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Amateur Radio In the Backcountry?

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the ham-on-the-hoof dept.

Communications 376

bartle writes "I spend a lot of time hiking in the Colorado Rockies. Cell phone reception is very unreliable and I'm curious if carrying a small amateur radio would make any sense at all. I don't want to add too much weight to my pack; from what I gather, a radio weighing a pound would give me at most 5 to 10 watts of transmitting power. I have no idea if this is enough to be effective in a mountainous region, and I'm hoping some experienced Slashdot hams could give me a clue. I'm only interested in acquiring a radio and license if it is a lot more effective and reliable than the cell phone I already carry. Otherwise I'll just wait for Globalstar to bring back their duplex service and buy a next-generation SPOT messaging device. (I know some Slashdotters will want to suggest a modern SPOT or Personal Locator Beacon; these are suitable for the worst kinds of emergencies, but I'll point out that reliable communication can help prevent small crises from becoming big ones.) Are small amateur radios effective in the field, or are vehicle rigs really the only way to go? Or am I better off just waiting for satellite?"

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376 comments

depends on where the repeater is (5, Informative)

cgrant (167910) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015502)

Most frequently you're going to be talking to a repeater, so it depends somewhat on where you are in relation to the repeater. Having said that 5-10 watts is a lot of power compared to a cell phone.

KA0ZRW - now in WA

Re:depends on where the repeater is (5, Funny)

sentientbeing (688713) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015618)

Yes. Most frequently you're going to be talking to a repeater, so it depends somewhat on where you are in relation to the repeater.

Re:depends on where the repeater is (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015638)

What? Is this someone's bot gone wild?

Re:depends on where the repeater is (1)

rwade (131726) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015734)

It took me entirely too long to get this joke. Wow -- I'm aging, eh?

Re:depends on where the repeater is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015966)

Wow -- I'm aging, eh?

Well, you sound like you're Canadian... So you can be forgiven...

Colorado Repeater Map (2, Informative)

rwade (131726) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015922)

Original poster indicated that his primary area of focus is coverage in the Colorado mountains. I do not have specific first-hand knowledge of the coverage area for amateur VHF/UHF in Colorado, but this repeater map [ccarc.net] could be a good reference, though it is dated 2006. It's authors indicate that a 2009 version is for sale in print.

A preliminary skimming indicates coverage in several mountain cities. I'm no radio engineer, but I would imagine that the Estes Park repeater would probably do him pretty good in Rocky Mountain National Park -- at least in the highlands...

VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (4, Informative)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015504)

and don't work well in the mountains unless you and the other guy are both within line of sight of each other. Repeaters can help work around the LoS problem but there probably aren't many in the area you are considering.

jacking up your power can only help so much. it's not like the higher power blasts through the mountains. Higher antennas can help, but if you're already in mountains, you are probably outgunned in the height department.

Some form of satellite is probably going to be your best bet. Or some lower frequency (LF/HF) that will cover variable ground terrain better.

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (1)

mmontour (2208) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015578)

Or some lower frequency (LF/HF) that will cover variable ground terrain better.

One radio to look at is the Yaesu FT-817ND. It's a relatively compact battery-powered unit that covers HF as well as VHF and UHF bands. However this unit is still much heavier and bulkier than a modern 144 MHz handheld.

Question for the original poster - who do you want to talk to? Is this mainly for communication within a group of hikers? Is it to reach someone at a nearby city, and if so will that person also have a radio? Do you need to make a telephone call from your radio?

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (1)

jfandre (530404) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015702)

Ok, if you're real lucky, you may be able to connect with a repeater that has autopatch capability. Then you might be able to make phone calls, but that depends on how the repeater owner has the autopatch set up. You may be only able to make local calls, or if you make arrangements with the owner ahead of time, you may be able to make long distance calls. Just do a google for say, colorado repeaters and you should find a listing. Then you can contact the repeater owners.. You could also look at http://www.colcon.org/ [colcon.org] . This is a network of linked repeaters. May be a way to get a message to the outside world if that's all you're looking for.

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015604)

Amateur radio is dieing. There isnt a need for it anymore and the "hams" are getting old. 144mhz is the new CB where anything goes. I suggest getting satellite devices or something along those lines. Dont waste your time or money on amateur radio.

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (5, Informative)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015732)

Amateur radio is dieing. There isnt a need for it anymore and the "hams" are getting old. 144mhz is the new CB where anything goes. I suggest getting satellite devices or something along those lines. Dont waste your time or money on amateur radio.

You know, you shouldn't demonstrate your ignorance in public like that. There were a record number of new amateur radio licenses issued in 2009 and the number of new licensees in 2010 is already ahead of that pace.

Not only is amateur radio not dying (note the correct spelling of that, BTW), it's thriving.

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016122)

Amateur radio is dieing. There isnt a need for it anymore and the "hams" are getting old. 144mhz is the new CB where anything goes. I suggest getting satellite devices or something along those lines. Dont waste your time or money on amateur radio.

You know, you shouldn't demonstrate your ignorance in public like that. There were a record number of new amateur radio licenses issued in 2009 and the number of new licensees in 2010 is already ahead of that pace.

Not only is amateur radio not dying (note the correct spelling of that, BTW), it's thriving.

Exactly correct. And further, all ham bands are monitored, so don't think you'll be getting away with that 11 meter cr@p on the amateur bands. 73

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015944)

Where are your NetCraft numbers to back that up?

