HAM vs. GMRS - The Great Debate

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Which Platform is the best for you?

  • HAM Radio

    Votes: 5 31.3%
  • GMRS

    Votes: 11 68.8%

  • Total voters
    16

North40overland

Rank VI
Member
Adventure

Pathfinder III

4,025
Sugar Hill, GA, USA
First Name
Mike
Last Name
Nelson
Member #

27195

My dad and I are split on this. He is an old ham K0AJ and I am a big GMRS guy WRME413 / ATL-699. He says ham is better and that I am just being lazy for not taking the test. I tell him that GMRS is more accessible and all the overlanders I know use it. He says HAM has way more repeaters. I say North Georgia GMRS has the largest GMRS repeater network in the country (because we are awesome!)

I want to know what you think and why. Vote for your preferred platform and tell me why it is the best option for you.

GMRS.jpg ham.JPG
 

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Michael Golden

Rank IV
Member
Adventure

Pathfinder III

1,058
Tampa Fl
First Name
Michael
Last Name
Golden
Member #

28987

Ham Callsign
KG4BCN
I have a General class license. KG4BCN. Both of you are right, to a point. GMRS is a lot easier to obtain a license. Ham radio “lets look at 440 or 2 meters”. Requires studying and a technician class test. IF a repeater is in the area you are in you’re set. If not you’re working simplex. Also if the repeater owner objects to your group tying up his repeater, you’re back at simplex. Short distances do NOT need a repeater anyway. You also don’t need 1500 watts of power for short distances. Same thing with GMRS radios or repeaters.
 
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Downs

Rank V
Member

Member III

2,827
Hunt County Texas
First Name
Joshua
Last Name
Downs
Member #

20468

Ham Callsign
KK6RBI / WQYH678
Service Branch
USMC 03-16, FIRE/EMS
I started out in HAM and then got my GMRS license later. IMO for the vast majority of our uses GMRS is going to be the better option. If for nothing else than accessibility and it's ability to interoperate with FRS radios for those who just refuse to get licensed on anything. The repeater network isn't as robust as the HAM repeater network but how often are we honestly using repeaters on the trail? I can count on one had with fingers left over how many times I've done that and it was coordinating a meetup with members who were coming into an area well after we had got there. The number of GMRS repeaters has also been increasing as far as I can tell. We've had quite a few go up in the last 6 months around here. And my local one covers a nearly 50 mile radius.

The radios are easier to use, there's less minutiae for the end use to know to make them work or to use them within the bounds of the regs. Just turn it on and hit the PTT. The vast majority of people aren't really looking to add radios to their list of hobbies, they just want a tool to work for them like a 12v fridge.

GMRS=more users but short range
Ham=long range and fewer users
Some parts of the country have more CB users than anything else.
The range thing is going to be a wash between GMRS and HAM. Most users for the purposes of trail use are going to be using VHF/UHF for trail use. That's going to have basically the same range as a GMRS radio when you get down to it. Yes HAM has the potential to have vastly better range than GMRS but you're going to need to dip into HF radios to really exploit that which again for what this community uses radios for, not many people are going to be packing HF radios with them for their trips, not to mention having to upgrade your license. Those that do are the exception not the rule.


With the impending change in fees to make everything 35 dollars HAM and GMRS alike that's even less incentive to mess with HAM for most.
 

North40overland

Rank VI
Member
Adventure

Pathfinder III

4,025
Sugar Hill, GA, USA
First Name
Mike
Last Name
Nelson
Member #

27195

Both of you are right. :)
Each has it’s pros and cons.

I just wish the licensing was like a drivers license, where a “ higher class” license allows one to operate everything below it.
Totally agree. I really do not understand why if you are a HAM, you do not automatically have access to the GMRS bands. You would think that having the more "Studied" classification would be enough. I guess it is probably due to the FCC's ability to collect fees.
 

