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  1. #1
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    Backcountry Radios -- experience, recommendations, questions

    Rather than polluting this thread -- https://www.tetongravity.com/forums/...0-Radio-design , figured having a generic thread about radios for use in the backcountry may be worthwhile. What's worked well, what has bothered you, what are you wondering.

    In my groups, the BCA Link and Link 2.0 has been the default radio for a couple years. They absolutely kick butt of my old Motorola radios which were frequently impacted by the cold, and had mics fall out all the time. The main two issues I've had with the Link are a) price and b) having to deal with the separate mic/radio.

    I've been recently experimenting with Rockie Talkies -- https://rockytalkie.com/products/rocky-talkie. Basically, a nice industrial design and leash around a talkie. More expensive than a Baofeng, cheaper than a Link. I haven't used it in long enough/cold enough adventures to give a good review yet, but initial use feels good. Leashing system is may favorite bit, and the comms clarity is good thus far. Over the next few months should be able to head-to-head them against Link 2.0s which will be the real tell.

  2. #2
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    My experience:
    -many issues with Baofengs
    -minor issues with Link 1.0
    -no issues with Link 2.0.

    Sample size for all three models is around a dozen of each.
    Quote Originally Posted by Norseman View Post
    All ye punterz! Leave thine stupid heavy skis in the past, or at least in the resort category, for the age of lightweight pussy sticks is upon us! Behold! Keep up with the randocommandos on their carbon blades of shortness! Break thine tibias into spiral splinters with pintech extravagance!

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by adrenalated View Post
    My experience:
    -many issues with Baofengs
    -minor issues with Link 1.0
    -no issues with Link 2.0.

    Sample size for all three models is around a dozen of each.
    i don't have the same sample size but my experience is identical. the rocky talkie, on the other hand, looks like a great product. i always felt like the BCA radios were an insane ripoff, but they do work very well - i would be stoked if there was another dependable option for half the price.

  4. #4
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    Like tgapp says -- the pricing difference is real, and part of my interest in Rocky Talkie. While investing $400 for folks who are super into backcountry and know they will be for many years is worthwhile. For folks getting into the backcountry or just spending 10-15 days in it a year, $200 is far more approachable for what should be a critical piece of safety gear. Especially if the form factor makes sense for off-season adventures.

  5. #5
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    In the other thread, I mentioned a concern about two pieces systems like the BCA.

    The concept seems convenient, but my concern lies with stress on the umbilical. It seems to me, to be a major point of potential failure - the body of the unit moving around when you rummage through your pack, compatibility with packs (H2O sleeve?) , etc.

    What's the general consensus on this?

    ... Thom
    Galibier Design
    crafting technology in service of music

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by galibier_numero_un View Post
    In the other thread, I mentioned a concern about two pieces systems like the BCA.

    The concept seems convenient, but my concern lies with stress on the umbilical. It seems to me, to be a major point of potential failure - the body of the unit moving around when you rummage through your pack, compatibility with packs (H2O sleeve?) , etc.

    What's the general consensus on this?

    ... Thom
    So I run link 2.0 and prior was 1.0. I have had other radios and nothing compares. I thought I would use baofanng and found them in a bag in my gear room.

    Link is easy and distance is pretty good. I ski at a large resort and unless buddy is on the complete other side itís not an issue. No durability issues. I have run it in hydration sleeve and left unit in bottom near bladder. You can secure it in a pouch maybe like a padded bone but Iíve never had an issue. BCA is good.

    New BCA packs have a specific sleeve for radio






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    So after 15 years we finally made it to Utah.....


    Thanks BCSAR and POWMOW Ski Patrol for rescues

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  7. #7
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    How loud do those Rocky Talkies get? I use some cheap Midlands aren't great for several reason, one of which is that they aren't loud enough when you're up on a ridge an the wind is whipping. Plus the button design is so counterintuitive that it takes 10 minutes to "train" someone on how to use it.

