Top 10+ Best Handheld Ham Radios for Survival & Beginners

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Since the evolution of technology, ‘Communication’ has always been its main motto. Gone are the days when people used to travel miles to communicate with another person. Technology has reduced distances between people across the globe. Smartphones have always been the topmost preferred device for communication. But, you know what? Even the technologically advanced smartphones have their limitations or shortcomings when it comes to emergency communications. 

Smartphones require a signal or network to connect to another device. In the case of hiking, trekking, or traveling to signal restricted areas, the smartphones will be of no use because of lack of signal. It has been proven that radios are much efficient for communication during these kinds of travel purposes. And, not just for traveling, even when all the mobile networks are down during an unexpected disaster, the radios will come in handy to allow communication through their frequencies. Handheld ham radios are so convenient to carry wherever you go. It will fit just right in your pocket. 

Handheld ham radios might look like they require a lot of skills to handle. If you are one among others to think that way, you’re wrong. These radios are not just compact and lightweight, but also pretty easy to handle once you master its way of operation. There are thousands of licensed operators around the world to offer you radio service. Most of these models come at an affordable price for you to purchase. Each brand will also have different technology and feature equipped with it. You can go through each of the choices before you finalize the desired one. 

Some of the handheld ham radios even provide Bluetooth and GPS location services for emergency or rescue operations. They will come with an efficient antenna to enable proper reception. Your range in the ham radio can be affected by factors such as the quality and size of the antenna, environmental obstructions, urban or rural area, weather conditions, etc. Therefore be prepared to go through the buyer’s guide before you choose your favorite ham radio model. We have shortlisted some of the best handheld ham radios in the market below. Take a look.

10 Best Handheld Ham Radios in 2020 [Reviews]

1. Kenwood Original TH-D74A 144/220/430 MHz Triband

  • Color: Black
  • Weight: 7.2 ounces

Kenwood handheld radio is a highly durable and premium quality handheld ham radio that comes with a transflective color TFT display. The display is best to view both day and night. The radio is incorporated with 4 power output variants including 0.05W, 0.5W, 2W, and 5W. The GPS unit of this handheld ham radio is built for delivering high performance. 

It supports wide-band, multi-mode reception, and has auto-clock settings. The radio is capable of operating at three different frequencies including 144 MHz, 220 MHz, and 440 MHz. The battery performance of this radio excels with its 6-15 hours battery life. The battery performance will depend on your power output usage. 

The radio is built with materials that can withstand tough weather and rough handlings. The weatherproof construction has met IEC 529 IP-54/ 55 standards. The radio supports voice recording. You can store the recordings files on the micro SD card. The radio’s menu and settings options are user-friendly to handle as it is of easy operation. 

The built-in APRS will support data exchange between two ways. The radio also has Bluetooth function apart from GPS features. This will be of great help during rescue or emergencies. The radio uses a D-star application for its functioning. With its amazing features, the radio is also much costlier than its competitors in the market.

Pros

  • Weatherproof design
  • GPS and Bluetooth features
  • Highly durable 
  • Comes with Multi-mode reception
  • Supports voice recordings
  • Multiple power output variants and frequencies
  • Easy to operate, simple software

Cons

  • Battery life is short for heavy GPS usage
  • Much expensive than other radios

2. BaoFeng UV-82C Dual-Band 136-174/400-520 MHz FM Ham Two-Way Radio

  • Color: Black
  • Weight: 8 ounces

BaoFeng Dual-band Ham radio comes with both low and high power settings (1W / 5W). The handheld radio supports a frequency range of 65 – 108 MHz. It supports UHF of 400-520 MHz and VHF of 136-174 MHz. The radio supports the VOX function. The radio uses a v-85 antenna to deliver the best performance. The PTT switch on the radio can be used when you need to transmit on two frequencies. 

The radio’s dual-band feature will allow it to receive two frequencies at the same time in different bands. There is a dual watch receiver to make this happen. The FM broadcasting of this radio gives top preference to incoming calls first. The radio has over 128 manually or software-supported programmable channels. 

So you will need a PC and a USB programming cable for programming the channels. It uses CHIRP Software for this purpose. You can program the channels in alphanumeric order. BaoFeng handheld radio comes with a dual push to talk button. The radio is made of durable material and is certified under FCC Part 90. 

