best handheld ham radio for survival

11 Best Handheld Ham Radio for Survival: Reviews & Buying Guide

In 2019 alone, different countries had either experienced tornadoes, wildfires, or floods. Since fighting with mother nature is not always easy, it makes sense to adequately prepare for such emergency situations in advance.

One tool that you will need is probably going to be a ham radio and particularly a handheld ham radio. Ideally, having a good handheld ham radio will ensure that you can still communicate even when other communication channels fail.

As such, we've reviewed 11 of the best handheld ham radios for survival you could buy today. Our top pick from the 11 is the legendary BaoFeng UV-82HP which we felt is more than ideal for any ham radio operator.

The most important thing to remember when choosing a handheld ham radio for survival is to understand your needs and how well the radio's features are ideal for survival. You should thus consider things like good battery life and the brand of the radio since some brands are known for their reliability.

How We Picked These 11 Best Ham Radio for Survival

We assessed these 11 radios based on how powerful they are and whether or not they are durable. Since a handheld ham radio for survival needs to be extremely reliable, we also considered the reviews of the radios as well as the features that they ship with.

As we shall later see in the buying guide section, there are a few features that you should keep an eye out for whenever you wish to purchase a good handheld ham radio for survival.

Comparison Table

Best All-Round Handheld Ham Radio

BaoFeng UV-82HP

baofeng uv-82hp
  • 1800 Ah battery
  • 128 programmable memory channels
  • 4W/1W power outputs
Most Powerful Handheld Ham Radio

BaoFeng GT-3TP Mark III

baofeng gt-3tp mark-iii
  • 3800mAh battery
  • 128 memory channels
  • 8W/4W/1W power outputs

​Top 11 Best Handheld Ham Radio for Survival

BaoFeng UV-82HP

baofeng uv-82hp

The BaoFeng UV-82HP is one of the best radios for survival. With a battery capacity of 1800mAh and up to three selectable power levels, this second-generation radio from the classic UV-82 series outshines many other ham radios because of its simplicity.

For starters, the ability to choose your own power settings on a ham radio allows you to regulate the radio's power consumption. If, for instance, you are running low on battery and would still want to use your radio for basic communication, you can choose the low power setting and the BaoFeng UV-82HP will use either 4W or 1W of power.

The high-power output equally comes in handy when you want to engage in long range communication. In addition, the radio's 128 programmable memory channels let you store any channels you find. You definitely want this feature in your radio if you are intending to use it for survival.

Other than its programmability, it is worth noting that the UV-82HP uses the SMA-Female antenna connector type. However, since it comes with its own high gain V-85 antenna, you won't have to worry about buying another high-performance antenna unless you really need one.

PROS

  • Durable and has a strong build
  • Affordable
  • Has decent battery life
  • Powerful

CONS

  • Bulky
  • Lacks a clock

BTECH UV-5X3

btech uv-5x3

Don't let the name fool you. The BTECH UV-5X3 is yet another hidden gem from BaoFeng under the authority of BaoFeng Tech USA. That means you get a whole lot of features like channel mode modifications, channel skips, 128 memory channels and many more.

Compared to the UV-82HP, this radio may appear less powerful since its highest power output is 5W. However, we couldn't ignore its other perks such as the 220MHz single band antenna and the V-85 dual band antenna for long range communication.

The radio has a battery capacity of 1500mAh which is still enough to last you for some considerable time. Since it uses less power than the UV-82HP, you can still expect it to serve you as a prepper.

One other benefit of the UV-5X3 is that it is backward compatible with some of the BF-F8HP and UV-5R accessories. This means you may end up spending less when it comes to buying accessories.

The fact that this radio lets you add or remove channels from the scanning list also showed that BaoFeng listens to its customers. Before the UV-5X3, the only way you could manage channel scan list was if you had a PC but that soon changed.

PROS

  • Affordable compared to other radios in its category
  • Great transmission and reception within ham radio bands
  • Comes with US support
  • Ships with a 220 and a 2/440 antenna

CONS

  • Programming it is challenging
  • Has no external charging port

SAMCOM FPEN10A

samcom fpen10a

Many people may not be familiar with SAMCOM in the same way they are with BaoFeng. However, if you are in search of a ham radio for survival, the SAMCOM FPEN10A is a worthy choice because of plenty of reasons.