    I hadn't considered the BCA's because I've heard so many people complain about the original version. Sounds like 2.0 is better, but the relative simplicity of the Rocky Talkies is appealing.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by galibier_numero_un View Post
    In the other thread, I mentioned a concern about two pieces systems like the BCA.

    The concept seems convenient, but my concern lies with stress on the umbilical. It seems to me, to be a major point of potential failure - the body of the unit moving around when you rummage through your pack, compatibility with packs (H2O sleeve?) , etc.

    What's the general consensus on this?

    ... Thom
    It's not a problem.
    Quote Originally Posted by Norseman View Post
    All ye punterz! Leave thine stupid heavy skis in the past, or at least in the resort category, for the age of lightweight pussy sticks is upon us! Behold! Keep up with the randocommandos on their carbon blades of shortness! Break thine tibias into spiral splinters with pintech extravagance!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by I've seen black diamonds! View Post
    How loud do those Rocky Talkies get? I use some cheap Midlands aren't great for several reason, one of which is that they aren't loud enough when you're up on a ridge an the wind is whipping. Plus the button design is so counterintuitive that it takes 10 minutes to "train" someone on how to use it.

    I hadn't considered the BCA's because I've heard so many people complain about the original version. Sounds like 2.0 is better, but the relative simplicity of the Rocky Talkies is appealing.
    Pretty loud about as loud as I remember the Link 2 but I haven't had them out in 30+ mi/hr winds yet or put them head to head yet. We can go ski and you can fiddle with 'em.

    I haven't seen any problems with the Link 2.0 cord in the couple of groups I ski with that use them.

  10. #10
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    IMO having the radio available for use at all times is priority number 1. The hand mic on the BCA makes this possible. I stow the radio in the goggle pocket or small upper pocket that most packs have and clip the mic to my shoulder strap. Never comes off my pack, works great. IME standalone units (that can't be securely attached to pack) get used less, and communication is delayed due to stowing/unstowing faffery.

    Rockietalkie looks close but would only be viable for skiing if the clip was more secure (ie alligator style ala BCA). Having the radio flop around on a carabiner attachment is a DQ for me.

    My Link 1.0 never detached itself from the hand mic like some units. It did have an issue cycling channels on its own, but BCA replaced it. I've also had issues with snow getting packed into the mic when getting tubed (mostly on snowmobiles) so I'll likely spend $5 for the mesh cover from Frogskins.

  11. #11
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    I use the motorola T600 with a shoulder mic. I got 2 radios with their shoulder mic for less than 100$. Range is decent and speakers loud enough. The cons is that the shoulder mic is not waterproof (the radio is) but it still works after few days exposed to snow/powder and if they fail they only cost 15$ to replace and you can still use the radio unlike the BCA. If I needed only 1 radio I would have bought the BCA 2.0

  12. #12
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    FWIW, in my two times of skiing, the carabiner attachment didn't bother me w/ the Rockie. Not exactly sure why, probably because I ski like a grandpa in the BC at this time of year, and the carabiner/unit interface is semi-rigid (likes to stay in place). Or cause the leash keeps some downward tension. Not sure. Will pay attention next time.

    I totally agree though, always available is the only way it gets used frequently enough.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by doebedoe View Post
    FWIW, in my two times of skiing, the carabiner attachment didn't bother me w/ the Rockie. Not exactly sure why, probably because I ski like a grandpa in the BC at this time of year, and the carabiner/unit interface is semi-rigid (likes to stay in place). Or cause the leash keeps some downward tension. Not sure. Will pay attention next time.

    I totally agree though, always available is the only way it gets used frequently enough.
    Reports of the BCA's design robustness aside, something is inherently appealing about a one piece solution like the Rocky. I'm a big Ocam's razor advocate.

    I can much more easily imagine addressing any unlikely (for me) flopping issues (using the leash as you mentioned), than I can avoiding snagging the BCA's umbilical - either with my hand (when stressed, in a howling wind, and in a hurry) or from an errant tree branch - this, assuming I can't adapt a hydration sleeve to pass the cable through.

