Weatherproof Radio for Backcountry use, with diverse battery/charging options?

Hi folks, very informative site, I have been browsing but cannot find the specific info I am looking for so hopefully yall can help me out.

I am a wilderness first responder and guide, and try not to rely on technology too often because in the woods, if it fails and you rely on it, even with a great warranty and customer service, its useless. I am new to radios, other than using them occasionally, but after a few cheap motorolas saved the day in a search and rescue of a lost group member on a wilderness expedition last week, I have a newfound respect and value for two-way radios as tools for emergency communication. He had lost the trail being forced to navigate around flooded terrain, and wound up in the wrong valley headed further into the mountains. Using these simple radios, we were able to establish and maintain contact, and organize a successful rescue within a very short time period, before the situation had a chance to escalate, and didnt even need to resort to any serious measures beyond communication to help him re-orient his direction to basecamp.

So now I am looking for some quality, backcountry capable radios for dedicated use to prevent and aid in the event of a similar situation, as well as to help communications on open water and river trips to aid in scouting of conditions and river hazards.

I am not looking for anything fancy or complicated, but rather something that will be ideally waterproof and rugged, and provide effective range in the backcountry. My colleague has recommended the “Uniden Submersible 50-mile range” units, and while they certainly look to have all the features I need for use, the charging and battery options appear extremely limited. Being restricted to a wall charging cradle would not make this unit appropriate for extended use in the backcountry.

I have a portable solar panel charging station which can charge devices via USB, car charger adapter, as well as recharge AA/ AAA rechareable alkaline batteries. The Uniden Submersible does not appear to function with any of these options.

The radios we used were cheap and old, but did the job needed. They ran on simple AAA alkaline batteries, which we all had many of, and could have easily been changed during the search. Any radio that does not have this option as a back up I feel would be inappropriate for emergency backcountry use, being restricted only to the life of the battery, and access to a wall charger.

So; I am basically looking for a radio that is as rugged as possible, with an effective range for backcountry use, preferably floating or waterproof, but also versatile enough to be charged from either a car charger adapter or via USB( not ONLY wall charger) and can also be run on alkaline or lithium batteries in a pinch. If anyone has any suggestions I would be extremely appreciative, and so will my next group member who gets lost in the woods!

Thanks for all your help and taking the time to read, sorry for being so longwinded just want to be specific about my needs!

The Unidens are solid radios, but I think that their inability to use regular alkalines is one of two weaknesses; the other is the limited selection of accessories available. In fact, the only Unidens that I know of that can take alkalines are the lowest end models that are very low power.

Comparable radios to the high-end Unidens you are looking at that are waterproof, float and accept both alkalines and rechargeables include the Motorola Talkabout MS350R and MS355R. While they may not have quite the advertised range as the Unidens (the actual range is not as advertised on the package - more on that below) the coverage may actually be better if there are GMRS repeaters in the area, because these Motorolas are both repeater capable.

In fact, both are essentially the same radio. The MS355R is the camo version.

In addition to the waterproof, floatation, repeater capability and power options, both models have NOAA weather channels and a built-in flashlight, which makes them handy to have out in the woods on a dark and stormy night.

Radios are always going to be limited in range, and there are other types of radios that you may want to consider as well. Range is important in the wilderness, so before making any decisions, you may want to research the topic a bit further so you know what to expect.

Here are some resources that may help.

TWRS-45 - The Truth About GMRS Radio Range

A short and sweet video version
Radio 101 - The truth about FRS / GMRS two way radio range

How to get the most range out of your radios
TWRS-05 - Radios in Range

30 Miles? The Truth About Range

Thanks Rick, The Motorolas appear to meet my needs, I agree that the NOAA radio would be very nice to have, in addition to being particularly useful on coastal expeditions to check tides and conditions where forecasts can change rapidly, and effective range would likely be increased over open water. I had already started reading your info about range, as well as have had conversations with knowledgable people who have given the same advice and I definitely understand the limitations of this type of radio, and have no real faith or interest in the advertised range as I recognize how subjective and arbitrary these numbers can be. Many negative reviews of these radios seem to indicate intended use in urban settings, where interference is common and line of sight becomes impossible over anything but short distances.

