With the advent of modern communication, a great deal of people do not see the point in investing in a HAM radio. The modern convenience of being constantly connected to other people has led many to believe this is a privilege that can be enjoyed 24/7.
Unfortunately that is not the case – not everywhere has great cell service. And place that often do not maintain great cell service consistently.
HAM devices bring with them several advantages over traditional mobile network carriers, but finding the right one can prove a bit challenging. There’s so many different models and makes out there, all of them varying wildly in price – that browsing the market can be a bit intimidating.
Table of Contents
- 2 Best emergency ham radio for backpacking
- 2.1 5 – Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio
- 3 Conclusion
Our top recommendation for hiking:
HAM two way radios operate on their own frequencies, completely independent of mobile network carriers & as such having one for emergencies is a smart move. The only challenging thing can be ensuring you have enough power for the device to be usable at all times.
Ham operational radios also bring the advantage of saving you money as you don’t need to pay for data/calls/texts – all transmissions are made completely free.
As we’ve already mentioned, the market is fairly saturated – if you’re not privy to the wealth of knowledge that goes into sourcing the correct radio – you could end up wasting your money.
The guide below will break down five of the best radios you could pick for backpacking. It is a fairly in depth guide that was put together with both hours of research and years of experience/prior knowledge. You shouldn’t settle for anything less when you’re looking for a device that could potentially save your life one day.
Buying an emergency radio for hiking: a guide
It doesn’t matter if you’re purchasing from the high street or or browsing around online. There are a few key pieces of vital information that you’ll need to know before settling on a purchasing decision. If you’re not privy to this info, you could end up picking a device that’s completely impractical for use in the outdoors.
Here are some of the key features you should look out for when sourcing your emergency radio:
Frequency Information – One of the critical things you’ll need to know about your walkie talkie is what range of frequencies it’s capable of operating under.
Access to Ultra High Frequencies and Very High Frequencies is key. Both of these bands are the bands most commonly used for distress calls etc. The power requirement to operate in these frequencies is actually much lower than regular high frequency bands, so they’re also ideal for people who are utilizing mobile, on-the-go type equipment.
Usability – There’s absolutely no point in purchasing a piece of equipment for emergencies if you’re never going to be able to figure out how to get it working in the event of an emergency.
The minutes you spend attempting to get your device up and running could literally be dangerous for your health if you’re in a situation where a quick emergency response is critical. Most emergency situations are by definition time critical.
You’ll want to find a radio that emphasizes ease-of-use, with only the vital controls and buttons present.
Device Mobility – You’ll obviously be looking for something a bit more mobile if the intention is to take it traveling with you. You don’t want to settle for something that doesn’t fit in a backpack, obviously. But you also don’t want to settle for something that’s so heavy it will significantly increase the load you’re carrying.
This defeats the purpose of emergency equipment – if the equipment actively hinders you in an emergency then it’s a bit pointless.
It’s also generally better to have lighter emergency equipment because you don’t know how long you’ll have to be utilising it – something that fatigues you is never a good idea.
Range – Not to be confused with the range of frequencies the device can operate at – the range of the device is literally how far of a distance it can send and receive signals. A device with poor range will be absolutely useless in emergencies.
Backpacking ham radio antennas? If the device is for emergency use you definitely want a device that’s capable of transmitting across well over 2 miles, especially if you’re planning on travelling away from densely populated areas – where people are less likely to be within your immediate vicinity.
Power – The power consumption of your device is directly tied to the range it’s capable of transmitting over. The greater the distance you plan on transmitting across – the more power consumption you can expect to see. There are actually power limitations placed across many radios that are capable of transmitting by relevant licensing authorities.
You should opt for a device of at least 5 watts if you’re serious about getting any kind of range out of your device.
Adjustable power settings would also be desirable. This allows the user to choose between a further range or power conservation – this could be invaluable in an emergency scenario.
Additional features such as display backlighting and keypad backlighting will increase power consumption slightly. But honestly – the convenience they afford you if you find yourself having to use your device in the dark make it entirely worth the trade off. Just try to find a device that allows you to disable said backlighting – there’s no need to waste excess power when you’re in a well illuminated environment already.
Battery – The battery of the device will be depending entirely on the power consumption. Devices with insane power consumption will obviously need better quality batteries that can hold more charge.
You will want to pick a device that gives you the choice of either rechargeable batteries and disposable batteries – this will allow you to carry spare batteries for emergencies but still recharge the device whenever you have access to a wall socket.
It’s unlikely you’ll find a HAM walkie talkie that is exclusively powered by disposable batteries – but if that were the case all you’d have to do would be ensuring that you’ve kept yourself well stocked up on batteries.
A flat battery in a time of need is the worst possible scenario, so it’s important to always take the necessary steps to ensure that this never happens to you.
Best emergency ham radio for backpacking
1 – BTECH UV-5X3 5 Watt Tri-Band Radio
Having a tri-band radio available for this price is really impressive. I’d encourage you to read the reviews on this radio; a lot of people are surprised at how well this radio performs in comparison to those that cost $300+.
It’s lightweight and easy to carry at 0.5lbs, and it’s easy to use. Someone with zero familiarity with ham radios might still struggle, but at least as far as ham radios go, it’s designed to be amateur-friendly.
The UV-5X3 has all the basics you’d expect, plus a few bells and whistles. For example, a new feature allows you to add and remove channels from the scanning list without needing a PC. You can also edit existing channels (e.g. changing a privacy tone), whereas previously you’d need to delete the channel and recreate it. Lots of modern conveniences.
It can be programmed easily on the computer with CHIRP; a free software which the radio is compatible with. It’s worth noting that, to program it, you’ll need to grab a PC03 FTDI cable.
