Gear Review: Walkie-Talkies for Camping with Kids

blond boy on walkie talkie while camping in green field

It’s funny how our gear requirements have changed as the size of our family increased. As our child has gotten older, we have found new ways to allow his independence while still keeping an eye on his safety. One of the best investments we have made is in a set of walkie-talkies for camping that allow him to ride his bike off to the playground while we stay at the campsite enjoying a beverage and cooking the next meal.

Types of Walkie-Talkies:

First up would be the toy variety. Our advice is don’t. Don’t waste your time and money on buying some cheap toy walkie-talkies. Not only will they not serve your purpose if you do take them camping, but they will probably frustrate your child and annoy the adults when playing with them at home. There are also security concerns. Several toys tested in December 2019 were easily hacked. While improvements have been made, we prefer to teach our child how to use real versions properly. This is probably due to the Montessori influence on our life and the belief that children thrive when doing real work with real tools.

Next would be the moderate variety geared towards the consumer. They tend to be smaller and more lightweight as well as extremely affordable. These walkie-talkies usually come with features such as multiple channels, a longer range, and better battery life. Some of them are waterproof, receive weather alerts, and include an LED flashlight. They can typically be purchased in groups of two, four, or even in a group of ten!

Last would be the premium walkie-talkies aimed for the professional. For us these are again in the “don’t” category. We are not going backcountry. There aren’t multi-day hikes in our near future. We are not separating vast distances. It is typically just the three of us, so we only use two of them. We do not require the upgraded features, nor the upgraded price, for these walkie-talkies while camping.

Brands of Walkie-Talkies:

There are several decent brands on the market these days. Some of them are Cobra, Motorola, and Uniden. Two-way radios from any of these brands would be a great choice. The Xtra Talk LXT630VP3 Two-Way Radios we purchased are from Midland and we love them.

Cobra:

The Cobra brand of two-way radios have been in existence since 1948 and are available in a wide range of prices.

Midland:

In production for the past fifty plus years, Midland walkie-talkies have been used both by individuals and corporations.

Motorola:

Motorola actually created the first walkie-talkie as a military product back in 1940. They were also the first to develop handheld phones. Over the years their product has just kept getting better.

Uniden:

The distinguishing feature of Uniden two-way radios is their ability to float on water as well as not being harmed when fully submersed.

Factors to Consider when Selecting Walkie-Talkies for Camping:

The three most important factors, outside of price, to consider when looking at walkie-talkies for camping with kids would be as follows:

  1. Range
  2. Size and Weight
  3. Emergency Features

Range:

The two-way radios we looked at had a maximum range from between a few hundred feet up to 50 miles. Well, they claim to have a maximum range of 50 miles but that is difficult to achieve as the conditions have to be perfect in order to do so. Luckily, we don’t expect to be that far from our child while camping.

Size and Weight:

We took into consideration the size of our child’s hands as well as how much weight he typically carries while we were narrowing down our options. It needed to be easy for him to carry about with him. It also needed to fit in his hand comfortably.

Emergency Features:

While we don’t expect to be too far from our child while camping, we do appreciate the safety features that come with many of today’s consumer walkie-talkies. The weather alerts from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) channels are handy to have while camping. Other features might include a beacon for broadcasting S.O.S. and a flashlight for after dark adventures.

Other Features to Look for in a Camping Walkie-Talkie:

There are some other nice to have features that might be available depending on which models you are considering.

  1. Hands-free operation
  2. IP ratings

Hands-free operation:

If your walkie-talkie has an option labeled “VOX” it can be voice-activated. This can be a useful feature if your child is riding their bicycle or engaging in other activities which require two hands (climbing rocks comes to mind). The Midland Walkie-Talkies we chose do offer hands-free operation.

IP ratings:

We don’t know about you, but we have camped in the rain more often than we care to think about and we appreciate knowing our tools can stand up to getting wet. If the item is labeled with IP and a number or two, it has gone through impact and water testing. IP stands for “Ingress Protection” and it measures how well a device is protected from both solid objects and liquids.

The IP tells us it has gone through official testing. The first number tells us how well it is protected from solid objects and the second number tells us how resistant it is to water. The higher the number, the better the protection. Now an item can still be water resistance and not show an IP rating on it. That just means the manufacturer used a different certification method. But if you see IPX4, you can be confident that some rain won’t hurt it. While our Midland Walkie-Talkies don’t offer an IP rating, we do know a little rain won’t hurt them.

