Monday, December 13, 2021

The Case For Owning A Two-Way Radio

When I was young, communication away from home was a pain in the neck! We had only one portable option, two-way radios or more affectionately, walkie talkies. Hand-held two-way radios (known officially as FRS radios) only worked over 2-4 miles at best. So if you needed to contact someone while out on the road, you had to find a payphone and hope to God they were home. 

Meeting your friends at the park for the afternoon or at some stellar outdoor spot for the weekend meant planning well in advance. You had to make sure everyone knew exactly where to go. You couldn’t just send them a Google Maps pin and say “see ya at dark-30.” You could give them verbal directions such as “get off at Exit 39, go 10 miles and turn left just after the 7-11. Go 4.3 miles and turn right onto forest service road 291 by the rusty gait. Keep going until you see the smoke from our fire.” The chance of needing to make multiple U-turns was high! Another option was to meet them at the Exit and have them follow you, also a pain in the neck. 

However we went about sharing directions, it was complicated, time-consuming and there was a high chance of getting lost. One of the best ways to mitigate problems finding each other was with two-way radios. Your friend could just radio you when they were close if they had trouble finding you.  And that is still true today. I frequently invite friends, and friends of friends to come along on weekend adventures. 

These often take place in remote areas where there is little to no cell service. Recently I invited a friend who lives 3 hours away to come up and camp in the Great Smoky Mountains. Once inside the park, cell service is completely gone! The campgrounds inside the park are first come first serve. So I couldn't reserve a site ahead and tell him a site number. I got there after the ranger station closed so I couldn't use their phone to call him. He did not arrive till about midnight. Once at the campground, he drove through it looking for my car parked at a site. I was in the bathroom when he drove by the first two times. He circled the campground three times before realizing which site I was parked in, all the while shining his headlights into the tents and RV's of sleeping campers! 

What could have avoided this annoyance? A simple, cheap two-way radio. It is an item every single outdoor enthusiast, weekend warrior, and hard-core adventurer should own. Yes, cellphones are easier most of the time, but where they don't work, a two-way radio fills in the gap. Some have argued that they are an obsolete and fading technology. That is utter nonsense! My local Wal-Mart stocks 10 different models. My local REI stocks 7 different models. Walkie talkie sales are increasing globally even as more people have access to cell phones! ( Manufacturers continue to pack more features in than ever including NOAA weather radio channels, waterproofness, Bluetooth connectivity, built-in flashlights, mesh networking, and others you probably don't need but think are cool.

Two-way radios have so many uses in the outdoors. They are great when belaying a tall climb, backpacking with a group, paddling with friends, or hitting the slopes for the weekend. Outdoor recreation and adventure are not the only reasons to have a two-way radio. Other great uses include going to a concert or festival, road tripping with multiple vehicles, off-roading, and more vitally, in an emergency like a natural disaster. The Red Cross recommends having two-way radios in your emergency preparedness kit. ( If the power goes out or the phones go down a two-way radio is another means of communication with your family and the outside world. Rescuers often monitor two-way radio frequencies during a disaster situation. 

Two-way radios are still a vital form of communication. You should own at least one if not a set. Even if you only use them once every year or two, when you need them, nothing can beat them. Sure, there are more fancy and expensive alternatives such as GPS messengers and two-way radio phone extensions such as the GoTenna. But that's the problem, they are more expensive. Plus they are much less ubiquitous. Don't misunderstand me, those sorts of gadgets have their place and are great options if you choose to use them. Not everyone has them though, and the cost will keep most people from getting them. Nearly anyone can afford a cheap two-way radio. You can get a pair at Wal-Mart for $14.99! They don't require a service plan, are easy to operate, and will last for decades even with frequent use! So, if you don't already have a two-way radio, go out and get one, 10-4?

Get a quality set now for just $30