Best Handheld Ham Radio for Survival

The real key to survival is knowledge and communication.

Knowledge about things that can either help or hinder your survival comes through communication. And if you were to ever find yourself in a sticky spot, you’ll be glad you had a handheld ham radio so you could get someone to come and rescue you. 

Moreover, if your loved one/s also have a ham radio, you can keep tabs on them and make sure they’re ok when they’re away from your side.

They’re super compact too, so sliding them into your bug out bag is no problem. Or you could even keep it as an EDC.

There are some really great handheld ham radios out on the market at the moment, and I’ve handpicked my top 5 favorites to show you.

And after that, I’ve got a brief little buying guide for you that you can use as your checklist to make sure you’ve thought of everything before you buy.

Let’s make a start…

Best Handheld Ham Radio for Survival

Comparative Table

NameTechnologyKey Features
BaoFeng BF-F8HPUHF, VHFThe Most Powerful One Yet: BaoFeng BF-F8HP (High Power).
The BF-F8HP is the most powerful BaoFeng capable of transmitting 8 watts!
BaoFeng GT-3TP Mark 3UHF, VHFDual-band capability, Great frequency ranges, Dustproof and impact resistant, Great user manual, Accepts emergency broadcasts
Retevis RT5 Dual Band Handheld 2 Way Radio UHF, VHFDual-band capability, 128 channels, Vox function, Doubles as a flashlight
BaoFeng UV-5R Dual-Band Two Way RadioUHF, VHFDual-band capability, Excellent value for money, Doubles as a flashlight, Very easy to use, Durable housing

Now, this ham radio has been given the title of “Amazon’s choice for handheld ham radio for survival”. Such titles are only given to products that are of high quality and also are available at a fair and reasonable price.

It’s also a bestseller with online retailers, earning well over 8,000 individual customer ratings on Amazon alone. And better yet, the average Amazon customer rating still comes out at an impressive 4 and a half stars out of 5.

It has dual-band capability, able to operate in both VHF and UHF frequencies. (More on that in my buying guide later.)

It can operate through 128 different channels, and over frequency ranges of 136 – 174 MHz, 88 – 108 MHz, and 400 – 520 MHz. So this includes the frequency for emergency broadcasts (More on that in my buying guide too.)

It has a high-gain antenna and features a rechargeable battery, that will work for 18 to 20 hours on a full charge.

Amongst the included accessories, is also a wrist strap and a belt clip, so you can always keep it handy and can get around with your hands free.

This radio comes with BaoFeng’s incredibly detailed yet easy to understand user manual. If you take your time to read it, you’ll be well prepared in an emergency.

Amazon occasionally has deals on this product – worth a look.

Pros

  • Dual-band capability
  • Great frequency ranges
  • Great user manual
  • Accepts emergency broadcasts

Cons

  • To comply with FCC regulations, you need to program the radio so you didn’t inadvertently pick up military chatter

Here’s another great ham radio from top brand BaoFeng. It comes highly recommended and is rather quite affordable compared to some of the other handheld ham radios that made my shortlist. It’s an upgraded version of BaoFeng’s GT-3 Mark-II.

Again, it has dual-band capability. This means it’s able to operate in both VHF and UHF frequencies. (More on that in my buying guide later.) 

Specifically, the frequency ranges it works on are 136 – 174 MHz, 400 – 520 MHz, and 65 – 108 MHz. And this includes the frequency for emergency broadcasts (More on that in my buying guide too.)

Like the BF-F8HP it also has an impressive 128 programmable channels. But what I really love about this one is that it comes with a car charger, so you don’t need to find a building to recharge it, and you can instead charge it up on the go in your vehicle. Perfect in an emergency. 

It also comes with a desktop charger too. Not that you’ll need to charge it up too frequently – it has an extended battery life.

It can transmit up to an 11 km radius, which is pretty good. And the casing is pretty easy to spot when you’re in a rush, thanks to the high-visibility orange. Moreover, the casing is also dustproof and has impact resistance, so can take a fall.

Amongst the included accessories, is also a neat little belt clip, which makes it possible to use as an everyday carry if you wanted to.

