Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been enamored with two way radios. My first set, like I’m sure most of yours were, was of the old AM transistor type that could reach all the way to the house from behind the garage! The range was less than appealing considering you could holler and achieve the same effect…but ‘come on, it was cool to use the little handsets!
Now fast forward a few decades and again my interest was peaked. After a long love affair with CB radio I was wooed away by a new mistress…The FM FRS radio. These were where it was at…range, clarity and semi private conversations. Again as before, the only main issue was range. There was a huge improvement over the transistor type but it was not quite there yet. Just as the embers were beginning to cool GMRS came on the scene and changed the entire game. Now we had the range!
So where am I going with all this? Let me tell you…Midland, a long time innovator in all things radio, has broken the mold of the portable hand unit. With the introduction of the XT511 Base Camp Radio camping, disaster and recreation communications have just gotten easier! Taking the form of a hand crank radio with integrated flashlight, the XT511 looks a lot like the standard “survival radio” with full featured AM and FM bands with NOAA weather thrown in but that is where the similarities end…On closer inspection you will find that in addition to the above features this little dandy is packing a full power and full featured FRS/GMRS two way radio rated to 36 miles!
The big LCD display is back lit giving you good readability in low to no light conditions with a bright green glow and sharp easy to read characters that makes it easy to see what band or functions you have selected. The interface is easy to use and I mastered the radio in no time at all. I have used it on family outings, in the neighborhood and between vehicles and found the XT511’s reception clear and sharp and its transmissions strong and long on range. As a testament to the reach of this unit, I ‘m able to communicate with my home from work, which is about 2.5 miles as the crow flies! Aside from the distance, there are numerous buildings and even a freeway between us! The signal is strong and clear with little to no fade. The XT511 really puts out the power and being CTCSS and DCS enabled helps keep your comms quasi private allowing and allowing you allocate different codes to different users and form your own talk groups.
The Dual Watch feature is a welcome addition that allows the user to monitor two channels for messages. This is nice for monitoring your groups channel and the FRS/GMRS emergency channel too. You can only transmit on the primary channel but switching over to another is fast and easy.
Setting the adjustable VOX (Voice Operated Transmission) to “On” gives you hands free operation which is really nice feature if what your doing requires the use of both hands! Now the VOX works with both the built in microphone and the external mic/speaker hand set. Wait, What? Yes, the icing on the cake of this little radio is the eternal mic/speaker unit that plugs into the left side of the radio. Not only does it look cool, but it really makes use and operation a no brainer. When would you use it? All the time!! I found really convenient to be able to stow the XT511 in my pack and thread the mic cord out the access slits in the back pack and fix it to my shoulder. Not only did it work really well but I was fun to use and turned a few heads!
The scan button lets you surf the 22 channels looking for other operators and the monitor button can be used to cut the squelch and hear distant stations at the edge of their transmission range. Now let me say this about the XT511…you may be able to barely hear them but if you key up, they will most certainly hear you!
The TX511 doesn’t stop there, on the left side of the unit are three plugs for the mic/speaker combo, charging the rechargeable battery pack and a USB port for charging your USB devices! Midland has really pulled out all the stops on this one…Above the three jacks on the side, is a three element LED light that is bright enough to light up your tent or find your way to the potty! On the opposite side of the unit is a hand crank to charge the battery pack when it gets low and for extended off grid use. The radio also runs on 4AA batteries that can be installed along side the battery pack. A switch on the front allows you to select between power sources to keep the radio running. One of the things I have always liked about survival radios was the hand crank for power! working the crank is a good way to keep warm on cold nights and makes for a great “Behavior Modifier” when out with young campers if you know what I mean!
Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more…Midland really amped up the weather receiver. Not only will it tune in all 7 NOAA frequencies, but when a weather alert is issued the radio goes nuts! Regardless of the band your on, when an alert is received the radio beeps, the display flashes and the flashlight blinks on and off! Talk about an attention getter!
The reception on the AM/FM side is top notch and easy to tune in. The only feature I would have liked to seen was a memory or presets for the broadcast radio receiver. The integral clock/alarm clock works great and holds time. In fact, I have used it for an alarm for my day job!
With a flip up antenna, extensive features and comprehensive menu with intuitive controls, the XT511 is a winner in my book and belongs in any camping/bugout kit or vehicle. The uses for the unit don’t stop with just camping and survival, it has applications in keeping track of your kids in the neighborhood or convoying on the highway. This radio will find its way into your adventures and everyday life leaving you to wonder how ever you got by without it!