For one, the radio is compact and has a strong build. This means it can withstand a lot of impact and will also remain in excellent condition even if you keep it away for a long time.

The SAMCOM FPEN10A is not the most powerful radio we've reviewed since a 2W transmitting power is only good for short range communication. Nevertheless, you can get a three-mile range when using this radio.

Despite the small power output, the radio has two power modes – Low Power and High Power modes. Like other radios, you can set the mode to high to increase the range but choosing the low power mode will also mean that you get more battery life.

We were also impressed by the radio's audio features which were useful. The FPEN10A comes with the VOX function with earpiece. If using the radio inside your vehicle, this means your hands will stay put on where they need to be in the first place – the steering wheel.

On the same note, we couldn't forget the radio's unlimited rotation knob which lets you access the channels you want with much ease. This offers a fast way to get to a channel fast. In addition, the Group Talk function also enables you to make direct calls to other people who are on different channels. This can be handy for delivering announcement

PROS

  • Clear voice in short range communication
  • Useful dual power mode
  • Has VOX hands free function

CONS

  • It is not as powerful as other radios in the same category
  • Has only 20 channels

Whistler WS1040

whistler ws1040

Whistler's WS1040 is a bad boy in many respects and could very well be the perfect gift for a prepper who wants to take things to a new level. This radio can store up to 1,800 frequencies and has a storage capacity of more than 38,000 scannable objects thanks to its virtual scanner mode.

Regarding scanning capabilities, the WS1040 outperforms many other handheld ham radios because it utilizes object-oriented scanning. This also makes the radio easy to program and use compared to how you would program other types of ham radios.

Its design complements any prepper even though it may appear a little bulky to hold at times. However, its size is indicative of its capabilities since it is in fact a broad-spectrum handheld ham radio that can cover 25-1300 MHz.

The radio uses free-form memory which happens to be more dynamic. It scans objects rather than frequencies. During a scan, it could be scanning channels or talk groups within the object. That is why even though it can store 1,800 frequencies, it is still able to store 38,000 objects.

If you would rather go pro and program the radio yourself, you would be happy to know that the WS1040 comes with a PC cable.

PROS

  • Innovative free-form memory
  • Has an easy-to-read backlit LCD
  • Comes with V-Scanner technology
  • Broad frequency range

CONS

  • Slightly bulky compared to some other models
  • Might not be suitable for less experienced ham operators

BaoFeng GT-3TP Mark-III

baofeng gt-3tp mark-iii

If you are familiar with the BaoFeng GT-3 Mark II, then you might want the GT-3TP Mark III which is the upgraded version. Its specifications are also amazing, and it rivals hundreds of other types of radios that are usually deemed more powerful.

The GT-3TP Mark III is a tri-power radio meaning that you get three different kinds of power levels which are:

  • High Power – 8W
  • Medium Power – 4W
  • Low Power – 1W

With the high power mode giving up to 11Km talking range, you should definitely consider this radio if you intend to engage in long-range communication.

While this radio does not beat the WS1040 in terms of frequency range, you will get perhaps the best battery life from this handheld ham radio. With a 3800mAh Li-Ion battery, this radio can last for hours without needing a recharge. What's more is that it will last for longer if you use the low power mode.

It also comes with the same features that were present in the other BaoFeng radios such as the VOX functionality and over 128 memory channels. Some minor features which would still be helpful to the prepper include the LED flashlight, squelch control, and a Radioddity car charger for on the go charging.

PROS

  • Waterproof
  • Comes with a backlit keyboard
  • Great sound quality
  • Compatible with newer versions of CHIRP

CONS

  • Poorly written manual
  • Doesn't have the best stock antenna

Retevis RT5

retevis rt5

Just like the Whistler WS1040 and the SAMCOM FPEN10A, not so many people know about the Retevis RT5 probably because brands like BaoFeng may at times overshadow the RT5. However, we were amazed at just how feature-packed this dual band amateur radio was

It comes with a 1400mAh battery which is enough to last you for a few extra hours if you use the radio on low power. Once you buy its accompanying charging kit, you could always get an extra battery as well in case you find yourself running out of power often.

You can pick up a lot of frequencies in the VHF and UHF range using this radio, and that includes weather services and emergency frequencies. In addition, since the radio has dual watch functionality, you can monitor two frequencies at the same time.

