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Old 12-03-2015, 08:11 AM
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Upgrading from CB to Ham -- Some Questions

Buddies and I have been getting out for a few years but we are tired of the limited performance of CB radios. Lousy reception, no reception if we get separated by a couple miles, no reception if we split up on trails, etc. Lots of questions arise, and we're looking for some answers.

1. What's best for the vehicle itself, a mounted system or a handheld device?

2. Once a group of us went off on a 5-mile hike while the others stayed back in camp. Is this a good reason to have handheld devices, so everyone can stay in contact, e.g., those around the fire and those hiking up the ridge?

3. Some of the handhelds are looking pretty inexpensive at Amazon. Are these worth considering? Any models or brands to avoid?

4. Can the case be made to have both a mounted system in the vehicle plus a handheld, since the handhelds are reasonably cheap? The mounted system would be for long-range comm, while the handhelds would be for local use. What kind of range should we expect to get for each?

5. Wheeling aside, if we also wanted to use our hams for emergencies like the aftermath of an earthquake, e.g, speaking with our families because the cell networks are down, what should we select or consider?

6. Are hams the best for calling in help out on the trail, if someone needs airlifting because he rolled his vehicle? How do we know which frequency or channel to use in the various remote parts of Southern California? Will handheld devices have the necessary range to reach these operators?

7. Any other general advice would be much appreciated.

Thanks!

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Old 12-03-2015, 09:34 AM   #2
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All of your questions are good questions.

CB is cheap, readily available, and almost idiot proof. For max output and reception with a CB setup install a 102" whip antenna on your vehicle. You can also install amplifiers (against the law, but often done) to boost the signal. But if it fries your electronics in the vehicle don't expect the amp manufacturer to pony up for the repairs.

HAM equipment is publicly available to purchase but really understanding the hardware and how it is used requires more knowledge. That knowledge is typically acquired thorough training that leads to holding a license.

Additionally, the frequencies on which HAM equipment operates are regulated with accepted protocols in place for usage. So yes, someone with a bit of technical savvy can figure out how to fire one up and talk, but unless they respect the protocols of net (frequency) usage they will turn the HAM channels into a cesspool similar to the CB channels. There are HAM frequencies used for chit-chat purposes and that could included a group out wheeling. So I'm not discouraging the use of the HAM equipment, but I am advocating for proper usage when on the air.

Now, about which equipment.

There are good reasons why you see radio towers as 1,000 foot metal structures on top of tall buildings. That's because physical barriers like high hills are a problem for all types of broadcast radio.

The other answer is to push the signal with high-power on different frequencies, but there are problems associated with that - such as a thing called reflected wattage, in which an inattentive operator or unaware bystander can suffer serious injury.

So be aware that you can drop thousands of $$ into high powered HAM mobile rigs and handhelds and still find your self limited by the 2 mile or 5 mile window when in the mountains.

My personal CB set up is a tweaked and tuned Cobra 29 with a power mic, and a 102" whip antenna. Unless I'm traveling out of state the CB stays on the shelf. And FWIW, it is rare to find anyone on the channels today as cell phones have replaced CB for the typical commuter.

My handheld HAM radio is a Wouxun handheld hooked up to a 1/4 wave (approx 48") magnetically mounted whip.

Amazon.com: Wouxun KG-UV2D Two Way Radio: Car Electronics

it is programmed to the frequencies and repeaters most used by the local HAM club (WAARS for those with inquiring minds) and generally stays off except for when I'm out during the morning rush hour.

The truth is, the best CB or HAM equipment in the world will not help you in a mountains or backwoods crisis situation in which you are too far removed from anyone who might happen to be tuned in to the particular frequency. Simply put, if they can't hear you, they can't respond.

So for life or death rescue needed situations my recommendation would be for someone to take along a SPOT tracker device.

SPOT SATELLITE MESSENGER :: HOME PAGE

Subscriptions are not terribly expensive, but if someone is wheeling in remote locales and thinks a crash or other need will call for satellite based calls for help, it is available.

Having said that, "crisis" needs to be defined.

Until recently SPOT devices were used primarily by remote area hikers, hunting guides, and other such types of users, so that historically, when a rescue signal went out the rescue squads mobilized with helicopters, paramedics, and medical staff.

Unfortunately, as SPOT has become better known the "head firmly implanted in the anus" doofus types have misused them for "I failed to track my miles and ran out of gas" calls. Since those scenarios have developed I've read of cases where the rescue services are promptly billing said doofus for fuel, maintenance, and other cost of service fees for the irresponsible call.

In other words, if you were thrown from your horse and broke your back, we are here to help. But if you are too stupid to track your fuel economy or simply neglected to pack a lunch, you are going to pay "stupid tax."

Some of the above is more than you asked for, but like all such advice, it's free!

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Old 12-03-2015, 10:21 AM   #3
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I am very new to the Ham radio and had many similar questions when I first started. My best suggestion is to talk to the experts. If you don't know anyone who is a Ham you can try to look for local clubs. Most of these folks are quite helpful.

In my case, I didn't know anyone else that was a Ham and didn't know enough to look for the clubs. I found the folks at Ham Radio Outlet (HRO) were very helpful and spent a couple hours explaining things for me. I did a quick search and there is a store in San Diego;

Locations

This should at least get you started.

Hope this helps and good luck.

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Old 12-03-2015, 11:33 AM   #4
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I'm on my way to work in a while so I'll limit my comments for now to recommend you get a conventional full-size (like a Uniden 520XL) CB first, not a handheld.