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (2, Interesting)

atomicthumbs (824207) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016194)

I'm a ham and I'm eighteen years old. I got my license in 2006. I don't think amateur radio's gonna die anytime soon.

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (3, Interesting)

speleo (61031) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015666)

I agree. I've used cell phones, VHF/UHF HTs, and satellite phones in the backcountry and if reliable emergency communication is your primary concern a satellite phone like Iridium is your best bet.

You can get portable high frequency ham radios that can talk over the horizon, but they start go get a bit bulky and require an more complex antenna setup for best results.

With an Iridium phone you can get it out, lock onto a satellite and be talking to someone in minutes. You do need to see a sizable portion of the sky, though -- they don't work very well in dense forest. And keep in mind 911 doesn't work on Iridium so have some numbers programmed in. The cell phone revolution seems to have rendered actually remembering someone's phone number a lost art.

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015696)

Hi the "Line of sigh Myth" is still being told I see dont blame anyone as many "Noted books" still use this old myth.

VHF 144 - 148 MHz two meter Amateur radio hand held radios running 5 watts (standard high power on most) work great in mountainous terrain as long as the are established amateur radio repeaters in the area.

Most areas in the pacific Northwest were I live have good VHF coverage into the back country many with open auto patches.

Satellite phones are ok unless you going into valleys or deep forest were either you cant not "see" the birds or via "vegetation attenuation" of the signal to unusable levels.

Cheer's

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (2, Informative)

Nethead (1563) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016006)

Just make sure you bring your home-made J-pole twinlead antenna and a sling shot. Get that baby up in a tree and you'll hit something (Lyman, Pilchuck, Gold Mountain, Tiger, Cougar, Mission Ridge.. something.)

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016046)

Why is this marked informative? They're making unsupported claims, and frankly, with the crap spelling, I wouldn't trust anything unsupported that this person says. ESL isn't the problem, since they live in the "pacific Northwest." Unless there's something to back this up, I'd ignore it.

Re:VHF/UHF are mainly line of sight (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016124)

The "open autopatches" thing makes me wonder a bit, too. I can't remember there ever being very many of those and, in my area at least, there's only one operating autopatch left out of a dozen or so. Cell phones pretty much killed them off.

Nope (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015534)

You know those big bacpack radios in all the Vietnam War movies? That's what you'll need out there, because most lightwieght civilian radios are line of sight and often have terrible range

Re:Nope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015608)

So what he needs is a 27MHz Citizen's Band radio? Besides rednecks and freaks, who still uses CB?

Re:Nope (4, Funny)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015678)

So what he needs is a 27MHz Citizen's Band radio? Besides rednecks and freaks, who still uses CB?

Truck drivers. Oh, wait...

(Disclaimer: I am a truck driver, so I'm allowed to make that joke without being modded troll/flamebait.)

Re:Nope (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015822)

So what he needs is a 27MHz Citizen's Band radio? Besides rednecks and freaks, who still uses CB?

Truck drivers. Oh, wait...

Wait, indeed... he already said rednecks and freaks. :)

Re:Nope (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015996)

THAT'S THE JOKE

Re:Nope (4, Insightful)

Nethead (1563) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015872)

When building our local EmComm van I specked in a CB. The rest of the hams thought I was crazy. I said, "Who do you think will be delivering supplies, maybe a trucker?" They then thought it was a wonderful idea.

The goal isn't to insure that all communications are by ham radio, the goal is to communicate.

Re:Nope (5, Interesting)

Paco103 (758133) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016098)

So glad to see some people thinking about that. I hate how often the ham community shuns CB and the mere mention of it. Yes, it certainly has it's own problems, but nearly EVERY truck and a good amount of touring motorcycles are equipped with CB. Considering how many charity bike rides that ARS covers that make use of motorcycles, this also seems overlooked. I've never thought of it from the delivery, but I'll certainly keep that in mind in the future.

Re:Nope (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016040)

So what he needs is a 27MHz Citizen's Band radio? Besides rednecks and freaks, who still uses CB?

Truck drivers. Oh, wait...

(Disclaimer: I am a truck driver, so I'm allowed to make that joke without being modded troll/flamebait.)

FAR_OUT [far-out.ucoz.kz]

http://far-out.ucoz.kz

Re:Nope (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015646)

Those big backpack radios they used in Vietnam were usually leftovers from WWII. They weren't big because they needed to be, they were big because the government wasn't funding new ones. And break downs were a serious problem. The ones my dad used were capable of sending a signal clear around the world, which could cause problems if he wasn't mindful of it.

Back in the late 90s, I was working in the back country, the radio we used was about the size of a late 80s cell phone and it had plenty of power to get in touch, even in the middle of a valley. No need to get anything more than that. Unfortunately, I can't recall the specifics, but they are the ones that were used by the forest service and various state agencies in the back country.

Re:Nope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015862)

You are wrong about the radios in Vietnam.

Radio Set AN/PRC-25 was the state-of the-art FM tactical radio for the Vietnam War. The mostly solid-state design brought weight down to less than 20 pounds with battery vs. 26 pounds for the AN/PRC-10.

The PRC-10 Story Ends in Vietnam

In July 1965, responding to General Westmoreland's complaints about the AN/PRC-10, the new, transistorized FM radios of the AN/VRC-12 and AN/PRC-25 families were shipped to Vietnam. Those radios, intended for deployment in Europe, soon became the mainstay of tactical communications in Southeast Asia. In three and a half years, 20,000 VRC-12 and 33,000 PRC-25 radios were delivered to Southeast Asia. The PRC-25, which fully replaced the PRC-10, was, according to General Creighton Abrams, "the single most important tactical item in Vietnam."

