Tactical Radios


I have read several articles on the internet recently advocating ham and other long-range radios.  While I think these are great and very useful, I going to talk about some advantages of short-range radios.  In my opinion, you should divide radios in two classes, strategic and tactical.  Strategic would include long-range two-way communications, television, AM/FM radio networks and shortwave.

Tactical would include the FRS/GMRS (Family Radio Service and General Mobile Radio Service).  The manufactures of FRS radios claim the range is up to 2 miles.  The actual range is closer to ¼ to 1 mile depending on the terrain.  They are small inexpensive two-way radios that operate on 14 dedicated channels.

Many of the new radios coming on the market are hybrid radios, meaning that the radio is FRS/GMRS, and works in a GMRS band as well.  The GMRS had a bigger range and many of these radios will list 22 channels and a range of 25 – 50 miles.  The GMRS radios have a longer range, but the range stated by the manufacture always seems to be about twice what you actually get.  The hybrid radios will be short range only if used on the FRS channels.  You can still find some FRS band radios on the market.

FRS/GMRS radios can be purchased in pairs for as little as $35.00 a pair.  The reason I have designated them as a tactical radio is their short range.  In a real emergency, you may not want people to know your location.  A radio with a range of less than a mile may be a great convenience in bug out location.  It is much less likely to attract attention than a longer-range radio.  More range means more potential listeners.

One caveat when using radios from different manufacturers–some features only work with radios from the same manufacturer, or even the same model.  For example, we were unable to communicate using some of the CTCSS sub-channels, or privacy channels, on radios that were not the same brand.  If using more than one manufacturer’s models, you should consult the documentation for the exact frequencies used for these sub-channels.  Also, radio accessories are not standard, so any accessories you buy must be from the manufacturer of your radio.  I would recommend that you standardize your radios so that they all use one type of battery, preferably doubles AAs.

FRS radios do not require a license; GMRS radios require a license from the FCC.


7 thoughts on “Tactical Radios”

  1. Matt in Oklahoma

    Next to actually having a functional group this is the hardest catagory there is IMO. Even in the Military commo sucked. We use them hunting, hiking etc. and they just are inadequate. Radios fallinto several catagories, too heavy, too unreliable, too short range or too breakable. A group I know went recently with GMRS and to say the least they are disappointed with the real range in a built up area. HAM is too complicated and too sensitive and seems to be a never ending tasking. We use the FRS but the range is soooo limited especially where we hike/hunt in canyons and moutains.
    Like you said don’t believe the adds and try your stuff and know it’s capabilities and weakness, compatablity with other equipment and do it now before the bad stuff.

  2. Our Neighborhood Watch uses FRS radios effectively. Our subdivision is only 58 homes and almost everyone knows everyone else. We encourage all of our neighbors to monitor our chosen channel and to communicate with the Watch. We use no names but instead we use handles and the four streets of the neighborhood are alpha code for the streets’ initials. We believe it works well for us.

  3. A veteran who is preparing

    I have been using GMRS radios for years, even while still serving in the military (came in handy during missions when we split the squad up). I think they are very useful and a combat multiplier.

    As for range, all radios are limited by their power and the terrain they are used in. The military has for decades used a thing called retrans (aka repeater, relays, retransmission) to get around these limitations. Think of it this way, your group is divided with half on either side of a mountain range and you want to communicate back and forth. On top of one of those peaks you emplace a retrans station with a radio that rebroadcasts transmissions to either side. So you are on one side and transmit, the signal reaches the retrans and sends the signal over to the other side for the other group to hear.

    I have been looking for new GMRS radios for the family and I did see a couple models had listed in the description that they had repeaters or retransmission capabilities. They were handhelds. I do not remember if they were from Uniden or Motorola, but I am going to guess they were Motorola models. If you are looking for quality radios those 2 companies are the ones to look at. For those that remember the old Cobra CBs from when they were the best on the market, those were manufactured by Uniden. It was after Uniden split them off that the quality of the Cobra CB radios went to hell. If you are looking for good CBs you can’t go wrong with a Uniden model, even one that is used.

  4. A better alternative may be the MURS radio. It is similar to the frs/gmrs radio but operates at a lower frequency and has better performance over hilly terrain. MURS is less widely used so there is less chance of others listening in to your conversation.

  5. A lot of this is speculation, and much of the time it may be unnoticeable, but
    with the right GPS you can check out what times will be best to be
    in the field. In addition, these radios operate the best in a
    line of sight. Also very high frequency signals can travel longer distances as compared to ultra high frequencies.

  6. My recently posted article on MURS radios has useful links and information, comparing performance with GMRS and how you can optimize range by increasing antenna height and using efficient antennas which are resonant on your working frequencies, with low loss feedline, so that all of your transmitter output is radiated as radio frequency energy, instead of heat, which wastes your batteries and burns up your radio.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top