Jump to content

Recommended Posts

You might be learning that your CB radio is no longer the favored means of communication on the trail (the EJS crew in Moab aside). Maybe you built a new rig and haven't set up communications, maybe you are getting tired of how obnoxious CB can be trying to keep signal and squelch properly adjusted on a band seriously subject to nasty interference. Or maybe you are sick of SWR maintenance.

 

Your salvation these days lies in GMRS, and its smaller cross-compatible cousin, FRS. But darn it, another radio, more parts, more $$ flowing out the door. Ahhh, the life of overlanding...

 

There are a number of threads on GMRS on this forum including how to get a license, general use, and other cool odds and ends, but what I have not seen was any thread specifically on budget GMRS. I had a few tid-bits on my November 2022 club run for El Camino del Diablo, but if you are not a paying club member, or that run did not interest you, you wouldn't have seen those. And since I have not seen any recent post(s) on maintaining a budget with respect to GMRS, I thought I would put this out here in a more central, logical place for everyone to enjoy and possibly add to.

 

This is not intended to be a comprehensive buyers guide to GMRS although I could point options for those with more budget to burn. This is mainly focused on what you do need bare minimum and what are the cheep upgrade options to extend your range. I will explain a few GMRS radio/signal basics to help you decide on what and where to spend.

 

I will not worry about Part 95e certification here although I certainly recommend it. I leave that decision to you. There are fairly reasonable cost radio options for both certified and non-certified radios.

 

Prices listed below last updated on 9/18/2023. Prices change constantly, originally they mostly went up since I wrote a short version of this for the ECdD run, but lately seem to have come back down. 

 

Antennas

 

The first and most important universal radio truth: a low power radio with a good antenna beats a high powered radio with a poor antenna. Output power does nothing for reception and without reception, you get to talk, but will never have any idea if you were heard. Also high power with a bad antenna could, but not necessarily will, eventually damage your radio. If you have a limited budget, invest on the antenna side before investing more on the radio side.

 

A handheld (HT) GMRS radio inside your vehicle, unlike a handheld CB, will effectively send and receive with other radios outside of your vehicle. However the vehicle still cuts back both your reception and transmission ranges. An external antenna, for even a handheld, is HIGHLY recommended. 

 

Unlike with your CB, you have some interesting options for antenna cable. The wave length of CB signal requires that thicker cable to avoid what's called insertion loss. With GMRS (upper 70cm) , (and 2m/70cm HAM) you can use super-thin RG-316 or RG-174A. This increases your options of where to mount your antenna and how to route the antenna cable. 316 and 174 both go though (under or over) door seals with less chance or wind noise and water leakage. Just be careful of kinking the cable. That super-thin cable can kink or break easily. 

 

Another nicety of GMRS, no real need to measure SWR unless you are getting super custom. Things just work. Rule of thumb for GMRS antennas, use the least amount of cable necessary, but don't fret some extra. Minimize the number of junctions in the cable. GMRS frequencies are far less sensitive to junction signal reflection as compared to CB, but still are a little. A two-part cable is perfectly fine, and common. Also note that you can buy a HAM dual-band antenna. Just look at the gain for the 70cm band for comparison to GMRS specific antennas. For pre-made antenna cable, I prefer to stick with Diamond or Comet. Bad cable can ruin an otherwise good antenna setup. Don't cheap out to save $5-10. It is not budget conscious to buy bad product only to have to spend more money replacing it with good product later.

 

I am going to assume you buying a a handheld transceiver (HT) with a removable antenna since we are talking about budget. Yes there are inexpensive mobiles. But inexpensive HTs will still generally beat them in costs. Plus a HT can come out of your vehicle for spotting and scouting by reinstalling its factory flexible/stubby antenna.

 

All-in-one Mag-Mount Antenna

 

If you have a metal body panel vehicle, or at least a metal hood, the Diamond MR77SMA 144/440 Mobile Mag Antenna with SMA Connector ($48 from Amazon) is a super simple and inexpensive option. I used this as a semi-permanent option with HT radios for a few years on both my old JKUR and my Jeep Renegade Deserthawk and it was a great solution. It is not the thinnest cable using RG58, but the SMA connector makes it easy to feed through tight holes. It just connects to your Kenwood or Yaesu HT, or with the aid of a SMA gender adapter ($7 on Amazon), connects to most Chinese HT radios too (Baofeng, Wouxun, etc...). With a gain of 3.4:1 on the 70cm band, five watts and this antenna outside your vehicle will cross the Phoenix metro (North Scottsdale to the White Tanks). If you are using a dual-band radio, I recommend also getting a dual-band antenna. I have used antenna this on my JT Mojave (stuck to the hood) as a temporary setup and run this cable over the door seal with no apparent wind noise. I cannot speak for water tightness, as by temporary I mean only when running a few trails.

