The Most Awesome Accessories for the Baofeng Radio in 2020
The Baofeng radios are still here and are rocking it in the ham radio world!
Whether you are into backpacking, mobile, survival, hiking, or desk-jockeying with packet (AX.25), APRS, satellite or other modes, the Baofeng UV-5R and the related models are absolutely killing it.
The Baofeng series of Amateur radios have a proven track record and are here to stay. After initial skepticism, these low-cost, but high quality radios have made a huge splash in the Ham Radio, preparedness and emergency response communities. For the price, these are the best value and quality radio’s that can be had.
There are a lot of accessories for the Baofeng radios at excellent prices. Here are my favorites for 2020:
USB Programming Cable
The USB programming cable is a MUST. This is the only way to program alpha numeric names into the radio. It comes with software, but I recommend the open source CHIRP software. CHIRP supports many brands and models of radios and allows you to easily copy settings from one radio to another.
CHIRP can be downloaded from http://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Home. It is excellent software and supports Baofeng, Wouxon, Yeasu, Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, TYT and many other brands of radios. Since CHIRP is open source software, it is free. If you are a programmer, you can even contribute bug fixes to the codebase. This is a great way to contribute to the community.
Handheld Speaker / Microphone
Many folks who have owned a walkie talkie, FRS radio or handheld two-way business band radio will tell you that a handheld speaker/mic is a must have accessory for a radio. The speaker/mic allows you to mount the radio OUT OF THE WAY in your backpack, fannypack, belt clip or tactical vest.
Using a speaker/mic also protects the radio from accidental drops since you are only using the mic and not unclipping and reclipping the radio. You can also clip the mic to your shoulder strap or shirt for convenience. It’s a pretty nice accessory and while not fully necessary, it does make the radio a lot more usable.
The radio does include an earpiece speaker/microphone, but I have found that embedding a 2-way speaker in the ear can be irritating while working.
USB Charging Adapter
Perhaps one of the best accessories for the Baofeng radio is the USB charging adapter. This adapter plugs directly into the radio charging dock. With the USB adapter, you can even charge your radio from a desktop or laptop computer.
Since most vehicles now have USB ports, you can charge the radio directly from the vehicles USB power. This means that you no longer need a 120v power inverter in your car, just to charge your radio.
High Capacity Battery
The high capacity battery offers significantly more operating time than the stock battery. With 3800 mAH of capacity, this battery pack brings almost double the original 1800 mAH capacity. While the original battery pack provides great service life, the extended pack is a nice addition to your kit.
Battery Eliminator (Car adapter)
A battery eliminator / car adapter is a great idea, especially if you are spending a lot of time in the car. It plugs into the radio in place of the battery. The battery eliminator can even be used on an ATV or UTV vehicle since it plugs into a standard 12v DC socket.
In addition to saving your battery when in a vehicle, this option can also be very useful for a remote cabin or a house that is powered from a 12v solar array or that has 12v battery backups. In an emergency situation, where only a car battery is available, this option may come in very handy.
For a stationary digipeater or packet radio node, this accessory would provide a nice solution that allows the radio to be powered from a large capacity battery. The radio should be turned off prior to removing the battery pack and replacing it with the battery eliminator.
High performance antenna
Some reviewers say that the included antenna is not that good. They are probably right, but I have not yet verified their claim. In any case, it is pretty typical in my experience that the antenna included with any handheld ham radio is usually not that great. Upgrading the stock antenna to a higher performance antenna can make a HUGE difference in operating distance and clarity.
With the stock antenna, I have been able to barely access a mountain-top repeater from 30 miles away. There is a lot of noise with the stock antenna and the signal is not that great. With the upgraded antenna, the repeater comes in loud and clear.
Tactical Folding Antenna
Flexible antennas are awesome, but high performance units tend to be long and the whip can get in the way. I recently found this tactical folding antenna which obviously takes some of its inspiration from years of military design. The beauty of a folding antenna is that you get the desired gain and wavelength matching of a full size antenna, but…it folds up and out of the way. Pretty awesome.
Antenna Extension Cable
An antenna extension cable allows the radio to be separated from the antenna. With this setup, it is simple to place the radio body in an internal backpack pocket and route the antenna outside of the pack. The extension cable can also be used to locate the radio in a locked cabinet with the antenna mounted in a good location outside of the cabinet.
The cable has an SMA-Female that screws onto the radio body and an SMA-Male that screws into the bottom of the antenna. This cable can be used with the excellent Nogoya NA-771 whip antenna or with the stock antenna that comes with the radio.
The mobile antenna mounts to any metal object via a magnetic base. This is a great option which provides a solid mount on a vehicle. The antenna is dual-band, meaning that it is tuned for both the 2m and 70cm ham radio bands.
As with any mobile antenna, it is important to ensure that there is a good ground plane. Typically, this means that the antenna should be mounted in the center of a flat cheet of metal. On a vehicle, the simplest location is often the roof of the car or truck. On an ATV or UTV, getting a good ground plane may be a bit more difficult as there are rarely large, flat metal surfaces.
If there is no metal surface to mount the antenna on, it is simple to use a 2″ x 2″ piece of steel angle mounted to the frame of the ATV/UTV and then attach the magnet mount to the horizontal side of the angle.
PL-259 Adapter Cable
If you have a high performance mobile or base station antenna, you may want to connect your radio directly to that antenna. This adapter cable allows you to directly connect your Baofeng radio to the antenna.
While backpacking, it’s nice to have the radio secured in a pouch on the outside of the pack. This pouch fits the Baofeng UV-5R series of radios perfectly. The pouch has a solid MOLLE strap on the back which securely attaches to any standard MOLLE setup. The MOLLE strap can also attach to a belt. The pouch holds the radio via a strong velcro flap that provides enough space for the antenna and the remote speaker/mic cable.
This is a great accessory and one that I keep the radio in all of the time.
Every Day Carry AA Flashlight
While not strictly a radio accessory, a great flashlight is crucial to your Every Day Carry kit. The Lumintop AA Tool flashlight is an amazing addition which is small, lightweight, has an integral pocket or hat clip and works with a single AA battery.
I have had my light for nearly a year now and it is still fantastic. The light supports a broad range of AA batteries including Alkaline, Lithium and even the Li-Ion models. Currently, I am running a Li-Ion battery with integrated USB charger and current safety circuit which are both built into the battery!
The light has 4 intensity modes: 650, 360, 85, 16 lumens and comes with a glow in the dark diffuser cap, which is great for a quick charge and then use in a backpack or tent.
Unlike many other lights in this cetegory, this one has a click switch with a mode memory. Click to turn on-off and light-press to switch modes.
This is one of my favorite gear purchases of the year!