Handheld + crossband repeater at the vehicle... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015552)

As noted it does depend on where the repeaters are/what local frequencies are in use.... that much said - some car units are designed as cross-band repeaters and could take the 1-5 watts of a handheld and retransmit on another frequency with a bit more output power....

It isn't like telephone service (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015554)

Communicating in the mountains is tricky. The low conductivity of rock means ground wave (low frequencies) isn't very good. The mountains themselves block line of sight making high frequencies problematic. Amateur satellite communication is low bandwidth. Shortwave skip works but is unpredictable. Your best bet is to put a repeater on top of a mountain (expensive and difficult).

Amateur radio probably won't replace your cell phone. Talk to the local hams and find out what they're doing. Maybe they already have a repeater for instance. You should get to know them in any event because you may find that your life depends on them.

Re:It isn't like telephone service (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016056)

You should get to know them in any event because you may find that your life depends on them.

Very true. I was abducted in the woods while backpacking by a group of inbred hillbillies. They were going to sodomize and rape me, but one of them was a local ham that I had talked to in town. Small world, eh? Anyhow, we drank some moonshine and had a good fuck-n-suck session.

Try the local ham radio club (5, Insightful)

cgrant (167910) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015558)

You might try to find a local ham radio club and ask what their experiences in the area are, and specifically where you're going to be hiking.

talk to your outfitter? (1)

xSauronx (608805) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015564)

I would expect that outfitters in that area who providing hiking supplies and such may have some idea as to what your best options are. Surely you know a place or two local to your area with experienced hikers that you can consult? Just an idea, maybe you've tried that already.

Don't do it! (2, Informative)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015598)

Ham radio is a HOBBY for people interested in communicating by radio, and the technical development of same.

It is not a replacement for your cell phone. It is not a replacement for ship-to-shore-email services. It is not a replacement for wi-fi.
We are not the Police/Fire Reserve. We are not the DHS Auxiliary. We are not the NOAA Field Agents. We are not an emergency communications service.
(We -can- do this stuff as a matter of Last Resort, "When All Else Fails", but that is not our primary purpose! Many people forget this!)

If you are not interested in communication by radio or the technical development involved in doing so, DO NOT waste your time with ham radio.
You will only disappoint yourself.

Re:Don't do it! (1)

N2UX (237223) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015658)

Actually, per the FCC regulations, the primary purpose of HAM radio *is* as a replacement for all other radio communications in an emergency. The "hobby" and "promotion of the radio arts" parts are secondary.

Re:Don't do it! (2, Informative)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015698)

97.1 Basis and purpose.-
The rules and regulations in this Part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art.
(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

Nowhere does it say the primary or majority function of the ARS is emergency communications.
Only one of these principles mentions the word "emergency" and it is not the "primary".

Re:Don't do it! (1, Informative)

N2UX (237223) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015728)

Look at the very last part of paragraph A. "Particularly with respect to providing emergency communications"

Re:Don't do it! (2, Insightful)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015784)

There's a comma there, not a period. They are clarifying the "voluntary noncommercial" part of item A.
Item A is not any more or less important than any of the other items.

If the ARS is redefined such that emergency communications becomes our primary or main focus, then the other items can AND WILL be eliminated as extraneous.
We must not fall into this trap!

Re:Don't do it! (1)

N2UX (237223) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015850)

The "comma" provides the reason for all of the other things, which is for Emergency Communications. To argue otherwise is inane.

If Emergency Communications is not the prime reason, then we *will* lose our bandwidth to entities willing to pay a lot more than we can.

Re:Don't do it! (1)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015886)

If Emergency Communications is the prime reason, then we *will* lose our bandwidth to those same entities whenever there isn't an emergency, for the same reasons.

Consider APRS messages.
"Hey FCC, AT&T/Verizon here, why are these hams competing with me by sending text messages on emergency frequencies? They are an emergency service, and there's not an emergency, so why are they allowed to do this?"

That's why we have to have five reasons, so as to not have all our eggs in one basket.

Re:Don't do it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016026)

Everyone! What's the point here exactly? If you hear an emergency broadcast you seriously will intentionally ignore it? Because you're just there to further the art of radio?

Re:Don't do it! (1)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016048)

No, of course not. That would be stupid. But that doesn't mean I should have to misrepresent everything I do as being under the auspices of emergency preparation.

Re:Don't do it! (3, Insightful)

jridley (9305) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015690)

Uh, actually, one of the primary reasons that the FCC originally and still allows amateur radio the really impressive set of bands and technologies that they are allowed is that they ARE there for emergency communications.

What do you think Field Day is all about?

Re:Don't do it! (2, Informative)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015748)

Field Day is about operating under minimal conditions. This can be useful in an emergency but that is not its SOLE or MAIN focus. It is not a training exercise for any branch of the military or law enforcement.

Re:Don't do it! (2, Interesting)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016110)

Field Day is about operating under minimal conditions. This can be useful in an emergency but that is not its SOLE or MAIN focus. It is not a training exercise for any branch of the military or law enforcement.

It's also about getting amateur radio out there in front of the public in order to attract people to the hobby. There's a low-level disagreement in my ARC about whether we should continue to have our Field Day activities in the same remote mountain campground we've been using for the last few years or move them to somewhere more accessible to the general public just for that reason.

