If you had to pick just one to start…

  • HTML tutorial

Fatsquatch

Rank III

Advocate II

511
Des Moines, IA, USA
First Name
John
Last Name
Thompson
Would you pick Ham or GMRS? How useful is GMRS compared to amateur radio? I’m leaning really hard toward getting my tech license but I don’t want to go through the hassle if it’s not really necessary. Either way I go it’ll mainly be for emergencies, for example if I’m unable to get cell service. I know there’s a whole community built around amateur radio but I couldn’t care less about Ham as a hobby. Maybe that would change once I got into it, who knows, but as of now I just see it as any other tool. Which leads me to GMRS. I like that I don’t have to go through the hassle of taking a test, it’s more like a fishing license, and I like the benefit of covering my entire family so if we do happen to have a group of us they’d all be covered. That’s a huge benefit I see over Ham, but I’m just not convinced GMRS will provide the same ability to reach out as Ham would. When I look at repeater maps in areas I plan to travel it seems like GMRS just doesn’t have nearly the level of support. I also see the benefit of having both but, honestly, I don’t have the budget to do both up front so I’m looking at which one makes the most sense now, with possibly adding the other later on.
 

M Rose

US Northwest Region Director
Mod Team
Benefactor
Member
Expedition

Advocate III

5,584
La Grande, Oregon, USA
First Name
Michael
Last Name
Rose
Member #

20990

Ham Callsign
W7FSB
Service Branch
US ARMY Retired
Coms in an emergency: Neither if you’re not wanting to put in the time to learn the skills needed. UHF (GMRS) frequencies don’t travel as far as VHF (2m) frequencies which still don’t travel as far as HF frequencies. UHF expect about 25-50 miles with peak conditions, add high/thick vegetation and mountainous terrain and watch that drop to 1 mile or less. VHF carries up to 250 miles+ Under perfect conditions, but add in the same conditions as we did for UHF and you might get lucky and get out to 50 miles. HF world wide propagation with less than perfect condition, add in high vegetation and extreme terrain and you can still reach US coast to US Coast on some bands.

Unfortunately for the situation you describe, “I know there’s a whole community built around amateur radio but I couldn’t care less about Ham as a hobby…”, the tech license wouldn’t be enough.

GMRS is a trail convoy coms/ local (city) coms and not useful in an emergency situation. 2m (tech class) is better, but unless you can get to the top of a mountain and have a directional antenna and know which direction to point your antenna you’re only going to be marginally better off than GMRS.

personally I would (and did) go for my general license and get a 2m/70cm dual band radio with the MARS mod, program the radio for both 2m repeaters and GMRS frequencies, get your GMRS license and use one radio for both. If you get a radio like the Yaesu FT-891 or Icom IC-7100 all in one radio (also known as a “ham shack in a box” )you can have one radio that does it all. Im running an Icom IC-7100 in my Bronco along with a cheap Baofeng UV-8R so I can have it all. I understand the limitations of both radios, but I know these limitations and I spend a lot of time practicing with my HF radio wile mobile to find out what works and doesn’t work.

Last thing, HF requires a long antenna at extreme heights to be efficient. Some times you may not have the time to toss up an antenna into the trees, and your little 1/4 wave vertical might not be the best antenna for your environment. But even so, a compromised antenna on HF will get out further and more reliably than either VHF or UHF with perfect antennas.

If you are wanting Emergency comms, get a SatComs device like an InReach or SPOT. If you’re looking for trail coms find out what everyone else is running in your area and match it. If you’re looking at a comms platform to rag chew then go with ham.
 

Prerunner1982

US Southwest Region Member Rep
Member

Member III

3,372
Navina, Oklahoma
First Name
Jon
Last Name
B
Member #

16274

I wouldn't even consider GMRS for emergency. A ham radio at minimum with a sat device preferred.
Not everyone is a #radionerd and gets into ham radio as a hobby, many see it as just a tool. But with many things to be proficient you need practice which would require you to have a license an spend some time actively using it and knowing how to operate it.
 