To Note:

Please note that two-way radios, or walkie-talkies, that have been purchased in the United States can legally only be used in North America. If you plan to travel outside of the continent, you will need to research the laws of your destination location.

How to use your Walkie-Talkies while Camping:

We established code names for ourselves when we first got our walkie-talkies. This was both for safety reasons and to make communicating on them fun. I love our original code names. The child likes to change them up on a regular basis.

It is important to agree upon a specific channel for communication in advance of needing it. We also require specific check-in times in which we know to expect a transmission. However, sometimes our channel is being used by someone else when it is time to transmit. Which means that we also have a back-up channel agreed upon.

Once we get to our campsite, we do spend some time testing for dead spots in the areas we expect to be traveling. This journey takes place between the campsite and the playground, the bath houses, and any other common destinations. That way we know what to expect during our stay.

#1 Reason to use a Walkie-Talkie while Camping with Kids:

While there are many good reasons to use walkie-talkies while camping with kids, the first one that comes to our mind would be the independence it fosters. Yes, we want to keep our child safe, and we want him to have the freedom to make his own mistakes.

Given the opportunity to choose for himself, and act on those choices, we expect him to learn to think for himself, to solve his own problems, and to take responsibility for his actions. We believe that by growing up this way, he will become responsible, resourceful, assertive, and a respectful member of society.

Some Fun Games to use Walkie-Talkies while Camping with Kids:

There are so many fun games to play with kids using walkie-talkies. Some of our favorite ones to play while camping include the following:

  1. Follow the Directions
  2. Hide and Seek/Manhunt
  3. Scavenger or Treasure Hunts
  4. Role Play/Pretend Play
  5. Capture the Flag
  6. I Spy

Follow the Directions

In this game, we will need two groups of kids. One group does the calling out of directions. The other group, blindfolded, will perform the actions being called. While this is usually a two-team game, we have been able to make it our own by having one caller and one walker with one supervisor. Sometimes we set up a simple obstacle course and other times we try to make it to a specific location. Both methods encourage teamwork and building leadership skills.

Hide and Seek (or Manhunt)

Walkie-talkies bring an additional dimension to the classic game of hide and seek. If playing hide and seek, each player needs a walkie-talkie, and they all need to be on the same channel. After all of the hiders have their spot, they can alert the seeker to start seeking. They can provide clues to their location to aid a young seeker. They can suggest false clues to their location to hinder an older seeker. Alternately, if playing Manhunt, one player hides, and the rest of the participants become the seekers and use their walkie-talkies to aid in the search by communicating with each other on areas already investigated. If the game goes on too long and players get tired (or need to come to base) the walkie-talkies can also be used to relay the message that it is time to return.

Scavenger or Treasure Hunts

With the classic scavenger hunt, we use our walkie-talkies to stay in touch with home base where one adult is typically cooking a meal and the other adult is off hunting with the child. If we are in a multi-family trip, we might let the kids hunt alone or in pairs if we have gone over all the safety rules again.

Creating a treasure hunt version can be easier on us as we can keep the game in a smaller footprint close to the campsite. With this version, one of us hides “the treasure” and then we let the kid (or kid and other adult) hunt for it while providing hints and clues. Some hints are as simple as “hot…cold…warm.” Sometimes we create actual clues such as “walk three paces from the pine tree west” and “turn 270 degrees to your left.” Either way, the hunt is on until the treasure is found.

Role Play Games

How many times has your child pretended to be a spy? Or an emergency worker? What about an explorer? All of these can be enhanced with the use of walkie-talkies. Secret Agent Spies need to communicate about their top-secret missions. Emergency workers rely on ten-code lingo to quickly convey messages. Explorers need to tell their support crew how to follow along with the extra supplies. Walkie-talkies makes all these activities more believable.

Capture the Flag

Granted, we don’t play this one as often as we would like because we need to find both a group to play with and an area which is large enough to play. And even if we do find both of these, to play with walkie-talkies requires the others to also have two-way radios that can be placed on the same channels. However, when everything comes together and we can make it happen, this is a classic summer evening activity. For those who don’t know how to play, the basics are as follows: there are two teams, each with a territory and a flag. Each team attempts to sneak onto the opposing team’s territory to capture its flag before their own flag is taken. With walkie-talkies players can discuss strategy and coordinate maneuvers. Just make sure each team is using a different channel or all your secrets will be discovered.

