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Best Handheld Beginner & Pro Ham Radios

Have you ever bought a ham radio? Not researching well enough about the best ham radios could lead to a poor communication experience and an overall bad purchase. I will go through all the major features as well as the performance of the radios. By the end of this article, you will know which handheld ham radio is the best option for you.

So, we’ve put together the 4 top ham radios, whether it’s for amateur or professional needs. But before you scroll down to our reviews, here’s a quick comparison.

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Top Four Ham Radios: Reviews & Buying Guide

1 – Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Portable Design Radio – Best for Experts

picture of Uniden Bearcat

This is a high-quality scanner with 500 alpha-tagged channels, which ensures that you stay informed. It comes with loads of features, including a conveniently compact design and Close Call RF capture technology that allows you to tune to signals from transmitters within your area instantly. Moreover, the starter handheld ham radio features a Do Not Disturb Mode that helps prevent Close Call Checks during transmission. 

The Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Radio offers over 40,000 frequencies, which include both military and civilian bands. Some of these bands include Ambulance, Weather, Non-Digital Police, Fire, Railroad, Amateur radio services, Marine, Aircraft, Racing events, and Civil Air. 

The 500 Alpha-Tagged Channels feature allows you to search and find channels efficiently as it enables you to organize and locate them easily.

The Alpha tagging lets you easily assign and name your channels so you can keep track of who you’re listening to.  

It comes with a lightweight, portable design that makes it easier for you to take it with you on outings and the road. Besides, it features an orange backlight display that enables you to read easily even when in places with low light conditions.

Key Features:

  • Lightweight, portable design
  • Orange backlight display
  • 500 Alpha-Tagged Channels
  • 10 hours battery life
  • Close Call RF capture technology

PROS:
  • It allows you to listen to over 40,000 frequencies
  • It comes with the weather alert technology
  • It has a lightweight and compact design
  • It offers numeric channel labeling and programming

CONS:
  • Can be hard to navigate for a beginner 
  • It only charges when the unit is off

Final Thoughts/ Verdict

The Uniden Ham Bearcat BC125AT radio is a great device especially if you’re familiar with ham radios. It is also fairly priced and also offers loads of features considering its price. This is a great device if you are looking for an advanced radio.

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2 – BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way ham Radio – Best for Beginners

picture of BaoFeng UV-54

If you’re buying a ham radio as a newbie, you don’t want something that’s complex. The Baofeng UV-5R is the best ham radio for beginners. It’s a dual band UHF/VHF extremely compact ham radio with 128 channel capacity. 

The frequency range is wide for UHF 400-450 and the range for VHF is 136-174. This means you can use the VHF (very high frequency) for transmitting outside over long distances or you can transmit over UHF (ultra high frequency) in buildings or cities where you need to penetrate buildings or objects. 

Baofeng UV-5R comes with a rechargeable Li-ion battery pack rated at 1800mAh. That will give you 12 good hours of usage for this ham radio. And guess what! It’s got a battery save feature that helps conserve power when it’s not in use.

The UV-5R also features built in VOX (Voice Operated Transmit) for hands-free operation and a high illumination flashlight.

Key Features:

  • Frequency range: 136-174 / 400-480 MHz
  • Built-in VOX function
  • Output power: 4 /1 watts
  • Dual-band display, dual freq. Display, dual-standby

PROS:
  • It comes with an instruction manual, which makes it easy to set up and easy to use.
  • Battery life is pretty good. The battery save feature helps conserve power, so you could actually use your radio for days before charging.
  • It’s very cheap. And works great compared to its price.
  • It comes with a lot of accessories: a rechargeable battery pack, belt clip, earpiece with push to talk microphone, drop-in battery charger, wrist strap, AC adapter and a removable antenna.
  • Its connectivity over a long range is amazing.

CONS:
  • This radio does not meet the legal requirements to transmit on FRS or GMRS frequencies, although it does have the capabilities to do so.

Final Thoughts/ Verdict

This is the real definition of great value at a great price. If you are looking to get into amateur radios this would be great for you. This dual band two way radio will transmit VHF and UHF frequencies. This is a good radio to buy if you are looking at a cheap handheld ham.

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3 – BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) – Best Ham Radio for Outdoors

Picture of Baofeng BF-F8HP

This dual-band handheld ham radio features high power output of full 8 watts. You can change the power setting down from 8 watt to 4 and 1-watt settings. 

What you get is a VHF and UHF radio with a belt clip, battery, FM radio and antenna with charger. All for a price that you can’t beat. 

It was designed in the USA and features a warranty service based in the USA at Baofeng Tech. There is no need to send your radio to China for warranty repair. 