Fatsquatch

Rank III

Advocate II

511
Des Moines, IA, USA
First Name
John
Last Name
Thompson
I wouldn't even consider GMRS for emergency. A ham radio at minimum with a sat device preferred.
Not everyone is a #radionerd and gets into ham radio as a hobby, many see it as just a tool. But with many things to be proficient you need practice which would require you to have a license an spend some time actively using it and knowing how to operate it.
That’s fair. I don’t mind spending the time to learn, it’s an acquired skill like anything else. I just don’t have a desire to dive down the rabbit hole, so to speak. GMRS was a consideration mainly because it’s easier (no test, just pay the man) and the license covers my family. But repeater availability was the main concern.
 

Fatsquatch

Rank III

Advocate II

511
Des Moines, IA, USA
First Name
John
Last Name
Thompson
Coms in an emergency: Neither if you’re not wanting to put in the time to learn the skills needed. UHF (GMRS) frequencies don’t travel as far as VHF (2m) frequencies which still don’t travel as far as HF frequencies. UHF expect about 25-50 miles with peak conditions, add high/thick vegetation and mountainous terrain and watch that drop to 1 mile or less. VHF carries up to 250 miles+ Under perfect conditions, but add in the same conditions as we did for UHF and you might get lucky and get out to 50 miles. HF world wide propagation with less than perfect condition, add in high vegetation and extreme terrain and you can still reach US coast to US Coast on some bands.

Unfortunately for the situation you describe, “I know there’s a whole community built around amateur radio but I couldn’t care less about Ham as a hobby…”, the tech license wouldn’t be enough.

GMRS is a trail convoy coms/ local (city) coms and not useful in an emergency situation. 2m (tech class) is better, but unless you can get to the top of a mountain and have a directional antenna and know which direction to point your antenna you’re only going to be marginally better off than GMRS.

personally I would (and did) go for my general license and get a 2m/70cm dual band radio with the MARS mod, program the radio for both 2m repeaters and GMRS frequencies, get your GMRS license and use one radio for both. If you get a radio like the Yaesu FT-891 or Icom IC-7100 all in one radio (also known as a “ham shack in a box” )you can have one radio that does it all. Im running an Icom IC-7100 in my Bronco along with a cheap Baofeng UV-8R so I can have it all. I understand the limitations of both radios, but I know these limitations and I spend a lot of time practicing with my HF radio wile mobile to find out what works and doesn’t work.

Last thing, HF requires a long antenna at extreme heights to be efficient. Some times you may not have the time to toss up an antenna into the trees, and your little 1/4 wave vertical might not be the best antenna for your environment. But even so, a compromised antenna on HF will get out further and more reliably than either VHF or UHF with perfect antennas.

If you are wanting Emergency comms, get a SatComs device like an InReach or SPOT. If you’re looking for trail coms find out what everyone else is running in your area and match it. If you’re looking at a comms platform to rag chew then go with ham.
The FT-891 and IC-7100 are both waaay to rich for my blood but I did look into the MARS mod a little bit. One of the dual band radios I had been looking at is the Icom 2730, it’s affordable and Icom has a solid reputation, and I like that I can have a more discreet installation. I found the schematic showing what has to be removed to open it up for GMRS, though I’m not entirely sure if I’d be comfortable doing the mod myself and risking a dead radio. Then again, having both GMRS and VHF/UHF in one radio doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I even looked into antennas that would work and it seems like others have had good luck with one from Comet in particular. I can’t think of the model number right now but it supposedly does 2m, 70cm, and GMRS really well.

I do want to clarify, it’s not that I’m unwilling to put the time into learning. There are a lot of things I’m taking into consideration and I’m really just looking for the cost to benefit that makes the most sense.
 

M Rose

US Northwest Region Director
Mod Team
Benefactor
Member
Expedition

Advocate III

5,584
La Grande, Oregon, USA
First Name
Michael
Last Name
Rose
Member #

20990

Ham Callsign
W7FSB
Service Branch
US ARMY Retired
The FT-891 and IC-7100 are both waaay to rich for my blood but I did look into the MARS mod a little bit. One of the dual band radios I had been looking at is the Icom 2730, it’s affordable and Icom has a solid reputation, and I like that I can have a more discreet installation. I found the schematic showing what has to be removed to open it up for GMRS, though I’m not entirely sure if I’d be comfortable doing the mod myself and risking a dead radio. Then again, having both GMRS and VHF/UHF in one radio doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I even looked into antennas that would work and it seems like others have had good luck with one from Comet in particular. I can’t think of the model number right now but it supposedly does 2m, 70cm, and GMRS really well.

