BC Link — Snowsports 2-Way Radio Updated Review


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 5, 2015      

Shop for BCA Link radio system.

BCA Link radios are cool. From the plain black-on-black styling to the waterproof connectors, Link from Backcountry Access reeks of quality and downright functionality. I got one of the first retail units in 2013 and it tested out quite nicely. I unboxed a 2015-16 unit this autumn of 2015 to see if it’s the same rig (it is), and for inspiration to update this review.

(In terms of “new” know that a European version of the Link is available, with EU public use channels/frequencies known as PMR446. Culturally speaking, I’ve noticed that the North American FRS frequencies get used in Europe simply because such radios have become ubiquitous worldwide. We’ll see how that shakes out in the coming years. Main thing to remember is if in Europe do NOT use your FRS radios if you’re in civilized areas as the same frequencies are apparently in use by some EMS outfits. If you’re out ski touring in the European semi-wild and using FRS with its default limited power and range, I doubt it’s a problem. If you ski with locals who use radios, you may need a different rig.)

The grand unboxing of BC link. I have a feeling a few of these will be opened Christmas morning.

Grand unboxing of BC link. The sound of heavenly radio transmissions came down from on high as we lifted the lid. I have a feeling a few of these will be opened Christmas morning.

The concept is bold. Instead of trying to match the bloviated “blister pack” FRS/GMRS radio market with a Gallactica toy lookalike, in 2013 BCA came up with an understated black moisture sealed radio designed specifically for snow sports such as ski touring. Idea is you carry the base unit in your backpack or perhaps a jacket pocket (also has a belt clip if you want to totally geek out). Controls for normal use are on the mic, while you set your background settings (channels, beeps-on-off, etc.) on the base unit.

I’m about as familiar with FRS/GMRS walkie-talkies as you can get (as well as licensed Amateur radio operator KC0FNM). Thus, only surprise here is that without a PTT (push to talk) switch on the base unit, I expected the Link radio to be smaller. But the base unit has to carry a fair sized lithium rechargeable battery, which probably drives the form factor.

Link base unit is designed to run inside your backpack, with external handmic providing  enough control for normal use.

Link's base unit is designed to run inside your backpack, with external handmic providing enough control for normal use.

Link handmic (otherwise known as a speaker mic) has necessary controls. Small dial at top right

Link handmic (otherwise known as a speaker mic/microphone) has necessary controls. Small dial at top right is on-off and volume. Lower dial with letters is the channel pre-sets. A series of LEDs at top left indicate the radio being powered up, transmitting, etc.

Speaking of the battery, per current pop electronics you can only charge the BCA Link via USB. This requires the usual USB wall-wart adapter if you want to juice from residential 110v or 220v wiring. The provided USB cable and connector on the radio is the mini-B plug basic USB (not the micro versions you normally use for a smartphone). With the mini-B connector on one end of a cable and the correct connector on the other, you can charge the radio from any device that has a USB power socket (computer, for example).

Mixed emotions about USB power. In an ideal world, USB would simplify things. But shucks, with a dozen or more different types of USB connectors out there (was this designed by Microsoft?), I still carry a spaghetti mess of cables and adapters during travel, so really, things are just as complicated as in the old days. What is more, I still feel the ideal DC voltage standardization for 2-way radios is the >< 12 volt DC power of automobiles, supplied via a barrel connector. But that's another story. Of more importance, you'd better have a good charging strategy for BC Link if you're on a multi-day backcountry skiing trip without electricity. I'll do the official WildSnow begging to BCA for an AA battery pack, but something tells me this won't be forthcoming any time soon. Instead, look to any of the aftermarket auxiliary USB charger bricks, such as those by Anker and Goal Zero. You might need one of those to charge your Smarphone-GPS as well? More about charging: My biggest gripe is that the radio unit lacks a charging/charged indicator that works when the handset is disconnected and you’re charging the base unit only, while using any generic USB cable connected to the radio via the USB mini-B plug. In this case, you have no way to know if the Link is charged or not unless you disconnect from the charger, attach handset, turn on the radio, and check battery level in the LCD. Moreover, even with the handset attached and the radio powered down, you get no visual feedback if you connect with a generic USB cable to, for example, a computer USB port.

These are very real concerns. Standard industrial design in electronics (thanks Mr. Jobs) is to provide robust user feedback re charging cycles. (E.g, smartphone) At the least, can’t the radio base unit have an indicator light showing it’s getting charging power? It’s silly I have to go on Amazon and buy an inline volt/amp meter I can hook up when I’m charging the Link just so I know if I’m using a defective cable or not.

