In the days of tablet computers and smart phones, it is trendy to rely on the latest technology rather than maps and communications. There is nothing wrong with that, however, it is still important to maintain a backup plan. For example, any device that relies on cell phone tower will be virtually useless in the back country.
There are methods with image caching, that you can utilize these types of devices when the cell signal is unavailable, which is great. But if you plan for the eventuality that at some point that device will fail, or the batteries die or you visit Death Valley, you will be significantly better off carrying maps and communications radio gear with you.
The best backup plan is a quality map of the area you are going to be in. Part of any good trip into a new area involvces planning, what better way to plan a trip, is to lookup the area and learn more about it. There are a variety of websites which offer topomaps, such as mytopo.com not to mention that you can order high quality Topograph maps online. Maps such as these offer a valuable look into the area, and provide a level of detail not found on most tablets or GPS units.
It is always a good idea to carry a compass. A compass makes it easier to use the maps you have, or with general familiarity of the area area valuable tool to get unlost. Should you be willing to drop $400 on an iPhone or the latest tablet, spend another $4 and have a backup, which is probably more useful.
Family Radio, CB and HAM radios are huge assets in the back country. Locations such as Death Valley’s Racetrack valley don’t even try to offer cell service. Turning a cell phone on in locations like this, will just drain your battery turning your phone into a poor paper weight.
Family Radio (FRS) – Family Radio is very popular, and the radios can be purchase in pairs from almost any large department store for about $50. The radios are small, cheap and light weight and has no licensing requirements. They are limited to short little antannes and .5 watts of power. As a result, the range is limited, but work well in open areas over short distances.
Citizens Band (CB) – Citizens Band or CB radio is probably the standard communication system with many backraoding groups. Frequently, clubs will require a CD radio in order to join. The Radios can be purchased online or from some electonics stores, starting at $75. There is no regulartory limit on the antannae systems, unlike the FRS. In the United States, the Radios are limited to 4 Watts for AM service. There is no license requirement for CB Radio
Amatuer or HAM Radio – If you really what to reach out and touch someone, then Ham Radio is the way to go. However you are required to get a license and pass a test to operate these radios. Ham Radio’s may be purchased online or from a local electronics store. Mobile UHF/VHF units start at about $180 and can come with up to 75 Watts of power. Additionally the use of repeaters allow the HAM operator to bounce their radio signal thousands of miles.
Additionally licenses for HAM Radio opens up the HF bands. Mobile HF radios tend to start at $500 for the radio, and the car may need to be modified to operated the radio correctly. One of the many benefits of HF Radio is the ability to communicated beyond the horizon without the need for a repeater. Maps and communication gear is important, if you know how to use it.
For those interested in getting a HAM radio license, the practices tests can be found at: https://hamexam.org/exam/12-Technician.