Handhelds are heavy due to needing batteries inside them, need an external antenna to work well, and inside the Jeep are more of a PITA to use since you'll have a couple wires connected to them (antenna and power cables) and they are big enough that you won't enjoy using them all that much inside the Jeep. Not to mention most handheld CBs don't transmit with as much power as a standard CB does.

And when you're yakking on the trail, that small lightweight mic a conventional CB uses is sure a lot nicer to use than hefting a handheld CB each time you want to say something. Plus if you're in a noisy Jeep, the small speaker inside a handheld can be hard to hear

After you get a conventional CB installed, you'll likely not feel the need for an additional hand-held CB. At least they're not commonly used in any of the many offroad groups I've wheeled in over many years.

This is the Uniden Pro-520XL, you can find them under $50 on the Internet, sometimes closer to $40. Midland is another good brand of CB, I personally consider Uniden and Midland as the two highest quality CB brands at this point.

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Old 12-03-2015, 12:33 PM   #5
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Tom, If your really interested in becoming a ham visit one of the clubs in your area.

Search for ARRL Affiliated Clubs

That is the ARRL's club search page. Try your ZIP code with a distance, or use the "ARRL Section" pull down. San Diego is there.

Most clubs love visitors and are willing to help you get started.

Amateur radio does have a learning curve. It's not like CB which you turn on and pick a channel. It's not that difficult, but you have to understand the concepts.

#5 That might be possible, but everybody has to be licensed.
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Old 12-03-2015, 02:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Jerry Bransford View Post
I'm on my way to work in a while so I'll limit my comments for now to recommend you get a conventional full-size (like a Uniden 520XL) CB first, not a handheld.

Handhelds are heavy due to needing batteries inside them, need an external antenna to work well, and inside the Jeep are more of a PITA to use since you'll have a couple wires connected to them (antenna and power cables) and they are big enough that you won't enjoy using them all that much inside the Jeep. Not to mention most handheld CBs don't transmit with as much power as a standard CB does.

And when you're yakking on the trail, that small lightweight mic a conventional CB uses is sure a lot nicer to use than hefting a handheld CB each time you want to say something. Plus if you're in a noisy Jeep, the small speaker inside a handheld can be hard to hear

After you get a conventional CB installed, you'll likely not feel the need for an additional hand-held CB. At least they're not commonly used in any of the many offroad groups I've wheeled in over many years.

This is the Uniden Pro-520XL, you can find them under $50 on the Internet, sometimes closer to $40. Midland is another good brand of CB, I personally consider Uniden and Midland as the two highest quality CB brands at this point.

Thanks Jerry, we're a bit beyond needing a better CB at this point. Never tried a handheld CB because I learned early on they are only good for talking to the vehicle directly behind you, which can be done with a Motorola radio purchased at Costco for $29.
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Old 12-03-2015, 02:07 PM
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All of your questions are good questions.

Additionally, the frequencies on which HAM equipment operates are regulated with accepted protocols in place for usage. So yes, someone with a bit of technical savvy can figure out how to fire one up and talk, but unless they respect the protocols of net (frequency) usage they will turn the HAM channels into a cesspool similar to the CB channels. There are HAM frequencies used for chit-chat purposes and that could included a group out wheeling. So I'm not discouraging the use of the HAM equipment, but I am advocating for proper usage when on the air.
Granted I am just beginning my inquiry here. I understand that there must be proper respect for frequency usage. I also understood that, for most of the remote California desert, there were ham operators who were on full-time monitoring distress calls. I guess that's where joining the local club becomes important.

We meet a jeep club in Death Valley last month, and all 10 vehicles were using a ham frequency. I have the contact info for the lead guy and I will ask him similar questions.

For selfish reasons, the primary reason I want the ham is for better comm with buddies while wheeling. That's why I asked the question here.

Thanks for the wonderful response.
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Old 12-03-2015, 02:07 PM
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Tom, If your really interested in becoming a ham visit one of the clubs in your area.

Search for ARRL Affiliated Clubs

That is the ARRL's club search page. Try your ZIP code with a distance, or use the "ARRL Section" pull down. San Diego is there.

Most clubs love visitors and are willing to help you get started.

Amateur radio does have a learning curve. It's not like CB which you turn on and pick a channel. It's not that difficult, but you have to understand the concepts.

#5 That might be possible, but everybody has to be licensed.
Best advice yet, Sparky. Thanks and we'll do that.
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Old 12-03-2015, 02:11 PM   #9
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Buddies and I have been getting out for a few years but we are tired of the limited performance of CB radios.
I was just like you. I'd always had a CB in my various Jeeps, and I thought I liked it simply because it was what everybody had. We put up with all the drawbacks of CB--and there are many--mainly because we didn't know any better. But in 2013 when I ran the Rubicon Trail, many people in our group of 9 Jeeps had ham radios. Needless to say, it didn't take me long to see the light... and a few weeks after returning home, I got my Technician license.

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1. What's best for the vehicle itself, a mounted system or a handheld device?
Mounted systems are always better to user in a vehicle. They are easier to operate, since you only need hold a microphone rather than a bulky radio; they are less of a hassle since you aren't fighting with cords that can tangle you up; plus you get better performance since the mounted radios put out more power than the comparatively wimpy handheld units.

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2. Once a group of us went off on a 5-mile hike while the others stayed back in camp. Is this a good reason to have handheld devices, so everyone can stay in contact, e.g., those around the fire and those hiking up the ridge?
Yes. In fact, when I go on Jeep trips I usually put a handheld ham radio in the glovebox for this exact scenario.