    Also, having it float around in my pack and possibly pulling on the cable when I rummage through it doesn't make sense. Shit! I can't even remember if my Mammut pack has a hydration sleeve (same Ocam's razor thing - I've never, ever used a hydration bladder) ;-)

    Maybe if I handled the BCA, I'd change my tune, but I'd have to see a compelling use-case/advantage for the BCA.

    ... Thom
    Galibier Design
    crafting technology in service of music

  14. #14
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    Shouldn't be too hard to stop it flapping around.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by I've seen black diamonds! View Post


    Shouldn't be too hard to stop it flapping around.
    Agreed. Also, who gives you a real 'biner in the deal - from Mammut, no less?
    Galibier Design
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  16. #16
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    Couple people mentioned they had many issues with their baeofangs? Like what? My two as well as the ~6 others floating around in my group have been flawless for regular users. Handing them off to a random is hit or miss.

  17. #17
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    If you can convince your friends to go for ham radio licenses (or don't care much for being legal), that opens up a lot of good options too. In the low end you have the Baofengs, but they're less reliable that I'd trust for safety gear. On the medium to high end (Link 2.0 pricing) they'll be waterproof and submersible. In the $100-120 range you get can the reliability needed, but not usually as waterproof and the initial setup may be clunkier.

    The big advantage these have is they almost all support a separate speaker-mic like the BCA, but if it breaks or you don't want it that day they function just like a one-piece walkie talkie too. Having a radio that supports a removable speaker-mic, I have to say I far prefer using it most of the time. Radio in the pack, speaker up front.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by mackmgg View Post
    If you can convince your friends to go for ham radio licenses (or don't care much for being legal), that opens up a lot of good options too. In the low end you have the Baofengs, but they're less reliable that I'd trust for safety gear. On the medium to high end (Link 2.0 pricing) they'll be waterproof and submersible. In the $100-120 range you get can the reliability needed, but not usually as waterproof and the initial setup may be clunkier.

    The big advantage these have is they almost all support a separate speaker-mic like the BCA, but if it breaks or you don't want it that day they function just like a one-piece walkie talkie too. Having a radio that supports a removable speaker-mic, I have to say I far prefer using it most of the time. Radio in the pack, speaker up front.
    I own 8 Yaesu radios (a mix of the VX6r, 7R and 8R), and I couldn't recommend them more for reliability, range and durability. They are a big step up from the "toy" radios by BCA, Motorola, rocky talkie, etc. However I also need the ground to air capability, and almost exclusively work on VHF commercial channels supplied by the various operations I work with. If you get any good single or dual band radios from Yaesu, Kenwood, etc you can keep them on UHF and program them the standard FRS radio channels and your own custom tones and be 100% legal without a license and not deal with the noise pollution using the standard tones on the BCA / FRS channels. However all UHF radio channels will have shorter range in the mountains than VHF.

    I did buy a handful of Baofangs a couple of years ago to test, as they where cheaper than just the mics for the Yaesu radios, but they all where total garbage. Very hard to program, all had quality issues, and none of them had very good audio compared to the Yaesu.

    I've also done a bit of testing with professional radios and the toy ones listed above in regards to interference with avalanche transceivers and had a lot less issues with the pro ones as they tend to be better shielded as well. It's still a good idea to keep them separated by at least 30 cm's from your beacon.

    Bottom line is you get what you pay for with radios. In my opinion good comms when in the mountains is even more important than Avy gear as good comms can help prevent issues from happening in the first place (and no I am not saying you dont need Avy gear).

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gunder View Post
    ...If you get any good single or dual band radios from Yaesu, Kenwood, etc you can keep them on UHF and program them the standard FRS radio channels and your own custom tones and be 100% legal without a license and not deal with the noise pollution using the standard tones on the BCA / FRS channels. However all UHF radio channels will have shorter range in the mountains than VHF...
    How much shorter?

