Best two-way radios



Let’s face it: how many of you grew up wanting a walkie-talkie? Playing forts, hiding from each other (or from the parents), having a “secret” way to communicate would have been so much fun. But who says that you can’t make the kid inside happy and not indulge your adult self into some old passions?

Of course, nowadays, we no longer play forts or hide and seek (though it wouldn’t hurt from time to time), and the gadgets have evolved tremendously, so getting a two-way radio is also useful, not only fun.

Going fishing, going camping, or just being on the road in more than one car will undoubtedly benefit from this sort of device.

But a 2-way radio is used for so much more than this. Communication (in all its forms) is essential, but especially in specific fields such as air traffic control, shipping, emergency services (medical transportation, police and fire departments), army, food business, and storage business.

There are more ways to categorize a 2-way radio, but the most common ones are:

  • By range;
  • Analog/digital;
  • Simple/double channel;
  • Conventional (operated on fixed channels, one channel at the time) vs. trunked (the system will automatically select the physical frequency channel).

What should I take into consideration before buying the best 2-way radio for me?

Range

One of the features that you should look into when choosing the best tactical radio for you is the range. You should know that most radios operate on UHF (Ultra High Frequency) or VHF (Very High Frequency).

UHF radios are suitable when you need a device that can go through the areas of interferences, like those found in buildings, woods, or other outdoor areas. The frequencies range from 400 to 512 Megahertz (MHz). These radios are suitable if you need the power to push through the wood, steel, earth, and concrete and can work if you need to communicate with someone found on another floor.

VHF radios have to advantage to cover more ground with less power since VHF waves are longer and can remain closer to the ground. They operate on frequencies between 136 and 174 MHz, and they will work best when there are no obstacles between the sender and the receiver. They are mostly used in marine and aviation (with the signals being transmitted between open bodies of water or between sky and ground, and they are also useful for open fields.

Battery

The vast majority of two-way radios come with rechargeable batteries, which usually last between 18 and 24 months, depending on a multitude of factors. Typically, the batteries are primary and secondary, the first ones being not rechargeable. The secondary batteries, however (Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries – NiMH or Nickel Cadmium Batteries – NiCd), can be recharged multiple times.

Some of the factors that must be taken into consideration when recharging batteries are the temperature and the memory effect.

When charging a battery, you should make sure that you store them in a hotter environment (even if it’s just room temperature) because it will prolong their usage time by up to 25%. By comparison, charging the batteries in cold environments (under 4 degrees F) can decrease their charging capacity by 50%.

Another factor that can impact your battery life is the “memory effect”. This means that if you charge a battery to the level it was discharged, it can remember this level and not increase afterward. For example, if you use a battery until it has 35% power, then recharge it, in the future charges it might accept only a 35% capacity, thus decreasing the usage time.

Price

While the professional gear can set you back between 500$ and 1200$, the radios for personal use can be found for lower prices, usually starting at around 20$.

Needless to say, the more complicated the purpose of the use is, the more sophisticated piece of equipment you will need. However, for the average user, a two-way radio with a good range, a quite long battery life and an average price should be sufficient.

 

Let’s take a look at the most popular ones and see which one is the best two-radio for you.

This new handheld generation radio is equipped with a 30% larger battery that not only provides a long-lasting radio experience when using higher power but also lets you use the built-in flashlight and FM radio without worrying about charging it through the day. The average battery life is 18 hours for 4W (UV-5R High), 20 hours for 8W (BF-F8HP High) and 24 hours for 5W (BF-F8HP Mid). Designed in the USA to make it easier to use (great for beginners as well), the manual will guide you through all the necessary steps in your order to customize your device. BaoFeng BF-F8HP comes equipped with a 2000mAh battery, V-85 Antenna, a power adapter and accessories such as earpiece, belt clip, hand strap and battery charger.

User-friendly and easily programmable by cable (sold separately), this two-way radio can make contact in distances for up to 15 miles. It has a smaller design that can fit in your hand, a lightweight, but sturdy design, and good audio, making it an excellent radio for the introduction to the HAM hobby.  With a clear transmission from the local repeaters, a high capacity battery that can last for days both in monitor mode as well as for a full day transmitting, this robust unit can withstand drops without being scratched.

