Individual Review Long-term Review: Rocky Talkie Radios

jmeb

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As an avid backcountry skier, inbounds skier with friends and family, group camper, and working-in-the-garage-just-to-be-out-of-my-house-during-a-pandemic husband, I thought I'd create a thread to track my long-term experiences with some new two way radios from Rocky Talkie.

Disclaimer: I paid for these, but I paid less than full price. I have no other affiliations with the brand.

Website:
What they are:
  • Two-way radios, operating at 2 watts, the maximum legally-allowable power for such devices in the US.
  • Made to be attached (via a carabiner and leash) to your pack/jacket/harness/whatever for easy access.
  • MSRP: $90 each ($180 for a pair), currently you can pre-order for 20% off with code HOLIDAY
Initial at-home impressions:
  • Very nice presentation, instructions and recyclable packaging.
  • Radios are darn small and pretty light.
  • Overall, feels well built despite the weight.
  • The rubberized outside is removable which I didn't realize online. Battery is field swappable if you so wish. (Don't see that you can buy seperate batteries as of yet.)
  • Nice carabiner and leash! Seriously, I hate flimsy knock offs when a real one will do. And I love having backups of potentially useful gear integrated into my kit. (It's why my backcountry boots use extra long Voile straps as power straps.)
  • Charging via USB-C vs some proprietary cord is nice. I already have a USB-C setup at my at-home charging station and in my car which makes top-ups easy
  • Concerns: While lightweight means easy to pack, it inherently means smaller batter and ?potentially? lesser durability. Time will tell.

Initial use cases and performance:

Inbounds skiing: I've carried two-way radios off and on while skiing over the years, especially with bigger groups. They have some advantages over cell-phones in quick access and not needing a signal. Downsides have always been quality/length of signal, another piece of gear to fumble with, unreliable attachment systems. I know they *can* work, because my patrol radio works awesome properly secured to my vest. But generally I've just resorted to a phone as my ski area has good coverage.

I know have 4 days of using it inbounds with my wife:
  • The attachment system works well and is modular. I clip mine to bibs. My wife prefers just the leash (takes the carabiner off) so she can store it in her pocket.
  • Volume of the mic is as loud as I find necessary. No problem hearing it clearly when it's on the dash of the van and I'm in the back booting up. Or around any ambient on hill noise.
  • Button ease of use I'd give an 8 out of 10. With gloves on it isn't easy to do anything but talk, lock/unlock, and power down. Volume adjustments etc tend to require going to liners. This is somewhat inherent in the small size and really -- once it's on and setup the only thing I need to do is talk anyhow.
  • Range: This is easiest to describe for people who know Loveland Ski Area, but zero issues from anywhere on Chets/Six to the parking lot. And the kicker, good clear comms from Lift 6 to Lift 3 in the Valley, about 1.75mi apart.
  • Clarity: Very clear sound. The end-comm beep is nice to confirm you were in fact pushing the talk button (you can turn this off if you hate it)
  • Battery life: Over two full days of use (and I mean full days, 7:30-4:30) in about 10-20F weather, with light use, batteries went down to 90% and 88% respectively. As of yet, I can tell you whether this decline to 0% is linear (but I sorta doubt it.
Backcountry skiing: This is the primary use case I bought them for. Inbounds, these are primarily a convenience device. In the backcountry, they are a safety device. I now have 5 days of touring with partners on them. All of the above holds true, but a few backcountry specific thoughts.
  • Easy to throw to a partner, have them attach and use. Assuming you set them up on the correct channel and lock it, its dead simple to use. And it's easy to figure out how to attach. This is important for someone who skis with various people and doesn't like a high fiddle factor.
  • No adverse effects of being thrown in the snow, buried on the outside of your pack as part of beacon practice, or (on battery life) being left in a sub-0F van overnight before being used following day.
  • Range, clarity and volume all as above. Nice clear comms from a friend 1.7mi away at a trailhead between myself (Rocky Talkie) and him (BCA Link 2.0) after he had to ski out early.
  • Doesn't flop around when skiing. Secure and not noticeable. The carabiner/radio rubber interface is tight enough that it doesn't flop around. (At least, as of now, I will watch that rubber over time to see if it loosens up significantly). A little tension on the leash to my waist belt may help.
  • For reference, attached is a photo of how it is hooked onto my bag. For a two-way radio to be useful in the backcountry, in my opinion it has to be always out and at the ready, easy to use without getting anything out/taking off pack/pulling out of pocket. This means the whole radio has to be attached outside (often bulky or insecure) or you need a seperate mic attachment. Attaching it to my shoulder strap is still a thing dangling outside, but it isn't bothersome to me given its size and ease of use.
IMG_1370.jpg


At home: Honestly, probably where it has seen the most total comms. I spend a good bit of time out in our detached garage working on skis, riding the bike trainer, doing small projects. When it's nice I even work out there sometimes. I leave a radio out there for the week so my wife and I can chat (time for cocktails, dog is being an idiot, etc.) It's a simple intercom system, but we dig it.


