A reliable means of communication is an essential necessity for every adventurer that is planing a long offroad trip. Whether to communicate with other vehicles in your party or other people you may meet along the way.
With not-so-reliable cell phone coverage, it could be your only way to reach assistance in the case of some accident on the road.
Thus, choosing the best and most reliable CB radio is a very important task when preparing for an overland adventure.
Choosing a CB radio
There are a plethora of CB radios available currently on the market that suit almost every need or wants. Big ones, small ones, CB radios come in almost any size or shape.
With FCC mandating the maximum power of 4W, the only way of choosing the best CB radio for Overlanding comes down to comparing other features besides the transmission power.
A suitable CB comes in the price range between $50 and $400, and while they all perform the basic function of allowing you to communicate with other people, some have very useful additional features.
If you are planning on traveling during the night, it is a good idea to have a CB with an illuminated screen. Many CB radios have very simple LCD screens that provide necessary information about the channel and frequency currently in use.
Still, some provide additional information, such as public announcements and weather reports. Driving during the night, you will want to be able to discern them.
Some CB radios are capable of receiving the NOAA weather reports and warnings, which is a very useful feature to look for when choosing the best CB radio for off-roading.
Spending time away from civilization and most of the news sources means that your decision to go on with your trip or hunker down depends on alternative sources of information needed to make such a decision.
Some models have the capability to wake up on severe weather alerts, so you can get the critical weather information even if your radio is turned off.
Channel scanning gives you the ability to quickly find radio channels with some activity on them.
It’s very useful whether you are looking just for someone to exchange a few words and thus relieve yourself of the eventual boredom or look for road assistance. Standard CB spectrum has 40 channels and with an additional 80 SSB channels, it is a chore to scan them by hand.
Having an externally mounted speaker can be very useful in various situations, either for entertainment or to communicate with people outside of your vehicle.
If it can also come on automatically for severe weather alerts, you can be certain that you will hear them even if you are sleeping in a tent near your vehicle.
Single side band
While FCC regulates the maximum transmission power of CB radios at 4W, Single Side Band or SSB is a feature that pushes it up to 12W, and still doesn’t require you to have a special license.
It works by adding narrower channels above and below each of the standard 40 CB channels, effectively adding 80 more channels to communicate on.
The SSB-capable CB radios are still capable of communicating on the standard AM frequencies, but using SSB channels you can only with other SSB-capable radios.
Radio frequency gain
The RF gain allows you to filter a radio transmission based on the signal strength, which is a very useful feature when you are trying to pick out a weak signal that is drowned by other radio transmissions.
This feature also comes in very handy in the case of bad weather, as it can help you remove the background noise when communicating with someone.
Choosing a CB antenna
Because of the 4W transmission power limit on CB radios, the only way to gain reception and transmission range is from the design of the antenna.
Two main types of antennas are magnetic base-loaded and fiberglass top-loaded, both types can come in the length between 2 and 5 feet. For Overlanding, the better choice is fiberglass antennas as they are sturdier and able to bend without breaking.
Some fiberglass antennas can even be bent in a full circle without breaking, which makes them extremely resistant to breaking and an ideal choice for adventures through thick brush.
In case that you are not planning to be sneaking with your vehicle through areas with a low canopy, it’s a better choice to go with an antenna with a greater range.
Choosing a mounting location for a CB antenna
CB antennas are best to be mounted on some surface of your vehicle which is electrically grounded to the chassis.
Radios use this to achieve a clearer emission and to filter potential electromagnetic noise that can cause issues with the transmission.
Hood rails, metal bars, and vertical metal surfaces mounted on chassis are good locations where the CB radio can create the so-called radio ground plane.
If you wish to mount on a surface where the radio ground plane can’t be established, such as on the truck topper or some insulated part, you can either ground the antenna’s mount to chassis with a piece of wire or purchase the no ground plane antenna system.
While grounding an antenna with a wire can look ugly, NGP systems come with a much shorter range.
Tuning your CB antenna
For the proper functioning of your radio system, it is important to match the impedance of the feed line that connects the radio and the antenna.
In case of their mismatch, your radio will not be able to transmit at full power. Additionally, some of the radio waves can be transmitted back through your antenna toward the feed line and create a standing wave pattern.
Standing wave pattern, even more, interferes with your CB radios to transmit radio signals, so it is very important to tune your antenna. This is done relatively easily with either a standalone Standing Wave Ratio meter or the SWR meter built in the CB radio if it has it.
Best CB radio for Overlanding
To help you choose the best CB radio for off-roading we have compiled the list of some of the most popular and best CB radios currently available on the market.