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3. Some of the handhelds are looking pretty inexpensive at Amazon. Are these worth considering?
They are dirt cheap, and most people consider them disposable. I think they make great backup radios--and I do own one, a Baofeng UV-5R--though I also have a "real" handheld (Yaesu FT-60R) that I use much more frequently. Be advised: the stock antenna on a Baofeng leaves much to be desired (though this could be said for nearly any handheld radio).

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5. Wheeling aside, if we also wanted to use our hams for emergencies like the aftermath of an earthquake, e.g, speaking with our families because the cell networks are down, what should we select or consider?
Many modern-day "preppers" are promoting these cheap ham radios as their communications saviors for doomsday scenarios. Unless your family members live close to you, I wouldn't want to count on any handheld radio to stay in contact--their range is significantly shorter than you can get with a mobile radio. But even still, they can work. Recently right here in Utah, a large community (a city called Tooele, just west of Salt Lake City) got completely cut off from phone and internet communication due to a bizarre combination of winter weather and a botched cell tower repair job. But despite having no phone service, the hams in the area had no problem reaching out thanks to a number of local repeaters.

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6. Are hams the best for calling in help out on the trail, if someone needs airlifting because he rolled his vehicle?
Definitely. We do this sort of thing all the time, actually.

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Originally Posted by tom h View Post
How do we know which frequency or channel to use in the various remote parts of Southern California?
There are frequency and repeater guides to provide this information.

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Originally Posted by tom h View Post
Will handheld devices have the necessary range to reach these operators?
Maybe; maybe not. You'll have far better odds of reaching someone when you have a mobile radio rather than a handheld.
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Old 12-03-2015, 04:25 PM   #10
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I recently got my buddies to get licensed for ham radio. Now we can use VHF radios on the trail and have super clear communication. It is the difference between an AM transistor radio and a FM stereo system. They are ripping out their CBs now. If you want to use a handheld (HT) in the car I would suggest getting an external antenna on the car. The HT antenna can be removed and you can connect to that antenna for much better range. For example one of my buddies runs an FJ that has a steel roof. We would have trouble hearing him if he got very far from us. Conversely the guy with a Wrangler was pretty easy to hear since he has a fiberglass roof that is more transparent to RF. An external antenna gets you outside the “Faraday Cage” (sorry too many physics classes at an impressionable age). Now if you go with the external antenna, you will probably want to go with an external microphone so that you can just leave the radio in the cup holder. I used to clip the microphone to my seat belt so it was right there where I could hear it and reach it easily.

That said I switched to a vehicle mounted radio. It has more power, is not as awkward to use and with a good external antenna, has a much better range. I still take along the HT (Yaesu FT60) for when I am out hiking. We also use the HT for communicating between the spotter and the Jeep. My wife’s hand signals are sometimes vague, but she can talk just fine.

Get licensed and be legal. The test is not that hard to get your technician license and that is all you need. My wife the accountant took a half day class and passed the test on the first try. She does not know an ohm from a Watt, but she retained enough to pass the test. I just took a bunch of practice tests before going for the real test and also passed on the first try, but I am an engineer, so I better be able to figure this stuff out.

The equipment can also be pretty reasonable. You can pick up a name brand 50 Watt transceiver for just over $100. Cheap HT’s go for less than $50. You will spend that on CB.

As for phoning out for help? That is highly dependent on where you are. In Death Valley you had better hope that some knucklehead like me is monitoring 146.520 (national calling frequency) because they don’t have a repeater anywhere near there. On recent trips to Death Valley, my radio never made a single peep the whole trip. On the other hand we were able to hit a repeater from pretty much anywhere in Canyonlands National Park. We were able to hear people talking several times a day. Repeaters are what allow you to get out up to 100’s of miles. You will be lucky to get 50 miles out of a VHF radio. And if you know Death Valley, 50 miles is still in the middle of nowhere.

As someone else suggested, talk to the guys at HRO. They can be a little over the top and times, so don’t go for everything they say, but they will point you in the right direction. Hopefully the SD store has some nice guys. The Oakland store seems to be staffed by one guy that is a total jerk. On the other hand the Sunnyvale store has several old guys that will talk to you all day long if you let them.

Go with the ham set up. You will never go back to CB unless you are in a club that requires a CB, and if you are, convince them to change to ham.

KK6HWC
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Old 12-03-2015, 05:51 PM   #11
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In Death Valley you had better hope that some knucklehead like me is monitoring 146.520 (national calling frequency) because they donít have a repeater anywhere near there.
Never having been to Death Valley, I decided to go looking.

West
There is a 2m repeater at Trona, which is ~ 45 miles south of Panamint Springs. There is also a 70cm repeater at Independence, and Bishop has five 2m machines plus two 70cm ones (though the Inyo Mountains might keep you from reaching those). Between Independence and Bishop is a 2m repeater at Mazourka Peak... and by its very name I presume it is located well above the local terrain, which would increase your chances of reaching it from Death Valley.

North
There is a 70cm machine at Silver Peak; there is one 2m repeater in Goldfield plus two more in Tonopah (all in Nevada).

West
There is a 2m machine at Angel Peak--which is west of Vegas--plus a variety of machines in Vegas itself (if the terrain will let you hit them). Of special significance is the 146.880 repeater located at Mt. Potosi, which is 30 miles SW of downtown Vegas. Why is this repeater special? Because it is part of the Intermountain Intertie system--a collection of linked repeaters offering coverage from Los Angeles through Nevada, Utah and even into Idaho. If you can hit this repeater from Death Valley, I could talk with you using my handheld radio while I'm sitting on the couch in my living room.

