Review: Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio

Two-Way Radio
Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio
$110 each/$220 per pair
6.1 oz./172.9g (one radio only), 7.9 oz./224g (including carabiners and leash)

Over more than 30 years of climbing and skiing in the backcountry, I’ve had a few close calls, some directly due to the inability of my partner and I to hear or see one another. One of my most trusted partners—a longtime friend who once saved me from a potentially long lead-climbing fall by leaping down a steep hill at the route’s base to reel in many feet of rope—also once took me off belay before I reached the top of a pitch and anchored myself; fortunately, I didn’t fall. After relying on the sketchy low tech of shouting and rope signals for much too long, I’ve found a vastly more reliable, light, and inexpensive solution: the Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.

On days of ski touring in the backcountry—where you need to know the location of your partners after skiing separately down runs and confirm that all are safe, and you can often be too far apart to hear or see one another and wind can drown out or distort shouts—I’ve found the Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio reliably provides clear communication, eliminating the need for often fruitless and frustrating shouts to one another.

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The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.
The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.

I’ve also used the Mountain Radio resort skiing at Northern California’s Palisades-Tahoe and Sugar Bowl resorts with my young-adult son, enabling us to discuss which runs to ski whenever we were too far apart to hear one another, or to locate one another when we took different runs. That’s particularly helpful when skiing unfamiliar resorts. (Radios are less necessary with a group who are all familiar with the resort and can plan where to rendezvous after a run and a phone call can usually clear up any miscommunication.)

The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio is simple enough for a young child to master—and skiing parents know how easily one can lose a fast, young kid on the slopes. Yes, many resorts have cell service. But a cell phone is usually buried in a pocket where its sound is muffled and you have to remove a glove or mitten to operate it, whereas you can clip a two-way radio to a shoulder strap of a small pack—near your ear—where you need only to reach over and press the talk button to speak to a partner and will hear them calling you.

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The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.
The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.

This two-watt radio’s claimed range of one to five miles in mountains or a half-mile to three miles in forested hills exceeds the range needed in most situations when backcountry or resort skiing, rock or alpine climbing, and off-trail hiking and scrambling, and certainly exceeds the range needed for climbers tied into a rope together. In practice, they’re occasionally (and rarely) limited by line of sight and terrain obstacles at close range: At one point, my son and I were at two different lifts at Sugar Bowl and could not hear each other despite being within a half-mile and at virtually the same elevation. Within minutes, though, we were able to hear each other.

Rocky Talkie gives an estimated range of 25 or more miles in direct line-of-sight circumstances—but the terrain we frequent rarely permits communicating across such distances; indeed, ideal conditions for that much range would almost never occur. Besides, few backcountry users will encounter the need for such range. In most backcountry situations, the realistic range is probably a mile or two in high power mode and a half-mile in low power mode (explained below).

The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio can connect with all other FRS or GMRS radios generally by using channels one through 22 and can sync with another radio’s privacy code. (While GMRS radio transmissions require a license because they are over two watts, FRS and GMRS radios both operate within the frequency range that overlaps on those channels, enabling them to communicate; but GMRS radios must operate at the lower, two-watt power level in that range of channels.)

The radio’s five buttons are each dedicated to specific functions, keeping operation simple and easy the first time you review the instructions or watch Rocky Talkie’s instructional video (at The recessed talk button audibly clicks when depressing it so that you know when it’s transmitting and it’s easy to use while wearing warm gloves.

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The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.
The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.

The small, recessed flipper button on top scrolls through the 128 channels. Holding it forward for two seconds locks and unlocks the radio, preventing, for instance, accidentally changing the channel; only the talk and volume buttons operate when the radio is locked. Holding the flipper backward for two seconds engages scan mode to search channels one through 22 for other users who are actively transmitting within range; press any button to stop scanning. The flipper is not easy to manipulate while wearing a warm glove, but you’d want to set the channel and privacy code at the outset of your day, anyway. Similarly, the plus and minus volume buttons on one side are too small for winter gloves, but those rarely need adjusting during an outing.

