Overlanding can take you to remote places for some extreme activities. When you’re that far away from the world, you need a way to communicate in case you get in trouble. But how are you supposed to communicate with the outside world when you’re in such a remote location? That’s where a ham radios come in.
To help you stay connected and safe while overlanding, we’ll walk you through the five best ham radios for overlanding—complete with why they’re the best, any notable features, and where you can purchase one. Tune in to our frequency, and let’s start!
The best ham radio for overlanding
|BaoFeng UV-5RM||136 – 174 Mhz, 400 -520 Mhz, 65 – 108 Mhz||8w, 5w, 1w||Check Price|
|Yaesu FT-70DR||144 – 148 Mhz, 430 – 450 Mhz||up to 5w||Check Price|
|Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R||144, 220 & 430Mhz, 0.5-999Mhz||5 w, 1.5w||Check Price|
|President Lincoln II Plus 10 and 12 Meter||24.89 – 24.99 Mhz, 28 – 29.7 Mhz||12w, 35w, 50w||Check Price|
|Yaesu FT-891 100w Ultra Compact Transceiver||1.8 – 54 Mhz, 30 Khz – 56 Mhz||5-100w||Check Price|
All About Ham Radios
Gone are the days when overlanders and other outdoor enthusiasts preferred CB radio. It has limited power, poor range, and dreadful clarity—often even with the most extensive effort and setup.
Getting a CB in the right operating range can be a challenge, especially if you’re running a big group. Range is limited by things like proper tuning and terrain. The same can be said for other consumer two-way radios, like the FRS/GMRS radios.
Because of the limitations of CB radio and walkie talkies, overlanders have started to turn to ham radios for their communication needs. Many consider ham radios comparable to CB radios, but with better features and reliability. Ham radios work when other radios and forms of communication fail—which makes them indispensable to overlanders.
What is a Ham Radio?
Ham radios are (again) comparable to CB radio, with much better range. Instead of a few miles (if you’re lucky), ham radios can communicate around the globe with no internet or phones. Here’s what you need to know about ham radios:
Frequencies Instead of Channels
The main thing that sets ham radios apart from the rest is that they use frequencies instead of channels.
These frequencies, often called “bands,” are characterized by a number followed by one of several abbreviations: MHz, mW, cm, and m. Here are some examples of ham radio frequencies:
- 50 MHz
The most common frequencies or bands used by ham radios for overlanding are 2m and 70cm.
While it’s not overlanding specific, if you want tons of detail here’s a great detailed video on what ham radio is:
Handheld or Vehicle-Mounted
Ham radios can be either handheld or vehicle-mounted. Both options bring about their own benefits, but vehicle-mounted ham radios tend to have better range and clarity than their handheld counterparts.
Why? It has to do with the power output. Most vehicle-mounted ham radios start with a power output of 50 watts. For comparison, typical handheld ham radios begin with a power output of 5 watts. Vehicle-mounted ham radios have ten times the power of handheld ham radios, giving them that extra range and clarity.
Range, just like power output, varies with each different ham radio.
As you’d expect, vehicle-mounted ham radios weigh more than handheld ham radios. However, even though they’re a bit bulkier, some vehicle-mounted ham radios are still mobile and portable.
On the flip side, most vehicle-mounted ham radios are tied to the vehicle, which can be a downside for some overlanders. If you want to take a hike away from your rig, you’ll be radioless.
Need a License to Operate
Although they’re much more powerful than CB radios, a major downside to ham radios is that you need a license to operate them.
Ham radio transmissions, like other radio transmissions around the world, must be licensed.
Ham radios can be heard all over the world, and because of that, their bands are regulated. Ham radio users have specific responsibilities and duties—like knowing and adhering to the laws, operating in allowed frequencies, and not causing any interference.
There are three ham radio license tiers: technician class, general class, and extra class.
License tiers allow users to operate on certain ham radio bands. Without a specific license, you can’t access certain bands. The technician class has access to the least number of bands, where the extra class has access to the most.
Obviously, it’s a bit tougher to get the higher-tiered licenses, but you’ll have access to more bands. It all depends on what you need to be able to do on the radio.
the 5 Best Ham Radios for Overlanding
Now that you know a bit more about ham radios, we can get into the good stuff: the best ham radios for overlanding.
BaoFeng UV-5RM 8-watt Ham Radio
BaoFeng is a popular budget choice in the Ham radio community. Their products are a solid choice for the price and have a great reputation.
The BaoFeng UV-5RM is one of the best budget priced handheld ham radios on the market.
This model is durable and reliable, but still small and light for easy portability. It only weighs 250 grams 0.55 pounds. That includes the battery and antenna. Unlike some of the other ham radios on the list, the BaoFeng UV-5RM isn’t able to be submerged under water. If that’s something you think you may need then this might not be the the radio for you.
The BaoFeng UV-5RM runs on Lithium-Ion batteries, giving it a much longer life than a lot of other ham radio models.
