Bugout Bag Deficiencies

Because it’s been a while since last I checked, I went through Ye Olde Bugge Outte Bagge on Sunday, and found myself short of a couple of items, most notably paracord.  (How the hell did that happen?  I used to have a 500′ drum  of the stuff.  There is some thick rope in the bag, but only about 25′ of it.)  Also short were facemasks, but I do have a few of those so no panic there, really.  Also lacking was the supply of water-purification tablets, all duly remedied by a quick trip to Academy.

The nunya gun and ammo were fine, of course, as was the backup supply of .22 ammo.

One disturbing shortcoming was that neither of my walkie-talkies works anymore — no idea how that happened, but they were only Radio Shack 1-mile cheapies, and I haven’t used them since about 2007 anyway, so I’m probably due a new pair.  Which brings me to an RFI:  does anyone have any idea of the latest and greatest in walkie-talkies?  Caveat:  I don’t want to spend a boatload of $$$ on them;  I just want them reliable, with about 2-5 miles range.  Features etc. to a minimum, especially if those have an effect on the total price.  All personal experience welcome (as with all my RFIs).

Other than that, all is well.

Update:  I’ll be getting these radios unless someone warns me off.


  1. FRS band walkie-talkies are probably the way to go. Family Radio Service spans multiple channels in the 462-467MHz range, and most radios can reach up to 5 miles. The radios themselves are usually sold in pairs, and range from cheap Chinese BaoFeng at ~$25 a pair to much higher-end Motorola and Cobra units around $100 apiece, and can obviously go higher than that. The FRS frequency band is unlicensed, but shares space with the GMRS band which is licensed, but with GMRS you get a few additional frequencies and the ability to modify radios for extra range, something which isn’t allowed in the FRS device range.

      1. General Mobile Radio Service AKA Business Band. These are the radios you see used by construction crews, event staff, private security etc.

  2. ^^^^^^^^^^
    This. I’m a ham radio guy, and this is good advice for your needs. In actual use, they may actually work further than 5 miles under ideal conditions. One important thing if you go to Best Buy or someplace to get them, make sure it does not use a proprietary battery, for bugout/emergency use, you want them to take standard AAA alkaline cells, too. Most come with rechargeable cells but are AAA format so you can use the rechargeables and store-bought when those die, in case there is no power to recharge them.

    For practical shopping advice, Midland, Cobra, and Motorola are all good brands, and widely available. I’m not recommending the cheapest, nor one with lots of fancy crap you don’t need and won’t learn to use–simplicity is important for intended use. You may not use them for years, but want to use them right away without a long learning curve when needed.

    These Motorola units are ideal, and come in pairs or triple packs if you have more people to outfit, and using combinations of the two you can outfit any size group with the same units.

    Pair $54

    Triple $70, same link just choose the 260TP option. So there’s some economy in the triple pack.

    Tips: Higher cost units come with carrying cases and other crap you don’t need. While carrying case SOUNDS useful, how will you use them? You’ll hand them out to your posse, yes? So when needed, they won’t travel in the case, it’s worthless. Get the triple of the unit I recommend, check them out, put them in a heavy duty ziplock with some small bubble wrap until needed, then hand them out.

    Also, I’d toss the batteries that come with them and if you want rechargeables, get either Energizer or Duracell rechargeables over any off brand. (Panasonic’s Eneloop are the premium brand, but not sure they’re worth the price diff over Energizer or Duracell–stick with those three brands, though).

    Here’s the Energizer charger plus 4 batteries, pick AAA size – $22

    And an 8-count of more batteries – $18

    OR, you can go stupid simple and get a big bunch of regular Energizer or Duracell AAA cells at the big box store, low discharge, long shelf-life, stick a date sticker on them, good for at least 7 years properly stored (not too hot), probably 10 years are OK.

    I use all rechargeable for my radio and camera gear, cheaper in the long run if you use it. In a BOB, not used, makes no difference.


    1. Edit:

      Regarding range, 5 miles is likely the limit in ideal conditions, I was thinking of my VHF/UHS handhelds. The FRS units should be very reliable up to 2 miles and out to 5 miles in ideal conditions.


  3. GMRS needs a license. Although, if you are in a SHTF situation, I wouldn’t worry about the damn license, I’d use any radio I thought I needed. You need the license if you’re going to use them regularly, like I do with my VHF/UHF radios for community service and fun. But if you’re hunkering down during the riots, or bugging out, the license is the last thing you need to worry about. Get a good handhelf VHF/UHF radio recommended by a ham friend, learn how to use it, then use it in good health when the balloon goes up, the FAA will be the least of your worries.