South
Barstow offers a plethora of possibilities, including five 2m machines and one 70cm one (plus more on other bands).


Getting your signal out 50 miles would be dicey with a handheld even under ideal conditions, but very doable on a mobile transceiver (depending on exact terrain). If I were planning a trip to/through Death Valley, I'd be sure I had programmed all the above repeaters into my radio before leaving home.

FYI
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Old 12-03-2015, 08:55 PM
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Sherpa, you're the man! Thanks for the detailed answer. Wranglerforum is better because of guys like you. Cheers -
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Old 12-03-2015, 08:57 PM
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I recently got my buddies to get licensed for ham radio. Now we can use VHF radios on the trail and have super clear communication. It is the difference between an AM transistor radio and a FM stereo system. They are ripping out their CBs now. If you want to use a handheld (HT) in the car I would suggest getting an external antenna on the car. The HT antenna can be removed and you can connect to that antenna for much better range. For example one of my buddies runs an FJ that has a steel roof. We would have trouble hearing him if he got very far from us. Conversely the guy with a Wrangler was pretty easy to hear since he has a fiberglass roof that is more transparent to RF. An external antenna gets you outside the “Faraday Cage” (sorry too many physics classes at an impressionable age). Now if you go with the external antenna, you will probably want to go with an external microphone so that you can just leave the radio in the cup holder. I used to clip the microphone to my seat belt so it was right there where I could hear it and reach it easily.

That said I switched to a vehicle mounted radio. It has more power, is not as awkward to use and with a good external antenna, has a much better range. I still take along the HT (Yaesu FT60) for when I am out hiking. We also use the HT for communicating between the spotter and the Jeep. My wife’s hand signals are sometimes vague, but she can talk just fine.

Get licensed and be legal. The test is not that hard to get your technician license and that is all you need. My wife the accountant took a half day class and passed the test on the first try. She does not know an ohm from a Watt, but she retained enough to pass the test. I just took a bunch of practice tests before going for the real test and also passed on the first try, but I am an engineer, so I better be able to figure this stuff out.

The equipment can also be pretty reasonable. You can pick up a name brand 50 Watt transceiver for just over $100. Cheap HT’s go for less than $50. You will spend that on CB.

As for phoning out for help? That is highly dependent on where you are. In Death Valley you had better hope that some knucklehead like me is monitoring 146.520 (national calling frequency) because they don’t have a repeater anywhere near there. On recent trips to Death Valley, my radio never made a single peep the whole trip. On the other hand we were able to hit a repeater from pretty much anywhere in Canyonlands National Park. We were able to hear people talking several times a day. Repeaters are what allow you to get out up to 100’s of miles. You will be lucky to get 50 miles out of a VHF radio. And if you know Death Valley, 50 miles is still in the middle of nowhere.

As someone else suggested, talk to the guys at HRO. They can be a little over the top and times, so don’t go for everything they say, but they will point you in the right direction. Hopefully the SD store has some nice guys. The Oakland store seems to be staffed by one guy that is a total jerk. On the other hand the Sunnyvale store has several old guys that will talk to you all day long if you let them.

Go with the ham set up. You will never go back to CB unless you are in a club that requires a CB, and if you are, convince them to change to ham.

KK6HWC
Well, I don't have at least one of your problems. My wife refuses to go out unless the road is graded, the jeep has been washed and vacuumed, and we have a picnic lunch including cloth napkins. Basically, that means once a year if that.

The rest of us know how to do hand signals pretty well.

Thanks for the excellent info.
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Old 12-03-2015, 09:15 PM   #14
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I have both a CB (uniden 520) and a ham radio in my jeep. Just remember you and ALL of your buddies need to be licensed before talking over a ham frequency. CB are great under 5 miles. I use a firestik antenna. HAM radios can go as far as you need to even with a cheap portable that hits a repeater. Great entry level ham handheld is a baeofung uv5r. Amazon sells them
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Old 12-03-2015, 10:37 PM   #15
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Sherpa, you're the man! Thanks for the detailed answer.
Happy to help. Speaking of, you had asked:

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How do we know which frequency or channel to use in the various remote parts of Southern California?
Here is the site I used to find repeaters around Death Valley:

Amateur Radio Ham Radio Repeater Map CA California Medifast reviews

This will give you the answers you seek.
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Old 12-04-2015, 01:50 AM
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Yes. In fact, when I go on Jeep trips I usually put a handheld ham radio in the glovebox for this exact scenario.
Sherpa, a follow-on question. I've been reading elsewhere that handheld 5W hams only get 2 miles of range without repeaters. So are they really that good on a hike? Or when you made the above comment were you perhaps referring to higher-powered hams? Please clarify.
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Old 12-04-2015, 12:59 PM   #17
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Sherpa, a follow-on question. I've been reading elsewhere that handheld 5W hams only get 2 miles of range without repeaters. So are they really that good on a hike? Or when you made the above comment were you perhaps referring to higher-powered hams? Please clarify.
I'm not Sherpa but on VHF and UHF radios, range is completely dependent on the terrain. On flat terrain 25 miles isn't uncommon at all. It's when you aren't line-of-sight when the maximum distance get shortened. 2 miles could be it if you're in uneven terrain, it can be a lot more if the terrain is flatter.

