Oddly enough, when we were getting our gear together for overland adventures, it was rather difficult to find useful guidance for radio communications. Professional race teams use the expensive equipment, sporting goods shops sell the restrictive low power handhelds (walkie-talkies) and auto parts stores generally carry CB-Radios.
I won’t go into the details of each of those, in my opinion, they each serve their purpose, but, none of them are what we feel are the simple, affordable, user friendly solution that we decided to go with.
Generally, we have found that off-road groups use UHF/VHF frequencies. I personally like to use the MURS (no license needed, max 2 Watt), and the FRS/GMRS bands which have some FCC regulations you should be aware of:
- channels 1 – 7 do not exceed 2.0 Watts
- channels 8 – 14 do not exceed 0.5 Watts
- channels 15 – 22 do not exceed 2.0 Watts.
We went ahead and just got a GMRS license which lets us operate the GMRS bands at higher power without having to worry (if you buy a Rugged Radios setup, they program in GMRS and many people don’t realize that they need a license to operate those frequencies at high power)
Here is the equipment we use and highly recommend:
- BaoFeng UV-5R ($30 on Amazon, has high (4 Watt) and low (1 Watt) power settings in case you don’t want to get a license)
The following items are for the hardwired mobile radio setup in our truck if you want to run higher power (with a license)
- QYT KT-8900 Dual-Band ($72 on eBay, 25 Watt unit, we recommend that you just get the FCC license if you want to run one of these because the low power setting is still ~10 Watts)
- NMO Mount 3/4″ Hole with 13′ foot RG58A/U w/ PL-259 Connector UHF VHF Coax Cable ($15 on eBay)
- DPD Productions Dual Band GMRS/MURS Mobile Antenna ($78, specifically tuned for these bands)
The BaoFeng handheld is perfectly capable for nearby communication within a group, it is easy to pass around to a passenger, and also very handy that it can be taken out of the car for coordinating photo/video shoots.
The hardwired mobile radio setup is nice in the sense that it never runs out of battery, and being a 25Watt unit, it has longer range and can be a critical tool in case of emergencies when there is no cell reception. Just note that you’ll want to consider a good mounting spot for the unit. They get pretty hot on their own, so we decided to keep it in the bottom portion of the dash console area. Fabbed up a mounting bracket for the mic and the unit, it sits by the driver’s knee, easy to reach and doesn’t get in the way.
The antenna is mounted to a home made L or Z bracket that mounts to a fender bolt, just to keep it a bit lower than roof mounting for ease of everyday parking garage navigation.