Best Handheld Ham Radios 2020: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

1. Baofeng UV-5R 2. Baofeng UV-82HP 3. Baofeng UV-5R Plus
Baofeng UV-5R Best Handheld Ham RadioBaofeng UV-82HPBaofeng UV-5R Plus
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Handheld ham radios also referred to as amateur radios, have become a popular hobby and tool that facilitates communication between people in emergency survival situations.

Although few people use ham radios for the sheer amusement of communicating with technology, several preppers use the best handheld ham radio as an essential gear to rely on during disasters

Throughout our digital age, the thought of owning a ham radio may seem far fetched. However, these basic communications gadgets are always important and undoubtedly useful in survival situations.

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To real survivalists, when it comes to preserving contact in a disaster, ham radio is the best path forward. Staying informed is crucial to safety for those residing off the grid or those wanting to be prepared in case of an emergency scenario.

If you’re looking to buy the best handheld ham radio, we have compiled a comprehensive list of the best amateur radios available to help you make an informed decision.

Top 10 Best Handheld Ham Radios 2020

1. Baofeng UV-5R

Baofeng UV-5R Best Handheld Ham RadioIn 2012, baofeng Introduced the UV-5R dual-band radio. The product has hence seen tremendous progress since its launch.

The baofeng UV-5R is an incredibly lightweight, inexpensive Dual Band UHF / VHF Amateur Radio. With 128 channel capability and a battery life of up to 12 hours, the UV-5R is an excellent option for ham radio operators that require versatility and functionality at a reasonable price.

This handheld radio has a power output of up to 4W and is equipped with an 1800mAh Li-Ion battery pack that powers up to 12 hours of activity. A battery-saving function helps to save energy until it is required.

The device is equipped with priority channel scanning, dual-screen watch, and a call ton of 1750 Hz. Certain other functions include ANi code, CTCSS manual entry, 65-108 MHz FM transmitter, DTMF code, dual standby UHF/VHF, and a two-way display switch.

The UV-5R also sports built-in VOX for hands-free activity and a torch with powerful illumination.

The UV-5R radio comes with a Li-Ion rechargeable battery pack, belt loop, interchangeable antenna, C-ring earpiece with PTT microphone in-line, drop-in battery cable, AC converter, wrist harness, owner’s manual and a one-year baofeng manufacturer warranty.

You can configure the baofeng UV-5R as per your convenience. Using the free software application, you can add or delete channels from the scanning chart. You may assign alphanumeric names to the networks, using a computer.

The radio has two power settings (maximum of 5 watts), which helps you to pick how far you can transmit. The CHIRP software allows you to establish VFO constraints. You can easily program the radio from a PC to operate precisely as desired.

Lastly, the device comes with an upgraded A-V85 antenna and is a great handheld radio option for those on a budget.

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2. Baofeng UV-82HP

Baofeng UV-82HPThe UV-82HP is the second generation of baofeng’s popular UV-82 series of portable handheld radios. It is a multifunctional and versatile ham radio for amateurs.

The baofeng UV-82HP dual-band high-power handheld is fitted with three power settings: low, medium, and high, enabling consumers to adjust the power consumption according to their needs.

Overall, as long as a decent programming cable is used, the radio is easy to configure. The receiver is built-in with the new CHIRP-compatible software, making it easier to download it to a computer to connect the UV-82HP.

It includes a frequency range of 65-108 MHz for commercial FM transmission and a dual-band configuration between broad or narrow. The speaker sound in this system has been enhanced and allows for a range of up to 50 miles.

The baofeng has been designed to produce a clear sound and is a great handheld radio option with an LCD display. It is also equipped with a handy channel lock to avoid accidental frequency switches and is available in several colors.

However, the ham radio isn’t waterproof, and the antenna is susceptible to interference. A common complaint recorded against this device has been the significant white noise, and static disturbance received while trying to connect with radios at a distance.

In terms of efficiency, design, and price, the baofeng UV-82HP is just the right product with a tiny space for improvement.

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3. Baofeng UV-5R Plus

Baofeng UV-5R PlusThe baofeng UV-5R Plus is an upgraded version of the UV-5R and is structured with a durable metal shell and a fashionable frame and is more robust than its predecessor. It is also compatible with the 5R series and accessories.

