Best Handheld Ham Radio For Survival

If you are in a hurry and just want to find out what the best handheld ham radio for survival is, we recommend the BTECH UV-5X3 Tri-Band Radio as the best one.

Today’s most common and arguably most incredible form of communication is the cell phone. Unfortunately, the network that backs the cell phone is fragile. Even under normal conditions cell phone towers drop calls.

Under stress circuits get busy, call take longer to connect, and more calls get dropped.

In an emergency the network, if its still around, will be pushed beyond its capacity in a matter of minutes. During Hurricane Katrina 70% of the telecommunications infrastructure was wiped out. During Boston Marathon bombing residents were unable to send and receive calls.

You should use a ham radio because it will work when you need it.

In this article, we’re going to review four radios to determine the best handheld ham radio for survival:

Which Bands?

Amateur radio covers a wide range of frequencies broken up into 27 blocks of radio frequencies called bands. Most radios can only transmit and receive on a few of these bands. So it is important to understand what bands your handheld can use.

The two most common bands are 2 meter (144-148 MHz) and 70 centimeter (430-440MHz). These are the bands that most beginners focus on. They are available to all 3 ham radio licenses. They are also used by local emergency radio services like Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service and Amateur Radio Emergency Service.

All of the handheld ham radios we reviewed are capable of transmitting and receiving on these two bands.

Range

When it comes to radio frequencies, there are a lot of variables that effect the range of those frequencies.  Most of the variables that effect range are present regardless of the radio you purchase.

  • Antenna height, mainly relative to the horizon
  • The terrain or structures are in the way (mountains, buildings, trees, urban, rural, etc)
  • Wavelength / frequency
  • Weather
  • Environmental (changing atmospheric layers, solar flares, etc)
  • Available repeaters

There are only a few variables that are directly related to the radio itself.

  • Size and quality of the antenna on the radio
  • Transmission power of the radio

Transmission Power: Of the radios we reviewed the wattage ranges from 4 watts to 8 watts. In the grand scheme things this difference in wattage will have little effect on the effective range of the radio.

Antenna: When it comes to best range for your money it’s in the antenna. A good antenna can have a dramatic effect on range when replacing a cheap antenna. All of the radios reviewed have a less than ideal antenna. Our recommendation, regardless of the radio you purchase, is to invest in a bad ass antenna when you have the chance.

Ham Radio License (Legal Use)

Legally speaking you are not allowed to talk on the air with any ham radio until you pass an amateur radio license exam and receive your unique call sign.

Most exams are conducted through local amateur radio clubs. You can search for a location on the ARRL website. The Ham license exam has a small fee and is administered by volunteer examiners (VE).

There are 3 levels of exams with the Technician’s exam being the entry level exam. The Technician license will give you access to the amateur frequency bands above 30 MHz. This includes the two popular bands, 2 meter and 70 centimeter.

The technician exam consists of 35 questions and you must get 26 correct to pass the exam. There are plenty of courses and guides out there to help you pass. The Easy Way Guide walks you through all the possible questions and is the easiest study guide we know of.

If you do pass, the VE will mail your information to the FCC and you should receive your license and call sign in about 1-2 weeks.

Best Handheld Ham Radio For Survival
BTECH UV-5X3 Tri-Band Ham Radio

The UV-5X3 is an affordable tri-band handheld ham radio. It comes with two antennas. The first the High Gain V-85 Dual Band Antenna for the 2 common VHF and UHF bands. The second is tuned for 222-225MHz for the 3rd 220 band.

Why Choose The UV-5X3  Over the Popular BF-F8HP?

The BF-F8HP is a very popular choice among preppers and ham radio enthusiasts in general. In many aspects the two radios are practically identical.

Choosing between the two primarily comes down to the BF-F8HP with 8 Watts of power, versus 5 watts, or the UV-5X3 with a third band, the 220 band. The extra 8 watts is extra power however, you will not really notice it. Both radios have the 2 most common ham bands so the 3rd, 220 band is not needed. There are ways to increase range however its not so easy to add bands. So unless you really want the extra power or have no interest in the 220 band our Top Pick is the UV-5X3.

In addition, to the extra band here are several other reasons.

  1. Remove and add channels from scanning with the keypad on the UV-5X3, you need to use software on BF-F8HP.
  2. You can lock the display to show the Frequency and the Alpha text.
  3. The UV-5X3 has a higher speaker output of 1 watt (compared to 700mW on the BF-F8HP).
  4. The UV-5X3 is often cheaper.

Pros

  • 128 programmable memory channels
  • