Radio Type Characteristics

Characteristics of the types of two-way radio:

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 at least ten times the range as CB. 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.


3/6/22 – It used to be that the Baofeng UV-5R could be set to operate on ham, GMRS, and race radio frequencies. I believe that units sold after about June 2021 are internally limited to ham frequencies only. I believe the UV-F8HP can still be set to operate on ham, GMRS, and race frequencies (even though it does not have an FCC certificate to do so). There is now a UV-5X / UV-5G. It is FCC certified and internally limited to operate only on GMRS.