My old girlfriend's dad used to bounce 2m FM off the moon in the early 60's and talk to a friend in Sweden on 75 watts. I guess you could say he used the moon as a repeater.
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Old 12-04-2015, 01:22 PM   #18
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Sherpa, a follow-on question. I've been reading elsewhere that handheld 5W hams only get 2 miles of range without repeaters. So are they really that good on a hike? Or when you made the above comment were you perhaps referring to higher-powered hams? Please clarify.
I will clarify. But first, Jerry has the mic:

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I'm not Sherpa but on VHF and UHF radios, range is completely dependent on the terrain. On flat terrain 25 miles isn't uncommon at all. It's when you aren't line-of-sight when the maximum distance get shortened. 2 miles could be it if you're in uneven terrain, it can be a lot more if the terrain is flatter.
This is correct--terrain will always be a major influence on the range you can expect on VHF & UHF, whether you're using a handheld or a mobile radio.

I carry an HT** with me on Jeep trips specifically because what Jerry said is true. Having an HT is handy for hiking away from your Jeep while still being able to communicate with whoever is at the Jeep (because it's parked at the camp site, for example). We did this on our trip to the Rubicon Trail when our group had to split up to rescue a broken XJ (and some of us went hiking between camp and the broken Jeep).

However, there are also situations where the Jeep's radio might not be able to reach a repeater due to the specific location of the Jeep. Real world scenario: the Jeep trail goes through a deep ravine with rock walls on both sides, and disaster strikes. Being down in a hole, the Jeep's radio probably can't reach anybody. In that case, grab the HT and hike to the top of the ridge and--presto--you can reach someone.

As has been said, HTs put out far less power than a mobile radio. This is why I stress getting an upgraded antenna for your HT rather than relying on the crap 'rubber duck' antenna that came with it. You've got to make every watt count.

**: HT is ham operator speak for a handheld radio ("handy talkie").
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Old 12-04-2015, 02:45 PM
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I will clarify. But first, Jerry has the mic:

This is correct--terrain will always be a major influence on the range you can expect on VHF & UHF, whether you're using a handheld or a mobile radio.

I carry an HT** with me on Jeep trips specifically because what Jerry said is true. Having an HT is handy for hiking away from your Jeep while still being able to communicate with whoever is at the Jeep (because it's parked at the camp site, for example). We did this on our trip to the Rubicon Trail when our group had to split up to rescue a broken XJ (and some of us went hiking between camp and the broken Jeep).

However, there are also situations where the Jeep's radio might not be able to reach a repeater due to the specific location of the Jeep. Real world scenario: the Jeep trail goes through a deep ravine with rock walls on both sides, and disaster strikes. Being down in a hole, the Jeep's radio probably can't reach anybody. In that case, grab the HT and hike to the top of the ridge and--presto--you can reach someone.

As has been said, HTs put out far less power than a mobile radio. This is why I stress getting an upgraded antenna for your HT rather than relying on the crap 'rubber duck' antenna that came with it. You've got to make every watt count.

**: HT is ham operator speak for a handheld radio ("handy talkie").
Sherpa, once again you come through! Let me ask just a few more teensy weensy questions to be sure I understand, and am clear.

1) In the back country, without repeaters, an HT is about as effective, in range, as a CB -- a couple miles at best, with favorable terrain. Granted, they operate at different frequencies and in different bands, with different power levels (and power sources), but for all effects and purposes, they are the same. If you split up from your group, the vehicles can only communicate over a mile or two with CB, and the same distance if all they are using is battery-powered ham.

2) In the back country, you said you can boost the performance of an HT with an upgraded antenna. Question: are these antennas portable, something to pack away and take out if you can't reach the camp with the cheap rubber antenna? Or are they only something to mount on your vehicle and use with the vehicle power? Can you provide any links so I can check them out?

3) In the back country, a cheap lil ole HT can be extremely powerful if there is a repeater in range, or line of sight. So if you're in the Mojave Desert you might luck out and get great reception with an HT. It might also be very powerful if the crew in camp are communicating with their mobile ham and not a handheld. Question: will that repeater have to be within 2 miles of your HT if line of sight?

4) It makes sense, therefore, before heading out, to know just where the repeaters are along your route, so at least you have some indication what kind of communication challenges you might have. Sure, you might be in a box canyon at some point, but generally you know what kind of coverage you will have and just how daring you can be when groups split up. With a good topo map, you'll know where to drive or walk to so as to get coverage in the event of an emergency.

5) Finally, with vehicle-mounted hams, separated by rugged terrain, what range might you expect to get? If two groups split up? I'm referring here to a direct link, a simplex link (did I get that right?) without a repeater because if there is a repeater it is obvious that you could talk over 100s of miles.

Thanks -
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Old 12-04-2015, 04:20 PM   #20
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Talk to your county offices and ask if there is a civil defense club. There was (could still be I've been out of touch for years) in tampa that volunteers to run radio contact in disasters. They are always very open to helping new people so they know the guidelines, rules, courtesy, etc. I've had a ham license for like a million years. I'm told it's much easier to obtain now. I remember the nightmare of learning to read code at 12 wpm to pass.
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Old 12-04-2015, 05:45 PM   #21
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Talk to your county offices and ask if there is a civil defense club. There was (could still be I've been out of touch for years) in tampa that volunteers to run radio contact in disasters. They are always very open to helping new people so they know the guidelines, rules, courtesy, etc. I've had a ham license for like a million years. I'm told it's much easier to obtain now. I remember the nightmare of learning to read code at 12 wpm to pass.
The code requirement is exactly why I didn't do it for a long time. After four years in the USMC dealing with radio I was pretty much sick of all things electronic. And if I had talked all over the world on HF voice, why deal with the headache of an arcane code?