It has a 30% larger battery than the previous model which is capable of giving you an average of 18 hours of use. The construction is also of high commercial-grade quality.

The only handheld radio that comes close to this power rating is the Icom model at 7 watts that are priced well above this model. 

Most dual-band handhelds are rated at 5 watts in this category and that makes the Baofeng BF-F8HP a model to consider not only for the price but for features as well.

Key Features:

  • 2000mAh, 7.4v, Li-ion Battery 
  • Dual Band 7″ Antenna
  • Power output. (Low – 1w, Med – 4/5w, High-7/8w)
  • Frequency Range (VHF 136-174MHz) & (UHF 400-520MHz)

PROS:
  • You get a full 8 watts that go as far as 12 miles on simplex.
  • You can easily program it with the firmware.
  • It is less expensive than most dual-band radios.
  • It has so many features that are comparable to more expensive models
  • Commercial-grade construction.

CONS:
  • Small buttons on a handheld that may be difficult to navigate
  • With so many features may be too much for beginners

Final Thoughts/ Verdict

This high power, high frequency radio is capable of outputting 8 watts for transmission. It’s packed with the best features and makes it a great entry level ham radio. The manual is informative and makes it easy to program.

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4 – Yaesu FT-70DR Ham Radio

FT-70DR FT-70

The two knobs on top control the frequency and volume. And depending on the signal strength, this handheld ham radio has an automatic gain control that reduces or amplifies your voice. If you want to further increase your range, there’s a threaded antenna mount that allows attachment of different antenna types.

The keys are set aside in the other face of the ham radio. On the left side, there’s a PTT button. If you want, you may also hook this to your DC charge inlet located on the right side. You’ll also find a socket where you can have it connected to a hand microphone for security.

This device has a large screen feature for hassle-free viewing of the memory channels when you turn the knobs or change your settings.

Meanwhile, on the back of the ham radio model, you’ll see a mounting clip and a large battery pack. It has a long and good battery life if the unit is used throughout the hours of the day for communication.

Speaking of the battery, the FT-70DR amateur radio has an LI-ION battery option or an AA battery pack backup. Its AA battery version does help you recharge without the charging station and it’s also a very economical option for those who want budget radios.

Key Features:

  • Alphanumeric Display
  • Includes a 1400 mAh battery set
  • Allows sorting of one thousand channels
  • Lighted keypad
  • 70 cm amateur radio
  • 5 watts of reliable RF power output

PROS:
  • Durable build
  • Designed to be lightweight and compact
  • Excellent Value
  • Comes with an extensive amount of communication features
  • Nice interface
  • Long battery life that lasts hours

CONS:

Final Thoughts/ Verdict

This ham radio is well-suited for a wider spectrum of people, whether it’s pro or beginner users. If you are a professional user, the sophisticated performance and extensive programming options in this mobile radio are impressive. Its range, clarity, and way of operation are some of its best features.

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Buying Advice

After reading our list and reviews, you may still need some advice as you’re looking for a great ham radio. Contrary to what most people think, the quality of a radio doesn’t depend on how low or high the cost is.

There are actually several features you must consider, which we’ll discuss in this section. Alternatively, you can read our primer on ham radios.

Bands

If you need a ham radio for emergency communications and local area news, get one that comes with a two-meter ham band. That way, you can make use of a radio with 440 MHz. However, if you need a more advanced radio for serious hobbyists, consider getting ten-meter amateur radios.

Another type of radio is the dual band radio, which allows you to use two frequencies at once. With a dual band ham radio, you can experience more effective communications and improved listening experience as well. But if two frequencies aren’t enough for you, you can also go for tri-band ham radios, which, as the name implies, has a system that supports three radio bands.

Then, there’s also the general coverage band. This feature allows you to pick up regular bands such as AM, TV, and FM radio. Some advanced features on this band include morse code and SSB.

Backlit Display

If you’re using your radio in dim or nighttime environments, you want to buy a new radio that comes with a backlit LCD screen. Remember, an accident or emergency may occur during the night, so you want your screen to be easy to read.

The catch with backlit displays is that they consume a lot of power. As such, you should get a radio that allows you to customize the power during the daytime or when you don’t need it much.  Being able to turn off the light from the display can save even more battery as well.

Memory

Memory really depends on your preference. If you’re going to communicate in your local area, you want an inexpensive radio that has a few memory slots. But if you’re trying to use it for the weather, international communication, or other receiver applications, you may want one that has over 100-200 slots.

