Run What Thou Brung- Maximizing Your HTs

While a lot of folks have stated the many drawbacks of the Baofeng/Wouxun/etc brands of Chinese HTs, the reality is that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. As stated in the last post, there’s a number of advantages to running lesser expensive gear, namely:

  • It gets your foot in the door for communications
  • They allow for an inexpensive testbed for improvement projects with little financial risk
  • If for nothing else, it’s a cheap but efficient receiver

Ideally, a Survivalist/III%/Libertarian Malcontent would have a setup like I described with keeping things simple and reliable in addition to a CB for the Jungle Telegraph aspect. But realizing that many new to communications may not be able to justify some larger costs, despite what folks who know better may say, it’s important to recognize that most of us will be “running what we brung to the party.”

Getting your foot in the Door-

Many “preppers” buy these radios by the case due to the inexpensive nature of them. Don’t be the guy who buys five of them in a bulk pack and then leaves them in an ammo can without a knowing of how to use it. One very good friend, fellow Survivalist, and Radio Amateur is on a tight budget like most of us. He has one UV-5R. One. He carries it everywhere, regularly makes contacts on both repeaters and simplex, and participates in everything radio to learn anything he can. In doing so, he’s figured out what works best and where, how to make the most out of the 5 watts it offers having confidence in his kit.

That’s what separates a “prepper” from a Survivalist; it’s about skills, not having a bunch of stuff. Learn to use what you have.

Inexpensive Experimenting Equipment

These sets are what I call “frequency agile”; meaning they cover a bunch of space in both VHF and UHF. This means it covers 2M and 70Cm, respectively. It also covers MURS and Marine in VHF and GMRS/FRS in UHF, although it’s not legal to transmit (So don’t. Because I said so) but you can listen all day, making a great Bubba detector.

With that being said, it’s important to realize the numerous things you can do with this set- starting with the basics. The radio uses a Kenwood two prong accessory plug. When you pick up the programming cable, make sure to get the more expensive FTDI  cable and not the cheap Prolific- it’s going to alleviate numerous programming headaches later. The knockoff Prolific cables don’t easily talk to some versions of Windows, and my version of Linux doesn’t like them either. The most headache free software is Chirp- if you don’t have Chirp, you’re wrong.

There’s boatloads of cheap accessories out there and I won’t dive into that; but I will say the two things on the short list of to-gets is an extended battery and a better antenna. The larger 3800mAh battery runs for a long time between charges. Also understand the stock antenna is little more than a dummy load; it’s crap. Diamond, Nagoya, Maldol, Comet, and even the “expert power” brand antennas offer much better results. The antenna connector on Baofeng radios are SMA-F, in case you were wondering.

Now that we’re past that, start building your own high gain antennas. The first and simplest one is described here. Once you’ve done that with some friends and begun developing a simplex infrastructure locally (which is the whole point of all of this) move on to building Yagis and the thousands of other really cool DIY antennas out there. You can’t fail- and you’ll only get better the more you do it.

Cheap and Effective Reception

So understanding the law of TNSTAAFL(there’s no such thing as a free lunch) one must understand that for ~$30 you’re not getting the most durable, effective, reliable, end-all be-all radio set out there. Far from it. Many of these barely meet the requirements for spurious emissions, if they even do (a bunch don’t). That is a problem, especially for the potential for harmful interference on other bands. They do however, by and large, have decent reception capabilities, especially once you’ve upgraded the antenna. Like I said before, they can be used as an efficient Bubba detector– a monitor of the license free MURS and FRS(and GMRS which is often pirated) that many hunters and other folks use. It’s also a great idea to program all of the NOAA frequencies while you’re at it. Mine, when powered up, always has the local NOAA channel on the VFO B frequency to keep an ear on weather changes while I’m working.


Let me reiterate something- these radios are not the end-all be-all like some claim, and I do not recommend buying them for a primary radio, but by the sheer number of them out there it’s important to know how to maximize them. It would definitely not be the set I pick up to go on a patrol as my sole lifeline; but in certain roles, it’s better than nothing. They do have certain advantages, and bottom line, they get folks on the air, experimenting, learning how to effectively communicate, and ultimately becoming the best they can. For those that own them as a first radio, I urge you to make the most of them while looking to upgrade to better stuff. You’ll be happy in the end.

And please, don’t be the idiot who buys twenty and puts them in an ammo can with no knowledge of how they work.