I Spy (with my little eye)

When we play this one we choose one of us to be the Spy. He or she searches within a defined area, out of sight of the rest of us, for an object and then comes back to base. Then the Spy states “I spy with my little eye something (fill in the color here).” The Spy remains at home base with a walkie-talkie. The rest of us head out with our walkie-talkies looking for items of that color. When we spot something, we can ask over the radio if we have found the correct item. The person who gets it right first gets to be the Spy next.

Other Motivating Ways to use Walkie-Talkies while Camping with Kids:

There can be times when we want to encourage our child to go to the next level in some activity and we are met with resistance. Luckily, we have discovered that using our walkie-talkies can inspire the behavior we desire. Some examples of this would be:

  1. Moving forward
  2. Encouraging awareness
  3. Verbal communication

Moving forward

Have you ever been on one of those hikes which seemed so easy at the beginning, but halfway to two thirds of the way through you feel like it will never be over? Yes, us too. We have found that if we tell the kid he is the advance scout and needs to let us know what the situation is at the next way point via the walkie-talkie, he is more inclined to move out and report back. Which is so much more enjoyable than him dragging his feet and asking “When will we be done?”

Encouraging awareness

I tease my husband about not being able to see the mustard in the door of the fridge but being able to spot a deer a mile away. My child has the same skill. To promote awareness of the all the world around us, and not just certain parts, I will send the child to an area and to look around. Then we discuss over the walkie-talkies what he sees, smells, hears, etc. (I don’t encourage him to taste or touch anything unknown!) By doing this over the walkie-talkie, as if he is exploring an unknown world, he is more apt to really take the time to notice the details.

Verbal communication

Sometimes we just need to relay information to another member of our party and shouldn’t yell that loud. Such as when we are at the campsite cooking and the child is at the playground with other kids but needs to come home for dinner. Or two of us have gone on a walk and we want to come back to a cold drink. Then there was that time two went fishing and were successful and needed a bucket brought down to the riverbed so we could have fresh fish for dinner. You get the idea.

The Midland Xtra Talk LXT630VP3 TWO-WAY RADIO:

These are the walkie-talkies we own. We purchased them two or three years ago and have enjoyed using them ever since. With a bold yellow faceplate, they are difficult to misplace (although we have done so on occasion).

They have 36 channels and 121 CTCSS (Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System) privacy codes to help with safety concerns. Plus, you can use silent operation to turn off all tones and utilize the hands-free operation when necessary.

Operation requires either the rechargeable battery pack or “AAA” batteries. The Hi/Lo power settings allow you to adjust the transmit power to conserve battery life. While they claim to have “up to a 30-mile range” we have never achieved that. But we also didn’t expect to do so. The range we can get is sufficient for our needs.

Provided at the time of purchase are two radios, two belt clips, two rechargeable battery packs, the desktop charger, the AC adapter, and an owner’s manual. It is also water resistant, offers a NOAA weather scan and alert, and has a battery life of six hours. Plus, it is cross compatible with all Midland FRS/GMRS walkie-talkies and accessories.

Cleaning and Maintenance of our Camping Walkie-Talkies:

Our walkie-talkies are intended for outdoor use so have enough durability we are not concerned about letting a responsible child use them. However, when it comes time to clean them, either we do it or have him do so under adult supervision.

When it comes time to clean the radio, use a soft, damp cloth. Do not use alcohol or other cleaning solutions. Do not immerse the radio in water. If the radio does get wet, use a lint-free cloth to dry it. Turn off the radio and remove the batteries for long-term storage.

The walkie-talkies come with rechargeable batteries and a docking station which utilizes a click insertion for charging. This is more efficient than just allowing gravity to create the link for charging. When our rechargeable batteries will no longer hold a charge, and we don’t know when that will be as ours are still going strong, we will use rechargeable AAA batteries with a separate charger.

