It’s impossible to overstate the importance of reliable communication. Our ability to connect with other human beings, near and far, allows us to accomplish things we’d never be able to tackle alone. It also provides a safety net.
If you’re reading this, you probably enjoy spending time away from all the noise of daily life. That’s something we have in common, but occasionally, that peace and quiet can take you completely off-grid, or leave you stranded on the side of a country road. Things can get squirrely without warning so it's important to be one step ahead. Whether running into town for groceries, or rolling through the mountains of Colorado, the following tools let me travel with confidence. I hope this guide helps you.
Above all else, smartphones are our most powerful COMMs device. Sending a text, making a phone call, sending out an email, accessing social media, even tapping into a police scanner can prepare and inform you in certain situations. As cliche as it sounds, the world is seemingly at your fingertips with a smartphone.
Now, what happens when you truly go off-grid? Well, I’d suggest utilizing a signal booster. More specifically, I use a WeBoost, a tool that helps to ensure that my cell signal is as strong as it can be.
In addition to a booster, I’d also recommend having multiple phone carriers depending on your travel partner(s). For instance, you could have a phone with Verizon, and maybe your travel buddy will be on a plan with T-Mobile. This increases the likelihood that one of you will have service even if the other does not. Then if you add a hotspot plan, you can effectively give the other person service if they need it.
Satellite phones/satellite option
Living in our modern age certainly comes with its advantages, one of which is cheap tech. Once reserved for wealthy expeditioners, satellite communication is now relatively affordable and reliable. I’ve used several of Garmin’s InReach communicators over the years, and strongly recommend them as an emergency backup, or a handy way to touch base with loved ones. Your line of communication will remain open “anywhere you can see the sky.”
There are some fees required to unlock all features, but the peace of mind is well worth it. Even with no towers in sight, you’ll be able to send texts or emails, share locations, and even easily reach out for emergency help with a single button.
Radio communication is as time-tested a method as you’ll find, and offers the most versatility. Consider purchasing a radio with a hand crank just for listening when the power goes out. Your local radio stations will be among the first to notify the public of emergencies. Listening features are also often included in handheld 2-way radios, which are great for small groups of adventurers and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
CB radios are a great way to plug into the public conversations of truck drivers, and local travelers. Learn about traffic congestion, accidents, weather, and speed traps from people just a few miles ahead of you.
Handheld CBs are especially handy for keeping small groups of people organized on the go. They’re also fun to use and make off-roading more enjoyable. I like this one.
GMRS radios are stronger and offer greater compatibility than CB radios. Where CB radios are limited to 4 watts of power and a local audience, GMRS can use up to 50 watts. That means significantly more people will hear your broadcast, especially when employing repeaters. Nearly all readily available walkie-talkies operate on GMRS/FRS, so getting everyone on the same page is painless.
If your interests are more advanced, there is yet another radio option. Arguably one of the most powerful COMM devices in the world of radios is ham radio. Although tricky to access and utilize due to testing and licensing, ham radios have the widest range of available frequencies to operate on, have the capability for longer range (and use of repeaters as well), allow for the most power (watts) for increased range, and are the only way you can tune into local emergency services, You can even send emails or text messages with the proper ham equipment.
Miscellaneous/Non-electronic COMM Options
When all else fails, keep it simple. There are a number of tools that can help keep you connected when disasters or emergencies rear their heads. When you need help, don’t be shy. Exhaust your options until contact is made. Long before radio and satellite technology became commonplace, adventurers relied on whistles, mirrors, and signal fires to get noticed. Whenever I'm hiking or in my vehicle, I’ll have an emergency whistle, signal mirror, way to start a fire, and some fabric or tarp that’s big and bright in color. If I can, I’ll use my cell phone, but one way or another I’m getting home.