(Review has been update related to use, see bottom for details)
Trail rides are about fun and getting together with friends. Nothing can put a damper on that faster than not being able to communicate with the group you are riding with.
The CB radio is perhaps the most common forms of communication on trails rides. It has been around for decades and for the most part is simple enough for even the most tech challenged user to make work. At least until it doesn't work. Chances are if you have been on enough trail rides at some point the front of the group can't speak with the back, or no matter what alternate channel you try there is still the bleed through of some strange music. Then there is always that one guy who's radio needs to provide crucial information to the group but can only reach 3 other vehicles as the SWR is over the threshold. As I have been that guy on the trail who no one can hear I wanted to see if there was an alternative or backup to my CB radio.
My main goal was to look into a handheld unit would allow me to communicate with the entire group, no matter if I was in or out of the Jeep. I had tried handheld CB's in the past and was not happy with the results. My Daughters even offered their bright pink princess tactical walkie talkies, but the range was far to limited.
Then while watching Dirt Every Day on YouTube(free feel to check it out, only after watching the WF YouTube channel) I noticed that one of the vehicles featured in a engine test had the not to subtle words on the side that said, RuggedRadios.com. A short visit later I was on their website seeing a lot of eye candy in radios and terms I was not familiar with. I watched a few of the companies video's and wondered if their commercial style hand held radio's might be the solution I was looking for. So I reached out and after a few back and forth emails the company was kind enough to send a pair of their RH-5R radios out for me to test.
First I am by no means an expert on radios(as noted above with my CB issues) or the inner workings of such. Thus this will not be a tech heavy review but will answer the main questions I had about these handhelds such as range, how clear is the communication and how long will the battery last. The very basics, but important. |The RH-5R radio make use of the UHF and VHF spectrum which is completely different than what a CB would use.
Whats In The Box:
Ear bud and lapel mic
Frequency Range :
• Commercial FM : 65MHz-108MHz
• VHF: 150MHz-174MHz
• UHF: 450MHz-470MHz
3800 mAh Battery
Where to get it: www.ruggedradios.com
Out of the box the radio had a good charge on the battery, so before I even looked over the instructions I turned it on and flipped over the channels. Unlike a CB that had 40 channels. These radios can have up to 128. About 40 channels come preprogramed in each unit, of which a few are weather channels. I should note that shortly after doing some testing I found that for certain channels the FCC does require a license. So should you decide that these radios might work for you be sure to keep that in mind. Over all the unit appears well made. The hard plastic outer shell, is well hard, all the control inputs from the buttons to the twist knob feel solid. The display is easy to read, and even with out reading the directions you can have the radio up and working in no time. There is also a built in flash light at the top.
The speaker provided very clear easy to hear sound right up until you approached the max range. Once this happend some static and fade was present. The speaker was loud enough to be heard in a congested area and the lapel mic and ear bud worked great even in windy conditions.
Battery life was tested by fully charging both the included 1800mah unit and optional 3800 mAh per the instructions which took about 5 hours.
Both batteries had a full charge as indicted by the charger prior to testing. The radio was then turned on and the clock set. Of course talking on the radio will decrease the battery, but as a starting point I wanted to know how long the battery would last on its own. The 1800mAh lasted an impressive 15 hours. The 3800mAh lasted 20 hours. I would have thought the larger battery would have lasted longer. But that being said the extra 5 hours is welcomed. Both were tested indoors at approximately 65 degrees. I also subjected 3800mah battery to some cold weather testing(batteries drain faster in the cold) by leaving it in a vehicle over night with temps in the mid 20's and found it lasted 12hours.
The radios were also put on the shelf after some field testing with them shut off. I came back a week later to find that both batteries still were reading a full charge.
I think for most folks who do a day run, with find included battery is fine. However if you know you will be off the beaten path for a few days or will not a way to use the charger consider getting an extra battery for peace of mind.
On many trail rides I have been on at some point the group gets spread out, sometimes it can be rather far to include changes in elevation. Thus one of the key factors for me was just how far could these radios reach. I tested in both a urban area which would require the signal to travel from a fixed location inside a building to a moving vehicle. The second location was local heavy wooded park, with an extensive trail system with some good variation in elevation
From the tests I found that the range was 1 mile give or take depending on directly and elevation. With the ducky antenna the range increased by a half mile and in some cases almost a full mile, again depending on directly and elevation. In all cases clear communication was possible right up until the max range. For a trail ride with 10-15 vehicles the range should be more than enough to reach everyone.
I have several off road trips planned for 2017 and will continue to evaluate these radios. That being said I really like the over performace and feel they will help solve the communications problems I was having.
I liked the extra range of the Ducky antenna, but for most folks the included one will work just fine. Battery life is solid and over all the radio appears well made in form and fuction.
Granted I will need to sit down and thoroughly read the instructions to become proficient in the setup of all the features,but that is part of the fun.
In the future I hope to be able to install one of the companies larger radio's as I think that along with the handhelds will make a more complete system for being on the trail.
Thus if you are considering a new set of radio's for your off highway or out door trips, be sure to put these on your list of ones to consider.
Important Update on use:
As noted above regarding use and the FCC, to fully use this radio to transmitt you need the correct FCC liceense. As noted going into this test my knowlege was well, about zero to this regard. There is nothing listed on the product information that would indicate this nor did the vendor mention this before sending them. I got the following reply from the vendor when I sought clairification on use after doing a bit of reading on line about commercial radio.
"...The frequencies available to use are the VHF channels we program in to the radio by default. They've been used in the offroad community for over 20 years and are very rarely used by anyone other than the offroad community.
Yes, if you want to use the full functionality of the radios then you will need to get licensed. We supply the equipment and it's up to the end user to ensure proper use and responsibility. ARRL.org is a great resource for anyone looking to get licensed.
Ours are properly programmed to follow narrowbanding regulations (Part 90 acceptance by the FCC..."
So at this point the radios have sitting on the shelf gathering dust. Outside of the liceense requirment, I still think they are a good product and the vendor just needs to be more upfront on use so consumers or reviews don't unknowing do something that is in voloation of guidelines. I encourage those who might want to pick up a set to check out ARRL.org, as well as the FCC site to learn what is required for use.