GMRS: "not impressed" or "we musta been doing something wrong"

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MOAK

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On a recent trip the family used our brand new Midland GMRS hand held radios. 2 things I noticed that I didn't care for. When they say "line of sight" they mean it. As we were traversing around buttes, boulders, dipping into swales, washouts, and other natural occurrences, contact was completely lost. I wonder how they would perform in the lush greenery of Pennsylvania? The other thing that was bothersome, the charge didn't last all day, not even 4 or 5 hours. So, I'll reflect on the title of this thread, were we doing something wrong, or should I remain unimpressed? I'll stick with my old reliable CB, a PLB, and our hand held, unlicensed HAM, which would only ever be used in the case of a dire emergency. To think that I almost went out and spent upwards of 250 for a mounted one.
 

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On a recent trip the family used our brand new Midland GMRS hand held radios. 2 things I noticed that I didn't care for. When they say "line of sight" they mean it. As we were traversing around buttes, boulders, dipping into swales, washouts, and other natural occurrences, contact was completely lost. I wonder how they would perform in the lush greenery of Pennsylvania? The other thing that was bothersome, the charge didn't last all day, not even 4 or 5 hours. So, I'll reflect on the title of this thread, were we doing something wrong, or should I remain unimpressed? I'll stick with my old reliable CB, a PLB, and our hand held, unlicensed HAM, which would only ever be used in the case of a dire emergency. To think that I almost went out and spent upwards of 250 for a mounted one.
Thanx for the Trail Trial Midland radio testing! I almost got the same radio, but decided to wait and do a bit more research.... You confirmed my suspicions about the whole line of site verbiage on the box that had me like eeeeeeeeeh..... I'll wait... glade I did!!! thanx again!!!
 

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What you were doing wrong is using low power handhelds within the confines of a vehicle. A car is kind of like a faraday cage when it comes to radio signals. They'll make it out but their range will be greatly reduced vs not being inside. The advantage of a mobile unit is the antenna is on the outside of the vehicle negating that disadvantage and many run far more power than handhelds can dream of.

The Midland handhelds aren't known for their awesome battery life. I've got a set of their FRS radios that have the option to charge via a USB cable just for this reason. I mostly use them for handout radios and something for the kids to play with.
 

MidOH

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Line of sight sounds awesome for a larger group trip.
Shut some of you guys up.

I'll add a deployable plywood ($1,887) shield to the bed of my truck.

On the last trip, every time we saw any kind of wild life, one of you guys would key up and say ''panda bear?''. Every damn time.
 

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There were multiple factors at play with your issues, none of them related to GMRS like the subject says. Some are physics (All radio is effectively line-of-sight, it's just that some radio waves bounce off or pass through various objects better than others), some are perhaps unrealistic expectations (low power handheld devices used inside of a vehicle will work poorly due to the metal vehicle body acting like a shield). Combine those and it's easy to see why someone would be disappointed.

As a counterpoint, I was able to communicate with my wife via handhelds over a distance of roughly 3 miles while being separated by trees, a lake, and a levy without much issue. Once we changed locations and had more hills and trees between us the communications were sketchy but possible a fair amount of time while I was in my truck using an external antenna.

Without knowing what you were expecting, the rough distances between radios, how treed and hilly it was between radios, etc it's hard to say what would've helped or not helped (short of not using a handheld with the antenna inside the vehicle). Once you have a better understanding of how radio waves propagate and how objects and terrain affect them you should have a better idea of what to expect and have some more reasonable expectations.

I've used GMRS and/or ham/amateur radio in pretty much every kind of terrain there is and pretty much know what to expect with my radio and antenna setups. Initial expectations rarely match reality, only with experience and reading/education can you adjust expectations to better match reality. Don't give up on GMRS if you're wanting a form of radio communications, it works great once you know what to expect and once you get a good setup dialed in.
 

MOAK

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There were multiple factors at play with your issues, none of them related to GMRS like the subject says. Some are physics (All radio is effectively line-of-sight, it's just that some radio waves bounce off or pass through various objects better than others), some are perhaps unrealistic expectations (low power handheld devices used inside of a vehicle will work poorly due to the metal vehicle body acting like a shield). Combine those and it's easy to see why someone would be disappointed.

As a counterpoint, I was able to communicate with my wife via handhelds over a distance of roughly 3 miles while being separated by trees, a lake, and a levy without much issue. Once we changed locations and had more hills and trees between us the communications were sketchy but possible a fair amount of time while I was in my truck using an external antenna.