Comparisons / Value:
  • BCA Link/Link 2.0: To me, this is the most obvious competitor, they do have a few key differences. First off, the BCA has been field tested and proven by lots of folks over several years. They are the gold standard for safe backcountry skiing comms. Until RTs have a longer history of widespread use, I think BCA gets the nod there. The two-piece construction of the BCAs some will like more (small mic outside the pack, main unit stored safely inside), some will like less (additional fiddle factor to take out/in/lend). They are compatible with each other (both use the same channels and can use shared security codes). Attachment systems of the radios will also be individual preference, BCA mic has a jaw clip (quicker on/off, attaches to more things) vs a carabiner (more secure). Side by side for full touring 2 days, we couldn't notice any significant difference in power/clarity of comms. The Rocky Talkie I think wins out in versatility for other activities (like climbing) due to its single-unit construction and lighter weight, whereas the BCA wins out in ease of use with gloves (at least the mic part of the radio which allows quick switching of preset channels). BCA also has weather channels -- which can be a useful thing if you don't have another way to get weather (say, a Garmin InReach.) A big difference is price: for a set of BCAs will set you back $360, 2 times the cost of a set of Rocky Talkies.
  • General use two-ways (like Motorola T600). This is what i've used for the past few years, but ultimately I left them more often than I brought them. I've found their batteries less reliable in the cold than the BCA or RT. Range can be as good, and you can get full featured ones (with weather for instance). Audio quality depends greatly on your exact model. Major spot I've found them lacking is a good external attachment system -- either they are floppy (whole unit) or the mics are just not well enough attached for hard outdoor use. But, they can be a good $60-$100 cheaper per set than RT for a decent set, and a couple hundred cheaper than BCAs.
  • Patrol radios: In my short patrolling experience I've already had multiple families ask me about our radios and recommendations for similar after many have had lackluster experiences. (To date, the only ones I could faithfully recommend were the BCA Links, but almost all balk at the price.) Look -- none of these compare with them. Better range, better audio, way more features. But they are bulkier and cost $800 a pop. They also run on frequencies that aren't available to the general public without a license. These aren't a replacement for such devices, but they are a suitable recreational alternative.
  • Ham radios/Baofeng radios: No experience with these so I won't weigh in on them.
As this thread isn't supposed to be a complete overview of two-way radios, I recommend reading more at WildSnow if you're interested in finding the right *type* of radio (rather than the right model, as discussed here) for your use case: https://www.wildsnow.com/5854/2-way-radios-walkie-talkie-review/

What would you like to know or see done with them?

Okay -- what else do you want to know? Or see done with them?

Tl;dr (as of 12/17/20): Good radios. Small enough to carry regularly, reliable battery in cold, good attachment system and clear comms with sufficient range. I'd even probably pay full price for these.
 
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trieu

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Thanks for the update. While I love my BCA, and their customer service - like you said - it is a bit pricey. Definitely a worthwhile option to explore.
 

Flo

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I tried to decide between these options, mostly for resort use and communication with my wife who has a different pace/ability than me. I finally went with the Motorola t600 with a shoulder mic (< 100$ for a set of 2 radios).

If it would have been for serious backcountry use I would have went for the BCA but even discounted I can’t justify the price difference.
After 2 years I am satisfied with the Motorola, range and battery life are correct. I would say that their inconvenient is the weight (but they are most of the time in my backpack) and that the shoulder mic is not as waterproof as the bca. However, unlike the bca you can use the radio without the mic (when hiking or planning photoshoot for instance) and that mic can be replace for 15$. I discarded the Rocky talkie because I did not like their attach system (better for rock climbing than skiing) and because I could have the BCA for the same price.
 
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jmeb

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because I could have the BCA for the same price.

I'm confused by this. BCA Link 2s are twice the price of Rocky Talkies. Even with industry discounts they're far more expensive.

Attachment systems are very personal.
 
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jmeb

jmeb

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Thanks for the update. While I love my BCA, and their customer service - like you said - it is a bit pricey. Definitely a worthwhile option to explore.

I will say that having BCA just up the street makes me like them. I've had to take gear in a few times and it's always been aces.

I haven't had to work with RTalkie CS yet -- but they're also local. Just good fortune for me.
 

Flo

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I'm confused by this. BCA Link 2s are twice the price of Rocky Talkies. Even with industry discounts they're far more expensive.