The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.
The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio left side.

As with other two-way radios, privacy codes filter out transmissions from other nearby radio users who are not on the same channel and using the same privacy code as you and your partners; without using a privacy code, you will hear the transmissions of others on any channel within range. The LED screen displays “CT” or “DCS” to indicate a privacy code is on. Press the power button twice to check which privacy code is active. To select a privacy code to sync with a partner’s radio, hold the volume minus button for two seconds, then release that button and use the flipper to select a privacy code and press any button to set that code. The radio must be unlocked to change the channel or privacy code.

Holding the volume plus button for two seconds changes the radio between high power mode, which is two watts and recommended for normal use and maximum range, and low power mode, which drops the power by a factor of four to 0.5 watt, greatly reducing the radio’s range while saving power, mostly for multi-day outings. Hold the volume plus button to switch between high and low power.

The USB-C rechargeable, 1550 mAh lithium-ion battery runs for up to four days on a full charge, even in temperatures down to -20° F/-29° C. A shatterproof LED screen and thermoplastic housing protect it through very hard backcountry use. The IP56 waterproofing rating means it’s splash- and snow-proof but not immersible.

The Rocky Talkie consists of a single, compact unit that measures 6.4×2.3×1.1 inches/16.2×5.9×2.7 centimeters and weighs only 7.9 oz./224 grams (including carabiners and leash), easily fitting in the palm of your hand and almost unnoticeable attached to a pack.

Rather than a clip on the back of the radio, the Rocky Talkie employs a lightweight, climbing-strength carabiner clipped to a fixed, bomber D-ring on the back of the radio, for easily and securely attaching the radio to a pack shoulder strap or a climbing harness. The coiled leash can be clipped via its small carabiner elsewhere on your pack or harness to avoid dropping and losing it in deep snow, water, or off a cliff; and clipping the bottom end of the cord to your belt area with the radio at your shoulder places tension on the cord to keep the radio from flopping around.

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The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio right side.
The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio right side.

The Rocky Talkie has obvious limitations, first and foremost terrain: Trees, dense vegetation, mountain ridges, canyon walls, and other natural barriers reduce the radio’s range or completely impede communication. And the Rocky Talkie is strictly intended for communicating across short distances; it shouldn’t be compared to GPS-based transceivers like the Garmin inReach Mini 2 that can transmit your location and a short text message to family, friends, or emergency responders across any distance (and that are more expensive and require a service plan).

But the Rocky Talkie virtually always enables clear communication between partners who are out of sight and voice range, at the relatively short distances that typically separate climbers, backcountry skiers and riders, snowmobilers, off-trail hikers and scramblers, ultra-hikers and runners, and many outdoor users—potentially avoiding or quickly alerting you to any problems as well as making the routine actions of our sports easier and smoother. Whitewater kayakers and others in water sports would benefit just as much from radios, but would need the fully waterproof Rocky Talkie 5 Watt Radio ($165), which requires a license because it’s over two watts.

Having the ability to immediately and clearly speak with your partner(s) radically increases safety: You can confirm immediately, without doubt, that your partner is off belay, is safely at the bottom of a ski run—or is in a tree well or avalanche and needs help. My son shared with me hearing a ski guide opine that radios are as important as any backcountry safety gear—meaning your beacon, shovel, and probe.

Radios also deliver the perhaps surprising benefit of helping you move more efficiently and faster through the backcountry—which also increases your margin of safety.

The Verdict

You don’t have to wait years to greatly improve your safety margins and travel more efficiently in the backcountry. The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio provides a lightweight, reliable, easy-to-operate, and inexpensive means for backcountry and resort skiers, climbers, and others to communicate with partners who are beyond sight and earshot.


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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of all gear reviews and expert buying tips.

See all reviews of outdoor apparel at The Big Outside, including “The 12 Best Down Jackets,” “The Best Gloves for Winter” and “The Best Mittens for Winter.”

And don’t miss my popular reviews of “25 Essential Backpacking Gear Accessories” and “The Best Backpacking Gear” of the year.

—Michael Lanza

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