Trail Communications

Having two-way radio communication on the trail is very advantageous. With radio comms we can coordinate our actions and navigation. The safety benefit should also be obvious. Having two-way radio communication is basically a necessity.

Various types of two-way radios have been used. In years past CB radio was the natural choice and dominated. With time there has been growing use of ham and GMRS (and “race radios”) due to their superior range.

A run leader will specify the type of radio and the frequency/channel they will use on their run. For the past several years most runs have used ham communications. Generally there should be one channel used during the run. Trying to two run comm channels at once is generally not practical and is not recommended.

Characteristics of the two-way radio types:

CB – Cheap and easy. No license required. Has been around for decades. But it has the least range. A handheld radio is practically unusable inside a vehicle. A mobile unit with an externally mounted antenna will give you a semi-reliable range of about 1/2 mile on the trail. It used to be that everyone had a CB. That is less true now.

ham – License required (except in an emergency). You have to pass a test on operating rules and radio technology to get the license. But it offers the best range. With a handheld radio (5W Baofeng, no vehicle mounted antenna) you’ll have a range of about 1/2 mile. With a 50W mobile with a vehicle mounted antenna you’ll have several miles range on the trail and 60 miles range from one mountain top to another.

GMRS – License required (except in an emergency). No test required. To get a license you fill out a form and pay $70. It’s range performance is similar to the ham radio. The Baofeng UV-5R can be programmed to operate on the GMRS frequencies.

race radio – This has been kind of a gray area. In the past there was a lot of illegal operation. The FCC has cracked down and now the promoters have cleaned things up. There ten frequency that are legal nationwide without an individual license. Race radio communication range is similar to that of ham and GMRS.


The Baofeng can be set up to transmit on ham, GMRS, and race radio frequencies.