What Radio to Buy? Some tips to make a good decision

Frdmskr

Adventurer
All:

This is my 2 cents on a really popular topic. I have been licensed more than 25 yrs and used a few radios, yearned for a few radios, and broken a few radios. Please add to this in the comments. Maybe we can sticky it and avoid the repetitive questions.

Best mobile resource:

K0BG.com

Equipment Reviews (Mostly ham but also some commercial)

eHam.net

GMRS vs CB vs Ham Decision:

Most important Consideration: What do the people in your area run? No sense buying it if there is no one to talk to so get what they have.

1) CB: Can be popular but also annoying. You have to worry about noise and skip. NO LICENSE. Not a worldwide spectrum allocation.

2) GMRS: FM and short distances but usually more than enough for most trips so you can do car to car and be heard over the length of a convoy in the mountains. License is a few bucks and some paperwork. License only valid in the US and Canada for Americans (Correct me here on Mexico if needed).

2a) FRS: The service does not require you to apply for a license but by using the radio you agree to abide by the rules. FRS is more for talking around a job site than over hill and dale regardless of what people say. May not work from one end of a convoy to another in rugged terrain (personal experience here.)

3) Ham radio: You simply want more power and flexibility. Need a license that requires study and effort. Valid worldwide with caveats you will learn about as you study. Three levels of license based on what you need. Most local off road will only need the Tech License [entry level] which is focused on VHF/UHF/SHF bands but to access the best worldwide mobile bands (17, 20, 30 and 40) you will want at least a General License.


Key points in making a mobile radio decision:

Default: Get a mobile NOT an HT radio for the vehicle. Get an HT for a spotter or hiking

1) You are not technically inclined and always run with the same group and see radio as a cell phone in the woods: Get what your buddies have whatever it is. You will have a built in support network who can help you keep things running. Easy win: GMRS (Midland) or CB (lots of cheap choices)

2) You are technically inclined and always run with the same group: GMRS or Ham Radio. Get what you want and help the others follow suit. Mentor people. (Look at commercial gear for durability with a bit more effort required to make it work)

3) You are wheeling in a relatively local area and never plan on leaving it: Get either a GMRS or Ham license and run a radio that works for your area. Again GMRS Midland or Ham: any MOBILE radio will do though I am partial to Kenwood, Icom or Yaesu.

4) You are looking for broader adventures across the country or beyond (at the least outside your known region): Get Ham Radio GENERAL CLASS license. Then install an HF rig in the truck along with the VHF/UHF radio. At a minimum get a 10m, 20m, and 40m set of Hustler or Hamstick antennas and install them correctly. (K0BG.com)

5) You want to track where you are and have family find you: Ham Radio wins hands down here. TMD710GA (my preferred) or FTM400. Budget conscious? Wire up an external APRS module to any other old radio you have around but that may inhibit your ability to talk to others.

6) You want to explore well outside your area and you want to show off where you are at all times: Get Ham Radio GENERAL CLASS license. Then install an HF rig in the truck along with the VHF/UHF radio. You will need a 30m antenna for HF APRS (easy) or HF Robust Packet Radio (pricey). So long as there is a modest amount of propagation you will be heard and iGated to the internet and your family can see the latest position reports on APRS.fi.

7) Bonus consideration: If you really do travel outside your area and want to always have a radio at the ready get the ID5100/ID4100 (VHF/UHF) or ID7100 (HF/VHF/UHF). Ignore the DSTAR aspects if you like. The DR mode leverages the GPS to use a database of repeaters (FM or DSTAR) to always keep giving you options you can hit. (If you get a 7100 you need to get an external GPS receiver.)

Mobile Antenna Decision

CB: 102" steel whip or fire stick. Both really reliable and durable. Never use a magmount as a tree can relieve you of that antenna. Mount the 102” whip on the front bumper and tie down the tip of the whip to the rear of the roof rack with some non-conductive line. Acts as a brush guard and works more like a NVIS antenna.

GMRS: Larsen or MAXRAD or Browning or Laird all have good options. NMO is the best if installed correctly.

Ham VHF/UHF: Larsen NMO270. Simple and indestructible with a good pattern. No further discussion here. DO NOT PLAY THE GAIN GAME.

Ham HF: Heavy woods: I might go with Hamsticks or Hustler antennas. If they break, the wallet won't mind so much.

Ham HF: Open areas: Hi-Q, Tarheel, or Scorpion screwdriver antenna

Key points in making a handheld (HT) radio decision:

Default: Get a mobile NOT an HT radio for the vehicle. Get an HT for a spotter or hiking

1) You are not technically inclined and always run with the same group and see radio as a cell phone in the woods: Get what your buddies have whatever it is. You will have a built in support network who can help you keep things running. easy win: Yaesu FT60 or a GMRS oriented handheld (Midland most likely again)

2) You are technically inclined and not looking for hikes: GMRS or Ham Radio. Get what you want and help the others follow suit. Mentor people. Commercial LTR (for GMRS) or DMR/P25 (Ham) gear for durability with a bit more effort required to make it work. Bonus: Kenwood D72 will do APRS and satellites with some investment or Kenwood D74 does APRS and DStar.

