Recommendations and advice for communication equipment, including radios and satellite-based emergency devices.
Safety Disclaimer: Recreating in the backcountry is inherently dangerous. It is the responsibility of all users to inform themselves of proper backcountry safety protocols, especially in regards to avalanche conditions. It is your responsibility to make your own decisions. This is not a complete guide to avalanche safety or backcountry skiing. I assume absolutely no liability or responsibility for the use of information provided here.
Affiliate Disclosure: All opinions presented here are my own and have been formed through years of experience and rigorous testing. There are product links where I may earn a small commission from purchases made through those links (at no charge to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Radios are great have for group communication in the backcountry. Shown here is the Rocky Talkie (left) and BCA Link 2.0 (middle).
Another great piece of gear to have in addition to a beacon, shovel, and probe is a pair of radios. These are great tools to have when you are communicating with people in your own party when skiing down a line. You can communicate conditions, when you are in a safe spot, or anything else without having to shout uphill (like even letting your friend know when to drop if you're filming them). Some backcountry areas even have designated channels for different zones or types of communication (like around Telluride, for example).
I personally own a pair of Rocky Talkies. These radios were designed and tested extensively in Colorado, and they are backed up with excellent customer service. They have really grown in the past few years and now it is quite common to see them out on the mountain. The primary reason that I went with these radios is that they have a no-fuss one-piece design. I want to be able to use my radios for summer activities, like rock climbing, and a two-piece design would have just been too clunky for my needs. My Rocky Talkies have really stood up well to my use and abuse this season. Looking forward to more tours with them!
I have also used Backcountry Access Link 2.0 radios and I like those, too (single and pair of two). If you are okay with a two-piece design, then these radios can't be beat. The microphone component lives on the outside of your pack while the brain of the radio can be tucked away inside your pack. These have been around for years and are truly a great product for backcountry communication.
While not as critical as a beacon, shovel, and probe, satellite devices provide great safety and peace of mind in the backcountry. I carry this personal locator beacon (PLB) in my pack whenever I am out recreating in the mountains. It is a handheld sized, one-way communication device so it does not allow you to message back and forth (like texting). Rather, when activated anywhere in the world it sends out an SOS signal which is routed to the nearest Search and Rescue organization. It operates via government funded satellites so there is no monthly fee to use these devices. When you purchase the device, you need to register it so that your information is on file. Overall, I found that this was an economical way to get an emergency device. For me, this is a last resort, life or death piece of equipment. I have never activated it and, knock on wood, hope that I never have to. But, it lives in my pack as an insurance policy.
Another option is to go with a two-way device like the Garmin InReach Mini 2. One key difference between a device like this and the PLB above, is that it's a two-way device and there is a subscription fee in order to use it. With that comes the ability to send non-emergency updates, communicate with rescuers, get weather updates, and see maps. I do not own one (I did not need that many features and just wanted to pay once) but I have used them and they are pretty user friendly and durable.
No matter what kind of device you get, make sure that you familiarize yourself with how it works. Your touring partners should also know how to use it and know where it lives in your pack should there be an emergency and you are incapacitated.
Have fun and stay safe!