The Best Two-Way Radios for Talking Off-Grid

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The Best Two-Way Radios for Talking Off-Grid

Luke Cuenco   07.01.22 Radio Communications can be vastly important for situations beyond their military use. As a child my father always brough

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Luke Cuenco   07.01.22

Staying Connected: The Best Two-Way Radios for Talking Off-Grid

Radio Communications can be vastly important for situations beyond their military use. As a child my father always brought a simple set of two-way radios with us so that both the kids and the adults could keep tabs on one another as we ran around the camping grounds. More recently, at a firearms competition in the backwoods of West Virginia, I discovered that the event was able to run much more smoothly and safely with the addition of a full-sized military surplus VHF/UHF portable radio system which allowed the organizers to communicate in real-time with the various stages scattered around the hills where the range was. This allowed the match director to have a good overview of the entire event and allowed individual range officers to relay safety and organizational information up to the director. This is why I think two-way radio systems are an essential part of camping with large parties of people or even just two people. They can come in handy in an emergency and can also be convenient if you want to wander off by yourself for a minute in an unfamiliar area. Today we’ll be taking a look at some of the best two-way radios for establishing comms while off the grid and away from cell phone service.

Staying Connected: The Best Two-Way Radios for Talking Off-Grid

Staying Connected: The Best Two-Way Radios for Talking Off-Grid
Photo: Baofeng

1. BAOFENG BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen)

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BAOFENG BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen)

The Author’s Pick

The Baofeng family of radios is very popular worldwide. You’ll often see them being used everywhere including casual Airsoft players who want to simulate military communications, as well as warehouses and other large complexes where cell phone service may be restricted, limited, or inconvenient. Earlier generations of the UV-5R were not so limited in their frequency range and this could cause people to get in trouble with the FCC for breaking into restricted radio frequencies outside of the FRS range. However, newer versions of the UV-5R like the BF-F8HP have completely eliminated this possibility but they are still quite useful and when equipped with the right accessories can have great range and battery life to get you through a week of camping communications.

Pros/Relativley Affordable, Programmable and highly adaptable with aftermarket accessories

Cons/Poor stock battery life

Bottom Line/A great starter FRS radio that can get you a range of about 10 kilometers with the stock antenna in an open area of land.

2. Motorola T100 Talkabout Radio

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Motorola T100 Talkabout Radio

A simple and affordable solution without a lot of complicated options, the Motarolla T100 Talkabout radio is a great cheap option for driving caravans and camping parents who want to keep tabs on their kids when at a public campground. These radios aren’t flashy or tactical looking but they are quite durable and have great battery life and use commonly available AAA batteries to power each of the radios. Honestly, the best feature of these radios is their superb durability from inevitable drops bumps, and scrapes. Even if they do break, you won’t be out but $40 for the entire set and they are easily replaceable and won’t require a bunch of complicated setups to pair with your older radios.

Pros/Affordable, Simple, and Durable

Cons/Short range in mountainous areas or areas with lots of obstacles

Bottom Line/A cheap alternative that won’t hurt if they break.

3. Midland GXT1000VP4

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Midland GXT1000VP4

This two-way radio set combines both the durability of the Motorola option, with the range and rechargeability of the Baofeng option. The Midland GXT1000VP4 set comes with rechargeable battery packs, a pair of boom mic headsets for handsfree communication and are both waterproof, and capable of communicating on both FRS and GMRS channels as well as access to the NOAA Weather Can and alert system for keeping track of severe weather when out camping or hiking.

Pros/Good blance of range, battery life, durablity and channel access

Cons/Included rechargeable battery packs are less efficient than using disposeable batteries

Bottom Line/A solid set great for any adventure

4. Dakota Alert M538-HT MURS Wireless VHF Transceiver

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Dakota Alert M538-HT MURS Wireless VHF Transceiver

MURS radios are a bit odd in the grand scheme of things but they can still be quite useful especially if you’re not in a congested radio traffic area. MURS radios give you access to about 5 channels with a further 38 privacy sub-channels that allow you to keep your conversations private or to keep busier channels less congested with idle chatter or irrelevant information. These little radios aren’t the most feature-rich but they will last about 40 hours on a single charge and they are stupid simple to use.

