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VHF/UHF vs. HF for 4wd expedition type use

Discussion in 'General Ham Radio Discussion' started by mmccurdy, Jan 23, 2010.

  1. mmccurdy

    mmccurdy
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    Having just read 60+ posts of general hatred in the "can't use ham to replace cb" thread, I'm a little leery of making this my first post on this board, but here goes nothing....


    I'm looking for some advice from folks who have real-world experience with 2m/70cm rigs on extended backcountry trips. My "main" hobby is off road expedition type travel -- extended durations in remote locations, sometimes hundreds of miles from the nearest town let alone 2m repeater.



    Primarily, I want a rig that will allow me to communicate clearly with the other vehicles in my group, since we have not had good experience with CB. The theory tells me 2m FM simplex and low (5W) to medium (20W) power should do the trick for this use. I am also very interested in APRS capability, since being able to track the lead or tail vehicle's location would be huge, as well as being able to meet up with other people in remote locations that are far from having cell coverage.

    This is all leading me toward the new Yeasu FTM-350, since although it's pricey, it looks like a very solid setup with very nice APRS integration, and frankly I like the looks of it a lot more than the Kenwood offering.

    However, another huge reason I'm considering going down the ham path for my vehicle is the potential for use in an emergency situation. If I'm, let's say 100 miles from the nearest town in the middle of the Mojave desert somewhere, do I have a reasonable chance of being heard on a 2m rig at "high" power (typically 50W)?

    In that type of situation, the theory tells me HF is the way to go. I picked up an Extra ticket, mainly because I just find the theory interesting so I read all three study books. I could conceivably see myself using HF under non-emergency circumstances, but I have no idea what kind of traffic is even out there.

    I could go with a rig like the Yeasu FT-857D, but I lose the dual band capability and all the nice APRS goodness of the 350. It's a little more expensive, but I'm already talking about dropping close to a grand on this setup, so I'd rather just do it right from the get go.

    Anyone have thoughts or real-world experience that pushed them one way or the other?

    (btw, I really appreciate this forum compared to the other radio forums out there, just in terms of the overall civility of the members -- please take it easy on me here, as I'm new to this stuff. Thanks in advance!)
     

  2. packrat

    packrat
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    VHF UHF is generally considered a "line of site" communication. Very little chance of long range comm with a mobile antenna. Also, unless someone is monitering a frequency. you might never find anyone on simplex. I personally wouldnt want that to be my only form of comm in an emergency. HF is a longer range form of communication, so to speak, and offers the best chance of radio comm in an emergency, but the antenna, again, is the weak link while mobile. And most hf mobile antennas I have seen for other than 10 / 11 meters, tend to be rather fragile for off road work. You might try a SS 102" whip and a small manual tuner for a strong antenna system, and be able to tune up on 10 - 40 meters or so, and maybe even lower. Sat phone is probably better in an emergency, or even cell phone.

    There are a lot of things to consider here. I would sure want options in an emergency situation. I would personally not count on just one form of comm out there. I tend tohHedge my bets in every way I can when I plan.

    PR
     
  3. packrat

    packrat
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    If you must have hf and dual band/ aprs, i suggest getting both types of radios and have the best of both worlds.

    Again,
    It is your life that may be at stake.

    PR
     
  4. ke7vvt

    ke7vvt
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    Indeed

    Yaesu FT-857D Amateur Transceiver FT857

    Yaesu FTM-350R FTM350 Mobile Transceiver

    FT-350 will be more useful and fun I think.

    The more bands your antenna can operate on the worse it will perform, compared to fewer band antennas. If you get the FT-857D you will either have to get a few narrowband (2m/440 and a 6m/10m) antennas for it or get a super wideband antenna that might not perform as well as you would like or an adjustable antenna that you will have to add/remove sections from. The antenna situation is not something that you will not be able to overcome though. Just a thought.
     
  5. KingCobra_CDX882

    KingCobra_CDX882
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    W9WDX Amateur Radio Club Member

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    First off..
    Welcome to the forum..