But yes, aftermarket to the rescue: If you want a nice little gadget (useful for travel, to check your USB charging of nearly any device) see link to right. I received and tested the “USB Detector” as shown available from Amazon. It’s really quite a nifty little device. Leaves no doubt as to whether you’re got power in a given USB port on a computer or whatever (ideally should read something like 5 or 5.1 on the top “V” readout. The bottom readout is the amperage. With no device connected to the detector the amperage should read zero. Device charging will up the amperage, then when the charging cycle is done the amperage will go down to near zero, or in the case of BC Link, the Detector reads a fat zero once charging is done. Again, quite nice.

Volt-amp meter hooked up for charging BC Link from computer USB, with radio switched totally off. This yields good user feedback.

Volt-amp meter hooked up for charging BC Link from computer USB, with radio switched totally off. This yields good user feedback. The 5.x reading is the USB voltage, it should be at least 5 volts. The other reading is the current (amperage) being pulled by charging the radio. Once the charging is done, if the radio is turned off the current will read zero or near zero. Very nice. No guesswork and the meter can be used with most USB powered devices as far as I can tell.

(Warning about purchasing the USB Detector linked here. Apparently there are some poorly functioning counterfeits for sale on Amazon along with the real deal. The one we linked to appears to be the real thing and tests out fine so far. Read the Amazon consumer reviews before deciding on purchase, and beware of offers that save you a dollar or two. I’ve been doing quite a bit of shopping on Amazon lately and noticed they’re becoming quite a jungle. Buyer beware, as always.)

Battery Life
Enough whining and moaning on my part. Link’s battery life is terrific. I did one test that involved leaving the radio switched on for 4 days about 24 hours a day, with moderate use each day. Battery was still going strong at the end of that period. Charge every night (with some kind of setup that indicates you are actually charging, see above) and you never need worry about using the radio all day long. (Nonetheless, for battery life insurance still use good radio technique such as speaking clearly and concisely instead of rambling or fooling around, as well as turning the unit off when not in use.)

Settings
If you’re familiar with Motorola FRS/GMRS radios, changing channels and such on the Link base unit will be easy. It’s done exactly the same way (leading one to wonder where the core circuitry of this unit comes from). Ditto for disabling all the beeps and noises these types of walkie-talkies seem to think will make our lives better — but in reality are as grating on your soul as a climbing skin coming off in the middle of a powder lap.

The all important LOCK mode is obvious; locking is designated by a graphic on the base unit face: push MENU and OK buttons simultaneously and you get a nice countdown to when the unit is locked. Ditto for unlocking. Recommendation: Never ever ever use a handheld radio without locking the controls. Murphy’s law applies. If your radio buttons are going to get bumped and accidentally reset, it’s gonna happen.

The only thing non-standard with BCA link controls is setting the channel memories that correspond to 6 memory settings on the handmic, switched using a small dial marked with letters A through F. This is too easy. Just get the base unit set to the channel you want, then press the OK button. There you go, you have a pre-set for whatever letter you had the handmic dial set on. (Link comes with BCA pre-sets that will probably become standards, but I’d recommend figuring out a few non-BCA pre-sets specific to your usual group of backcountry skiers to prevent channel crowding once these radios are in common use.)

Note: There are no FRS/GMRS channels “officially” designated for various uses, but convention designates channel 1 for general (anonymous) public chat, and channel 20 (with quiet code 22) for emergencies. That said, in most areas the FRS/GMRS channels are NOT monitored in any way that would help you call for help. In reality, channel 1 tends to be overused due to it being the easiest channel to get to on a new radio (especially for children, as you may notice at home on Christmas morning), as well as being easy to remember. Thus, when setting your radio we recommend not using channel 1. But perhaps keep channel 20-code-22 as a setting and don’t use it for day-to-day comm.

Likewise, bear in mind that the FCC requires these types of walkie talkies to lowest power on channels 8 through 14. Thus, when picking channels for general backcountry use it’s advisable to pick a channel from 2-7 or 15-22 (Link transmits at one watt on those channels, 1/2 watt on the other ones). Furthermore, the antenna on this type of radio can be assumed to be tuned to the midrange of frequencies (channels), with performance falling off at either end of the channels. Thus, for a bit of extra umph in your distance range I’d recommend using channels 6,7,15,16,17.

