Backcountry Communications

updated 2021-01-24

Most hiking and car camping happens within easy range of cell service. Indeed, it is uncommon to find a drive-in campground where you don’t have cell service. Even most backpacking trips will keep you within phone range for most of the trip.

But what do you do for communication when you are truly out there? That is where the radio comes in to play.

The image most people have is of radio is an old school ham operator using Morse code. The truth is that radio permeates every aspect of our lives: cell phones, wifi, bluetooth, and remote car openers are all systems using radio receivers and receivers. But interestingly, none of these systems are of use in the wilderness. What should we use?

Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” answer. To come up with a solution you have break the question down into sub-parts:

  • Where are you going, and where are the people you need to contact?
  • How much equipment are you willing to bring, and how durable does it need to be?
  • How many people need to use the equipment, and what are their skill levels?

One thing which makes our task easier is that the possible solutions are limited to what is available for purchase. In short, the radio we cannot buy is not of any use to us. We have to work with what we have, and that means looking at existing systems.

Take a look at the pages below to see what each radio service offers, what it is good for, and what the limitations are.


These radios are simple, compact, and can even be found in waterproof models. Their simplicity carries a price though: these are strictly short range devices. Where they excel though is in keeping groups in touch while traveling. Click the link above to learn more.

Citizens Band

CB radio has lost much of its popularity from its peak in the 70’s and 80’s. Despite that, these systems are still a very viable option for those traveling by highway. Check the link above for more details.

Commercial, Maritime, and Aeronautical

Unless you are a utility worker, a bush pilot, or a ship’s captain these are not for you. However, it is still useful to know a little about them in case the day comes when you have to use them.

Amateur Radio

As the king of the civilian radio world, the amateur radio service offers versatility and capability unmatched by any other service. However, this is also the problem: with all that capability comes an enormous learning curve.

Satellite Systems

The latest communication options to come on the scene are a variety of satellite-based services. By using satellites to relay messages you can connect from even the most remote parts of the earth. But not all satellite constellations are the same. Follow the link above for an overview on the options available.