Ham radios may seem like just a fun gadget, but they can be a significant communication tool during times of survival.
Originating in the early 20th century, ham radios (often referred to as ‘amateur radios’) were a staple of communication technology before smartphones and the internet.
If you are on the hunt for the best survival radio, a handheld ham radio may be the answer you’ve been looking for.
They work without a reception, so you can converse with other ham radio users in any environment.
A handheld ham radio is particularly useful, as you can easily take it with you wherever you go, without the need for a more intensive set up.
Finding the best handheld ham radio for survival might seem like a daunting task, especially if you are new to radio technology, or even survival in general.
However, we’ve narrowed it down to five options and included our useful buyer’s guide to help you find the best survival ham radio.
Before you can use a ham radio, you do need to obtain a license. You can find information on this via the National Association for Amateur Radio (AARL).
BaoFeng BF-F8HP 8-Watt Two-Way Radio
BaoFeng’s dual-band portable ham radio offers a variety of features that be useful for survival. An upgrade from the 2nd generation model, this radio works well for beginners and is a budget-friendly choice if you are also looking for high-quality.
The large battery means you can extend the duration of your radio use, with this battery reaching 2000mAh. At a high power setting, the battery can last between 20 and 24 hours, so you can feel comfortable using its other features throughout the day without fear of the battery dying.
Regarding its power output, the maximum for this model is 8W. You can alter between this and two other power settings depending on the level of performance you’re looking for.
There are a variety of frequency ranges available with this radio. You can tune into FM radio, VHF (136-174 MHz), and UHF (400-520 MHz). As it is a dual-band, the coverage is wide-ranging, and you can communicate long distances if necessary.
It also features a semi-duplex design. This design allows you to monitor two frequencies on different bands. In terms of programming the radio, it features 128 channels that can be programmed via the computer, as well as a voice-operated function to program it hands-free.
In addition to its power and frequency features, the radio also includes a built-in flashlight, which is perfect for your survival needs. You can easily carry your radio too, with the inclusion of belt clips and a hand strap for convenience.
A suitable choice for ham radio beginners, this model comes with an extensive and helpful manual to help you set up your radio and get to grips with all of its functions.
Despite its array of great features, you will need to consider the durability of your radio, and this model is not water-resistant. This means it won’t be long-lasting once it comes into contact with water, and is even at risk of malfunctioning.
Read the full BaoFeng BF-F8HP 8-Watt Two-Way Radio review
- Dual-Band radio
- Semi-duplex design
- Built-in flashlight
- Not water-resistant
BaoFeng UV-5R EX 5WTwo Way Radio
The second BaoFeng model on our list, this radio operates on dual-band VHF and UHF frequencies.
It features high, medium, and low power settings, reaching 8W at its highest. The frequency range includes VHF (136-174 MHz) and UHF (400-520 MHz).
It also includes a semi-duplex receiver so you can observe two channels on different frequencies, and the radio will highlight the first station that has an incoming call. This feature will also work while the FM radio is in use, so that the music won’t interfere with a call.
It comes with a dual ‘push-to-talk’ switch, which can be set up via specific software. The switch makes operating the semi-duplex receiver feature much more straightforward, but the switch can also be turned off if you prefer.
It features high and low power settings, reaching 8W at its highest. The frequency range includes VHF (136-174 MHz) and UHF (400-520 MHz).
In addition to these features, the radio can be programmed with 128 memory channels, and you can add or remove them using the free computer software that comes with the purchase. For your convenience, you can name the channels alphanumerically using the computer.
Although the radio comes with a backlight for increased visibility, some users have noted that it can’t be switched on and off manually. It is worth considering this as a possible battery-draining feature.
The radio may also not be able to withstand every possible survival situation. While the case itself is made from a sturdy material, the radio has two rectangular dips in the battery and in the radio itself. This curved shape means it could potentially fall if it were placed upright or positioned awkwardly.
Read the full BaoFeng UV-5R EX 5WTwo Way Radio review
- Dual-Band radio
- Varying power settings available
- 128 memory channels available to program
- Backlight can't be switched off manually which may drain the battery
- Shape and design makes it unstable if placed on certain surfaces
Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio
Perhaps the most standout feature of this radio is its compact size, and it would fit easily in a pocket.
In addition to being lightweight and small, it is also waterproof, having received the JIS7 waterproof rating. It can be submerged in water and survive, which can be a rare feature to come across. Its waterproof design makes it an option that’s seriously worth considering when it comes to the best survival radio.