Conversely, if you want to conserve battery and know you’ll always be close to your compadres, try using the Link’s lower power (1/2 watt) channels 8-14. These will perform better than you might think. The Link radio doesn’t have a low/high power setting, so using these channels will significantly extend your battery life if you’re doing much talking. In other words, picking the correct channel is a way of forcing the radio to lower power. That said, keeping things simple is important in group radio use. Here at Wildsnow, we tend to just set our radios to the highest power and be done with it.

IMPORTANT: To get best performance from any 2-way radio, all users must have their antennas oriented in the same position. Convention for this is to orient your antenna vertically. Since the Link base unit is presumably buried in your backpack, it may end up in a random position (BCA packs have a radio mount, somewhat vertical depending on your pack rides). I’d recommend all party members figure out a way to carry/mount their radios to the antenna stays somewhat vertical. By the same token, the higher the radio is above the ground the better it will perform. If you’re in a tent, for example, hold the radio up as high as you can, with antenna vertical, if you have any reception or transmit problems. A corded handmic is wonderful for situations with poor range, as you can do things like holding the antenna above your head or outside a window.

Water resistance
Link is robust and resists water enough to be what I’d call “splash and light rain proof.” Word from BCA is it conforms to standard IP56. In my research this indicates the unit is sealed against powerful gushing water, but is not immersion proof. From what I see when physically examining the Link, my take is it’ll hold up fine to normal humidity and moisture encountered in backcountry skiing, but might not be the radio for commercial fishing. That said, BCA told me they actually tested the radio at full immersion and it passed. All connections have obvious seals. Both the hand mic and base unit cases are assembled with small, confidence inspiring metal fasteners rather than being snapped together or glued as with most toy blister-pack radios. These fasteners cause us to fantasize about modifications such as a better antenna. Yet again, another story.

Ease of Use
Some of the blister pack FRS/GMRS radios are so loaded with features they become difficult to use unless you’re on them every day. BCA’s approach to this is perfect. In my opinion the Link has enough features for effective use, but by lacking dodads such as scan and VOX it’s much less confusing when you step through the menus. Such features can be useful, especially scan, but simplicity is key if we want radio use to become more common in our sport. Which leads to our next thought.

Safety
Inter-group communication is just as important to avalanche safety as is your beacon or airbag. The 2-way radio enhances such communication to a stunning degree. More, beyond avalanche safety you’ll still find that using walkie talkies can make a huge difference in situation such as navigating complex terrain or even driving to the trailhead in a group of vehicals. Yes, there is indeed a geek factor to these things. Get over it. Hide the Link base-unit in your backpack, discreetly mount the handmic on your pack strap, turn off all the beeps, don’t chatter, and you’ll be able to live with it.

Ergonomics
Base unit is basic. Smaller would be nicer, but whatever. A small lanyard mount on the top enables hanging from the inside of your pack in the recommended vertical position. You could also do this with the included belt-clip if you could find (or mod) a way to attach it. In either case, our testing indicates that to keep the unit vertical you need more than just a basic attachment inside your backpack. I rigged up some bungie cords that stabilize the position of the radio in one of my packs. BCA Stash model backpacks have features that help with Link radio stowage. I’ve got a current BCA Float airbag rucksack here and can’t find anything inside that helps mount the Link, “research” on that is ongoing.

Warning: when attaching handmic to base unit it’s not easy to be certain you’ve completely rotated the locking collar. A bit of extra attention to this solves the problem, but be careful. I’ve heard a few reports of folks who’s Link radios seemed to be intermittently functioning, failure to fully attach the handmic was the culprit in at least one case. I’d also recommend a tiny bit of dielectric anti-oxidant grease be applied to all electrical connections, to prevent issues from condensation during extreme temperature variations.

Handmic (BCA offical name “Smart Mic”) is designed to locate on your pack strap with the coil-cord feeding up over your shoulder, operated with either hand. I find the PTT (push-to-talk) is a bit awkward to press, but I’m getting used to it. Looking down at the Smart Mic, you can see the volume/power dial as well as the pre-set channel selector dial with its A through F markings. The movement of both dials is adequately attenuated to prevent accidental changes. Nonetheless, per good radio technique glance down when transmitting to make sure you’re on the correct pre-set, and check your volume and performance once in a while by calling for a radio check.

Some 2-way radios have a volume self check that’s super accessible (sometimes called the “monitor button.” Link and most consumer type 2-way radios do not have this as an obvious option. With Link, you can do a volume self-check by turning on any of your weather channels, which will result in either a constant static noise or voice you can check. I’d recommend programming your local weather broadcast to one of the pre-sets, perhaps the last one, F.)

