A couple of my wheeling friends have been using GMRS/FRS radios on the trail for years rather than CB and more recently, I am seeing more and more Rugged Radios/UHV/VHF radios being used out on the trail in groups that I have rolled with and new groups that I am meeting for the first time.
Myself, I have just ripped out my CB unit and embraced UHV/VHF and am learning as I go here. I have had a set of Motorola MR350R GMRS/FRS radios for years and do carry them sometimes on the trail but have yet to use GMRS/FRS on the trail because most folks were still on CB (until now?). I have my GMRS license and am studying for my Ham Technician license.
I have not completely given up on CB, just removed the one mounted to the top of my windshield with a UHV/VHF 25w mobile radio. I still carry my Midland 75-822 with batteries and an SA2 24" BNC antenna on the unit itself.
Anyway, for those that don’t already know, UHV/VHF is better than CB on a number of levels but it is basically a 2m/70cm Ham radio.
In this thread, I would like to share my experience and observations on Rugged Radios’s two most popular models (the RH-5R and the RM-25R) as compared to their Chinese-branded equivalents on amazon (the Baofeng UV-5R and the Juentai JT-6188). I have had 3 of the 4 models mentioned in my hands.
The Rugged RH-5R is a rebranded Baofeng UV-5R with custom programming. Other than the labels, color and custom programming, it is not clear how they are different physically.
For the most part, the Rugged RM-25R is the same thing as the Juentai JT-6188 but I did notice a couple of minor differences. The first difference could be a deal breaker for some (in favor of Rugged). The Rugged (and NOT the Juentai) has an additional DIN cord pigtail sticking out the back of the unit. This DIN cord is what integrates with all of the Rugged headsets if you want to go that route. The other visible difference (other than the brand name on the sticker) is that the Rugged radio has an ATC fuse and in-line-fuse-holder on the back of the unit rather than a glass fuse holder like the Juentai. Interestingly both the Juentai *and* the Rugged come with spare *glass* fuses and no spare ATC fuse.
The big drawback on the current model is the lack of a keypad on the microphone. Apparently the older model (as seen in the Rugged videos) had the keypad but the newer models come to you with a plain microphone sans keypad. It is also what they now picture on their product web page. The Juentai always comes with a microphone. Rugged wants to sell you the microphone now for (cough, cough), an additional $45 plus shipping and tax if that applies.
Rugged claims that the Microphone works better sans keypad but I suspect that their profit margin is what works better. Their prices did not seem to come down as a result and even when they have a big sale (like they are having this weekend for Cinco de Mayo), the radios are still double the price of a Juentai that you can get on amazon and the amazon version comes with the keypad microphone and a programming cable too. The programming cable and software from Rugged is an extra cost item.
There are at least THREE problems that I discovered as a result of not having a keypad.
First, there is no way to directly change the frequency number by typing in the numbers. You have to turn the tuning knob which could take friggen eons to go through the channel range before getting to the desired chanel. Remember, that we are talking frequencies with three digit decimal points here.
The second issue is that you cannot use/enable the radios built in channel scan mode without the keypad. There is a button for that on the keypad but not the radio itself.
The third issue is that without the keypad, it is impossible to add a custom name to a saved channel. You can only enter in the first character and that’s it! The character is selected using the frequency tuning knob. That part is cool and works well. The problem is that you need to click an “enter” button to accept the character and move to the next character. That “enter” button only exists on the microphone keypad and NOT on the radio itself.
Regardless of which radio you get, figuring out the programming can be painful. The handheld 5w and the mobile 25w radios are programmed using different, incompatible serial<->USB cables and software. You have to use the right cable and load the correct driver for it and then use the flakey Chinese software to program it. You are also supposed to use the software that came with your specific radio because they write the “.dat” files in a specific size and format. It is definitely a kludge and there was scrotum pain and expletives in the process of getting it all to work. There is software called Chirp but I think it is only compatible with the handheld versions and not the mobile versions or vice versa and you will end up using two different apps to program the radio regardless. The app for the handheld defaults to Chinese so you have to figure out where to switch it to English using the Chinese menus (depicted in all “?????”).
Other than the pre-programmed GMRS and weather channels, the other pre-programmed channels on the Rugged seem almost completely useless to me and you do not really need Rugged to know these frequencies.
The GMRS frequencies are documented here:
FRS/GMRS combined channel chart - The RadioReference Wiki
Seven of the weather frequencies are documented here:
The Ham radio frequencies used on the Rubicon are documented here:
Rubicon Trail Foundation
Rugged’s preprogrammed frequencies are documented here (UN: rugged PW: radios):
This is to show your options, not to knock Rugged in any way.
Choose Rugged if you want…
-to be able to pick up a phone and get instant customer support on the whole thing (not just the radio itself – your whole install)
-do not want to mess with programming your own Chinese radio
-if you need a headset or headset integration
-if you need to equip a group or team with specific radios and custom programming with minimum hassle
I am using the CHRIPP software now and it is a bit easier to use and has better editing features.
The current ZIP file (JKO_Channels.zip) has two CHIRPP *.img files inside. In addition to that, I exported the channel list to a CSV file that can be opened in MS Excel (Juentai_JT6188-Rubicon_JKO.csv).
Rugged Radios RH5R
Rugged Radios RM-25R
Talkcoop KT-8900 (untested)
QYT KT-8900 (untested)
The channel lineup is the same on both and is as follows:
Power on message for both the 5w handheld and the 25w mobile is as follows:
Channel locations 0 through 10 have been left blank.
Channel locations 11 through 20 are the Rubicon and Niagra Rim channels as documented here:
There was one simplex channel not included in the above link bit it is listed on Rubicon.org so I added that one too.
Channel locations 21 through 23 are the three closest ham repeaters to Bear Valley.
Channel locations 24 through 29 are a subset of the El Dorado County Sherriff channels.
Channel locations 30 through 34 are for Placer County Sherriff and the Placerville PD.
Channel locations 35 through 39 are a subset of the Cal Fire frequencies, including El Dorado, Placer, Alpine and Calaveras counties
Channel locations 40 through 43 are for the Alpine County Volunteer Fire Departnemt and the Search and Rescue channels.
Channel locations 44 through 46 are the Grass Valley Emergency Command Center
Channel location 47 through 52 are for Calaveras County Sherriff, Fire and EMS.
Channel locations 53 through 67 are for Placer County Fire Department.
Channel locations 68 through 72 are Placer County Search and Rescue
Channel locations 73 through 100 are the US Forest Service.
Channel locations 101 through 107 are GMRS/FMRS channels 1 through 7. On the 5w handheld, these are programmed in at HIGH power. On the 25w mobile Juentai, they are programmed in as LOW power.
**FMRS Channels 8 through 14 are NOT included. These are very low power channels.**
Channel locations 108 through 115 are GMRS channels 15 through 22. These are the high powered GMRS channels.
Channel locations 116 through 122 are the seven NOAA weather channels. These are the only channels in the configuration file that are set NOT to be scanned when you scan channels. I figure that if you want to listen to the weather that you can just tune into one of the seven channels manually. That’s what I do.