> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Walkie Talkies (Basic Comms Gear)



Walkie Talkies (Basic Comms Gear)

Since the characters in You Took Away Tomorrow make fairly frequent use of walkie talkies, I've had a few requests for a post on the matter. I'm not an expert when it comes to radios--I've tried to get interested in 'em, but so far it hasn't happened. Time, attention and resources have been devoted elsewhere.

With that in mind, here's my take on the matter of walkie talkies for short range communication between group members

When talking the subject of survival comms, HAM radios are often amongst the first to come to mind. But, if you're looking to communicate with a specific group of folks--your survival group/buddies--they're probably not particularly interested in the time/effort/dollars requirement to get licensed and set up on HAM.

If your group is that dedicated, awesome.

But, if you're the only guy with a HAM radio, it's not going to do you a lot of good for communicating within your group.

For simple communications in your immediate area, something that is affordable, readily available and with a low learning curve is often your best bet.

Along those lines, you've got the FRS/GMRS walkie talkies that we've all seen sold pretty much everywhere.

FRS/GMRS walkies are totally adequate for short range, around-the-homestead communications. You'll typically get a 1/2 miles to 1 mile range, at most, which is typically fine for communications between group members in one area.

Most folks have a couple FRS/GMRS walkie talkies floating around their home. If not, a set with two radios, battery packs, charger and other accessories can be picked up for $50 to $100.

For a specific recommendation, we have these Midlands and have been pleased with them so far. A pretty good value--lots of features for the price.

There are a bunch of these little walkies out there, so I'd pick a quality brand, read some reviews and get some.

If the 1/2 to 1 mile range doesn't cover the area your group needs to operate in, or you're looking at caravan type operations, CB radio becomes the next easy choice. CB radios are bigger and more power hungry, but will usually get better range, especially with an external antenna.

With a CB, you're still not going to get particularly far, but you should get a mile or three further than a run of the mill FRS/GMRS radio. The radios are usually designed to operate out of vehicles and off a 12v battery, so not particularly helpful for dismounted/on foot operations.

MURS radios are another option, though folks are unlikely to have a MURS radio unless they've purchased them specifically for survivalist-type purposes. MURS has some advantages over FRS/GMRS radios--more power without a license, can use external antennas, lower likelihood of interference or eavesdropping. Walkie talkie range may be a little bit better.

Yup, pretty basic stuff, but we're talking about short range communications between group members, so you don't need to go too crazy. HossUSMC agrees with me, too. 

None of these comms methods are ideal, but they serve the need for not a lot of money and time dedicated.

What kind of comms gear do you use to communicate with your crap hit the fan friends?


  1. Best radio out on civilian market talk any where in the world!http://www.iridium.com/products/ITT-NexGen-RO-Tactical-Radio.aspx

  2. AnonymousJuly 31, 2013

    If you plan to base your short-range comm's plan on something like FRS/GMRS/MURS, it might be worth adding a couple of small, inexpensive, multi-purpose radios such as the Baofeng UV-5r. While sold as HAM radios they can also be programmed to work on the FRS, GMRS and MURS frequencies as well. Transmitting on those frequencies is illegal because these small HAM radios put out more power than the FCC allows (still not a lot of power) but if SHTF I don't think the FCC is going to be knocking on your door with a warrant. A couple of these added to your arsenal would add a lot of options.

    1. DO NOT attempt to set these UV-5R radios up for FRS/GMRS. They are not certified for Part 95 operations.

      Take the time and get a technician license. A week of evenings with one of the on line study guides and pretty much anyone can pass the tech exam. Then you can legally use these radios in 2m and 70cm bands.

      In a SHTF scenario the FCC probably won't be too interested in you but you do get the group together and practice your comms right? Right?

    2. Just as he said, they are not allowed by the FCC to use those frequencies(not certified) because the regulation states that the highest power you can use for FRS is 1/2 watts. Since the UV-5R's lowest wattage is 1 watt, you are in violation of the regulation if you use it on those frequencies.
      However, to his point, in a country without law, it won't matter.
      In a perfect scenario, you get this radio and a Tech license. Use it as a HAM radio only. But, have the freqs handy for FRS/GMRS, and use them if needed since others may only have access to those channels. (best of both worlds in an uncertain world)
      In times of emergency to life/limb, regulations are allowed to be ignored anyways.(yes, I've read it too)

    3. Yepp, as I posted it is illegal to transmit on FRS/GMRS/MURS with these units and I wasn't suggesting that anyone do so as a matter of course. The point of my post however (the HAM aspect aside as it should be part of everyone's plans)was that there's a lot of utility in being able to use all those frequencies in a single unit. Your group may be using FRS but maybe the group down the road has standardized on MURS? Even if not transmitting being able to monitor all those common frequencies for security purposes has value.

