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Best "emergency bag" radio and GPS?

Since 2000, I have been carrying a bag with an ICOM ICA22E radio and a Skymap 2 GPS.

The ICA22E NIMH battery goes flat after 2-3 months, as they all do. I take it home to recharge before a big trip, but also I carry a second battery pack which has non-rechargeable lithium AA cells and that has a basically indefinite shelf life – about 10-15 years. In reality, the NIMH pack will likely be useless when needed.

I don’t think there is a radio which offers a better solution. There is that US one (“non CAA approved” – as if anybody is going to care) which does ILS too, but can it take lithium AA cells?

Anyway, a radio will always be a certain size so there is no reason to replace the radio to get a smaller/lighter one, but I would like a better battery solution. But maybe there isn’t one – even a modern lithium laptop battery self discharges just as fast. Or maybe one should chuck out the NIMH and just keep the lithium AA pack…

The Skymap 2 uses 6 x AA and they don’t seem to get discharged. Possibly one of them might; maybe it powers a memory chip or something like that. But I test them annually and they seem to last a few years. However this GPS is heavy, the map (which can’t be updated after about 2005) is barely readable, and it takes anything up to half an hour to get a fix after not being used for a long time.

Is there a better GPS which can take primary (non rechargeable) lithium cells and which doesn’t draw current from them in storage?

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter I would suggest a Garmin 196 – the data is still updateable, and being B&W it has good battery life (6-8 hours with 6AA).

I got mine on e bay. Only mod is to insert some eraser bits (North American speak) to ensure the battery contacts are proud.

I don’t use it much – my magenta line being drawn on my half mill, but will use it to check speeds, or if I need to download a GPS bread crumb track.

Oxford (EGTK)

Thanks Robert… google says 4 x AA. Can you indicate how long they last with the unit not used?

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I use a Garmin 196 in my planes running on battery power, and have noticed during periods of inactivity that the AA batteries will partially discharge in perhaps a couple of months. 4 x AA is correct and I check them during pre-flight, then if I see any discharge from shelf storage I install new batteries. AAs are cheap and easy to change. So I don’t know how long the unit can be stored before the batteries are discharged completely.

The reason my 196 runs on batteries is that the on-board accessory power plug is used for an iPad, and on the other plane there is no on-board power so its batteries or nothing. I also use AAs to power the old Icom portable radio that’s used for primary communication on that plane, and another 9V battery for the intercom.

Also and FWIW the 196 has a low power consumption mode that increases battery life in operation markedly, and I can’t tell the difference in performance. Its at least 8 hrs on cheap AAs assuming no shelf storage discharge.

On the basis of experience I’ve decided cheap AAs are better than any rechargeable battery. You can carry a box of them in the plane which effectively provides many hours of autonomy.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 15 Feb 18:41

For a) I’ve thinking the Vertex stuff, they cost half the Icoms and look strong with similar functionality, though I haven’t owned one.

Wouldn’t a smartphone or a tablet do the job for b)?

LGMT (Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece), Greece

Wouldn’t a smartphone or a tablet do the job for b)?

Since I have JeppFD on my iPad, I don’t bother to carry along my old handheld Garmin GPS any longer. And even without JeppFD, I would prefer the iPad over most old handheld aviation GPS units (like the Garmin 196 mentioned above). Any simple navigation program will do and the battery lasts much longer than the fuel. As I would only use it for naviagtion in an emergency (total loss of onboard navigation capability) I wouldn’t care about airspaces and up-to-date navigation data.

EDDS - Stuttgart

For a com radio one possibility is a used Icom A20 or A21 for $100, €100 or whatever, leave the AA battery pack disconnected and it’ll have zero discharge. The old ones are built like tanks and last a long time. The ease of switching battery packs is another reason I like them – I carry two loaded AA packs and can change them in flight, without autopilot.

An iPad running Foreflight and displaying current charts & airport data is generally my primary VFR navigation tool, when ships power is available. In that case the Garmin 196 and paper charts are backup.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 15 Feb 19:11

one possibility is a used Icom A20

I use my old A20 as backup radio since two decades. The original Icom NiCd battery packs are good, the have a very low discharge rate (I charge mine three or four times per year only). I made myself an adapter for my headset (only the earphones, the microphone of the iCom unit is OK for emergency use). The only problem with the old A20 is the limited frequency range (it only goes to 135.975 MHz instead of 136.975) and of course no 8.33 kHz capability. But for the time being, it is sufficient for emergencies.

EDDS - Stuttgart

An A21 is my only radio in one plane, flying in controlled airspace

For that reason I became quite attentive to the battery situation!

Last Edited by Silvaire at 15 Feb 19:06

I am not aware of any “PDA/tablet/smartphone” product which has a switched-off battery life of more than about a week or two.

The Skymap 2 seems unique in drawing virtually nothing from the batteries – even though it has no physical on/off switch. It’s a momentary button, so it looks like they have done it “properly” (which is easy if that’s your objective, but it isn’t something most designers would attach value to).

I can’t tell if my ICOM draws power from the batteries, and I am not going to plug the lithium AA pack into it to find out, because that is about £15’s worth of batteries

There is absolutely no reason why a radio or a handheld GPS should draw any power whatsoever.

The ILS-capable SP400 looks great and takes 8 x AA which is even more interesting. I need to find out if it has a removable battery pack which can be prefilled with the AAs, like the ICOM has.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
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