Frequency range

The different frequencies you’re eligible to use and listen to depends on the licenses you have. Not every ham radio communication system has the same frequencies, so make sure you purchase one that provides the frequencies you seek. There are three types of licenses for ham radio operators: technician, general, and amateur extra.

The technician license class has all privileges above 50 MHz. For below 30 MHz, you can have limited CW, phone, and data privileges. For a general license, you have all technician privileges plus almost all amateur HF privileges. Lastly, the amateur extra license allows all amateur privileges.

The process of how to get your ham radio license is not too complicated, but there’s an exam you need to take.

Power

Your usual ham radio transceiver will have 5 watts of output. If you choose a base model, you’ll receive more power from a power supply. If it’s a handheld like the UV-5R, then ensure that it comes with a high power and low power setting so you can also adjust it to your needs.

Keep in mind that a good power supply is necessary for transceivers. If that’s what you’re looking for, here are some great power supplies for ham radios.

VF, VHF, and UHF

High frequency (HF), very high frequency (VHF), and ultra-high frequency (UHF) are all used to describe the different sections in the radio spectrum.

  • HF – ranges from 3-30 MHz
  • VHF – from 30-300 MHz
  • UHF- from 300 MHz to 3 GHz

There are also some sections like Low Frequency, but you won’t hear that much about them because they are not suited for civilian radio.

Range

The range of your handheld ham radio depends on the following factors:

  • Urban vs rural
  • Frequency Range/Wavelength
  • Transmission power
  • Quality and size of the antenna
  • How high your antenna is relative to the horizon/how high it is off the ground

These factors can vary based on the type of equipment you’re using, especially on ham radio antennas. We recommend using a powered based station with a fixed antenna on your chimney because it performs better than traditional whip ones.

In terms of environment, rural areas have the most ideal range. The more structures and obstacles in the way, the lower the range. You’ll get around 20 miles in a rural zone, 10 miles in the suburbs, and 2 miles in the city and local areas.

CB usually has a spectrum of 1-2 miles [1]. You can take this further using Single Side Band technology. One limitation of CB is that the antennas need to be large, which is why CB base systems are sizable ones that can’t be placed inside a vehicle – one reason why they’re impractical to use in comparison to a handheld ham radio. For our comparison between Ham & CB click here.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Ham Radios 

Can ham radios be tracked?

Yes, your signal can be tracked. It’s called direction finding in the ham radio world. Hams made a sport of it, it is fox hunting. Someone who is regarded as the fox hides his transmitter and transmit at a certain interval. The hunter uses some methods to trace a signal to it’s source. So, if you are doing anything not ideal on the air, it’s very possible that you can be tracked.

Why is it called a ham Radio?

Ham radio is a nickname for ameature radio operators (hams). This term was coined by the experienced radio operators in the early 1920. The term stuck and is now widely used for amateurs in this community. Learn more about hams radios here

You can also read our reviews on older ham radios here TYT MD 380

What is a ham radio license?

This refers to a license that gives ham radio access to the Amateur Radio frequencies over 30 megahertz, which allows you to communicate locally and mostly within North America. Moreover, the ham radio license also offers some privileges on the “short wave” (commonly referred to as HF) bands that are used to communicate internationally. 

Are ham radios illegal?

Illegal? No, ham radios are not illegal. You will only need a license to operate one. Actually, no license is needed to listen to ham radio signals, but as an operator, you need some technical knowledge and some understanding of regulations before you can begin transmitting. Want to learn about your online options for ham radio courses?

Conclusion 

With the information that we have provided on the features to consider and the options that we’ve reviewed above, finding the best entry-level ham radio is possible. The ham radios that we’ve listed above might not have the most sophisticated features, but they are fairly priced and also come with a load of features that meet most of your personal needs. 

We also hope you will find the right ham radio from our list or use the information we have shared here to look for other options. There are various market options, but we believe that the Uniden Bearcat is great value for money and is the ideal ham radio equipment for beginners. We have tested the device and found that it’s highly reliable despite being available at relatively competitive pricing. 

Our Top Pick – Uniden Bearcat BC125AT

picture of Uniden Bearcat

The Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Radio offers over 40,000 frequencies, which include both military and civilian bands. You can tune into bands including Ambulance, Weather, Non-Digital Police, Fire, Railroad, Amateur radio services, Marine, Aircraft, Racing events, and Civil Air. 

The 500 Alpha-Tagged Channels feature allows you to search and find channels efficiently and you can easily assign and name your channels. This makes it easy to organize the frequencies you listen to.   

The features will impress any user whether you’re a beginner or a pro. If you are looking for the best ham radio and want a wide range of frequencies then this is what you’re looking for.

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William
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