Author Topic: FRS/GMRS Radios  (Read 7360 times)

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Offline Frugal Bohemian

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FRS/GMRS Radios
« on: July 16, 2012, 10:35:42 AM »
Anyone have any recommendations for a good, preferably inexpensive 2-way radio set?  It struck me recently as I was fly fishing a swift river while my wife was hiking in bear country (both fairly remote locations) that if anything happened to either one of us, we could both be in one of those "I Shouldn't Be Alive" situations.  Once we got back to camp, we realized how unsettling it was.  Especially since our teen son was at camp by himself and would have been worried sick if one or both of us hadn't shown up back at camp.

I confess to being pretty clueless about these technologies, FRS vs. GMRS.  I'm aware that the advertised ranges (at least for FRS?) are wildly exaggerated, best-cased-scenario claims.  I'm looking for, realistically, a 2 to 5 mile range.  Under $50 would be my preference as they probably won't get used all that often.  Oh, and the terrain is most likely wooded but not mountainous.  Pretty much flat midwestern flatlands with perhaps some valleys where the rivers are.

I've read a few reviews on Amazon. 
These ones seemed pretty good, but what do I know?  http://www.amazon.com/Cobra-MicroTalk-CTX425-22-Channel-Two-Way/dp/B00365E1FG/ref=sr_1_4?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1342455550&sr=1-4&keywords=gmrs+radio

Thanks guys
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Offline acara

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2012, 11:19:18 AM »
I use mostly Midlands (GXT series) these days & they have worked out well for me.
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Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2012, 11:36:12 AM »
First, you need to get licensed by the FCC to use GMRS frequencies. FRS is good to go without a license, but the FRS is allowed less maximum wattage than GMRS.

All of the radios will be limited to a certain maximum wattage in order to be type accepted by the FCC. So really as far as transmit range goes it all boils down to the antenna design, and the local conditions.

Flat terrain with lots of trees isn't going to be the ideal conditions. The best range is going to be achieved when both radios have a clear line of sight to each other, like on the water or from mountain top to mountain top.

Offline Frugal Bohemian

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #3 on: July 16, 2012, 11:47:01 AM »
Flat terrain with lots of trees isn't going to be the ideal conditions. The best range is going to be achieved when both radios have a clear line of sight to each other, like on the water or from mountain top to mountain top.

Harumph!  Well that ain't gonna work.  Clear line of sight isn't a likely condition.   For instance, this past week my wife was in the forest about a mile or two away and I was wading the river, about 40ft drop in elevation.  Drats. 
"I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems weird and scary to me. It'll happen to you..."
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2012, 11:43:35 AM »
I have a pair of Cobra FRS radios that are fairly old. Newer ones supposedly have better antenna systems so they get better range from the same output. I know with mine we can't talk even 1/4 mile in town.

That said, I'll throw a third element into the equation. How about walkie-talkies on the 11 meter band (Citizen's Band)? A handheld CB radio is allowed 4 watts output, and I've used cheap ones for up to 2 miles in the woods. I got 5 miles out of one, talking between a handheld, and a vehicle mounted one (mobile base).  With my first CB walkies I was able to talk about 25 miles to a full powered base unit in a guy's house. The units are much better now than mine was back in the 60's.
Another advantage possible with a CB walkie-talkie is that you have the potential to get hold of a third party in an emergency (Isn't Ch 9 still the 'emergency' channel?). With a FRS radio, you can only talk to someone on your primary, or side channel frequency.
FWIW.....
Don't bother walking a mile in my shoes. That would be boring. Try spending 30 seconds in my head. That will freak you right out!!

Offline Frugal Bohemian

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2012, 11:56:39 AM »
That said, I'll throw a third element into the equation. How about walkie-talkies on the 11 meter band (Citizen's Band)? A handheld CB radio is allowed 4 watts output, and I've used cheap ones for up to 2 miles in the woods. I got 5 miles out of one, talking between a handheld, and a vehicle mounted one (mobile base).  With my first CB walkies I was able to talk about 25 miles to a full powered base unit in a guy's house. The units are much better now than mine was back in the 60's.
Another advantage possible with a CB walkie-talkie is that you have the potential to get hold of a third party in an emergency (Isn't Ch 9 still the 'emergency' channel?). With a FRS radio, you can only talk to someone on your primary, or side channel frequency.
FWIW.....

