The Best Radios For Off-Road Use

Since the dawn of time, Jeepers and other off-roaders have been using CB radios for communicating on the trail. CB radios have historically been very cheap and easy to use, and they don’t require a license. Occasionally amateur radio (ham) operators will show up on the trail and use their ham radios while off-roading, but unless everyone in the group has a ham license and a ham radio, using a ham radio is not very effective. Because of this, whenever The NotaRubicon leads a group, we have always used CB, channel #16 as our primary method of trail communications – Until now.

Radio Communications On The Trail – CB, FRS, MURS, GMRS

Over the last year or two, mostly while leading large off-road runs, and particularly ‘beginner’ 4X4 runs, we’ve noticed more and more new off-roaders showing up on the trail with inexpensive “race radios“, or walki-talki / handi-talki type radios. These are the type of radio that you find advertised as having an “10 mile range” and can find on Amazon or at Walmart for $20 – $50 dollars. When comparing these radios to more expensive hand-held CB radios, these “bubble-pack” radios seem like a great deal – and in reality these little FM/UHF radios work great, have better audio quality, often have a further range than CB radios, are usually less expensive, and are a great deal. They seem perfect! Except for one problem: Getting them all to talk to each other

Long Live CB Radio! or not….

Let’s clear up one thing first: A CB radio cannot communicate with any of these other types of radios – FRS, GMRS, MURS, ham, and visa-versa. So we will have to hang on to our CB radio for a while so we can still communicate with all the “old timers” with CBs. So CB radio CH16 will still be in use by The NotARubicon for the foreseeable future, but as of July 2019, CB will no longer be the ‘preferred’ method of communication while on the trail

Switching From CB Radio To FRS / GMRS

Rugged Radio “Race Radio”

In making the switch from CB radio to FRS/GMRS we faced one big challenge: What kind of radio should we get that can talk to all of these different types of hand-held race radios, ham, FRS, GMRS radios and we decided to get a full fledged FCC compliant programmable ham radio (2meter and 70cm). This will allow us to monitor and listen to those that come out with ham radios (until we get an amateur radio license) and will also allow us to talk to all of the FRS/GMRS & Race Radios – and because we are now FCC GMRS licensed, we can operate at a higher output power (up to 50 watts) and have a larger antenna than what is allowed on the smaller walk-talki radios – something that will come in useful when leading large groups of Jeeps.

What Radio Should You Get For A NotARubicon Off-Road Run and what channel/frequency should you use

If you have a ham/70cm radio, the official NotARubicon frequency is: 462.575 (simplex) – Note that 462.575 is in the GMRS band so many ham radios may not allow you to transmit on this frequency.

If you have a “bubble wrap”/inexpensive FRS walki-talki, the official NotARubicon channel is: FRS 16 – with no “tones” or “Privacy” settings

If you have a “GMRS” hand-held, the official NotARubicon channel is: GMRS 2 (no tones, or privacy tones/settings)

If you have not yet purchased a radio, then a small programable handheld such as the Baofeng UV line of radios are good choice. If you want something more simple to use (less buttons/non-programmable) then the Motorola Talkabout or Midland FRS hand-helds are both great, simple to use inexpensive radios. One of our favorites is the inexpensive Radiooddity FS-T1, 22 Channel FRS walki-talki. All of these should work on our new channels.

FCC Licensing For Off-Road Radio Use

FRS radios (the small, inexpensive, non-programable hand-held radios with a fixed antenna) do not require any license to operate. Just grab one at Walmart or from Amazon, charge-up the battery and start talking.

Transmitting on a “GMRS” capable radio, which may have a removable antenna and usually costs more than FRS radios, does require a GMRS “ZA” license from the FCC. If you are only listening/monitoring, no license is required, and a license is not required to purchase a GMRS radio. There is no test required for a GMRS license, you just fill out a form and send money ($70) to Uncle Sam. You can create an account and apply for a GMRS license at the FCC website. You only need one GMRS license to cover your entire immediate family.

Programmable radios such as the BAOFENG UV-5R or BAOFENG BF-F8HP are capable of transmitting on FRS, GMRS and ham frequencies, as well as other frequencies such as police and fire. Although it is legal to purchase this type of radio and listen to any frequency, it is your responsibility to ensure that you transmit only on frequencies that you are licensed to use and within the power limits set for that frequency. To operate on any ham-radio frequencies you will need a ham license which requires passing a test. To learn more about how to get a ham radio license check out AARL.ORG.

If you have questions about using any of these new radios on a trail run with The NotARubicon or if you have any general FRS / GMRS radio questions please post them in a comment below and we will do our best to answer.


Randy

2 COMMENTS
  • Chris
    Reply

    Good choice randy. Have the rugged handheld with extended wip and the 5amp. But going to the 50amp it’s like 150 for a truck mount.

  • Ernest
    Reply

    Good job, thank you for the info

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