- (8w/5w/1w) High /Medium /Low Power Switchable, Programmable Amateur Radio
- Rechargeable Li-ion Battery packs (Original 2100mAh + Extra 3800 mAh)
- FM radio reception (65.0Mhz-108.0MHz)丨VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx)丨UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx), 128 channel memory.
- VOX: 0-9 gain level adjustable丨channel step: 2.5/5/6.25/10/12.5/25Khz丨voice Companding: 50 ctcss/ 104DCS coder & tone searching.
- 18-month warranty on the main unit and 12-month on the parts as well as 6-month free replacement on the battery pack.
Yaesu FT-70DR 144/430 MHz Digital/Analog Amateur Radio
One of the best ham radios for overlanders is the Yaesu FT-70DR. It has plenty of notable features to keep you connected no matter where you roam.
The Yaesu FT-70DR is a “ruggedized” handheld ham radio. Like the Yaesu VX-7R we discussed above, the FT-70Dr is submersible in water for up to 30 minutes at 3 feet. It can even withstand dust (which sounds insignificant but is a real problem, especially out on the trail).
This model is a digital and analog radio and comes with a 3 year manufacturers warranty, it receives 108-580MHz with excellent sound quality. It has a 5-watt selectable output for range variation and a 1400mA battery for even the longest trips.
The Yaesu FT-70DR is straightforward and easy to operate, which is great for ham radio beginners.
- TX: 144 - 148 MHz & 430 - 450 MHz
- Wide band receive coverage of 108 - 579.995MHz
- System Fusion Compatible
- Rugged Construction Meets IP54 (Dust / Water protection)
- Equipped with Mini USB port for Convenient Memory Management and Software updates
- 3 Year Manufacturer Warranty
Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R
The ham radio with the best (and arguably the most) options is the Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R.
The Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R is a handheld unit that comes with all the same features other Yaesu models have, like the ability to be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes at 3 feet, but with much, much more.
What sets the Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R apart from other ham radios, and even other Yaesu models, is all the options and features it comes loaded with:
- Transmits 144, 220, and 430 MHz bands
- Receives .5 – 999 MHz bands
- Multiple power settings
- Automatic Power Off (APO) option
- A transmit time-out timer (TOT)
- Automatic Repeater Shift (ARS)
- Access to Yaesu’s Auto-Range Transponder System (ARTS)
It’s also compact and portable, weighing only 2.82 ounces, and its dimensions are 2.28 x 1.12 x 3.5 inches. Who knows what you will be able to accomplish with this powerful handheld ham radio!
- Compact, Mil-Spec, Waterproof & Submersible Tri Band Ham Radio!
- Transmits the 144, 220 & 430Mhz Amateur Ham Radio Bands, & receives 0.5-999Mhz!
- Output Power is 5 Watts on 2 meter & 70cm, & 1.5W on 222Mhz, with multiple lower power settings!
- Includes access key for Vertex Standard's WIRES (Wide-coverage Internet Repeater Enhancement System), a transmit Time-Out Timer (TOT), Automatic Power-Off (APO), Automatic Repeater Shift (ARS), Yaesu's ARTS (Auto-Range Transponder System) that "beeps" the user when you move out of communications range with another ARTS equipped station
- Included in the box: Yaesu VX-6R Tri-Band Transceiver, FNB-80LI 1250mAh battery, SAD-11B Wall Charger, YHA-67 Antenna, Belt Clip, Manual and Warranty Card
President Lincoln II Plus 10 and 12 Meter Ham Radio
It’s time to move into the other side of the ham radio family: the vehicle-mounted models. The best vehicle-mounted ham for overlanding is the President Lincoln II Plus 10 and 12 Meter Ham Radio (or President Lincoln II, for short).
The President Lincoln II is trusty and well-liked, just like the person it’s named after. This vehicle-mounted ham radio has one significant feature that puts it above the rest when it comes to overlanding: it can be a fixed-mount ham radio or can be used as a mobile unit.
The President Lincoln II features a multi-function LCD display and includes an antenna noise-limiter and noise blanker, which are perfect for busy bands.
It’s also simple enough to operate so beginners start using it right away, yet powerful enough that experts can enjoy it as well. The President Lincoln II has features any ham radio user can love.
- Same as LINCOLN II but 12 meter band added, key "CH19/9" replaced by "Emergency Channel 1 and 2" programmable by user; HF output power 35W PEP SSB instead of 31W PEP SSB, 35W FM instead of 28W; AM is same 12W RMS 48WPEP.
- Rotary switch and Up/down channel selector; Volume adjustment and ON/OFF; Manual squelch and ASC; RF Power; MENU function key; Dim; Mode switch AM/FM/LSB/USB/CW.
- VFO Mode w/ continuous scanning; Multi-functions LCD display; Frequencies display; S-meter; Channels and memories scan; 6 Memories; CTCSS (38 tones); DCS (104 codes).
- Public Address; Vox function (hands-free); ANL filter, NB and HI-CUT; RF Gain / Mic gain; Clarifier; Roger Beep; Front microphone plug; External loudspeaker jack.
