Communication while out on the trails is a top priority for any overlander. While mobile phones are now the most common communication tools, their reliability is crippled in areas with little to no cell reception due to their ease of use and accessibility.
The best ham radio relies on specialized equipment for it to be fully installed in the grid. While using it during Overlanding, it should tap into the radio frequency spectrum to offer you a reliable wide-range coverage spreading thousands of miles with no interruption or jamming vulnerability.
This article covers 12 of the best ham radios in 2020 to help you make an informed decision that may eventually determine your Overlanding experience and help you stay connected while you are out on off-road adventures. Read on.
Uses of Ham Radio and How It Operates
Ham radios rely on wireless technology to transmit voice, Morse code, and digital data by relying on antennas, transmitters, and receivers. To manage the two-way communication system, they use several frequencies adopted for communication purposes. Unlike voice, Morse code goes through as signals or beeps where voice transmissions fail.
The use of ham radio goes beyond recreational use as evidence in the security sector, transport sector, and other bodies that require urgent reliable communication where mobile communication might delay or slow things down.
You Need a Ham Radio License to Operate One
To use the ham radio, you must have a license. This is not only stipulated as a requirement in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) regulations and guidelines; it is also a precaution for personal safety as the setup involves electricity.
Owning or operating a licensed ham radio is essential and guarantees proper use since several technicalities are involved. One needs to understand the technicalities and cautionary measures of using your radio, thereby avoiding future inconveniences like interfering in other broadcasts.
An exam overseen and accredited by the FCC is given to test your knowledge and depends on the various levels of the ham radio licensing process. Your success and resilience are largely based on your ability to pass challenging exams. The further you progress, the more operating privileges you earn.
There are three ham radio license levels:
- Technician Class. This is the lowest level in Amateur radio licensing and is sufficient for beginners. In this license class, the licensee is privileged to access all ham bands of 50MHz frequencies and higher data privileges of not more than 30MHz, the various types of communications, and operation at the maximum power limit.
- General Class. An upgrade from the tech class, the General class license equips learners with new information and grants more access to almost all Amateur privileges. Like the technician class license, you can sit a test of 35 questions to gauge your understanding of the topics, and the right to pass is awarded only if you score 26 or more.
- Amateur Extra Class. Top of the ladder is the Amateur Extra Class, which offers the final and most sought-after license. In this class, you will cover the additional content that was not provided in the first two license classes. Its final exam comprises 50 questions, 37 of which must be correctly answered for a pass.
Why a Ham Radio Is a Necessity for Overlanding Expeditions
When you are out cruising the off-road, and you find yourself past the range of call reception, a ham radio (also known as Amateur radio) is the perfect tool for communication between you and your team or other people.
The Ham radio is sought after for several reasons but mainly because of its reliable and uninterrupted long-distance reach. The average ham radio can transmit up to 100 miles and even much further thanks to repeaters – radio towers equipped to bounce ham radio signals to further distance.
This feature makes it possible for hardcore overlanders to efficiently communicate with each other or with other people irrespective of the distance separating them.
Because of this reliable connectivity in areas with no cell transmitters, the ham radio can also be used for emergency communications and relief support. It employs the use of frequencies instead of channels.
How to Choose the Best Ham Radio for Overlanding
Owing to different opinions when it comes to the perfect ham radio for Overlanding adventures and due to the various ham radios available in the market today, choosing the best ham radio for your needs may be challenging, especially for beginners.
The most common Ham Radio is the Two Meter – best known for its compatibility ham operators, but there are many others that you can also learn about in this article.
The Baofeng BF-F8HP
The Baofeng BF-F8HP is an absolute gem in the ham radio world thanks to its versatility and usability aspects while out on the trail. This amazing ham radio has a range of up to ten miles with little to no interference and can efficiently work on all kinds of frequencies, whether high or low.
It is equipped with a strong antenna and has improved anti-interference features to block out or help reduce factors that may affect communication. An easy-to-use ham radio that can be integrated for private conversations with or without the help of a PC.
