The best emergency radio for preppers is General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) because it has repeater capability and isn’t complicated like HAM.
Amateur radio (HAM) seems the logical choice for prepper communication, but ham radios are pretty technical. On the other hand, General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is user-friendly and could easily be set up to run communication for an entire prepper group.
Ham radios are awesome and are the most capable radios out there. The problem is most people won’t know how to use them effectively to communicate during an SHTF or disaster scenario.Scott, Ready Squirrel
What is the best emergency radio for preppers?
The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is the best communication device for preppers. GMRS radios are simple to use, providing good local communication, with GMRS repeater capability extending the distance radio transmissions will travel.
Hand-held GMRS two-way radios are 5 watts up to 50 watts, a much higher wattage than FRS. GMRS radios are also channel-based which is more straightforward for a novice to use than Amateur radios that use frequencies and tones.
Are GMRS Radios Compatible with FRS radios?
GMRS two-way radios are compatible with FRS. These radio services share the first seven channels. If you are shifting to GMRS, keep your old FRS radios because they still have use in an emergency scenario.
Why won’t my FRS radio communicate with my GMRS radio? (best emergency radio for preppers)
FRS and GMRS are only compatible on the first seven channels. If your radios are on the same channel and still aren’t working, ensure the privacy tones are turned off. If an FRS radio has a privacy tone, but a GMRS radio doesn’t, the radios won’t be able to communicate.
Other possibilities include the radios being out of range or topographical or man-made obstructions blocking the radio signal. FRS and GMRS radios are line-of-site, so the signal travels in a straight line. The signal won’t get through to another radio if it hits a building, a forest, hills, or mountains.
Check out the Ready Squirrel Article, Disaster Communication: Prepper’s Guide
7 Reasons GMRS are the best emergency radios for preppers
#1 GMRS Repeater Tower
GMRS Repeater towers are used to boost radio signals. FRS Doesn’t have this ability. If there are any GMRS repeaters in your area, you can build one. Contact your local amateur radio club to get more information.
#2 Channels vs. Frequency
GMRS is on a simple channel system versus setting individual frequencies. For Amateur radio, It is necessary to dial in the frequencies, tones, and bandwidth, and the operator has to know the rules and what an Amateur radio license allows.
#3 50 Watts
GMRS can use up to 50 watts of power on mobile radios used as a base station or in a bug-out vehicle. 50 watts far Surpass the 5 watts allowed on Family Radio Service (FRS).
#4 Antenna Swaps
GMRS radios allow you to remove the antenna and hook up to a superior antenna or a base antenna. You cannot change antennas on an FRS radio. It is against FCC regs.
#5 Easy For Everyone
GMRS radios are simple to use, whereas HAM/Amateur radios are complex Ham radios have tones, frequencies, and a lot of rules regarding how they are used. GMRS radios usually have 30 channels you can transmit on, so there is less room for confusion.
#6 Compatible With Family Radio Service
GMRS Radios are used on the first seven channels to communicate with FRS radios.
#7 GMRS License
The GMRS license costs $35.00 when I’m writing this article (For more information, check out the FCC website.) there is no written test; the license is good for 10 years, and anyone in your immediate family can use GMRS radios under a single license.
Why Isn’t Amateur or HAM Radio the best prepper communication?
Amateur radio is hands down the most capable radio service. It not only allows for direct line communication but, with the right license, will allow the operator to communicate and receive globally. The problem is that Amateur radio has the biggest barriers to entry and is super complicated. You have to want to learn it. That is a tough scenario when dealing with a sizeable prepper group. Getting everyone on the same page will be difficult.
On the other hand, General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is more straightforward to use than HAM and more effective for a group of survivalists with different backgrounds, skill sets, and interests.
For example, my wife has no interest in getting her Amateur radio license, which got me thinking that there is usually one person in a household into prepping, and everyone else is along for the ride.
Emergency communications must be as simple to use as possible and capable. GMRS hits that sweet spot, and Amateur radio does not.
Ham Radio: Barriers To Entry
To maximize the capabilities of a Ham radio, you need the Technician and General Amateur radio licenses which means two tests to pass to operate. After taking and passing the tests, there is a learning curve for using the radio.
Amateur Radios Bounce the Signal off of the Ionosphere vs. GMRS radio, which has a line-of-site radio signal easily disrupted by topography, buildings, or forests. You need a General license to use the HF frequencies on Amateur radio, which can go thousands of miles.
Imagine getting a prepper group of 20 or 30 people interested enough in HAM to study for the tests, purchase the equipment, and be ready to communicate in SHTF.
Ham radios can’t be taken out of the box and used without training. Frequencies, bandwidths, and many other technical rules must be understood by everyone using the radio to make it a good choice for your survival group.
That said, ham radio should be part of your prepper arsenal, but I wouldn’t use it as a primary means of communication for a localized survival group.