Some users recommend grabbing an aftermarket antenna to improve the long-range reception, such as this one, to replace the stock antennas. That can also prevent you from having to switch antennas depending on the band used, too.
2 – The Mirkit UV5R MK4 Portable Radio
The UV-5R MK4 has some key features that set it aside from some of the other devices in its field. It’s compatible with CHIRP – which is a free, open-source, radio programming software that’s incredibly intuitive and easy to use. The ability to program this device with ease is a good selling point – but it’s not the only one Mirkit have opted for:
Remember when we talked about a configurable power setting? It has one of those. You can choose between 1, 5 and even 8 watts. Giving the device the ability to communicate across incredibly wide distances of several miles when in full power consumption mode. If you’re looking to save battery and there’s plenty of signals nearby – you can just flip the device down to 5 watts. Or even 1 watt.
It’s all around ideal for backpacking for camping because not only does it have all of the functionality you’re looking for in a portable radio – it has more.
With a built in flashlight & FM radio – you’re less likely to find yourself struggling with poor visibility or total boredom.
It also has VOX functionality, meaning it can transmit hands free by detecting when you’re speaking and muting the mic when you’re not.
It comes complete with every piece of equipment you could possibly need to get the device up and running, from belt clips to desktop connectors and ear phones!
3 – Kenwood Original THD74A APRS Handheld Transceiver
The first thing that comes to mind when looking that Kenwood Original TH-D74A is the display. It provides quite a wealth of information for being on such a tiny screen. Despite this – it doesn’t look cluttered. It’s simple and easy to read.
This device could probably best be described as “high-end”. It has quite a large amount of features and functionality, the tradeoff is that it’s also much more expensive than some of the lower-grade consumer radios.
The device boasts an IP54 weatherproof rating and an overall sturdy design, making it perfect for backpacking.
It utilises both multimode and wideband reception using the APRS comms protocol. This is a powerful device.
Those with a sizeable amount of previous experience will be greatly impressed by how smooth all the filter options are. High quality sound is not an issue at all. It even comes with a GPS.
This is a premium quality product, it should only be purchased if you’re planning on using it – it’s not something you purchase and leave in the cupboard.
4 – TYT UV8000E High Power Dual-Band Transceiver
This transceiver operates on a standard dual-band. It’s ideal for those of you who have a bit of experience with radio technology but are looking for your first mobile HAM radio to take travelling with you.
The UHG/VHF frequencies we mentioned earlier? It has no problem transmitting across them for a range of up to 4 miles. It also has toggleable power settings, you can flick it between 10 and 5 watts.
The UV800E may look like it’s pigeon holing you into a higher power consumption, but the impressive 3600 mAh battery it comes with means that this is not a major issue. It also has a low battery alarm to help mitigate any potential issues the power consumption may cause.
It also comes with privacy codes, VOX functionality, Privacy Codes & a lot more!
Some of the awesome features include the low battery alarm, emergency alarm, cross-band repeater function, privacy codes, FM receiver, and hands-free VOX function.
5 – Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio
The VX-6R is built entirely with the great outdoors in mind. Not only is it super sturdy and compact, it’s basically everything-proof.
Weighing in at about 9 oz’s, it’s a little bit heavier than its competitors. But the trade off is knowing you’re far less likely to damage this device by accident.
It comes with EAI support (Emergency Automatic Identification), an awesome feature to have in the event of an emergency.
It has an outstanding memory of 900 different channels, meaning you’ll never have to worry about writing down a channel. Basically ever.
It also has some crazy survival features, including a morse code trainer (seriously.), LED backlighting, weather alerts and the ability to pick up just about any transmission you can think of (CB, Aircraft, Emergency Services, Shortwave) with the exception of the digitally encrypted transmissions that modern police have been adopting more and more often.
6 – Yaesu FT-60R Amateur Radio Transceiver
The yaesu is unfortunately only limited to 100 memory channels, but for a survival radio this is actually still more than you’ll probably ever need. (How many times do you plan on getting yourself into an emergency situation?)
It has a backlit LCD display and keypad, meaning it can be used easily in darker conditions.
It has basic weather alerts, a reasonable 1400 mAh battery and a handful of other nifty features. It’s an excellent budget buy if you’re not willing to splash out on one of the more advanced transceivers.
HAM RADIO LICENSING – ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
Looking to procure a license so you can actually legally operate these machines? Look no further. There are a handful of different licenses available to civilians and non civilians alike.
Unsurprisingly they all grant different levels of freedom when operating a HAM radio, these licenses are as follows:
The Technician License – this license is very basic, it only allows you access to the 30mHz and above frequencies, it’s easy to acquire with just one exam that needs to be passed before you’re awarded it.
Generic/General License – Once you’ve procured your technician license, you can opt to take another exam and gain entry to all amateur radio bands and operating modes.
Amateur License – You can opt to sit a difficult 50 question exam which will remove any and all restrictions that were placed upon you at the lower levels of licensing. Recommended for full on HAM radio enthusiasts who want to have some freedom when it comes to transmitting and receiving signals.
The number of radio style products available on the internet is simply staggering. From reputable brands to relatively obscure ones – it can be a total nightmare to sift through all this data and expect any amount of success in sourcing the correct one.
That is, if you’re not privy to the information in this guide. Luckily you’ve just read a brief recap of some of the most vital info involved in selecting a radio for backpacking – we hope that you feel it’s left you more informed and capable of making a confident decision when it comes to purchasing one.
If you weren’t up for applying all this knowledge to any random storefront, the 5 individual items we have picked out should tick all the boxes you need ticked.