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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.

TWO-WAY RADIOS

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, shop.motorolasolutions.com) 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.

ONE-WAY SATELLITE MESSENGERS

For sending messages from the wilderness to a party back in civilization, look into a one-way satellite messenger, like the SPOT GEN4 ($150, findmespot.com), 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.

TWO-WAY SATELLITE MESSENGERS

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, bivy.com) 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, garmin.com) sends messages either directly or with a paired cellphone, and allows texting back and forth. The GARMIN MONTANA 700I ($700, garmin.com) 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.

19 Comments on How to Choose a Backcountry Communication Device

  1. First Class Scout, Patrol Leader, River Otter Patrol, Troop 427 // March 21, 2022 at 11:10 am // Reply

    These are really great ideas about two way backcountry communication devices. Two other means of two way communications are the following techniques: Helium filled balloon with postage affixed to postcard contained in plastic ziplock bag attached to Helium balloon. If let go to rise into the sky at Philmont Scout Ranch located in Cimarron, State of New Mexico and let the balloon travel on the Westerly Breezes and Winds blowing to the East, the postcard and balloon will be received by the Sherrif Department’s Patrol Car Law Enforcement Team located in Tennessee (East of the Mississippi River in about seven (7) months…Two-Hundred Ten (210 days) days from the date that the postcard and balloon was let go airborne into the sky………Another two way back country communication is to write a message on two pieces of lined notebook paper and curl them into a bedroll and placed in a twenty fluid ounces (20 fl. oz.) plastic Coca Cola bottle complete with screw top lid and placed in a river flowing downstream from Philmont Scout Ranch located in Cimarron, State of New Mexico and flowing downstream to the Rio Grande River or flowing downstream to the Pacific Ocean. The plastic bottle (“Message in a bottle”) will be received by the Sherrif Department patrol car of the State of Texas or by the Sherrif Department patrol car of the State of California (whichever direction flowing downstream travels toward the Rio Grande River or the Pacific Ocean in about eight (8) months depending on downstream water flow from Philmont Scout Ranch located in Cimarron, State of New Mexico. These are really great ideas.

  2. I’m good

  3. I use Motarola talkies (21 miles)

  4. “Direct call” and “Privacy” does not mean the communication is scrambled.

  5. or you could get your ham ticket for $15 and a cheap radio for longer communications

  6. EG Cub Scout // January 13, 2015 at 5:47 pm // Reply

    I am going to get one right now! I rated this 5 stars! Hope you like this coment

  7. Knife Xpert 157(aka Chad 101) // December 12, 2014 at 2:38 pm // Reply

    Asking for the Midland GTX1000VP4 for Christmas. Features include but are not limited to: up to36 mile range
    SOS locator beacon
    VOX operable, 9 levels of sensitivity
    FRS/GMR, 50 channels
    LO/MED/HI power settings
    NOAA Weather Scan and Hazard Alert

  8. Thing is, do you really need 20+ miles? Save your money if you don`t.

    • Knife Xpert 157(aka Chad 101) // December 12, 2014 at 2:31 pm // Reply

      Thing is, when you really need 20+ mile range and dont have it (like in an emergency)…. what happens then? Just sayin

  9. I use Motorola CT250 UHF radios, can be found for about 150/radio online. Have them on the UHF MURS (Multi User Radio Service, also license free) and no one on those little “bubble pack” radios as they are called can intercept your communications. Also my troop has me, a ham radio operator, to provide emergency communications should something happen.

    73’s

  10. Just picked up a set of 6 Cobra Micro radios; impressive. They have a 28 mile range and are all tuned alike. we will have 1 radio for each pair of scouts in case we get separated or spread out. I also bought the matching solar charger. * With its long range they’ll also work great for vehicle communicating while traveling cross-country in 3 vehicles.

  11. i need one of those!

  12. Me, and my brothers all have Midland radios they have 15 calls the really good ones do and you can talk to someone else on the same channel even if theirs are not Midland. They also have a vibrate setting and hedsets about supposedly 20 mi allclear hands free too

  13. they are good

  14. where do i find a good (and cheap) 4 way walkie talkie

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