Usually the first thing people upgrade on a new handheld radio is the antenna. No matter what model of handheld you're running, and more and more these days that's some version of a Baofeng, the stock antenna leaves much to be desired in terms of overall performance. Most end up tossing it aside for an aftermarket upgrade. And, like most everything else, there's tons of options out there that range in quality from excellent to...let's be nice and say leaving some things to be desired.
What's also true is the reality that much of the equipment marketed to handhelds is really meant for light duty amateur radio use. This falls back to the first of the three distinct roles of communications I describe in the Guerrilla's Guide to the Baofeng Radio: Sustainment, Tactical, and Clandestine. A lot of the ham radio-oriented options fall into the first category - creating communications capability where the primary goal is maximizing range in terms of physical transmitting distance and the communications security (COMSEC) requirement is relatively low. Ham radio falls squarely into this category and much of its equipment is designed with the hobby in mind. Aftermarket antenna options are no exception.
Back when I was cutting my teeth in all of this, coming from the world of being a trigger puller and knowing the rigors we put our commo gear under in the field, a lot of the options left much to be desired. Like every handgunner that has at least one drawer full of holsters, I've got one full of antennas too. Some I broke, some that were just too flimsy, some that just didn't perform like they should have. It is what it is, like everything else. But the fact remains, nearly all of that stuff is meant for the amateur radio world and leaves a hell of a lot to be desired when it comes to overall durability. I was looking for something that would fit the bill for a tactical purpose, not necessarily Sustainment alone. Fast forward a few years and enter the prepping and milsim world and the market for gear that surrounds it.
The market for a product drives innovation. That's one of the foundational principles of capitalism, and the prepping and milsim world certainly has driven a specific market for not just civilian-oriented tactical gear but specifically in the communications department. Very, very good clones of military equipment I had started showing up a few years ago and their performance was surprisingly strong for the overall cost. Everything from tactical headsets to mics to even antennas. One of the first ones to make waves was the tape-whip antenna we used on the old SINGCARS radios and they immediately became popular- far more durable than ham radio-oriented gear and they could be woven into the webbing of your shoulder straps on your field kit.
Those tape whips were a big step up. But what a lot of people outside the .mil world don't know is we broke a LOT of them. In fact, that and the battery contacts on the MBITR (and later Harris Falcon III) were the two most common reasons we'd have to visit S6 (commo shop). Since SINCGARS runs 30-88mHz the antennas are fairly large when folded out as well, and when left bundled up, cannot be anywhere near as efficient. Not only that, but the Baofeng version hitting the markets led to some serious structural problems within the radio itself. The small SMA connector had to stand up to the lateral torsion when the radio on your body moves one way and the antenna goes another. I've personally seen the connectors snap off of students' gear during the Scout Course. You're going to break things in the field, and even in the far more robust AR-152, the antenna is the weak point in the design (Joe Dolio of Tactical Wisdom found out the hard way during a movement in the Scout Course last fall, shearing his GMRS antenna off the radio).
So while the tape whip ain't bad, we can do one better. We learned in Iraq that antenna relocation kits were mostly garbage for a number of reasons, chief among them it interrupts the balanced nature antennas require for efficient transmission on top of the fact that inconsistent polarization and near-field absorption causes a huge number of problems. As we moved to higher frequency ranges for TACSAT and coordinating with CCA / Air assets, another antenna made its rounds a little over a decade ago - a flexible gooseneck design that housed a helical antenna inside a cylindrical sleeve. Not only is it an efficient design that lends itself well to performance, its incredibly durable.
When these started showing up in the civilian radio space I got excited - the best tactical antenna design was now available in a VHF/UHF format suitable to the most common handheld radios on the market, be it Baofengs, DMR units, or anything in between. One thing about it - the version I carry is the BNC connector base, as the SMA connection point on all handhelds, whether male or female, is inherently weak. For that reason our SMA-BNC adapters allow for an increased surface area attaching to the radio body making for a stronger, more rugged antenna connection. In addition, its a quick detach, making running coax to external wire antennas quick and simple in the field as we cover in the RTO and Recce Courses.
Whether you're only trying to increase the performance of your handheld radio (or maybe even SDR reception...) or looking for the most rugged option in tactical antennas, the BNC Gooseneck is the best option that I've found yet. Performing well in the VHF range of most handheld radios (136-174mHz) and UHF (400-470mHz), its become my go-to piece of kit on my field rigs and coming in at a price that cannot be beat. Get yours.