This being said, you might want to be careful when you are programming it because you might end up on the pre-programmed military or public safety frequencies (though it can be used as a police and fire scanner) because it is illegal if you are not licensed to transmit on them. Another issue that you might want to look into when you receive the package is that the box is intact and it has all the accessories to make sure it was not a returned item that ended up in your hands. While the sound quality is mostly ok, there have been some issues reported for the headset output (being too loud or too quiet).

Pros

  • easy to use and program;
  • long battery life;
  • small, robust design;
  • clear transmissions;
  • good price;
  • perfect for beginners.

Cons

  • can pick up frequencies illegal to transmit on unless licensed to do so;
  • possible issues with the construction of the battery pack;
  • reported problems with the headset and microphone.

This small walkie-talkie that can easily fit in your hand comes in a two-piece pack, each one of them is equipped with a 1500mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery and a charging dock; the battery lasts between 8 to 96 hours in a single charge. The radios have Push-to-Talk buttons, a built-in mic and are provided with a single ear-bud style earpiece (foam included).

With a frequency range of 400-470 MHz UHF, a scanning function, channel monitor, emergency alarm and intelligent charging, this radio works great in fields such as construction, retail business, security, hotels and kitchens, but it is also suitable for family road trips and camping.

This is one of the best 2-way radios for families, as it covers distances for up to 5 miles (with mild differences of altitudes) and it can offer a clear sound even in mountain areas or forests, making it perfect for camping or large properties. In addition, it is widely used for communication between two moving vehicles. With minor assembly required, easy to program and good battery life, this is one of the most appreciated devices for this purpose.

While this is a device intended for the standard user, you should expect this is quite basic and not reaching the range one might expect from the professional models and after a certain distance, you will start hearing static. Also, while the quality of the materials is not premium and the battery life spawn may sometimes fail, it surely compensates with a very helpful customer service that is willing to help solve any issue that you encounter.

Pros

  • good price;
  • user-friendly;
  • a good range for personal use;
  • comes in a two-pack;
  • excellent customer service.

Cons

  • not suitable for long-distance or overly crowded areas;
  • low resistance materials.

Geared to activities such as camping, biking or hiking, the Uniden radio claims to have a 50 miles range (when there is a clear view between the devices), can be submerged three feet underwater for 30 minutes and can float so you don’t have to worry about any accident. Operating on an industry-standard frequency allows you to communicate with other people that use other radio models/brands and with having 22 channels and 142 Privacy Codes/142 Direct Call Codes will always give you an open line for uninterrupted communication. It comes programmed with the NOAA Weather alerts technology and rechargeable AA NiMH batteries that offer up to 14 hours battery life.

When used on shorter distances, even if they are between the mountains when you go hiking or you are on a cruise ship, these radios work as advertised. However, when taking them into crowded spaces or longer distances, the signal starts to get lost and static may occur. Regarding battery life, you might want to have a second pair on hand as this is one battery killer.

Pros

  • crystal clear sound on shorter distances;
  • waterproof outside;
  • NOAA weather scan and alert technology;
  • capable of communicating with other radio models/brands.

Cons

  • short battery life;
  • range shorter than advertised.

This micro-miniature multiband provides a two-way amateur communication while having a monitoring capacity due to the FM broadcast band that it includes. It has a frequency range of 136-174 / 400-520 MHz. 128 channels (50 CTCSS and 104 DCS), Built-in VOX Function and supports Dual watch and dual reception. With a large LCD Display, alerts for emergencies and low battery and a time-out timer, this radio comes in a package with a pack of 7.4V 1800mAh Li-ion Battery Pack, one Antenna 136-174/400-479.995Mhz and accessories such as Earphone Mic/Headset, belt clip, hand strap, an adapter and a desktop charger (100V-240V).

The walkie-talkie function is perfect for hiking or family road trips, picking up repeaters and listening to public utilities, weather channels, police, and other official channels. However, while these are legal to listen to, it is illegal to broadcast unless having a license. With long battery life and a clear sounding range even in mountainous wooded terrain, this is one good radio to have on hand in case of emergencies.

Overall, this is a basic unit, with a reasonable price and fun to play with, but quite challenging to program especially for beginners (can be programmed manually or by cable and through CHIRP). While the quality is good, but not exceptional as you might experience several malfunctions over time, this is a good radio to have as a secondary/back up device.