Later I bit the bullet and got into HAM after a major - as in, catastrophic in impact tornado pretty much decimated the area where I live. By then the Morse requirement had been dropped.
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Old 12-05-2015, 02:43 AM   #22
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1) In the back country, without repeaters, an HT is about as effective, in range, as a CB -- a couple miles at best, with favorable terrain.
I'd say this is a fair generalization.

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2) In the back country, you said you can boost the performance of an HT with an upgraded antenna. Question: are these antennas portable, something to pack away and take out if you can't reach the camp with the cheap rubber antenna?
There are many different style of antennas, and some are more "portable" than others. Mine is about 19" long and is made of Nitinol superelastic wire; it is extremely resistant to breaking, and you can coil it when not in use for easy storage. Here is a photo of one coiled up:



There are many, many more antenna styles you could use--entire books have been written on the subject. (A local ham makes the antennas pictured above; he sells them for $20 each and guarantees them for life.)

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3) In the back country, a cheap lil ole HT can be extremely powerful if there is a repeater in range, or line of sight.

Question: will that repeater have to be within 2 miles of your HT if line of sight?
Oh, no. If there is line-of-sight between your HT and the antenna (maybe it is on a distant mountain, for example) then you could hit it from much further away than 2 miles. Even with my crappy stock antenna, I can sit on my couch in my living room and easily hit my favorite local repeater which is 7 miles away because it is at the top of a mountain.

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4) It makes sense, therefore, before heading out, to know just where the repeaters are along your route, so at least you have some indication what kind of communication challenges you might have.
To do anything less would be foolish IMO. Before any Jeep trip to a new area, I research all repeaters in that area and program them into both of my radios. Why go unprepared?

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5) Finally, with vehicle-mounted hams, separated by rugged terrain, what range might you expect to get? If two groups split up? I'm referring here to a direct link, a simplex link (did I get that right?) without a repeater because if there is a repeater it is obvious that you could talk over 100s of miles.
Yep, you got that correct. Allow me to share two of my simplex ham radio experiences from Easter Jeep Safari earlier this year.

Story #1: on Sunday I ran Porcupine Rim. Some of us on this run had ham radios, so we all tuned in to a specific simplex frequency in addition to the CB channel that everybody was using. At various times, the group leader and tail gunner could not communicate (neither had a ham radio) due to the terrain plus the inherent weaknesses of CB. All us hams, however, could easily communicate with each other all day long. Not only that, we could also communicate with a distant group who happened to be on the same simplex frequency that was running Hell's Revenge (two trails away) and had broken one of their Jeeps... and not only that, but we could even hear and communicate with their buddy who was back in town trying to scrounge parts and tools for them. Yes, I myself did in fact talk to the guy in town during our Porcupine Rim lunch stop.

This was probably a distance of only 7 or 8 miles as the crow flies. Still, after seeing how CBs couldn't even keep our own tight-knit group in communication, it was impressive. Some of the CB-only guys were so flabbergasted that I might as well have been talking to another Jeeper on Mars.


Story #2: on Thursday I ran Elephant Hill--I got to represent my dealership since we sponsor this run. As traditionally happens on EH for EJS, our group had split into two smaller groups. Most of the hams ended up in the other group; only one other ham operator (a local friend of mine) was in my sub-group... until he dropped out at mid-day to assist with a broken vehicle in the other group, leaving me alone ham-wise. The trail leaders, being highly responsible, prefer to keep tabs on the entire group... but due to the terrain and the distance between us, CBs are completely useless for staying in touch with the other group. Nearly all day long, however, I was actively communicating with the other group via ham. I keep getting regular updates on the broken vehicle, that group's progress, and so on; I would then relay this info to my group's leader (and everybody else, actually) via CB. The trail leaders repeatedly expressed their appreciation to me for keeping everybody so informed.

Again, our groups were probably never more than 7 or 8 miles apart. However, the terrain here was certainly more challenging (as anybody who has run Elephant Hill can attest). Under more terrain-friendly conditions, I am certain we could communicate over significantly greater distances.


Topic shift, based on story #2 above: My friend who had to drop out is an electrician by trade, and (as you'd expect) he prides himself on proper electrical installations. So you'll understand how/why I was thrilled when (before he had to drop out) he told me I was having entire conversations with people he couldn't even hear on his radio! Even when we were only a few vehicles apart, sometimes I would talk to the other group and he could only hear my half of the conversation.

Hours later after the run was over and we were all driving back to town, I came upon another member of the group who was having car problems and had pulled over onto the shoulder. Naturally, I stopped to see if I could help. Being a ham, he had been trying unsuccessfully to reach his family members (who were also in our group and also hams). He kept calling out but got no answer. I offered to try my radio (I was now in my Suburban, which also has a ham radio; my Jeep was on my trailer behind me), but he said not to bother "since it was obviously worthless." I decided to try anyway. To his surprise, I managed to make contact with his son and, though there was a good bit of static, we could communicate all the necessary information so he could come and help his dad.


Based on all the above, I am now a proponent of ham radio. I also strongly recommend quality hardware--radio and antenna--and I urge everybody to install them properly in their vehicles.
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Old 12-05-2015, 10:34 AM
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I'd say this is a fair generalization.