The radio package comes with the radio, V85 Dual Band Antenna, 1800 mAh Battery, wrist strap, earpiece, CH-8 Charger, CH-8 110V Adapter, and belt clip. There is a user manual attached to the package for guiding you. It also provides limited warranty and customer support. With all the good features, the radio also comes at an affordable rate for you to purchase.

Pros

  • Dual-band radio
  • Low and high power settings
  • 128 programmable channels
  • Durable and strong
  • v-85 antenna
  • Supports VOX function
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Requires PC and software for programming channels

3. Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio Transceiver

  • Color: Black 
  • Weight: 2.82 ounces

This handheld radio is much lightweight than its peers. It is also compact and has waterproof features. It is easily submersible into water. The best feature is yet to come. It supports a triple band for the best reception. It can transmit in frequencies 144 Mhz, 220 Mhz & 430 Mhz. 

It receives 0.5 – 999 Mhz. The radio has multiple low power settings including 5W on 2 meter and 70cm, and 1.5W on 222Mhz. The radio comes with so many extra features. It has an access key for Vertex Standard’s WIRES (Wide-coverage Internet Repeater Enhancement System). 

The other features include a transmit Time-Out Timer, Automatic Power-Off, Automatic Repeater Shift, and Yaesu’s exclusive ARTS (Auto-Range Transponder System). The ARTS feature will give a ‘beep’ alert when users go out of the range of communication with another ARTS station. 

It will also reduce the TX deviation in places where there is increasing channel congestion. The package includes the tri-band radio, SAD-11B Wall Charger, FNB-80LI 1250mAh battery, YHA-67 Antenna, belt clip, warranty card, and user’s manual. The radio’s display and the keypad are quite small.

Pros

  • Lightweight and easy to carry
  • Multiple low power settings
  • Reduces TX deviation in congestion areas
  • Tri-band frequency support
  • WIRES and ARTS feature

Cons

  • The keypad buttons are tiny

4. BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio

  • Color: Black
  • Weight: 10.1 ounces

BaoFeng’s model of handheld dual-band two-way ham radio offers power output twice that of its previous generation. From 4W, the output power has increased to 8W in this model. The radio shell is made of highly durable and strong material. It also comes with a battery that is 30% bigger in size than the previous generation. 

It has a v-85 high gain antenna to deliver optimum performance. You can check the user’s manual provided with the package to clear your doubts about the radio’s features. The radio requires a PC for programming. It has over 128 programmable channels. The PC03 FTDI Programming Cable must be used for this purpose, as it does the job much easier. 

You can also add and remove any channel you want according to your needs. The radio has versatile power settings. It supports low (1W), medium (4W), and high power (8W). It supports a frequency range of 65 – 108 MHz, VHF of 136 – 174 MHz, and UHF of 400 – 520 MHz. The radio offers selective customer support and a limited period of warranty. 

The radio package includes the radio, V-85 Dual Band Antenna, 2100mAh Battery, CH-5 Charger, earpiece, CH-5 110V Adapter, belt clip, wrist strap, and user’s manual guide. The battery life of this radio is decent with up to 24 hours of battery life depending upon your low/high power settings. The price of the radio is reasonable for its quality and features.

Pros

  • 128 Programmable channels
  • Affordable rate
  • V-85 High gain antenna
  • Low, high, and medium power settings
  • Good battery life
  • Good sound and reception

Cons

  • Needs a PC for programming the channels

5. TYT MD-380 – DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio

  • Color: Black
  • Weight: 1.55 pounds

You came across some of the dual-band and tri-band handheld radios above. This TYT ham radio is a single band radio that is equipped with dual-mode functioning. This is a digital DMR radio that uses Time-Division Multi-Access (TDMA) digital technology for its working. The radio is highly demanded its receiver sensitivity. 

The radio’s sound quality is also clear and loud enough. The display of this radio is in a multicolor with amazing clarity to read the details and info. The radio’s speaker uses a 5W transmitter to emit loud sound with good clarity. There are programmable keys on the side of the radio. It will scan all the channels to find the best reception for you to communicate. 

The ham radio has a powerful antenna and LED indicator light on the exterior. The keys on the keypad are right in size and well placed to enable easy access. There are a PTT switch and mic/speaker jack on the radio. It comes with a USB cable along with the package. This is a programming cable that can be used with a PC for programming the channels. 