The cheap radios we used were effective within a mile and a half in the wilderness in dense Northern forests, between a river in low wetland valley, and the surrounding high mountain foothills, though there were definitely periods where no contact existed. We remained aware and considerate of the changes in terrain, and using topographical maps for navigation we are able to idenfity potential dead zones more easily. Once our colleague had reentered range and we were at similar elevation, contact was regained. These radios will be serving as backup to solid skills and experience, and wouldnt be 100 percent relied on for total uninterrupted communication, but rather would serve as helpful aids to knowledgeable navigation and group planning and management. Inevitably in the woods in the type of work and activity we engage in, people are bound to be separated, though all are self sufficient in surviving and operating in the woods. The added benefit of having some level of communication is a bonus, and therefore I would not hold any unrealistic expectations that the radio would work all of the time, whenever it was needed.
Basically, for our purposes any range and coverage is better than no coverage at all :cool:

That being said, I am open to other types of radios that may be more powerful, however I would like to avoid the need for licensing if necessary.

I am open to any other information and suggestions, as I would like to make the most educated choice possible, and am happy to benefit from all of your collective expertise. Thanks again!

By the way, do they offer individual or 3 packs or other multiple unit packs of the Motorola ms355 or ms350? And is there a difference between the “Talkabout” and “Giant” MS355R? thanks!

Currently no, but they did expand their three pack option to two other models within the last year or two, so if the demand for an MS350 or MS355 three pack is there in the future, we’ll keep a lookout for them.

The bottom line is all effective communications is line of sight.

The amount of transmit power is irrelevant, however the size of the antenna in parts of a wave length and the height of the antenna above average terrain - does make a difference - along with the frequency used.

Unless you have a GMRS license and unless you have permission to use a GMRS repeater - you cannot operate GMRS legally.
GMRS repeaters are a closed repeater system…
Repeater owners do not like people using their repeaters without paying for them or getting permission first - which is hard if you are traveling.

Cheap GMRS walkie talkies do not operate in Split - where the transmit frequency is different then the receive frequency - hence the bubble pack radios will not work with the GMRS repeaters. You can hear them on one or two frequencies - if those frequencies are being used in your area - but they won’t talk on them without the right PL and split offset.

The 50 miles is a exageration - the only time I have done 50 miles was when I was atop a 1000’ television station antenna tower, talking to someone on another tower - by accident we happened to be on the same frequency.

I second the vote for the Motorola MS 350R - forget about the camo.

I lost a camo Moto once and a friend found it 6 months later.
The battery was damaged from being frozen in the snow for 4 months - but it still worked. I had to take it apart and clean the battery terminals and the PTT switch and the speaker - but that was about it.

Your effective range @ 460 MHz is going to always be Line Of Sight.

I’m glad to hear that your radios saved the day this time.

Buying a better radio is definately a step in the right direction, but isn’t going to solve all of your communications needs. At some point - you are probably going to experience a situation where there is no cell tower coverage and then you will need more - better radios.

But because your group is not interested in becomming hammies - there is no reason for me to suggest that you do more to solve your needs with something that is not designed for everybody - such as CB radio or FRS…

I spent 25 years in the commercial/industrial/public safety two-way communications industry so I have experienced just about every possible problem/situation. To start with the FRS/GMRS radios are on the wrong frequency band to use in the woods. The UHF frequencies are a short wave length and can be quickly absorbed by vegetation. What you need are radios on the VHF Hi Band (150-160 MHz). The wave length is three times longer than the UHF radios and will penetrate vegetation much better. That’s the good part. The bad part is there are no VHF Hi Band radios available that don’t require a FCC license except ones that you can use on the M.U.R.S. frequencies, but they are limited to 2 watts. With a license you can get 5 watt radios from Icom, Vertex, Kenwood and Motorola that will do what you want to do but they are commercial grade and aren’t cheap. But, they are durable and reliable and will last you many years. My uncle has some Motorola’s that I sold him 20 years ago which he uses hunting in Colorado, Montana, Texas, etc. Summary is you can get where you want to go, but I sure wouldn’t count on FRS radios to do the job.

I will agree with MFormby to a point.

The point is that all effective communications is line of sight.

If you cannot establish line of sight - and you do not have room for large transceivers and antenna’s - then about your only other recourse would be to buy a SAT Phone.

There - all you would need is a clear line of sight to the Sattelite…