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How to Choose a Backcountry Communication Device

Whether you want to chat with friends on the ski slopes or you need to send a message during an emergency, having a communication device sure comes in handy.


The classic portable walkie-talkies are used primarily for communicating with party members over relatively short distances: While some devices have a range up to 25 miles, terrain and other conditions often limit the signal to a couple of miles.

Look for:

  • Ergonomic radios that are easy to use, like when wearing gloves.
  • High-powered (1-2 watts) models that provide better reception — even in steep terrain — and better signal quality.
  • Radios with a Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) or Continuous Digital Coded Squelch System (CDCSS), which provide a privacy or interference-elimination code in addition to 22 channels, helping avoid the channel clutter of other conversations in busy places.
  • Features like paging, scanning, weather radio, noise filter and keypad lock.
  • Even though different types of walkie-talkies can communicate, buy units in pairs to enable the use of all features on your unit.

The durable and rechargeable MOTOROLA TALKABOUT T600 H2O ($120/pair, is waterproof and floats, and has 22 channels and 121 privacy codes, hands-free operation, a Push-to-Talk power boost when extended range is needed, an NOAA weather channel and a keypad lock. It covers a range of up to 35 miles and runs on three AA batteries. 1 lb. 9 oz.


For sending messages from the wilderness to a party back in civilization, look into a one-way satellite messenger, like the SPOT GEN4 ($150,, with options that range from sending customized messages (you can program up to 1,250 messages) and your location to specific recipients to sending an SOS to the appropriate emergency-response team. Spot requires a service plan; prices start at $12/month. One drawback: It doesn’t receive messages. 5 oz.


The most versatile messaging devices for the backcountry are two-way messengers, used primarily for multiday wilderness adventures. They provide the ability to share your location as well as exchange text messages with another party.

The BIVYSTICK ($350, is a smart little device that’s half the weight of a smartphone and, when paired with a phone, provides two-way texting via satellite to phone numbers or email addresses. Features include location sharing and tracking, SOS signaling with Global Rescue and preset check-in messaging. Downside: It isn’t cheap and requires a data plan (purchased separately, $18 to $50/month). 3.5 oz.

The popular, compact and lightweight GARMIN INREACH MINI ($350, sends messages either directly or with a paired cellphone, and allows texting back and forth. The GARMIN MONTANA 700I ($700, expands the backcountry tool kit with GPS functionality and a 5-inch display and keyboard for typing messages more easily. Garmin’s annual plans start at $12/month. 3.5 oz.

62 Comments on How to Choose a Backcountry Communication Device

  1. Hello I am looking for walkie talkies that are hands free. I will be using them inside a building so distance is not a concern, however I will need more than two any suggestions of brands and what to make sure I look for when buying them so I purchase what is needed. Thank you so much

  2. I need two two way radios that are water proof and have a three mile range through
    mountains and are $15 can you help?

  3. Privacy codes do not scramble the message, they just add a subaudible tone to the beginning of the message that opens the tone squelch circuit in the radio. If you have a ham license, these are normally referred to as CTCSS tones.

  4. Some nice info, thanks again everyone for all the input.

  5. Radiotechkb1 // August 29, 2011 at 3:17 pm // Reply

    Ham Radio is the best way to go.

  6. I like the Garmin Rino but I prefer a ham radio.

  7. Pepperthechessmaster1 // August 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm // Reply

    and in the $40-$80 range

  8. Pepperthechessmaster1 // July 30, 2011 at 7:35 pm // Reply

    need walkies talkies BAD plz help one that not too expensive but still works good and has a big range (20 miles)

    Thank u

  9. i want 2 good walki talkies 4 hunting below $50, any sugggestions?

  10. i’m looking for a two way radio that is water proof and has 15 chanel if any body wants to tell me about one in the $40-$70 range please tell me

    • scoutmaster // May 24, 2011 at 9:00 am // Reply

      With that price range, you’re looking at Family Radio Service (FRS) frequencies. The range is listed on the front of the radio but will be significantly less with any terrain in between you and what you are communicating with. You should also consider a model that is rechargeable. Privacy codes allow you to block out other coversations but you should be careful not to interfere with others. These are available at many outdoor and department stores.
      Look for a comfortable size and buttons that you won’t hit by mistake. Otherwise, just start reading the feature lists and compare till you find something you like.

  11. i love them with head sets

  12. Cobra Micro talk 21 mile range durability great watertight 21,000 private channels

  13. I am looking for a a two radio for talking with other people at our club fairs, there is alot of talking in the background, we need to communicate between10 people. Any help

  14. Parky's Farm // July 7, 2010 at 8:58 am // Reply

    Anyone have suggestion on radios that are waterproof. I work on a educational farm with a bunch of teen staffers who have a tendency to drop their radios in water troughs. Range isn’t that important to me but durabity and waterproofing are.

  15. get up and go // April 4, 2010 at 5:17 pm // Reply

    Again, I’ll say it. Unless you plan to go get lost on Gilligans Island, or some such, save your money.
    I just use a 30 mile walkie-talkie. I just use the hams at a merit badge course.