    Many good people here indeed..lots of good info can easy be found here as well..

    You answered many of your own questions..

    VHF & UHF work Great with repeaters...but typically ( as already mentioned) line of site..Although line of site at ties can be surprisingly far ( for not to be counted on though)

    HF is for sure best way to go..

    Also use multiple antennas ( not a wide band antenna )

    I am known for indeed going over the top with things..
    So between High end radios and Big antennas..
    Being out in the middle of no where typically still presented no issues with communications ..

    Is all a matter of what your willing to spend..as well as to how many and how large antennas you willing to have on your 4x4

    keep with you a cb ( or moded radio with 11 meters...never cout out cb..even though i use ham far more these days )
     
  6. kd-5-bgt

    kd-5-bgt
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    For a radio I would say get one that is HF/VHF at least...Icom 706 MK2,Yeasu 857 or similar radio,that way you have HF and VHF/UHF covered ...Keep in mind there are not to many places where you can not access a 2 meter repeater if you are sitting in the right spot ( a mountain top for example) I have hit repeaters that were close to 100 miles from me with 50 watts from a mobil when I had a bit if elevation to help me along.

    If you add HF to that set up,that will allow you to contact someone if by chance a repeater can not be reached

    And GPS rigs will take care of the location thing,they are coming down in price every year it seems,and just relay GPS by radio

    for an antenna... Hustler I think it is makes an antenna that will allow you to add different loading coils (up to 4 coils) at once and if I remember right it can cover 2 meter to 40 meter with the proper coils( that way you have one antenna to worry about and not a huge wad of antennas taking up space)...and you can add a spring to that antenna to reduce the chance of breaking it due to a low hanging limb

    That is my thoughts on this..I am sure there will be more that will reply to this
     
  7. W5LZ

    W5LZ
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    mmccurdy,
    I think you've gotten a fair range of answers all things considered. Being mobile and off-road, you are going to have the worst antenna circumstances you can imagine. If something can 'hit' an antenna, it will, count on it. And most commercial mobile antennas are just not made to withstand that sort of treatment. The ones that can withstand that sort of treatment are going to be of limited use.
    I also think that you are not going to find a single radio that will do all of what you've mentioned. I think you could do it all with two, if you selected the right ones, but not one. At least not very 'cheaply'.
    For fairly short range stuff, VHF/UHF is certainly possible. For longer ranges, then HF would be my first choice. Neither will be a very 'sure thing', and you can probably figure out why.
    The one complication that will probably be a biggy is for everyone in this communications system you're thinking of to be able to use it, as in licensing etc. If you can get around that part, then ham radio is certainly capable of doing all that you have mentioned with some effort applied to it. Getting people equipped to do all of it is another aspect that isn't exactly easy. Not as difficult as it once was, but still not "plug-n-play" dirt easy.
    For instance, the short range communications and APRS thingy. VHF would be my first thought. Being a Kenwood fan my first thought would be of using that brand of radio. That's not absolutely necessary at all though. One radio to act as a digipeater in your group, also with a laptop for mapping, with other APRS capable radios should handle what you'd want just dandy. Take a look here;

    Byonics -

    There are some pretty neat thingys available that will work with almost any radio. This is just as an example, can't say all of it would be necessary or desirable, just depends on how you wanna do things.
    You can also do APRS on HF, it's just a form of packet mode. There are some things you'd have to work out frequency wise, and who knows what else, but still do-able.

    So, let your imagination loose. If you can ignore your wallet's screams, you can do lots of things.
    Have fun.
    - 'Doc

    and just because... "If you ain't got Kenwood, you really do got squat!" ;)
     
  8. bamacj

    bamacj
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    Back when I was doing the jeep thing we use to make overnight trips. We used cb for communications from jeep to jeep, and I had my icom 706 and a few ham sticks for hf in case we needed it. As long as one of your vehicles has an hf rig in the case of an emergency that should work. Getting all your group to get a ham lic. might be tuff. I did not run the hf antennas on the trail rides just kept them in the jeep "just in case" You could also get a simple g5rv to throw up in some trees or string it up between two jeeps when you need hf comms. Sorry I'm no help with aprs.
     