Another ergonomics take: We really like the LED flashlights built into some FRS/GMRS radios. Carrying two light sources during big backcountry trips is an important safety consideration (main headlamp and some sort of tiny auxiliary light). Link LCD can be used as a light source by pressing the MENU button. It’s dim and turns off after 3 seconds, but would be adequate to illuminate swapping batteries in a headlamp, or finding a lost hat in your sleeping bag at 2:00 in the morning. An actual flashlight LCD on the handmic would be gold.

Weight
Link total on our scale (handmic and base) weighs 11.4 ounces, 322 grams.

The better non-waterproof blister pack FRS/GMRS radios we use weigh anywhere from about 5 ounces up to 7.3 ounces with lithium AA batteries. Such rigs are easily waterproofed by carrying in a ziplock, though doing so is a bother. A waterproof blister pack radio such as Motorola MS350r (again with lithium AA batteries) weighs 11.7 ounces with optional handmic NTN8867A (mic is not waterproof, MS350r is 7.8 ounces without mic).

So, what do you get with Link for about the same weight as other waterproof rigs hooked to add-on handmic that’s marginally moisture resistant? Link is waterproof, durable, and has a robust lithium ion battery pack that saves money over buying disposable AA batteries. Link is also nicely designed for backpack stowage and shoulder strap configuration, and it has essential controls on the handmic.

Real World Testing
I’ve used the BC Link quite a bit since it was introduced, but our first test still stands. We paired a Link with Lisa carrying a regular name-brand FRS/GMRS. We tested while separated by a small hill. Transmissions were clear as ever. We then tested by talking from top of ski resort to the base area, about 2,000 vertical feet and not line-of-site. A bit of static, but totally audible. I’m not sure Link is any better in range than another good quality FRS/GMRS, but it’s certainly no worse. We also did a brutal test that involved someone driving away in a car while continuing to talk, using the Link as well as another radio. We did not find anything particularly detrimental nor exceptional in these tests, instead it was business as usual for a decent quality FRS/GMRS radio. Meaning range was practical for inter-group communication, but intentionally compromised by FCC regulations for long distance.

Conclusion
If you’re a big radio user I’d think the small weight penalty would be worth going with BC Link. If you’re the type of user who keeps the radio stashed in your backpack, turned off, a smaller/lighter rig without a handmic might be more appropriate (some blister pack FRS/GMRS radios are quite small). Me, I’ll probably use both types depending on situation. Have to say I really like the Link handmic with controls, and not worrying about moisture is a big plus.

Size of Link, from BCA:
Mic: 3.3” x 1.0” x 1.8” / 8.0 x 4.0 x 4.5 cm
Base unit: 2.5” x 2.0” x 6.0” / 6 x 5 x 15 cm

Street price for BCA Link appears to be about $150 each (includes handmic and powerful lithium ion rechargeable battery said to supply at last same power as several sets of AA batteries). That’s a bit high in our opinion, considering you can get a pair of water resistant blister-pack units of decent quality, with rechargeable batteries, for about $80. For those units you can get a pair of mics for about $50, breaking down to a total of $65 per radio. In our opinion the quality of Link and its nice external hand mic controls make it worth the premium, but the budget option is viable as well if you’re short on cash.

Main thing: Use radios if you ski in a group that’ll adopt their use — the increase in safety and lowered stress level is noticeable if everyone buys into two-way comm.

Shop for BCA Link radio system.

Link at BCA website.

Our general 2-way radio take, with shopping links.

Here is the breakdown of BCA Link FRS-GMRS radio transmit power. Channels 1-7 transmit at one watt, 8-14 at 1/2 watt, 15-21 at one watt, channel 22 at 1/2 watt. Link radio manual here.



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Comments

48 Responses to “BC Link — Snowsports 2-Way Radio Updated Review”

  1. Matt Jacobs December 12th, 2013 11:41 am

    BCA’s product specs don’t say anything about power. Is this radio still limited to 1W on the GMRS channels?

    My 5W ham radio, with a quality external antenna, spare li-ion battery and speaker mic comes in at around the same cost, probably cheaper. I have no love for the current crop of FRS radios with their ringing call tones and ridiculously inflated mileage claims, but $175 for a single FRS radio – ouch.

    Is there any reason to believe the electronics, antenna, sound quality etc. are any better than a $40 motorola, or is the premium all going into the physical build quality and the extra controls on the speaker mic?