 

The Diamond MR77 is a really good, inexpensive mag-mount solution in my experience, when accounting for cost, antenna gain, and simplicity of connection. Midland offers a shorty mag-mount GMRS specific with a radio-side UHF plug that will have to be adapted to fit your HT's SMA, and the gain is less at just over 2:1. The antenna is $20 from Midland but with adapter parts and cable for your HT, more likely closer to $35. But this solution for GMRS is STILL better than an HT stubby antenna inside your vehicle.

 

Antenna, Mount, and Cable

 

If a mag-mount won't work for your Jeep or other offroader due to aluminum body panels, you will need a lip or bolt based antenna bracket, an antenna connector, and cable. Lip brackets can fit on many "lip" edges of your vehicle (hood, trunk, hatch, door) while bolt based brackets are highly vehicle and location specific. The two most common antenna connectors for Ham and GMRS are NMO or UHF/PL259. NMO connectors require smaller holes in the bracket or other mounting surface.

 

For my JL and JT Jeeps, I prefer something like the Rugged Radios universal cowl bolt mount ($30 on Amazon) paired with a Diamond C101NMO ($50 on Amazon, $40 at Ham Radio Outlet). Be aware that there is also a C101 model that is UHF / PL-259 ($49 on Amazon). You can use the UHF base but you will find your antenna and mount options may change. Also the Rugged Radios mount is drilled for NMO and requires modification (grinding) for UHF. The GMRS market is better served with NMO. You can find either C101 model for $40 to $50 depending on where you buy it. The RG-316 cable can enter your JL or JT under the triangular insulation at the A-pillar and body junction on your front doors with zero leakage or wind noise.

 

For any vehicle with aluminum body panels, I like the Diamond K400 lip mount ($54 on Amazon, $42 at Ham Radio Outlet) which can be paired with the C101NMO mentioned above or bought together as a bundled kit, Diamond K400CNMO ($80 on Amazon, $74 at Ham Radio Outlet).

 

If you are using a dedicated GMRS HT, pair the C101NMO and and your chosen mount with the Midland MXTA26 ($60) for a super 6:1 gain, or the Midland Ghost Antenna ($50 on Amazon) at a 3:1 gain. If you are using a dual-band HT radio that supports transmit on the GMRS frequencies, the Diamond NR73BNMO ($67 from Amazon, $10 less at DXEngineering or Ham Radio Outlet) is a great option with a 5.3:1 gain on 70cm.

 

If you need more cable length than the C101 has, you can add the Diamond C110SMA ($45 from Amazon) for an extra 10ft ($30 from DXEngineering or Ham Radio Outlet). If you are using a mobile with the PL-259 plug, then grab the C110 (non-SMA) instead.

 

Total aside, if you have a JL or JT diesel, the JT Mojave, or the JL 392, you have a steel hood. Mag mounts can work for you.

 

Radios

 

I am not endorsing any of the below, just pointing out inexpensive options with factory antennas that can be removed so you can use an external antenna. Output wattage claims on Baofeng and rebranded Baofeng radios should be taken with a grain of salt and only apply when the battery is fully charged or connected to external power, but they do get the job done. Any claims over 5 watts should be taken with a large grain of salt.

 

  • Part 95e certified per their claim with a removable antenna also is the Baofeng GM-15 Pro (5-watt) for $29 on Amazon
    • The included battery accepts USB C for charging and active power, therefore has no need for a battery eliminator or 12v car adapter
    • 2 Pack for $55 on Amazon
    • Basically the same device as the more expensive Radioddity GM-30 ($40 on Amazon)
    • Uses the same speaker/mic and programming cable as the UV-5R
    • The Ham version of this radio is known to go by: UV-13, UV-13 Pro (10-watt), TP-8Plus (8-watt)
  • Not Part 95e certified, but only $20 on Amazon is the good-ole UV-5R (5-watt). Note that there is a risk it is no longer able to transmit in the 460 MHZ range of GMRS. But per NotARubicon, this is now fixable. I make no claims or warranties here. The mic and 12v power adapter are really cheap here, making this a great radio for under $50 with accessories (not including the external antenna).
    • Extra/Optional BL-5 USB-C battery, can charge the battery or power the radio directly through USB C ($19 on Amazon).
      • This is a better option over of the battery eliminator.
  • Not Part 95e certified, but with more power is the Baofeng BF-F8HP (8-watt) that can be found on Amazon for $70.
    • Same caveat about potential 460 MHz transmit limitation and "frequency unlocking" as the UV-5R above.
    • Uses the same accessories as the UV-5R including the USB C battery listed above

 

I strong recommend you either get a 12v power plug, aka "battery eliminator" (not a charger!) or a radio specific USB C charged battery for your handheld. After the antenna, the power source is the next most important thing. Steady power from an external source (12v car adapter or USB C) will ensure you get the full rated power output and reception sensitivity of the radio. 12v adapters for these radios usually runs in the $10-$15 range. On battery, as the battery fades, it drops voltage which reduces radio power output. Even with a fully charged battery, you likely will not get full rated output.

