In the course of my job I am frequently asked about radios suitable for use in the outdoor adventuring environment. Whilst out walking, I am seeing more and more people carrying and using small walkie-talkie radios to talk to each other. On the surface this may seem like a great idea as it appears to allow larger parties to keep contact with each other or could be used in an emergency to gain help and assistance.
The major problem is that expectation is all too often dashed by reality and this can lead to dire consequences. The purpose of this blog is to show some of the advantages of these radios but more importantly to highlight some of their failings.
Firstly, all of the radio spectrum across the world is strictly controlled and in the UK, administration of the radio waves is delegated to the Office of Communications (OFCOM). Anyone who operates a radio must be licensed by OFCOM with two exceptions – citizens Band (CB) and PMR466.
CB is not appropriate to walkie-talkie communications. Therefore we are looking at PMR446 (personal mobile radio, 446 MHz) which uses part of the UHF radio spectrum that is open without licensing for business and personal use. It uses low power (500mW) so depending on surrounding terrain, range can vary from a few hundred metres (in a city) to a few kilometres (flat countryside) to many kilometres from high ground.
So what are some of the advantages?
- Relatively cheap
- Very easy to use
- Pre-programmed radio frequencies
- No contracts or call charges
- No licence required!
and the disadvantages!
- Lower power, so their range is short (dependant on terrain)
- Their popularity means the channels can often be congested
- Not suitable for emergency use
- If users are too far apart they may suffer interference from other two-way radios within range
They are designed to keep in contact with your buddies when you are in close proximity only. A good example of their use is when rock climbing, the people at the bottom and top of the rock face can talk to each other without shouting.
DO NOT rely on them for emergency use. They are not monitored by the Emergency Services and in the hills you could not rely on them to make contact. Do not rely on them as your only means of communications.
Please do have consideration for others on the hills who do not want to hear demented children shouting into radios all day long. Used sensibly and with respect and they can be a useful tool – but they are not a toy!
So how can I got hold of them?
There are plenty of cheap and cheerful walkie-talkies advertised on ebay and Amazon (other online retail outlets are available), and that is where they should stay. If you are spending £10 – £20 you are wasting your money. Always go to a reputable radio dealer.
One of the radios that I would recommend is the Midland XT50 Adventure Edition. This is a handy twin pack designed with the adventurer in mind. But don’t just take my word for it have a look around the internet and see what is available.
In addition to being an experienced outdoor enthusiast, the author has been a licensed communications specialist for the past 48 years both as a Radio Amateur and as a professional in the RAF. He has operated HF and V/UHF radios from some of the most inaccessible summits in the UK. He currently works as a senior sales consultant for one of the countries largest hobby radio equipment dealers.