  2. Greg December 12th, 2013 1:57 pm

    Regarding you comment on radio orientation: The radiation pattern from a simple dipole dictates that the transmitting and receiving antennas need to be oriented parallel to each other for best performance. Vertical orientation is the only sensible choice. If you orient horizontally you’ll need to also line up the antennas in the horizontal plane (e.g. both horizontal and pointing north), which is impossible to maintain if you’re on the move.

  3. louis dawson December 12th, 2013 2:42 pm

    Matt, my take is what you get for the extra money is the build quality and excellent speaker mic. I just did a range torture test paired with a Motorola on 7 and did not see anything different then what we are used to. Thing is, if you buy a good quality waterproof motorola and speaker mic it’s not going to have the nice glove friendly controls on the mic, and you’re not going to spend that much less.

  4. travis December 12th, 2013 4:48 pm

    When comparing these to blister pack radios or hand helds like the Baefong and various more expensive options, I think the REALLY important distinction here is that the controls are on BCA’s speaker mic. Since it’s now well established that most electronics interfere with searching avalanche beacons, the ability to turn off the BCA via the speaker mic is a feature that should be stressed. Volume and channel controls via the speaker mic are a nice bonus, but the power off capability makes all radio comparisons “apples to oranges” in my opinion. Of course, someone will comment that a radio in one’s pack shouldn’t interfere with a searching beacon at arms length, but that argument can best be resolved on the debris pile and under stress.

  5. Lou Dawson December 12th, 2013 5:12 pm

    I just added that actual transmit power ratings, at the end of the blog post. Higher power channels transmit at 1 watt, lower power channels at 1/2 watt. These are the maximums allowed by FCC for this type of radio. The battery is rated at 2,200 mah, but keeps the radio running past that due to a more gentle discharge curve, so it’s difficult to compare to lithium AA cells that quit running the radio once they discharge significantly. The best test will probably be just using the radio and seeing how long it runs before next charge. Problem is, without a AA battery option it just turns into a brick if you let it run out…

    Lou

  6. Lou Dawson December 12th, 2013 5:21 pm

    In case anyone is interested, here is a nice waterproof Motorola FRS/GMRS. Pair with a speaker mic to get something closer to what Link offers, but you still won’t have controls on the speaker mic, and the mic won’t be waterproof even though it’s what you hang out in the weather.

    http://www.rei.com/product/815266/motorola-talkabout-ms350r-2-way-radios-2-pack

    And a speaker mic:

    http://www.amazon.com/Motorola-53724-Remote-Speaker-Microphone/dp/B00000JD34/ref=pd_sim_e_4

  7. Sam December 13th, 2013 7:00 am

    Regarding USB power: I don’t love needing USB connectors to charge things but the good news is that USB power is just 5V DC and there are loads of external batteries/chargers that you could carry along to top up something like this. Everything from solar to hand crank to steam based are available. Ideal? Not quite. Loads of options? Yes Sir.

  8. Brian December 13th, 2013 7:16 am

    LOL
    Louie, please save us from geek/gear fest with a good TR please please please!!!!

  9. Lou Dawson December 13th, 2013 7:53 am

    I share your laughter, it’s gotten crazy around here! Rest assured, we’ll be shifting over to more travel blogging and trip reports in a few weeks. This cycle happens every year. It’s like the rising and setting of the sun (grin). Lou

  10. Scott Nelson December 13th, 2013 8:42 am

    Thanks for sharing this Lou. I’ve been curious about a real world assessment of these guys.

  11. yiminy December 13th, 2013 9:56 am

    I’m curious if these will affect the performance of beacons. It seems that most other electronics cause problems. Have ya’ll tested this yet?

  12. Lou Dawson December 13th, 2013 11:07 am

    Actually, most other electronics (when carried 12 inches or more away from beacon) do NOT cause beacon problems of any significant nature, or even of any detectable nature. The persistent rumor that they do is annoying. What is more, it’s incredibly easy to test your electronics vs beacon. Just set up a simulated search and do it with your electronics turned on, and off, and 12 inches or more away from beacon.

    The only way I’ve been able to produce beacon problems caused by other devices has been to sandwich the beacon to the device with a rubber band. And even in this case I couldn’t always get things to malf.

    This is just an FRS/GMRS radio. When at rest it probably produces nearly no RF. What is more, you can bet BCA tested this with their beacons. If there was any sort of problem they wouldn’t sell it. To do so would be ridiculous.