  9. Moleculo

    Moleculo
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    Well, I have a Jeep that is set up for the exact type of expeditions described, and I've used it and the radio equipment on board for the purposes described. I have VHF/UHF/HF & CB in there. For the convoy stuff, 2m works fine. I wouldn't even think about trying 440Mhz in either the mountains or desert canyons of California, where I do most of my expeditions. Several of the guys here like 220Mhz for convoy comms because it is less congested, but has similar RF characteristics as 2m. HF is what you would use to communicate out of your convoy to others in the county, state, etc. Generally, you shouldn't have too much of a problem using 40 or 80 meters to get in touch with somebody in a pinch.

    I also usually take a TNC with me that I have just in case I need/want to send an email over HF. I started this practice because of my experience with Navy MARS, but it works just as good on the ham side of things.

    Some of the guys here also have APRS to do exactly as you were asking. Originally I didn't want to install another full sized APRS radio in my Jeep (space is a premium) so I just got the Yaesu VX-8 HT to do the job. Some of the guys use the APRS tracker devices, but they sacrifice the ability to send and receive text messages by doing that. 5 watts out of an HT does not always get the job done for hitting the APRS digipeaters in a remote area, but in a convoy it should let the others know where you're at.

    You mentioned being in the Mojave desert - I have spent a lot of time in a few areas in the Mojave. You would be surprised how good of 2 meter repeater coverage there is from all the desert mountain ranges that are laced throughout the Mojave. There is also good APRS digipeater coverage, especially along the major highways.

    I would definitely encourage you to put in a good VHF/UHF/HF rig, and even APRS to help with the requirements you've defined for us.
     
  10. SR385

    SR385
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    I was going to say that in the Mojave, they have repeaters on 7k foot peaks all around in Vegas area alone that would likely permit handheld coverage quite nicely on 2m for vast distances. I seem to recall an RF only link system that went from NV to MT from various high peaks and that may have even been 440, I forget. I was DFQ into 440 repeaters on the mW power level from a handheld...unheard of over here in NJ at similar distances.

    Mt. Potosi seems to be one name that comes to mind and there were a few others I played with while visiting out there.

    I run an FT-857D in my Jeep and it offers a lot of flexibility. I generally just use it for repeaters on 2m/440, but have a Hustler ball mount wired and keep a 102" whip on it for 10m use most of the time. I also have an SGC 237 auto tuner that tunes that whip for 20m and above with really decent efficiency.

    For lower bands, you will need a much larger and more mechanically complex antenna...for offroading, it will be pricey as you would want one of the Ruggedized Hi-Q military models....at $700+.

    The FT-857D can of course be opened up for general coverage too so it gives you a massive range of frequencies to use if you had a life and death situation with no other means of contact.

    The extreme vibration offroad also means attention to sturdy and simple antennas. Beware of complex coils, and high gain collinear type antennas or be prepared for the vibration to break them.
     
  11. mmccurdy

    mmccurdy
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    First off, thanks to everyone for some very well thought-out replies (y)

    A few additional thoughts (sorry for the monster post):

    Yeah, I should have mentioned that I'm definitely worried about the increased size and complexity of HF antennas, for exactly the reason you describe. If it's not a tree branch or a rock, it'll be miles and miles of vibration inducing washboard road that will be its demise, I'm sure. In UHF/VHF land, I was checking out a Diamond tri-bander (since the FTM-350 does 222MHz), and even that looked a little sketchy for off road use.

    Well none of the options is looking like it's going to be "cheap," but as others have said, as a safety-related expense I can grant myself a little more leeway. The consensus does seem to be that HF is really the way to go from an emergency comms point of view, so the way I see it, I have three options: forgo some of the day-to-day conveniences of the modern VHF/UHF rigs and go HF (or all band) only, go with a VHF/UHF/APRS setup only for day-to-day practicality and rely on repeaters, etc. to be heard in an emergency, or put together some combination of devices that do everything. Of course cost, complexity, weight, etc. are all considerations arguing against option C, but it may be the road I start down a little at a time.