The device is lightweight, multifunctional, and built with a full-color HD LED screen providing the user with clarity of image. It features 128 memory channels, 50 CTCSS, and 104 DCS.

The frequency range stands at 136-174 / 400-520 MHz, with a dual-frequency display option. The output power is at 1-4 watts with adjustable power settings from high to low. Additionally, it is also fitted with an in-built voice operated switch function.

Equipped with dual-band display and dual-standby technology, the device is one of the best handheld ham radios for survival. It also includes a 1750Hz Burst Tone and an FM radio with a range between 65.0 MHz to 108.0 MHz.

Additional features include a LED Flashlight, emergency and low battery alerts, battery saver option, keypad lock and monitor channel, larger LCD screen than others, 25KHz/12.5KHz channel spacings, time out clocker and channel step: 2.5/5/6.25/10/12.5/25KHz.

Therefore, if you’re looking for a feature-rich device at a budget-friendly cost, then the baofeng UV-5R Plus UHF/VHF is the right choice for a handheld radio.

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4. Btech UV-5X3

Btech UV-5X3The BTECH UV-5X3 was explicitly designed as a Tri-Band transceiver. The internal filtering includes the 222-225 MHz Ham band for the US, as well as the conventional VHF and UHF frequencies.

Since the device is made with traditional case design, it enables users to use high capacity batteries with minimal base alterations. It also allows compatibility with other generic ham radio accessories.

The frequency range is VHF 130-176 / 222-225 / UHF 400-480 MHz, and is dual band in nature, thus supporting both wide and narrowband with 2.5kHz steps. Moreover, the inbuilt radio filtering feature allows for increased power over all bands.

The tone burst can be adjustable between 1000hz to 2000hz by pressing the PTT along with one of the four pre-designated keypad keys. Additionally, the sensitivity of the receiver is excellent with loud, clear, and undistorted audio quality.

The radio supports the latest software compatible with CHIRP. It also features a scanning feature that allows the user to add or remove channels from the scanning list just by using the keypad.

True to its name, the device includes a tri-color display, enabling blue, orange, and purple color choices. The LCD can be further formatted to view channel numbers, frequencies, or alpha tags.

The handheld radio kit comes with the radio, 1,500mAh battery, charger, earpiece, dual-band antenna, single-band antenna, adapter, wrist belt, strap clip, and a user-friendly manual for easy programming.

Thus, the BTECH UV-5X3 is multifunctional and reliable, making it one of the best handheld ham radios for survival.

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5. Baofeng Walkie Talkie UV-5R

Baofeng Walkie Talkie UV-5RAnother ham radio by baofeng that is a value for money is their walkie talkie UV-5R, which includes the tidradio 771 antenna. It comes with two 1900mAh batteries, allowing the user to use the device optimally.

The tidradio 771 antenna is a massive upgrade from other products available in the market and enables an increased transmission range. It also features the standard VHF and UHF dual-band frequency.

The radio is equipped with 128 memory channels and 50 CTCSS/ 105 DCS codes, which blocks irrelevant calls. It also features an LCD screen and a scanning function that allows the consumers to add or delete channels with ease by using the keypad instead of being dependable on computers.

Unlike other dual-band ham radios, the highlighting feature of this device is its increased frequency range of up to 520 MHz instead of the usual 480 MHz. The device also includes advanced voice companding and squelch technology, which provides clarity of voice even in noisy environments.

With the inclusion of the power-saving function, the device can be used for a longer duration by changing the power settings from high to low. Additionally, the device also displays the battery voltage with a low battery alarm in order to keep a constant check on the battery usage left.

Additional features include a Chinese and English voice prompt, keypad lock function, emergency alarm, and monitor function. The kit comes with the walkie talkie, two 1800mAh batteries, charger, earpiece, antenna, speaker mic, belt clip, sling, programming cable, and a user manual.

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6. Greaval UV-5R 8W Radio

Greaval UV-5R 8W RadioThe handheld ham radio by Greaval is one of our higher-end products but is worth the money.

It features a switchable RF power output of 8w, 5w, and 1w. The power is sourced by a rechargeable 2100 mAh Li-ion battery that supports up to 20 hours of continuous use. The power settings can be further adjusted between high, medium, and low levels to save energy.

The radio comes with two rechargeable batteries, thus supporting extra communication time and allows the user to be extra prepared during emergency situations. Additionally, it also comes with a car charger adapter to permit on the go charging.

