Often among those new to Survivalism, Prepping, and all things on the more self-reliant side of communications, it becomes important to define the exact role your equipment will play and what you expect to accomplish with it. Its entire focus should best suit your needs be it community networking, regionally focused, or clandestine. In a long-term down-grid scenario, the ability to network your community becomes a vital survival tool. Its also important to recognize the majority of us are on budgets and have a definite need to justify expensive gear when we’re planning on what to spend every red cent on and where. This article focuses primarily on the general purpose communicating/monitoring uses for Survivalism.
Take the equipment pictured here. My oft-used portable station setup, revolving around the jack of all trades (and master of several) Yaesu 857, its LDG tuner, 14 AH battery, and CF-19 toughbook, altogether runs a large chunk of change. Then again, I use it, and it’s taken me a long time to narrow down what works best. But even still the rather large investment here can be tough to swing for a guy (or gal) who’s just starting out or has little interest other than a capability need in to begin with. I can easily justify my needs and the expense, but perhaps my organic farmer, welding shop owner, and diesel mechanic neighbors can’t. Similarly I can’t justify the top tier equipment they run for occasional use as I’m not in their business professionally. But that doesn’t mean I buy junk for the sake of buying junk either. It takes a community with a combined skill set, along with understanding that there is a fair degree of needed overlap. We each have a general purpose but also have our specialties.
Communications, like food production, water, and defense, is one of those areas that overlap.
From a Survivalist point of view we first define our need in order to justify our gear, not vice-versa. A lot of folks have a subconscious issue with this, whether its guns, radios, or Harbor Freight tools stuff, in that they buy the cheapest items possible to justify them with their own projections (it’s a psychology thing…sociologists call it commodity fetishism), then never use the stuff they buy. We’ve all heard it- “I’m caching this stuff because one day it’ll be important”. For certain occasional-use items, sure, and even sometimes great deals can be had with minimal investment. But usually you get what you pay for. This is almost absolutely true with radio when buying new. So while that $20 dual bander gets you on the air, and may even work for a while, there’s no promises it’ll keep doing so, no promises it does it well, and perhaps some other drawbacks you may or may not know about. And perhaps none of these potential problems are an issue to you. And that’s ok, it’s your money and you’re accountable to you. Not only that, but a lot can be done with those inexpensive radios and some solid instruction.
Maybe all you want to do is talk to your neighbor down the street who’s got a $2,000 amateur station setup and can talk to the world. From a community networking perspective, which should be the core of a Survivalist planning in all things but especially communications, AmRRON’s Channel 3 Project is a solid way to go. I highly suggest it as an open networking standard, because it’s simple, easy to remember, and both of those factors mean it works with the least headache when the chips are down. We can accomplish three of the four legs of the CH3 project with that $20 dual bander, as well as monitor NOAA and possibly some of the Medical interoperability frequencies. Don’t rule out those cheap CB radios you can find at most flea markets; community networks can be up and running fast and furious with a tiny amount of money, some wire, some instruction on building your own antennas and a lawnmower battery for off-grid use.
But we can accomplish all of our goals with a bit better investment in gear, which aside from the anecdotal person reading this saying “but my cheapie has lasted XXX-years” (I know you’re out there and…good for you, but I’m not going to recommend them) we can assuredly say that higher-end gear will produce at least longer-term use. For general purpose hard-use equipment, look for used Yaesu VX-5R or 7R radios.
Think DeWalt but a handheld radio. Do you need a license to make the best use of the sets mentioned? Yes, but…you’ll be better off in the long run. In addition to standard VHF/UHF fare, they can transmit on 50mHz and 222mHz as well, as can the Yaesu VX-6R if buying new. Each are rugged, well built, and can be programmed via Chirp. Each can transmit from a very low power level (.5w) up to 5w which is an important tactical consideration. Each has the capability to use AA batteries, and each use the same FNB-80 lithium battery, resolving a logistical concern. Standardization matters! The Kenwood TH-F6A is another excellent tiny HT which mirrors the capabilities mentioned of the Yaesu HTs. All of the ones mentioned receive Shortwave broadcasts, commercial aircraft, everything in between, and the Kenwood also receives SSB HF. This is a whole lot of capability in a tiny package compared to it’s far cheaper (in both cost and quality) counterparts.
Removing the “neighbor handout” piece of the puzzle, which may or may not justify buying cheaper gear (again, that’s on you…but also should be an issue you address LONG before Variable-X aka ‘SHTF’ happens), the more options your kit brings to the table, you guessed it…the better off you’ll be in the long run. So even if you have no interest in becoming a ‘Ham’ (I absolutely LOATHE the term…seriously…), from a listening perspective you’ll gain much more capability from spending a tad more on your gear.
From a community networking perspective, the price of admission for a quality radio which gives you all of these capabilities is actually kinda small when you factor in all of the additional equipment you’d have to buy to fill each role. You now have a wideband receiver, shortwave radio, and possible SIGINT scanning option all in one convenient package. So with all of that in one, plus the superior build quality, you’re coming out…you guessed it…better off in the long run. While not negating the need for those other items, it overlaps your gear, which adds redundancy to your plan, which ensures if one thing breaks you have other options. Keep in mind we’ve addressed Survivalist concerns here and squeezing the most capability from our equipment is the top issue. Survivalist communications revolve around networking reliably independent of infrastructure. And with all of the options we have here, we can work effectively almost indefinitely. It doesn’t get anymore survivalist than that.