Rocky Talkies are backcountry-oriented FRS-band radios. These are relatively new to the market. The radios were launched in 2019, but improvements in a new 2020 version have made the radio more popular and common. I’ve found the radios invaluable for alpine climbing and mountaineering. With great durability, great battery life, and a low weight; bringing them along is never a penalty. The ease of communication they allow makes for smooth and efficient alpine travel.
- Long battery life, even in cold conditions.
- Waterproof rating of IP56: Functionally water and dust-proof. Will survive most situations short of full submersion.
- Low weight: 4.8 oz through 7.9 oz, depending on how much of the radio accessories are stripped down.
- Bomber durability. The radio is made of thick plastic surrounded by a rubber case, The buttons are either thick plastic or rubber, and are well-protected.
- Reasonable price. $95/radio as of August 2022.
- Strippable design. Can remove rubber case, leash, and carabiner to reduce weight.
- Easy to communicate, even with gloves or mittens.
- The “beep” sound with every transmission will annoy radio-less climbers around you. Likely due to jealousy.
After a failed early-season ice climb attempt of the Trap Dike on Mt. Colden, we made a stop at The Mountaineer in Keene while driving back. Our intention was to check out the shiniest and latest gear. They had that in abundance, but they also had a stock of Rocky Talkies. I’ve seen ads for them often, as did my climbing partner. He decided to pick one up, and I decided on the spot to grab a pair as well. With tax, it was a $200 dent in my wallet. I swallowed it with the justification that I’d made worse financial decisions in the past. This turned out to be one of the best.
Some of the first days with the radio were on ice climbs in New Hampshire. Whatever weather situations exist on the planet, the radio was exposed to it over the course of those months. From torrential downpours and freezing rain; snow and ice storms; and even graupel and hail — they never failed to communicate.
I was never gentle with the radio either. On approaches and descents, it would be buried in my pack while smashed against ice screws and carabiners. On climbs, it would either be on my backpack strap or be dangling on my harness. It would spend its climbing days perpetually bumping against ice and rock. I’ve even scraped them up chimneys a couple of times. This radio was designed to be durable in environments like this. Aside from scratches, it’s good as new.
On below-freezing days, I’d never go through more than 20 or 30% of battery in a day. Oftentimes, it would be less. The company says the radio offers 3 – 5 days of battery life with frequent (8 hrs/day) usage. Functionally, that is plenty for most trips. It means 24 – 40 hours of frequent communication, enough for all but the boldest climbs. If the battery life isn’t enough, it can be charged with any USB power bank, as the radio charges with a USB-C port.
The radio offers both a high level of adjustability and ease of use. The transmission button is obvious, and is easily activated with gloves or mittens. The other buttons are smaller, but can still be used with gloves or mittens with more effort. Those wouldn’t be adjusted throughout a climb, however. The other buttons control volume, transmission power, channel and privacy codes, scanning, and whether the radio is on or off. Adjusting those features aren’t as intuitive, but after reading the manual, they’re easy to remember. When giving the radio to partners, I lock the radio to one channel and show them the obvious power and transmission buttons. That does the trick, and it’s all anyone needs to know. No learning curve.
As for the value of the radio on a climb, I’ve found it to be worth it. Communication in alpine terrain is often difficult or non-existent. It’s common not to be able to see your partner either. Rather than relying on rope tugs or yelling over the wind, using a radio makes for a smoother experience. I’ve found them to be the most useful when climbing with someone for the first time, or when taking less-experienced partners out.
When climbing with a new partner, you haven’t learned each other’s systems and styles yet. Being able to communicate in the same fashion as being next to each other is priceless. With less-experienced partners, the ability to communicate makes the outing a lot safer. I’ve taken a few partners of mine on their first alpine multi-pitches. Over the radio, I was able to communicate how much slack I wanted when leading, when and how to disassemble the belay anchor, how to simul-climb with me, and more. Those outings wouldn’t have gone smooth at all without the radios. With familiar partners that climb with each other often, radios would be less valuable. But, they would be useful nonetheless. Radios almost completely remove the possibility of communication error — pretty important when you’re holding someone’s life in your hands.
The Rocky Talkie can weigh as little as 4.8 oz. That’s about two-and-a-quarter Snicker bars, or a sip of water. The full package at 7.9 oz. is equal to four Snicker bars, or a large gulp of water. It’s a tiny penalty for a lot of benefits.
These durable and weather-proof walkie-talkies are a real game-changer in the alpine. Some people think radios make the climbing experience too easy, “dumb the climb down,” or pollute the mountains with noise. That is certainly true, and the radio does have an obnoxious beep. But, technological advancements happen and this is one of them. Without taking advantage of the technology available, we’d still be climbing in hob-nailed boots and static hemp ropes. Right now we have these radios. A decade from now, it might be a 2 oz. helmet with a built-in radio and mic, or a brain implant that allows you to see through your partner’s eyes. Who knows. But, these radios are awesome, and I’m glad I coughed up the dough for them.