    Lou

  13. ark December 13th, 2013 4:42 pm

    Neat kit though statement “you can bet BCA tested this with their beacons” leaves questions. It would be great, especially since they’re growing their business model to include selling backcountry ski radios, if BCA would let us know what they learned during testing and/or verify that this radio has zero impact on beacon performance, particularly in realistic buried and search conditions, on chest harness vs in pack, etc. The proximity of my radio and beacon on a chest harness is usually pretty close, <30cm for sure, and I suspect that there would be some interference. I do know that a 5watt multiband radio can mess around with my tracker when I key the mic…not so sure what .5-1watt does. I do note that there's a handy on/off switch on the Smart Mic, does this power down the whole radio or just the handset?

  14. travis December 14th, 2013 11:47 am

    According to this paper: http://arc.lib.montana.edu/snow-science/objects/issw-2012-348-352.pdf
    “Based on the results of this study, it is
    recommended that all electronic devices be turned
    off while attempting to search with an avalanche
    transceiver. This includes electronic devices that
    were not tested in this study. If items must remain
    on during a search, then the searching beacon
    should be held more than 40cm away from that
    object. As a broader rule, having all electronic
    devices, besides for avalanche transceivers,
    turned off while traveling in avalanche terrain is
    recommended, especially in this era of increasing
    technological use.”

  15. travis December 14th, 2013 12:07 pm

    Point being: the BCA Link makes it easy to keep the radio in your pack and turn it off from the speaker mic if necessary.

  16. Lou Dawson December 14th, 2013 12:21 pm

    Yes, I’d add that turning on and off from speaker mic is easy and intuitive (and actually the only way to turn on and off). I’d also add that in all my testing over the years I’ve never encountered any sort of problem with RFI that would compromise a rescue. Again, best test is just do a beacon drill with all your electronic stuff loaded up and switched on, and see what happens. Set up the “victim” beacon on a backpack with same junkshow. Lou

  17. Lou Dawson December 15th, 2013 7:48 am

    Travis, re the Montana paper, I’m glad they studied the issue but like a lot of this sort of thing they should have stayed away from their impractical conclusion (in recommending all devices be turned off). In the real world, people are going to have electronic devices and many of those devices are going to remain turned on during a search. From what I know, the important thing here is that anything with a battery probably emits some RFI. Even your brain emits RFI, Even the universe emits RFI. The question is, how powerful is the RFI and how is it mitigated. Distance is important because there is a “near field” and “far field” surrounding any RFI emitting device. The “near field” causes a lot more problems. With small, lower powered devices, it’s easy to stay out of the near field. What is more, the RFI from most devices is so low, it only takes a few inches of distance to obviate it. The worst offender is going to be any transmitting radio communication device, so, with a walkie-talkie just limit how much you talk while you’re searching. With cell phone, keep it some distance from where your beacon would be while searching. I’d actually be more concerned with a radio, camera or cell phone being sandwiched with my beacon a a buried avalanche victim. In my testing, that’s when I saw problems. Thus, be sure there is no chance of that happening by virtue of how you carry your gear.

  18. Jefe December 24th, 2013 1:27 pm
  19. Lou Dawson December 24th, 2013 4:49 pm

    Jefe, handheld CB totally 100% unrecommended. Interference prone, short range, bandit operators clogging frequencies…. Lou

  20. Sarah H February 15th, 2014 2:59 pm

    You say in the article ‘channel 1 tends to be overused due to it being the easiest channel to get to on a new radio’ do they not have a squelch option?

    great review article.

  21. Lou Dawson February 15th, 2014 8:36 pm

    Yes they have tone squelch but no manual squelch. You get too many people using a channel and tone squelch doesn’t work very well. Better to just get on a lesser used channel. Lou

  22. Lou Dawson March 10th, 2014 10:16 am

    Just did three days of Colorado backcountry skiing with a group who was all radio’d up. It’s amazing how well this works, if everyone is familiar with their radio and pays attention. Really adds a lot of safety to the day as a larger group can spread out more discuss snow observations, direct each other to safe zones, etc. Thanks BCA for supporting radio communications. Lou

  23. Lothar Mischke December 23rd, 2014 6:31 pm

    Could you explain “tone squelch” to us techno phobes? I’m familiar with regular squelch controls to listen to very weak signals, which in some circumstances might come in handy. I saw no mention of any type of squelch in the User Manual…Thanks.