The radio's LCD has four different backlight colors which represent the current state of the radio. So, whenever the radio is in transmit, receive, or stand-by mode, you can easily tell by taking a quick look at the backlight color.

PROS

  • Comes in a small and slim design that is comfortable to hold
  • Has decent battery life when on stand-by
  • Programmable
  • Good build quality

CONS

  • Not waterproof
  • Doesn’t come with charging cradle or charger

Pofung UV-82 Dual Band Two Way Radio

pofung uv-82

If the naming scheme of Pofung UV-82 sounds familiar, then you're probably thinking about BaoFeng and you are totally on target. Pofung is the rebranded name for BaoFeng and thus the Pofung UV-82 will be almost identical to the BaoFeng UV-82 and UV-82HP.

The Pofung UV-82 has just two power levels which are capable of outputting 5W (High) and 1W (Low). The radio can also hold up to 128 group channels like a few of the radios we've reviewed so far. Unsurprisingly, it also has memory channels scan to help you find channels much faster.

We didn't mind the radio's large LCD display as well since it was easy enough to see. You also get to choose between three different kinds of backlight for the LCD display. Other than the LCD, Pofung UV-82 features an LED flashlight which can come in handy when you're in the dark and lack a flashlight.

For a survivalist, the 1800mAh battery is just enough since the radio can be set to low power mode when not being used frequently. This will help the radio's battery last a little longer.

Additional features that stood out for the Pofung UV-82 include the Roger Set, Keypad lock, and VOX which all make the radio a worthy find.

PROS

  • Offers great value for money
  • Dual band
  • Compact size
  • Good audio quality

CONS

  • Difficult to program
  • Low battery life in cold weather

TYT MD-380 - DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio

tyt md-380

If you just recently became a ham operator, then the TYT MD-380 could just be the handheld ham radio for you. It offers a great 2-in-1 solution for anyone who would love to use a radio with both digital and analog radio functionality.

The radio has two power outputs (5W and 1W) and this means that you get to control the range and battery life of the radio. As it comes with a 1700mAh Li-Ion battery, it would be wise to use the low power mode in case you wish to engage in short range communication.

You can also store up to 1000 channels on this radio and will have the ability to store up to 1000 contacts as well. This will enable you to send and receive text messages to these channels while the radio is in digital mode.

TYT MD-380's remote activation features were equally impressive. With its remote kill and remote stun features, you can send a DTMF sequence to the radio that will put it in either receive mode or prevent it from receiving and transmitting.

PROS

  • Affordable radio plus accessories
  • Feature-packed
  • Great build quality and feels solid
  • Decent battery life
  • Comes with 2 antennas (quarter wave and full wave)

CONS

  • Lacks a power input jack
  • Crude software

5 Pack BAOFENG BF-888S

5 pack baofeng bf-888s

As BaoFeng sets a high bar when it comes to ham radios, we surely couldn’t leave out the BF-888S as it is perfect for groups. So, what do you get in all five BaoFeng BF-888S?

For starters, this radio features a 1500mAh Li-Ion battery that can give you approximately 8 hours of battery life. Though this may be smaller than what other radios like the GT-3TP Mark III can offer, it is difficult to drain the batteries of all the other 4 radios at once.

The radio has an output power of 3W, and this means that it is ideal for short-range to mid-range communication. It only has 16 memory channels which are still enough to hold a few of the important channels you came across while using the radio.

Feature-wise, the BF-888S comes with some basic functions such as an emergency alarm, a high illumination flashlight, and a voice scramble function. Since the radio is also PC programmable, you can change a few attributes of the radio so that it can better meet your needs.

PROS

  • Good value for money
  • Simple and easy to use
  • Has a decent battery life
  • Good audio quality

CONS

  • The radio is a bit difficult to program
  • The charger runs on mains power only

Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio Transceiver

tri-band yaesu vx-6r

Yaesu's VX-6R has two power modes that can output 5W and 1.5W of power. However, since it is a tri-band radio, its versatility is what will likely win you over.

The radio has 900 memory slots and comes with a ton of other features like PC programming, Enhanced Paging and Code Squelch, and even a password feature which lets you control who has access to the radio.

It offers a 3-mile range even with obstacles along its path, and this means it can be a great radio to have whenever emergencies arise. The 1250mAh battery is smaller than most of the others we've witnessed in other radios, but we couldn't let that get in the way of the great features of the VX-6R.