Without knowing what you were expecting, the rough distances between radios, how treed and hilly it was between radios, etc it's hard to say what would've helped or not helped (short of not using a handheld with the antenna inside the vehicle). Once you have a better understanding of how radio waves propagate and how objects and terrain affect them you should have a better idea of what to expect and have some more reasonable expectations.

I've used GMRS and/or ham/amateur radio in pretty much every kind of terrain there is and pretty much know what to expect with my radio and antenna setups. Initial expectations rarely match reality, only with experience and reading/education can you adjust expectations to better match reality. Don't give up on GMRS if you're wanting a form of radio communications, it works great once you know what to expect and once you get a good setup dialed in.
I’m quite pleased that I started a discussion on GMRS. I’m just a tad more savvy, thanks to input from members, with my understanding of radio waves and how they work. Interesting that every write up on GMRS Almost everywhere I’ve read, only discusses the positive attributes and very rarely the negatives. When we, my family, are convoying there are only 3 vehicles, max, generally only 2. A trip down through Lockhart Basin, or any other remote track, we generally space out, sometimes a half mile or more for myriad of reasons. ( pee stops, photo ops, etc, etc, not to mention dropping way back to stay out of the dust ) . Now that I have a better understanding, thanks to some members here, I’ll be sticking with & upgrading my CB, and keep the HAM on the back burner.. GMRS, just will not work well for our application. Thanks for the input
 
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Prerunner1982

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GMRS, just will not work well for our application.
GMRS handhelds will not work well for your application. A mobile unit would provide better communication abilities. But I am sure that given your experience you would be reluctant to spend money on mobile radios, I get it.
A handheld ham radio would have the same issue but that doesn't mean that ham radio wouldn't work for your application.

Your experience is typically why I try not to recommend a handheld ham radio as someone's first radio. Even how you hold it and it's relation to your body can effect how well it works.

You are comparing a handheld GMRS radio to the performance of a hard mounted CB with external antenna. If you were to try and use a handheld CB you would have the same poor experience.
If CB is what works for you then by all means continue to use it, but to write off GMRS because of the performance of the least capable form of radio isn't giving it a fair chance.
 

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For example, look at the very first line in the chart on this page. The other thing to mention is that you didn't say which channel(s) you were using with the radios, so you may have been shooting yourself in both feet without knowing it. If you were on a channel between8 and 14 then the radio would only be putting out 0.5w instead of the higher wattage allowed on the other channels. You also didn't say if you had the radio on low, medium, or high power if on channels other than 8-14.

Lots of variables not accounted for or mentioned.


A 4 watt mobile CB install with an external antenna isn't going to work any better, on average, than a mobile GMRS install with the same power output. The advantage of a mobile GMRS radio isn't just the externally-mounted antenna but also the ability to put out up to 50w. That's not going to get you 10x the distance compared to a 5w radio, but it will help the signal punch through interference better. The type of antenna also makes a difference, a high gain antenna will allow you to reach farther over a straight line (across a desert or mountaintop to mountaintop) but you will have poor signal propagation in hilly terrain.

Obviously, use what works best for you. The point we're trying to make is that you seem to be making a snap judgement based on using the worst possible setup in the worst possible way and then comparing that to a setup that isn't even close to comparable. I used CB for years, but GMRS and amateur radio are leaps and bounds better but you have to be fair and realistic.
 

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Once again, I’m pleased that I’ve opened this topic up. For me, stir the pot a bit, it’s the best way to learn. Admittedly I’m way old school with communication devices. I didn’t get a cell phone until flip phones were long gone. however, after reading your reactions I’m now convinced that the second part of the thread title “ we musta been doing something wrong” is very accurate.
 

ChadHahn

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Like Prerunner said, it's that it's handheld in a car. Many years ago, I had two CB walkie talkies that we used on a move. Even though we were always in sight of each other we couldn't hear a thing due to the Faraday cage the cars made.
 
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gjkoenig

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What you were doing wrong is using low power handhelds within the confines of a vehicle. A car is kind of like a faraday cage when it comes to radio signals. They'll make it out but their range will be greatly reduced vs not being inside. The advantage of a mobile unit is the antenna is on the outside of the vehicle negating that disadvantage and many run far more power than handhelds can dream of.

The Midland handhelds aren't known for their awesome battery life. I've got a set of their FRS radios that have the option to charge via a USB cable just for this reason. I mostly use them for handout radios and something for the kids to play with.
This is very true of operating any handheld inside a vehicle. Also for poor battery life. A mobile unit would be a drastic improvement. Handhelds used outside will still have limited use, but are much more family friendly as opposed to HAM. I got my HAM license several months ago and refuse to become a real hobbyist. If I were within a group, I would just put some pre-programmed 2m and 70cm frequencies in it and that's it. Very steep learning curve with HAM, but a GMRS mobile is a great investment.
 