I do want to clarify, it’s not that I’m unwilling to put the time into learning. There are a lot of things I’m taking into consideration and I’m really just looking for the cost to benefit that makes the most sense.
I would pay the extra money to have the MARS mod done by a professional at the store… this way the radio is still under warranty.

Wow, I had no idea the prices of transceivers had skyrocketed so much. I paid a little over $700.00 for my Icom IC-7100 in April of 2020. And my buddy picked up the Yaesu FT-891 in July for a little over $800.00. Looking at the prices of the 2m/70cm transceivers like the Yaesu FTM-400XD they have also made a huge price jump. I would be holding off until “Black-Friday” or Cyber-Monday to be making a purchase for any radio. And this sucks for me, because I was looking to get a QRP (low power) radio for working Summits On The Air SOTA) as well as for bikepacking next spring.

Also before you buy new, there can be had some great deals in the used marketplace. I bought a bundle of 3 FT-2980 radios for the price of one FT-2980 (before the price hike).
 
  • Like
Reactions: Fatsquatch

Trad77

Rank IV
Member

Enthusiast III

1,146
Lander, WY, USA
First Name
Travis
Last Name
Hoard
Member #

22020

Ham Callsign
W0MUD
Would you pick Ham or GMRS? How useful is GMRS compared to amateur radio? I’m leaning really hard toward getting my tech license but I don’t want to go through the hassle if it’s not really necessary. Either way I go it’ll mainly be for emergencies, for example if I’m unable to get cell service. I know there’s a whole community built around amateur radio but I couldn’t care less about Ham as a hobby. Maybe that would change once I got into it, who knows, but as of now I just see it as any other tool. Which leads me to GMRS. I like that I don’t have to go through the hassle of taking a test, it’s more like a fishing license, and I like the benefit of covering my entire family so if we do happen to have a group of us they’d all be covered. That’s a huge benefit I see over Ham, but I’m just not convinced GMRS will provide the same ability to reach out as Ham would. When I look at repeater maps in areas I plan to travel it seems like GMRS just doesn’t have nearly the level of support. I also see the benefit of having both but, honestly, I don’t have the budget to do both up front so I’m looking at which one makes the most sense now, with possibly adding the other later on.
This link here is to a great YouTube channel. He goes through everything you want to know about the differences between Ham VS GMRS. I prefure ham radio over GMRS. GMRS is extremely limited when it comes to comms. Also GMRS is UHF only. UHF really sucks out on the trail when there are trees and hills. VHF works much better out there than UHF.
 

MidOH

Rank IV

Off-Road Ranger I

1,298
Mid Ohio
First Name
John
Last Name
Clark
Ham Callsign
YourHighness
Ham.

The gmrs guys will move on to something else in a few more years, and you'll be stuck with a radio as useless as a CB. To be honest, can you get by with no radio? Wait until overlanders settle on one or the other.

Just completed a group ride where the director insisted on CB radios. Lol. Bad call. I borrowed one, but we would have been better off Olde school. No radios. Too many delays waiting for static to reply.
 

GreyMatter

Rank III
Member
Adventure

Off-Road Ranger I

771
Parole, MD, USA
First Name
Eric
Last Name
Turner
Member #

27073

Ham Callsign
KC3SVJ
The gmrs guys will move on to something else in a few more years
To be fair, you don't actually know that. I've heard a lot of people say things with complete confidence that turned out to be completely wrong.
 