11 thoughts on “Run What Thou Brung- Maximizing Your HTs

  1. mtnforge

    I got a lot from your previous postings and comments on the subject NCS, Like how it’s great to be able to have comms over far distances, lot to be said for it what with having knowledge of what is going on in the world outside your AO, developing alliances, and using that far away info to plan accordingly, but, local is where it’s at, because no matter where you go that is where you are at. I look at the 2 meter band as my wider area jungle telegraph, and with running a J pole and NVIS you get far enough out there where things get on the fringe of wider sphere of info. Plus for now, there is still the web and assimilating what messages are to be gleaned and acted upon from the legacy media.
    I’m broke getting my ducks in a row, it isn’t a cheap endeavor, but it is money wisely invested without doubt. I have to spend every penny wisely in practical realistic ways. Maximize the investment for the long term. So your comments above are excellent common sense.

    Your post…
    …is the poor man’s gold standard
    Along with the posts such as NVIS and jungle antennas.

    Along with learning Dan Morgan’s small unit allegory tale ‘The Patrol’
    And some proper small unit infantry tactics like from Max and John Mosby,
    your getting red meat and potatoes. That is a working man’s basis for self improvement and bringing in people for your tribe. You have sound basic fundamentals, easily defined and exemplified, that those who have little or no knowledge of these things can grok what it is about and what it takes to get there also.
    This is the good shit to build on.

  2. Pingback: Primer on HT Radios | Outlander Systems

  3. Quietus

    For Christmas I got a Slim Jim for my HT. Made a precurved 1″ PVC mast for it, which mounts to the permanent lodgepole pine mast on my ATV. Before that, was using an Arrow J-pole on that mast. Both antennas are nice additions. If buying my first, I’d probably pick the Slim Jim.

    If springing for a bigger battery pack for the HT is too much, a cheap way to get by, is by using your vehicle or HF radio battery to charge the HT.

    1. Slim Jims are great, rapidly deployable antennas.

      I have a N9TAX, which is an excellent addition. I didn’t mention it for the sole reason that I want to encourage all the readers to start building their own antennas or at least looking in that direction.

      1. Quietus

        In that case: my second improved HT antenna was made out of six feet of twin lead 18g speaker wire. Come off the radio with a short (3 to 10 foot) run of RG-58. Hook that to a Pomona adaptor (cheap, versatile, a person should have a couple in the bag.). Strip the speaker wires apart. One wire (+) gets hoisted with an insulator (a button, mre spoon, fence insulator, etc) between the wire and guy string. The other wire (-) is laid out/dropped as a counterpoise.

        First improved HT antenna is a quarter wave ground plane. With its wood frame and three wires, it looks like an airplane propeller inside of a slow
        moving vehicle sign. Again, a short run of coax from the HT to a Pomona adaptor. The Pomona is the hub of the propeller. Inside the triangular wood frame, the (+) wire goes to the apex. The other two (-) wires go to the other inside angles. I used electric fence insulators, a big bag of them is cheap at your local farm store. Wires were 19.5″ 12g solid. 14g stranded would have been easier on getting two of them to fit in the neg terminal of the Pomona.

        Messing around with ways to improve the range of a five watt radio, and learning as you go, is not rocket surgery. People have successfully used light bulbs and lawn chairs as antennas.

        Thanks, Brushbeater, for your work on making radio simple and understandable.

  4. Great advice as usual. There is no better teacher than experience. Keep learning, but also keep things in the perspective that if things go sideways tomorrow, you need to be able to function. If being able to communicate in your local area is a need you haven’t met yet, a good set of frs radios isnt too much money. But if you need more capability than that, the cheap ht’s will get you up and running. Just like nc scout says though, whatever you get, you have to get it out and use it as much as possible. There’s alot to be said about having confidence in your equipment. Confidence is your gear and your training is what will help you fight your fear should the day ever arise that you are needed to step up. You don’t want doubt clouding your judgement.

  5. Matt

    I installed Chirp on my Mac and it royally screwed it up. Took a long time and a lot of work to recover from that mistake. I would advise people to us extreme caution before installing on their Mac. YMMV.


    1. They have both a dedicated Mac and Linux version. Use the full versions first, then install the daily builds for specific/newer models of radios later.

      Follow the directions, it’s pretty simple, and the folks on that site are pretty helpful when there’s an issue.

  6. Bill

    I have a question on batteries…….The Icom V80 sport comes with an Alkaline battery pack. Is is possible to use rechargeable batteries in this pack without doing damage to the radio. Currently learning on a boefang but plan on upgrading. I’ve been designated comms guy and this site has been great. So much to learn.
    Stay Free

    1. I don’t see why you can’t. Using LiFePo4s would cause a problem with too much voltage- but you’ll know if you have those.

      I’m glad you’re learning good stuff from this site- let me know if there’s anything you want to see or need clarification on.

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