The ability for people to communicate over the airwaves is one of humankind’s greatest inventions.
Practical for so many reasons, from tactical use to search and rescue, from highway driving to kayaking.
And, mobile phones aside, there are a few other ways in which to do it.
In this article, we take a look at walkie-talkies vs CB radio. What are they? What are they used for? And which one is right for you?
10-4, let’s get started.
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- CB vs Walkie-Talkie in a Few Words
- Comms Radios – What Are They Used For?
- What is a Walkie-Talkie?
- What is a CB Radio?
- Communicating Over Radios
- The Verdict – Which Do You Choose?
CB vs Walkie-Talkie in a Few Words
Much like the code words used to keep radio chatter brief, let’s give you the quick answer right now:
A CB radio is commonly used in vehicles, or as a static device at home, as the base unit is often large and bulky. It’s primarily used for safety purposes and in emergency situations.
A walkie-talkie is generally used when communicating with one other person, over a more limited range. It’s more versatile than a CB radio, with a wider application of uses.
They’re also more compact than CB radios, and you can fit one easily in a tactical messenger bag, for example, and it’s much more portable as a result (when you’re on foot, at least).
Of course, there’s much more to it than that, and you should read on to find out which option is the best for your needs.
Comms Radios – What Are They Used For?
We’ve all got mobile phones, right?
There’s a good chance you’re reading this article on one at this very moment!
So, why on earth would you need a CB radio or a walkie-talkie?!
Mobile phones have their own limitations – most notably in emergencies.
Telecommunications towers might be out, you could be in an area with no signal coverage, your battery might die, or the sheer volume of calls can overload the system.
This is exactly what happened during 9/11 – for example.
For emergencies, having access to a CB radio and/or a walkie-talkie network can be invaluable – particularly if you’re stranded in the wilderness, or during a natural disaster.
A quality tactical flashlight is also a good thing to carry in such situations, too, along with a durable folding knife.
CB radios and walkie-talkies are also much more cost-effective than telecommunications. You’re barely going to spend a bean to use them, save whatever power they need.
Let’s take a look at each radio, its uses, and how it’s different. We’ll even throw in their limitations, so you can weigh up the pros and cons of each.
What is a Walkie-Talkie?
“Walkie-talkie” is a slang term for a two-way radio. It’s also known as a handheld transceiver, given the fact that it is a transmitter and a receiver in a single device.
Originally developed during WW2, it was primarily used by the military, but later became extremely popular for public safety, as well as commercial and job site use.
It is a highly portable unit, which operates by using a number of different channels, at a more limited range.
Only one walkie-talkie can communicate at any one time, but anyone on the same frequency band will hear whatever is being broadcast.
Each self-contained unit has a battery pack, a transmitter, a receiver, a loudspeaker, and a microphone. A push/press-to-talk button (PTT) is located on the side or on the front.
While they cost a small fortune when they were first introduced, today, decent walkie-talkies are highly affordable, and much more efficient than those early models.
Watch the video below for a simple, but informative guide on the science behind how walkie-talkies work.
Walkie-talkies have many practical uses in today’s world, and it’s always good to keep a pair on hand for multiple situations.
Traditionally, two-way radios will have been used by the military, law enforcement, and security personnel – commonly to call for backup, signal for help, or relay the movements of a target or felon.
In retail and commercial sectors, particularly for large stores or warehouses, you’ll often find employees using walkie-talkies to communicate with each other. They can be very helpful for locating stock for customers.
Walkie-talkies are very common in the entertainment industry, such as on movie sets, backstage in theaters, or at music gigs and festivals. Roadies will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Construction job sites also use two-way radios to great effect, especially when you have a team spread over a large area.
Two-way radios are extremely useful for outdoor sports, such as kayaking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and hiking.
Essential for staying in contact with your group or loved ones, they can be vital for safety purposes.
Child-friendly walkie-talkies have become very popular. Bright, colorful devices that kids get a real kick out of being able to talk to their friends over a distance. They can also be used as baby monitors.
And dedicated combat sports enthusiasts use walkie-talkies for communicating when they’re in the field – particularly when playing realistic MilSim (Military Simulation) scenarios.
They’re extremely popular with snipers, for example, and can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Two-way radios are not without their faults, and you should be aware of their cons as well as their pros.
Walkie-talkies have limited range – particularly when compared to CB radios. A typical walkie-talkie is going to give you a range somewhere between two and five square miles – depending on quality and power.
Range and success can also depend on the environment, and you might struggle to get a clear signal through dense vegetation, or when surrounded by hills, or tall structures.
Even though the battery of a walkie-talkie can last a long time, they will die eventually, which can be problematic if you’re running low in an emergency situation.
And even rechargeable batteries will lose their effectiveness and need to be replaced after a while.
You can get a lot of interference when using a walkie-talkie, and anyone using your frequency can listen in on the conversation. Not ideal if you need to keep your movements on the DL.
However, more expensive models might have encryption capabilities, as well as being able to broadcast to a wider range.
What is a CB Radio?
A CB radio is noticeably different from a walkie-talkie, as it is not nearly as mobile unless mounted in a vehicle. As such, it usually takes up a fixed position in a truck or car cab, a boat, in the home, in a bunker, and more.