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There were multiple factors at play with your issues, none of them related to GMRS like the subject says. Some are physics (All radio is effectively line-of-sight, it's just that some radio waves bounce off or pass through various objects better than others), some are perhaps unrealistic expectations (low power handheld devices used inside of a vehicle will work poorly due to the metal vehicle body acting like a shield). Combine those and it's easy to see why someone would be disappointed.

As a counterpoint, I was able to communicate with my wife via handhelds over a distance of roughly 3 miles while being separated by trees, a lake, and a levy without much issue. Once we changed locations and had more hills and trees between us the communications were sketchy but possible a fair amount of time while I was in my truck using an external antenna.

Without knowing what you were expecting, the rough distances between radios, how treed and hilly it was between radios, etc it's hard to say what would've helped or not helped (short of not using a handheld with the antenna inside the vehicle). Once you have a better understanding of how radio waves propagate and how objects and terrain affect them you should have a better idea of what to expect and have some more reasonable expectations.

I've used GMRS and/or ham/amateur radio in pretty much every kind of terrain there is and pretty much know what to expect with my radio and antenna setups. Initial expectations rarely match reality, only with experience and reading/education can you adjust expectations to better match reality. Don't give up on GMRS if you're wanting a form of radio communications, it works great once you know what to expect and once you get a good setup dialed in.
I'm looking at buying a good quality hand held GMRS with a decent range, can you recommend any particular model?
 

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I'm looking at buying a good quality hand held GMRS with a decent range, can you recommend any particular model?
There was a You-Tube video awhile back that showed multiple radio tests with the following. They were GMRS mobile/handheld, FRMS handheld, HAM handheld/mobile, run over the same terrain. CB was also checked against these other radios(Handheld/mobile).

This was done in the Reno NV area (hilly terrain) Distance, and clarity, were tested for repeatability over the same route and conditions. Ham handhelds did about the same or slightly better then FRMS, when compared from within a vehicle and when outside, and when compared to GMRS handhelds. As DRAX stated, when used inside the cab, the test showed greatly reduced efficiency. So brand choice will show little or any improvement vs having that external antenna setup for a mobile.

EXAMPLE:
Where no transmission was heard with a FRMS unit inside the vehicle, they could make contact just being outside the vehicle. This also was seen with a inside Ham vs external mobile unit given the same distance/clarity test at the exact same places. It definitely showed what terrain played on radio types and the CB followed the same pattern of efficiency. What surprised them was a couple of test contact points showed the CB coming out on top, Contrary to expectations.

Just thought I would throw that out, if you or someone out there is interested in tracking it down. It made for some interesting education and thought.
 
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Martin333

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Thanks for your response, you have provided a lot of info and given me some food for thought. I will track down the You-Tube video.
 

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Honestly when you are in extremely hilly terrain, CB is better than GMRS, VHF,UHF. Reason being CB is technically HF and as such will bounce and reflect off of things much better, and will even bounce off of the atmosphere. Me I'm not too keen on GMRS because understanding the limitations of VHU,UHF I know the only way to overcome them is simply put with brute force. Most GMRS radios are limited to 25 watts, with 50 being legal on a few frequencies. Honestly in remote areas with mountains and trees I consider 50watts VHF,UHF to be the minimum(I run an 80watt mobile in my rig and have zero issues punching through trees and bouncing off of hill sides). It is great for open areas and car to car communications, but when the terrain gets rough and distances open up you realistically need lots of power or HF (CB).
Also to add, like stated above hand helds are awful when used inside of a car or structure. Also antenna choice can make or break a set up. Even if you have all the power in the world, a poor antenna will tank the set up.
 

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Hmmmm, all interesting thoughts, so far I’m gonna stick with my old school vintage Cobra 25. It’s been peaked & tuned and still works really well. Maybe when it breaks? Dunno, just can’t jump on board
 

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Just an FYI. I agree the learning curve for HAM can be intimidating. It certainly was for me. But I watched a video from Mike about a "HAM Cram". I was able to have a friend with his license organize one of those at his HAM club for us. Six of us showed up at 8 AM and began a long and somewhat boring lecture. Around 3 PM we took the Technicians test and all 6 of us passed! I would list my call sign but I'm waiting for my "vanity" call sigh to be approved. Not that I'm vain, just wanted something easier to remember.
 
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