Ham radios might seem like a thing of the past. However, you might be surprised to learn that ham devices are still widely used. Improvements and innovation have been added to the simple ham design for decades now. While the basics remain the same, the simple transmission and reception of messages, there is a large array of other features that ham radios now sport. You can spend thousands of dollars on new smartphones, or if circumstances allow, a ham radio for a couple hundred at most is all you need. So what impressive models for the best handheld ham radios are there on the market today? Let’s take a look.
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1 – Mirkit Radio Baofeng UV-5R MK5
Again, if bought in the USA or online, the seller/manufacturer provides the US warranty for all Baofeng radios. No need to wait for long periods to have the product shipped to and back from China.
You can set the Mirkit channels to your radio list. With 128 channels, programming can be done online by following the steps on their website. A link to the programming software and firmware can be provided upon your request.
This candidate for the best handheld ham radio has dual-band display, dual-frequency display, with standby and monitor functions for two different frequencies. Be aware that whichever is the first station is the default one for incoming calls.
This handheld device is versatile with multiple functions. Use if in hospitals, for security, military organizations or even as a police scanner!
Again with three adjustable power levels at 1, 5 and 8 watts, this radio has a frequency range of 136-174 MHz/400-520MHz.
Some of the built-in functions and features of this radio include an LED flashlight, LCD display, emergency alert, low-battery alert, timer, battery saver and more.
With your purchase, the content includes the radio itself, a battery pack, an antenna, earphone mic/headset, belt clip, hand strap, an adapter and a desktop charger.
- This handheld is among the best starter radios available on the market. It works very well with analog cars.
- The variety of functions including the police scanner are extremely useful, especially since the device is a handheld ham radio.
- The radio is very lightweight and sits easily on your belt or in your hand, making it a portable design.
- You get a lot of gear included in the box with your purchase. You will find everything you need including an English user’s manual.
- The dual-band display, dual-frequency display and dual stand-by give the user more options.
- Add or subtract channels from the 128 channel list using the programming.
- Choose from three different power settings of the radio.
- The Mirkit radio can be used for a handful of purposes.
- There have been multiple accounts of charger issues from consumers.
- Some found it difficult to find the programming instructions and claim it’s not easily programmable despite the advertisement.
2 – TIDRADIO 8Watt Ham Radio Handheld Upgraded Version of Baofeng
This Amazon’s Choice product, and now one of our top choices for the best handheld ham radio, is an upgraded version of the Baofeng UV-5R model. It also possesses three power settings – high/mid/low at 8W, 5W, 1W respectively. For long-distance communication, it’s recommended to opt for the 8W output to maximize range. You can get up to 10 miles!
For first-time users, TIDRADIO ham has thoughtfully included all the accessories you will need in this kit, which includes an extra battery. This prolongs its use in the outdoors. Other tools you will receive with your purchase include 2 antennas, one standard and one long-range, a hand microphone, belt clip, earpiece, hand strap, and 1 power adapter and an AC adapter. That really is all you need!
The long antenna included with this radio model enhances the frequency range and signal. Use this device with other radios such as the UV-82 and the UV-5R.
Also with 128 channels that are programmable through the software, TIDRADIO will also provide a software programming link after your purchase, so don’t forget to provide your email!
Some of the functions the ham radio is capable of and features it has include a built-in VOX function, keypad lock, LED flashlight, low-battery and emergency alert, monitoring channels and a time-out timer.
- Great for a variety of scenarios such as camping, hiking, construction, security, the service industry and even hotels.
- The carefully curated kit comes with everything you need, it’s suitable for seasoned users and greenhorns.
- The longer antenna gives your handheld ham radio a longer reach, up to 10 miles! That makes this device the best choice for outdoor activities.
- The 2 batteries also prolong the use of the radio.
- Switch between the power output settings in the radio to reflect your distance. Push it up to 8 watts for greater distances.
- The 128 memory channels are programmable by using the link they provide you, so don’t forget to fill in your email.
- This Amazon’s Choice product does come with a warranty.
- It doesn’t include the programming cable
- The radio (ham) might not be able to be programmed
- It’s not a Baofeng product (it’s from TIDRADIIO)
- Not FCC approved.
3 – BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8 Watt Dual-Band Two-Way Radio
An upgraded version of the previous two generations, the output power is increased and the radio itself is made out of much more durable material. The 30% larger battery prolongs battery life and the V-85 antenna optimizes performance over a greater distance.
Although it’s a Chinese product, buying it off Amazon gives you the US warranty and support including an English user’s guide. The full U.S. warranty offers claims without having to ship your device or any parts to China. It cuts down the wait time and has faster service.
Most high-end handheld ham radios now come with different power settings of high, medium and low. Choose from 8W, 4W or 1W, this radio has a frequency range of 65-108 MHz with both broadband and narrowband selection.
All these statistics and numbers could be all gibberish to the new users, so Baofeng has included an in-depth user manual giving newbies the breakdown of this radio.
