Best Handheld Ham Radios for Survival and Beginners 2020

What is a Ham Radio?

Ham culture dates back in the early and middle twenty-first century when the internet and cellular phones were not yet introduced to society. Particularly in the US, ham radios were operated by an elite group referred to as “hams” for recreational purposes.

The use of Ham radio otherwise known as ‘amateur radio’ has cropped up in recent years. Other than being used for emergencies, it is becoming a hobby to many enthusiasts. Ham users can form identity and community groups and converse at no charge while off the grid. There is always someone to answer on the other side wherever you are. No reception is required, unlike cellular phones.

Ham radios have proved effective in helping coordinate tasks that are spread over a wide area. You can even have a casual conversation with your buddy who lives across the neighborhood. Ham radio is a good way of getting in touch with new people and identifying your fellow ham enthusiast. You may be surprised to find out the girl next door is a ham as well. Furthermore, the technical conversation style can be quite fun.

Things to look out for when buying Ham radio

Are you looking to join this vast community of ham enthusiast? If you are a beginner and having survival in mind, here are the things you should consider before buying a ham radio:

Battery Endurance

The obvious thing you should look out for is battery life. When you are talking about survival, it means you are limited on where you can recharge the ham radio. Therefore, amateur radio should be able to go for hours when in normal use.

Backlit Display

When relating to survival, most often you will find yourself operating the ham radio in pitch darkness and away from civilization. Distress times can happen alongside the power going out and you will have a problem operating it. Look for a ham radio that gives you the option to switch the backlight on and off depending on the intensity of light.

LED Light

Trying to find your way in total darkness can be a daunting task. A LED light can come in handy during the emergency times this these. Consider a ham radio that has LED light but at the same time does not consume too much power.


The range of your ham radio can mean a matter of life and death especially when you are stranded in the middle of nowhere. The range of the ham depends on the frequency used. The tri-band amateur radio is more suited for different talking distance. Go for the one that allows you to switch between different bands.

Water Resistance

Your walkie can accidentally fall in the water while you are out and about. An emergency situation such as flooding can happen. You would want your ham radio to remain sturdy in such an event. Or simply get rained on. Find a ham radio that won’t let you down in such situations.

15 Best Handheld Ham Radios 2020 – Updated List

Here are some walkies that have been ranked top on Amazon based on user ratings:

1. Yaesu FT-60R

Topping the list is Yaesu FT-60R. Unlike most ham radios, this one comes with a solid outer casing made of aluminum. It is the perfect candidate for outdoor activity. Furthermore, it is water resistant so you won’t have to worry when it falls in water while on a camping trip. This ham radio features dual-band VHF/UHF frequencies. It also equipped with audio alert when the battery is getting low which can come in handy.

Yaesu FT-60R has a maximum of 5W power output in case you want more range. You can tune the radio for a less power output during close range also has a frequency lock feature which prevents accidental switching of frequencies. Has a backlit keypad as well as the display which means you won’t strain during the dark. Not forgetting it has 1000 memory channels.


  • It is easy to use even for absolute beginners
  • Comes at a fair price considering the features
  • Durable outer casing
  • Supports up to 1000 channels


  • Comes with a 1400mAh battery which won’t last for too long


  2. BaoFeng UV-82HP

Baofeng Company has a lot of ham products and the BaoFeng UV-82HP is one of them. This handheld radio features a maximum power output of 8W. And of course, you can always toggle between High, medium and low power output. If you are looking for more talk distance, then this is it. It operates with dual-band VHF (8W) and UHF (7W).

With the BaoFeng UV-82HP, you can enable single or dual push-to-talk. Dual PPT means you can transmit on two frequencies. Another good thing about this radio is that it is accessory compatible with all the UV-82 accessories. It also has a frequency lock feature that locks on a particular channel. It has a maximum of 128 memory channels. This ham radio comes with a 1800mAh battery which I would say it’s not bad and not too good.