The radio can easily be configured either manually or by connecting it to a computer. Also, it includes a capacity of 128 channels that can be programmed via the keypad. Like standard radios, this product is also equipped with 50 CTCSS/104 DCS codes to block unnecessary interferences.

The frequency range for commercial FM radio reception is between 65 to 108 MHz. Featuring a dual-band connection, the VHF range stands at 136-174 MHz (Rx/Tx) and the UHF range at 400-520 MHz (Rx/Tx).

The device includes both SMA-Female and High Gain antennas to provide efficient use both indoors and outdoors. Additionally, it comes with a tri-color LCD screen and an inbuilt LED flashlight.

Additional features include 1750Hz tone burst, four battery saver levels, emergency alert, VOX function, channel scan, low battery alarm, keypad lock, English voice prompts, and ROGER beep feature.

The device also comes with a warranty period of 18 months, with hardware and tech support, making it an ideal ham radio choice.

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7. Baofeng UV-5RE

Baofeng UV-5REAnother excellent radio by baofeng, the UV-5RE, supports multiple features and a reliable device to use during emergencies. This is an upgraded version of the original baofeng UV-5RE walkie talkie.

The upgraded device now supports adjustable power settings from low to high levels with switchable power outputs between 1w, 5w, and 8w. The battery capacity has also been increased from 1800 to 2800 mAh, allowing extended communication time.

It includes the Gamtaai NA-771 high gain retractable antenna, which is renowned for supporting excellent transmission range. Additionally, it is also useful in boosting weak signals.

The handheld ham radio also comes with an acoustic tube earpiece that provides the user with extra comfort along with loud, clear, and undistorted sound. Moreover, with a soft earpiece, the user’s privacy of communication is maintained at all times.

The package comes with the baofeng UV-5RE ham radio, belt clip, wrist loop, earpiece kit, adapter, slide-in charging tray, Gemtaai retractable telescopic antenna, 2800 mAh battery, dual-band antenna, and a user manual.

Standard features include 128 channel memory, low battery, emergency alerts, keypad lock, 50 CTCSS and 104 DCS codes, LED flashlight, LCD screen, roger system, and battery saver 1750Hz tone burst, inbuilt VOX function and a monitor channel with scanning option.

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8. Mirkit Extended Ham Radio Starter Kit

Mirkit Extended Ham Radio Starter KitIf you’re a beginner at operating ham radios and searching for a starter kit, then the radio package by mirkit is all you need to rely on.

Even though the kit is expensive, it includes the baofeng UV-5R radio, lanyard ham radio operator, baofeng battery, charger cable, speaker mic, and a programming cable. With the max power radio mirkit edition, reaching transmitters at a far range is now possible.

The device is equipped with dual-band frequency with the VHF range at 36-174 MHz and the UHF range at 400-520 MHz. The radio is fitted with three power settings; high, medium, and low, with switchable power sources between 1w, 5w, and 8w.

Featuring two baofeng batteries, one with 1800 mAh capacity and the other with 3800 mAh capacity, users can now use it for up to five days. Additionally, with the USB charging cable, users can now charge the batteries from computers, cars, solar panels, or any other USB slot.

The ham radio can be easily configured using the special firmware mirkit channels. Combined with the baofeng programming cable, the receiver’s configuration process is made simpler and more accessible.

Additional features include the standard 1750 Hz burst tone, 128 memory channel capacity, inbuilt VOX function, FM radio range from 65 MHz to 108 MHz, LED flashlight, LCD screen, 50 CTCSS and 104 DCS codes.

The kit includes the lanyard mirkit, antenna, earpiece, belt clip, wrist strap, user manual in English, adapter, two Li-on batteries (1800 mAh and 3800 mAh), USB charger cable, baofeng speaker microphone, programming cable, and a desktop charger.

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9. Baofeng Tri-Band Radio

Baofeng Tri-Band RadioThe tri-band radio by baofeng is one of the best handheld ham radio for survival. It features the UV-5RX3 radio, which is an upgraded version of the original UV-5R.

Since it’s a tri-band radio, it offers much more than a dual-band feature. Not only does it include the standard VHF and UHF frequencies, but also the ham band for the US. The frequencies range at 136-174 MHz, 200-259 MHz, 400-480 MHz.