    4. AnonymousJune 13, 2015

      Before SHTF using a non type approved and certified radio on a band for which it is not approved and licensed may "only" mean a fine of several thousand dollars. Also, there is more to the requirements than power level. FRS units must have a fixed, non-removeable antenna. Use outside of licensed and authorized frequencies during a time of national crisis could and probably would be considered a violation of whatever emergency powers are in play and might simply be resolved by eliminating the offender. If you aren't part of tge official authorized solution, then you might be considered part of the problem. Get the old school images of direction finding and triangulation outof your head. It's all done in a flash with computer controlled phased antennas. Stay legal or you may be painting youself as an electronic target. Just like the people who use night vision gear that requires infrared illumination. Makes a nice, precise target. Remember, there is no "technically illegal which implies a gray area. There isn't one. And it doesn't matter who tells you what, at least within the area covered by the USA FCC, there is NEVER an extenuating circumstance for transmitting on either an unauthorized frequency or using equpment on frequencies for which they have not type accepted and certified. Just write the FCC and ask..They have answered others who have asked the same thing. During SHTF, all frequencies would be far more closely monitored than during peacetime as many agencies would be looking for enemy communication. Stay safe, stay legal.

  3. AnonymousJuly 31, 2013

    while communication is important,its not a cure all.When the shtf,almost any means will be clogged up.More range/power may be great initially,once you are bugged out or in,less power will be less detectable.The bad guys will have something for sure,so the less power you will have,the less you will be heard.And the military can hear anything radio related.

  4. I have a baofeng uv-5r+ ham radio with all the FRS/GMRS/MURS channel frequences programed in along with the noaa weather channels, local ham repeaters, local law/fire/ems frequencies.
    A friend and I did a test and with an aftermarket 7" antenna I bought. I picked him up from 16 miles away. Not to bad. I am planning on getting a bigger antenna for a car mount setup.

    1. The little HAM radios are great, but you need the license to transmit legally.

    2. AnonymousJuly 31, 2013

      According to the www.arrl.org website, the "technician" (entry-level) licensing process is not that bad.

      The BaoFeng UV-5R seems to be very popular for all the frquencies it can be used on, combined with price.

    3. The tech license ain't bad. A weekend or two of studying. Worthwhile for sure.

    4. Working on the license, just listening for now...

    5. Hi Sean

      Can you supply a list of the FRMS/GMRS/MURS AND NOAA FREQUENCIES
      YOU HAVE programmed in your UV-5R+


  5. AnonymousJuly 31, 2013

    In most outdoorsy stores you can buy 2-3 packs of small walkie-talkie type radios that have 20+ mile ranges. I doubt they're effective to that distance in the real world but even if you get 1/2 or 2/3 that you're doing pretty well.

    1. These are the FRS/GMRS radios I speak of above. Real range is about a mile, give or take. 20 miles at sea or from mountain top to mountain top maybe.

  6. CB radios is best solution for cars, but totally useless in any hand-held version. CB band requires large antenna for effective transmission and reception of signal, like 2m/6-7ft. 5W CB in hand-held variant will loose to 0.5W FRS walkie-talkie.

    GMRS with 3W power (some midland rated for 26 miles in open area) works for 0.5 mile in city and 5W maybe up to 1 mile in city, but it depend more on landscape, than on power for this frequencies.

    Having hands-free for your walkie-talkie is another smart idea.

    Knowing and following military communication protocol is another great idea. All paintball/strikeball gamers know how game is spoiled if even one participant use walkie-talkie as cellphone, and this is not even about half-duplex versus full-duplex, because even skype/cellphone conference call can lead to headache if talkers doesn't follow some rules.

    Actually short, mid and long range communication is pretty HUGE topic for discussion and if readers don't have time to read amount of useful data comparable to thick book they should just buy some 26/36 miles midland.

  7. AnonymousJuly 31, 2013

    So just outta curiosity where does VHS fit in this? I've used them before with Outdoors use and have found they're better than the FRS and CB but haven't ever used the MURS. They're legal, waterproof, you can talk to watercraft, and there are int channels on the one's I've used. Again, my knowledge is severely lacking but they've always given me great range and worked well for me, so I was curious of anyone out there that had any thoughts on this? Thanks

    1. AnonymousJuly 31, 2013

      I think you meant VHF Marine radio? (since VHS is video tape)
      AFAIK, it is simplex (one end can talk at a time). I imagine since it is designated as for "marine use", the FCC or Coast Guard would come knocking if you used in peacetime.
      One big pro is it is used extensively all over the world.

