Off Grid Communication: 5 Realistic Options

With modern technology, we have become accustomed to convenient, instant, on-demand communication. We have instant access to more knowledge and information than ever before. We use our smart phones to instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the planet.  But what would you do if the communications network went down? Furthermore, what would you do if the grid went down? Is it possible to communicate without the grid? The short answer is yes. Therefore, the purpose of this post is to introduce different forms of off grid communication.  

Why off grid communication is important

There is example after example of local weather events or disasters when the entire local grid went down. (I’ve had personal experience with this more than once. ) Thousands, if not millions of people were without basic services. Additionally, they had no ability to communicate with anyone. These situations is what has spurred the development of some of the off grid communication devices introduced in this post.  

There are two common reasons that grid communication systems fail during an emergency. The most obvious one is infrastructure failure. The second reason is overload. Grid communications are designed to handle a certain load. During an emergency situation, everyone is attempting to communicate and the system becomes overloaded. It is during such situations that a means of off grid communication becomes vital. 

Furthermore, there are still areas in the United States, not to mention other countries, where cell phone reception is questionable if not non-existent. (I bought my off grid property in 1996 and did not have cell phone service until 3 years ago.) Even while traveling in the back country, off grid communication becomes important simply for safety reasons. Additionally, if you live off the grid, or you are simply trying to be prepared, some form of off grid communication can be a life saver.  

Forms of off grid communication

There are several options for off grid communication. What you choose depends on your needs and what form of communication you desire. Options include one or two way communication, local, region or global communication.  Although satellite communication may not truly be considered off grid communication, it does get you beyond your local grid in the event of regional grid failure.  

Many articles that I’ve reviewed on this subject, tend to focus on only one thing, meaning one means of communication.  But after living off the grid for more than 20 years, I am a firm believer in back up systems. Consequently, I have more than one means of off grid communication in place.  

The best options for off grid communication

-Short wave radios 

-Mesh network devices

-CB radio

-Ham radio

-Satellite communication  

Let’s look at the advantage and disadvantages to each system 

Shortwave radios

Emergency shortwave radios provide reception only. In other words, only one way communication. It provides the ability to monitor radio communications for up to date weather data, as well as important alerts during a disaster or emergency situation.  

The best option is to get a light weight radio with multiple means of charging.  Many of the small radios have several built in capabilities for charging such as replaceable batteries, built in battery pack, crank charging, solar panel, and AC adaptor. Most of these radios weigh less than two pounds and are easily portable.   

Some of the better models to consider are the following:

-Kaito KA500 5-way powered emergency radio

-Running Snail Solar Crank NOAA Radio

-IRonSnow Solar Emergency NOAA radio

If you want something inexpensive and are comfortable with only one way communication, this is a great place to start. 

Mesh Net work devices

Mobile cell phone networks rely on a central tower for communications. Your signal is “bounced” off the tower and redirected.  This is often referred to as a “star” network. The true disadvantage to this system is that when the tower is down, communication ability is lost. In the event that the grid is down for an extended period of time, most cell phone towers only have enough backup energy sources to last about one week.  

On the other hand, a mesh network is locally based. Each device communicates with a similar device or devices in the area and forms a local network. Communication does not rely on the internet or a local cell phone network. Thus you create a private peer-to-peer, off grid communication network. With enough mesh network devices within range of one another, your range can be extended by “hopping” from one device to another.  

The best mesh network devices:  

-goTenna Mesh: ($179 per pair)

-pairs with a smart phone via an app and bluetooth

-provides text messaging

-encrypted end-to-end communication

-provides GPS coordinates

-ability to “hop” messages via other users to extend the range

-Communication distance: 1.0 to 5.0 miles depending on the terrain

-no subscription service required

-BearTooth ($250 per pair)

-pairs with your Smart Phone

-Text messaging up to 10 miles

-Voice messaging up to 5 miles

-provides topographical maps

-provides GPS coordinates

-can be used to recharge your Smart Phone

-no subscription service required

-Fogo ($300)

-Walkie-talkie style communication

-Navigation capabilities

-Pairs with Smart Phone for text messaging

-Built in flash light

-Can be used to recharge other devices

-Communication distance: 7 to 16 miles depending on terrain.  Greater distances in a peak-to-peak environment

Does NOT use mesh networking, only point-to-point communication

-no subscription service required

-Sonnet ($45) 