Pros

  • great price;
  • basic functions, family-friendly;
  • long battery life;

Cons

  • quite difficult to program;
  • accessory malfunction over time;
  • poor customer service.

With a compact design and a rubberized grip, Cobra walkie-talkies are geared to all the outdoor activities, making them easy to carry in wet and dusty environments. In addition, they have a build-in NOAA Weather & Emergency Radio receiver, a LED flashlight and floating capacity. Every pack offers two radios, rechargeable NiMH batteries, a micro-USB cable and a two-port charging dock.

Like every two-way radio, they work best even on longer distances when there is no obstacle in the way; and as every radio reviewed, they are not able to reach the range claimed by the manufacturer. However, these are great tools if you go camping, fishing or hunting because on smaller distances, the communication is good and it has waterproof & floating features, which are very useful. Another plus is the fact that they work on ships, where usually cellphone service is poor.

On the other hand, the bulky design (not child friendly), the sound quality and the misleading range claimed on the package might be a turn off for you. Therefore, if you feel that these drawbacks weigh more than the advantages, you need to look at another brand/model.

Pros

  • good design for outdoor activities,
  • floating capacity
  • waterproof
  • works well on cruises

Cons

  • much smaller range than the marketed one;
  • sound quality issues on some devices.

Featuring 36 FRS (Family Radio Service) channels, marketed with thirty-mile range (with no obstruction) and Midland’s signature weather scan and alert technology, this is one of the options you’d want to consider when looking for a 2-way radio. The NOAA weather scan will alert you in case of severe conditions in your area by sounding an alarm indicating the risk, thus keeping you safe and prepared in any type of weather situation.

Legal and ready to use without a license, they come with rechargeable batteries (you can also use 3x AAA), are lightweight, solid and easy to set up. Mostly used to communicate during cruises, hikes and outdoor events, they have good reception and a clear sound, provided that the distance between the sender and the receiver is not that long.

While the product claims to have a thirty-mile range, the actual distance you can go between the two walkie-talkies is less than 5 miles. So, if you are planning on using it in vast spaces, such as forests, you might hear static, instead of the other person. Also, this is not a water-resistant product, so you need to be careful in what surroundings you are using it.

Pros

  • works very well in short distances;
  • NOAA weather scan and alert technology;

Cons

  • battery life;
  • real range is far smaller than the marketed one;
  • short returning time.

Designed simply and compact, marketed as having a range up to 16 miles, this radio is easy to use by the entire family both for indoor and outdoor communication. Manufactured with 22 channels and FRS/GMRS 462 – 467 MHz in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band, it comes in 2 pack with belt clips and a user guide.

Being a step up from the classic kids’ toys, but easy to use by both children and adults, they are more suitable for rides around the neighborhood, a day at the beach or generally a quite restricted area; they are user friendly, but the distance covered is actually no more than 2-3 miles. Regarding the battery, they run on 3x AAA Alkaline batteries, which will last 1-2 days (especially if you forget to turn off the radios), so consider investing in a rechargeable pack if you are going to use this model.

Pros

  • easy to use by everyone, including children;
  • clear sound on short distances;
  • lightweight;
  • comes in a two-pack;
  • good price.

Cons

  • real distance covered is not the one claimed by the manufacturer;
  • battery life is very low.

Are you still unsure what the best tactical radio is for you? Well, first make sure that you consider some things:

  1. What do I need a two-way radio for?

You can use them for many purposes. Whether you need them in your line of work, you have an outdoor activity planned or you just want to keep track of your kid, you can do this with the model suited for your needs.

  1. What range do I need to have with my 2-way radio?

Similar to the first question, this depends on the activity you use it for. If you are planning to go hiking in the mountains, on a large ship or you need to communicate with your team from different floors, make sure you choose a model with a higher range and pay attention if they operate on UHF (Ultra High Frequency) or VHF (Very High Frequency). If however, you just need to communicate with someone in your back yard or two houses apart, you can choose a radio with a smaller range.

  1. Do I need a license for my walkie-talkie?

Some channels require an FCC license, such as the ones labeled GMRS – General Mobile Radio Services. For the channels labeled FRS – Family Radio Services, you do not need a license.

We hope that the information provided will help you find the perfect radio for you and your needs, no matter if you need the devices for personal/professional use or just for fun activities.