Backcountry Radio Usage
The Baofeng UV-5R radios are seemingly affordable radios that are apparently possible to program via CHIRP. They could feasibly be used by a licensed radio operator for backcountry communication. Usage of the radio is up to the discretion of the user and this post is for information purposes only (see disclaimer here). An example of an illegal programming configuration is provided here for demonstrative/educational purposes only (aka what NOT to do). Legal use of the UV-5R would require a licensed operator transmitting on legal frequencies.
Establishing/maintaining communication is essential in pretty much any part of life. Fortunately some forms of communication (radio) are a little more easy to understand than others (relationships). This post discusses useful frequency bands used for communication within the context of backcountry travel.
I was recently doing some early season touring near Berthoud pass and ran into some slightly sketchy conditions - fresh snow on top of a heavily consolidated crust. This triggered a small sluff that slid for ~100 yds.
Neither my partner or I was in the sluff path but it was still a little concerning. In retrospect we should not have been on that slope at that time. Getting down was a little tactical and I was thankful that my touring partner had brought along radios for communication. In heavily treed areas, radio communication can be extremely helpful in communicating when ski parties are in safe zones, signaling that a person is descending, etc.
After realizing how useful radio communication could be I decided to look into the technology behind it a little more which is the reason I put together this post.
The provided illegal programming configuration is provided as a reference to act as a basis of how not to program the radios. The UV-5R is capable of being used in a legal manner provided that users follow all local/state/federal licensure requirements.
This post is provided for informational purposes only and is provided for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional/legal advice. Should you decide to act upon any information on this website, you do so at your own risk. Under no circumstances will the Author be held responsible or liable in any way for any claims, damages, losses, expenses, costs or liabilities whatsoever (including, without limitation, any direct or indirect damages for loss of profits, business interruption or loss of information) resulting or arising directly or indirectly from your use of or inability to use this website or any websites linked to it, or from your reliance on the information and material on this website, even if the Author has been advised of the possibility of such damages in advance.
^AKA please don’t fine me FCC (this is a post about why using the UV-5R as a walkie-talkie is illegal)
I put together the following table which provides useful frequencies for both conventional FRS/GMRS compliant “walkie talkies” as well as other frequencies that are useful for licensed radio operators.
|Frequency Band/ Description||Channel||Frequency||Note|
|CO State Search and Rescue||COSAR1||151.512500||CTCSS Tone 156.7|
|COSAR2||151.700000||CTCSS Tone 156.7|
|COSAR3||158.400000||CTCSS Tone 156.7|
|COSAR4||158.407500||CTCSS Tone 156.7|
|CO Mountain Rescue||COMR1||155.160000|
The FRS/GRMS frequencies (“Family Radio Service”/“General Mobile Radio Service” respectively) are the conventional “walkie talkie” frequencies that are reserved for relatively low power handheld devices.
FRS channels 1-7 and 15-22 have a maximum device power of 2 watts. FRS channels 8-16 have a maximum device power of 0.5 watts. Additionally FRS units must be certified by the FCC to use the FRS bands 1.
GMRS frequencies are shared with the FRS frequencies but with different power requirements. GMRS channels 1-7 have a maximum power of 5 watts. GMRS channels 8-16 have a maximum power of 0.5 watts. GMRS channels 15-22 have a maximum power of 50 watts. Similar to FRS certified devices, GMRS devices must be certified by the FCC 1.
The backcountry specific BCA Link radios are FCC certified radios that also communicate on the FRS/GMRS bands. Although I haven’t tested this myself, these could theoretically work with other FCC certified radios that communicate on the FRS/GMRS frequencies.
A note on potential compatibility with BCA Link radios - BCA also provides so called “privacy codes” which are another name for CTCSS frequencies. “Privacy code” is a bit of a misnomer because with the same frequency/CTCSS code anyone can listen to your communication - it does not scramble or encrypt communication signals. In a nutshell2, the CTCSS signal (also known as “tone squelch”) adds a low frequency audio tone to the voice signal. When other radios receive this signal, they can filter out/mute signals that don’t have this additional tone. In effect this creates “sub-channels” wherein users can find a channel/CTCSS combination with less radio chatter. In actuality no “sub-channel” is actually created because all communication occurs on the selected channel frequency.
The associated BCA Link “Privacy Channel”/CTCSS signal frequency chart can be found here.
The UV-5R radios have two power modes; Low = 1W, High = 4W. Although in low power mode the UV-5R technically complies with the power requirements of FRS channels 1-7 and 15-22, they are not FCC certified to operate on the FRS frequency bands and are illegal to use to communicate with certified FRS devices.
These are nationwide National Weather Service (NWS) frequencies which broadcast weather information. State/Local frequencies can be found here.
The Multi-Use Radio Service is a frequency band that is technically unlicensed (similar to CB). Radios that are legal to operate on MURS frequencies must be certified by the FCC, thus the UV-5R radios are illegal to operate on MURS frequencies.
These are Colorado specific search and rescue frequencies found here. Obviously these should be used only in emergencies. I think technically the UV-5R can transmit on these frequencies if being used by a licensed operator.
Other emergency frequencies can be found on Radio Reference.