73 de KJ6BSO

Re:Don't do it! (2, Interesting)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016144)

I can agree with that. We had a lot of visitors at our Field Day site. I was lucky enough to have an opening to Europe on PSK31 when a bunch of cub scouts came through. It took them awhile to wrap their heads around the idea of there being no internet or phone service involved. The number of people who understand the tech behind the devices they use daily is dangerously small.

I hope you get out of the hills and get good results; If you aren't showing your work, you're not working!

Re:Don't do it! (1)

Nethead (1563) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015794)

Shhh! How do you think I get the local emergency management to pay for my toys!

tribalhams.net

73 de w7com

I Disagree. (1)

rwade (131726) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015946)

Ham radio is a HOBBY for people interested in communicating by radio, and the technical development of same.

Actually, the amateur bands are set aside for almost non-commercial, non-music, non-broadcast use whatsoever -- that's kind of the beauty of it...

Re:Don't do it! (3, Interesting)

stevew (4845) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016020)

You really need to get off your high horse.

The guy has a license - so that means he passed the same test as you did. He thinks it might be a reasonable safety option - and he's trying to verify that opinion. If he winds up using it for an emergency, then he well within the basis and purpose of the service. If he doesn't use to do anything else but talk to some buddies while he's hiking - he STILL is within reasonable and normal usage.

So PLEASE drop out of lecture mode.

Re:Don't do it! (0, Offtopic)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016072)

No, he didn't pass the same test I did. They discontinued the test I passed because it was "too hard" and "no longer relevant".

That aside, nowhere does it say that he has a license. He doesn't want to use it just for an emergency either, he wants to use it as a more reliable cellphone in non-emergency situations.
That's why he's asking about duplex sat service.

Nice idea, but you're wasting your time (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016038)

That version of Ham Radio died decades ago. No ham with a current license knows how to do anything other than buy the latest ricebox and plug it in. The hardest part of a "modern" ham radio install is wiring up the lightbar on top of the SUV. Ham radio now is just a bunch of old guys waiting to die so the bands can be taken over by a bunch of wanna-be cops who want to run around with flashy lights and flex their authoritah. I got out of the hobby a decade ago. You would do well to do the same. It'll save you a lot of money and frustration. The hobby is gone forever. Only the whackers remain. I am certain you will find this out yourself when you get downmodded to oblivion.

HF/low power (2, Informative)

freebase (83667) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015616)

Short answer is that it depends.

Are you going to learn morse code? It's not required for a license anymore, but a QRP (low power) rig on 40 meters can work hundreds or thousands of miles with a decent antenna if the atmosphere is right. QRP rigs can be extremely small and light, too.

Yaseu has the FT-817 all-mode all-band radio that comes in at about 1.2kg (just more than 2.5lbs) including the antenna and battery. It's about 5"x6"x2" as I recall, with about 5W max output. It definitely gives you options.

Going into nature? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015622)

I go into nature to get away from technology. This is the one place where I carry, at most, a flint and knife.

I understand why you'd like to be able to communicate but there's much more to listen to than to be said when out in the wild.

Pussy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016118)

I have them drop me off at the park BUCK NAKED. I make my own survival tech when I'm out there.

Re:Going into nature? (1)

twidarkling (1537077) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016158)

I think you've a fundamental misunderstanding of the point, here. It's to communicate in case of an emergency, not to be reminded to pick up the milk on the way home.

In a word... (3, Informative)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015634)

...no.

There's no amateur radio transceiver that weighs in at less than a pound that would give you the kind of power or reliability you're looking for. Also, unless you're willing to put in the effort to obtain at least a general class amateur radio license, you'd pretty much be limited to the VHF/UHF segments of the amateur bands, which are not good in mountainous terrain unless you are certain you'd be in range of one or more repeaters during your trips. If you were willing to learn Morse code, you would have access to a small portion of the 40 meter band with an entry-level (technician) ticket but then you'd have to carry some sort of long wire antenna and be able to get it up into a couple of trees if you want a realistic hope of making any sort contact.

I'd say that either use a vehicle mounted amateur radio rig that can put out 100W or so--there are several neat little units available, but they don't come cheap, around $1000--or just enjoy the outdoors without worrying about communication. Hell, I packed into the Sierra Nevada for years without a cell phone (they hadn't even been invented at the time) or any other sort of link to the outside world. I liked it that way.

73,

de KJ6BSO sk

Hams in the backcountry sometimes squeal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015660)

Bring an appropriate filter.

Yes, I always carry an HT (5, Informative)

mpoulton (689851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015672)

I'm involved in wilderness search and rescue in remote areas of Arizona. We have no cell coverage in most of the areas we work in, and only have sheriff's radio repeater coverage in about 50%. Amateur radio repeaters cover most of the rest. My commercial VHF radio is programmed with all the regional ham repeaters in addition to the sheriff's frequencies and every other wilderness public safety frequency used in the region. If I'm going into certain areas with especially bad coverage, I'll also carry a quad-band handheld (VX-7R) and an external 25W VHF amplifier. No matter what gear you have, location matters most. It is often necessary to climb the nearest ridge to make contact with a repeater, since valleys are usually completely dead spots. The only effective way to communicate from a deep, narrow valley is with HF, or at least 6M with over 100W of power. We use low-band VHF at 120W between vehicles and do fine in very rough terrain. So yes, carry radio gear. Know your area's repeaters well, though, and be prepared to seek higher ground in order to communicate. A SPOT locator is a very good idea in addition, though, and serves a completely different purpose from other communications gear.

