Since there a few knowledgeable HAMs on this forum,and my issue spans GMRS and HAM radios, I figured I'd take a shot here. I’ve been struggling a radio suitability issue for years and haven't found much discussion on the topic.
I'm a big hiker and hike leader in the mountains of New England. I have had several instances where handhelds have become necessary. Cell phones are entirely unreliable, since the mountains are tall and the valleys long and sometimes deep and the trails are circuitous. I have at least three choices as I see it - GMRS/UHF, MURS/VHF, or VHF/Amateur.
I've had incidents where the hiking group splintered for various acceptable and unacceptable reasons. The "why" is for another discussion.
GMRS @ 1 WATT (me licensed) - blister pack radios
Three scenarios usually play out. a) When we were under the forest canopy, with a slow and fast group, they work pretty well, up to about a half mile, since we're on the same trail, going up the same side of the mountain. the splinter group decides to down another path. Even though I was on the summit, I could not reach them or they me. As my party hiked down towards the base, (about 2.5 miles), we only made contact again when we were about 1/2 mile from them. Even then it was sketchy. We were still upslope, they were in the valley. So the line of site was obstructed only by the trees immediately overhead. c) the party that goes down the opposite side of the mountain - helpless, I know.
While I have Moto Talkabout distance, GMRS @ 2 watt, I opted for the blister pack because pack weight is an issue. I am also dealing with different people each hike, so they are wildcards. Well, I’m deep sixing the blisters.
GMRS @ 2 Watt (licensed) (Talkabout Distance)
Is this a worthy option? I’ve tricked it out with a longer antenna since this radio allows for interchangeable antennas. I’ll carry it next time even though every ounce of weight adds up.
MURS @ 2 Watt
Pros: Seems attractive since its VHF and can probably punch through the foliage better. Not particularly worried about interference in the middle of nowhere! Cons: Big and bulky, not cheap. Runs on a rechargeable pack which is more expensive than a handful of AA batteries.
GMRS or VHF (HAM Licensed) @ 4-5 Watt
Pros – stands the best chance of success. Cons: While I’m going to be Amateur Tech licensed in a couple weeks, it’s impossible to expect these random hikers have any qualifications.
Fuggetaboutit. Not happening where I hike. I’ve been known to run up to hill tops to reach people with checkered success.
I realize that none of these options are very good, but I really need to minimize someone getting hurt or injured.