3) You like hikes in the woods or up mountains and weight matters: Get an FRS radio (might work within your group) or look at Yaesu VX6r or FT60 or the Kenwood KT20a

4) You want to track where you are and have family find you: Ham Radio wins hands down here. D72 or D74 .

Chinese Radios

I am not a fan of, nor do I recommend, Chinese radios WITH EXCEPTIONS. The biggest exception is the Connect Systems radios. Customer service is beyond reproach. Most other dealers do not come close to the reputation these folks have. (They reject shipments of radios that do not test well on their bench.)

If you buy a $50 radio online and cant figure out why it falls apart, won't work or is targeted by the FCC for action, well then think about the adage: You get what you pay for. Alternatively consider this: If something is too good to be true, it probably is.
 
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DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
Solid run down, largely agree with all your points. Completely agree about Connect Systems. I have a CS800D as my main mobile radio and despite that it's obviously not a Motorola/Kenwood/Vertex level commercial radio it is a well made and the support is excellent. There are a couple of other things I'd like to mention, still.

FRS isn't unlicensed, it called licensed by rule. It's a small distinction but it just means that by using it you agree to follow the rules. Primarily that you only use radios approved for FRS.

I like the Larsen NMO 2/70 open coil, it's what I run on my mobile. But if I was buying something to replace it I'd go with the Laird CB144/440C. I recently bought a mono band Laird to replace a Larsen NMO 150 that I used for APRS (the coil failed, which can be replaced but took the opportunity to switch to a 1/2 wavelength). I think the Laird is made better (the Larsen isn't bad, the Laird just better) and comparing similar types it'll be around $10 to $20 cheaper.

I would recommend against a 102" whip for CB. They can get to flying and flopping around a lot, which can be a danger to bystanders (some organized events prohibit them for this reason) and even if you're solo can break windows and the like. If you do run one have a way to secure it at least.
 

Frdmskr

Adventurer
Solid run down, largely agree with all your points. Completely agree about Connect Systems. I have a CS800D as my main mobile radio and despite that it's obviously not a Motorola/Kenwood/Vertex level commercial radio it is a well made and the support is excellent. There are a couple of other things I'd like to mention, still.

FRS isn't unlicensed, it called licensed by rule. It's a small distinction but it just means that by using it you agree to follow the rules. Primarily that you only use radios approved for FRS.

I like the Larsen NMO 2/70 open coil, it's what I run on my mobile. But if I was buying something to replace it I'd go with the Laird CB144/440C. I recently bought a mono band Laird to replace a Larsen NMO 150 that I used for APRS (the coil failed, which can be replaced but took the opportunity to switch to a 1/2 wavelength). I think the Laird is made better (the Larsen isn't bad, the Laird just better) and comparing similar types it'll be around $10 to $20 cheaper.

I would recommend against a 102" whip for CB. They can get to flying and flopping around a lot, which can be a danger to bystanders (some organized events prohibit them for this reason) and even if you're solo can break windows and the like. If you do run one have a way to secure it at least.
Points taken on FRS.

I've never used Laird but I know they have a good reputation.

I might offer that I should have been clear on the 102" whip. You mount it on the front bumper and tie the whip down to the rear of the roof rack with some non-conductive line. Acts as a brush guard and works more like a NVIS antenna.
 

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DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
The Laird I bought was my first one owned. I took a chance based on something @sonoronos said when comparing the spring-loaded center pin of the Laird with the flat metal center contact of the Larsen. I'm pleased with it enough that I would say either brand is a good choice.
 

Frdmskr

Adventurer
Looking at a 5th gen 4runner this weekend. If we go that route (and after I get out of debt from buying it lol) I may look at that brand for a GMRS antenna. Need to get a GMRS rig in the truck as all I have is Ham right now.
 

pluton

Adventurer
I inherited 4 Motorola GMRS HTs, which I hand out to the other vehicles. Works great 'cause not everyone---meaning no one I know---- is into spending money on comms.
 

TNSG

Member
I inherited 4 Motorola GMRS HTs, which I hand out to the other vehicles. Works great 'cause not everyone---meaning no one I know---- is into spending money on comms.
They will when they need it!!!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Billoftt

Active member
I inherited 4 Motorola GMRS HTs, which I hand out to the other vehicles. Works great 'cause not everyone---meaning no one I know---- is into spending money on comms.
Or they are willing to spend $150 on a blingy Uniden CB but $60 for a used Yaesu VHF radio is just too pricey.
 

jeep670

Adventurer
Fyi, GMRS does not require any licensing in Canada but it's limited to 2 Watt. Also, the upper GMRS channels that in US are used for repeaters are not allocated in Canada so their usage is not allowed at all. So only the first 15 channels are useable at 2W.
 
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