Some hams like to hike (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015674)

Check out the ATS-4. QRP rig in an Altoids tin.

http://kd1jv.qrpradio.com/

&

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AT_Sprint

VHF HT and portable Yagi (3, Interesting)

Achra (846023) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015700)

Yes, a ham radio can get you much better range and ability to contact the nearest town without much weight. Much better than a cellphone. Cellphones are line of sight around the 2ghz range, they stink without a repeater nearby. Don't bother with a handheld HF rig, unless you know morse code you're not going to get any skywave propogation via phone at 5w. Pick up a 2m monoband handheld transceiver and a portable 2m yagi to go with it. You'll be able to reach an easy 50 miles with FM voice modes and hit the repeater in the nearest big town. This assumes that there is not a mountain in the way, of course.. You're not going to be able to get radio THROUGH a mountain. Ideally you're up on the side of a mountain. I understand that you'll be worried about weight, but it seems to me that being able to contact civilization is pretty important if you run into real trouble. I can recommend this portable 2m yagi: http://www.arrowantennas.com/arrowii/146-3ii.html [arrowantennas.com] and really any 2m monoband HT will do you well, don't pay for the bells and whistles. The old HTX-202's work great (if you don't mind paying a pound or 2 for your radio). With regard to getting a technician class amateur radio license, the code requirement is long gone and it should be pretty trivial for most slashdotters to obtain a ham radio license nowadays. One last thought: AO-51. There are low-earth orbit amateur radio satellites that can be worked with handheld transceivers and a good dual-band yagi. The passes are short (15 minutes) and the process takes some practice, but you could definitely get out a distress call that way, no matter what the terrain is.

Selection also depends on the intended use. (1)

UncleBex (176073) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015708)

Although I subscribe to the "you are in the wilderness for a reason" school of thought, it would help to know why you are looking for some sort of radio link to the outside world. Do you need it for emergencies or checking the latest Slashdot articles? Understanding your intended use will help narrow the suggestions thrown at you.

If you only want it for emergencies, then nothing beats having the skills to do what you are doing and the buddy system. Enjoy the outdoors, not carrying an extra 3 pounds of gear. YMMV.

Probably not for short range (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015710)

If you are looking for short range communication then you are probably SOL as they will behave very similar to your cell phone (putting aside repeaters [think cell tower] and the proximity of other people listening close range). You will have more transmission power with an amateur radio but as others have mentioned short range communication frequencies will be impacted by physical obstructions. Long range communication frequencies on the other hand "bounce" off the ionosphere and can travel much farther. I've been able to achieve 1400+ miles w/ 100 watts of power and a crappy dipole antenna inside a ground floor apartment.

However you're probably looking at ~10 pounds at least for a "portable" solution that could put out 100 watts (your in-vehicle setup essentially) and even then you are talking to people hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.

Iridium (1)

Anynomous Coward (841063) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015714)

I don't know your budget, but renting or buying an Iridium 9555 phone with a prepaid plan may be an option. The handset is quite small and works everywhere.

Hear, hear (1)

multipartmixed (163409) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016138)

I go away for a couple of weeks every year where there is no cell coverage, and I just get an Iridium "pay as you go" card. Coverage anywhere you can see the sky, including low earth orbit.

ham radio inf. more reliable than mainstream media (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015724)

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honestly (1)

waambulance (1766146) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015738)

if lack of cell phone reception causes you to worry about your safety, you have no business hiking *anywhere* your cell phone reception is anything less than 4 bars...

stay in the city.

or bring a hiking buddy and register with the local Park Ranger.

Re:honestly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015920)

You're a fucking jackass.

Re:honestly (1)

twidarkling (1537077) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016202)

That's a bit harsh. I'd say he's being responsible, wanting to ensure communications in case of an emergency. Better than sliding down a hill due to some loose rocks, spraining your ankle, and then discovering that "oh fuck, I can't talk to anyone."

X-Band Repeat (3, Interesting)

dracocat (554744) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015758)

If you move forward with this, one option is to setup your car as a repeater. You can park your car at the trailhead and turn on the repeater in your car. Then the idea is to hopefully hit your car from your handheld, then your car can hit a repeater. In addition to the additional radio in the car that supports Cross-Band repeating, you will need to add a battery or two to your car, and a fresh one in the trunk.

Like others have all pointed out, the handheld frequencies are all generally line of site. This could mean that in a real emergency, you may need to climb to the top of the nearest peak to actually have line of site to anyone. Then once on the top of the peak you may find that your cell phone works as well!

Amateur radios work great in the backcountry in communicating with your own party in a different campsite or at a base camp while you continue on up to a summit.

The SPOTs as you have already researched works pretty well. I especially like the non-911 "Help" button, which just sends a predefined message to someone. I think this is a great feature, as you may need someone you know to start hiking up to you to help you out, but may not need a full Search and Rescue.

you need to talk to these people (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015786)

QRP [qrparci.org] is the art of using small, low-power equipment to talk to the world. But do it for the love of the game, It might get you out of trouble, but there are no guarantees.

re portable radio (2, Informative)

freddieb (537771) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015810)

If you get your ham license, a 2 meter handheld might fit the bill. Look at the ARRL (arrl.org) repeater handbook and see if there are 2 meter repeaters in the vicinity of where you hike. Hams like to place repeaters on the highest mountops when they can so you may find there are signals available. Amateur hand helds are very small and light. A technician class amateur license is easy to obain. There are also personal emergency locater beacons (PLB's) similar to the EPIRBS carried by ships and aircraft that are available for hikers. You can't communicate on these devices however, if you get lost or stranded you can activate it the satellite receivers relay the coordinates of your location to air force search and rescue teams.