    But for your intended purpose those Motorolas are just the ticket. Here is explanation of GMRS


    And comparison article:

    Basically GMRS are higher power, that’s the reason for the license requirement.


    1. It’s the FCC not the FAA.

      The problem with recommending radios that operate in licensed frequencies to someone without a license and “don’t worry about it if the balloon goes up” is that they will not be able to legally practice with it in “peace time”, and therefore will not be able to effectively use the gear when needed.

      And to someone without a license is using Ham frequencies in “peace time” the FCC is the least of their worries. The local amateur community is likely to hunt them down and provide their info to the FCC in nice neat package (fines up to $10,000.00 per violation). I’ve participated in that a couple of times (although for people maliciously interfering with our ops, as well as police ops when they were using VHF).

      Get the FRS radios. Good enough for what Kim described want. If he needs more range get a CB and a good external antenna. Or get his amateur license.

      1. Good points. I did not think that through. Kim get the ones I suggested, they are perfect for your intended purpose, and you can practice with them once or twice a year to make sure you are facile with them.

        Thanks for the extra thoughts RandyGC.

      2. I think you don’t even need CW (Morse Code) anymore for one of the Ham licenses.
        It would be a good way to “encode” communications, but nobody seems to know code anymore.

        1. You are correct that CW is no longer required for any Amateur Radio license. It is however still a pretty popular operating mode.

          I would not count on CW acting as an ersatz encryption as there are many computer programs out there that can decode CW automatically. Most of them free. (You cannot use encryption on any amateur frequency).

          There are things you can do to make things harder on snoopers. Some years ago I participated in a missing child search as part of the Ham radio support comms. The media was listening in with scanners to send their reporters to wherever the search was moving. Scanners as a rule only pick up VHF/UHF FM signals. We moved our communications to VHF Single Side Band for critical messages. They never caught on that there was anything going on

  4. I have a pair of cheap Cobra units that I bought at least 15 years ago for deer hunting. They still work well. I went with the radios that have triple A batteries because it always seemed easier to carry spare batteries than look for a place to plug a charger in. These days I have an AC inverter in both of my vehicles so I might rethink the power issue if I were to buy new radios.

    Our radio guy at the sheriff’s office said that the Baofeng radios were actually pretty good for the price. When I could get him to stop talking “radio” which is a strange and secret language he said that most all of the Chinese radios were made by the same company and just marked with different names. He suggested something in the $30-40 price range as a usable FRS radio and said that if somebody was really worried about service life the radios were cheap enough that they could pick up a third unit as a spare.

    1. Just to be clear, you need an Amateur Radio license to use the linked radio, and Kim indicated he was looking for simplicity as well as cheap. Unless he’s interested in getting his amateur (Ham) license (something I would be happy to help with) he’s better off sticking with FRS.

      1. Just my 2 centavos…when talking radios in shtf scenarios, I always like to point out that transmitting on a radio is like building a big old campfire in the dark. Folks who you don’t know can hear you or detect your presence. For whatever purpose you dont know…Yes there are codes etc but I argue for good opsec. Keep it silent until absolutely necessary, then make it real brief. I personally aint running a deltasoggreenberetseal team. Just planning on staying alive until such time as things calm down. So having multiple band radios for LISTENING makes sense to me. What are the cops up to dealing with. Fire dept stuff. Less secure conversations on CB, FRS etc. Even good old AM radio for stations still on the air. Collect info, analyze, make decisions. And these radios are all so small it cant hurt to have a couple types available…vaya con dios…

        1. I understand and concur being able to monitor multiple radio services for intel and situational awareness.

          For those purposes I’d look at a portable scanner instead of multiple radios. One thing to lug around rather than many and only one battery pack to change or charge.

          1. Portable scanner recommendations?
            I won’t be able to Bug Out, I’ll have to shelter in place and go out on a pile of brass or, in the event of nuclear fallout, alcohol poisoning.

          2. I’m not a scanner buff (my amateur gear gives me as much capability as I need or want), but Bearcat seems to be the brand of choice for the ones I know.

            You might poke around on Radio Reference to learn more:


  5. While working in Emergency Management I purchased Motorola Talkabout FRS radios for our local Water Rescue team. They just needed something line of sight that they could afford to lose in dunked/dropped in a river (unlike their $5K Public Safety Radios). They have worked well with no issues.

    Bought them in packs of two for under $100.00 IIRC a few years ago. One thing I liked about them is the shape of the included rechargeable batteries mimicked a set of 4 AA batteries, so you could switch between AA alkaline and the factory rechargeables in the filed seamlessly.