  • Like
Reactions: GFB_Steve

Willys Yella Jeep

Rank III
Member
Adventure

Enthusiast III

875
Castle Rock, Colorado, United States
First Name
Willy
Last Name
Sommer
Member #

40675

Ham Callsign
KF0CEO
Service Branch
Army
Coms in an emergency: Neither if you’re not wanting to put in the time to learn the skills needed. UHF (GMRS) frequencies don’t travel as far as VHF (2m) frequencies which still don’t travel as far as HF frequencies. UHF expect about 25-50 miles with peak conditions, add high/thick vegetation and mountainous terrain and watch that drop to 1 mile or less. VHF carries up to 250 miles+ Under perfect conditions, but add in the same conditions as we did for UHF and you might get lucky and get out to 50 miles. HF world wide propagation with less than perfect condition, add in high vegetation and extreme terrain and you can still reach US coast to US Coast on some bands.

Unfortunately for the situation you describe, “I know there’s a whole community built around amateur radio but I couldn’t care less about Ham as a hobby…”, the tech license wouldn’t be enough.

GMRS is a trail convoy coms/ local (city) coms and not useful in an emergency situation. 2m (tech class) is better, but unless you can get to the top of a mountain and have a directional antenna and know which direction to point your antenna you’re only going to be marginally better off than GMRS.

personally I would (and did) go for my general license and get a 2m/70cm dual band radio with the MARS mod, program the radio for both 2m repeaters and GMRS frequencies, get your GMRS license and use one radio for both. If you get a radio like the Yaesu FT-891 or Icom IC-7100 all in one radio (also known as a “ham shack in a box” )you can have one radio that does it all. Im running an Icom IC-7100 in my Bronco along with a cheap Baofeng UV-8R so I can have it all. I understand the limitations of both radios, but I know these limitations and I spend a lot of time practicing with my HF radio wile mobile to find out what works and doesn’t work.

Last thing, HF requires a long antenna at extreme heights to be efficient. Some times you may not have the time to toss up an antenna into the trees, and your little 1/4 wave vertical might not be the best antenna for your environment. But even so, a compromised antenna on HF will get out further and more reliably than either VHF or UHF with perfect antennas.

If you are wanting Emergency comms, get a SatComs device like an InReach or SPOT. If you’re looking for trail coms find out what everyone else is running in your area and match it. If you’re looking at a comms platform to rag chew then go with ham.
I agree 100%. Been doing comms forever hf, vhf, uhf, sat you name it. The technician class is an excellent start for everyone. FRS/GMRS is great for convoys. Much better than cb. My rig comms are being upgraded this week. No more cb. I run with a yaesu ftm-300dr and a baofeng uv-5r+. For most folks the ability to skyward a signal or use hf to send around the world and hit yourself in the butt sounds cool. But the best thing to remember is, "pine trees suck and leafy trees reflect". That means your output signal strength is reduced or absorbed by coniferous trees. And your output signal strength is reflected back by deciduous trees.

I hope that this helps. If you want to learn more about ham just ask an "elmer". Those old souls have wiring for arteries and rf in the brains.

Willy
 

Willys Yella Jeep

Rank III
Member
Adventure

Enthusiast III

875
Castle Rock, Colorado, United States
First Name
Willy
Last Name
Sommer
Member #

40675

Ham Callsign
KF0CEO
Service Branch
Army
Coms in an emergency: Neither if you’re not wanting to put in the time to learn the skills needed. UHF (GMRS) frequencies don’t travel as far as VHF (2m) frequencies which still don’t travel as far as HF frequencies. UHF expect about 25-50 miles with peak conditions, add high/thick vegetation and mountainous terrain and watch that drop to 1 mile or less. VHF carries up to 250 miles+ Under perfect conditions, but add in the same conditions as we did for UHF and you might get lucky and get out to 50 miles. HF world wide propagation with less than perfect condition, add in high vegetation and extreme terrain and you can still reach US coast to US Coast on some bands.

Unfortunately for the situation you describe, “I know there’s a whole community built around amateur radio but I couldn’t care less about Ham as a hobby…”, the tech license wouldn’t be enough.