Pros/Easy to use, good range, and great battery life.

Cons/No access to NOAA weather channels

Bottom Line/A simple option that can be paired with a lot of other Dakota Alert produces like base station, probe sensors, and chime modules used in security systems

5. BTECH DMR-6X2

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BTECH DMR-6X2

Similar in form, function, and features to the Baofeng series (because it basically is) but with much more range and a better display are the BTECH DMR-6X2 FRS/GRMS radio. The BTech DMR-6×2 is excellent value for the money (particularly since supplied with two batteries), providing all the DMR features desired, in a physically solid package that has good sound quality, receive and transmit. It is made by AnyTone, on the same hardware as their 878, and differs only in firmware and surface details – important because AnyTone is one of the higher quality Chinese manufacturers and QUITE POPULAR. This last means that there are many users of this radio “family”, with lots of online advice (some of it even accurate!), pre-programmed code plugs are available to download for many metropolitan or regional DMR repeater networks, etc.
The BTech version shares 95+% of its programming and menus with the AnyTone 878 series, and can even accept code plugs programmed for the 878. You will have a popular radio that is well supported.

Pros/Highly customizeable and adaptable to nearly any situation

Cons/Can be a bit complex to setup initially if you’re inexperienced with FRS/GRMS radio systems

Bottom Line/A higher end option that has better range and power than even some basic amateur radios that require a license to operate

Do you need a license to operate two-way radios?

The most popular types of personal radio services are Citizens Band Radio Service, Family Radio Service, General Mobile Radio Service, Low-Power Radio Service and Multi-Use Radio Service. Of these types of services, only General Mobile Radio Service requires an FCC license to operate.

What is FRS Raido Service?

FRS or Family Radio Service FRS allows two-way voice communications over short distances (generally less than one-half mile on the 0.5-watt channels and up to two miles on the 2-watt channels, depending on conditions). An FRS unit looks and works much like a walkie-talkie. There are older, dual-use, FRS-General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) units, but you may legally use only the FRS channels unless you have a GMRS license. The label on the unit or the operations manual should indicate the service the unit is certified for. FRS-only units transmit at lower power levels and have antennas that are integrated with the unit; GMRS units transmit at higher power levels and may have detachable antennas. Note that dual-use FRS-GMRS radios may no longer be sold. FRS Radios are 100% legal to use across the entire United States and all of its territories.

What is GMRS?

GMRS is a land-mobile radio service available for short-distance, two-way communications. A GMRS system is made up of station operators and a mobile station consisting of one or more mobile units. It may also include one or more land stations. Some land stations operate as repeaters, thereby extending the range of GMRS mobile units. New GMRS licenses are granted only to individuals, but GMRS licenses granted to non-individuals (such as businesses) before July 31, 1987, can be renewed if certain conditions are met. A GMRS system may legally be operated only with an FCC license. The individual licensee is responsible for the proper operation of the GMRS system. A licensee may permit his or her immediate family members to operate the GMRS system. You can apply for a GMRS license online, or by filing FCC Form 605. The FCC sets license filing fees annually, and licenses are granted for 10 years.

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Luke Cuenco

Luke is currently a full-time writer for TheFirearmBlog.com, OvertDefense.com, AllOutdoor.com, and of course, OutdoorHub.com. Luke is a competitive shooter, firearms enthusiast, reloader, outdoorsman, and generally takes an interest in anything that has to do with the great outdoors.
Luke is also a private certified pilot and is currently pursuing his commercial pilot’s license in the hopes of becoming a professional pilot. Some of Luke’s other interests include anything to do with aviation, aerospace and military technology, and American Conservancy efforts.
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