North40overland

Rank VI
Member
Adventure

Pathfinder III

4,025
Sugar Hill, GA, USA
First Name
Mike
Last Name
Nelson
Member #

27195

I started out in HAM and then got my GMRS license later. IMO for the vast majority of our uses GMRS is going to be the better option. If for nothing else than accessibility and it's ability to interoperate with FRS radios for those who just refuse to get licensed on anything. The repeater network isn't as robust as the HAM repeater network but how often are we honestly using repeaters on the trail? I can count on one had with fingers left over how many times I've done that and it was coordinating a meetup with members who were coming into an area well after we had got there. The number of GMRS repeaters has also been increasing as far as I can tell. We've had quite a few go up in the last 6 months around here. And my local one covers a nearly 50 mile radius.

The radios are easier to use, there's less minutiae for the end use to know to make them work or to use them within the bounds of the regs. Just turn it on and hit the PTT. The vast majority of people aren't really looking to add radios to their list of hobbies, they just want a tool to work for them like a 12v fridge.



The range thing is going to be a wash between GMRS and HAM. Most users for the purposes of trail use are going to be using VHF/UHF for trail use. That's going to have basically the same range as a GMRS radio when you get down to it. Yes HAM has the potential to have vastly better range than GMRS but you're going to need to dip into HF radios to really exploit that which again for what this community uses radios for, not many people are going to be packing HF radios with them for their trips, not to mention having to upgrade your license. Those that do are the exception not the rule.


With the impending change in fees to make everything 35 dollars HAM and GMRS alike that's even less incentive to mess with HAM for most.
Great point. I am still waiting to see this fee drop. They have been talking about doing this for a while but guys I know are still paying the 70 bucks. I agree on the usability. I think that is why I really like the Midland products. They already come programed and are easy to install and setup. My dad taught me how to program most radios back in the 90's (or at least the basics of it as all radios are different) but most people don't want to bother with all that. They just want to pick it up and have it work. That is why I recommend them to CB converts. They are definitely not enthusiast grade but they are perfect for beginners.
 
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North40overland

Rank VI
Member
Adventure

Pathfinder III

4,025
Sugar Hill, GA, USA
First Name
Mike
Last Name
Nelson
Member #

27195

I have a General class license. KG4BCN. Both of you are right, to a point. GMRS is a lot easier to obtain a license. Ham radio “lets look at 440 or 2 meters”. Requires studying and a technician class test. IF a repeater is in the area you are in you’re set. If not you’re working simplex. Also if the repeater owner objects to your group tying up his repeater, you’re back at simplex. Short distances do NOT need a repeater anyway. You also don’t need 1500 watts of power for short distances. Same thing with GMRS radios or repeaters.
You are definitely right about tying up the repeaters. We post on Facebook when we are going to have larger events or NETs that are going to tie up the network for a couple hours trying to be courteous to all the other users. It can definitely be annoying when you want to use the network and you are trying to bounce around heavy traffic. Only experienced that one time so far but it was a challenge.
 
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reaver

Rank V
Member

Traveler III

1,674
Caldwell, ID, USA
First Name
Brian
Last Name
McGahuey
Member #

23711

Ham Callsign
GMRS WRMV941
I went gmrs for several reasons.

1. I have zero interest in amateur radio as a hobby
2. Much easier to obtain a license
3. Covers my entire family and both vehicles
4. Everyone I go with has gmrs capability

Let's go into these a bit more.

If I was interested in doing ham as a hobby, I would have gone that route. Yes, there are advantages to ham over gmrs (more repeaters, farther range, etc), but I use it strictly as trail communications, and gmrs entry is much cheaper/easier than ham entry.

License is $75 and covers your entire family for 10 years, with no exam required. My wife has taken an interest in off-roading now, so we've started taking two vehicles on trips. My one license allows both vehicles to have and use gmrs radios LEGALLY.

I have a baofeng handheld that I can use to monitor ham frequencies, and ham operators can monitor gmrs frequencies. This allows us to talk to each other legally, without getting into trouble.

That's why I went gmrs over ham.
 

CO.Ranger

Rank III
Member
Adventure

Contributor III

797
Colorado
First Name
Brandon
Last Name
Brandon
Member #

30562

This question kept me up at night. Both are better, but for different reasons. I went GMRS because the groups here use GMRS. I will eventually add a HAM for emergency call outs on solo trips (probability of longer reach). That being said, the best is the one that people are on. If you have HAM and the rest of your group is on coconuts, then coconuts is the best option.

