Selecting an antenna for off-roading can be tricky, and you generally want an antenna that has the following characteristics:
- Flexible – you don’t want your antenna snapping the first time you hit a low hanging branch
- Top loaded – Top loaded antennas tend to have better range
- High Gain – antennas with high gain effectively amplify your signal.
As a general rule, on the trail, you don’t need crazy range. Front to back, we’re usually within a kilometer or so. However, every so often, when there are multiple groups out (such as trail days at camp EOTB), you might want to reach out and get a status on the other group. That’s when having a good, properly tuned antenna can make the difference between communicating and listening to static.
Before getting into what kind of antenna to purchase, it’s important to understand where you should mount your antenna. Generally you want the antenna mounted as high on the vehicle as possible as this will improve range, but the higher it’s mounted, the more likely it is to get knocked around and damaged on low hanging branches on the trail. Mount the antenna too low, and the vehicle itself will act as a shield, preventing the signal from propagating in some directions.
You also need a location with a good ground plane. That means you need the antenna mount (not the antenna itself) grounded to the vehicle. On a Jeep, for example, the most common mounting location is on the tire carrier. Since the tire carrier is typically on a hinge, it is necessary to make sure the carrier is properly grounded to the vehicle, and not isolated.
Common mounting types and locations include:
- Magnetic mount on a metal roof
- Attached to a roof rack
- Tire Carrier
- Side body of the vehicle
- Trunk or tailgate lip mount
- Mirror mount
- Glass mounts
This is not a comprehensive list of antenna types and choices, but represents the three most common and practical options for use on the trail.
Fiberglass Whip antennas
A fiberglass whip antenna is really a wire wrapped around a fiberglass stick. They are generally built with tight coils at the top of the antenna and looser coils throughout the rest of the length. They are top-loaded antennas so usually provide excellent range and are mechanically tunable (with a screw at the top). The downside of these is that the fiberglass can be quite brittle and they break easily on trees. You can mount them on a spring to minimize the chance of damage, but the spring does impact the tuning of the antenna, and has a tendency to corrode and lose conductivity over time.
Since the antenna is top loaded, you can get away with mounting it a little lower on the vehicle.
5ft Stainless Steel Whip Antennas
These antennas have a coil at the base attached to a stainless steel whip. Since the coil is at the bottom, they are base-loaded so there is an impact to range compared to the fiberglass, but since the coil is at the base, it isn’t at risk of damage from low hanging limbs making this a very durable antenna.
Since the majority of the antenna is a flexible stainless steel whip, it is durable but since it’s base-loaded you want as high a mounting point as possible.
8.5ft Stainless Steel Whip
This is a true 1/4 wave antenna at 102” in length. They will outperform virtually any other antenna you can purchase for your vehicle for range. These whips are made of stainless steel so they are flexible but relatively thick, so usually require a spring to prevent damage to the antenna. You should also expect the antenna to dance around a fair bit on the trail. The fact that they are true 1/4 wave also means they are easy to tune, usually without any modifications. You will also need a very good professional mount.
Tuning an Antenna
Once selected, the antenna has to be tuned to match the radio. Before using your radio to transmit, make sure you have properly tested and tuned your antenna or you risk damaging the transmitter circuitry in your CB.