    I really like this idea of special purpose modules to add back in some of the APRS capability. Two things are a little unclear: one, it seems like unless I get one of their setups that handles the transmission as well ($250 range), I need to have my rig (let's say Yeasu 857) configured to take it as a TNC, tuned to the beaconing frequency, etc. It seems like this would really get in the way of normal use of the radio for phone on the trail. It's also unclear what the receiving end looks like -- I have a GPS with a screen already, but have no idea how I could pull other folks' APRS signals down and pipe them over to that unit for situational and positional awareness. Probably a little off topic for this thread, but I'll keep researching.

    Yeah, I really like the idea of keeping the off-road HF setup packed in my Jeep except in emergencies or when in camp. I certainly don't see myself really needing to talk on HF while running down the trail, so options like this (especially the "throw it up in some trees" one) are very appealing.

    Yeah I don't think I was giving enough attention to the HT's -- I had always assumed I would pick up a basic dual bander (or maybe even just a 2m unit like the 270R) for use when running around outside my Jeep, hiking, or sitting in camp, etc. I like the idea of being able to use the cross-band repeat capabilities of the mobile setup to boost power a bit if the need should arise, which incidentally is another thing I would be giving up by going HF. I had written off the VX-8 due to cost and the fact that I was anticipating having these functions in the mobile rig, but maybe it would be a way of adding back some of this capability in a space-efficient way.

    Good info about the Mojave in particular -- thanks! It's a kind of funny place though, since as desolate as it feels, it's actually difficult to be 100 miles from a town as I stated in my hypothetical scenario. 30-40 miles to an interstate is far more common, and frankly within VHF range as you guys have said.

    The Mojave is only one of a number of destinations for us, of course, so it seems like the HF considerations still apply.

    Great forum you guys have here, and thanks again for everyone's insights!
     
  12. packrat

    packrat
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    Another thing you might consider is an EPIRB. Very simple, made to take abuse, no expense beyond the purchase price, and it will bring help to you anywhere in the world.

    Just a thought.

    PR
     
  13. mmccurdy

    mmccurdy
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    Thanks for putting things back in perspective :)

    The EPIRB/PLB option should be back on the table -- I had somehow initially discounted the idea due to the up-front cost, but here I am talking about spending $500 on augmentations to a ham rig, which is in the same ballpark.

    A few guys I know run SPOT locators, which also provide the nice (in theory) "follow along at home" feature, but they do require a small service fee. It seems like they are less tested for actual emergency beaconing, but probably at least as reliable as attempting to string an antenna and raise a contact on HF.

    Tough decisions all around...
     
  14. Iggy

    Iggy
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    Sorry for the necro post, especially as my first post, but I found this thread via google while searching for some rugged HF antennas.

    I do these types of expeditions as well and this weekend I had something happen that really made me re-think my mobile setup, and also echo's what other members have said here before.

    On a recent trip we had a vehicle roll on it's side. Thankfully no one was hurt and we were in a popular area so we had many hands to come help, but it got me thinking of the same situation on a typical trip described by the OP. The biggest problem I see is if your emergency is a roll over and you need help are the antennas.

    If you have your antenna on the sides of the vehicle or the even the top, a roll over can make those antennas useless, so even if you have the best radio and antenna combo for "long range" communication, a broken antenna or one laying on it's side on the ground is not going to help.

    I am highly considering a sat phone for this very purpose as primary emergency comms and VHF/UHF, HF as second. Or even a "backpack" setup on HF and VHF/UHF in the cab for communication with the group.

    For emergency comms you need to consider worst case scenario and plan accordingly.

    Again sorry for the necro post, but I though if someone else finds this thread searching for a similar solution, they should be aware that certain emergency scenarios can require more than a good vehicle setup.
     
    Moleculo likes this.
: aprs, off roading, uhf, vhf

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