ScoutingSeptember 2001

Outdoor Smarts: Walkie-Talkies and More

By Karen Berger
Photographs by John R. Fulton Jr.

New two-way radios feature high-tech aids and improved portability for outdoor adventures.

Cobra's FRS115 has a two-mile range and costs $50. The PR2000 ($180) has a five-mile range. Audiovox's 550 ($60) is ultracompact with a fold-down antenna. Motorola's T6320 ($130) features a compass, altimeter, and thermometer. Audiovox's 1525 ($120) has a five-mile range.

Ever been in this situation? A mile or two into a hike, it becomes obvious that your group has a major compatibility problem. A gung-ho duo is pushing the pace at the front of the line; the main body of the group is strung out behind. And straggling at the end of the line are a couple of slower youngsters—and maybe a leader or two.

Or how about this? You've made it to camp and put up the tents. Now, some of the boys are exhausted and want to sack out for a while. But three of the others want to go fishing at a lake half a mile away. And that gung-ho duo is wondering what the view looks like from the ridge above camp.

Part of running a safe trip is keeping tabs on everyone. Of course, the easy way is to keep your group together. But then the cost of togetherness and compromise might well be frustration. One solution may be the latest models of two-way radios engineered with features and technology ideally suited to backcountry outings. Operating on special frequencies known as FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service), these radios make it easy to keep in touch.

Models and features

Portability. As with all backpacking equipment, you should look for the lightest, smallest model that meets your needs. Some units come in ultracompact designs, although the trade-off may be in the number of features available.

Also consider how you are going to be carrying the device. Those with clip-on attachments for belts and optional hands-free headsets make them easy to carry and use.

Range. Typical FRS units have a range of two miles, which is more than enough for most groups. However, there are some situations in which a greater range is useful.

In that case, it may be useful to have a model such as Audiovox's GMRS1525 ($120 per unit) or Cobra's microTALK Professional 1000 ($150). Both have a range of up to five miles.

Note that to use a two-way radio with a five-mile range, you'll need a license from the Federal Communications Commission.

Battery life. Check how many hours the batteries are supposed to last. Batteries should be good for at least 30 hours. Some units also have power-save features that save energy when the unit isn't in use. Remember to take backup supplies, because cold weather can drain battery life.

Multiple features. Motorola's Talkabout T6320 ($130) includes a digital compass, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, clock, alarm, and stopwatch. It can also receive weather broadcasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The ultracompact FR-560FM ($60 per unit) from Audiovox combines the two-way radio with an FM radio with external speaker and earbuds.

Audiovox's FR-550WB offers a twomile radius and a 10-channel weather band ($60 per unit). Cobra's microTALK Professional 2000WX ($180) includes five-mile range, 10-channel weather band, and an alarm that sounds when NOAA says bad weather is headed your way.

Karen Berger writes for, an online resource for outdoor recreation. Her latest book is Hiking the Triple Crown (the Mountaineers Books).

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