It includes a dot matrix LCD screen which has a friendlier interface and is more convenient to control and select functions. Moreover, based on the environment and distance, users can save power by changing the power settings from high to low manually or through the computer, according to usage.

The radio features a large channel capacity by providing 128 memory channels, which can each set different CTCSS / DCS, DTMF signaling to block unwanted frequency disturbances. It is also fitted with VOX voice-over transmission, which provides a hands-free user experience.

Additionally, the product also comes with a one-year warranty against manufacturing defects. Therefore, if you’re looking for a lightweight, reliable, and multifunctional radio, this is the right product for you.

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10. Baofeng Two Way Radio UV-5R5

Baofeng Two Way Radio UV-5R5The UV-5R5 by baofeng is the last on our list but tops the list of the best handheld ham radio options. It is an upgraded version and offers a better body frame along with updated software, providing the users with stable signals and voice clarity.

It offers two power settings, the low level which operates at 1w and the high level, which operates at either 4w or 5w. The radio is designed to be used by amateur radio handlers, provided they have an FCC issued license.

The device provides a clear communication range between 2-3 miles in a city, 5 -7 miles in low hilly or forested areas, and around 25 miles in mountain top areas.

The frequency range for FM radio is around 65.0 MHz to 108.0 MHz. The VHF range is between 136 MHz to 174 MHz (Rx/Tx), and the UHF range between 400 MHz to 520 MHz (Rx/Tx). The device features a high gain 7″ antenna, which provides a distortion-free listening experience.

Standard features include 128 memory channels and security codes, rechargeable lithium batteries, low battery, emergency alerts, battery saver function, and LED flashlight.

Lastly, the UV-5R5 offers premium customer service along with a one-year product warranty, making it a considerable option to rely on.

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Before buying a ham radio, there are several features that you would need to evaluate in order to the right purchase choice. Go through our list of essential features that will allow you to make an informed decision while choosing the best handheld ham radio.

An amateur radio will enable more functions other than communication. Depending on your requirements, you can buy a device that will feature radioteletype, morse code, image transmission, or even PSK.

Features To Consider Before Buying Best Handheld Ham Radio

1. Frequency

Using a ham radio requires a license that sets the permissible limit of the frequency range. It is essential to know that radios come with different frequency settings, so before you buy a device, make sure that it offers the right bandwidth you’re looking to access.

2. Power

The majority of the amateur radios are limited to around 5 watts of power usage. However, if you’re looking for higher-powered devices, then you may choose a base model.

While evaluating a handheld radio, make sure that you assess the accessibility of changing the power settings from high to low, allowing you to adjust it as per your requirements manually.

3. Bands

Emergency situations usually require a 2 m ham radio bandwidth along with a 440 Hz band. Before buying a handheld radio, considering the features related to bands is crucial.

The most generic available option is general coverage, which allows the user to access AM, FM, and TV frequencies as well. Another advanced feature includes an option to add SSB and CW, which enables the user to transmit morse codes.

Lastly, most radios are equipped with dual-band frequency, which allows the user to monitor two frequencies, VHF and UHF, at the same time. This function enables the user to access whichever frequency they would like to transmit on.

In order to make the most of the dual-band function, make sure to attach a compatible antenna. While some devices come with antennas, others don’t, and buying a replacement piece would fail to be efficient in catching the required transmission range.

4. Memory Slots

If you communicate locally and/or in case of emergencies, you may get away with a couple of dozen memory slots offered in smaller and older ham radios.

However, if you are planning to use your ham radio for national and international communication, weather, or other applications, buying a 100-200 memory slots model will be a smart option.

5. Backlit Display

If you are looking to use a handheld ham radio during night hours or in dim environments, you might want to buy a model with an inbuilt backlit display.

Emergencies can take place even in the dead of night, and if you’re left without electricity, then you will be stuck trying to operate your radio in the dark.

During such situations, it is vital to switch the monitor light on and off to preserve power when it isn’t required.

6. Programming

There are two questions that you should ask yourself whether the radio can be configured manually or via the software. If programming is possible through the software, it is sensible first to confirm whether the programming cable is available and is functioning.

In the case of manual programming, the radio has to be equipped with a working keypad. Several versions allow you to configure the radio manually through the radio display as well.

Few of the newer high-tech models contain a cable that you can attach to a computer that provides access to programming tools and makes the process of inputting your requirements far easier.