  • It is inexpensive while at the same time packing good features
  • Has a LED flashlight
  • High power output for better range
  • Multi-color options


  • It is not water resistant


  3. BaoFeng BF-F8HP

BaoFeng BF-F8HP brings upgraded features from previous generation UV-5R. It has twice the performance of the UV-5R. The maximum power output for BaoFeng BF-F8HP is 8W while the medium and low power output stands at 4W and 1W respectively. You can toggle between these power settings depending on the kind of performance you want. This kit comes with a hand strap for better grip.

This ham radio comes with a V-85 antenna which definitely has better performance. High power output coupled with a good antenna equals long range. It is also programmable with your PC although the PC03 FTDI cable does not come with the package. It comes with a 2000mAh battery for more reliable talk time. While on the medium power output, the BaoFeng BF-F8HP can go for about 24 hours on a fully charged battery.


  • Inexpensive considering the features it has
  • Has a built-in flashlight, backlit as well as FM radio
  • Has a nice rectangular design
  • Longer battery life
  • Has good performance and range
  • Has the latest N5R-340A firmware


  • It is not waterproof


  4. TYT UV8000E

Next in our list is the TYT UV8000E model. One key thing that stands out in this ham radio is its battery which has a whopping 3600mAh rating. This one will definitely give you a longer standby and usage time. Most walkies range between 1000 and 2000mAh. TYT UV8000E operates on dual-band VHF UHF frequencies.

The power output for this is immense which is 10W. This means you will have more range advantage. It also comes with a cross-band repeater feature. You can as well toggle between different power output settings. Although they warn not to operate the radio on 10 watts output while the cross-band feature is enabled as the radio will get hot and may get damaged. Another cool feature about the ham radio is that it has three different selectable colors for the backlight.


  • Comes with a reliable 3600mAh battery for a longer operating time
  • Comes with high-performance features for a longer range
  • Equipped with a backlit display and with three different colors
  • Comes at an affordable price while giving you cool features
  • The package comes with some free accessories
  • Easy to use and figure out


  5. BaoFeng UV-82

The BaoFeng UV-82 operates with dual-band VHF and UHF frequencies. The good thing with this kit, it comes with all the necessary accessories inside the package which include an earpiece, long antenna for a longer range, etc. This ham radio has a maximum power output of 5W and of course, you can change power output settings.

It also comes with an inbuilt FM radio that can store up to 25 channels as well as a flashlight. When it comes to the number of user channels, it can hold up to 128 channels. Other noticeable features include battery saver, selectable tri-color background lights, low battery alerts, etc.


  • Comes at an affordable price
  • Easy to use
  • The package comes with free accessories that you would otherwise buy separately
  • Equipped with audio alert features


  • It is not weatherproof
  • The lithium-ion battery has a low operating time

ice on Amazon


  6. Baofeng X Radioddity UV-5RX3

The Baofeng X radioddity UV-5RX3 supports tri-band frequencies. It is specifically able to filter the traditional VHF and UHF frequencies as well as 220-225MHz US band. This makes a total of three bands. The package comes with a lot of useful accessories which would otherwise require you to buy separately.

This ham radio is programmable with CHIRP or CPS software. The battery capacity is 1800mAh which is quite decent, unlike most ham radios. The speakers have a classic metal shell design which makes it stand out. It can save up to 128 channels while supporting CTCSS and DCS tone scanning. The effective talk distance for Baofeng X UV-5RX3 is 5.5miles when in high power mode.


  • Comes with excellent features at an affordable price
  • Free accessories
  • It is programmable with chirp
  • Long-range
  • Shares accessories with other models
  • Comes with a backlit LCD display as well as a flashlight

Best price on Amazon


  7. BaoFeng UV-5R

Baofeng UV-5R is one of the most affordable and feature-rich ham radios in the market. If you are looking to save a dime, this is it. The LCD display has three selectable light colors. It is also equipped with a LED flashlight which is ideal for night camping and dim situations.

It uses 50 CTCSS and 104 DCS for tone searching. Baofeng UV-5R comes with audio alerts for low battery and emergency alerts. This radio can support a maximum of 128 saved channels. Has two selectable power output modes with the high mode giving 5W output.