They all have their set of characteristics and capabilities that can influence your decision on whether to purchase them or avoid them depending on your particular needs.
This is list is not a complete guide of the best CB radios, but a shortlist of some devices you should take into consideration.
When it comes to CB radios that are available on the market, Uniden makes some of the best devices your money can buy. The PRO505XL model comes in very compact dimensions but packs few very useful features.
The most obvious feature is the LCD screen which has a backlight, which makes it very easy to use in a dark environment, such as during the night or in bad weather.
This CB radio doesn’t support the Single Side Band, and you can only use it on the standard 40 channels.
What it does come with is a dedicated button for the emergency Channel 9, which is always good to have for any case. This model also comes with a PA capability and with a dedicated jack, you can add an external speaker.
Along with the radio unit the packaging includes the mounting hardware and a quite good push-to-talk microphone.
This radio is very popular among offroaders because it has a very useful feature set, but is also an excellent bang for the buck. The only potential drawback of this radio, for some people, can be the lack of support for NOAA weather reports.
The Cobra 29LTD is arguably among the most popular CB radios, particularly because it comes loaded with features.
Transmission signal meter, check. SWR meter, check. Dedicated Channel 9 button, check. Noise blanker/limiter, check. RF gain, PA capability, and backlit display? Check, check, and check.
It is among the more rugged and sturdiest CB radios you can find currently on market.
Its features cover all of the basic things you could ask from a CB radio to have. While it doesn’t have NOAA weather reports, severe weather alerts, or SSB support; it is still an excellent choice for covering all the basic needs.
It offers a very good balance of performance and price, thus it is a model you should take into consideration.
President Electronics BILL CB Radio
This model from President Electronics is arguably the smallest CB radio with the largest features set you can find on market.
The relatively tiny body of this radio comes loaded with all the basic functions and many premium features.
For starters, it has a display with a backlight that can be set to one of 7 colors. This makes it highly visible and easy to read.
An automatic timeout timer will cut off your transmission in case that your Talk button was pressed for a long time, or was jammed pressed for longer than 60 seconds.
Automatic and manual squelch controls are also present in this model, along with an active noise limiter. Another very useful function is automatic channel scanning.
Contrary to previous models, this one comes with an NOAA weather channel, but also with PA system support and a Roger Beep. The drawback of this model is that, unfortunately, it has just 3W of emission power.
Midland 75-822 is a completely different product from the previous ones, it is a handheld CB radio that is powered either from the 12V cigarette lighter socket or by six AA batteries.
It’s a very small radio even for the handheld type but comes with features packed up to its gills. It has the noise limiter, manual squelch control, channel recall function, backlit display, and support for NOAA report.
It has 4W of output power and is very portable by being a handheld CB radio. This feature makes it very useful as you can carry it outside of your vehicle. One particular feature that sets it out of the competition is the so-called Dual Watch capability, which allows you to monitor Channel 9 and another channel you wish to.
Many people swear by this CB radio because of its portability, very sturdy built quality, and very rich set of features.
Cobra 29LX can be called the older brother of 29LTD. It comes absolutely loaded with features that will be very useful to you on any type of offroad adventure.
The display is backlit, and its color can be changed, but also the brightness which makes it much less tiring for your eyes during the night and less likely to interfere with your night vision.
It also has the PA capability, RF gain, weather alert support, SWR meter for antenna calibration, automatic channel scanning, clock, alarm, and much more.
All these features come in a top-notch package that is extremely sturdy and able to withstand traveling over harsh terrain and the consequential vibrations it can cause.
For the price you will pay, this is a very affordable CB radio when you compare its features with some other models.
Uniden BEARCAT 980
The second model by Uniden on this list is BEARCAT 980 which comes equipped with single side band capabilities. The SSB will allow you to use additional 80 channels for radio communication and increases the transmission power to 12W.
The drawback is that these channels you can use for communicating only with other SSB capable devices. Otherwise, it still supports the standard 40 AM channels.
It comes with an excellent microphone that has an active noise cancelation feature, something that is not very common among CB radios, but comes as very useful in bad weather or road conditions when there is a lot of background audio noise surrounding you.
It is a CB radio that covers the essential basic features, dedicated Channel 9 button, NOAA weather channel, automatic noise limiter, radio frequency gain, backlit display with 7 different colors, PA system support, and many others. The unique feature that sets it apart from the competition is the ability to use a wireless microphone.
No matter which CB radio you decide to choose it’s always useful to have one. CB radios can come in handy in many scenarios, from communicating with other vehicles on the trail, passengers directing you across difficult terrain, for inclement weather reports, or in case of emergency.