-Pairs with Smart Phone

-Walkie-talkie style communication

-Provides GPS coordinates

-Can send images and audio recordings

-Provides off-line maps

-no subscription service required


-Voice and test communication

-Real time tracking


-off line topographical maps


-Emergency location beacon

-Distance: 0.5 to 9 miles depending on the amount of congestion

Radio communications

CB radio

Citizens Band Radio Service, or CB, is a type of radio communication that the FCC classifies as Personal Radio Service.  CB radio is intended for both personal and business use. It does not require a license to operate and is open to anyone of any age. There are 40 shared channels and no channel is assigned to any one business or individual.  However, channel 9 is generally reserved as an emergency channel or for traveler assistance. CB radio is intended for short range communications and generally has a range of 5 to 25 miles depending on terrain and the type of antenna used. 

Common etiquette for CB radio communication: 1) Do not talk to another station for more than 5 minutes continuously 2) Wait at least one minute before starting another conversation. 3) Priority on every channel is given to emergency communications. 

FCC rules to keep in mind: 

-An FCC certified unit must be used in the US. Look for the attached FCC label.

-Increasing the power output, attaching a power amplifier, or internally modifying any unit is prohibited. 

-Attempts to communicate with CB stations over 155.3 miles is prohibited

CB radios come in mobile units (usually mounted in a vehicle) and hand held units.  Some of the most popular brands include Cobra, Galaxy, and Uniden. Units generally cost between $40 and $200 depending on the features you desire.  As with most radios, the performance depends on the type of antenna and where it is mounted.  

If you are looking for an inexpensive means of off grid communication that requires no special license and has a decent range, then CB radio is the way to go.  Just keep in mind that this type of communication uses public radio waves and everyone can hear what is being said.  However, it is a great means of communication during an emergency.  

Ham Radio

Amateur radio, or “ham” radio, is simply a network of individuals that use specific radio equipment for two way communications. The term “amateur” simply refers to the fact that these operators are prohibited by law from receiving monetary or material compensation for any activities they perform as radio operators.  Amateur radio operators are granted a license by the FCC after passing an examination on radio theory and operation.  

Ham radio is by far the most versatile type of off grid communication. Hand held devices provide a range of about 5 miles. Mobile devices (in a vehicle) provide a range of about 200 miles. Base stations (in your home or office) provide global communications.  

When comparing all forms of off grid communication, ham radio is the most difficult and expensive one to get started with. You have to pass an exam and get a license.  Even the equipment is more expensive. But the extra effort is well worth the vast versatility it provides. 

Three levels of ham radio licenses:

1) Technician

2) General Class

3) Extra Class

There are several ways to start getting involved:

  1. Locate your nearest ham radio club at Once the search page is up, enter your postal zip code to find the nearest club.  
  2. Take practice tests online for free at There are 100 different versions of the test and many of the questions will repeat. 
  3. Purchase books online through the ARRL, which publishes books on the three levels of ham radio licensure.  They can be purchased on Amazon or directly through the ARRL here:
  4. Take advantage to online materials.  This website is not free but is very inexpensive.  Website:

Satellite communications

Although the use of satellite devices is not pure off grid communication, it does get you well beyond the reach of your local grid. During an emergency or disaster situation it is common for the local grid to go down.  A satellite device solves that problem for you.  Let’s look at a few of them.  

-Garmin inReach SE+ ($400)

-Satellite communication

-Allows world wide communication

-Navigation function

-GPS tracking

-Pairs with Smart Phone

-Test messaging

-Provides unlimited topographical maps

-Can transmit an SOS signal

Subscription service required


-Spot X Satellite Messenger ($250)

-World wide communication

-Navigation capability

-Can transmit an SOS signal

-Text messaging

-Built in compass

-Limited navigation capabilities

-Subscription service required


-Satellite Phones ($400 to $1200)

-World wide communications with voice and texting

-Subscription service required

Mobile satellite hotspot devices ($300 to $1200)

-World wide internet communications

-Text messaging

-Voice messaging

More so than ever before, modern technology has brought us multiple means of off grid communication. There is no reason to not be prepared for an emergency.  Furthermore, having the ability to communicate when the grid is down can bring you a tremendous amount of peace of mind.

Other articles that might interest you

Off Grid Internet: Five Realistic Options

Establishing an Emergency Food Supply

Self Reliance is Your Best Security Blanket

Go off grid and live well,


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