Probably not what you need, but welcome, anyway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015840)

A prior posting had a rather unfriendly tone to it and that is not properly representative of Ham Radio. While you would be welcome to study up and take the test and join us, I doubt that light-weight Ham band handi-talkies would serve your need any better than a cell phone. VHF radio transmission on the ham bands is pretty much like the cell phones...line of sight. Deep in canyons or behind ridges, you probably wouldn't reach another Ham and you can only communicate with or through other Hams or their repeaters. On the other hand, my 2 meter rig saved my bacon years ago when the rudder failed on my sailboat in rough water off California's Point Conception. I owe my longevity to Ham Radio and the dedicated Hams on the Santa Barbara emergency nets.Regards from WH7QQ

It definitely depends on the situation... (2, Interesting)

the_rajah (749499) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015858)

Modern VHF/UHF handi-talkies are, well, handy if you've got repeaters that you can reach. The other alternative is HF low power rigs that can also be quite small and portable. If you don't mind learning the code, it can be extremely effective. Here's a mountain rescue story [gritzmacher.net] that involves just that.. If you take this approach, you can arrange scheduled times and frequencies when someone will listen for you. The great thing about this is that the person can be half way across the country.

I'll second the opinion about the Yaesu FT-817 as a great portable "DC to Daylight" rig that can run SSB and FM voice modes as well as CW (code) on most of the commonly used bands from HF to UHF. It's a little larger, but is extremely capable. The Icom IC703 is another portable rig. See one in use hiking in Colorado here [youtube.com].

I've been a ham for 53 years now and have run the kilowatt rigs with big beam antennas over 100 feet in the air, but I have the most challenging fun with a 4 watt CW rig and a wire or mobile antenna.

It Depends.... (1)

RedLeg (22564) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015860)

Like a couple of other folks have said, it depends on several factors.

If you're thinking of a handheld with a rubber duck antenna, their wattage is typically 5 or below, and range on the rubber ducks suck. You can carry an additional compact antenna, but it only helps so much.

Line of sight to the other station (or repeater) is more or less required, and antenna height really helps on 2m for that reason. If you're in good shape and can get to a summit with LOS, great. If you're crippled up and can't "see" the other station (or repeater), you're screwed.

So, for 2m, you MUST contact the local Hams and get some understanding of the footprints of the repeaters (if any) in the areas you plan to traverse.

HF is a little different. The Yaesu Ft-817ND that someone else mentioned is an all mode, VHF/UHF/HF man portable rig. It has two antenna connectors, one for UHF/VHF just like a handheld, and outputs 5W at best. HF will require you to hump sort of HF antenna and you're still limited to 5w at best.

The other BIG "it depends" is your license status and level. A Technician license is relatively easy to come by and will allow you to operate an HT (or the 817) on the 2m (and a few other freqs). To get significant use privs on HF, you will need to stand the General exam (having passed the Tech first).

You will probably be best served by contacting local hams and asking these questions. Having the proper license, buying the radio, humping it in and calling for assistance in an emergency does you no good if there's no coverage in your area, or if no one is listening. These same guys can also help you with obtaining your license.

Hope this helps

Red
(Amateur Extra)

sat phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015864)

Your best bet would be a Satellite Phone for the trip. Since they just have to have LoS with the sky.

sat phones and self reliance (4, Informative)

panZ (67763) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015902)

As someone who has climbed the world round, it is important to find out what means of communication the area you are in use first. If you don't want to research much, sat phones and SPOT are awesome. For instance, in many parts of the Alaska Range, rangers monitor family radio transmissions and broadcast weather updates on their channel. Those little radios have gotten pretty good range over the years and are used to coordinate rescues all over Denali, Mt. Forker and Huntington. There is also line of sight CDMA phone access in many parts of the states where GSM fails leaving the european climbers begging to use your phone from time to time. SPOT beacons are great though. There are 3 levels of message you can broadcast as you probably know. The mid-one is akin to saying "I'm in trouble, here's where I am but don't alert the authorities". If you're absolutely concerned with being able to consult a doctor or ranger at any time, get a sat phone. You don't have to depend on Globalstar either. Iridium is still functional and outside of North America, Thuraya is fantastic. I've used BGAN for data access in the deepest, darkest parts of the world but at $6/mb, you'll want to keep it to emails. I've also rented Iridium phones for use in Nepal. They are light, cheap-ish, rugged and still completely functional despite ownership changes. You can rent or own cheap handsets and buy minutes when you need them. If you have global rescue insurance through a club like the American Alpine Club (AAC), you can initiate an insured rescue call from a sat phone anywhere in the world or just call friends and family when you are lonely.

Most importantly though, don't rely on technology to get you out of a jam. Avy beacons fail, GPSs die, radios don't reach people on the other end. They are all wonderful, life saving tools but odds are you won't need any of that stuff. Read the Wilderness First Responder medical book, read Freedom of the Hills, etc. Go prepared. A vast majority of the time, you'll be able to get yourself and other people help without 'calling' anyone.

No, ham radio won't work for you (4, Informative)

tftp (111690) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015908)

As I understand, you need the radio for a purely utilitarian purpose - to talk to specific people. You are not a ham yourself (not yet, at least) and likely the people you want to talk to are not hams either (otherwise you'd ask them, not Slashdot.) This means none of you can legally (or effectively) use ham radio. This can be corrected; ham license exams are not complicated, I took three on the same day, from no license to extra, but I have radio background and I'm not new to ham radio (I was first licensed around 1980, I think.) A man from the street will have lots of problems with higher level exams unless he understands things like the theory of linear circuits, complex impedance, and such.