Based on all the above, I am now a proponent of ham radio. I also strongly recommend quality hardware--radio and antenna--and I urge everybody to install them properly in their vehicles.
Sherpa, I've got to thank you again for an awesome answer. I know a lot of ham guys would probably say, "Tom, start reading up!" but I'm an engineer and a dialogue with an expert for 30 minutes, over a glass of beer, gets the brain cells functioning properly. When I am able to segment my thoughts prior to opening a thick book, it really helps.

OK, a few more questions, really clarifications to cement my thinking.

1) Unlike a CB, where you pick a single channel for the trip, you do a bit more critical preparations using a ham. You research the repeaters in the area you're traveling, figure out the frequencies they boost and retransmit for routine (not emergency) comm, and program them into all radios coming along on the trip. In addition, you select a simplex frequency for direct comm between vehicles, which by your examples should work over a range of at least 7-8 miles. I'm assuming, also, that all repeaters do not boost and transmit the same frequencies, and that they also boost and retransmit some frequencies that are not just for emergencies; meaning some frequencies for casual comm links.

2) Before heading out, you and your buddies agree to use the simplex frequencies for all comm unless you can't reach everyone that way; then you resort to the frequencies on the repeaters, correct?

3) It would be easier to have just a single frequency to communicate over. I can envision groups deciding to use the repeater non-emergency frequency just because it's easier, has vastly better range, and covers more bases. But the reason to NOT do this is that others might be doing the same thing? Is there a ham protocol that urges users to stay off the repeaters unless absolutely necessary? Or are there dozens of boosted non-emergency frequencies on each repeater that it doesn't matter?

4) Is there any method to choosing the simplex frequencies? Would this vary depending on whether you are in Death Valley or Moab?

5) Does a ham pick up signals from more than one frequency at once? Meaning, would you program in both the simplex and the boosted frequencies, and hear comms over both? I can envision this being necessary if you are relying first on the simplex link and second on the boosted link. How many frequencies can the ham be tuned to at the same time?

6) Are there any regions of the country with a repeater for which the operators get real testy if 4x4ers are using it for routine comm?

7) Lastly, and this might be a dumb question, do the local radio clubs pay for, and maintain, the repeater stations? Or is this done by their county or state?

Thanks again,

Tom
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Old 12-05-2015, 01:06 PM   #24
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... I'm an engineer and a dialogue with an expert for 30 minutes, over a glass of beer, gets the brain cells functioning properly.
As soon as you find a ham expert, let me know so I can speak with him, also.

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OK, a few more questions, really clarifications to cement my thinking.
At this rate, we're gonna need to sticky this thread so all the other newcomers can easily find it, too.

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You research the repeaters in the area you're traveling, figure out the frequencies they boost and retransmit for routine (not emergency) comm, and program them into all radios coming along on the trip.
Correct. Be advised, however, that repeaters are just as useful for emergency communication as they are for casual conversation. Indeed, it is well-known ham practice that if you're having a casual conversation and someone breaks in with priority traffic, all casual conversation stops immediately so the emergency can be resolved. All repeaters (with certain exceptions, see ** below) can be used both for casual conversation and for emergency traffic.

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In addition, you select a simplex frequency for direct comm between vehicles
Right. We usually decide this very informally, such as while gathered at the trail head (just like all the CBers will say, "let's all use channel 6--sound good?"). Simplex is the preferred method, provided it functions well enough for us to stay in contact; in this manner, we aren't tying up a repeater and preventing others from using it.

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I'm assuming, also, that all repeaters do not boost and transmit the same frequencies, and that they also boost and retransmit some frequencies that are not just for emergencies; meaning some frequencies for casual comm links.
Any given repeater typically operates on only one frequency. While these frequencies are universal in nature--by that I mean there are specific frequencies set aside which are used over and over around the country--you nevertheless need to know which ones are in use in the area (and how to program your radio accordingly##). To liken it to CB radio, imagine your CB had 200 channels instead of just 40.

##: you'll read more about this as you study (hint, hint), but many repeaters need an input frequency code ("tone") in order to activate. That's right: not only do you need to tell your radio which transmit frequency to use, you also need to tell it which tone to use. There are about 50 tones; multiply that by ~ 200 possible repeater frequencies, and you've got almost 10,000 possible combinations. This is why spending a few minutes researching in advance pays off.

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3) It would be easier to have just a single frequency to communicate over. I can envision groups deciding to use the repeater non-emergency frequency just because it's easier, has vastly better range, and covers more bases. But the reason to NOT do this is that others might be doing the same thing?
We try to be polite and avoid monopolizing any given repeater. It is great to have a large group discussion with people who are separated by great distances, yes; however, if me and 5 of my friends want to talk while bumping along a Moab trail, there is no reason we need to bore people in Salt Lake City with our idle chit chat.

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Is there a ham protocol that urges users to stay off the repeaters unless absolutely necessary?
In general, no, unless there is an active emergency situation being handled on that repeater.

**: There are exceptions. Repeaters are referred to as open or closed. An open repeater is available for anyone to use at any time. A closed repeater is one that is restricted to use by only certain people. Who decides if a repeater is restricted? It's owner.

This sounds snobbish, but building and maintaining repeaters costs money. If the owner wants to restrict use to those who pay into a group fund, or their own family members, or whatever, that's their choice. For example: Moab has three repeaters, two open 2m machines and one closed 70cm machine. The closed repeater is located in the same place as one of the open machines, so I ignore the closed one and just use the open ones. (The closed repeater is owned by the Cactus Intertie System, a private group which requires membership to use their equipment.)

Finding out if a repeater is open or closed is part of your repeater research.

