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The afternoon was warm and the sun was shinning brightly as I led a small group of kids down a rough trail that led through a forest of large oak trees. All of the children were laughing and joking around as they spotted squirrels, butterflies, and an occasional bug. As I pointed us toward my favorite spot on a large nearby lake, the small two-way radio on my belt came alive with an excited voice, “We have a child missing!”
I quickly keyed the transmit button and responded, “On my way back to camp.”
Once I returned, it took us less than fifteen minutes to find the young six year old boy. Bored, he had wondered to a group of nearby trees and was watching a trail of ants. He had given his walking off very little thought as he left the designed area of our camp. Nonetheless, he had broken one of our major camping rules and as a result of his wondering off he missed out on the afternoon swim. I felt sorry for the little guy, but rules have to be enforced, or they are useless (especially when in the woods with children, or it can quickly become unsafe).
Thanks to the handheld radio's we had avoided a potentially serious situation. These radios are similar to the old walkie-talkies of the past, except they are much improved in both ease of operation and range. They are small, very compact, and easy to use. The range on them varies from a couple of miles to about fourteen. Of course, the more you pay for the radio, the better system. I found good quality ones for around forty dollars and they come loaded with all kinds of extra features.
Hands free operation
NOAA hazards notification
Available with a range up to 14 miles over open water or under ideal circumstances.
Some may require an FCC license
Some (the more expensive ones) even come with a GPS.
Keep in mind the range on any of these radios will be reduced in the woods, because the mountains, hills, and trees will limit (block) the transmissions. Most companies advertise them as “line of sight” radios, though you don't have to be able to see someone to talk. But, for a group of backpackers, campers, hunters, or a small group of children, the radios work just fine unless the terrain is absolutely terrible. For public parks and designated camping areas they are hard to beat.
My friends and I often use them for potential emergencies, to call fishermen back into the shore for lunch, to contact other hunters when it's time to call it a day, or to stay updated on the latest weather reports. The potential uses for the radio are limited only by your imagination.
Additionally, if you take a large group of children camping, like we do at times, you can keep one person in the camp as a home station along with a cellular phone. That insures that someone is always monitoring the radios and gives you a point of contact in the event you have a first aid emergency or need assistance quickly. Just make sure you keep an adult at the home station and not a child. We discovered that children love to use the radios as toys and constantly keep the chatter up as they talk with friends.
Years ago, a good friend of mine took walky-talkies with him when he hunted deer from a tree stand. Often he would contact me (I suspect he was bored) and tell me he had movement, or some such nonsense, and it got to the point I would just turn them off. He used them so often I am sure he scared a lot of game away from our tree stands. But, I now feel the radios are a good idea, if used properly.
Another interesting aspect of the radios is that some parks and camping areas now have them available for renting. I find that to be a great idea, because in an emergency you could simply call a Park Ranger for assistance. While some of you may be like me and want to get away from society for a few days when you enter the field, a good radio could save a life. Communications in the field can mean the difference between life and death.
Take care, stay safe, and I'll see all of you on the trails of North America. Maybe you'll have a radio.