Walkie talkies or two way radios for outdoor use are an excellent way of staying in touch with your party or base camp. Not all walkie talkies are made for outdoor uses such as skiing and camping, and not all have the same power and range. As a hiker and camper, I own a Motorola GMRS-FRS radio and also a Trisquare eXRS radio, which I compare to each other in this article. Here is a look at some of the best walkie talkies on the market for skiers and the pros and cons of each type.
The Most Popular Outdoor Walkie Talkies For Skiers, FRS.
The Family Radio Service or FRS for short, was created by the FCC for short range personal use. It consists of 14 UHF channels in the 462 and 467 Mhz range. This license free radio service is not for business use of any kind. The advantage that FRS radios have for outdoor walkie talkie use is that they are cheap, costing around $30 to $80. For this reason FRS radios are a popular choice of skiers. The better models are water resistant and a couple models are actually submersible. As a skiing walkie talkie, water resistance is a must. The more water resistant the better. FRS walkie talkies do not require an FCC license and are allowed in ski slopes in the U.S. and Canada.
For most ski slopes and campsites, an inexpensive FRS radio will work just fine to cover the area. Most models have some type of privacy settings that allow you to receive calls only from radios using the same code. The downside of using FRS radios for camping, hiking and skiing is that range is limited and channels can become crowded with other users in big resorts.
GMRS-FRS Hybrid Radios For The Outdoors
Many outdoor walkie talkies feature both GMRS and FRS radio channels. I own a pair of Motorola radios like this and have used them for a couple of years in the outdoors when camping and hiking. You should have an FCC license to transmit on GMRS radio channels. There are 7 channels where you can legally use 5 watts, which means more range. Don’t be fooled by distance claims of a 36 mile working range or more. Most GMRS radios will work at a range of around five miles. Longer distances are possible, but not likely in most parks. The disadvantages of using these two way radios for skiing and camping are the same as those for FRS only radios. Channels can become crowded in many places. Note that both FRS and GMRS radios are illegal in Europe and many other countries. You cannot take your GMRS or FRS radio skiing to most resorts around the world for this reason.
eXRS Radio Advantages Over GMRS and FRS
When I first heard about eXRS I thought the FCC was creating some kind of new radio service for outdoor adventurers. There really is no FCC designated “Extreme Radio Service” as Trisquare calls their walkie talkies. There is however a chunk of the radio spectrum around 900 Mhz that has been set aside for personal digital communications devices such as these and cordless phones. There are no “channels” as regular walkie talkies use, but instead they use a technology called FHSS or frequency hopping spread spectrum. This allows for total privacy and your own unique channel that has a one in ten billion chance of being duplicated. Because of this capability you can rest assured that there will be no other walkie talkies in the ski resort or camping area using the same frequency. Your conversations will not be heard by anyone else. After reading reviews on Amazon such as “my squad and I use these in Afghanistan in combat, they work great”, I had to buy a pair. I recently tested a pair of these radios in a state park which had hilly terrain and dense tree cover. eXRS radio range in the real world is about one half to two miles, depending on what obstacles are in the way. I was able to have a clear conversation at one mile, when it was basically “line of sight” between me and my party. Unlike FRS-GMRS radios, you get static free, clear calls all the way up until you are out of range. Sound will become “choppy” right before you lose reception by traveling out of range. Another eXRS radio advantage is that they do not require a license to operate and come with a number of alert tones similar to a cell phone. Other hikers and skiers won’t be annoyed by chatter on your radio while you ride the ski lift because the only conversations audible will be from you and your party. VOX, or voice operated transmit is also a feature of these radios, eliminating the need to push a transmit button. The TSX-300 model that I tested features text messaging, which is kind of neat. It also comes with the ability to store up to ten radio codes so that a large group can communicate with each other. Another good feature is that eXRS radios are legal in Europe wherever 900 Mhz cordless phones are allowed so you can take your Trisquare radio along on a ski trip overseas to most places.
The downside of eXRS Two Way Radios For Skiiing And Camping
While VOX, or voice operated transmit, is a handy feature sometimes, you will find that it does not work well where there is ambient noise, such as in a room or when the wind is blowing. Range of eXRS radios in the real world is around a mile or less. You may find that range higher if you have a clear line of site between you and the other radio. This is plenty of range for most ski resorts but not quite enough for hiking and camping if you and your party will be separated by a mile or more. For situations where you need a working range five miles or so, a GMRS radio would be a better choice. In real world tests I found that my GMRS radios had about 60% longer working range than the eXRS radios of mine. A disadvantage of eXRS radios is that you cannot call anyone outside of your party in an emergency, like you may be able to do with a GMRS radio in the outdoors. The trade off is privacy of course. If you want a totally private two way radio, the eXRS is a better choice. A final disadvantage is that these radios are not super-rugged. A good solution that I have found is to get the protective cover, the TSX-RC made by Trisquare.
Below is a pair of GMRS-FRS radios similar to the ones I own. The advantage of these two way radios for hiking, skiing and camping use is longer range. If you are not going to be in a crowded ski resort or stadium, the privacy codes used by these type of outdoor walkie talkies will be enough to minimize interference. Another plus is that you may be able to summon help from another FRS or GMRS radio user if you have an emergency, unlike eXRS radios which can only call another person in your party who is within range. (Note that to receive an emergency call for help on a GMRS or FRS radio other users must have privacy codes disabled or happen to be using the same code as you.) Many users of such radios never use privacy codes, meaning there is a chance your GMRS distress call might be picked up in a crowded ski area or national park.