Pacific Crest Trail Repeater Guide

How to hit an amateur radio repeater from the trail

Compiled by AA6J Bill Jeffrey
Free for hiking hams on the Internet.

There are a number of repeaters guides available, such as the ARRL Repeater Guide and the Western States Traveler Repeater Directory. The trouble with these is they tell you where the repeaters are, not what repeater you can hit from a given location. This isn't a big deal in populated areas, but can be difficult in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, for example.

This page is not designed to explain how to hike the trail or what there is to see. For that I suggest the Pacific Crest Trail Association at .

Backcountry radio: Your transmit power and your antenna have a big effect on whether or not you can hit a repeater. 500mw isn't going to cut it in the backcountry. (If it does, use it and save your battery!) The most power generally practical on a backpack is 5 watts, but this still gives about another 1/2 S-unit over the more common 3 watts. I've found the extra power made a difference many times. If your built-in battery doesn't give enough power, you might consider bringing a small (1 amp hour) external 9.6 volt battery. I currently use a Yaesu VX5 because it's small, light, and has a 1.1 amp hour 7.2 volt lithium ion battery that gives 5 watts and lasts a long time (and has a built-in altimeter, too!). A second battery is handy - the VX5's battery is not much bigger than a 9 volt alkaline.

As for your antenna, I use a Smiley Super Stick II 5/8 wave telescoping whip on 2 meters. It works much better than a rubber duck and even other flexible antennas. Some recommend a roll-up J-pole, but I have found that when these are hung in a tree the tree attenuates the signal versus the telescoping whip out in a meadow.

Of course, location is everything. If you can't hit the repeater where you think you should be able to, try moving around a bit to find the right window. Sometimes standing ON a boulder helps, holding the radio as high as you can, other times standing in FRONT of a large boulder gives a little extra reflection. You may also find reception much better in an area is covered in snow versus one that is dry.

Here's something from Ranger Rick: if you get up on Glen pass and try and hit Mazourka, you will trigger other repeaters in Fresno. It actually works BETTER if you come down off the pass, or at least use a boulder to shield transmissions in one direction. I suspect this is often the case, and an important point for hikers in trouble just running to the high ground to hit a specific repeater. I would also stress reducing power when transmitting from high points. You can anger a whole lot of people transmitting on 5 watts from the top of Whitney!!

No repeater? Something else you should know about is the Wilderness Protocol when you are out of range of any repeater. This recommends monitoring 146.520 simplex for 5 minutes at 7 am and every 3 hours after through 7 pm. The first four minutes are for emergency traffic only, with the last minute open for general calls. For example, from 7:00 am to 7:04 am listen for emergency messages, then at 7:04 call CQ if you want. Repeat at 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, and 7 pm. I've only tried this a few times, mostly because I simply forget to look at my watch! However, I've never received a response to a call I've made when I did remember, so I'm not sure how useful this really would be in an emergency. Still, it's good to know about.

Mind your manners. Most people go backpacking to get away from it all and many don't want to hear cell phones and radios. If you need/want to use your radio, do so quietly and discretely out of sight and sound of others. If someone comments, politely explain what ham radio is and how it could help them in an emergency. And, of course, if there is an emergency use your radio to get help if possible.

Also, if you hear a call sign you don't know calling on "your" repeater, take a minute to find out if they need help. Please don't ignore someone calling for information. If we all do this, someone will be there when we need help. There may also be non-hams listening who will be impressed with the range and friendliness of ham repeater communications. If you're busy but they just want to chat, after finding they need no assistance, you can always simply excuse yourself and no one will be offendedIt only takes a minute!

Remember, you need an amateur radio license to operate on these frequencies. Hams won't talk to you without it! The license is one 35-question multiple choice test. For more information on getting a license, visit the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) web site

If you want to know more, here is a conversation I had with a thru hiker thinking about using ham radio on the trail.

HELP with this project! This guide will be most useful if it comes from the actual experience of hams on the trail. Please email information on what repeater you could hit from where on the trail to "aa6j AT qsl DOT net"

Repeaters are listed by PCT Section.

California Oregon & Washington Credits

Copyright Bill Jeffrey 2000 - 2005. Rights to reproduce and use for personal or nonprofit purposes given.

Last update April 11, 2005