Rockin’ and Talkin’: Cobra Handheld CB Radios for Backcountry Communication
Rock climbing or spotting over obstacles, these radios do it all.
We took the Cobra HH 50 WX ST CB radios into the backcountry to see how they could improve communication in and around our 4x4s. Read on for some of what we found.
How do you communicate with others when traveling in your 4x4? Sure, a shout out the window or a text message can get the job done in a pinch, but what happens when phone service dries up and the next rig in your party is just disappearing in the dust ahead of you?
Citizens Band (CB) radio has been a stalwart in person-to-person communication and has its beginnings in the 1940s. Unlike other forms of radio communication, CB operators are permitted to transmit on 40 channels in the high-frequency (shortwave) band, and in the United States, a license is not necessary for operation. Transmission power on CB radios is limited to 4 watts in most places, and range can vary from a few thousand feet to a few miles depending on conditions and equipment.
Cobra has been in the CB radio industry for over 50 years, and we were excited to get our hands on a pair of the company's handheld units—the HH RT 50 and the HH 50 WX ST. Cobra's HH 50 WX ST handheld CB radio gives access to the 40 CB channels as well as 10 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather channels to stay on top of changing weather conditions and alerts. Along with the portable CB radio, each package includes an antenna, 12V vehicle charger, and a belt clip. Opting for the HH RT 50 affords the same features as the previously mentioned model, with the addition of an external magnetic antenna for mounting on a vehicle. We tested the Cobra radios in a variety of on- and off-road situations during road trips and trail rides. Our activities included spotting vehicles over obstacles and even relaying commands between belayer and rock climber. Keep reading for more on how we used our Cobra CB radios during our adventures.
In addition to our hand signals, the battery-powered Cobra radios made spotting trail partners through obstacles much simpler.
Power for the Cobra radios can come in a few forms. First, nine disposable AA batteries can be used for each handheld unit. We recommend replacing these with rechargeable batteries if you plan on frequently using the radios outside the vehicle for extended periods of time. Cobra includes a 12V DC charger that will add juice to your rechargeables when plugged in. The cord can also power the radios without batteries.
Buttons on the radios were large and easy to use, even with gloved hands during winching operations, and their functions were intuitive. PTT, channel scanning, and backlight buttons could all be found along the left side, with the remainder of the functions on the face of the radio. We also enjoyed Cobra's Soundtracker System which is said to significantly reduce background noise during transmissions.
Cobra's HH RT 50 model (RT means "road trip") comes with a magnetic antenna said to increase range when transmitting from a vehicle. We attached ours either to our Jeep's cowl, or when the hardtop was removed, to the top of the sound bar. The radio connects seamlessly to the antenna with a coaxial cable that was long enough to run through an open window and into the cab.
With the vehicles parked, we fit both radios with their portable antennas, unloaded our ropes and harnesses, and went rock climbing. From atop a 100-foot rock formation commands like "I'm safe, take me off belay," and "No, I don't want mustard on my sandwich," could be relayed to the ground below and even back to the 4x4s parked in the distance. We did notice the weight of the nine AA batteries (half a pound, depending on the brand) when the radio was attached to our climbing harness. We were also impressed with the clarity of the audio despite the windy conditions on the rock face.
We found Cobra's HH RT 50 and HH 50 WX ST useful in that they can be tossed into a day pack and used in your 4x4, and your friend's who might not have a radio, and then unplugged and taken out on the lake for a canoe trip—something you cannot do with the CB wired into your rig's dash. While other forms of radio communication require licensing through the FCC, the 40 CB channels accessible by these units are open to the public and only require adherence to basic radio etiquette. CB radios also give access to weather alerts and safety information during emergencies. Finally, we were able to use the Cobra radios in a variety of environments where our cellular phones had no service and for this reason alone, we argue they're a valuable addition to any vehicle.