    2. riverriderAugust 02, 2013

      we use them all the time. fcc never called yet. we do stay away from water with these to minimize the chance of interference w/ marine traffic. a buddy clips the chip that reduces the grms watts on our frs/grms walkies so we get the full five watts on those as well. that said, in bosnia the cia came knocking on our hooch and threatened to take our radios and our ass to jail if we used them one more time. always wondered what the globe looking thing on the mountain was, now i know :)

  8. FYI: GMRS radios require a FCC licence to use just like HAM. The only difference is with a GMRS licence, your whole family is covered. It cost $85 to get. Kinda steep compared to a HAM techs licence. FRS is still license free.


    1. The FCC is considering removing the license from GMRS, and bajillions of GMRS radios are sold at Wal-Mart, Target and elsewhere to folks who never read the manual and use 'em all willy-nilly. So - not sure how well the FCC enforces regs. But yep, license is needed to operate.

    2. I saw on the FCC website that they have been considering that change since 2010. Who knows how much longer it will take with them. They dont do anything fast.

  9. The only SHTF option is the HAM radio.

    I am not pissing in the wind here either, here are the REASONS:

    1) There are cheap, Chinese, handheld HAMs available for $35, and if you are willing to get a little bit more spendy, you can get really nice ones right around the hundred dollar mark. Expensive but not when you consider what most of us spend on guns... and definitely in the same ball park as FRS/GMRS.

    2) Legal considerations: well first of all there is the fact that most people don't realize that they aren't supposed to be transmitting on half the GMRS frequencies without a license. GMRS overlaps FRS, FRS does not overlap GMRS, thus without a license I believe all the channels above 15 are illegal to use. Fact is you will likely never get caught using a mobile HAM even illegally, unless you are at a HAM convention and you piss off the HAMs. BUT, I am not recommending you break the law. What I am suggesting is that if the Radio is for SHTF, then either the rule of law will have broken down, in which case there is no law, or if their is the rule of law and you find yourself in a life and death situation, FCC regs allow emergency transmissions by unlicensed persons.

    3) No license is need to buy HAM equipment which CAN operate on all the same frequencies as VHF Marine, FRS, and GMRS. Granted again illegal, but useful in terms of interoperability in a WROL situation.

    4) HAMs unlike FRS radios legally can have (and most do) a detachable antenna which allows for you to connect to a much better antenna with a hand held radio to really reach out and touch someone. This is also true in vehicles where the fix rubber ducky makes FRS/GMRS near useless for any distance. A GMRS license allows a detachable antenna but because since most if not all of these radios are packaged with FRS they do not have this feature (and many do not have the ability to transmit at full GMRS power, which I believe is 5watts).

    5) If you buy a HAM and become interested in radios you have equipment that would allow you to get into HAM as a hobby and get a radio. FRS are good for the mall or Disney land, and paintball but not much else.

    6)Security; while HAM is not, and legally can not be, encrypted, it does offer you a plethora of frequencies to hide in unlike the <40 channels of the CB, FRS, or GMRS. And most all HAM radios are set up to receive and transmit on different frequencies (even of different bands). Manually hoping from frequency to frequency in a preplanned fashion, keeping traffic light, and wisely using TX power options a HAM is probably the most secure option.

    7) Distance; HAM is the only one of these radios that give you the POSSIBILITY of communicating at distance, and when I say distance I am not talking about the radios 20 mile range I am talking about intercontinental communications. With a good antenna tower, over even without using repeaters or the HAM network to pass on messages and info HAM is the only type of radio that will give you global communications options and Intel about what is going on in the outside world.

    8) Finally, stepping back to a point made earlier, interoperability. Many rural Emergency Services agencies use frequencies available to HAMS. Thus, if you need help, again HAM puts you in touch with most anyone you need to speak with after a SHTF.

    1. Agree - but for HAMs to be useful for communications around a retreat/within a group, everyone would need to bring 'em to the table. Most folks have a GMRS/FRS radio kicking around, very few have a HAM and a license. Good thing to works towards for sure.

  10. I don't have one yet, but I've read lots of good things about these...not to mention, they are dirt cheap !!