- Dual watch; Key locking; SWR (Power Reading/SWR); Preset emergency (EMG 1/2); TOT (Time Out Timer) adjustable.
Yaesu FT-891 100w Ultra Compact Transceiver
The Yaesu FT-891 is the most powerful amateur ham radio on our list.
The FT-891 is a modular model that’s not only built for rugged activity, but it’s also a quad-band FM receiver.
The Yaesu FT-891 touts 100 watts of power output on the 29, 50, and 144 MHZ bands, and 35 watts of power on the 430 MHZ band. Compared with handheld ham radios, that’s a lot of output. Since the FT-891’s power output is so high, so is its range.
Here’s thefull list of specs:
- Frequency Range: Tx: 1.8 – 54 MHz (Amateur Bands Only) Rx: 30 KHz – 56 MHz
- Channel Step: 2/5/10 Hz (SSB, CW), 10/100 Hz (AM,FM)
- Frequency Stability: +/- 0.5 ppm 14 °F to + 122 °F (-10 °C to +50 °C)
- Modes of Emission: A1A (CW), A3E (AM), J3E (LSB, USB), F3E (FM)
- Impedance: 50 Ohms, unbalanced
- Supply Voltage: 13.8 VDC +/- 15%, negative ground
- Current Consumption: Rx: 2.0 A (Signal Present) Tx: 23 A
- Operating Tempature Range: 14 °F to ° +122 °F (-10 °C to +50 °C)
- Case Size (WxHxD): 6.1” x 2.0” x 8.6” (155 x 52 x 218 mm) w/o Knobs
- Weight (Approx.): 4.18 lb (1.9 kg)
- Output Power: 100W (Adjustable 5-100 Watts) SSB/CW/FM (AM: 25W – Adjustable 5-25 Watts)
- Circuit Type: SSB/CW/AM: Triple-conversion Super-heterodyne FM: Double Conversion Super-heterodyne
- Intermediate Frequencies: 1st: 69.450 MHz / 2nd: 450 KHz
- Maximum AF Output: 2.5 W 4 ohmz with 10% THD
- Audio output Impedance: 4 to 16 Ohms (8 Ohms nominal)
- Sensitivity: SSB/CW (S/N 10dB) 0.158 uV (1.8 – 30 MHz), 0.125 uV (50 -54 MHz)
AM (S/N 10 dB) 4 uV (0.5 – 1.8 MHz), 1.6 uV (1.8 – 30 MHz), 1.2 uV (50 – 54 MHz)
FM (12 dB SINAD) 0.35uV (29, 50 – 54 MHz
- Stable 100 Watt Output
- 32-Bit IF DSP Provides effective and optimized QRM rejection
- USB Connection Supporting PC Connectivity
- Support for ATAS and optional FC-50 Antenna Tuner
- 3 Year Manufacturer Warranty
Everything You Need to Operate a Ham Radio for Overlanding
Now you know five of the best ham radios for overlanding. Once you decide which one will best suit your needs, what do you need to operate it? Let’s find out.
Technician Class Ham Radio License
We previously mentioned that to operate a ham radio, you’ll need to have a license. We also mentioned that there are three classes of ham radio licenses: technician class, general class, and extra class.
To operate your ham radio, you’ll need at least a technician class ham radio license.
Don’t worry; it’s not particularly tough or even expensive to earn your technician class ham radio license. The test has 35 questions for each class and costs $15 per licensing session.
A technician class ham radio license gives you access to the 2m and 70cm bands, which is great for overlanders. They’re the two most commonly used bands in overlanding.
You can check out practice questions and practice exams for the licensing tests at HamExam.org. When you’re ready to take your official test, you can find an exam in your area from the National Association of Amateur Radio. [1, 2]
The good news? Once you have got your license, it’s good for 10 years!
Your Ham Radio of Choice
It probably goes without saying, but to operate a ham radio, you need a ham radio. Pick the one that best suits your overlanding needs and goals.
You may find that your ham radio comes in handy for even more than just overlanding, like during emergencies. Ham radios are the method of communication that works when all others fail.
Consider Getting Portable Antennas and Power Sources
If you need some extra range or are on a long trip, you might want to consider investing in a portable antenna and power source.
Many portable antennas for ham radios are lightweight and easy to carry. With quick assembly and disassembly, portable antennas can give you access to more bands when you need it.
It’s always a good idea to invest in a portable power source for your ham radio too, especially if you embark on long overlanding trips. Not only can you be confident you won’t run out of power, but you can also get an extra power boost for a stronger signal or more range.
Popular portable power sources for ham radios are lead-acid gel cells, Li-Ion multi-cell battery packs, power inverters and solar panels.
Overlanding to remote places can be a surreal experience, but make sure you can communicate with the world in case something goes wrong. Communicating with the outside world via phone or internet is near impossible in rural and remote locations, which is why you need a ham radio.
There are tons of great ham radio options to suit every overland style. Whether you go with a handheld or vehicle-mounted ham radio, you can rest assured knowing you’ll be able to communicate with the outside world no matter where your adventures take you.