  24. Lou Dawson 2 December 23rd, 2014 6:43 pm

    Hi Lothar. Tone squelch is simple. The radio transmits a subaudible tone to your friend when you press the transmit key. The tone “opens” the squelch on your friend’s radio which otherwise stays closed. In other words, he (and you) can only hear transmissions that include the tone. Both radios have to be set up with the same, or it won’t work. Is that clear, or do you need more explaination. Happy to provide. ‘best, Lou

  25. Lou Dawson 2 October 5th, 2015 9:49 am

    Whew, a lot of words in this review! I edited and updated most of it…

    Regarding the term “squelch” for you technophobes: Every radio frequency is in the air, all the time. The universe is filled with them, perhaps some are created by alien civilizations? A sensitive enough radio will pick them up. Squelch limits the sensitivity of the radio. Hi end radios have a user configurable squelch you fine tune to “let in” just the right amount of a given frequency, so the radio stays silent until your friend is actually trying to talk to you. Otherwise you’d just hear loud static all the time and your radio battery would get sucked dry because it has to constantly operate the speaker etc.

    Consumer radios such as Link have a pre-set squelch which is not ideal, but is what it is.

    As mentioned above, when using a squelch tone, the radios involved keep their squelch closed way down, and only “open up” when they get the tone.

    Both consumer radios and higher end radios can usually be set to use squelch tones. In the consumer side, they’re usually called something like “privacy codes.”

    Lou

  26. Max October 5th, 2015 10:32 am

    Lou, can you detach the link and use just the main unit? I am willing to try the link, but if it turns out I don’t like the cable, at lest I could use the radio base unit?

  27. Lou Dawson 2 October 5th, 2015 12:47 pm

    Max, no, doesn’t work unless it is all hooked together. Lou

  28. Max October 5th, 2015 3:32 pm

    Lou, does anything speak against using a business radio? Patrolers and guides all seem to use business radios, not sure whether UHF or VHF.

  29. Lou Dawson 2 October 5th, 2015 3:41 pm

    Max, I’m not sure what you’re asking. You could use a business radio, but it won’t have the FRS-GMRS frequencies…

    Guys also buy programmable radios and program in the FRS-GMRS frequencies. Such radios could be a “business” radio or could be a hobby radio…

    Lou

  30. Max October 5th, 2015 4:05 pm

    What I really like about the BCA link is that it has the same FRS-GMRS frequencies as standard consumer radios, but the housing looks like a proper business radio.

    Business radios have much more rugged cases, more output as well. typically last longer. Yes, they don’t have FRS-GMRS frequencies, but if everyone in your group has one that doesn’t matter. If money is not an issue, and you can just buy a couple radios and give them to your friend, is there anything that speaks against using business radios that go for 200$+?

  31. Lou Dawson 2 October 5th, 2015 4:16 pm

    Nothing really speaks against using “business” radios… A good reliable way to use FRS is to program into a high quality radio “business” “amature” or whatever (might technically be legal issues with this, but nothing enforceable unless you run around transmitting at super high power yelling your name and address), or perhaps use BC Link assuming it is better quality than the blister pack radios. I’ve actually had good success with the Motorola blister pack units, but I like the BC Link for the reasons in review. I do wish the Link weighed a few ounces less.

  32. Charlie October 5th, 2015 10:11 pm

    I’m sure BCA wishes it weighed less too. At 100g all in, without feature/battery-life compromise, they’d sell oodles of them.

  33. Lou Dawson 2 October 6th, 2015 7:32 am

    Charlie and all, one of the things I wanted to do with this review update was get more weight information in there. I was up at Field HQ without scale, now back at main office so this morning I updated the review above with more thoughts and comparo about weight.

    Gist of the matter:

    Link continues at same weight (11.4 ounces, 322 grams). That’s bit heavy compared to carrying a blister-pack non-waterproof without handmic. If you’re going superlight but want to carry a radio, using something smaller without handmic, in your pocket, it still viable.

    BUT, purchase a water resistant Motorola MS350R (which in our experience is quite a good radio, despite its toy-like look and feel), combine with hand mic Motorola NTN8867A, and you end up with MORE weight than BC Link. Motorola rig weighs 11.7 ounces, 332 grams, total. That’s with lithium AA batteries in the Moto, which are light — and expensive.

    Now, since this comparo is essentially a wash, you’re not going to purchase either rig for a weight advantage. Thus, it is indeed too bad BCA didn’t cut 50 or a 200 grams out of the Link so it would compete more favorably in the weight department. But again, at least it’s a wash compared to another water resistant rig with hand mic.

    Since Link has the practical advantage of waterproof handmic and the money advantage of rechargeable lithium-ion, I’d tend to go with the Link if you’re willing to fiddle with always having a handmic, and can live with the silly mystery charging without indicator lights.

    In the end, here at WildSnow we seem to always end up with a quiver of radios.