The Icom ID-51A Plus2 D_Star
Make international calls with this tiny hand-held rugged-like equipment. Crazy right? I think not. The ID-51A Plus2 tops the list for the best ham radios for Overlanding in 2020 thanks to the array of functions and features that you will find useful for your communication needs.
The Icom ID-51A Plus2 is built with Digital Smart Technologies for Amateur radio (D-STAR) functionality to overcome the conventional FM calls and allow for calls through the D-STAR repeaters worldwide.
This is better known as an internet gateway and can transmit at any time of the day, even in the absence of D-STAR repeaters in your area.
“PLUS2” means added terminal and access point modes to the device. The terminal point is built purposefully to transmit data to a repeater by using a PC or an Android gadget connected to the internet.
On the other hand, the access point uses the whole device as an access point for a different D-STAR radio while the transceiver has access to the internet.
The TYT TH-9800 QUAD BAND
Known for its resilience and high performance, the TYT TH-9800 quad-band ham radio is a move up the game. It can operate with a power of approximately 50w and is flexible enough to allow for lower power configurations. The TYT ham radio also has multiple tuning steps for further accessibility.
You can also easily monitor two frequencies simultaneously from the TYT quad-band radio thanks to its dual receive feature. The quad-band ham radio further comprises more than 800 Alphanumeric memory channels and covers a maximum of 10-meter band.
If you want to be heard from far away, you should get this ham radio.
The Yaesu Original FT-450D
A quick and easy ham radio to set up, the Yaesu original FT-450D is made of state-of-the-art technology and lightweight material carefully designed for portability. The zero-beating feature will ensure you are on the right frequency with any station you choose, thereby making the radio’s accessibility and use much easier.
The Yaesu FT-450D provides for digital voice announcements for frequency mode and meter reading, thus catering to visually impaired people. The radio can hold up-to 100w, and thanks to the cooling fan, stable conditions, enough to provide the foundation for the power amplifier, are met.
The Icom 2300H
The Icom 2300H ham radio is a significant improvement from its predecessor, the Icom 2200H. This amazing amateur car radio has 207 alphanumeric memory channels, weather alert functions, and cloning capabilities for the transceiver to PC or the other way round.
For fast and reliable communications while out on the trail, few options can compare to the IC-2300H. It is an auto power-off feature, and auto repeater functions help streamline and ensure smooth connections. Listen and be heard on this versatile radio, all while you enjoy your Overlanding escapade.
The Kenwood TS-480HX HF/50
If you want to be heard across several miles, the Kenwood TS-480HX HF/50 is your best bet. The TS-480 HX is famous not only for its long-range capabilities but the resilience to work for extended hours – at home or off-road. It features twin fans and an aluminum chassis to withstand the heat generated inside the compact transceiver.
The Kenwood radio has an output of 200w, and the two power terminals it features help optimize the voltage balance and ensure stable output. The radio is also equipped with a separate main unit frame and control panel, further enhancing the cooling effect of the twin fans. Enjoy communications continuously for half an hour or so with no complications whatsoever.
The Kenwood Original TM-471A
The Kenwood TM-471A is a dual-band operation radio with the ability to receive two frequencies on the same band and has a power output of a whooping 50w. Its 1,000-channel memory is ideally suited for users who want several channels for data storage or later use.
User experience is enhanced with the TM-471A radio. For maximum visibility, or otherwise, to break the monotony of colors, this ham radio is fitted with two back-light colors (green and amber). You can switch through depending on your personal preference—a useful communication tool for locals or cross-state overlanders.
The Yaesu FT-857D Amateur
Yaesu FT-857D is a uniquely designed ham radio that is well built to give you the best base station performance with a relatively small package. The FT-857D Amateur is known worldwide as the smallest ham radio fully equipped with HF/VHF/UHF and digit.
A perfect match for starters due to its exceptional performance and outstanding features. Setting up the Yaesu FT-857D may be quite a task at first, but with the manual guide, you will soon get used to the settings and fully enjoy the radio.