GMRS is a trail convoy coms/ local (city) coms and not useful in an emergency situation. 2m (tech class) is better, but unless you can get to the top of a mountain and have a directional antenna and know which direction to point your antenna you’re only going to be marginally better off than GMRS.

personally I would (and did) go for my general license and get a 2m/70cm dual band radio with the MARS mod, program the radio for both 2m repeaters and GMRS frequencies, get your GMRS license and use one radio for both. If you get a radio like the Yaesu FT-891 or Icom IC-7100 all in one radio (also known as a “ham shack in a box” )you can have one radio that does it all. Im running an Icom IC-7100 in my Bronco along with a cheap Baofeng UV-8R so I can have it all. I understand the limitations of both radios, but I know these limitations and I spend a lot of time practicing with my HF radio wile mobile to find out what works and doesn’t work.

Last thing, HF requires a long antenna at extreme heights to be efficient. Some times you may not have the time to toss up an antenna into the trees, and your little 1/4 wave vertical might not be the best antenna for your environment. But even so, a compromised antenna on HF will get out further and more reliably than either VHF or UHF with perfect antennas.

If you are wanting Emergency comms, get a SatComs device like an InReach or SPOT. If you’re looking for trail coms find out what everyone else is running in your area and match it. If you’re looking at a comms platform to rag chew then go with ham.
I agree 100%. Been doing comms forever hf, vhf, uhf, sat you name it. The technician class is an excellent start for everyone. FRS/GMRS is great for convoys. Much better than cb. My rig comms are being upgraded this week. No more cb. I run with a yaesu ftm-300dr and a baofeng uv-5r+. For most folks the ability to skyward a signal or use hf to send around the world and hit yourself in the butt sounds cool. But the best thing to remember is, "pine trees suck and leafy trees reflect". That means your output signal strength is reduced or absorbed by coniferous trees. And your output signal strength is reflected back by deciduous trees.

I hope that this helps. If you want to learn more about ham just ask an "elmer". Those old souls have wiring for arteries and rf in the brains.

Willy
Vhf skywave. Darn autocorrect
 
  • Like
Reactions: M Rose

Bob Berryhill

Rank III
Member
Expedition

Traveler III

498
Birmingham, AL, USA
First Name
Bob
Last Name
Berryhill
Member #

29879

There did not seem to be a consensus (why am I not surprised?) as to which "one" to start with. The one consensus I picked up on was that for emergency purposes a SAT device is the best bet. From other research it looks like the Garmin inReach is the go to device for off-grid communication in an emergency.

Willys Yella Jeep said "FRS/GMRS is great for convoys " and Mid OH said "Just completed a group ride where the director insisted on CB radios."
Well modifying the OP's original use case slightly, taking out the emergency use, it seems to me the main use case for a radio (in an overland forum) is communicating within the convoy on the trail and that seems to come down to what the group is using. If the group is your local club then you can probably decide on a common approach but, if you're travelling around the country (and even up to Canada and down to South America) then you are going to come across lots of different groups and probably a couple of CB diehards.

So what's the answer? I'm thinking a good GMRS mobile setup might be the more common and workable solution from an overlanding community perspective. It sounds like GMRS is much easier to use than HAM and more reliable than CB (maybe more reliable than HAM if you don't know what you're doing). It sounds like HAM users are more likely to have alternatives in their rigs. And, for the CB diehards add a inexpensive hand-held CB so you can meet the group requirements - its probably not going to work but then neither are any of the other CBs in the convoy assuming you're on a trail.

If I understand FRS/GMRS correctly, a GMRS radio can communicate with FRS radios on the FRS channels 1-7. To me, that makes the GMRS likely to be the more commonly used device on the trail with overlanders.

That said, I am completely new to overlanding and radios (although I do recall they days when CB was the rage) and I am trying to figure where is the best place to invest my limited dollars (and installation space) and not be "that guy" on the trail with no comms whatsoever when we are out of cell service.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Desert Runner

Prerunner1982

US Southwest Region Member Rep
Member

Member III

3,372
Navina, Oklahoma
First Name
Jon
Last Name
B
Member #

16274

@Bob Berryhill GMRS and FRS now share all channels except repeater inputs so a new FRS radio should be pretty compatible even when using a higher power "GMRS" frequency.
Channels 8-15 are still 0.5 watts for FRS and GMRS so only handhelds will be used there and probably wouldn't be the best channel choice for convoy/trail comms.
 

