CB has long been a primary communication tool for offroad and overlanding groups. The proverbial "can you hear me" radio check works great with everyone grouped together. As soon as you hit the trail and get a little bit of separation things quickly go downhill. In our experience, the most common issue is either bad antenna placement or poor setup/SWR readings which choke your ability to communicate. Even with a perfect setup the range of CB is very limited. Restricted to 5 watts of power you get limited range and poor AM radio quality. The best setup we have found with CB is a simple magnetic mount antenna in the center of the roof. The Big Wilson with its 5' antenna seems to work best. However, we do not recommend CB. Some offroad groups still use it but GMRS is becoming more and more common. It is time to get rid of your CB, or not get one in the first place, and get with newer technology. The cost of entry is reasonable (around $150 less discounts) and will open your world to better communications.
We love Ham radio but it isn't for everyone. GMRS strikes the balance with Ham quality FM transmission but lacks the requirement to take a test to receive a license. NOTE: GMRS still requires a license. The cost is $70 for 10 years and grants permissions to transmit to you and anyone in your family. We are sure many people do not take the time to get properly licensed but that decision is ultimately left to each user.
We decided on the Midland MXT115 15watt mobile radio. Midland also makes the MXT275 which includes all of the controls and displays within the microphone. Both radios work well. It is a personal preference on form-factor. The radio bodies are very compact as compared to most CB radios. The Midland kits give you everything you need including a basic magnetic mount antenna. For improved communications in the city a 6DB upgraded antenna is recommended. On the trail, the standard antenna works great. We have had successful clear communications in the 10-15 mile range. Best of all the supplied antenna is very low profile. Less than 1' in height.
Links to all of the products we use are listed below.
Installation and Use:
The Midland kit can be wired directly to your battery, via a "keyed" fuse using an add-a-circuit on your vehicles factory fuse panel, or with the supplied 12-volt cigarette plug. As an added bonus the MXT115 includes a USB port. Our radio is wired to our dedicated, always powered, Bluesea fuse block.
The Midland kit includes a mounting bracket and Velcro for simple attachment. Our radio is mounted on the back of the center console behind and between the front seats. Since we rarely change channels this is a convenient out of the way spot. Routing the antenna cable is easy. We chose to route the cable behind the door weatherstrip.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Our first use with the radio was on a group trip to the Mojave road. Communications were clear the entire time including being able to hear a separate group a few miles away. In the city, we have had good success. As they say "your mileage may vary" but one should be pretty confident communicating with anyone within 5 miles should be very consistent. 10 miles the quality of your transmission may vary depending on obstacles and terrain. Clear line of sight (hill-to-hill) above the Phoenix area valley floor even 20 miles apart all transmissions were crystal clear with no issues.
There are a wide variety of options. If you stick with the same manufacturer as your mobile radio as your handheld(s) compatibility using "privacy codes" is ensured. Privacy codes filter out other people's transmissions but your transmissions are still public. However, most major manufacturers seem to work with one another.
We have not updated our handheld radios in over a decade. Our likely upgrade is listed below. Handhelds are great for kids around the campsite, use when spotting a vehicle on difficult terrain, or easy close-range communication while hiking near your basecamp.
The popularity of GMRS radios is gaining in the offroad and overlanding community for good reason. Reliable communications are helpful when participating in group trips. During solo travel, the ability to reach out to others is improved using GMRS vs CB but we will still recommend the more capable HAM radio communications or a Garmin InReach device for emergency communications. There simply is no comparison to the audio quality of a GMRS radio as compared to CB. Loaning a handheld GMRS radio to a fellow traveler provided solid communication over a mile even with the radio inside of their vehicle. When using CB we couldn't communicate further than 1/4 of a mile.
The license can be purchased via the FCC. The process can be a bit overwhelming based on the less than user-friendly FCC website. We will add some tips soon but a simple internet search can provide assistance.
Where to Buy:
Midland USA Direct - Midland direct periodically offers discounts. At the time of the article writing the code: overlandusa provides a 20% off discount.
Via Amazon -
(We are an Amazon affiliate. By using these links we receive a small referral fee but your pricing is the same)
Midland MXT115 Mobile Radio - $149.99
Midland MXT275 Mobile Radio - $149.99
Midland - GXT1000VP4 Handheld Radios - $69.99
Optional 6DB Antenna and NMO Mount:
MXTA266DB Antenna - $39.99
Midland MXTA12 NMO Magnetic Mount - $24.99