Why Hikers and Backpackers Should Carry Two-Way Radios

A Two-Way Radio for Hiking
A Two-Way Radio for Hiking

Do you carry a two-way radio when you hike? How about on backpacking and camping trips? If you don’t, you should!

A two-way radio (also known by the fun name of “walkie-talkie”!) is not merely just a fun toy, but an important safety device. A good set can be purchased for under $100.

One of the leading companies in the space is Midland, and they’ve developed a new line of two-way radios called the X-Talker series, which are excellent for hikers and backpackers.

Wearing Midland's X-Talker T71VP3
Wearing Midland’s X-Talker T71VP3

How Two-Way Radios Are Useful in the Wilderness

  • Keep in touch with other members of your group if they are hiking ahead of you or behind you.
  • If you’re backpacking, and you go and get water from a creek, or leave camp to go fishing while your friends nap, then take a radio with you. That way you can radio for help, or tell your friends to come see the fish you caught!

Are two-way radios really a safety device?

If you break your leg in the wilderness and have no way of getting out, you’ll want to at least hope that you have a radio with you. Why? Because in ideal situations, when you have a clear line of site, the range can be up to 25 miles or more. The Midland X-Talkers have max ranges from 26-38 miles, depending on the model, so if a rescue helicopter is overhead you’d likely be able to communicate with it.

Midland X-Talker T71VP3
Midland X-Talker T71VP3
Back of Midland X-Talker T71VP3
Back of Midland X-Talker T71VP3
Midland X-Talker T61VP3 Radio on hip
Midland X-Talker T61VP3 Radio on hip
A Two-Way Radio for Hiking
A Two-Way Radio for Hiking

What are the limitations of two-way radios?

The range can be pretty limited. The radios work well if they are in the line of sight of each other, since that is how they communicate. In urban environments, walls, doors, and buildings get in the way, making the range of even the longest range two-way radios limited to under 1 mile (in my testing). In the wilderness, dense trees, rocks, and of course mountains get in the way of perfect communication; however, in multiple tests of two of Midland’s products they work well for at least a couple of miles of range in the wilderness.

What to Look for When Buying 2-Way Radios

  • Stated range. Don’t expect to ever get the max range, but know that the stronger the device is, the clearer the communication will be at shorter ranges. Expect that you’ll be able to get 2-4 miles of range in normal wilderness conditions, and less than 1 mile in urban areas.
  • Rechargeable batteries.
  • Water resistant.
  • Multiple channels and privacy modes.

Specs of Midland’s X-Talker Series T71VP3

Midland X-Talker T71VP3
Midland X-Talker T71VP3

The Midland X-Talker T71VP3 is the most powerful of the X-Talker Series, and therefore the most expensive and the largest.

  • Max Range: 38 miles
  • Channels: 36 and 121 privacy codes (great if you don’t want other people to scan and find your conversation easily!)
  • Weather Scan: Yes!
  • Battery type: 3 AA, rechargeable
  • Price: $79.99 for a pair, including charging station, belt clips, and rechargeable battery packs

Specs of Midland’s X-Talker Series T61VP3

Midland X-Talker T61VP3
Midland X-Talker T61VP3
  • Max Range: 32 miles
  • Channels: 36 and 121 privacy codes (great if you don’t want other people to scan and find your conversation easily!)
  • Weather Scan: Yes!
  • Battery type: 3 AAA, rechargeable
  • Price: $69.99 for a pair, including charging station, belt clips, and rechargeable battery packs

Love details? Then check out the full specs of the entire Midland X-Talker product line here:

Midland X-Talker Spec Sheet
Midland X-Talker Spec Sheet

I’ll be taking my Midland X-Talkers to Yosemite this summer. Roger that? 😉

15 comments

  1. Dojonim says:

    I’m an avid day hiker and always carry a UHF/VHF, hand held radio, a USGI glass 3X5 inch signal mirror, and a pea less whistle. The radio is pretty much line of sight, but has more frequencies and I can almost always connect with a repeater nearby . The mirror will produce a blinding light visible up to 80 miles. The whistle will alert persons/rescue personnel who are within ear shot.
    Sorry if I got off topic, but thought this info would be handy.

