Ham radios are a significant investment. For any survival situation, this device allows you to talk to people worldwide without needing any infrastructure. If cell phone towers fail and your mobile phone can no longer connect to any network, having the best portable ham radio for survival will be essential in communicating with others.
Of course, you’d only be able to connect to people who have ham radios of their own. But with the popularity of the product, you can be sure you’d be able to reach thousands of people in your area alone. It would be an excellent way to pass information if necessary.
You can also own a ham radio as a hobby. It is a great way to meet and get to know people from far-flung locations. You can use this as a component for experiments with antenna design and electronics. Getting to know the technical aspect of this technology is not just fun. It can be excellent preparation for the future as well.
The market offers hundreds of good-quality radios that feature the latest technology. However, choosing the best handheld ham radio within a budget can be a little challenging, especially for newbies.
This guide will help you choose the best ham radio for your needs and offer a few exceptional ones you can consider.
What Are You Going to Do With Your Ham Radio?
The type of ham radio you need is determined by what use you have for it.
Handheld Ham Radio
This type of ham radio is lightweight and small. The transceivers are handheld, so you can communicate with others while you are on the go. It has low power output, which is why it can reach a maximum of 5 miles. This means you can only communicate with others who are just a short distance away. However, you can amplify this range with the use of a radio repeater. Of course you’ll need to know your frequencies also.
If you are a beginner interested in exploring this technology, owning a handheld ham radio should be sufficient. This can also be a convenient means of communicating if you work within a 5-mile area. For example, if you work on a large farm and need to contact other workers, the handheld ham radio should be a practical choice.
Mobile Ham Radio
You install and use this type of ham radio from a ham shack or an operator’s vehicle. The range of the mobile ham radio is significantly higher than that of the handheld ham radio. It can reach up to 200 miles due to the increased power output available. Its power source can be a vehicle’s battery (using a power adapter or a 12-volt outlet) or a home wall connection.
If you are interested in exploring the technical side of this technology and different protocols, then this is the ham radio for you. This setup is also great for coordinating disaster response because it has the power and range to help you hear and be heard by people involved in the operation.
If you want to speak to people from other countries, you’ll need to save up for a base station. This type of setup offers a range of a few thousand miles. It is powered by a household current using a special 12-volt battery connection or a power outlet.
After establishing which type of ham radio you need, you can start looking at your options. For this review, we will look at the smallest and most limited of the three options. These are primarily for personal use as a hobby, meet other people, and work in the field.
5 Best Handheld Ham Radio for the Money
These models are selected based on the range and power offered by each ham radio. We also took reception quality, clarity, durability, and ease of use into consideration.
BTECH DMR-6X2 Dual Band Ham Radio With GPS & Recording
When you turn on this handheld ham radio, the first thing you’ll see is the brilliant display. At 1.77”, it features a full-color screen to make it more convenient for you to identify who you are talking to and who is trying to contact you.
The user can set the screen’s display to daytime and nighttime mode. The daytime mode features a blue theme that is easier to see under the sunlight. The color helps reduce glare, so you don’t have to squint as you look at the display. For nighttime use, the black contrast theme is more suitable.
If you plan to contact several people, you’ll need a unit that can save a greater number of contacts. The BTECH DMR-6X2 can save as many as 200,000 contacts, 10,000 groups, and 4000 channels.
You can use two types of batteries for this ham radio. The 3100mAh battery lasts about 35 hours every charge. The second one, the 2100mAh, lasts 19 hours. The batteries add a little weight to the unit, so you can opt to use the low-capacity if you want a lighter radio.
With its dual-slot functionality, you can have conversations with anyone on the same frequency. The radio is compatible with DMR (Digital Mobile Radio) Tiers I and II. The first tier is allocated to license-free users in the European Union. You can purchase a handheld unit and use it straight away with this level.
Tier II, on the other hand, requires a license from the country’s licensing body. However, this level is better because it does not experience the low power issues and interference users encounter in Tier I.
With the BTECH DMR-6X2, you can operate in frequencies on both tiers provided you have the necessary license. You can use the radio with a host of accessories such as an accessory jack. It also comes with an SMA-Female antenna that expands its use tremendously. The radio also has a built-in GPS that can send digital APRS and analog packets.
Easy to Use
With the DMR-6X2, you won’t have to buy any extra hardware to start talking to other people. It comes with a USB cable that you will need to connect the device to a computer. The cable is not just for setting up the ham radio. You can also use it to upgrade the firmware whenever new updates are available.
You can use the front panel to program channels into the radio. However, if you know more about programming advanced features, you can use the cable and the Baofeng Tech software to unlock added features.
