Realistic range for FRS and GMRS handhelds?

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TheGreyhound

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So before going full radio command station with my rig, I grabbed some 2watt FRS/GMRS handhelds. They’re fcc certified so all good there. I’m a former general ham but not in many years.

took the dog on a walk around the neighborhood to give them a test.
6 blocks away...about 1/4 mile they were totally unreadable. Enough to get static from the partner keying up, but totally not readable. This is through a neighborhood of single family homes.

Now I’ve used commercial grade Motorola radios on production sites and had readable transmissions about 3 miles away through downtown Chicago. So I was not real impressed here....

what’s the realistic range for a 2 watt handheld UHF? I couldn’t receive any local repeater traffic, nothing while frequency scanning, and couldn’t receive local NOAA either.

crappy units or just how frs/gmrs is? I can’t see this being useful on the trail or campsite/hiking if you’re beyond line of sight....

should I try a higher dollar/name brand midland set? I was actually eyeing the midland 275 for the rig but this was disappointing at best. Also, not looking for ham because I want to be able to connect with unlicensed friends and family on the trail and camp,
 

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smritte

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Years ago when FRS was new, I bought a number of them. My rigs had both CB and Ham. Because the power output was dismal, the range was 50 yards as long as you didn't go around the corner or you weren't in the forest. Battery life was very short also.
If you have a Ham 440 hand held, there ya go. GMRS/FRS run in the 467 meg range. The GMRS we have at work are 5 watt (commercial duty) and they do well in the building. I would assume they hit repeaters as well as my dual band with a short rubber duck antenna.
All my ham dual band handhelds have a very thin, flexible 18 inch antenna. This gets me slightly better range and way better receive.

In my opinion, using different brands of FRS and FRS/GMRS, most are made more as toys than quality. These were either mine or friends and none were commercial duty.

I know people like GMRS/FRS but I have found across the board, 2m works best for me. I'm talking simplex not repeater. Out here in the canyons, 2m bounces around corners better than 440. This is something I have played with using high output mobile and hand held for decades. On my base station, I use to talk to one of my friends who lived on the other side of a tall ridge from me. We would both point our beams at a mountain 40 odd miles away and bounce 2 meter almost straight back to talk. I would do this with 50 watts and a 6 element beam. My 14 element, 440 beam and 200 watt wouldn't do that. I would also do this to get across the mountains and hit a couple of repeaters in the desert.

As I said, compare to a Ham 440, power, antenna design and spec and you get your answer. If I was going to purchase one, It would be GMRS in a full power model, either handheld or mobile. If that means more money, then so be it. The receiver will be better, battery life and a cleaner transmitter. Or for the same price, a dual band Ham.

I wouldn't recommend opening up the Ham to cover GMRS also. Not because of legal but because of antenna tuning. Unless you ran a tuned antenna for GMRS and never used it on 440. You will drastically lessen the transmitter life from an antenna mismatch.

With all that said, I would love it if CB were replaced with GMRS. You cant beat FM for clarity. This would really make me happy if they also grabbed a chunk of the 140 or 170 meg bands.
 
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smritte

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Forgot to add. FRS is limited to .5 - 2 watt depending on the channel. One of my buddies added in a coax connector to a 2 watt Motorla and a 2 watt Kenwood(?) handhelds. The output on both was just under .5 watt with new batteries across the board. This was done to settle an argument about the radios going to higher power (2 watt) on the channels where 2 watt was allowed. These were both sold as GMRS/FRS handhelds.
 
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LEXIRNR

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I will totally agree with smritte. FRS radios are limited to 0.5 watts usually and the antennas are required to be non removable. I have used the Baofeng with 5 watts on GMRS channels with a better antenna and it is better but still not as good as 2m. One thing to check out are MURS radios. They are also unlicensed like the FRS but run closer to the 2m band (150 mhz area). They are old business band radios and can sometimes be found inexpensive. The channels have colors to distinguish between them.
 
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IAm_Not_Lost

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I will totally agree with smritte. FRS radios are limited to 0.5 watts usually and the antennas are required to be non removable. I have used the Baofeng with 5 watts on GMRS channels with a better antenna and it is better but still not as good as 2m. One thing to check out are MURS radios. They are also unlicensed like the FRS but run closer to the 2m band (150 mhz area). They are old business band radios and can sometimes be found inexpensive. The channels have colors to distinguish between them.

FRS is now allowed up to 2 watts on 1-7 and 15-22. I agree with looking into MURS, for trail use the 150mhz band has great range through gentle rolling terrain.

With regard to the original post: It's totally going to be about line of sight. In a residential neighborhood your range will be very limited. Out on a trail in the desert southwest I have never had a problem with reasonable distances of a mile or two using either FRS channels or MURS channels.

With NOAA channels you should check your weather radio map and see if they have a transmitter near you depending on where you live, as that could make a difference(?).
 
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TheGreyhound

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FRS is now allowed up to 2 watts on 1-7 and 15-22. I agree with looking into MURS, for trail use the 150mhz band has great range through gentle rolling terrain.