You will require suitable software for programming. The radio package comes with an AC Charger, 2000 mAh Battery, Belt Clip, removable antenna, and user’s manual. The radio supports a frequency range between 400 – 470 MHz. It comes at a reasonable rate.

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Great sound quality
  • TDMA technology
  • Programmable channels
  • Portable and lightweight

Cons

  • Single-band 
  • Needs PC and software for programming

6. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld 5W VHF/UHF Amateur Radio Transceiver

  • Color: Black
  • Weight: 13.1 ounces

Yaesu dual-band handheld radio comes in a compact lightweight model. This is a 2m and 70cm amateur ham radio. It supports both VHF and UHF frequency. It has over 1000 memory channels for you to choose from. The radio can receive emergency channels in frequency between 800 – 900 Mhz. It has an NOAA weather alert system to update you about your surrounding weather conditions. 

The bright readable display of this handheld radio is one of its best features. The display is big and bright enough to enable easy reading of details. The keypad is lighted to offer you a great operating experience even during the night time. The radio has different scan modes. It receives at 108 – 520 Mhz and 700 – 999.99 Mhz while transmitting at 144 – 148 Mhz and 430 – 470 Mhz. 

The radio comes with a locking mode facility to prevent accidental touches while traveling or hiking. It will prevent the accidental change of frequency during movements. The radio supports low, high, and medium power output settings. The package comes with a 1400 mAh battery, charger, and a belt clip. The dual-band radio’s high power output value is 5W. The Emergency Automatic Identification Feature of the radio is its next highlight after the big display. 

This Emergency Automatic Identification Feature will help users in emergency or rescue situations. Sometimes, the users won’t be able to press the PTT switch on the radio. This feature will come in handy then. It is therefore a recommended model for the physically challenged. The radio also has a password feature for security. The radio comes at an affordable price and has decent battery life.

Pros

  • Compact and light-weight
  • NOAA weather alert system
  • Huge display
  • Low, medium, and high power output settings
  • Emergency Automatic Identification Feature
  • Buttons locking mode 
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • The antennas are not of high quality

7. BTECH UV-5X3 5 Watt Tri-Band Radio

  • Color: Black
  • Weight: 8 ounces

BTECH tri-band radio comes with a radio, v-85 dual-band antenna, CH-5 Charger, CH-5 110V Adapter, 220MHz Single Band Antenna, 1500mAh Battery, belt clip, wrist strap, earpiece, and a user’s manual. The radio requires computer programming for its channels. A PC03 FTDI Cable is suggested for you to use for programming the channels. There are over 128 programmable channels.

You can arrange the channels in alphanumeric order through PC and software. The tri-band frequency will allow you to transmit and choose between three different frequencies of your choice. The ham radio has menu settings with add or removes channels option. You can therefore easily add or remove channels from the scanning list. 

The menu is so easy to handle that you won’t require a computer to change settings. The radio’s dual-line LCD makes it easier for the users to view info and details. The display will show both the channel frequency and the channel name on it. The radio comes at an affordable cost and provides limited warranty and customer support to its consumers. 

The radio is also equipped with a VOX function. The DTMF Remote Decode feature of this ham radio will enable it to receive remote commands. Another advantage of this radio is its support of full backward accessory compatibility with ALL UV-5R and BF-F8HP accessories. The maximum power limit of this radio is 5W.

Pros

  • Affordable price
  • Tri-band frequency
  • VOX function
  • Easy menu settings with user-friendly display
  • Customer support and warranty
  • DTMF Remote Decode feature

Cons

  • Programming the channels using software consumes quite some time

8. Mirkit Waterproof Baofeng Radio UV-9R Plus MK1 8W Ham Radio

  • Color: Black
  • Weight: 7 ounces

Baofeng is one of the reliable handheld ham radio brands in the market. This model of the ham radio comes with a water-proof feature. You can immerse it under 1 metre of water for 30 minutes. The radio is made of durable material to serve you for the long term. The exterior of the radio is made of non-slip hard design to prevent accidental slips. 

The material is also resistant to dust, cold and harsh handles. The radio is incorporated with programmable channels. It supports UHF & VHF. This ham radio is capable of low, medium, and high power settings up to 8W. The radio has a LED flashlight in it. It comes with a battery of 2200 mAh power capacity. 

