Radios for the Backyardsman – Baofeng UV-5R

backwoodsman magazineI love reading The Backwoodsman. It’s probably my favorite magazine and one of their articles was the inspiration for this blog. Their May/June 2017 issue had a great piece titled Radios For The camp And Cabin. You might be thinking “Who needs a radio? Mountain men didn’t need radios and neither do I.” That is at least half true. It’s also true that the average life span of a mountain man was 37 years, partly because communications way back when were limited. I’d kind of like to live longer than that. Anyway, the article in question makes a really good case for having a radio, and talks about several types of radios the aspiring backwoodsman/backyardsman might find useful. I want to talk about another one, the Baofeng UV-5R.

Baofeng UV-5R

The Baofeng UV-5R is an FM handheld transceiver (HT) that operates on the 70cm and 2m amateur radio bands. Because it’s FM only, it can’t receive AM broadcast band or shortwave. I think that’s a small price to pay for what it does offer. Besides operating on 70cm and 2M, the UV-5R can receive FM commercial stations and NOAA Weather Alert frequencies. Its band range also covers FRS and GMRS radio bands, commercial aircraft, and some emergency bands. In my opinion, this wide band FM coverage outweighs the lack of AM reception. Plus, the UV-5R can transmit…

Which could cause problems… it is illegal to transmit on the amateur radio bands without a license. That shouldn’t be a problem, because the license is easy and cheap to get – $15 for the exam processing fee and around $30 for study materials. If you’re sharp and have a good memory you can skip the study materials and practice with free online tests until you feel confident to pass the actual exam. Another problem is that it’s illegal to transmit with these on the FRS/GRMS channels even though the radios are capable of it. The solution to that is to practice self discipline.

Programming the UV-5R

Programming the Baofeng UV-5R is easy as long as you have a programming cable and software. The programming cable costs about $30 and the software (CHIRP) is free. It’s easy to set up and configure, and you can find sample configuration files easily with the help of Google or your favorite search engine.

Some things to think about…

If you do a Google search for ‘UV-5R’, you’ll find that some people love them and some hate them. The main complaints from the haters are that Baofengs transmit out of frequency, cause interference with others trying to operate on the same frequency, and have poor reception. In my experience, none of these are true. My UV-5R gets signal reports just as good as my Yaesu VX-6R and I’ve never had a complaint about causing interference on channel. Reception is at least as good as the VX-6R.

The Baofeng is also made in China, which some people seem to have a problem with. The only issue for me is that if you don’t buy from a Baofeng authorized US dealer, you’ll be sending your radio back to China for warranty work. The only authorized US dealer I know of is BaofengTech, and they no longer carry the UV-5R. They do sell the UV-5X3 (a 3-band version of the UV-5R) and the BF-F8HP (a higher output version of the UV-5R).

Speaking for myself, I think the value of the UV-5R is pretty hard to beat. They’re still available on Amazon for less than $25, and at that price point I don’t really care about the warranty. My only worry is how long will they be available for less than $25?

Alternatives to the UV-5R

When the supply runs out, there are still good deals on other HT 2-way radios. The UV-5X3 is similar to the UV-5R but costs a little over twice as much (about $60). For the higher price you get a 3rd band (1.25 m) and better display options. The 1.25 m band isn’t useful IMHO because it requires a separate antenna, but the “display sync” is a really nice feature.

The Baofeng BF-F8HP acts like a UV-5R and kind of looks like one but with an updated case. It’s maximum transmit power is 8 watts vs. 5 for the UV-5R, but in the real world that doesn’t get you much (if any) extra range. It costs about $63 from BaofengTech. If US-based warranty service is important on a new Baofeng is important, you’ll want one of these.

A final Baofeng option is the Baofeng UV-5R V2+. I don’t have any experience with this radio or the vendor (Shelfspace Security, sold through Amazon). It looks like a UV-5R with a different case. The vendor claims to offer US-based warranty repairs, but personally I’d verify before buying.