You certainly can go ahead and get a ham radio license for yourself, if that is interesting to you in any way (there is more than one way to enjoy ham radio.) But you probably can't tell your friends, parents, or whoever is on the other end, to go and get a license - that's probably beyond most people's abilities, just like it is for me to learn classical dance :-) People are all different.

However if you only want communication then getting a ham radio and license doesn't make much sense. If I want to fly from SF to Paris I don't want to study for a pilot license; I buy a ticket, and a professional pilot will do all the flying for me. It is cheaper, simpler, safer, and lets me do things that I want to do - not what I have to do.

Technically, ham radio in emergency is the absolute best way to make a contact with another ham. Even satellites are not as reliable. Ham radio depends primarily on equipment that you (and the other guy) have. No need for expensive satellites that may or may not be in the sky or otherwise operational. There are many ham bands, and you can always find a band that works at the time of need. HF bands will work for short range communication pretty much at any time (using the ground wave.) In mountains NVIS makes sense. V/UHF is not likely to work there because distances are large, terrain - rough, and repeaters would be scarce. To be well prepared for an emergency you need to have an HF rig, and if you can do CW (at any speed) it's even better.

An experienced ham would probably take a small transceiver with him into mountains; either HF or HF+VHF. He wouldn't need much of an antenna - any long wire would do fine at his elevation. In good conditions he'd be able to communicate with the whole USA with mere 5W; in bad conditions he'd be able to contact a local ham to report an emergency (and he'd have his GPS coordinates.)

A new ham most likely won't be able to fully utilize the spectrum that he has access to (depends on his license.) He'd bring a UHF HT with him, and he wouldn't be able to hear anything. Also repeaters are tricky sometimes, they require PL tones and you need to know them in advance to elicit a response from a silent repeater. So you must come prepared.

In your situation it would be safer for you if you rely upon commercial methods of communication. They are better supported and they require hardly any experience. If you need the radio only to report an emergency then you can get a beacon for that. If you want to talk to your friends from the top of a mountain then you need a satellite phone (and lots of money to pay for it.)

You are asking the wrong question (5, Insightful)

Osama Binlog (1305857) | more than 3 years ago | (#33015910)

Assume you will *not* have any communication.

They fail because of the lack of coverage, the charge in the battery or the fact that no one else will be able to figure it out (if you are the one hurt).

Some simple precautions go a long way: the buddy system, first aid kit, topo map and compass, planning your route, extra food and water, notify friends of your departure and return. These do not cost as much and will do a lot more.

I used to carry a 2 meter rig when I went backpacking with the scouts. I found there was no coverage - except near cities.

The back country is a great place. But, it is terribly unforgiving for any lack of preparedness.

Wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33015948)

Well man, go ahead and get a cell phone. You see, amateur radios can only contact other amateur radios. That means you can't (easily) use one to call up your buddy in Boston, unless he's a ham too and the bands are in your favor, or you use Echolink (the internet) or whatever.

5 watts is more than enough power to go around the world on HF, I know a lot of people that operate with less than 1 watt and talk to Europe daily (nightly?). The bands open up later in the day, but during the day depending on how you set up your antenna you can get a minimum of 200 miles up to 400 miles range.

It's all in the antenna. At the house I run 5 watts in to my 6dB gain base antenna and can talk as far as the curve of the earth will let me, on VHF. My VHF/UHF mobile radio will let me get ahold of someone in every single place my cell phone doesn't work. My handheld probably will too, but to be honest I haven't tried. I don't head off to WV very often, which is the only place I'm at where coverage is questionable. I'm certain that if I had a good antenna for my cell that I'd be able to get it going in places it wouldn't otherwise. A little gain will go a very long way, every 3dB of gain that you have equates to twice as much radiated power.

If you are wanting to use amateur radio to talk to friends, give it up unless they are hams themselves. If you are wanting to use amateur radio for emergency situations only, feel free to. Hams love helping out in an emergency. A license is not required to use a radio in an emergency, but getting your license will make sure you at least know how to not fry your rig and be able to get some signal out in the first place and will allow you to legally test your setup (otherwise nobody will come back to you to let you know).

Now, HF is a huge pain in the ass. VHF/UHF on the other hand is very simple. 100 mile contacts are trivial to do, but that kind of stuff is line of sight only. If you can't see the antenna you want to transmit to, you just might not make it in. 5 watts in to a proper half-wave antenna can accomplish that with a bit of luck, but something more typical is 20 to 30 miles out of your stock rubber ducky. Don't spend more than you have to unless you gots it to burn, but you will need an appropriate handheld, a better antenna, and a spare battery. Those 'batteries' that hold 6 AA's (or what-have-you) are good for emergencies too and are worth getting. Expect to dump $250 for a very very good setup that will do what you need. Here in Kentucky, all of our state parks have excellent repeater coverage so using a simple handheld is a very good option. In fact I just use the stock antenna on my handheld. Where you live, that might not be the case. You should go check out http://k5ehx.net/repeaters/ to see what repeaters are around the area, and if it's covered at all. As others have suggested and will suggest, I'll suggest again: GO TO YOUR LOCAL HAM CLUB AND TALK WITH THEM. They will know more about operating in your area than the internet will. Besides you'll eventually have to deal with them to get your license.

In short, you probably don't want to become a ham. You probably want a cell phone that has an antenna connector and a really nice antenna to plug in to it. As us hams say, spend at least as much on the antenna as you do the rig, preferably more.