M Rose

US Northwest Region Director
Mod Team
Benefactor
Member
Expedition

Advocate III

5,584
La Grande, Oregon, USA
First Name
Michael
Last Name
Rose
Member #

20990

Ham Callsign
W7FSB
Service Branch
US ARMY Retired
So what's the answer? I'm thinking a good GMRS mobile setup might be the more common and workable solution from an overlanding community perspective. It sounds like GMRS is much easier to use than HAM and more reliable than CB (maybe more reliable than HAM if you don't know what you're doing). It sounds like HAM users are more likely to have alternatives in their rigs. And, for the CB diehards add a inexpensive hand-held CB so you can meet the group requirements - its probably not going to work but then neither are any of the other CBs in the convoy assuming you're on a trail.
GMRS is limited to less than 100 miles in real world range, CB can have world wide propagation when working skip, but reliability is nil. Amateur Radio reliable world wide propagation. I can work the whole Northwest on 80m using the proper antenna configuration, or I can run a different antenna and work the east coast and everything in between.
From an Overlanding stand point, Amateur Radio wins hands down for being solo. Work repeaters for UHF/VHF and some HF (6m and 10m), the ability to send (and receive) SMS text messages, email, RITTY, as well as GPS spot positions. No other form of radio communication has all of this that can be done under one license.
 
  • Like
Reactions: El-Dracho

El-Dracho

Mid Europe Member Rep Germany
Moderator
Member
Expedition
Adventure
Supporter
Investor

Trail Blazer II

11,441
Lampertheim, Germany
First Name
Bjoern
Last Name
Eldracher
Member #

20111

Ham Callsign
DO3BE
From an Overlanding stand point, Amateur Radio wins hands down for being solo. Work repeaters for UHF/VHF and some HF (6m and 10m), the ability to send (and receive) SMS text messages, email, RITTY, as well as GPS spot positions. No other form of radio communication has all of this that can be done under one license.
I can only agree with that. Here in Europe, HAM radio is still hardly widespread among overlanders. For communication in the group CB radio is often used, which also works relatively well, as long as it is only about the communication in the group and the group also remains relatively close together. From the last sentence you can already see that this can quickly fail, because when traveling in a group it can often be necessary that the distance between the vehicles increases significantly. And HAM radio also has a clear advantage in other respects due to its many technical possibilities. Of course, a license and a registration are required and learning naturally takes effort (especially since we only have two licenses in Germany, for example, and no real simple beginner's license). But learning something new is fun, isn't it?
 
  • Like
Reactions: MazeVX and M Rose

M Rose

US Northwest Region Director
Mod Team
Benefactor
Member
Expedition

Advocate III

5,584
La Grande, Oregon, USA
First Name
Michael
Last Name
Rose
Member #

20990

Ham Callsign
W7FSB
Service Branch
US ARMY Retired
But learning something new is fun, isn't it?
I have several learning disabilities, but was able to get my Tech license with just 5 days of studying. I missed General by one question that day. I went back the next month without studying and got my general license, and am now studying like crazy for my extra. I love learning this newer hobby.
 
  • Like
Reactions: El-Dracho

Bwana

Rank II

Enthusiast II

366
Riverbank, CA, USA
First Name
David
Last Name
Silveira
Ham Callsign
KN6SDB
I have GMRS, VHF and UHF. You can easily do it on the cheap and you have covered your bases. The downside is that you give up a day of your life for the license and that you will probably end up with a new addiction that involves spending lots of money on radios. Does anyone still use CB?
 
  • Like
Reactions: danbrown

danbrown

Rank VI
Member
Expedition

Trail Mechanic I

4,308
Keswick, Virginia, United States
First Name
Dan
Last Name
Brown
Member #

41283

I have GMRS, VHF and UHF. You can easily do it on the cheap and you have covered your bases. The downside is that you give up a day of your life for the license and that you will probably end up with a new addiction that involves spending lots of money on radios. Does anyone still use CB?
There are still a lot of clubs out there that use CB radios. The switch to GMRS has been slow, at least on the East coast.

I have a CB, GMRS, and carry a few FRS handhelds for those who show up on a trail ride with no comms.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Prerunner1982