitely does not require a license.

    Also, this whole discussion of licenses tends to get over emphasized. The main thing for consumers to know is go ahead and buy a blister pack radio, enjoy using it, and you do not need to fool around with any sort of licensing to do so.

    Lou

  52. Andy March 7th, 2014 10:55 pm

    I ski a bit in japan and Europe. Are there standard radio types that will work for back country in these places ? I don’t want to buy 3 radios.

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