It seems that HAM is not as popular, in my area, which is why I started with GMRS.
 

Downs

Rank V
Member

Member III

2,827
Hunt County Texas
First Name
Joshua
Last Name
Downs
Member #

20468

Ham Callsign
KK6RBI / WQYH678
Service Branch
USMC 03-16, FIRE/EMS
This question kept me up at night. Both are better, but for different reasons. I went GMRS because the groups here use GMRS. I will eventually add a HAM for emergency call outs on solo trips (probability of longer reach). That being said, the best is the one that people are on. If you have HAM and the rest of your group is on coconuts, then coconuts is the best option.

It seems that HAM is not as popular, in my area, which is why I started with GMRS.
That's assuming anyone is listening on the particular frequency you are calling on. Even repeaters aren't a guarantee there are many in my area that are as dead as simplex. You can call all day, no one is answering. Not to mention having to know what frequencies and repeaters are active in the area you are in. If you are traveling this becomes even more of a crapshoot as there's no guarantee that repeater info you got off of repeater book is any good anymore.

IMO the only true emergency option is a PLB.

Great point. I am still waiting to see this fee drop. They have been talking about doing this for a while but guys I know are still paying the 70 bucks. I agree on the usability. I think that is why I really like the Midland products. They already come programed and are easy to install and setup. My dad taught me how to program most radios back in the 90's (or at least the basics of it as all radios are different) but most people don't want to bother with all that. They just want to pick it up and have it work. That is why I recommend them to CB converts. They are definitely not enthusiast grade but they are perfect for beginners.
The Fee drop is coming, it's on the books they just have to implement it. I'm actually due for GMRS renewal this year. I got my GMRS license when it was still a 5 year license. I'm holding out as long as I can before renewal so I can get in on that 35 dollar goodness.


I went gmrs for several reasons.

1. I have zero interest in amateur radio as a hobby
2. Much easier to obtain a license
3. Covers my entire family and both vehicles
4. Everyone I go with has gmrs capability

Let's go into these a bit more.

If I was interested in doing ham as a hobby, I would have gone that route. Yes, there are advantages to ham over gmrs (more repeaters, farther range, etc), but I use it strictly as trail communications, and gmrs entry is much cheaper/easier than ham entry.

License is $75 and covers your entire family for 10 years, with no exam required. My wife has taken an interest in off-roading now, so we've started taking two vehicles on trips. My one license allows both vehicles to have and use gmrs radios LEGALLY.

I have a baofeng handheld that I can use to monitor ham frequencies, and ham operators can monitor gmrs frequencies. This allows us to talk to each other legally, without getting into trouble.

That's why I went gmrs over ham.
I completely blanked out on the family aspect of GMRS licenses. Another point to the GMRS column.
 

reaver

Rank V
Member

Traveler III

1,674
Caldwell, ID, USA
First Name
Brian
Last Name
McGahuey
Member #

23711

Ham Callsign
GMRS WRMV941
That's assuming anyone is listening on the particular frequency you are calling on. Even repeaters aren't a guarantee there are many in my area that are as dead as simplex. You can call all day, no one is answering. Not to mention having to know what frequencies and repeaters are active in the area you are in. If you are traveling this becomes even more of a crapshoot as there's no guarantee that repeater info you got off of repeater book is any good anymore.

IMO the only true emergency option is a PLB.



The Fee drop is coming, it's on the books they just have to implement it. I'm actually due for GMRS renewal this year. I got my GMRS license when it was still a 5 year license. I'm holding out as long as I can before renewal so I can get in on that 35 dollar goodness.




I completely blanked out on the family aspect of GMRS licenses. Another point to the GMRS column.
Honestly, that was one of the biggest reasons I got my license. I actually operated without a license for about 2 years before getting it. My wife expressed interest in driving, and loved it. She said I needed to put a radio in the truck as well. I figured with two vehicles out on the trail, I probably should get the license. I was going to wait until the fee dropped, but circumstances dictated getting it now, so I did.