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4) Is there any method to choosing the simplex frequencies?
Yes and no. The government mandates which frequencies can be used for simplex communication, but local influences can dictate what is and is not actually available. You can research this at the same time you're researching repeaters--the info is out there and easy to find. From there, our group will just randomly chose one these available frequencies (just like CBers pick a channel) and off we go.

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5) Does a ham pick up signals from more than one frequency at once? Meaning, would you program in both the simplex and the boosted frequencies, and hear comms over both?
Some of the fancier radios can do this; mine do not.

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6) Are there any regions of the country with a repeater for which the operators get real testy if 4x4ers are using it for routine comm?
Not that I know of, but this would be a regional thing. If it's an open repeater, you are usually fine. Nevertheless, even an open repeater has costs of maintenance. If you're gonna use one regularly, I suggest finding out how you can support it. For example, the repeater I use most frequently is owned and maintained by UARC (Utah Amateur Radio Club), so I joined them and pay my annual dues to help cover this maintenance. Would they somehow blacklist me if I didn't pay? No. But I choose to do so because it's the right thing to do.

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7) Lastly, and this might be a dumb question, do the local radio clubs pay for, and maintain, the repeater stations? Or is this done by their county or state?
Most times yes, but this will vary. Many repeaters in my area are owned by various ham radio clubs, but others are owned by universities, hospitals, private individuals, and more.
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Old 12-29-2015, 11:45 AM   #25
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I went through a similar exercise -- HAM vs SatPhone in my case -- a while ago. Indeed, I'm still not totally off of getting the HAM license, but it's just more stuff to carry in the knapsack.

In our case, we were more concerned with an emergency communicator for hiking here in Arizona, and a HAM buddy offered that he wouldn't trust HAM and repeaters in our area in life or death. As we're retired, we mostly do our travels during the week, so our interest was less Jeep groups than solo.

Satellite phones - Outdoors / Adventure Travel Forum - TripAdvisor

Satellite phone choicess - Travel Gadgets and Gear Forum - TripAdvisor

https://www.wranglerforum.com/f274/em...s-1477465.html

https://www.wranglerforum.com/f45/sat...e-1187569.html


We purchased a Delorme InReach device. Allows satellite [Irridium] based text/email as well as SOS. I've tested text from "the middle of nowhere". I have yet to press SOS -- fortunately, and hope I never have to. They require a monthly subscription [$11 or so depending on the number of messages you send].

If you truly need rescue and the repeaters aren't working/monitored -- or you think direct comm with the SAR group instead of HAM relay is required -- you might want to consider a satellite communicator. If I read your original note correctly, your group could probably "get away with" a single device that you share around. Someone would have to be responsible for the subscription fee, but SAR would certainly come and get you -- with helicopter if required -- in the rollover case you referenced.
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Old 12-29-2015, 01:04 PM   #26
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If I was truly way out in boondocks, like we have plenty of here in the Southwest where there isn't guaranteed ham repeater coverage, and if I was in a true life-or-death situation, I'd rather have a SAT phone too... even though I've had my general class ham license for >20 years.
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Old 01-12-2016, 03:40 AM
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I went through a similar exercise -- HAM vs SatPhone in my case -- a while ago. Indeed, I'm still not totally off of getting the HAM license, but it's just more stuff to carry in the knapsack.

In our case, we were more concerned with an emergency communicator for hiking here in Arizona, and a HAM buddy offered that he wouldn't trust HAM and repeaters in our area in life or death. As we're retired, we mostly do our travels during the week, so our interest was less Jeep groups than solo.

We purchased a Delorme InReach device. Allows satellite [Irridium] based text/email as well as SOS. I've tested text from "the middle of nowhere". I have yet to press SOS -- fortunately, and hope I never have to. They require a monthly subscription [$11 or so depending on the number of messages you send].

If you truly need rescue and the repeaters aren't working/monitored -- or you think direct comm with the SAR group instead of HAM relay is required -- you might want to consider a satellite communicator. If I read your original note correctly, your group could probably "get away with" a single device that you share around. Someone would have to be responsible for the subscription fee, but SAR would certainly come and get you -- with helicopter if required -- in the rollover case you referenced.
Thanks, Rubidune, excellent answer. I will look into whether these emergency satcom communicators can be purchased but only turned on when you need service - or leased perhaps. Most of the reason for my starting this thread was for reliable comm links between vehicles, but about 20% was for concern about emergencies. Cheers -
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Old 01-12-2016, 04:20 PM   #28
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I was able to rent a DeLorme In Reach from LowerGear in AZ a couple years ago for a 2 week trip we made. We got it in case we needed help, but ended up just using it to keep the kids up to date on where were were and what we were doing. If you only need one once in awhile consider renting.
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Old 01-13-2016, 06:13 PM   #29
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I know this thread started as a HAM vs CB thread and I don't want to corrupt that intent, but to answer Tom's concern::
Delorme offers several usage plans. We went with the lowest level of the 'yearly' plan -- paid automatically via cc every month -- as we are out hiking several days a week so could potentially need the thing anytime of year. Renting -- or a plan that "goes away" periodically -- is therefore not a practical option for us.

They also offer a "monthly" plan that can be turned on [Website] as wanted/needed -- month 'on' minimum IIRC. [I believe they require it active at least one month per year??? But don't quote me...]

I haven't had to press SOS yet, but I did meet a fellow hiker who had to call for help up in southern Utah when a hiking companion needed evac. He said it worked as advertised and a helicopter was overhead in less than 2 hours.

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