Not only is it built to last, but this model also contains 900 memory slots, as well as warnings about bad weather. For added security, you can also set a password, so you can feel safe should your receiver fall into the wrong hands.
Survival was clearly in mind during the creation of this radio, as it also includes a multicolor LED, and a backlit LCD screen and keypad. Considering the compact size of VX-6R, it is certainly packed full of useful features.
While designed for outdoor use, a drawback of this radio is its power output and battery life. It reaches an output of 5W, but this is noticeably lower than other portable radios. The battery life is also good, but not as long-lasting as other models, and can sometimes die sooner than you would expect.
The number of features also means the price is increased, so it is not the most budget-friendly option on the market.
- Lots of useful features combined with a compact size
- Waterproof (JIS7 rated)
- Multicolor LED and backlit LCD screen and keypad
- Password protection included
- Power output not as high as other models
- Battery is not the most reliable
AnyTone AT-D868UV GPS Version II Radio
AnyTone’s Dual Band radio offers both UHF and VHF frequency ranges and reaches a full 8W of power at its maximum output limit.
As mentioned in its name, this radio comes with a built-in GPS, which is ideal for survival. If your compass fails you, or you lose it out in the wilderness, then this could be a great back-up or even work well enough in its own right, depending on the situation.
The battery life on this radio may be one of its strongest features, as it can last around 2-3 days before it needs recharging if you use the battery saver option. It has a large 3100mAh battery, meaning its other features won’t suck the power out of the battery throughout the day.
Programming this portable radio is straightforward too, as it comes with a USB cable and programming software. It also offers 4000 channels and can store 200,000 contacts, so you can connect with many people and have their information stored as well.
For a survival radio, the D868UV has a well-made, solid case, and weighs around 282g, including the battery, so you should consider whether you are happy with its size. Battery removal is also an easy process, as you simply push the release slide at the top of the battery. This system is perhaps more significant than you would think when it comes to survival, as it will save you time and effort over a clumsy mechanism.
However, to get the most out of all of the features, you must program the radio using a Windows PC. It is not compatible with CHIRP or RT programming software that is popular amongst ham radio users. It is worth checking whether this would alter your decision to purchase, as your computer may not be best suited to set the radio up.
It is worth noting that this not the most budget-friendly option on our list, and you may be able to find equally high-quality radios while saving your coin.
Read the full AnyTone AT-D868UV GPS Version II Radio review
- Dual-Band radio
- Built-in GPS
- Durable case
- Easy battery removal
- Not compatible with CHIRP or RT programming software
- Not budget-friendly
BTECH DMR-6X2 7-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
This handheld dual-band radio, operating at VHF and UHF, stands out when it comes to the best survival radios.
This is due to its durability, as it is both water and dust resistant. It would make a great choice to use in any outdoor environment, and even in harsh weather. The battery can also last up to 35 hours on a single charge, which is useful for survival.
Another unique feature of this particular radio is its ‘Store and Forward Repeater’ mode. The radio’s built-in recording chip is used in this mode, and then the DMR-6X2 will store and forward conversations on the same band or as a cross band repeater. It uses this technology to record any incoming audio, and forward this audio to the assigned frequency once the signal drops.
You can also easily scan for channels with this radio. It offers up to 250 channels in a zone, and up to 4000 channels in the radio, allowing you to adjust your scanning bank by grouping scanning channels together. This feature gives you complete control over your channel lists, and you can customize the scanning to your liking.
Included with a purchase of this radio is the DMR-6X2’s free programming software. A programming cable is also included for ease of use, but bear in mind that the software is only Windows compatible.
It is worth considering your ability level when it comes to this radio, as it may not be the most beginner-friendly. Some customers have claimed that the manual does not assist well with set up, and the programming software is not the most straightforward.
Read the full BTECH DMR-6X2 7-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio review
- Dual-Band radio
- Water and dust resistant
- Battery can last up to 35 hours on a single charge
- Adjustable channel scanning
- Programming software is only Windows compatible
- Manual is not the most helpful
Typically, a handheld ham radio will have a restricted power output, usually reaching around five watts of power maximum.
While there are higher-powered radios available, you should aim to choose a radio that has manually adjustable power settings, as the power will determine how far your radio can reach.
In addition to this, during a survival situation you need to be aware of the battery life. Different models will use different batteries.
