When I'm hiking with my friend, some of the time we hike together, but sometimes we hike separately, and may be some kilometres apart only to meet on the agreed location for the evening. Our next trip will be in an area with no trails at all, so we need good communication. Therefore, we're looking into getting a pair of walkie-talkies / two-way radio.

It appears such devices are often used for rock climbing, for baby alerts, etc. Those are all applications where both transceivers are less than a few hundred metres apart. We will be further apart. For a set of walkie-talkies small and solid enough to carry on a 2-week hike and costing no more than 100–200€, what is a typical range we can expect? I'd like to hear from actual experiences, rather than manufacturer claims. The area we'll be hiking in has mountains, but is quite open.

  • 3
    For 2 weeks of hiking I'd imagine that how long they last on a charge will also be important
    – Phil
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 9:34
  • 1
    Long range is not necessarily good. Sometimes when I'm in the mountains I pick up signals from people very far away (I'm guessing 20-30 miles, since some of them seem to be driving on a freeway, and that's how far it is to a freeway). This is a bad thing, because all those people are constantly squawking and cussing on the channel.
    – user2169
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 17:04
  • You might be better off with a cell phone. Old, nonsmart, phones could last weeks on a charge. Reception obviously depends on the area.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 21:26
  • @StrongBad Cell phones are not an option anywhere I go backpacking. It's either two way radio or satellite phone.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 13:14
  • @BenCrowell There's a tradeoff indeed.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 13:24

4 Answers 4


There's a lot of variation between radios. There's even a great deal of variation for a given set. I own a pair of radios advertised as "35-mile range." I don't believe that's false, but it's probably under ideal conditions - a clear day with two people on mountaintops 35 miles apart, with an unobstructed view, for example.

I did a test with mine where I left one radio at home and went for a hike in the woods. On a hilltop, I was able to carry on a conversation, though there was some static, at a distance of about 2.1 miles. There were trees and homes in the way for part of that distance. Hills in between would have made it impossible to talk.

There are other limiting factors: Weather, being in a car or building, as a couple examples.

Still, this is very useful for me for hunting and for backpacking. Furthermore, they have weather radios, which can be indispensable when you have no other way of knowing the forecast. In the US, they receive broadcasts from fixed towers, and my whole state is covered.

  • With my "35 mile" unit on the strong setting I get: - In most conditions, reliable at 1/4 mile. - I would not count on 1/4 mile if there is a good hill between the two. - In most conditions, nothing at 1/2 mile. - With 1 radio well above the surrounding terrain, 1/2 mile. - With line-of sight with one raised above ground, maybe 2 miles. - When there is anything at all like 1 row of houses or 1 row of trees, there seems to be a rapid drop off after 1/4 mile.
    – user9190
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 12:07

The range mostly depends on the power of your radio. 500 mW is OK, 5 W is much better. You should study what frequency ranges and what maximum power are allowed in your country for public, and go for the max power. Ranges may include FRS, GMRS, LPD, PMR. E.g. in Russia FRS is prohibited and LPD is allowed, while e.g. in Kazakhstan it's vice versa (so we are having tough time travelling there for mountain trips).

With a 500 mW short-band radio you can expect a couple of kilometers, but your milage may vary. In perfect weather in the mountains with direct visibility and a Midland GXT GMRS radio I've once had a talk over 15 km, which felt unbelievable. But if you hide behind a bend of a slope, 100 meters may be enough to stop all the communication, if there are no good objects nearby that can serve as a mirror for the signal.

So I would advise checking your and your firend's routes at home to find open spots where you will have direct visibility and arrange communication sessions on these spots at specified times.


Family Radio Service, the most commonly available walkie talkies, operates on frequencies around 460 MHz. The power is limited to only 500 mW, and as such is very limited. Wikipedia reports that the average range is roughly a mile, which is quite reasonable, given the power levels and poor antennas. Of course, this may vary.

If you are wanting more reliable communication over a few miles, I would look in to getting an Amateur Radio License. They are low cost or free, require taking a test, and allow better power and frequencies. It would work well for this kind of communication. The cost would be within your budget, and I've routinely talked for about 3-4 miles simplex, and further if there is a repeater in the area.

  • 1
    A lot of the radios are combination FRS and GMRS now. GMRS is longer-range, and a license is required. However, it's estimated that there are more people using GMRS without a license than with a license. Personally, I think the GMRS license is silly, since the airwaves are in no way jammed with chatter. Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 3:05

The range is tremendously dependent on the terrain, especially since you say "mountains". While walkie talkies can be useful for hiking you can never count on them other than in pretty flat, open terrain. I've seen them work at 4 miles of open terrain (and that's simply the longest range I've tried to use one), I've seen them fail at 1/4 mile with a minor hill in the way.

Reliable communications in the mountains pretty much requires sending it via satellite--and you're not doing that on your budget, not to mention that such services require subscriptions to work.

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