Communication is crucial to safe backcountry travel, and nothing helps improve communication than a quality set of radios. This past summer I received a new pair of Rocky Talkies to review and after 6 months of hard use I’m ready to share my thoughts on them!
Right out of the box I could feel how durable these radios are. First there is the shatterproof front screen that is transparent for the LED display. Then there is the removable rubberized case for all-around drop protection. The case fits so snugly I didn’t even realize it was removable until I really started to dig into the radio after months of use. There isn’t much reason to remove the case unless you’re carrying spare batteries (more on battery life later).
In addition to having all this drop protection the radio comes with one of the most robust tether systems I’ve ever seen on a radio. A full strength Mammut Wall Light carabiner attaches the radio to my shoulder strap (or on my harness gear loop when not wearing a pack), and a metal snap-link auto retracting tether acts as a solid back-up and allows the radio to easily stay in reach.
For water resistance the radios carry an IP56 rating, meaning they are splash-proof and snow-proof but should not be fully submerged. I’ve noticed no effect after having my pair routinely exposed to heavy rain or waterfall spray while guiding waterfall rappelling trips all summer so I have a fair amount of confidence in this level of resistance.
The second feature that caught my attention was during my very first test run. I was standing at the top of a 200 foot waterfall and my co-guide was at the bottom as we prepared to send our guests down the rappel we had set up. I called him to make sure we were good-to-go and his response came back clearer than any radio, including some of the expensive and bigger radios I have been issued for search & rescue. The audio quality of these little hand-held radios far exceeds any of the other radios I have tested. It almost doesn’t sound like a radio, and sounds more like a 5 bar LTE connection with a modern smartphone!
There are only five buttons, which makes this radio incredibly easy to use right out of the box. No need for programming, though you can use advanced features to add privacy codes. A power button, channel flipper, push-to-talk, and volume up and down. So simple! With these buttons you are able to scan all channels, lock and un-lock the radio, change between high and low power, change channel, change privacy codes (CT, DCS), and check battery life.
This was one of the hardest features for me to truly test as I am almost never that far from my clients or partners. Alpine rock climbing in Huntington Ravine we are always within 60 meters of each other. This winter back-country skiing that distance can increase to a maximum of a half mile… still way within the suggested range. So I’ll share the claims and some of the great info Rocky Talkie has released to help address this popular question.
This is a 2-watt radio… the strongest watt option available that doesn’t require a license to transmit on. The antennae is fixed, which is something I like as other radio models I’ve used have removable antennas that often have been loose (and once almost lost).
Rocky Talkie makes these range claims:
Line-of-sight: 25+ miles
Mountains: 1 to 5 miles
Forest/Hills: 0.5 to 3 miles
City: Up to 1 mile
To further illustrate how the range of these radios, and many radios in general, are effected by the terrain they are being used in they published this excellent blog post addressing this topic.
I found the battery life to be substantial, especially for such a small radio. My informal testing showed the battery would last for over 12 days of use while guiding both waterfall rappelling and rock climbing trips. These were 5 to 8 hour long trips were radio use was light. Based on that I would expect I could easily get 3-5 cold backcountry ski tours in before needing to charge. It charges with a USB-C to USB-a cable (included).
Some more info on battery life from the manufacturer:
The Rocky Talkie has a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 1550 mAhrs. Battery life is dependent on how frequently the radios send and receive signals. With normal usage, the battery can be expected to last 3-5 days (assuming the radio is used 8hrs/day). The battery will last over 120 hrs when in standby mode (the radio is on but not transmitting or receiving signals). The battery life was tested in high power mode (2 Watts), so you can expect a slightly longer battery life on low power mode (.5 Watt).
Dedication to Rescue Teams
Rocky Talkie has pledged to donate $2 of every radio sold to search and rescue teams. They are giving $10,000 every year through an annual award and through a grant program. That kind of support from a manufacturer is really appreciated!
For under 5 ounces this might be one of the best things you could add to your outdoor kit when it comes to overall team safety. The rugged feel of these radios inspire confidence in their longevity. The crystal clear audio instills confidence that the message I am sending or receiving will be understood. While there are a lot of handhelds on the market these days, you’d be hard pressed to find many other options that were obviously designed for with the climber and skier in mind!
As I finish this review I see that they are currently sold out… not surprised as I’ve watched outfitters and rescue teams across the country snap these up. The guide service I work for, Northeast Mountaineering, has purchased a fleet of 10 for our guides to use this winter! They should be back in-stock by early November, so you can subscribe to their email for notification of the restock here.
10/15/20 UPDATE! They are back in stock!
Use “AlpineStart10” when checking out to get 10% off!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Media samples were provided for purpose of review.