    Lou

  34. ptor October 6th, 2015 11:06 am

    I’ve been using one for a couple years now and all seems good…the smart mike connection is a bit weird…charging indicator would be great…my only problem seems to be keeping the smart-mike attached to the backpack shoulder strap with it’s toothy clamp. Always seems to come off but I don’t want to attach it permanent style with zip tie etc. Anybody have any suggestions? Velcro strap?

  35. Lou Dawson 2 October 6th, 2015 11:11 am

    Yeah, Ptor, I’d try using a small velcro “cable tie” strap. I’ve used those for years to attach radio cables and hydration tubes on rucksacks. Perhaps I can come up with a photo here in a while, am fooling around at the moment with installing Link in a 2015-2016 Float pack. Lou

  36. CMB October 7th, 2015 12:53 am

    Great product, but you should be able to detach the mic and just run it as a handheld. This is such an obvious flaw, and so easy to correct.

  37. Lou Dawson 2 October 7th, 2015 8:56 am

    Who knew walkie talkies could be so complicated to review?! I’m still working on this today, making updates.

    Latest, I did receive the USB volt-amp “Detector.” it solves all the charging indicator problems, total user feedback, no doubt about what’s happening re charging, defective cables, power from computer, etc.

    Adding more to review above.

    Lou

  38. Lou Dawson 2 October 7th, 2015 10:46 am

    Added photo and verified link for the USB volt-amp meter. Highly recommended device for traveling, charging USB devices such as BC Link, etc. Eliminates guesswork.

  39. Rob S. October 7th, 2015 3:30 pm

    Lou – any idea how the “USB Detector” works with two devices plugged in….I would assume it displays the total current drawn by the two?

  40. Rob S. October 7th, 2015 3:32 pm

    Disregard my stupid question….I found the answer on the Amazon page. This thing definitely looks like $14 worth of cool.

  41. Lou Dawson 2 October 7th, 2015 3:52 pm

    Hi Rob, not stupid at all. Some of the more expensive “detectors” have a circuit selector switch. The one I linked to just combines everything, so if you want to know how Link is doing it needs to be hooked up solo.

    I’ve been enjoying experimenting with the Detector, surprised me how fast the Link charged and also to see my Android drawing current when it was supposedly turned off.

    Lou

  42. Jim October 14th, 2015 11:04 pm

    I’ve used some of the Wildsnow recommended Motorola FRS. They’re great for small groups skiing together. But at 1 W they’re not powerful enough for big mountain use over longer, non line of sight use. I’m looking at some of 2-5W vhf. They are a lot more expensive. The guides all use them. They are pretty complicated with programming and frequencies.

  43. Wilson October 25th, 2015 12:47 pm

    Hmmm.. How about those VHF radios. Any other comments on that?

  44. Wilson October 25th, 2015 2:20 pm

    Now I see last years Nov 28, 2014 thread with more info on the VHF options.

  45. joroo November 23rd, 2015 6:52 pm

    It’s a real cute FRS, but the lack of an AA battery pack is a big detriment for those away from AC power. Forest fire crews use only AA battery power on their handheld radios for a reason. Like to hear if MFR will make a commercial and/or amateur radio out of this general template.

  46. Lou Dawson 2 November 24th, 2015 8:02 am

    I heard that FCC will be allowing higher power on FRS, also remember that if you use the GMRS channels, some of these radios have a higher power option. Beyond that, good radio “handling” can make a difference with these low power rigs. Keep both receive and transmit antennas oriented vertically, for example. Lou

  47. Lothar Mischke February 25th, 2016 10:30 pm

    Hi Lou: We have been using these radios extensively this winter up here in the great white north and have a comment regarding them: We are finding that they are quite temperature sensitive – when skiing fast or on very cold days, the radios stay in transmit mode after releasing the transmit button if the radio (larger unit) is not stored in an inside pocket close to one’s body heat. Also the transmit button seems to work intermittently sometimes – several pushes of the transmit button are needed to work the radio. As the mic/spkr unit is usually clipped in a readily accessible position near the outside of one’s jacket could temperature sensitivity be causing the mic button switch to fail intermittently? Have you heard of other similar reports? The radios work great in most circumstances but seem to be sensitive to cold temperatures. The listed -20 C operating temperature limit might be a bit generous.

    Lothar

  48. NH Al January 13th, 2017 7:08 pm

    Having just discovered WildSnow, I find it to be a valuable resource. One comment on GMRS is that, according to the FCC website, they require a license ($70) to broadcast on GMRS channels. I can’t imagine that will cause many people to comply. I’m just passing this along.





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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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