  • It is very affordable
  • Comes with a backlit display and an inbuilt flashlight
  • Easy to use


  • Antenna performance is a bit low


  8. Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R

The Yaesu VX-6R features tri-band frequencies that operate at 144MHz, 220MHz, and 430MHz. This ham radio is quite compact which means it has a small size while offering many features. Thumbs up to its waterproof capability even when submerged completely in has two power output options; high power and low power which is 5W and 1.5W respectively.

It is also compatible with a variety of optional accessories including the SU-1 Altitude Barometer Display module. Furthermore, it supports up to 900 saved channels. The LCD display, as well as the keypad, have a backlight which is handy in dim situations. It comes with a 1500mAh battery which is not that bad considering its small size.


  • Has a backlit keypad and LCD display
  • It is programmable
  • Compact and small size
  • It is waterproof


  • You can only get a few hours of usage


  9. TYT MD-380

The TYT MD-380 supports both digital and analog operating modes. Switching between these modes is easy by just a touch of a button. It operates between 400-480MHz UHF band and supports up to 1000 memory channels. One distinct feature is its fully colored LCD display. With the TYT MD-380, you can send text messages while in the digital mode.

You can toggle between high power output and low power output (5W & 1W). The digital protocol implemented in this ham radio complies with ETSI TS standard. Digital mode provides stunning audio clarity throughout the transmission distance. Furthermore, the battery has a high capacity of 2000mAh.


  • Supports both digital and analog operating modes
  • Clear and stable audio output.
  • Supports text messaging
  • It is programmable


  • It is not waterproof


  10. Baofeng UV-5R (Upgraded)

This is an upgraded version of the Baofeng UV-5R. The look and feel of these two ham radios are the same. This radio comes with two power output options; high and low with a rating of 5W and 1W respectively. This package comes with two lithium-ion batteries having 1800mAh capacity. Having an extra battery definitely comes in handy.

It operates with dual-band frequencies (VHF UHF). It also comes with an auto keypad lock which prevents you from accidentally messing up the settings. Not forgetting, the LCD display has backlight with three selectable colors which are perfect for outdoor dim situations. It supports a maximum of 128 user channels.


  • Easy to use and figure out
  • Comes at an affordable price
  • It is programmable


  • It is not waterproof
  • The range is a bit limited



Hesenate HT-UV8R comes with a high capacity battery having a rating of 3800mAh. This ham radio is manufactured by Baofeng despite it having a different name. If you are looking to go for hours without recharging your radio then Hesenate HT-UV8R is the real deal.

Other notable survival features on this radio include an LCD display that is backlit, fitted with a LED flashlight, and longer talk distance. Operates with dual-band frequencies and triple power output (8W, 4W, 1W). You can toggle between the various power output options depending on the required performance. Some distinct features of this radio are tail tone elimination, call tone, battery saver and audio alerts.


  • Comes with a backlit LCD display
  • Has a high capacity Li-ion battery for longer standby and usage time
  • Has a longer effective talk distance
  • The package comes with some nice accessories including earpiece
  • It is programmable with CHIRP


  • The battery increases the overall size of the radio
  • It is not waterproof


  12. Baofeng UV-5R5

The baofeng UV-5R5 is another affordable ham radio in the market. It is cheap while at the same time giving you functionalities of a standard walkie talkie. It features 128 memory channels, high gain 7 antenna, dual-band frequencies (VHF & UHF) a decent battery with 1800mAh rating.

Considering its price, the baofeng UV-5R5 does not disappoint. This walkie is suited for beginners who are looking to experiment and have fun. But don’t underestimate this radio because it has a maximum transmission distance of 5KM in open terrain. It also comes with a backlit LCD display as well as an inbuilt flashlight for dim situations. Has a keypad lock feature which prevents you from tampering with the settings accidentally.