Although now I need to look into antennas that work better in steeper terrain....
 

CO.Ranger

Rank III
Member
Adventure

Contributor III

797
Colorado
First Name
Brandon
Last Name
Brandon
Member #

30562

That's assuming anyone is listening on the particular frequency you are calling on. Even repeaters aren't a guarantee there are many in my area that are as dead as simplex. You can call all day, no one is answering. Not to mention having to know what frequencies and repeaters are active in the area you are in. If you are traveling this becomes even more of a crapshoot as there's no guarantee that repeater info you got off of repeater book is any good anymore.

IMO the only true emergency option is a PLB.
You're right. It would take work, but it's a good thing to have. I know that it is not perfect. The wife and I have talked about getting the Garmin InReach Mini or similar Spot device. That will happen too. I also believe in having as many choices as is reasonable.
 

Graeman

Rank V
Member

Off-Road Ranger I

2,876
Catalina Avenue, Tucson, AZ, USA
First Name
Todd
Last Name
Hoffmaster
Member #

4284

Ham Callsign
KJ7CRJ
We just spent a week in the San Juan mountains of Southwestern Colorado. I had both radios on (Midland GMRS MXT275 & Yaesu FTM 400XDR).I did not hear 1 other person talking on the Ham frequency of 146.460 the entire week. On the GMRS it did not matter what channel I was a on, we had chatter on every channel. I was even talking to someone 5 miles away on simplex. I could have saved the money from buying the Yaesu and put it in to my Jeep :) Maybe there are not a lot of people using the Overland frequency this year like years past.
 

M Rose

US Northwest Region Director
Benefactor
Member

Explorer I

5,171
La Grande, Oregon, USA
First Name
Michael
Last Name
Rose
Member #

20990

Ham Callsign
KJ7MFV
Service Branch
US ARMY Retired
We just spent a week in the San Juan mountains of Southwestern Colorado. I had both radios on (Midland GMRS MXT275 & Yaesu FTM 400XDR).I did not hear 1 other person talking on the Ham frequency of 146.460 the entire week. On the GMRS it did not matter what channel I was a on, we had chatter on every channel. I was even talking to someone 5 miles away on simplex. I could have saved the money from buying the Yaesu and put it in to my Jeep :) Maybe there are not a lot of people using the Overland frequency this year like years past.
How about 2m 146.520, the National Calling Frequency? You will only hear someone on 146.460 if there are other OB members in the area traveling as a group. I always have a radio set to 146.460 but unless I’m running a trail with other OB members I never hear chatter, but there is a lot of chatter on 146.520, and 446.000.
 

John Bishop

Rank III
Member

Member III

827
Harpers Ferry, WV, USA
First Name
John
Last Name
B
Member #

17942

Ham Callsign
KE8ORK
How about 2m 146.520, the National Calling Frequency? You will only hear someone on 146.460 if there are other OB members in the area traveling as a group. I always have a radio set to 146.460 but unless I’m running a trail with other OB members I never hear chatter, but there is a lot of chatter on 146.520, and 446.000.
When I’m out on my explorations, Saturday mornings I frequently hear CQ being called on 146.52 for field day ops. Typically it’s pretty quiet otherwise.
 

Downs

Rank V
Member

Member III

2,827
Hunt County Texas
First Name
Joshua
Last Name
Downs
Member #

20468

Ham Callsign
KK6RBI / WQYH678
Service Branch
USMC 03-16, FIRE/EMS
How about 2m 146.520, the National Calling Frequency? You will only hear someone on 146.460 if there are other OB members in the area traveling as a group. I always have a radio set to 146.460 but unless I’m running a trail with other OB members I never hear chatter, but there is a lot of chatter on 146.520, and 446.000.
I commute from an hour east of Dallas into Garland every 3rd day. I keep one side of my radio set to 146.52 at all times and sometimes monitor 446 on the other side. I can count on one hand with fingers left over how many calls I've heard on 146.52 in 4 years.
 
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