Interesting!  I had thought about CB originally, but I didn't realize they had them in walkie talkie form (I just remember the mobile and base ones from when I was a kid).  I'll have to investigate that a little more. 

Will it take care of the "line of sight" issue then?
"I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems weird and scary to me. It'll happen to you..."
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2012, 02:56:36 PM »
That said, I'll throw a third element into the equation. How about walkie-talkies on the 11 meter band (Citizen's Band)? A handheld CB radio is allowed 4 watts output, and I've used cheap ones for up to 2 miles in the woods. I got 5 miles out of one, talking between a handheld, and a vehicle mounted one (mobile base).  With my first CB walkies I was able to talk about 25 miles to a full powered base unit in a guy's house. The units are much better now than mine was back in the 60's.
Another advantage possible with a CB walkie-talkie is that you have the potential to get hold of a third party in an emergency (Isn't Ch 9 still the 'emergency' channel?). With a FRS radio, you can only talk to someone on your primary, or side channel frequency.
FWIW.....

Interesting!  I had thought about CB originally, but I didn't realize they had them in walkie talkie form (I just remember the mobile and base ones from when I was a kid).  I'll have to investigate that a little more. 

Will it take care of the "line of sight" issue then?
It will not be anywhere as severe as with the FRS radios. Definitely better than line-o-sight!

Other than wattage input and output, the limiting factor with a portable is the antenna. If at all possible, get units that have detachable antennas. A lot of them have screw-in antennas so you can swap the metal telescoping antenna with a flexible coiled antenna for convenience. You also attach many variations of antenna to them.

When I was in Alaska, I had a motorhome with a CB in it. When I got camped, I took my homemade "inverted V" antenna and hung it up in a tree 15'-30' off the ground. I could then talk to my walkies anywhere in a 5 mile radius from this mobile "base" radio.  One day I hooked one of the walkies up to this big antenna, and talked to a guy in Soldotna, 13 miles away.
Don't bother walking a mile in my shoes. That would be boring. Try spending 30 seconds in my head. That will freak you right out!!

Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2012, 03:07:47 PM »
Yep, CB walkie talkies are fun. :thumbsup:

Most modern ones have a BNC connector for the antenna and come with a "ducky" antenna. The BNC connector makes it easy to connect to base station antennas using an adaptro you can find at most radio shack stores and some truck stops. The only thing I'd do is if you plan to connect a portable base station antenna in the field, make sure to use an SWR meter to check before transmitting.

I mounted a mobile CB antenna to my ATV, and keep one of those PL259 to BNC adaptors in the storage compartment. That way I can connect a CB walkie talkie and get a lot better range.

Offline Frugal Bohemian

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2012, 03:10:55 PM »
When I was in Alaska, I had a motorhome with a CB in it. When I got camped, I took my homemade "inverted V" antenna and hung it up in a tree 15'-30' off the ground. I could then talk to my walkies anywhere in a 5 mile radius from this mobile "base" radio.  One day I hooked one of the walkies up to this big antenna, and talked to a guy in Soldotna, 13 miles away.

That's a great idea.  I saw a car CB at a garage sale not too long ago for 2 bucks.  I could set up something like that for base camp (my son is usually hanging around camp instead of hiking) and use the walkie talkies to check in with him.

You've given me some good ideas OP.  The more I look into the GMRS and FRS (and even some of the newer proprietary technologies) it seems like they're all Line-of-Site dependent with a limited range.  Might be good for on a boat, but not necessarily in the woods.
"I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems weird and scary to me. It'll happen to you..."
- Abraham Jay-Jedediah "Abe" Simpson

Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2012, 03:13:33 PM »
....  Might be good for on a boat, but not necessarily in the woods.
We use ours mainly to meet up when the family scatters at the Mall. Hahaha!

Well, we did, until everyone got cell phones. Now we just text, "WTFAU?"   :-\
Don't bother walking a mile in my shoes. That would be boring. Try spending 30 seconds in my head. That will freak you right out!!