It has both UHF and VHF antennas to provide a radio signal. The radio supports cross band reception and transmission. It also supports the VOX function. The display of this radio is illuminated with a backlight for comfortable viewing of details. It also has an easy to handle keypad. You can program the channels using chirp.

The extra feature of this radio is its LED flashlight, SOS sound, and light alarm feature. It also has a DTMF alarm. The SOS alarm will come in handy during emergency or rescue situations. The radio package comes with the radio, earphone with mic, antenna, 2200 mAh battery, adapter, desktop charger, wrist strap, belt clip, and user’s manual.

Pros

  • Water-proof
  • SOS alarm + DTMF alarm
  • LED flashlight
  • VOX function
  • Low, medium, and high power settings up to 8W
  • Backlit clear display

Cons

  • Requires PC programming

9. BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Radio

  • Color: Available in Black, Blue, Red, Yellow
  • Weight: 1.3 pounds

This handheld radio’s multiple features are more or less similar to other models of BaoFeng. It uses a dual-band to switch between two different frequencies. It supports low, medium, and high power settings up to 7W. The frequency range of the radio is 65 – 108 MHz. The VHF range is 136 – 174 MHz, while the UHF range is 400 – 520 MHz. It supports VOX function and requires a PC for programming. 

You can use the PC03 FTDI Cable for programming its channels. CHIRP software is highly recommended for easy programming. There are over 128 programmable channels. You can add or remove the channel via software according to your purpose. You can even store the channels in alphanumeric order. The radio has a lot of customization settings.

The package comes with a Radio, 1800mAh Battery, V85 Dual Band Antenna, a CH-8 Charger, a CH-8 110V Adapter, Earpiece Kit, Wrist Strap, Belt Clip, and User Manual. The radio comes with VFO / MR frequency mode, which can be locked using the programming software. The user’s guide of this radio is very detailed to guide you through every step for using the radio much efficiently. 

There is a dual Push-to-Talk Switch in the ham radio, which can be synchronized using the software to simplify the operation of the radio according to your comfort. The radio comes with a High Gain V-85 Antenna to deliver powerful performance. The radio is completely compatible with all UV-82 accessories. It also supports CTCSS, DCS, and DTMF calling methods.

Pros

  • Dual-band frequency
  • 128 programmable channels
  • Supports low, high, and medium power settings
  • Dual push-to-talk switch to simplify radio operation
  • High gain antenna
  • Supports CTCSS, DCS, and DTMF calling methods.
  • Compatible with all UV-82 accessories

Cons

  • Requires software and PC for programming

10. TIDRADIO TD-H6 Upgraded UV-5R 10 Watt Ham Radio

  • Color: Black
  • Weight: 2.05 pounds

This handheld radio comes with a lot of exciting features. It provides you two free 2200 mAh Batteries and Driver Free Programming Cable along with the radio. The TD-771 High Gain Antenna of the radio will deliver optimum performance. The high gain antenna is capable of increasing the signal reception and expanding the signal transmission. 

There is a tri-power switch to choose power, according to your need. You can choose low power settings to save battery life. The battery of this radio is known for working up to 96 hours with 48 hours standby time. The additional free battery will make you use the device for a much longer time. There are CTCSS and DCS Codes in this ham radio to block unwanted calls.

The radio supports the VOX function. The material of the radio is highly durable to withstand harsh usage for many years. It can be used for multiple purposes, including construction, security purpose, trekking, rescue operations, and so on. Unlike many PC programmable radios, this radio supports manual programming and customization through the keypad. 

If you want to opt for PC programming, you are free to use it as well. The radio package comes with a free cable to support software programming. It is compatible with chirp software. The radio has been certified under FCC. The radio is equipped with a voice prompt feature to easily guide you through its features. The brand allows 60 days return policy.

Pros

  • Tri-power switch
  • Highly durable
  • Free additional battery
  • Allows both manual programming and PC programming
  • 60 days return policy
  • FCC certified
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • No cons

Buyer’s guide

Before you buy your favorite handheld ham radio, you must check the following buyer’s guide factors. 

