I carried two different types of radios on Everest this year – a new digital GMRS radio and a VHF radio. Here is how they compared.
The models that I used were a Vertex VX150 VHF radio and a Midland GTX600 GMRS radio.
There is a reasonable difference in price of these items – the Midland radio is less than $60 for a pair from Amazon, whereas the Vertex radio is about $250 for a pair on ebay and much more than that if you buy through a retail shop. And then you’ll need to buy any accessories such as a microphone and antenna for the VHF unit.
So how did they perform?
In close range, there wasn’t much difference between the GMRS and the VHF unit. On Everest South this means between BC and C1. However once you got past C1, there was a noticeable difference, with the VHF radio performing significantly better than the GMRS. The VHF range is definitely further than the GMRS and I think the microphone is better, enabling you to still understand the other person, even when the signal is weak. At the South Col, the GMRS didn’t work at all, but the VHF worked as long as we held it in a particular spot inside the tent. Above the South Col, neither radio could communicate with base camp until we reached the South Summit. One of our sherpas had a radio with a long antenna and this seemed to work.
We only had the standard 21cm antenna on our Yaesu radio, but I would highly recommend buying a longer one. Make sure you get one that is designed for 144Mhz. If I was doing this, I would buy a long one (at least 1m) and then mount in onto the side of my packpack, being held in by the compression straps. I had an external speaker and microphone connected to our radio and clipped to my backpack shoulder strap, and this allowed me to easily use the radio whilst climbing, without needing to take it off my packpack.
Other factors to consider
Almost every other team on Everest was using VHF 144Mhz frequency radios, so it’s handy to have your own radio to be able to communicate with other teams, especially in an emergency. Also the HRA (medical) only has 144Mhz.
The performance of both radios improved when lithium batteries were used, as compared with Duracell Alkaline. Lithium batteries are a lot lighter than alkaline and you really notice this in a VHF handset which takes 6-8 batteries.