Anyone who wants to get serious about backcountry travel will encounter the need for a communication system. There are many scenarios where 2-way communication is necessary beyond the capacity of yells and arm waving, and safe travel in avalanche terrain requires continual contact with the members of your party. The ability to convey conditions, ideas and personal status will increase your group’s ability to function smoothly and efficiently and ultimately create a safer and more enjoyable experience. A variety of options exist on the market for a 2-way radio, and although most are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, some are more suited to the needs of backcountry users. Backcountry Access delivered a product well tailored to the needs of customers with the BC Link radio, and the Link 2.0 offers design updates and higher transmitting power.
The BC Link radio system utilizes the FRS/GMRS service anywhere in North America (more detailed information). This system is comprised of 22 channels made available to the public without a license. Most common 2-way radios utilize these frequencies. It is very important to note that these are not VHF-FM frequencies and thus not able to communicate with aircraft, government or municipal operators (SAR), or other licensed VHF users such as guiding companies. The intent of these frequencies is to be used by recreationalists as a communication tool, not as emergency equipment. Channels 1-7 are combined FRS/GMRS, 8-14 exclusively FRS, and 15-22 exclusively GMRS. The BC Link 2.0 is fully licensed for all 22 channels and 121 privacy settings by the FCC and IC. In 2017, the usable wattage on channels 1-7 and 15-22 was increased from 1.0W to 2.0W, thus the Link 2.0 has almost double the transmitting power, increasing the advertised range from 2 to 6 miles in the typical backcountry environment. This allows more flexibility but also the option to operate on low-power channels (8-14) to conserve battery.
The BC Link 2.0 body style has been completely redesigned from the original BC Link. The base unit is significantly narrower with the 3.7 VDC lithium ion battery housed internally with just a hair more power (2300mAh vs. 2200mAh). The antenna of the Link 2.0 is more integrated and the mic attachment point has been moved to the side of the base unit with a different fastening screw (the same tightening mechanism as most beacon battery compartments).
The controls on the base unit retain identical functions as the original (the channel presets are even set the same from the factory), with the option to lock the controls by depressing both the MENU and OK buttons simultaneously.
Eleven receive-only US weather channels are available past channel 22, with a weather icon visible on the display when selected. New to the 2.0 is the return-to-standby function, which stops the radio from transmitting if the mic is depressed for more than 180 seconds.
The Smart Mic has been redesigned for better ergonomics but is still glove friendly and allows the user to turn the radio on and off and switch to preset channels. The mic speaker itself has been rebuilt to function better while packed with snow or ice.
The mic cord will integrate into almost any backpack via a hydration sleeve or a back panel zipper, allowing the user to stow the base unit and only remove it to charge the radio or change the channel presets. BCA's Float Avalanche Airbag Packs have shoulder strap sleeves designed specifically to accommodate the BC Link and BC Link 2.0 Mic.
The BCA stash packs also have specific features to accommodate the BCA BC Link mic. Both the mic and the base unit come with alligator clips allowing secure storage.
The mic clip rotates a full 360 for seamless pack wearing. NOTE: In order to function properly the base unit must be stowed with the antenna oriented upward.
The BC Link 2.0 is an excellent tool for backcountry communication within a group. The Smart Mic makes using the radio incredibly easy while in the field. The battery life, transmission power, and channel variety are more than sufficient for 2-way communication in inclement and remote environments, and the operations are easy to learn and understand. Recharging is quick via the micro USB port on the base unit.
The pack integration is the highlight. I found it seamless to just leave the mic in place and only take out the base unit to charge it every three or so days. No more forgetting you radio inside your pack where you can’t turn it on without digging it out and/or dropping it in the snow or fumbling to get it out of your zipped pocket at the bottom of a run. I never ran into interference on any of the factory preset channels, although it would be wise to designate a channel and privacy code for your group ahead of time so you can adjust the presets on the base unit and avoid bleedover. The most effective configuration is a 0.5W channel for line-of-sight and a 2.0W channel for other traffic as necessary. Utilizing 0.5W channels will also conserve your battery life as you most often don't need 2.0W within the group.
Although the Link 2.0 is an optimized tool specifically for backcountry users, there are more affordable FRS radios on the market. The Smart Mic makes communicating much easier, however, you are essentially paying for the convenience factor if you don’t require a lot of transmitting power.
As mentioned previously, the Link 2.0 is not a VHF compatible radio, and it is important for users to understand the limitations of the FRS system. If you are particularly keen on accessing VHF frequencies you must apply for a license and pass an exam under the Amature Radio Service (widely available in the US and Canada), which would grant you a call sign. The downside to this process is programmable VHF-FM units are significantly more expensive and only effective if your touring partners also carry a license and the proper equipment. It is possible to use a programmable VHF-FM radio without a license in the United States if you restrict your traffic to the Multi-Use Radio Service (Canada had initially planned to adopt the MURS in 2009 but has yet to introduce the service). It is legal to transmit on any frequency during a life threatening emergency, so if you wish to carry a VHF-FM unit you can use it to communicate with first responders if you have the correct frequencies. For those desiring a deep dive, more information on radio communication in the outdoors can check out this article. Other options for emergency 2-way communication (e.g. Garmin inReach, Spot) are available. Unfortunately the scope of this technology exceeds what BCA is targeting with the BC Link system.
Price: $304CAN / $229US
Weight: 340g / 12oz
Mic Dimensions: 9.0 x 5.4 x 4.0cm / 3.5 x 2.1 x 1.5”
Base Unit Dimensions: 16 x 5.6 x 3.5 cm / 6.3 x 2.2 x 1.4”
Battery: Lithium Ion Rechargeable (Micro USB)
Battery Life: 80 hours normal use (transmitting on high power will reduce)
Range: Approx. 10km / 6 miles in typical terrain
Water and Dust Resistance: IP56 (non-submersible)
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