With regard to the original post: It's totally going to be about line of sight. In a residential neighborhood your range will be very limited. Out on a trail in the desert southwest I have never had a problem with reasonable distances of a mile or two using either FRS channels or MURS channels.

With NOAA channels you should check your weather radio map and see if they have a transmitter near you depending on where you live, as that could make a difference(?).
I did research the local NOAA frequency and it was not receivable despite being at most 10 miles straight line distance away....

Well, maybe the range is about all I can expect in an urban environment.
 

smritte

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Remember, antenna is everything. For that reason is why my handhelds all have long antennas. It does make them awkward at times which is why I keep a stubby antenna in the vehicle.
I would be very surprised if the antennas that come with most of these are tuned properly. An untuned antenna will effect its transmit range, cause heating and draw more power. Longer antennas will help the receive side greatly.
 

smritte

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couldn’t receive local NOAA either.
Missed this. NOAA weather is very high power. I cant remember how many different NOAA channels there are but when I tune in, I switch around until I get a strong one. I have been real remote and only able to get one. It was distant but understandable. I guess it is possible you don't have one in your area.
 

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There are 7 weather channels.
  • WX1 - 162.550 MHz
  • WX2 - 162.400 MHz
  • WX3 - 162.475 MHz
  • WX4 - 162.425 MHz
  • WX5 - 162.450 MHz
  • WX6 - 162.500 MHz
  • WX7 - 162.525 MHz
 

Oranger

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Ah gotcha. Debating giving a baofeng a try... thoughts?
As long as you operate it on the frequencies the unit is legally allowed to operate on they are a cheap option. I personally would spend the extra coin for something a bit better, but many people have them and like them.
 

TheGreyhound

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As long as you operate it on the frequencies the unit is legally allowed to operate on they are a cheap option. I personally would spend the extra coin for something a bit better, but many people have them and like them.
I found a variant that is fcc licensed, seems legit enough (I checked the fcc site and it’s there for sure). And yep obviously follow all regulations.....

Is their range generally better than the bubble pack radios? This pack I found also includes longer whips
 

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Looks like the rules changed slightly since I got my GMRS license. That’s good to know about the 2 watts and using 15-22 on FRS. I have a bunch of Baofeng radios that work fine. Most people I run with have ham licenses so we just use 2m. Most of the higher end handhelds only stay on ham bands unless you mod them. The statement about antennas is spot on too. It makes way more difference than higher power
 

Oranger

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Baofeng offer several different radios of different types, so it comes down to which models are approved for GMRS use in the USA. The licensing process for GMRS is fairly straight forward and only costs $70. Antennas are king, the better the antenna the better the performance, units with antennas that can be replaced with better ones will work better. Range is going to be fairly similar across all radios with the same output power. As you live on the closer side to Canada, be aware of the small operating restriction near the border.
 

TheGreyhound

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Looks like the rules changed slightly since I got my GMRS license. That’s good to know about the 2 watts and using 15-22 on FRS. I have a bunch of Baofeng radios that work fine. Most people I run with have ham licenses so we just use 2m. Most of the higher end handhelds only stay on ham bands unless you mod them. The statement about antennas is spot on too. It makes way more difference than higher power
I used to be a ham back in the days of Morse... had a sweet tube amp 40m rig with a dipole in the attic so I wouldn’t mind getting licensed again...whenever in person testing can resume. I’m going to give the baofeng a try. Seems configurable enough to pass a “restricted” setup one off to trail buddies or family for FRS/gmrs use, and still have options for my personal use.
 

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I used to be a ham back in the days of Morse... had a sweet tube amp 40m rig with a dipole in the attic so I wouldn’t mind getting licensed again...whenever in person testing can resume. I’m going to give the baofeng a try. Seems configurable enough to pass a “restricted” setup one off to trail buddies or family for FRS/gmrs use, and still have options for my personal use.
Just an FYI... the 10, 20, and 40 meter bands are starting to open up for long range DXing
 

LEXIRNR

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Looks like the rules changed slightly since I got my GMRS license. That’s good to know about the 2 watts and using 15-22 on FRS. I have a bunch of Baofeng radios that work fine. Most people I run with have ham licenses so we just use 2m. Most of the higher end handhelds only stay on ham bands unless you mod them. The statement about antennas is spot on too. It makes way more difference than higher power
I used to be a ham back in the days of Morse... had a sweet tube amp 40m rig with a dipole in the attic so I wouldn’t mind getting licensed again...whenever in person testing can resume. I’m going to give the baofeng a try. Seems configurable enough to pass a “restricted” setup one off to trail buddies or family for FRS/gmrs use, and still have options for my personal use.
Nice! I enjoy the ham radio on and off the trail. I keep a few baofengs with me for spotting and folks that aren’t licensed. We will use them at low power on FRS channels. I know it’s technically not legal but we use them responsibly. That’s definitely the exception for us. I was getting my HF setup and then we moved to an HOA that won’t allow an antenna so that will have to wait. Another reason to get relicensed is APRS. Our group has started using that and it’s super cool
 
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