  16. The Midland LXT-300 talkies are good for scouting events, and they work great if you work at cub scout camps or council summer camps. I also use them for river canoeing, hiking, and caving. They have a pretty good range and work well, but use a wall charger instead of batteries, so you have to charge them prior to your adventure.

  17. I have. A
    motorola. Em1000r. It. Is. Great. You. Can. Talk. 20 miles. Away. But. The. Problem. With. Motorola. Gmrs./frs. Radios. Is. When. You. Try. To. Plug. In. A. Headset. The led. Lite. Is. Always. On. When. I. Plug. It. In. That. Means. It’s. Pushing. The. Talk. Button. By. It. Self

    • littlemike // March 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm // Reply

      u need to turn the radio off before plugging in an accesorie to a motorola radio then turn it on and the accesorie will then work

  18. try the motorola talkabout 5000.pretty good range of 5mi, and water resistant. comes in alkaline battery model and rechargeable models.

  19. DonkeyKong // August 4, 2009 at 5:13 pm // Reply

    I have the Cobra PR 170-2 VP one. I wish it had a silent mode 🙁

  20. If you want to talk a long distance > 2mi over different terrain the FRS/GMRS radios are not going to do it. You’d be best to get your ham radio license and get a better understanding of radio communication in general.

  21. would like good quality, inexpensive radio please advise thanks!

  22. uyyyyyyyyyyy // June 4, 2009 at 11:50 am // Reply

    the Midland LXT330 is amazing

  23. Is there any way to know which brand/ model would work best in an area with a mixture of lakes, hills and forests?


  24. tankmaster94 // January 31, 2009 at 4:32 pm // Reply

    i have 2 motorola FV200R

  25. eagleorbust // January 6, 2009 at 5:31 pm // Reply

    I have 10 Motorola FV200R but several of them don’t work. 🙁

  26. Archeopteryx // December 24, 2008 at 5:50 am // Reply

    The Garmin Rino 530 rocks!!!!!!!!

  27. king tut:
    not a radio but might be effective: telephone

    • Ivan A.K.A. KL2UG // November 1, 2016 at 3:34 pm // Reply

      Unfortunately phones only work in the “Front Country”, heck they sometimes don’t work there. “Back Country” locations, genereally, do not have cell reception.

  28. I was going to buy a radio but i just want a good one that will reach about 15 miles

    They all say that they will but they only reach about 2.

    So if anyone knows a good two way radio please let me know

  29. I love waki takis and have used everything but i dont like motarala very well because they dont have rechargable batteries.

  30. Awesome

  31. i thought about wiring a flashlight to it a crank one but that would be a waste

  32. I have 2 bellsouth radios model 2210 issued i ’01 there great but eat up the batteries so much so i put in a smaller speaker and its better but i still go through a lot of batteries

  33. i got a cobra micro talk it is great and a little waterproof

  34. Make sure whatever you get has whether alerts. I got caught in a blizzard in Big Bear once!

  35. if you want a good 2 way radio thats not to pricey you should get a motorala they last forever

  36. these are awesome two way radios especialy the one with a GPS built in that could be handy for anything

  37. There is no need to get a GMRS license. I have one and it was a waste of $80. No one has never ask to have my license #. I will never buy a nother one.

    • It is a federal law and you do need one because they do find people that don’t havfe a license. And yes there is a way to find you if you don’t have the license.

  38. Hi,

    Would I need a FCC license if I buy Motorola TALKABOUT EM1000R 2-way radio ?

    It has both FRS & GMRS, but I have no intention of using the GMRS mode.

    Pls advice

  39. where do u get a FCC license and why? Thanks.

  40. People often forget that it costs 80 bucks for a FCC licence

    • Thats not all true you can get a Ham Radio Liscence For about 15 bucks.
      Although you need to pass a written exam

  41. what do you think about the garmin rino 110

  42. Thanks for the tips Motorola FV200R looks good for me

  43. The Uniden GMR 1438 ($50) is a great mid-level unit with a 14-mile range, 99 privacy codes, vibrate and silent modes and rechargeable NiMH batteries.

    If this just carried luthium AA or AAA batteries I would buy it!

  44. Do not think about the XT511 from Midland; it’s not going to come

    to market anytime soon. Look for the older T7200 handheld from

    Motorola. It has lots of features.

  45. asome:)

  46. walkie talkies are great for capture the flag wich our troop plays alot of

  47. Pretty cool. 8) I’d prabably go for the MidlandXT511 or the Motorola T9500. That Garmin Rino 530 must be kind of rare, I mean, it’s $535. 😮

  48. 🙂 🙁 8) 😛 😉 😮 😀

  49. Pack760Scout // August 30, 2007 at 5:06 pm // Reply

    The Garmin Rino is Awesome!!!!!

    Our Troop used it it was great!!!!!!

  50. Thanks for your info on these Hand-helds.How does one get a license for the GRMS radios??

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