It consists of a large base unit which is typically powered by the mains, a vehicle battery, or possibly a generator – depending on the circumstances. It will be connected to an antenna for an increased range.
CB stands for Citizen’s Band, or Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) to give it its full title, and it was invented in the 1940s.
But it wasn’t until the 1970s that its popularity grew – largely thanks to its inclusion in several prominent movies and TV shows at the time, and its use by long-distance truck drivers.
CB radio uses 40 channels, with channel nine being reserved for emergencies, and it typically has a much greater range than that of a walkie-talkie.
For an in-depth guide to CB radios, I highly recommend you watch the excellent video, below.
CB Radio Uses
Perhaps the most famous users of CB radios are long-distance truckers, and while its popularity might have waned, many drivers still have CB capabilities in their cabs for safety on the road.
And that’s really where CB radio comes into its own – it’s used extensively by first responders, including search and rescue, for emergency situations.
If the grid suddenly goes down, CB radios are invaluable for communication – such as during natural disasters that can damage the infrastructure.
They’re also used in other vehicles to identify police movements – such as speed traps – as well as traffic jams, weather reports, warnings, and more.
And speaking of the weather, CB radios are extremely useful for accessing bang up-to-date information on dangerous conditions/natural disasters, while the internet, apps, and smartphones often lag behind.
Off-road enthusiasts also like to have a CB radio in their vehicles, like ATVs, buggies, jeeps, and motorcycles. They can be essential for communicating when negotiating challenging terrain.
Survivalists and preppers like to have a CB radio close to hand, which is perfect for being able to continue communications even at the end of the world.
This isn’t meant to be facetious in any way – if I was into this subculture, I’d 100% make a CB radio my first purchase. That, and one of these awesome tactical jackets.
And I’d check out these amazing tactical gear brands for even more survivalist gear inspiration.
The obvious limitation of a CB radio is that it is a fixed-base unit, and not as portable as a set of walkie-talkies.
They’re also generally more expensive than their more compact counterparts, although prices are still affordable. You also require an antenna link up for them to operate with any success.
CB radios are not particularly powerful (although more so than most walkie-talkies). You might need to look into ham radio for increased range – but you will need a license to do so.
The learning curve for using a CB radio is much steeper than that of a walkie-talkie, and it might take a bit of practice for getting used to it.
Communicating Over Radios
If you’re going to use either of these devices, it’s advisable you brush up on the lingo when conversing over the airwaves.
While this might seem complicated at first, the basics are pretty easy to grasp, and you don’t need to know all the slang terms of a CB radio trucker right off the bat.
But it is very helpful if you learn the phonetic alphabet. A-Alpha, B-Bravo, C-Charlie, etcetera. Not only is it essential for radio speak, but you’ll get a huge kick out of sounding this cool. I know I still do.
You’ll feel like a genuine, tactical operator, especially if you’re also using some night vision to see in the dark!
Take a look at the video below, which will help you get started in radio etiquette.
The Verdict – Which Do You Choose?
So, CB vs walkie-talkie – have you made a decision?
The type of radio you choose will depend on your circumstances, but I will say that 90% of readers will probably benefit most from a walkie-talkie.
If you drive for a living, or you have a remote cabin in the woods, then perhaps a CB radio might be better. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, a CB radio can be a lifesaver.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from having both, as many people do when it comes to tactical purposes.
Many airsofters will carry a walkie-talkie set up on one of these plate carriers, for example, and some tactical pants might well have a dedicated place in which to clip one.
While back at base, there’s a CB radio setup for serious emergencies.
Do CB radios communicate with a walkie-talkie?
No. As they use a different frequency, it’s not possible for CB radio users and walkie-talkie users to communicate, although each might pick up the other’s chatter.
Can you get in trouble for using a CB radio?
Providing you’re operating a CB radio in line with the 1934 Communications Act/Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, then you should be fine.
Most operators don’t require an FCC license – just make sure you’re using it in line with FCC regulations. Follow the link above to make sure you’re toeing the line.
Do truckers still use CB radios?
This question is likely from someone who watched the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit.
CB radios were immensely popular with truckers in the 1970s when oil shortages kick-started their use for long-distance drivers being able to communicate with one another.
While their heyday might have passed, some truck drivers still use CB radios to this day, even if it’s just to prevent boredom from setting in.
However, they’re certainly not as popular as they once were, which is a shame, considering how useful they still are – particularly when it comes to road safety.
What’s the maximum range of a walkie-talkie?
Depending on the quality of the device, the environment, and conditions, a walkie-talkie can have a range of several miles.
Two to five miles is common for a commercially available set but more expensive, high-end models can be boosted to reach 30 miles plus.
What is ham radio?
Ham radio is different from a CB radio and a walkie-talkie, in the sense that it is an amateur radio network operating on a different frequency with a much greater range.
You also need a license to use a ham radio, but you can broadcast around the world with the right setup.
When it comes to walkie-talkies vs CB radios, the two can often be confused.
I hope this article has cleared any of that up, and you have a better understanding of the type that’s right for your needs.
Let me know which one you’ve gone for and why.
Stay safe out there – over and out!