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Emily Hackeling

We've all been been a spy at some point. You know—finger guns, peeking around the corner, duck-n-rolling down the hallway, 007-style. And walkie-talkies? They're the ultimate secret agent gadget! But two-way radios (as they're more formally called) can serve a higher purpose than just impersonating Agent K.

For outdoor activity businesses, good walkie-talkies are a reliable tool and worthwhile investment: Perhaps cell phone service isn’t too hot where your company is based. Maybe you need better communication between employees, or even with customers who might stray too far from the beaten path. Walkie-talkies are also essential for campground operators, and can add authenticity to other action-packed activities like paintball and laser tag.

If you're trying to sift through all the options out there, here are some factors to consider when purchasing two-way radios, followed by some top-notch options on the market today. Over and out.

Size and Weight

First, think about the physical hunk of plastic you'll be holding in your hand. If you or your customers will already be carrying some extra weight (backpacks, water bottles, helmets, coolers, etc.) a lightweight option might be your best bet. If you run a wintertime business—say, snowmobile rentals, snowboarding lessons, or a dog sledding tour—you might want a glove-friendly item with good ergonomic design. Something too big might be a nuisance; something too small might get lost. Find what works for your purposes.

The Number Of Radio Channels

How many channels will you need? The average walkie-talkie offers 22, on either Family Radio Service (FRS) or General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) bands (though you’ll need a license to access GMRS channels). If your business is one where the channels will be fully occupied, like a busy ski resort, you can subdivide your channels with interference eliminator codes. These channels won't be private, but they will have less annoying interference by other users/noise sources.

Power Output (Watts) And Battery Life

Try to estimate the area of coverage you'll require, and how far apart your walkie-talkies will be from each other at any given point. When considering this, also take into account how stifled that performance might be due to hills, deep canyons, tall rock formations, dense forests and other non-natural elements, such as concrete and large metal surfaces. 

Look for models that send the unit into a low-power, battery-saver mode after a certain amount of time has elapsed between broadcasts. Or consider a solar charger for in-the-field replenishment of rechargeable batteries.
— REI

The more watts your walkie-talkies have, the farther and stronger they can transmit. For example, one-watt radios are often used in Target stores and on elementary school campuses. One thing to remember: The higher the wattage, the quicker your batteries run out. If your two-way radios need to last several days without a charge, this should factor into your purchase decision. 

Durability

If you run a water-based outdoor activity business, look into two-way radios that can withstand water submersion, or ones that have the ability to float. Likewise, activities and tours that take place in the snow will also need to be water-resistant.

UHF or VHF?

There are two major formats for most two-way radios: Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio and Very High Frequency (VHF) radio. According to one retailer: 
 

UHF signals don’t travel quite as far outdoors as VHF signals, but they do a better job of penetrating wood, steel, and concrete, giving you better range and performance in urban environments and around buildings. VHF signals travel farther, absent obstructions, and tend to ‘hug’ the earth better, providing better performance outdoors or in hilly terrain...UHF is the better all-around signal and is by far the most popular, so if you are in doubt, choose UHF.
— Buy Two Way Radios

For a deeper dive into UHF vs. VHF, check out this article. 

Special Features

Many walkie-talkies now come with voice activation features, flashlights, GPS, emergency strobe lights, and all kinds of fancy superpowers. If you can combine two gadgets into one, why not?

Now that you've taken a few purchasing factors into consideration, it's time to browse some of the best walkie-talkies on the market, arranged from the most to the least expensive:

1. For The Advanced Adventurer: Uniden GMR5088-2CKHS ($119)

Photo courtesy of Uniden

Photo courtesy of Uniden

  • Range: 50 miles
  • Four AA batteries required

The most advanced set of walkie-talkies on this list, the Uniden GMR5088-2CKHS Camo Submersible Two Way Radio with Charger and Headset, is also, unsurprisingly, the priciest. These are most suitable for businesses that use two-way radios as a security measure. For instance, if you offer an activity that allows customers to stray far from home base, they can communicate with you from up to 50 miles from a paired device. These devices can survive 30 minutes under up to three feet of water, so they’re super durable (but not buoyant). If distance and waterproof qualities aren’t your top priorities, keep reading for more budget-friendly options. 

2. The Very Best: Cobra ACXT1035 FLT CAMO ($99)

Photo courtesy of Cobra

Photo courtesy of Cobra

  • Range: 37 miles
  • Six AA batteries required

Considered by many to be the best two-way radio on the market, the Cobra ACXT1035 comes with a bevy of bells and whistles. With a built-in flashlight, a range of up to 37 miles, the ability to withstand up to 30 minutes of 1-meter water submersion, and buoyancy for floating, it’s ideal for advanced campers, whitewater rafters and water sports enthusiasts. At $99 average retail, it’s a quality option for those who need durability with a variety of capabilities—plus there’s even a voice recognition feature that allows for hands-free communication. Inspector Gadget would approve. 

3. Good Range For A Good Price: Olympia R100 Long Range Radio ($53)

Photo courtesy of Olympia

Photo courtesy of Olympia

  • Range: 37-42 miles
  • Two AA batteries required

With a 37-42 mile range (depending on which model you buy) and an even more impressive 50 channels available, the Olympia R100 is a stellar mid-range option at only $53. It’s small enough to fit in your palm, lightweight, and both dust- and splash-proof, though not meant to be completely submersed in water. This option is ideal for businesses that hold hiking, walking or biking tours all over a city or park, or businesses with multiple locations who need to move inventory back and forth on a daily basis.

4. The Bargain: Motorola MH230R ($47) 

Photo courtesy of Motorola

Photo courtesy of Motorola

  • Range: 23 miles
  • Three AAA batteries or three NiMh rechargeable batteries required

For businesses that don't need the range provided by the Olympia, the bright yellow Motorola MH230R still reaches 23 miles, and if you're planning on purchasing many sets, the price difference between the two will add up quickly. These walkie-talkies last up to 10 hours on alkaline batteries, or up to eight with rechargeable batteries. 

5. Not Just For Kids: UOKOO Kid’s Walkie-Talkies ($30)

Photo courtesy of UOKOO

Photo courtesy of UOKOO

  • Range: About 4 miles
  • Three AAA batteries

These walkie-talkies may have been made with kids in mind, but their features certainly aren’t child’s play. At $30, this budget-friendly option has a communication range of four miles with 3.5 hours of battery life. These would be ideal for businesses that use walkie-talkies as an optional add-on, or businesses with a lot of young clientele. Another fun feature? They’ve got an auto-squelching tool to drown out distracting background noise. Nope, no mere toys here, folks.

James Bond isn’t the only one who needs stealthy communication: your outdoor activity business can benefit from it too. Investing in this type of tool can help ensure a safe, smooth, and fun experience for staffers and guests alike. 

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