Iridium 9505A satellite phone
9505A Satellite Phone

Will a two-way radio work in deep canyons?

Will a high-range two-way radio work in deep canyons? I ask because my father, who is 77, likes to "trp around the backcountry," which has a lot of large canyons. This worries my mother sick, as he gets no cell phone signal there. Any ideas? John Genoa City, Wisconsin

Iridium 9505A satellite phone

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My hat is off to your father for staying active, but I understand why your mother worries a little.

Iridium 9505A satellite phone

Iridium 9505A satellite phone 9505A Satellite Phone

Really, there’s no great solutions to this. Wireless phones lose the signal, of course, because they’re line-of-sight devices that must be able to “see” a repeater or other type of antenna. Otherwise the rock walls of the canyons block the radio waves. The two-way radios that are popular suffer from the same problem. The odds that you can get a signal to travel more than a half mile or so are extremely low.

So what to do? Satellite phones solve much of the problem because they pull a signal down from the sky. So you’re much more apt to be able to make a call. But a satellite phone such as the Iridium 9505A ( sells for $1,000 or so, and then you have to subscribe to a calling plan, and those are $60 a month or more for plans that give you less than an hour of calling time (of course, it takes only a few seconds to shout, “Help!”).

The other choice, as I discussed a while back, is a personal locator beacon. These sit in your pack or pocket until needed, then, when activated in an emergency, broadcast your position on a special frequency, via satellite, to emergency services providers. A unit such as the ACR TerraFix 406 ( also broadcasts your location down to 100 yards or so. But they’re fairly expensive, too, $700 or so. And, to put a fine point on it, you have to be in a position to activate it (or dial out on the satellite phone, for that matter). If your father is somehow incapacitated, then what?

My own feeling is that your father needs to be a little more responsible. None of this “tramping around.” He needs to have a route and a schedule in mind, and leave information about that behind, along with an expected time when he’ll be back in wireless coverage. That’s what anybody should do, really. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, and if nobody knows where to look for you, it makes things that much harder.

Get more advice from the Gear Guy as he picks this season’s top gifts in’s Holiday Gift Guide. You’ll probably find a few things to put on your own wish list, too.