  20. #20
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    For a cheap solution, I've been pretty happy with the little midlands. They're small enough that I can clip one to my sternum strap and it's always available. And they're like $20.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by hafjell View Post
    How much shorter?
    . Significantly. The UHF's radio waves dont seem to bend around mountains as well. With VHF and access to repeaters then their range becomes limitless. Part of the problem is most of the toy radios are .5 ~ 1 watt. While the radios I listed above are all a true 5 watts of transmitting power.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by nickel View Post
    Couple people mentioned they had many issues with their baeofangs? Like what? My two as well as the ~6 others floating around in my group have been flawless for regular users. Handing them off to a random is hit or miss.
    The mics are complete and utter garbage. The only way to keep them attached is to tape them to the radio body.

    Programming is hit or miss. Some of ours worked flawlessly. Some would randomly forget their programs and need to be reprogrammed. Some refused to communicate with the other radios even after uploading the exact same program into them.

    They're cheap for a reason.
    Quote Originally Posted by Norseman View Post
    All ye punterz! Leave thine stupid heavy skis in the past, or at least in the resort category, for the age of lightweight pussy sticks is upon us! Behold! Keep up with the randocommandos on their carbon blades of shortness! Break thine tibias into spiral splinters with pintech extravagance!

  23. #23
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    I love the idea of the baeofangs, but just have never been able to get them to work for me. I bought two with the hope of having one to lone out to a partner if needed. I broke a mic on day one setting my pack into the back of a truck and was forced to use it as a walkie. On my second day with them they refused to talk to each other and had to be reprogrammed. Also, they are not the most intuitive product to use so giving them to a partner has been rare and tedious. I really thought that by getting baoefangs I'd rarely go into the backcountry without radios anymore, instead the opposite happened after that first few times bringing them and running into problems. Now they've sat in a box for a couple years while I've borrowed friends BCA Link's when we go tackle bigger objectives.

    I'm sure for the right person, or group, who are willing to fiddle and tinker the baoefangs get the job done. But, for myself at least, if I had plopped down the $200+ on the Link 2.0 a few years back I bet I would have used them enough to have forgotten the initial sticker shock.

  24. #24
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    I've also seen issues with the antenna connector coming loose on the baofengs, though the one that I've owned for 6 years so far has been flawless. So for general talking to people I'd say they're great, for safety gear I think it's worth spending a bit extra so it doesn't break in the backcountry.

    I can definitely second the Yaesu radios for build quality. It's strictly speaking not legal to use any radio with a removable antenna on FRS frequencies, so it's technically against the law to talk to the BC Link/RockyTalky/others with them. They're also more than double the legal power levels. That said as long as you're not talking over SAR, nobody is going to care.

    As far as the UHF/VHS thing, all the unlicensed radios will be using UHF. So with the ham license you'll get significantly larger range than anything unlicensed.

    In the US there's also MURS which has all the range benefits of ham radio without requiring a license. But all those radios are big, expensive, and clunky since they're mostly only used by businesses. I'm surprised BCA doesn't make a compatible radio, though it's only legal in the US not even Canada so I guess that's probably why.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by mackmgg View Post

    As far as the UHF/VHS thing, all the unlicensed radios will be using UHF. So with the ham license you'll get significantly larger range than anything unlicensed.

    In the US there's also MURS which has all the range benefits of ham radio without requiring a license. But all those radios are big, expensive, and clunky since they're mostly only used by businesses. I'm surprised BCA doesn't make a compatible radio, though it's only legal in the US not even Canada so I guess that's probably why.
    In the US you do not need a license to purchase any radio. Its up to the end user to know that they are using the radio legally. So it is perfectly legal to buy a VHF radio and use it on the MURS frequencies with no license at all. I've seen some very small VHF radios that are fully compatible with MURS that are not any larger than the toy radios mentioned above. Problem is, if you get too compact of a radio, you loose transmission power and battery life.

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