    **Amateur radio license is required to operate on ham and/or GMRS freqs (except in life or death situations)

  2. Shabeer Jan says:

    Hi Everyone.
    we need radio for our trekking Group, and need ur opinion, which model better for us.
    thanks

  3. Hiking Lady says:

    It seems like your main point is that anyone can listen in to conversations on two-way radios. Yes, I completely agree, and did not nor did I intend to represent it otherwise. It is a matter of talking on a channel that is less likely to be scanned and have other people around you it. Obviously two-way radios do not provide secure channels, and since this blog is geared towards hikers, I would not expect hikers to need utmost privacy when communicating with other hikers or emergency service personnel. I’m sure there are plenty of blogs and websites devoted to the details of frequency differences and the professional hand radios that cost over $2000+ you referred to in your comment. I think it is safe to say that for 99% of us recreational outdoors people, that is completely out of our price range and not even something we’d ever look into. 🙂

  4. My Name says:

    There are numerous fails in this article all of which are a lack of knowledge about radio equipment. First you will be getting a quarter of a mile range with the standard FRS radio system and if you are lucky maybe Two miles with the GMRS and you must have an FCC license to use those frequencies. The 26-36 mile ranges would be from adjacent mountain tops with no curvature of the Earth in the way, no trees, and not a thing but clear line of sight. As for the military or helicopter drivers carrying this equipment the do not and never will for one reason. This equipment is all toys, as in child’s toy department. You will not be talking to your rescue helicopter from the ground on Three AA batteries. The average professional hand radio that police, military, firefighter, and more carry cost about $2,000.00 each when you buy them by the case lot and just One of their batteries costs more than a Master Pack with Four of one of these toy radio kits.

    There is a major serious mistake about the “Privacy” codes. This article states you use them to prevent someone from hearing you but they work the other way around as they prevent you from hearing them. This article suggests your transmission is encoded like police equipment which it is not. The privacy codes allow you to talk to your friend using the same channel someone close by is an by blocking them you don’t hear all the chatter. These radios are not secure and not safe to say anything personal on.

    The Channel count is all wrong. There are only a total of “22” channels that combine “FRS” and “GMRS” frequencies. 1-7 are GMRS-FRS shared, 8-14 are FRS, and 15-22 are exclusive GMRS only. All the other fluff are simply use of discriminator coding and anybody can listen in.

  5. HikingDoc says:

    GMRS channel 6 is generally considered the unofficial emergency channel. I can’t comment about the practices of a search and rescue team, but I suspect that if someone knew you were lost and relayed to the authorities that you were on a specific channel, it would likely be a bit easier for them to find you.

  6. Hiking Lady says:

    Thank you for the input Steven. That’s a shame that military Search & Rescue don’t even have them on board. That would be great if there were a specific channel used for designated emergencies – one day perhaps!

    If two people are hiking together, and one gets critically injured, he/she could be left in place with a two-way radio. The other hiker could head to the trailhead, alert Search & Rescue, and inform them to tune into the channel that the wounded hiker is using to keep in contact (although only within range). This would enable S&R to more quickly locate the injured person without having their GPS coordinates.

    For the most part, two-way radios are best used when communicating in a fairly short range between members of a hiking group. The best option would be to carry a Satellite Phone, but for most people that is price prohibitive.

  7. Steven Sullivan says:

    Having flown with Search and Rescue with the military…we do not carry such radios due to the noise level and low probability of the person carrying a radio or it being picked up in a scan.

    I do think it would be great if there was a way for radio manufacturers to put in an emergency signal, or designate a channel like they have for truckers, strictly for such instances and then outfit the chopper or airplane searching with those frequencies. In today’s world, they are more common and it could be a better way to find someone,

    Happy Hiking!

  8. Hiking Lady says:

    I agree Steven. For clarity, I am referred to an emergency helicopter looking for you specifically, not a helicopter that is randomly flying by. I hope that helps. I think we’re on the same page. Happy trails!

  9. Steven Sullivan says:

    While I agree that radios can be a great tool for hiking, especially with a group, if you are down and a helicopter is passing by…you will NOT be able to talk to them. Their radios are aviation radios and on much different frequencies. Now if for some reason they are carrying a walkie-talkie and have it scanning the channels…then you might get lucky, but I wouldn’t count on it.

  10. Hi Hiking lady,
    This is a must have camping gear. Have seen it widely being used by game drivers during my safari trips in Africa. That moment when you are really looking forward to see a leopard and you have been driving all day in the African savanna , when the two way radio comes to the rescues. The other game drivers call in to say they have spotted a leopard.

    Definitely a must have camping gear.

  11. HikingDoc says:

    My wife and I use older Midland two-way radios whenever we hike and they are fantastic. These new models look pretty nice. Thanks for the review Hiking Lady.

  12. This is a great article! Two-way radio is a must if your planing on a long hike. This will make it easier to communicate for all the hiking adventures in areas that you don’t get reception.

  13. Hiking Lady says:

    Yes, two-way radios are great in areas where you may not be able to rely on your cellphone. If you hike a lot away from cell towers and want to be able to communicate with other members of your hiking group or reach an emergency helicopter that is flying overhead, then these will come in handy!

  14. Donna says:

    I think this is a fabulous idea. We all seem to have our cell phones with us but then you can’t always get reception. I’m going to go out and get a set ASAP. Thanks Hiking Lady.

  15. Bobbi C says:

    Wonderful article re. two-way radios. A most important part of your gear on any hike; Thank you again for your great articles and reviews.

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