 

I also recommend a speaker/mic. $8 on Amazon

 

I would be remiss for not mentioning a radio mounting solution for your HT! Check out JeepUniq.com from our own @JeepUniq for HT mounting options, especially if you have a HT with a mic. Nothing like loosing your radio on a bump in the trail because you did not have it properly secured. They even have adapters for use with any existing 67Designs and BulletPoint Mounting Solutions you might be using.

 

Original from the ECdD Post

 

If you need a good range GMRS setup on the cheap, I suggest a Baofeng BF-F8HP (8-watt) that can be found on Amazon for $70 or its older, cheaper cousin, the UV-5R (5 watt) for $20. Both can mate to a Diamond MR77SMA mag mount antenna ($48) using a SMA gender adapter ($7). Helpful accessories: Speaker-Mic ($8) and 12v power adapter ($19). Do note that you want a battery replacement adapter and NOT just a charger for powering transmissions off your vehicle 12v. Lastly, not required but you want to, get a programming cable ($23). You can program by hand if you really want to save $23.

 

All-in cost for HT radio, antenna with SMA adapter, power supply, and mic: $112. This is well under Midland's cheapest "complete" mobile package, MXT275, at $165 which you can't take out of the vehicle for spotting or scouting.

 

What if I Do Want a Budget Mobile Setup?

 

Ok, you want some more power than a HT offers and you are willing to give up portability and a few more bucks for more power. Obviously there is the 15 watt MXT275 I mentioned above from Midland for $165 as a complete kit. The best put-it-together option I was able to assemble is a 25 watt Radioddity DB25-G GMRS Mobile Radio ($120 on Amazon) with the Diamond MR77SMA mag-mount ($48 on Amazon) and an SMA to UHF adapter ($7) for a total of $175. 10 more watts for ten more dollars Both radios are Part 95e certified. -- For $20 more you can hide the radio body and have all the controls on the mic (BTech GMRS 20v2, $140).

 

Make sure your antenna is rated for the maximum output power of the mobile!

 

50 watts is as high as you can practically and legally go. But at that point you kinda tossed out the budget. At 50 watts you are over $200 for the radio alone, even for reasonable quality Chinesium radios (BTech GMRS 50v2, $220).

 

Am I missing something?

 

Found a cheaper, but still highly effective GMRS solution? Maybe a better option than I have presented, for the same price? Let me know in the comments and I'll update the main post.

Edited by SonoranWanderer
Fix typos, update prices and links for 9/18/2023
  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great write up, as usual, Woody! Loads of information to digest on some specific equipment suggestions. Love it!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for posting Woody. I am looking to get an external antenna for my Wouxun HT at some point.  I like the short stubby "ghost" GMRS antenna that I plan on mounting close to the A pillar. This information definitely helps.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 minutes ago, shellback91 said:

Thanks for posting Woody. I am looking to get an external antenna for my Wouxun HT at some point.  I like the short stubby "ghost" GMRS antenna that I plan on mounting close to the A pillar. This information definitely helps.

 

One thing about the Ghost antenna, is that the common complaint is the you don't get the WX channels very well or at all. That may not matter to you. The supper stubby is highly optimized to the 70cm range. Weather (WX) is near (above actually) the 2m band. Its gain on the 2m band is less than 1:1, effectively negative.

 

I didn't list above this because I can't personally (or through reputable sources) speak for its quality, but here is $22 "ghost" antenna option with generally good (GMRS use) reviews on Amazon.

 

Something I didn't yet mention in the post, is that the ghost antenna *should* be mounted as high as possible. Because it is so short, if you mount it cowl side with something like the Rugged Radios cowl bolt mount, its radiation pattern (signal distribution) will very strongly favor the side of the vehicle it is mounted on.

 

Any antenna mounted to the side would favor that side, but if the antenna mostly clears other metal objects (like your hood) its favoritism to one side is reduced giving you a more rounded (balanced) radiation pattern.  Just things to think about. It's all about the trade-offs.

 

Something you might consider is a cowl light bracket mount (above the cowl). 

 

Regardless, almost any antenna outside the vehicle is better than inside.

Edited by SonoranWanderer
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Updated pricing for Fall 2023.

 

Also worth noting is that BTech now has a new battery out for Baofeng UV5R style radios, anything that takes BL-5 battery, that charges via USB C. ($18 on Amazon). This can replace the need for a separate 12v adapter (aka "battery eliminator") for the same cost. The new battery also charges via the original old-style charger. I have the new battery and tested USB-C supplied power to the battery and radio while in use.

 

BTech also makes a USB-C charging battery in the BL-8 form factor. ($19 on Amazon)

Edited by SonoranWanderer
  • Thanks 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

BTECH is one of the famous manufacturers of GMRS radios. One of the best things about this handheld radio is its versatility. It works as a GMRS and FRS radio. It can also scan on VHF and UHF frequencies. Not to mention its architecture is half-duplex even though it only has one receiver. With the latter, it can monitor two channels at the same time. Meanwhile, having only one channel is an option if you want to keep things simple.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...