Here is an explainer Youtube video to guide you through the set up of a Yaesu FT-857D radio:
Surprisingly enough, all details that you may need when operating the FT-857D are displayed on the screen despite its small size. Couple this with its adjustable LCD with up-to thirty different colors – A colorful off-road adventure with reliable communication to anyone across the region!
The Retevis H-777
An excellent choice if you are in the market for range and quality. The Retevis H-777 is a modern walkie-talkie-talkie radio carefully crafted and engineered to maximum potential. Its specifications and features work perfectly within any environment to provide quality communication channels.
The H-777 is a rechargeable two-way radio, fully customized and simplified in handling and outlook. While rechargeable gadgets are limited to continuous periods of charging, their efficiency is solely dependent on whether or not they last long. This translates to more uptime, more effectiveness.
Retevis H-777 ham has a large battery capacity enough to last for 9 hours after charging for 2-3 hours. The wide range of channels the radio presents offers privacy and possible evasion of accidental interference in other frequency bands of people around you.
The Radioddity GD-77 DMR
The Radioddity GD-77 DMR, a rugged and lightweight ham radio, is among the best ham radios available in the market today – best known for its quality audio transmission. Better still, this versatile radio can also be used as a cellphone as you can send and receive text messages.
This SMS function is just but the tip of the features offered by the DMR ETSI tiers available on the ham radio, the GD-77 DMR receives regular updates to ensure it is bug-free. It maintains a power output of 5w and operates within a frequency of VHF/UHF and FM with coverage of up to 3 miles.
A long battery life of 18 hours working time and twice that while on standby, USB port charger, a simplified program; all these features are favorable to the enthusiast overlanders. Ever heard that the best customer is a satisfied customer? The Radioddity team offers top-notch customer service guaranteeing a better experience with the GD-77 DMR.
The BTECH UV-5X3
The BTECH model is a budget-friendly all-round ham radio for off-road adventure. The triband UV-5X3 has a dual monitor that allows for a semi duplex mode. It has extensive frequency coverage of up-to 440MHz and can easily be carried around thanks to its portable nature.
Overlanders and outdoor lovers will like this one. Its dual-band will allow you to juggle between the FM radio band and double back to the VHF/UHF channel, which is always in the background, in the event of an incoming call. Ideal for the perfect off-road experience.
The Xiegu G90 HF Transceiver
The G90 HF Amateur transceiver, the first of its kind, is a portable SDR structured ham radio in the Xiegu model of G series. It is built-in 24-bit digital architecture and has excellent transmission performance.
Its microphone is customized for other functions with two configurable buttons, and the entire radio system has an inbuilt automatic antenna tuner for increased performance.
This particular ham radio suits any outdoor activity such as trekking, hiking, mountaineering, or bike riding escapades. Its relatively small size articulates its versatility.
The display head is detachable to allow you to customize your installment set up personally. The head can be set anywhere provided there is a connection between it and the main body, preferably using a DB-9 cable.
Watch this simple overview of the Xiegu G90 HF Transceiver features and capability here.
What to Keep in Mind When Acquiring a Ham Radio
Upon purchase of your desired Ham Radio, it is crucial that you familiarize yourself with the equipment and accompanying accessories.
You should also ensure that the radio’s required parts are present as some of the standalone devices like microphones are sold separately. For Morse code users, ensure you purchase a ham radio key.
Now, with all the knowledge of the best ham radios worldwide so far in 2020 at your fingertips, choosing the best ham should not be a problem.
Establishing reliable communication channels while on long road trips or out on a camping expedition is very important. All communication equipment should be tested beforehand, and any technical hitches sorted before leaving.
It is also advisable for new learners of Ham radio usage going out to remote locations with inadequate cell coverage to practice using and handling their radio equipment before setting out. It will be embarrassing and costly to be unreachable when you fumble with your radio at the inconvenience of everyone else.
Overlanders new to the hobby should check out the ICOM 2300H that we enlisted for its overall simplicity and reliability in any condition you might find yourself in a while out training or hiking. No additional payments or purchases are needed with this radio, so you do not have to worry about this selection.