9 Safety Tips in Using a Walkie-Talkie while Camping with Kids:

  1. Know how to use them before you head off. We recommend practicing with them around your house and your neighborhood prior to any trips.
  2. Decide what channel you will use and how often you will communicate during any time apart. You may need to change your channel choice once you get to the campsite.
  3. Test your range in advance. Then, when you get there, do a quick run through looking for dead spots.
  4. Be aware of your battery strength and know how long they tend to last during normal use. We recommend bringing extra batteries along just in case.
  5. If your child is incredibly rough on things, make sure you purchase a durable option. You can also look into durable cases to hold them.
  6. Please teach your child about “stranger danger” and how to handle it if an unknown voice starts talking on your channel. Make sure they understand that these are not private channels and that anyone could listen in.
  7. Code names and coded locations are a great idea! Plus, they can be fun to create.
  8. Make sure to have a back-up plan for those times in which your batteries are dead and/or you are in a dead zone.
  9. Recognize there is no substitute for using the buddy system, for having a communication plan, and for teaching your child responsibility.

Basic Terminology to Know for Walkie-Talkies:

These are the basic phrases used by two-way radio communicators. Many of them will be familiar to you from popular culture.

  • Affirmative – Yes
  • Negative – No
  • Mic check, Radio check – Can you hear me?
  • Loud and clear, Read you loud and clear – Responding to Mic or Radio check that you can hear them
  • Come in – Asking the other party to acknowledge your transmission
  • Stand by – Acknowledging you have heard the other party, but you can’t respond further at this time
  • Go ahead – Alerts the other party you want them to resume their transmission
  • Go again, Say again – Requests the other party to repeat their message
  • Copy, Copy that – Message is understood
  • Roger, Roger that, Ten Four – Message is received and understood
  • Disregard – Ignore previous message
  • Wilco – stands for “I will comply” and means that message is understood and action will be taken
  • Over – I’m done talking, message is complete
  • Out – Communication is ended
  • Break, Break, Break – Interrupts a communication in the event of an emergency
  • Mayday, Mayday, Mayday – Signals a life-threatening emergency situation

Questions Answered:

Do walkie-talkies have any emergency features?

Many walkie-talkies do offer emergency features such weather alerts, emergency beacons, and flashlights. Our walkie-talkies do not offer all of these, but we were not looking for those features in ours.

Where did the term 10-4 come from?

The Ten-Codes were first developed in 1937 as a way to quickly communicate important transmissions. The majority are no longer used. 10-4 would be the main exception. It stands for “Message Received” and is often used instead of Roger or Roger That. Additionally, if you’ve ever heard the phrase “what’s your twenty?” this is from 10-20 and means “What is your location?” It is also still used by some two-way radio enthusiasts.

How do walkie-talkies promote independence in children?

We try to practice free-range parenting in a controlled environment. What does this mean? It means that when we know the place is safe, we allow our child to wander at will. We want him to explore his surroundings and be challenged by situations. By having the freedom to choose where he goes, he will become better at navigating the world. With a set of walkie-talkies, he can communicate with us as necessary, and we are still avoiding the need for a cell phone at such a young age. Plus, it encourages good communication as well as responsibility.

Do I need a license to operate a two-way radio?

This depends on the type of walkie-talkie you choose. If you select a model with GMRS channels and intend to use them, you will need to purchase a license. The FCC issues these and the price currently is $70 per person for a ten-year term. However, it is expected to be reduced to around $35 per license sometime in 2021. It is a license per person, not per radio. If you only intend to use FRS channels, you will not need a license.

What are FRS and GMRS and why do we care?

FRS stands for Family Radio Service while GMRS stands for General Mobile Radio Service. While practicing casual use, such as us communicating while camping or with another vehicle on our road trip, we should use FRS. GMRS channels requires a license to operate so unless you have a need for the greater range, it is not our best option.

What are privacy codes?

A privacy code adds an extra identifier to your communication which will filter out anyone who is not also using the same code, even if they are using the same channel. This offers me more reassurance that we are doing everything in our power to keep our communications as safe as they can be. We still go over all our stranger danger rules before each use though!

Our Answer:

As a reminder, we selected the Midland Xtra Talk LXT630VP3 TWO-WAY RADIO years ago and have found them to be a great addition to our camping gear. And, if I’m being truly honest, our everyday life as well. The range is far enough that our child can play with the kids the next street over and still come home for dinner when called without me losing my voice calling for him. We recommend these walkie-talkies for use both at home and while camping.

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