Walkie talkies are a great way to stay connected with friends and family while hiking, camping, or doing other outdoor activities and are an easy way to communicate especially where phone coverage might be poor.
So, How Far Can Walkie Talkies Reach?
The quick answer is 2-3 miles. The more detailed answer is that it depends. Not necessarily the straight-forward answer you were looking for but radio range depends on a number of factors. Note: you are likely to be able to hear / receive further than you can transmit
Factors Affecting the Range of Walkie Talkies
The range of a two-way radio has four main factors that influence it. The closer you get to idea circumstances then the further you’ll be able to transmit.
Because the following factors can all have a dramatic impact on the total distance you can cover, don’t take the advertised maximum range of any particular walkie talkie as something you can rely on. In any real-world situation your results could be drastically different.
One of the most important things to consider is that transmission is generally line of sight. Bear this in mind and it can help you get the maximum range.
If you are on a lower floor inside a building in a built-up area you are going to be at the biggest disadvantage. It gets even worse if the building uses a lot of metal in its construction. Compare this to being on top of a hill or mountain with no obstructions.
Typically walkie talkies are likely to transmit on one of three radio frequency bands.
- HF – High Frequency – Between 3 and 30 megahertz (MHz)
- VHF – Very High Frequency – Between 30 MHz to 299 MHz
- UHF – Ultra High Frequency – Between 300 MHz and 3 gigahertz (GHz)
This is a CB radio site so we are covering High Frequency (HF) and more specifically 27 MHz. Don’t worry though the principles are just the same for all bands.
One important fact is the higher the frequency the shorter the distance the radio waves are likely to travel.
A walkie talkie with a telescopic antenna tends to work better than those using a rubber ducky style. To keep the length down the physical length of the antenna is kept short by winding it in a coil. It is far less efficient and although they keep the radio more manageable and the antenna less susceptible to breakage. Tactical antennas can be a good alternative if your radio came with a rubber ducky style (see below).
The output power is important to an extent. You need to double the power for ½ S-point gain on a signal strength meter. So, really much more than the legal limits wouldn’t be of much benefit and would lead to a much faster battery drain – the last thing you need when you are relying on the handheld and in the middle of nowhere.
It isn’t the advantage you think it is going to be and a better, more efficient antenna and extra height can far exceed a couple of extra Watts in power.
There are CB handhelds such as the Uniden PRO401HH that run the full 4 Watts i.e. the full legal power. So, connected up with an external antenna on a vehicle it will have the same range as a mobile CB.
Extending the Range of Walkie Talkies
All of the following tips will help you communicate over a greater distance.
Obstructions and Height
Remember: height is might. Get up as high as you can, if in a building then get up on a high floor – roof terraces or balconies are great.
If you are already outside, get away from obstructions and if there is any raised ground get up on it.
Stand high, keep it vertical – tell all parties to do the same. If you are transmitting to a base station or someone in a vehicle then you’ll definitely want to make sure you are vertical.
Although outside the scope of this article, antennas are either vertically or horizontally polarized depending on their orientation. The receiver and transmitter should ideally be in the same polarization for maximum efficiency. Some people will hold a handheld with the antenna horizontal which actually puts them at a disadvantage if they are talking to someone who is holding theirs vertically. Vertical is better anyway because of the extra height it gives and if you are talking to someone on a homebase or in a vehicle then theirs will also be vertical. If you are with a group using walkie-talkies then make sure everyone is holding theirs vertically – especially if you are on the edge of reception.
How they increase coverage significantly with amateur radio is use a repeater. These are essentially fixed position radios with decent antennas that receive a radio transmission and re-transmit it on another at much higher power. The combination of better power and antenna means handhelds can communicate over a much greater distance.
This is where Hams have an advantage with their network of 2m (144 MHz) and 70cm (420-450 MHz) repeaters. However, CB radio doesn’t really have any repeaters – especially as they are not legal for use on 27 MHz
Those rubber ducky antennas while more convenient aren’t as efficient as even the built-in telescopic types. The reason for this is that to keep its physical size down it uses a coil to maintain the electrical length of the antenna. This is less efficient but are not prone to snapping like the large telescopic types are.
If your walkie-talkie has something like a BNC connector for easy swapping of antennas then changing it for a tactical antenna is likely to give you much better results. They are long (avoiding the need for a coil) but fold up which means easier transportation when you are travelling with it. You can even use it folded but for best results it should be used at full length.
Lastly you can plug in an external antenna mounted to your vehicle. Obviously, this restricts your movement but can be handy if one of the party is staying with vehicle anyway. However, if this is the case you might as well use a mobile unit.
Check the batteries are fresh and at peak power. As batteries get used their output diminishes and, in turn, the power output of your handheld also reduces.
So there we have it, walkie talkie range can be affected by several factors. If you are using them in wide open spaces then you’ll find you get much better results than if you are in a built-up area. However, in all situations there are things you can do to improve your coverage.