The novices love them and purists hate them but their usefulness cannot be denied. The little handheld Baofeng radios are dirt cheap, rugged, loaded with features and they just plain work! Whether you choose the 5-watt UV-5R, the 8-watt BF-F8HP (which is really nothing more than an upgraded UV-5R), the 5w UV-82 or 8w UV-82HP, you'll have a radio that will bring you years of enjoyment and potentially life-saving capabilities in emergency situations. The radios listed above are by far the most popular amongst outdoorsmen, preppers and survivalists and they are all dual-band radios, which means that they can operate on VHF which is, depending on model, 136 to 174 MHz and UHF which is 400 to either 480 or 520MHz. Understand that while you can listen to all of these, there is only a limited range that you can actually LEGALLY talk on.
Are there better radios out there? Of course there are, for 10 times the money and half the frequencies. You see, the U. S. government restricts domestic radios to a very specific range of frequencies, most of which require a license. I will post another article soon that will clear up some the whys and where-to-fores of some of the laws and restrictions imposed by our Federal Communications Commission and how they affect you but the purpose of this article is for all those that already have their radios and are trying to figure out what kind of accessories they need for them and brother, there are plenty to choose from!
Let's start with antennas...
Generally speaking, no matter what kind of radio you have, the higher you can get the antenna, the clearer your radio will sound and the farther that it will both transmit and receive. A 5-watt radio may talk 50 or even 100 miles from the top a 10,000' mountain but may barely reach a couple of blocks in town. The antenna is key.
Antennas used for two-way voice communication MUST be tuned to the radio that they are servicing. This means that the Standing Wave Ratio or SWR must be set to the radio. To accomplish this, one must have an SWR meter and the knowledge to use it. However, all of the antennas described below are tuned close enough from the factory and should work fine with the exception of the detached, base antennas. If your SWR's are too far off, you can fry your radio. Don't chance it. No matter where you live, there is most likely a radio shop, a ham operator or hobbyist nearby that can help you with this procedure.
- The flexible "rubber ducky" antenna that comes stock on the radio lacks in performance but is sufficient for most day-to-day activities. It is flexible and handy for general, portable use like hiking, hunting, etc where your contacts are not too far away.
- A step up from that is the flexible whip antenna which is nothing more than rubber ducky on steroids. Its quite flexible and is 15.6" long. The one I use is the Nagoya NA-771. The whip antenna greatly improves performance and range but is a tad awkward to carry in the woods. It works best sitting in a window sill at home or at a campsite or something like that.
- The collapsible or retractable antenna is the best of both worlds. When it is collapsed, it is maybe 5" long and will do anything the rubber ducky will do. Extended, it is the equal of the whip antenna. A word of caution on this antenna... it is NOT flexible! If you drop it and it lands on the antenna, it will likely break. Carry a spare in your pocket or backpack if your going to be out in the boonies or carry a cheap rubber ducky as a back-up! Mine is a Nagoya NA-771R
- Another option for rigorous, outdoor activities is the "tactical" antenna. They are very similar to older military antennas. They are flat, exceedingly flexible and actually fold for transport. Approximate lengths of the 3 that are commonly available are: + 18", 30" and 43". These will do almost anything that your radio is capable of doing. They are not at all expensive and very useful.
- Looking for communication security? Well, practically speaking, there's really no such thing, but here's something that will help. The "stubby" antenna. The stubby is 1.5" to 2" long, depending model and manufacturer. Some of them are VERY flexible and pretty much indestructible. The fact that they are so short means that they will not transmit very far. Use one of these and turn your radio down to low power and you're not providing information to people across the valley or giving away that favorite hunting or fishing spot. You might squeeze a mile out of this antenna combined with low power on your radio if there is nothing in the way. In the woods or in town, you may only get a few hundred yards out of it compared to maybe 10 or 20 miles, depending on conditions, out of a whip antenna and a full power radio.
- There are also magnetic antennas that you can sit on the roof of your car and turn your handheld into a mobile or set it on the rain gutter or a piece of steel on your house and have an instant base station. They vary in height from about 14" to over 30".
- With the right connectors, you can hook up a big base antenna to your little handheld and get performance out of it that will blow your socks off! That's right, turn it into a respectable, boomin' base station!
- You can also build effective, expedient antennas very easily and very inexpensively with nothing but a couple of connectors and a roll of wire. There are hundreds of examples on YouTube.
- One last thing regarding antennas. Make sure your antenna is right for your radio! Just any old antenna will not work. For instance, CB antennas will not work on ham radios. You need to make sure the antenna will handle the power that your radio puts out and that it is specifically designed for the frequencies that you plan to use.
In Liberty, Cope Reynolds (Desertscout)
Southwest Shooting Authority of Arizona
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