73 de KB3TXC

HF QRP (1)

JumpingBull (551722) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016004)

QRP classics published by the ARRL is probably the reference work.

The book "the electronics of radio" by Rutledge; Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-64645-6 makes understanding and building such a HF radio easy(r).

Other useful works would be the ARRL antenna handbook, and the ARRL radio amateur handbook. Of course packing a mirror, whistle and survival kit are also recommended. Hope this helps

HF / CW (3, Interesting)

N7DR (536428) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016024)

FWIW I live in Colorado.

Most responders seem to assume some sort of VHF but, as a few people point out, that's not really a great idea because there are big gaps in repeater coverage in the mountains.

However, 5W (or less) on HF CW would be ample for emergency communications, and you wouldn't have to worry about whether there's a repeater nearby. There are lots of designs for lightweight QRP (i.e., low power) single-frequency (or limited-frequency) rigs that would be suitable. I'd probably go for one that transmitted on 40m, just because there's more CW activity there, so you're more likely to be heard quickly than on, say, 80m.

I don't hike in the mountains, but if I did I would definitely carry such a rig with me. It only needs to save your life once.

Can't hurt? (1)

autocracy (192714) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016062)

Do it. I can hit a repeater that's 40 miles away using a 5 watt handheld in my house. Mountain to mountain, I've done 150 miles (Cadillac to Washington). It's not fool-proof, and you'll have to know a lot more than you would with a cell phone. Map the local repeaters, know the tones...

That said, for the cost, a spectacular tool. I've used mine to start a search & rescue for friends of mine who were lost in a place with no phone service. I bring my VX-8r whenever I go backpacking.

KB1PNB

Grave Danger (0, Troll)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016076)

There have been incidents of murder, rape and robberies due to triangulation of hikers from radio signals. I can see carrying a SW radio for emergency use and that is as far as you should go. Any use of such a device in a remote area can easily cost you your life. Believe it or not our nation has enough sick people running loose that some see stalking as a sport, a way to find a rape victim or a way to supplement income.

It can and has been done. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016080)

If there is amateur radio repeater coverage in the area you intend to visit, a handheld may be all you need. You can boost the performance of your radio significantly by using an external antenna and placing it up a tree.

If there is no repeater coverage you will have to look into HF frequencies. I recommend you investigate the Yaesu FT-817. It is designed for the kind of service you are interested in and will run on 8 AA batteries. If you are willing to learn morse code you will be set right there. If not, you can get a netbook or OLPC computer and attach it to the radio and operate digital HF. (Whatever you type will show up on other people's computers using the same frequency). Or you can go one step further and send and receive email via the winlink2000 system. This sort of setup has been used by mountain climbers with great success.

Unfortunately, you will not be able to get all this functionality for less than 4-5 pounds but life is all about tradeoffs.

You may find the following page useful: http://members.shaw.ca/ve6bko/overview.html

- VE6BKO

Amateur Radio may do what you need. . . (1)

djspinrite (891260) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016112)

Amateur radio has the most available options and are only limited by your willingness to carry the gear. You can certainly make contacts with people at great distances only using a little power. Line of sight is not a very big issue(hike the Arizona back country regularly with just a HT in tow). Antennas, amps and careful band choice will make all of the difference in the world. There are satellites to contact through, repeaters to hit and people who scan for distress calls all the time. Look only to some of the amateur radio rescue stories to see that quite possibly amateur radio is the way to go. Once licensed the only ongoing fees for amateur radio are the ones you choose to pay(memberships and new gear). Consider that plenty of folks travel the Appalachian trail with only a small QRP rig in tow and manage to make plenty of contacts you may be barking up the right alley. Check out ARRL.org or 14er.org for more information on that subject.

Hack a cell phone to have more power (1)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016114)

Might work, but as other posters mentioned things like the mountains may be the reason for the signal loss rather than the amount of power.

Ham radio won't replace your cell phone. (1)

laslo2 (51210) | more than 3 years ago | (#33016170)

Ham radio will not be more reliable than your cell phone, unless you are exceptionally lucky.

A 5W dualband (2m/70cm) handheld will possibly get you to a local repeater, if you are high enough up out of the trees and you don't have a mountain blocking your signal from reaching the repeater. Unfortunately, the only way to really test this is to be out in the boonies with your radio-- but often the groups that maintain repeaters will post coverage maps on their websites that will give you some idea.

The real problem is who will answer your call. I live in a medium sized city with 15 repeaters; unless there's a scheduled net going on, those repeaters are usually very quiet. I imagine that in the backcountry where there are fewer people, it follows that there would be fewer hams listening. If you're really going to consider ham radio as a backup plan, try to get in touch with local hams ahead of time and see who monitors what. It won't help you to be able to reach a repeater if no one's going to answer and be able to help you.

A portable HF radio might be a better option because you'll be able to reach more stations, but it will take more than a pound of space in your pack. You will also probably reach people who are far away from you are, and won't know local conditions (terrain, roads, landmarks, agencies), so it will be difficult for them to send the right help to the right place.

That being said, check out HFPack at http://www.hfpack.com; those guys play outside and take radios along. Also, the Burning Hams Mailing list at https://lists.burningman.com/mailman/listinfo/burningham-list is interesting to monitor, especially in the months leading up to Burning Man each year.

Do it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33016226)

Why not get your license and test it out for yourself? You may just find a new hobby that you enjoy, and if not it's not a big loss.

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