Things to Consider When Purchasing Ham Radio Antennas For Your Off Road 4×4 Vehicle
One essential thing you need to operate a ham radio, or any radio for that fact, is an antenna. Ham radio antennas are just like any other antenna. They follow the same rules of physics. Ham radio antennas that you can get for your vehicle, are going to use the exact same technology as CB antennas, your AM/FM car stereo antenna, your internal cell phone antenna, wi-fi antennas, TV antennas, and on and on.
In this article we will tell you about the basics of what to look for in a ham radio antenna. The concepts learned here, can then be applied to any antenna system that you can dream about.
If you still don’t have your ham radio license, what are you waiting for! Head over to our online ham radio class and study up. We take everything that you need to know, and actually teach it to you, in terms and anecdotes that you, as an avid adventurist, will understand. So get moving! Then you can put your knew knowledge of ham radio antennas to use!
One of the really nice things about ham radio antennas, compared to CB antennas, is that they are much smaller and shorter than CB antennas. This is because ham radios run on different frequencies from CB (to see more about different radio frequencies, check out our article, Ham Radios vs Race Radios, or our other article about Ham, UHF, VHF, Cell Phones, and Emergency Dispatch Frequencies).
What Kind of Ham Radio Antenna Do You Want?
Generally speaking, we like to group ham radio antennas into 2 categories: Solids and Whips.
Solid antennas are like your fiberglass CB antennas. They have a solid structure and then wire wrapped around it that goes the length of the structure. This wire wrapping is actually the antenna! The structure just helps support the antenna wire.
Whip antennas are usually just a long, thin piece of stainless steel that stands straight up. This long, thin piece of steel is the actual antenna. Most of the time, they will have some sort of trap or loading coil in the middle of the antenna.
If you plan on doing any offroading, we highly recommend looking into some whip antennas. Solid antennas will work just fine, so long as you set them up on a 4”-6” antenna spring, like the Firestik SS-3H Heavy Duty Antenna Spring, and keep them lower on the vehicle. If you mount one of these off the side of the vehicle, or on a bumper, you won’t have to worry too much about breaking them on trees and low hanging objects. However, you will sacrifice performance by having it lower on the vehicle.
What you want to avoid for off road ham radio antennas, are antennas with extra antennas sticking off of them like this Comet UHV-4. These antennas are great to run multiple band radios, but all of those little spur antennas are going to get caught on everything and break off.
For basic 2meter and 70cm operation, we highly recommend something like the Tram 1180 38” Dual Band Ham Radio Whip Antenna or the Browning BR180 37” Dual Band Ham Radio Whip Antenna. The whip structure allows it to take impacts on trees and brush. Since they are right around 38” long, it is also within acceptable antenna lengths so as to not cause injuries to bystanders that may be standing around and cheering you up Little Sluice or Hell’s Revenge.
Connection Options For Your Ham Radio Antenna
One of the important factors you will come across while shopping for ham radio antennas, is what kind of connection they have. Ham radio antennas will come with a selection of BNC, SMA, PL-259, SO-239, NMO, or Studs.
We recommend NMO connections for offroading. They tend to be stronger, and thus handle abuse from hitting objects. They are more weather resistant, so you don’t have to maintain the connection as much after it rains. And brackets are readily available for NMO connections for almost however you want to mount your antenna. For a great NMO connection and coax package, check out the Browning WSPBR1015 NMO to PL259 17ft Feedline. Just make sure that the PL259 connection on the other end of the coax mates to your radio output (most mobile ham radios will require PL259 or SO239). If you accidentally end up with the wrong connection, you can always find adaptors.
Stud mounts are our 2nd favorite connection style. They are strong and are very unlikely to break. You will need to maintain these connections a little more with some dielectric grease and to make sure you don’t get rust build up. Most antenna springs, and ball mounts will come with stud connections. For a good spring, we recommend the Firestik SS-3H Heavy Duty Antenna Spring. Just remember, that if you add a spring to your ham radio antenna, you should double check the tuning. You probably won’t need to re-tune the antenna if you are running a 2meter or 70cm ham radio antenna, but if you are doing a CB antenna, you will need to re-tune.
If you end up with an antenna that has a different connection, like a PL-259, SO-239, BNC, or SMA, then you will need to get an adaptor. Either that, or make sure that the coax line you get has the correct connection on it to attach to your antenna. If you are unsure of what connectors to get, shoot us an email and we can recommend the correct parts to save you some headache!
Mounting Your Ham Radio Antenna
The last thing to consider is how and where you want to mount your antenna. When it comes to off road vehicles, just like everything else, the mounting positions are limitless. You will get the best performance if you can mount your ham radio antenna in the middle of a flat, metal surface, like a hood or vehicle roof.
Having your antenna on top of the roof will give you the best signal performance, but it will come into contact with low hanging objects more often. As long as you stick with whip antennas, and go slow, you shouldn’t have problems.
Mounting your ham radio antenna off of the side of the hood, like a car stereo antenna, or on a fender, is another good spot. Just make sure that where you mount it, the antenna cannot bend back and reach a window. Whip ham radio antennas can gain a lot of momentum and have been known to whip into windshields and other windows, and annihilate them.
One popular spot is on a front bumper. Having the ham radio antenna here allows the signal to be a little more out in the open (as opposed to on a rear bumper and be blocked by the vehicle body). It also gets a little bit of benefit from the reflective metal hood. I personally don’t like the antennas here because I hate having things in my vision. I prefer roof mounted, or ball mounted antennas.
Other popular options for mounting your ham radio antenna are on truck bed rails, roll bars, exterior cages, roof racks, ball mounts on quarterpanels, drilled into your roof, rear tire swingouts, and lots more.
You can also find brackets that will allow you to mount your ham radio antenna in door jams, stick out from under hoods (and look like an AM/FM car stereo antenna), and anywhere else you want to mount them. Check out some of the useful brackets below.
Magnetically mounted ham radio antennas work very well because you can generally mount them in the middle of a metal surface such as a hood or the top of your vehicle. When you are done wheeling, just pull the antenna off and safely stow it away to prevent thefts. The downside to these antennas is that they are usually smaller and thus don’t put out as strong of a signal as a longer antenna. They also tend to get swiped off of the vehicle pretty quickly by branches and brush.
But they are less expensive and a great option if all you have is a handheld radio like the BaoFeng GT-3TP Mark III Ham Radio Handheld. We like to recommend the BaoFeng UT-106 Mag Mount Dual Band Ham Radio Antenna for people with any of the BaoFeng style handheld ham radios that need an SMA-Female connection on their antenna.
That’s it for ham radio antenna setup options! I hope this gives you some ideas to help plan out your mobile ham radio install. Start with what antenna you want, figure out where you want to put it, then make sure all your connections match up! Piece O’ Cake!
If you live in the Sacramento, CA area, and want some help with your install, shoot us a message through our Contact Us! page. We can help you get it all planned out, and even do the install for you (for a minimal charge).
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any comments or questions below! If you want to keep in touch with us when we add new content, join our newsletter! We do special offers that only show up in the newsletter, so make sure you sign up below!
You can also join the community forums and ask questions and see what adventures everyone else is up to!
Also, if you don’t have your Ham Radio Technician License, head over to our Online Ham Radio Class and study up! Remember, 15% of your registration goes back into keeping our trails open!
And, of course, don’t forget to check out our MORRFlate 4 Tire Off Road Inflation Deflation Kit!