7. User’s Manual

More often than not, the quality of the user manual isn’t a priority before purchasing any product. However, when it comes to ham radios, a user guide is exceptionally essential.

Ham radios do have a learning curve, and any guidance available is beneficial, especially for beginners. Even if you are an avid ham radio user, you might accidentally click a button and malfunction the radio.

In cases like this, a user manual comes in handy and gives you the information required in order to return to regular service rapidly and effortlessly.

Sadly, several of these guides are published overseas and might be written in poor English, which might cause a problem, especially while learning how to operate a technical device.

However, it is advisable to try and access the manual online and try it out before purchasing the ham radio. If you like the radio but can’t decode the manual, run a check to see whether user groups will provide you with help virtually or physically.

8. Speaker Quality

The audio quality of a handheld ham radio is often affected by the nature of the environment it’s used in. For example, if you are operating the radio in a city or a busy neighborhood, it might be challenging to comprehend voices over the radio.

In order to avoid this, it is essential to opt for a device that offers good speaker and mic quality along with an external earphone jack that allows the user to plug in an earpiece to receive loud, clear, and disturbance-free information.

9. Rechargeable Battery

Any average ham radio requires the user to recharge the battery after a few hours of usage. Before making a purchase, it is necessary to ensure that the device has an external DC connection.

A DC connection will ease the recharging process. Few higher-end radios also include two battery packs, which guarantees extended communication time in case of emergencies.

10. Licensing Requirements

Using GMRS/ FRS handheld ham radios in case of emergencies is not a sensible and useful option. While ham radios require an FCC license, it is also a device that is reliable and efficient.

An FCC license provides the legal provision to use a ham radio. It connects the user with a large community of radio clubs that prove valuable sources of survival information and guidance.

The licensing process has been streamlined over recent years, and it is now easier than ever to obtain it. There are three types of licenses that are currently offered:

1. The Technician License

In order to obtain this entry-level license, you are required to pass an examination by answering 35 questions. This license provides you with access to frequencies above 30 MHz along with a few HF band privileges.

2. The General License

The examination for this license can only be given after obtaining the technician license. The test includes another round of 35 questions, passing of which allows you to participate in international communication.

3. The Amateur Extra License

This is the final license level, which requires you to pass an examination worth 50 questions. You must clear the first two license levels before appearing for this license. Obtaining this license will offer you operating privileges over all modes and bands.

Conclusion

While average handheld ham radios would provide you only with the essential features, if you’re an avid adventurer, then you should opt for a higher-end product that offers more than just basic survival requirements.

When it comes to emergencies, communication and vital information is the key to survival, and handheld ham radios are known to provide users with both.

All in all, it is crucial to buy the best handheld ham radio for survival that fits your budget and requirements. The first step to making an informed purchase would be to understand the pros and cons of each radio.

FAQs on Handheld Ham Radios

1. What Is A Handheld Ham Radio?

The best handheld ham radio for survival enables people to stay connected with each other and the world. For preppers and survivalists, an amateur radio is the sole tool to communicate with the outside world and to stay aware during a disaster.

Ham radios aren’t dependent on the internet and are a lot different from cell phones. They are operated through rechargeable batteries and are equipped with FM voice transmitters based on VHF and UHF bands sourcing low power outputs.

2. Are There Different Types Of Ham Radios Available?

There are three types of ham radios available; handheld, mobile, and base station.

Handheld ham radios are compact and ultralight. They can be used to communicate on the go and have a low wattage power output. The standard device would offer a range up to 5 miles while the best handheld ham radio would provide at least 15 miles of range.

Mobile ham radios are primarily designed to be used from an operator’s vehicle. They offer a range of up to 200 miles, which is dependent on high power output sourced from either a home wall connection or through their vehicle’s battery.

Base station radios generally have a range of several thousand miles, which is powered by house electricity or through a 12 – volt battery connection. These radios typically cover all radio frequencies, while some are designed to function only in high-frequency ranges.

3. Is A License Required To Operate A Ham Radio?

Yes. While you won’t need a license to purchase a handheld ham radio to listen to transmissions, you will require either of the three licenses provided by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to personally transmit on amateur radio frequencies in the USA.

4. How Long Is A Ham Radio License Valid For?

In the US, a ham radio license is renewable after ten years.