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  1. #1
    Expert worddoer's Avatar

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    Question PLB vs Ham Radio???

    My son is in Trail Life (think Boy Scouts without the girls). In June his troop will be hiking 50 miles on the Application Trail. It is my understanding there are some rather remote parts to this trail and cell coverage on the trail is spotty at best.

    I had the idea that it might not be a bad idea for the troop in invest in a PLB in case there is some dire emergency where cell coverage is not available.

    Doing some research it seems the entry fee is what I consider to be steep. You can pay at least $300 for a unit that does not need a service subscription. It seems the most cost effective one is the Ocean Signal PLB1.

    Then there are the subscription based units like the SPOT messenger. They only cost $150, but then you have to buy a 1 year subscription for another $150 ending in the same starting price. But this adds the capability to have a couple of basic pre programmed messages that you can send out in addition to the SOS feature. But then you have an annual fee as well.

    I don't know anything about HAM radios, but I have seen threads on the forum about Baofeng radios as a economical HAM starting point. Do HAM radios have an SOS feature that could work for something like this? If so, I would just buy a radio for the troop.

    If anyone else has any ideas for something that could provide SOS capability outside of cell service range, I am open. With 20 some boys hiking in the wilderness, I just think it would be a good insurance policy for the boys to have in case of a true emergency (severe injury or illness). But hopefully they never need it.
    "May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one." - Mal

  2. #2
    Marksman Backpacker's Avatar

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    The Spot device or similar is the way to go. If I understand correctly, Spot works on satellites. Most of us using amateur radio, transmit station to station or through repeaters. Getting a amateur radio license takes effort and time. The Spot device does not.

  3. #3
    Expert fullmetaljesus's Avatar

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    I've never seen a ham radio with an automatic sos feature.
    Plus the person operating the radio needs a license, or at least be standing next to a person with the ham license.

    Baofeng radios are handy, however depending on how remote you get, you may be out of range. Though I would imagine there may be a few hams monitoring simplex channels near the trail, but that's just a guess.

    Though expensive the spot may be the way to go.

    However if you will be on the trail a lot or hiking, camping, hunting etc and you or your boy has an interest ham radio can be a very fun hobby and learning experience.
    WTS/WTT 9mm and 308 win reload dies.

  4. #4
    Expert Jeepster48439's Avatar

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    Becoming a HAM is not as intensive as it used to be. Check out the Indiana Elmer Network. (Indiana Elmer Network ? Hands Helping Hams.) With that being said, handheld VHF/UHF (Baofeng) would probably be of limited value in the remote areas of the Appalachian Trail. I would carry a combination of communication devices, cell phone, handheld radio, locator beacon, etc.. Of course, carry at least two sets of maps and a couple of dedicated gps devices. Don't depend on cell phones as your gps device. Make sure several have training in wilderness first aid in addition to your basic first aid.
    “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." -- SunTzu

  5. #5

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    By June the AT is so stomped can't get lost...but you can get hurt. You're usually no more than 15-20 miles from a town so you could send for help....but I'd get the PLB it's cheaper than an helicopter extraction.

  6. #6
    Plinker harleymac1's Avatar

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    I agree with the SPOT. I am an Extra Class Ham radio operator and can tell you when you get in an area where you lose signal, you lose signal. The beauty of the SPOT device is that you can also have it send out info on locations throughout the journey and Mom and Dad can sit at home and track the troop's progress and locations at home from the computer. I would go SPOT over radio any day.
    USMC Veteran / Lifetime LTCH / Lifetime NRA / Amateur Radio Operator

  7. #7
    Master KittySlayer's Avatar

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    It would seem like hiking in a group and having a plan to split the group if an injury dictated would work. Part of group stays with injured person, part hikes to place with cell reception. I assume there will be more than one responsible adult. Few solo AT hikers consider a PLB necessary. Of course an electronic nanny will give some parents comfort.

    One discussion group I follow prefers InReach over Spot.
    Last edited by KittySlayer; 04-16-2019 at 11:01.
    When seconds matter the 2nd Amendment matters.

  8. #8
    Sharpshooter WETSU's Avatar

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    Good advice above, especially about having redundant comms (cell, SPOT, and radios). I'd throw in a couple whistles, and a strobe.
    We used a SPOT in Denali last summer where there was zero signal, just to report in each day, that we hadn't been eaten by bears. It also tracked us back home for our people to play along. I've hiked sections of the AT, and while you may not have service in some places, in many you will and its not an issue.
    If it was me? I'd bring my phone and extra battery banks/solar charger along with a HAM radio (I have my tech), a strobe, whistle, flaggers tape, 2 pop flares and some chemlights, plus a dedicated GPS unit.

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