Compact and Durable Design
The ham radio is quite portable, given its 2 x 1.5 x 5-inch size. It is also very light since it weighs only 1.8 lbs. You won’t have any problems bringing this radio with you. You can place it inside your pack or use the included wrist strap and a belt clip, so you don’t have to hold it all the time. Many users commented that the radio seems to have a solid build. The buttons do not feel mushy when you press on them.
The only downside to this is that it is not waterproof, so you can’t use it in the field in wet conditions.
- Full color screen to make it more modern
- Daytime mode to help reduce glare and increase visibility
- Capable of saving 200,000 contacts (not like you know that many people!)
- 3100mAh battery that can last 35 hours
- Weighs in at just 1.8 lbs.
- Not waterproof or splashproof
This is another ham radio model for amateur users. It is designed for personal rather than commercial use. However, its use still requires the user to have the necessary qualifications based on the FCC requirements. You need at least an Amateur extra level to enjoy all the features of this radio.
Given that many newbies choose this radio, one can assume it is relatively user-friendly. Nevertheless, the unit comes with a detailed user manual to help you operate and customize the radio to your needs.
This Beofeng radio operates on FM, VHF, and UHF. The frequency modulation works on 65-108 MHz, so it is only suitable for commercial radio reception. The high frequency works on 130-176.995 MHz. The ultra-high frequency can be programmed using a company’s software. Thus it can work on 400-520.9995 MHz. Receiving these signals is also possible because of the radio’s high gain antenna. The V-85 antenna is quite powerful, offering high selectivity and sensitivity in terms of reception. Besides the powerful antenna, the Baofeng Bf-F8HP also boasts of an adjustable transmitter.
The two-way radio features three power settings. The low setting runs on 1 Watt, the mid-setting on 4 watts, and the highest setting on 8 watts power output. However, it can reach ranges between 20 to 25 miles. Of course, this range also depends on the presence or absence of any obstructions.
The radio has a tri-color LCD. You can select the color themes and set them to purple, orange, or blue. The display also supports all characters, including numbers and special symbols.
The radio’s black casing is of sturdy material that weighs 214 grams and measures 10.5x2x2 inches. It is pretty compact and sturdy. The radio is not just solidly built; it is also dustproof and waterproof. This model can work anywhere and withstand rough use.
This ham radio runs on a 2000mAh battery. It has enough capacity to power the radio for all-day use. You can recharge the unit with the accompanying cable once it runs out of charge. On the highest setting, you can expect the radio to work for about 20 hours. In medium mode, the battery life is extended by another four hours.
The Baofeng radio features a Digital Coded Squelch and a Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System. These two make it possible to lock out any unwanted transmissions, so you don’t need to listen to any noise. The unit comes with an earpiece to block out any external noise as you are listening to transmissions. It also comes with a hand strap and belt clip so you can keep the radio on you if you are moving around.
- Operates on FM, VHF and UHF
- Equipped with a high-gain antenna
- Tri-color display (purple, orange, blue)
- Dustproof and waterproof
- 2000mAh battery with enough capacity to last all day
- Buggy firmware
If you are looking for a rugged ham radio that can withstand rough use, you might want to consider the Radioddity GD-77. This two-way radio is only 253 grams heavy and 6.5 inches long but is surprisingly feature-packed. It even has an emergency button that can instantly transmit an alarm signal to other radios. This allows you to ask for help from those nearby without needing to press too many buttons.
The radio can operate on a wide range of frequencies. Its ranges are 12.5-25 kHz for the FM frequency, and it also works on 136-174 MHz for the UHF. Finally, it works between 400-470 MHz for the VHF. It also has a dual 1 and 2, which means it can work well with a repeater or as a hotspot.
Like the previous two ham radios, the Radioddity GD-77 also has DMR ETSI Tiers I and II. This feature makes it useful for a variety of users.
If you have the necessary business band radio and license, you can use this particular ham radio for business purposes. You can program the unit to various band frequencies of different businesses. The unit’s memory is pretty extensive, so you can save up to 1,024 talk groups and 10,921 contacts.
Can Send SMS
If you are looking for a radio that acts as a mobile phone, you will certainly appreciate this radio’s SMS function. To be able to send an SMS, you need to switch the radio to DMR mode. There are already 32 pre-made messages you can choose from. You will need to change the Radio ID to reflect yours and then select the message you wish to send. Changing the radio ID can be done using the programming software it comes with.
Easy to Use Software
The manufacturer provides software that is relatively straightforward to understand. You can easily program the features of the radio without messing with the communication ports. This software was specially designed for beginner users. For the more advanced radio enthusiasts, there is also a complex mode you can order. The radio’s firmware continually gets updated so you can be sure it has no bugs.
The radio comes with a high-capacity 2100 mAh battery. You’d be able to use the unit for many hours in between charges.
