Just felt like posting this due to the overwhelming amount of bashing of FRS radios around the Internet. It’s super-common to hear things like “Bubble pack radios are TOYS” and “CHEAP JUNK” when these types of devices are brought up. Also common is the “You won’t make it past a few hundred feet” comment. For this reason, I am here to state that this is by and large total bunk.
First of all, the packaging of an item does not determine the quality of the contents (True, pricier gadgets tend to get fancier packaging).
Second, like everything else, you will get what you pay for. A $20 or off-brand pair of FRS radios made of cheap plastic, contains cheap electronics, and only transmits at 100mw or less per the FCC is very likely going to perform poorly on a hiking trip to Yosemite. There ARE FRS radios that are designed AS toys (Saw a Spiderman walkie once that had one channel and output 2mw!!), but this hardly means every FRS radio is one. Just because you can buy cheap and questionably made “Mountain Bikes” at Wally World for 80 bucks doesn’t mean that an $800 Trek is junk!
I’ve got a few Motorola FRS radios that have disproved the prejudice against these things on just about every level. My T631s are made of tough textured Polycarbonate and have screw-on gasketed battery covers. They can use NiMH battery packs OR AAs (no worrying about rebuilds on dead proprietary NiCad or Lithium packs). They transmit at about 1.5 W at high power, and even at the low ~400mw setting I have successfully talked at 3.5 miles at ground level in multiple directions (just as with any ham or business radio, your mileage will drastically vary). My personal tests with friends have indicated that they often OUTPERFORM MURS in my area. Again, this will NOT always be the case, but VHF is not bar-none superior to UHF! This goes for urban and outdoor settings. The radios are IP67 rated and work wonderfully in the rain. They charge via USB- this is huge for me. Docks are great in certain settings, but on a road trip, I can charge these with the same gear that we charge our phones, and in a pinch there is no proprietary dock to lug or find. NOAA radio and flashlight is a great plus. Some people find an integrated flashlight to be frivolous, but I use it all the time.
I’m not even going into the distance ratings. Shame on marketing staff. Ignore it.
Basically, all I am saying is that FRS radios are still very useful, are capable of great performance (as good a most any other UHF simplex radio under 5W) and can be built very sturdy- but it depends on which models you get. A cheap FRS radio will perform within different limitations compared to a more expensive radio. This is common sense. Most manufacturers top-line models will be built very well, handle rough weather and put out a very usable amount of power.
Don’t be afraid of a bubble pack if it contains a decent radio