It also comes with BaoFeng’s incredibly detailed yet easy to understand user manual. If you take your time to read it, you’ll be well prepared in an emergency.

Pros:

  • Dual-band capability
  • Great frequency ranges
  • high-visibility orange
  • Dustproof and impact resistant
  • Great user manual
  • Accepts emergency broadcasts

Cons:

  • Not waterproof, could prove troublesome in the rain

I’m going to level with you, this handheld ham radio isn’t as popular as the other ones I’ve shown you. It’s something of a well kept secret. But it has all the features you want in a handheld ham radio…

It has dual-band capability, able to operate in both VHF and UHF frequencies. (More on that in my buying guide later.) And you can program the most pertinent of these signals into the 128 available channels.

It’s a two-way radio, so you can pass on key information to anyone who might be listening, and transmission is perfectly clear.

It has a great battery life, and you can save the battery life by changing the power mode. Moreover, you can charge it up in your vehicle, which is super convenient. And the low battery alert is super handy too.

The color LCD display is visible even in the dark – perfect in an emergency. And it has an emergency alarm, which is perfect  for drawing the attention of a potential rescuer.

I also like the VOX function which allows you to use the radio completely hands free, perhaps while you use the included belt clip to keep it on your person as you go on the move.

 

Pros:

  • Dual-band capability
  • 128 channels
  • Vox function
  • Doubles as a flashlight

Cons:

  • There aren’t so many peer reviews around for this radio because most people in the market for a handheld radio tend to go for the BaoFeng brand I showed you earlier

Now, this ham radio has proved to be a huge bestseller. On the Amazon page alone it attracted well over 10,000 individual customer reviews. And better yet the average rating still comes out at an impressive 4 and a half stars out of a possible 5 stars.

It has dual-band capability, able to operate in both VHF and UHF frequencies. (More on that in my buying guide later.)

More specifically it covers frequency ranges 136 – 174 MHz, and 400 – 480 MHz. And this includes the frequency for emergency broadcasts (More on that in my buying guide too.)

It’s very easy to use and you can switch between channel mode and frequency mode, which can become very handy if you haven’t had the chance to program all the different channels.

It also doubles as a flashlight, which can certainly come in handy in the dark. Just the sort of feature you need in an emergency. Moreover, it has a tough body and is quite impact resistant.

And at this price, it’s excellent value for money too. Even if you don’t manage to catch one of Amazon’s occasional deals.

 

Pros:

  • Dual-band capability
  • Excellent value for money
  • Doubles as a flashlight
  • Very easy to use
  • Durable housing

Cons:

  • It doesn’t have as many fancy features as some of BaoFeng’s other models, but in my view, that makes it easier to use

Best Handheld Ham Radio for Survival Buying Guide

License

Just to give you a heads up, to legally use a handheld ham radio, you’re required by law to have a ham radio license. 

Emergency Frequency Monitoring

Certain radio bands and frequencies are reserved by government agencies for emergency broadcasts. This includes for example the NOAA weather frequencies. The NOAA uses relatively low-frequency radio waves, between 162.400 MHz and 162.550 MHz. With these frequencies, the signal can carry through great distances.

Battery

The last thing you’d want in a survival situation is for the battery to run out just when you need it. So to that end, I recommend looking for radios with great battery life, and ones where the battery can be easily replaced by a spare battery.

Sometimes a spare battery will come with the radio and other times you have to buy them separately.

Alternatively, you could consider getting a radio with a rechargeable battery. A solar charging adapter may be the best to go for some extreme survival situations.

Easy to Use

A lot of ham radios these days come loaded with special features. But these can sometimes make things unnecessarily complicated, which could be very frustrating in an emergency. The more intuitive the radio the better.

Dual-Band Capability

In addition to low frequencies for emergency broadcasts, the ideal handheld ham radio for survival would be able to work in both VHF (very high frequencies of 30–300 MHz) and also in UHF (ultra-high frequencies of 300–3,000 MHz).

Cost

In an ideal world, the cost of the gadget would be the last thing on your list of criteria. However, most people have an upper limit on how much they’re prepared to spend.

My advice is to check the prices as you’re going along, so you get a feel of what sort of features you can get for your money.

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