While most handheld ham radios use rechargeable batteries, you could also consider purchasing one that uses non-rechargeable batteries.
Ideally, consider having an emergency power source with you to help in the event of infrastructural power failure. An emergency generator or solar panels would be sensible options, depending on the environment you live in.
A Source of Light
If your handheld radio can double as a flashlight, then you can use this to your advantage during a survival situation.
Choosing a ham radio with LED light will make it easier to find your way in the dark, but be wary of this feature not consuming too much power.
While an LED light is useful to help you see in general, ham radio with a backlit display is essential for when you are stuck in darkness.
If you can’t see your radio, you can’t use it properly and may press the wrong buttons, which could cause serious issues in an emergency.
An additional feature to consider would be a backlit display on the keypad as well, for extra visibility. Make sure your backlight can also be turned off at any time to conserve battery life.
Far Reach and a High Frequency
The best survival radio will need to have a wide range and reliable coverage. The range will depend on the type of frequency your radio uses, which is determined by the band allocation.
You should also be aware that your license determines the range of frequencies your radio can use, so assess your license restrictions prior to purchase.
Remember that not all receivers co-operate with all frequencies, so be sure to choose a radio that covers the appropriate frequency range you want to use.
If you are a ham radio beginner, UHF (Ultra High Frequency) and VHF (Very High Frequency) bands are typically the most popular with new users.
These bands don’t need as much power as other bands, while still allowing you to communicate widely with other users.
Some radios can operate in a variety of bands, with most ham radios able to work in at least two bands (referred to as ‘dual-band’).
A radio that allows you to switch between bands may be beneficial when you are in an emergency.
Consider how the type of frequency will affect the range of your survival radio, as it is important to be able to communicate from long distances.
While it would be great to find a fully waterproof handheld ham radio, unfortunately they do not appear often.
However, some models feature protection class 1P57, which means the radio can survive in water depth up to 3 feet for 30 minutes. This is a useful feature to look out for if you are serious about your survival.
In a survival situation, all of your equipment should ideally be as durable as possible.
Your handheld ham radio, which will provide you with a lot of assistance, should be able to withstand any bumps or scratches.
Consider choosing a radio built from a sturdy material, and one that includes a durable case.
Different Ways to Program Your Radio
Handheld ham radios can’t be used without being correctly set up beforehand. You will have to input data into it first, and program it so it works with the right frequencies.
As you are looking for a handheld device, consider whether you want a keypad, or whether you could go without it to preserve space.
If you choose not to have a keypad, your radio will have a Variable Frequency Oscillator (VFO) mode to program your device.
VFO mode is used to search for active frequencies within a certain range, and then you can add any of those channels to your frequency bank.
Adding channels is usually done by pressing a few buttons to save the channel to a suitable place for you.
Bear in mind, however, that if you make a mistake you may have to start the process from scratch again, which could be an inconvenience.
While not having a keypad may seem more efficient, it can be challenging to program lots of channels during times of emergency.
From this perspective, handheld ham radios that include a keypad are an easier, and potentially safer, option.
When you need to quickly save several frequencies, a keypad makes this process a lot smoother.
If you are confident using a computer, many handheld ham radios can be programmed in this way, using specific software.
While many models include the software for free, they may not provide a cable for you to program your radio, so this option may require an additional purchase.
Depending on the type of survival situation you are planning for, the number of memory slots you need will differ. The more channels you are looking to program, the more memory slots you will need.
If you are planning to communicate within a local vicinity or in an emergency, then less than 50 slots should be sufficient. This number may be the more likely choice for a survival scenario.
However, if you want to expand your channels, some handheld models offer up to 100 and 1000 memory slots. This number of slots would be more appropriate for national or global communication.
For a survival radio that’s built to last, my pick would be the BaoFeng UV-5R EX 5W Dual Band Two Way Radio.
Not only is it durable with great power settings, it’s also budget-friendly. It can certainly compete with more high-priced radios on the market, as the quality of its features are pretty hard to beat.
Finding the best survival radio is a choice that shouldn’t be overlooked. Portable radios can be a vital survival tool, despite their fun features.
Choosing the best one for your survival needs can be difficult, but it is worthwhile to get the most out of your handheld radio.
We hope that our reviews and choice of the best handheld ham radio for survival has helped you to make an informed decision.
Whether you are looking for a more intense military survival radio, or simply the best two-way radio for a survival expedition, there will be something out there for you.
Good luck and Happy Survival Prepping!
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