- Lightweight design
- Instant SOS alarm button
- Capable to operate on FM, UHF and VHF
- Can send text messages as well
- Simple UI
- 2100mAh battery
- Lacks proper documentation
The Whistler WS1040 is a great companion for those who are always out in the field. It is perfect if you’re traveling on the road for long periods. It is also the best portable ham radio for survival. You would be able to ask or respond to help requests over the radio quickly using the Whistler WS1040.
It can store up to 1,800 different frequencies, so you can look for frequency transmission near your location. It also features free-form memory capabilities, so you can instantly access the frequencies you often use.
This ham radio is equipped with the best audio hardware. If you’ve heard any transmission from other radios, you’ll know it can be pretty choppy if there are too many interferences. However, the Whistler offers crystal clear transmission.
The reception on this device is quite exceptional as well. Several ham radios find it difficult to receive signals from their devices. With the Whistler WS1040, you get clear and crisp signals. No more difficult to comprehend transmissions from other radios.
Comes With Skywarn
If you are out in the field, receiving reports regarding the weather can prove to be helpful. The technology known as Skywarn Storm Spotter releases warnings earlier than most television and radio stations. This is a valuable feature because you can prepare for whatever the weather will bring in advance.
The Whistler handheld ham radio can also be used as a data clone. This means it can transfer any programmed data from the device to any other scanners. The process is made more accessible with the multi-color LED display. Not only is it easier to read, but it also allows you to program the radio without using a computer. You can even program alarms into the radio.
Very Compact and Light
If you are going trekking, you’ll appreciate how small and how light this radio is. It only weighs 0.53 lbs. and measures 1.65 x 2.56 x 5.71 inches. It would fit perfectly in the palm of your hands.
- Capable of storing 1,800 different frequencies
- Exceptional audio quality
- Equipped with Skywarn Storm Spotter
- Multi-color LED display
- Weighs just 0.53 lbs
- The software could use an upgrade
Tidradio UV-5R Ham Radio
This model is a significant upgrade from the previous generation. The latest version of the Tidradio UV-5R offers twice the power output and antenna power. These improvements dramatically enhance its signal reception and transmission.
This ham radio lets you choose the power of the radio. It allows you to set the radio on high power to reach the maximum range level, though you can also switch it to low power to conserve battery charge. This feature is extra helpful when asking for help because you can continue sending out the message for a longer time. The battery of the Tidradio is an enhanced 3800mAh with power-saving features. It offers 2.5 times more power than the old radio battery.
The user can program the radio in two ways. You can manually program most of it using the keypad on the unit. For more complex customization, you can attach the radio to your personal computer using the driver-free cable that comes with it. This device is plug-and-play, so it doesn’t require any installation.
The UV-5R covers nearly all the commonly used ranges of frequency. This makes it compatible with most other ham radios like the Baofeng UV series. The radio is also FCC certified and comes with a No-questions-asked return policy.
With this ham radio, you can enhance the voice if the signal is too weak. This feature enables you to understand what others transmit. Besides the voice enhancement, this device also has Squelch features. You can enhance the radio’s sensitivity, so you only get the transmission you want and suppress any background noise.
It also has a scan function to look for the correct frequency and join in the transmission quickly. The voice prompts easy-to-understand options. These selection and verbal confirmations are perfect for radio newbies.
Finally, the radio offers an emergency alarm, so you can ask for assistance if you find yourself in danger.
- 3800mAh battery
- Can be attached to a computer for programming
- Equipped with Squelch features
- Capable of transmitting an instant SOS alarm
- Programming cable is glitchy
Features to Look for in a Ham Radio
Now that you know what ham radio models are out there, you need to look at the features to choose one for yourself. These will help you decide which elements to look for to see if the ham radio is suitable for you or not.
While portable ham radios are not too expensive, you don’t want to spend your money on something that will break easily. It would be best if you found a long-lasting radio that can serve your purpose. This quality is more critical for the pricier units. Look for a ham radio that is made of good-quality materials. If possible, look for impact-resistant ones, particularly for handheld units.
You need to find a radio that allows you to do a variety of things. Look for a radio that is compatible with other devices. This will make the equipment versatile.
Ease of Use
If you are a beginner exploring technology, you probably lack an understanding of how ham radio works. That is why it is essential to look for a unit that is easy to operate. Additionally, if you plan to use the ham radio for work, you’d be busy enough to do your job. You don’t want to waste more time understanding the functions of each button and fiddling with the settings so you can communicate with others.
Getting to know the features and types of ham radios available in the market is just the beginning of your hunt for the best unit. Of course, the most suitable model is still based on your needs and preferences. Definitely the next best survival supplies item for communication besides a GPS.