  • Easy to use and figure out even for beginners
  • Provides standard functionalities at a very affordable price
  • Comes with a backlit display
  • Multi-color options including jungle camouflage
  • It is programmable with a PC


  • It is susceptible to water and adverse weather conditions



  13. Baofeng Pofung GT-3TP

The BaoFeng Pofung GT-3TP comes with three selectable power output modes; high, medium and low power. The hightest gives 8W power output while medium and low give 5W and 1W respectively. It operates on tri-band frequencies ie FM, VHF, and UHF.

This walkie is able to support a maximum of 128 channels as well as 50 CTCSS and 104 DTS tone scanning. The LCD display has backlight and can be toggled when needed. It also comes with a LED flashlight which is really handy. The 8W power output can be able to give up to 11km talking radius. But this may vary depending with the weather, surrounding, and terrain.


  • It easy to use and figure out
  • Comes at an affordable price
  • Gives you longer effective talk distance
  • It is programmable


  • Susceptible to weather conditions such as rain



  14. Kenwood Original TH-D74A

Kenwood TH-D74A complies with APRS standard for GPS communication. This handled ham radio is able to exchange real-time GPS data. Although it may seem expensive, it comes with some solid functionalities that you wouldn’t expect in an average walkie talkie. It has four selectable power output; 5W, 2W, 0.5W, 0.05W. This figures may look small but the performance is immense compared to analog walkies.

This ham radio supports both analog and digital modes. It uses D-STAR protocols for transmitting digital signals. Digital radios have more performance in terms of range and voice quality. Other than that, it comes with a DSP-based audio processing unit. It supports PC decoding, data import/export, memory channels, etc. Kenwood TH-D74A is rated IP54 which means it has an excellent weatherproof standard. Not forgetting it operates on tri-band frequencies.


  • Comes with a large multi-color LCD display
  • Incorporates high performance while still conserving power
  • Equipped with a GPS unit
  • It is weatherproof
  • It is programmable


  • Comes at a hefty price


  15. Icom ID-51A

Last but not least is the Icom ID-51A. This portable ham radio features an inbuilt GPS for geo-location and can support storage of up to 1304 channels. It supports dual-band frequencies with a maximum power output of 5.5 watts. It has four different power output modes. The best part is that has a large LCD display that looks like that of a mobile phone. It is IPX7 rated which means it won’t let you down when it is subjected to water.

Digital mode operates with the D-star protocol. There are a lot of advantages with the digital ham radios over the analog ones. Digital radios have noise cancelation and are much faster in transmitting. This walkie is able to search for both DV and analog repeaters. Pictures can be transmitted in the DV fast mode. It has a variety of operating modes which you can toggle depending on the kind of task you want to perform.


  • It is waterproof
  • Has different operating modes suited for different tasks
  • A large LCD display
  • It is programmable
  • It is integrated with GPS


  • There is little product support


Ham radios FAQs

  1. What is the difference between VHF and UHF?

VHF and UHF are frequency bands that have long been in use in ham radios. The difference between the two is the band range they operate. VHF operates between 136-174MHz while UHF operates between 400-512MHz.

VHF (Very High Frequency)

UHF (Ultra High Frequency)

  1. What is the difference between digital and analog two-way radios?

Analog two-way radios use analog frequency modulation to transmit voice while Digital two-way radios use binary numbers to transmit voice. Voice is clearer in digital radios. Sound clarity in digital transceivers typically stays consistent despite the change in distance. In analog two way radios, the signal gets weaker with an increase in distance to the point you can only perceive ‘static’

  1. Can a digital radio talk to an analog radio?

If a radio supports both analog and digital capabilities, it can connect to either of the two.

  1. Who can hear a conversation on the other end?

Anyone who is transmitting on the same frequency you are in.

  1. Why is it known as a two-way walkie-talkie?

Unlike commercial radios (FM) where you only have to listen, two-way radios allow you to listen as well as talkback.

  1. How long is the standby time of a walkie-talkie?

It depends on how much you use it and the battery capacity rating. The average standby is around 12hours.

  1. Which ham radio is better; analog or digital?

Digital ham radios are better since they offer more range, noise cancelation and extra features such as text messaging. Furthermore, they are more private than analog radios. Although they come at a hefty price.

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