Attachment systems are very personal.
Let's say that for a 40$ difference I prefer the establish brand and a design that I prefer. Yes attachment are personal, RT are more compact, super versatile but I don't want to have something dangling on my backpack strap. To me they are great but can be improved with a simple clip instead or in addition of the carabiner for instance.
 
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jmeb

jmeb

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I’m confused by $40 difference. Link 2.0 is 180$ vs 90$ for RT.

yes—both may have industry discounts. But I don’t feel like that is fair comparison for most readers
 

Slim

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Here is another review of those Rocky Talkies:
 

Slim

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Personally, we have these: Midland GTX, from the “cheap” category(IRRC $60/2). We have 4 and so do our ski friends. About 5 years now.

C221E26C-BB6C-4062-A9CD-309B3F595E9D.jpeg



However, I don't see any of the drawbacks @jmeb mentions:
-Battery life (always used in the cold) excellent. They last multiple days, but normally we just put them on the charger at the end of the day.
- It has a decent clip in the back, you could easily attach a little cord if you wanted to girth hitch it to stuff. But, why does that matter? It is either in a jacket pocket, or inside a backpack.
-The mic is pretty well plugged into the base unit, not been a problem. The mic has a lapel clip, sometimes the mic slips off my coat (on my backpack it stays better because it’s clipped to a strap). No problem, it dangles, I grab it and clip it back on.
 
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pchewn

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I prefer my small Baofeng radio. Dual band, removable antenna and good batteries. I've had quite a few radios (I'm N7WAO ham), and I was the "radio man" for the local kids ski race league. Bought, repaired, programmed, charged, and distributed radios on the hill on race days.

The three most important things I found:

1) Antenna : Needs to be replaceable with something good. The antennas that come with the radio are usually not that good.

2) Batteries: Before LiPo batteries came out, I would make sure that any radio I bought for the league would have available a AA cell aftermarket battery pack. Otherwise, you will go broke buying new battery packs for the radio.

3) Standardized remote-mic/earphone plugs. The PTT switch (push-to-talk) will wear out. You want this to be something replaceable, and preferably standardized with the all the other radios -- so you can swap it out on the hill on race day.

Having dual bands is nice (as a ham), so I can contact the repeater on the mountain and even make phone calls through the autopatch, if cell phone service is not available.
 

charlier

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I prefer my small Baofeng radio. Dual band, removable antenna and good batteries. I've had quite a few radios (I'm N7WAO ham), and I was the "radio man" for the local kids ski race league. Bought, repaired, programmed, charged, and distributed radios on the hill on race days.

Nice write-up. What model Baofeng did you purchase - a Baofeng UV-5R.

Does your radio come with a remote trigger mic? Did you compare your radio with competitors, such as Wouxun KG-UV6D. I will use the radio for backcountry communications with other guides while teaching AIARE classes. I will get a Ham license...
 

pchewn

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I do have the UV-5R. It does not come with the remote mic/earphone -- that's an aftermarket item. I also bought aftermarket antennas (car-top mount and handheld).
 
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jmeb

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I'm just bumping this a year plus later. I've been using this regularly since the inception of the thread. In the summer we often take them camping when we've got big groups so we can chat across couple miles near camp. Took them for a 5 day canoe in the boundary waters where they worked awesomely. Very handy for convoying on road trips as well.

And of course...I ski with them 2-3x a week in the backcountry. They work flawlessly with the BCA devices and the battery life doesn't seem to have noticeably changed since I purchased the pair. I continue to enjoy the attachment system of a carabiner that is easy to unclip and a leash -- it works great in a variety of settings.

From my POV, they continue to be a very good value. They have made a few minor updates according to a friend that is a rep for them, but I'm not sure exactly what they are.
 

kitchener

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I prefer my small Baofeng radio. Dual band, removable antenna and good batteries. I've had quite a few radios (I'm N7WAO ham), and I was the "radio man" for the local kids ski race league. Bought, repaired, programmed, charged, and distributed radios on the hill on race days.

The three most important things I found:

1) Antenna : Needs to be replaceable with something good. The antennas that come with the radio are usually not that good.

I've had several generations of more and more powerful radios over the years -- definitely part and parcel to using them when skiing is having a shoulder mic: no stopping take the walkie out of a zipped pocket when someone radios you, and no forgetting to re-zip the pocket (and lose the walkie) when done -- particularly great for "hey, I just took that left -- you'll see it as you come around the bend." When the kids were younger, it was a great way to give them a little freedom (which dramatically increased their enthusiasm for the sport).

Definitely the big difference maker is a removable antenna. The little stubby antennas the biggest limitation. We find sticking a Baofeng in our jacket inside pocket, with the longer antenna inside the jacket (and unobtrusive), and the shoulder mic fished up inside the jacket to be clipped on the jacket's lapel, to be the set up du juor.
 
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