1. Durability

The durability of your handheld radio is important for its long life and efficient functioning. Make sure the radio is made of good quality or premium quality material that can resist harsh handles. Some models are weather-proofed for better handling in all kinds of weather. Some are waterproof and can be submerged in water up to a certain extent. You can also check if the radio has been certified under industry or quality standards. The crucial reason to check the durability of your ham radio is for it to serve the value of money invested. Cheap material or plastic parts might break easily, wasting your investment. 

2. Programming type

The handheld ham radio will have programmable channels. You should check if it can be manually programmed or requires a PC and software for programming purposes. If it can be programmed manually, you should see if it has an efficient keyboard and keys. Most of the models support programming through software. You will need a PC with relevant software for this. Check if the product has been shipped along with the USB programming cable. The USB cable will help you program the channels and also arrange them. Some consider manual programming a better choice as it does not require any additional equipment. Software supported programming is preferred for its extra feature like alphanumeric arrangement. 

3. Audio quality

The next factor to consider before ordering your handheld radio is its sound or audio quality. At most times, the audio quality of the radio is influenced by your environment and the obstructions surrounding it. You can make your radio device more comfortable by connecting it with an earpiece for better volume and sound clarity. Make sure the radio has the necessary audio jack to connect headphone or earpiece. If you are a person who will opt for a speaker, then check the speaker volume and quality of the radio. Earphones are preferred for their clear sound irrespective of the external environment. 

4. Band type

You must know that Handheld ham radios come in different band support. Some support a single band, some dual-band, while some even support tri-band features. With more than one band, eg. In a dual-band radio, you can access two different frequencies. You can select the frequency that is more receptive and easy to transmit on. Every radio comes with an external antenna. Make sure this antenna supports dual-band if your radio is a dual-band radio. Because some antennas are not compatible with the band type of the radio. Tri-band radio is even more advanced than the dual-band. The price of the radio also varies according to the band type. 

5. Battery life

The battery life of the radio is vital for long time usage. You can check the mAh value of the radio to know its battery efficiency. The battery life of the radio will also depend on your power settings. If you are using your radio in high power settings, it will drain the battery at a much faster rate. The rechargeable battery of the radio should be charged after every use. An external DC connection is required for charging the radio’s battery. Most of the radio models provide the radio charger along with the package.

6. Other features

Other features include additional external provisions and technology equipped with the radio to deliver optimum performance. Powerful antennas are a requirement on your radio. You can also see if it has Bluetooth and GPS connection. Though this won’t be available in major basic models, you can opt for Bluetooth and GPS enabled models if you think you need it. These features will help you in rescue and emergencies.

FAQs

1. Do ham radios require a license to use?

Yes. Handheld ham radios will require a license to use. But, do not worry as it is not a complicated process. There are different types of licenses available, according to the person field and usage. This includes general license, amateur license, technician license, etc. It varies according to beginners, amateurs, and professionals. You will also need to pass license examinations at higher levels.

2. What are the additional features to look for in ham radio?

You can look for efficient features such as the GPS location feature, Bluetooth feature, SOS alarm feature, and emergency response system in ham radio. These features will help you during emergency or rescue situations. You can go for basic models without these features too. It depends on your purpose of usage.

3. What is a VOX function in ham radio?

VOX function is incorporated in ham radios for hands-free operation. This function will allow the radio or receiver to turn ON automatically without manual button pressing when a sound is detected. This feature is useful for physically challenged persons and also for people who travel a lot and for people who are continuously moving around.

4. What are CTCSS and DCS Codes in ham radio?

The CTCSS and DCS codes in radio will allow you to skip irrelevant or unwanted calls. By enabling these codes, you can easily block the unwanted calls that you don’t wish to answer or reply to. Not all the ham radio models come with this feature. If you want this feature, you can opt for the model that is equipped with this.

5. Can Ham radios be traced?

Yes. Ham radios can be traced or tracked. These radios can be tracked as it is public record. The tracking also depends based on your license type.

Conclusion

Handheld ham radios operate on a wide range of frequencies to deliver great performance. These radios are known for providing easy access to long-range communications. You no longer have to worry about reaching someone who is located in a far distance. The ham radios use powerful antennas for strong reception and signal. Make sure you sort out your needs before you choose your desired ham radio. As there are multiple options in the market, you can easily choose the best one under your budget.