The upgraded version of the UV-5R eliminates all the bugs and transmits on a new generation chipset. The firmware on this model is the latest one and of the highest performance. Definitely a good reason why we considered it worthy to be called one best handheld ham radio for our list.
- The larger battery (30% larger) is long-lasting. For the BF-F8HP at a max output of 8 watts, the battery life can last as long as 20 hours!
- The built-in flashlight and FM radio can be used without draining the large battery of the radio.
- The detailed user manual and customer support will make this a great experience for all users.
- The kit comes with everyone you might need including a battery, antenna, power adapter, earpiece, belt clip, hand strap, charger, and of course the manual.
- You get a one year warranty for your purchase.
- The harder and more durable shell makes this a more resilient model to take outdoors with you and do tough jobs.
- The three adjustable power settings can help you gain maximum performance over any distance.
- The V-85 antenna enhances the signal and transmission performance two-fold.
- Strangely, this device isn’t approved for use in the US market.
- Radio doesn’t last for a long time.
- Might be a knock-off of BaoFeng
4 – BTECH DMR-6X2 7-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
We are aware that the price of this handheld is significantly higher than the other options, but B-Tech adheres to the manufacturer’s warranty. Of course we weigh all aspects, including price, in choosing the best handheld ham radio, but we make sure a high cost is justified through great features, like in this radio.
You don’t necessarily need to program this device through your computer, as it allows front panel programming for channels. However, for more advanced programming, you may need to use the software. Unlike most other options, BTech does include the programming cable. Simply download the software from the link they provide.
The firmware is reliable and designed in the USA. You get 4000 channels, 10,000 talk groups and a whopping 200,000 contacts! You can choose from three different power outputs, much like the other options, and monitor your settings on the large color display.
What you get in the box is a K1 accessory jack, and an SMA-female antenna, a battery, belt clip, programming cable (yay), charger base, charger transformer, earpiece kit, wrist strap and user manual.
- The firmware is upgradeable through a Windows PC and the included programming cable.
- You are able to assign channels such as digital, analog, both or even auto-detection.
- Get problems attended to quickly in the US with the warranty, without having to ship any items to and back from China.
- With firmware designed in the US, you get 4000 channels, 10,000 talk groups, and 200,000 contacts!
- The radio has a frequency range of 136-174 MHz and a built-in GPS and audio recorder.
- The firmware is upgradeable, no need in running out to buy more advanced models.
- You have the ability to monitor all DMR traffic with the digital monitor.
- To make viewing easier, similar to the new iOS upgrade, you have a day or night view display.
- Get full control of the scanning features. You get up to 250 channels in a zone and 4000 channels overall. You can customize and adjust your scanning bank.
- The programming software is free!
- For further specs, just read through the listing or the detailed user manual
- Batteries are dead or die easily
- The battery may overheat easily and melt
5 – Luiton Walkie Talkies 2 Way Radio BaoFeng Radio Series UV-5RH
Here we have another amateur handheld walkie talkie radio with 3 different adjustable power settings for your pleasure. Choose between 8, 4 or 1 watt, this programmable radio has a frequency of 65 to 108 Mhz.
The important thing about devices is to customize them for your own convenience. You can choose to customize channel names for easy recognition, and also program the boot display and others with the included programming cable and your PC.
You can select between broadband or narrowband (dual band) and the rest of the features such as display and standby is also dual functioning.
The compact design is easy to transport and the size doesn’t hinder its ability to have tons of features including dual-band selection, battery saving mode, VOX, flashlight and keypad lock.
- The distance is impressive in an urban or rural environment. Due to buildings and edifices in the city, the distance is only 2-4 km as opposed to 6-10 km in open spaces.
- High, mid and low power output lets you customize it for distance purposes.
- Dual display, and dual standby as well as dual-band functions.
- You get 128 channels.
- Each package includes a lithium-ion battery pack, an adapter, a dual-band antenna, a belt clip, an earpiece, a desktop charger, and an English manual.
- Take this compact and small handheld ham radio with you outdoors, it’s lightweight and easy to carry around.
- Not an FCC-approved product
- Fails quite easily and soon after purchase
- Burns through the battery and dies quickly.
Our Top Pick
BTECH DMR-6X2 7-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
A great option for anyone looking to get a two-way radio. It comes with a full kit, and includes the programming cable, unlike a lot of other manufacturers.
You are protected by the USA warranty that doesn’t take a lot of time to repair and maintain your product. Your product will not need to be shipped overseas.
The best part is the exclusive USA designed upgradeable firmware. New improvements and bug fixes will come out from time to time, giving you the option to follow their link and enhance your ham device.
With all the channel selections and the full kit to help newbies get started or to give veterans an easier time, this is a slightly more expensive option but worth the money.
You can assign channels as digital, analog or both. For an easier time, the handheld ham radio can be programmed to auto-detect a channel and categorize it into digital or analog on its own.
You get a built-in GPS which, will broadcast your current location as an APRS beacon. For more details on this function, read through the details on the software downloading page.
The daytime or nighttime displays in the radio will make viewing easier on your eyes and is essential for nighttime operation.