PROS

  • Rugged and durable body
  • Decent stock antenna
  • Compact size

CONS

  • The keypad is small and the keys are close to one another
  • Loudspeaker could be more powerful

Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld Amateur Radio Transceiver

yaesu ft-60r

If the Yaesu VX-6R didn't cut it for you, then perhaps the FT-60R will. It is a slightly more advanced handheld ham radio compared to the VX-6R since it has better specifications like 1000 memory channels and the 1400mAh battery which can last a little longer.

The main difference between the two is that the FT-60R is a dual-band radio that can use the VHF or UHF frequencies. It has two power modes as well: low power (2W) and high power (5W). This means that you can get slightly better performance from the FT-60R.

However, as far as survival goes, we would recommend the FT-60R to any prepper who needs a good radio that does not come with many unnecessary functions.

PROS

  • Manual programming is easy
  • Decent battery life

CONS

  • It cannot listen to trunked communications

Why Ham Radio is Popular Among Survivalists?

Preppers have proved repeatedly that being prepared is far better than waiting for disasters to happen. Since communication channels can and usually fail during disasters, only ham radios offer an ideal way to communicate with other people in such situations. 

Handheld radios in particular are far more useful for survivalists because they are more portable than other types of ham radios.

Types of Ham Radios for Survivalists

Wondering what types of ham radios exist for survivalists? Well, there are usually three main types of ham radios:

  • Handheld ham radios
  • Mobile ham radios
  • Base station ham radios

Handheld ham radios are the most popular among survivalists because they are affordable, extremely portable, and powerful. They typically use about 1-8W of power.

On the other hand, mobile ham radios are meant for your vehicle. Most people mount them in their vehicle's dash, but you can also mount them on the glovebox as well. When paired with a quality antenna, mobile ham radios can be very powerful and thus ideal for preppers and survivalists.

Base station ham radios are the largest ham radio setups that you can find. Whereas it would cost about $500 to setup a mobile ham radio, you would need about $1000 to setup a ham base station. Of the three types of ham radios, base stations are the most powerful.

Buying Guide: What to Consider Before Buying Handheld Ham Radio for Survival

Buying a ham radio for general use is not entirely the same as buying it for survival. As such, buying a ham radio just because of its brand alone is not enough. Survivalists need to look at more features such as:

  • Power
  • Programmability
  • Backlit display
  • Memory slots
  • Scan functions

Power

Of course, you need to ensure that the handheld ham radio you are buying is powerful enough to enable you to communicate within the range you intend to. Most people will usually go for the most powerful radio, but this should not always be the case. 

By default, ham radios have incredible range and the same can be said about handheld ham radios. As such, you should not always aim for the most powerful radio unless you intend to set up a ham radio base station.

Programmability

You can get even more from your radio if it is programmable. Ham radio operators usually connect their ham radios to a computer to enable them to manually program their radios. This lets you customize the radio to your liking. 

You will, however, need a compatible cable that will allow your ham radio to communicate to your computer. Some ham radio manufacturers provide the cable for free.

Backlit Display

This is crucial when selecting a handheld ham radio for survival. Since the essence of the radio is for emergencies, having a ham radio with a backlit display means that you could use the radio even in poorly lit conditions. 

In addition, you should also check whether the backlight can be turned off whenever you do not need it. This will help conserve battery power so that you can use the radio for longer.

Memory Slots

The availability of memory slots in a ham radio is equally important. This is because they let you store channels or frequencies that you found important. 

If you are concerned with local communication, then getting a handheld ham radio with about 12 memory slots is okay. However, if you intend to use the handheld ham radio for international communication, any radio with over 100 memory slots will be sufficient.

Scan Function

Whenever there's an emergency situation, there's usually little time for certain actions such as manual scanning. You should thus look out for handheld ham radios with an automatic scan function which will help make the process easy. There are usually different kinds of scan functions. A few of them include memory scan, priority scan, full scan, and skip scan.

Final Verdict

Having a handheld ham radio is essential for any aspiring survivalist. The portability and compactness of these radios make them important and indispensable tools especially during emergency situations.

Though handheld ham radios are made differently, you should always be keen on things such as power, battery life, and the programmability of the radio before you make a purchase. However, if all you need is a decent and all-round handheld ham radio, then perhaps you should consider the BaoFeng UV-82HP.

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