What's the Best Radio for when the SHTF?

More precisely, what is the best transceiver for medium and long range communication way after an SHTF scenario or a major long term grid down situation such as an EMP or other catastrophe?

No one knows what could or will happen, if anything, but it's important to plan well ahead for such a long term catastrophe. An internet search on this question points primarily to FM type handhelds. Everyone thinks handheld transceivers available on the market today will be the only communications needed and solely rely on them but these will most likely die of a lack of batteries whether it be alkalines or some kind of rechargeable chemistry which will still have a limited life. Plus, they're for short range use only, less than three miles at best for point to point communications to keep in touch with family and friends and keeping your perimeter secure. These include FRS, GMRS, MURS, and even most VHF/UHF amateur radio transceivers and are impossible for long range communication. After a few days or weeks most all VHF and UHF repeaters will have gone down too. So don't think stocking up on a few Baofeng UV5R's and stashing them away are going to be your main source of communication. There is a learning curve on knowing how to program and use these cheaper type of radios.

Many think the amateur radio HF bands (80 thru 20 meters) will be the most useful for long distance communication if everything fails. But even those will require a long term power source. As long as power is plentiful, communications all over the world is possible. Plus, a thorough understanding on how it works, bands to use, modes of operation (CW or SSB), propagation, communications etiquette, all need to be understood in order to reliably use the ham bands. Many digital modes could be used if you have supporting computer capabilities. But again, you have to have an ample unlimited power source and know specifically how to use it.

What happens if you have to bug out, take all your belongings in your backpack or go bag and disappear into the wilderness or remote area for an extended period? This may never happen but shouldn't you prepare for the worst anyway? And if nothing happens at least you have a great system for Field Day every June. You can't take your bulky 100 watt HF mobile radio into the woods or anywhere else without a good source of reliable power. Also, the radio, antenna, accessories, and batteries will probably weigh more than your whole G.O.O.D. backpack. So what are your options?

You may have to choose a single band that will do the job. Then you'll need to select all your accessories to accommodate your system and be small and light enough to easy to carry. This author believes the best all around band is 40 meters. The antenna length may be long but not impossible to implement. The propagation on that band allows for almost 24/7 usage. You may have to limit yourself to CW only and sideband monitoring. A good 40 meter CW transceiver with razor sharp sensitivity capable of about 2 watts output and low receive current draw would be ideal. There are a number of good small QRP rigs out there so it will be your personal preference. However I recommend the ME40+ because of these requirements, simplicity, and reliability. Power usage is low enough you so you could even use a small solar panel to charge up a battery system or few high "capacity" capacitors instead of chemical batteries which have limitations and will eventually die. It is important to have a renewable source of power, disconnected from the grid to operate your system for an infinite period of time.

The system I am going to describe should meet all the needs for maybe less than US$100 if you shop around, and be small enough to carry in a lunchbox size case. Of course you may have your own preferences in radio, antenna system, and power source but these are suggestions for those getting started.

Here are the components: ME40+ CW transceiver kit, headphones similar to those used on an MP3 player, simple end fed long wire or dipole antenna, simple antenna tuner, bank of high capacity electrolytics, and a small solar panel rated at about 10 watts. Of course you can use any type of 12 volt battery system for normal use. This will be your decision.

Almost every item above will be dictated by personal preferences and experiences.

With this system you could tuck it away in your bug out bag and disappear into the woods or on some mountain top. Once you set up your OP you can charge up the capacitor bank with the solar panel. A full charge can easily allow you to monitor all night and be able to get off a few valuable transmissions and listen for important information.

The ME40+ 40 meter CW kit is available from Midway Electronics. If you have a good source of electronic parts you can just order the circuit board for about US$12 or you can order the whole kit with all parts and instruction manual for about US$65 from midwayelectronics.us. There are many cheaper QRP rigs out there but lack sensitivity and selectivity, and/or are rockbound (only one frequency). Fancier digital QRP rigs have more features but usually draw ten times the current on receive. The ME40+ was chosen because it is a simple transceiver with easy to find parts and easy to troubleshoot if necessary. No processor specific CPU or custom single sourced components. You can scrounge any old headphones or earbuds, or find them at yard sales, 7-11, or ebay for a few dollars. An antenna tuner is not necessary but will help you get the best performance. Tuner kits are available from qrpkits.com. Capacitors and solar panels can be gotten off ebay. For the antenna system you have many options or favorites but at least you will need some good wire, a few dogbone insulators and a length of feedline such as RG58 or RG174. To aid in coiling up your antenna you can order a portable clothesline windup spool. Details below. 

What's most important is the experience to use your equipment.

You can't just purchase everything on ebay or over the counter, stash it away, and expect to operate it flawlessly if something happens. You must be proficient enough to understand its capabilities, limitations, weaknesses, and strengths. You must know the proper etiquette, language, emergency protocols, traffic handling, abbreviations such as Q codes, etc. This all comes from experience by using the radios almost on a daily basis. Experience comes from listening. Spend a lot of time monitoring the bands, listening how hams operate, practice taking messages if you hear a traffic net. Copy Morse code until you can do so efficiently. Morse code is a must and you should become proficient. Learn the code slow. Speed will come naturally. And that only comes with practice.

Another decision is to decide on a 40 meter prepper frequency. There are a number of QRP frequencies such as 7014, 7023, 7100, 7150, so it might be advisable to use one of these frequencies or maybe 3 khz up from these. Radio Preppers forum suggests 7185.5 as a good choice.


ME40+ transceiver


Laundry reel spooler - Coghlan's 8512 Laundry Reel available at online Walmart and Amazon for around US$3      See video on how to use it


Antenna tuner - QRPKits.com This was recommended because if its size and versatility.


Solar panels - There are many variations.


Capacitors - A bank of six capacitors like this will run the transceiver for a few days. Of course you could have a set of alkalines, Li-Ion, LiFePO4, or ni-cads as a backup. The reason I suggest capacitors is that they don't have a memory effect, can take deep discharges without damage and will probably outlast any battery type.


Headphones - Any cheap headphones or earbuds will work. As small and comfortable as possible.


Morse key - Keys can be made cheap or purchased for more than this whole project. A simple brass strip and rubber foot can be used in a pinch but for regular use a straight key as shown can be had for about $35 or less.


Dogbone insulators


A roll of salt water fishing line will aid in erecting the antenna system. Keep a few pencils and plenty of paper with your rig for copying messages.

This author is in the process of putting a whole system together in an air tight, hardened 30 cal ammo box. This will include the a solar panel, antenna, and all accessories.

.......More to follow