What to Look for When Buying a Handheld Ham Radio
A ham radio is a little different from walkie –talkies; they are much more advanced with a clearer reception and further transmission abilities (more info here). There are certain features you should be looking for. Of course, you shouldn’t think a ham radio would be as advanced as your smartphone, but there are certain benefits. Let’s take a look at what features you should consider when picking out the best handheld ham radio from a wide range of options.
Maybe arguably the most important feature, there are different bands for different radios. A lot of the options above are dual-band options (broad and narrow). Think about what sort of communication you are using the radio for. Would you need to monitor two frequencies at once, or will general coverage do? Remember that you need a license for it and the frequencies you are allowed to use depends on this factor. VHF and UHF bands are good for beginners, which is what most people use unless enhanced communication is needed.
The above acronyms stand for high frequency, very high frequency and ultra-high frequency. They all have different ranges with HF at about 3-30 MHZ, VHF from 30-300 MHz, and UHF from 300 to 3 GHz. You will only be allowed to transmit and receive on certain frequencies.
As you have read many times by now, there are different settings and power outputs for each radio. Most are limited to 5 watts, but there are adjustable options with the highest output power ranking at 7 to 8 watts. Adjusting the power helps with better transmission over longer distances, or when you need to save some battery and power. Remember this, the more power, the better the range. However, for most beginners and regular users, 5 watts should be more than enough.
Can You Program It?
The programmability of the radio is your next consideration. Many can be manually programmed, but some won’t be. Certain options are easy to use and can be programmed with the keypads. These radios can sometimes be adjustable via a programming cable and your computer for advanced programming. Other options may only be programmed with your computer, which can be a hassle. Decide what it is you are looking for, in-depth programming or ease? It’s gonna be a deal-breaker when you’re pinning down three or two options to one best handheld ham radio.
Certain options allow for firmware updates, which always gives your radio the latest and greatest functions the manufacturer has developed. Some cost money, but a lot of the models we presented above offer it for free. You just need to follow a link or supply them with your email.
The display is where you get all your information about your radio. Look for an LCD display. These displays paired with an illuminated keypad increase visibility and are easier on your eyes. This is especially important if you are using your ham radio in a pitch-black environment. Hopefully, this option can be turned off to save battery.
Antennas aren’t an accessory every ham radio comes with. They help to boost reception and transmissions. If you feel the quality of the antenna is flimsy or doesn’t do the job right, you can always buy a separate antenna on the market.
This refers to channels that the ham radio stores for you. The number needed depends on your communication purposes. Are you using the ham radio for local communication, only when you participate in outdoor activities, for security purposes or emergencies? If so, then just a dozen or two channel spaces will do. However, if you need the radio for communication on a national or global level, some radios have up to 200 (128 being the commonly seen number) memory slots to accommodate you.
Ham radios need to be sturdy. Oftentimes they are tools we take with us when doing vigorous activity. If you’re camping or rock climbing and become stranded or stuck somewhere, you want the ham radio to be tough enough to withstand these conditions. Flimsy and easy-to-shatter material isn’t something you want for a ham radio.
Noise suppression, otherwise known as the squelch feature is handy when there is tons of ambient noise. You want to be able to hear the other person clearly and vice versa on the radio. Other than that, it’s just plain annoying to have static on the same frequency.
Some handheld ham radios will alert you if the battery is low and even weather functions. If your job requires a handheld ham radio or you live in places susceptible to harsh weather, this could be important.
A lot of manufacturers consider the possibility that you are a first-time buyer. They curate a perfect kit for you that includes everything you might need such as an extra battery, programming cable, earpiece, wrist band, belt clip and much more.
This is important because the manual will hopefully have all the information you need to operate it. A ham radio isn’t a plug-and-play sort of device and it comes with a learning curve. Even for veterans, a new ham radio could possibly come with new features and accessories that are foreign to you.
Getting a License
This part is important. A license for your radio determines the frequency you are allowed to broadcast and be on. It also allows you to operate a ham radio legally at normal times. If you are unapproved or the radio is, you will be subject to fines. We’ve even heard of people getting blacklisted by other ham operators. There are three types of licensing tests at different difficulties. But to operate a standard one, a General or Technician license should suffice.
Be aware that your environment will greatly affect the range of your device, even if it’s the best handheld ham radio out there. Being in a concrete jungle will limit your transmission and reception due to the buildings and other radio and other waves flying through the air. The large and undisturbed piece of land will yield clearer transmissions and better results.
Make sure you opt for a good piece of equipment, especially in looking for the best handheld ham radio. There are tons of testimonies of people receiving defective products or face other problems during use. Take into account the rating of the seller/manufacturer. A license is very important and often mandatory before you operate this piece of technology. Find the right frequency for your specific needs and program them into the memory slots. They are basic but not as obsolete as you think. They can be an essential tool for your survival if you’re constantly outdoors. Quality should be your main concern and we hope to bring you only the best options on the market to take the load off of your shoulders through this best handheld ham radios list.
For Best Ham Radios for this year, check out our list: https://www.ratedradardetector.org/radio/ham/best/.