Offline wolfy

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2012, 05:14:15 PM »
We have used handheld CB's and FRS models over the years and neither one are worth a damn in certain situations.  We have found CB's to be so inneffectual as to be totally useless during severe sunspot activity or when the 'skip' is rolling out of Mexico.  We couldn't make ourselves understood to the other handheld unit, vehicle mobile or base unit at the house...... or hear them above the roaring static, squeals or booming conversational Spanish coming out of Mexico >:(  None of these units were over 1/4 mile away from each other on flat bottom ground either, as we were using them during irrigation season.......VERY aggravating!

We found the FRS handhelds to be much more usable and, by comparison, are a pure joy to use.  No skip or interference of any kind and much more compact, too.  We have found them usable out to about 2 to 2.5 miles and use them constantly between the combine, tractor with grain cart, and man at the bin site, during harvest.  They are not without their faults, but even business band can be aggravating and unusable in certain situations.  Even cell phones have their blank areas here where we are located because of 'line of sight' access to communications towers.  The FRS's seem to be the best option for short-range, dependable communication for us. 

All that being said, I'd just like to add that Your Mileage WILL Vary!
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Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2012, 06:09:29 PM »
One thing good about the frs radios is they work a heck of a lot better than the toy walkie talkies i had as a kid!

Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #12 on: July 17, 2012, 07:58:36 PM »
...  We have found CB's to be so inneffectual as to be totally useless during severe sunspot activity or when the 'skip' is rolling out of Mexico.  We couldn't make ourselves understood to the other handheld unit, vehicle mobile or base unit at the house...... or hear them above the roaring static, squeals or booming conversational Spanish coming out of Mexico >:(  None of these units were over 1/4 mile away from each other on flat bottom ground either, as we were using them during irrigation season.......VERY aggravating!....
Ah, yes... Probably THE major drawback to any 11 meter radios.  I've seen it so bad you can't even squelch it out. The main reason I went to a SSB (Single Side-Band) radio.

The 'skip' is not always static, though. I got hold of my partner Bill to come pick me up at the bottom of the ridge we were hunting. After a few confusing exchanges, the other "Bill" and I figured out I was in WA and he was in AZ.   :P :-\
Don't bother walking a mile in my shoes. That would be boring. Try spending 30 seconds in my head. That will freak you right out!!

Offline zammer

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #13 on: July 17, 2012, 08:26:11 PM »
Two cans and some paracord?  ;)
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #14 on: July 17, 2012, 08:43:06 PM »
Two cans and some paracord?  ;)
LOL! Pull one strand out of the paracord, and don't forget the rosin.  ;)
Don't bother walking a mile in my shoes. That would be boring. Try spending 30 seconds in my head. That will freak you right out!!

Offline easy_rider75

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Re: FRS/GMRS Radios
« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2012, 10:23:39 AM »
That said, I'll throw a third element into the equation. How about walkie-talkies on the 11 meter band (Citizen's Band)? A handheld CB radio is allowed 4 watts output, and I've used cheap ones for up to 2 miles in the woods. I got 5 miles out of one, talking between a handheld, and a vehicle mounted one (mobile base).  With my first CB walkies I was able to talk about 25 miles to a full powered base unit in a guy's house. The units are much better now than mine was back in the 60's.
Another advantage possible with a CB walkie-talkie is that you have the potential to get hold of a third party in an emergency (Isn't Ch 9 still the 'emergency' channel?). With a FRS radio, you can only talk to someone on your primary, or side channel frequency.
FWIW.....

Interesting!  I had thought about CB originally, but I didn't realize they had them in walkie talkie form (I just remember the mobile and base ones from when I was a kid).  I'll have to investigate that a little more. 

Will it take care of the "line of sight" issue then?


I have a walkie talkie  CB  works pretty well the couple times I used it, only downside to them they are big nice thing  bout the FRS radios they will fit in a pocket.  A buddy  I work  for we do  computer repairs  sometimes are in somewhat large  buildings they make great  for communicating  back and fourth.  He did  try it for kicks one day took  the car out and did get just about close to the  full  range on  it to. If I recall the ones he got were  Midland   
?I'm not one of those complicated, mixed-up cats. I'm not looking for the secret to life.... I just go on from day to day, taking what comes.?~Frank Sinatra~