    The cheap Chinese radios seem to perform well from what I’ve heard from folks that have them. Probably adequate for BOB duties.

    Just make sure you NEVER store the batteries in the radios. Keep them separate until needed. Or you might find a non functional corroded mess when you need it.

  6. To those who have recommended Baofeng … from other ham friends’ experiences over a decade or so, they are excellent little units. But I suspect Kim would rather poke pointy objects in his eyes than buy stuff from the Chicoms.

    ‘Course, now I’m thinking I better find out where the Motorolas, Midlands, and Cobras are manufactured. Hmmmm.

    1. Shit. Motorolas made in China confirmed. However, my bet is so are Midlands, Cobras, and everything else. I’d bet you cannot buy a U.S. manufactured walkie talkie any more.

  7. Re: Kim’s edit: those Midlands will be fine for what you want.

    Just be aware that the much hyped “privacy code” in the listing isn’t.

    It keeps you from hearing other folks on the same frequency if they aren’t transmitting the right tone, but does nothing to keep other from hearing you.

    And their claimed 38 mile range would only happen if one of you was standing in a valley and the other was in direct line of sight on a mountain top. 2-5 miles is the most likely practical range.

    Being able to swap out the battery packs for AA’s is a very good feature.

  8. Go with top quality FRS/GMRS radios now, and plan on getting Ham license in future. Then upgrade radios as desired.
    Tech level test is relatively easy and opens up a lot of opportunities, like repeaters.
    The cheap Baofeng radio I have in front of me right now (BF-F8HP) is ostensibly a dual band VHF/UHF Ham radio but also receives and transmits on FRS/GMRS frequencies (though not type-certified for those). It is still available on Amazon for $63
    The single most important item for any transceiver is the antenna. Consumer grade FRS radios do not allow connecting a better antenna.
    You can install a different antenna on the Baofeng for better performance.
    These radios are not as sophisticated as more expensive dedicated Ham radios, but they get the job done. In some cases the dedicated Ham radios can also be purchased with CAP/MARS modifications which expand the transmit frequencies, but one must have authorization to transmit on them.
    Final piece of advice (applies to any device with batteries): do not store the device with the batteries installed. Especially if they are alkaline.
    For a bug-out bag, this will be an issue.

  9. If you are willing to program the radio yourself, you can program the GMRS and FRS frequencies into these Baeofang UV5R’s:


    And only spend a little under $25 a radio.

    They are excellent radios for the money. I have several of them. Sounds like there are plenty of ham radio folks on here. Surprised nobody mentioned them before.

    All you have to do is search YouTube and you’ll find programming instructions. You can also search for CHIRP, which is free software that would allow you to program them with your computer.

    Search for FRS/GMRS frequencies and you’ll figure out what’s allowable.

  10. Late to the party, but also a ham operator here. GMRS or commercial UHF would be the minimum I’d consider, plus getting a ham license and a decent Icom or Yaesu portable and mobile radio. HOWEVER. And this is HUGE.

    You’re talking about a radio for SHTF scenarios. Define SHTF here. If it’s a tornado/hurricane/natural disaster then you’re fine with the above gear. If it’s something more nefarious (terrorist attacks, societal collapse, etc) none of those options are even remotely feasible because they can be monitored and triangulated by potential malefactors. You need a radio capable of serious hardcore digital encryption. They are available (for $,$$$ to $$,$$$ new but very affordable used) but you have to do some homework. Matched radios, chargers, and a keyloader.

    Motorola APX and XTS-series handhelds with encryption modules and a keyloader will set you back maybe $1k soup to nuts, and it will give you strategic-level comm security. No sense having 10,000 rounds of ammunition and a dozen firearms if the bad guys know where you are, where you’re going and what you’re doing just by listening to their scanners.

    And speaking of scanners, it was asked upthread what a good portable unit would be. I strongly recommend the Uniden Bearcat SDS-100. They are capable of monitoring every public safety system in the US and Canada that is not running with encryption, which, sadly, is becoming extremely commonplace for urban areas and even some state police agencies like PA. Luckily here in North Jersey about 75% of the systems are still monitorable at the time of writing.

  11. Stay FAR AWAY from Duracell batts. Absolute junk, that will puke corrosive jell into your electronics without warning. I’m pretty sure that Kirkland batts are made by Duracell. Chinese junk. They went from top of the line to trash in one leap, probably instigated by some idiot MBA in management.

    Check the u-tube channel: Project Farm
    He did a long term battery test that was very informative.

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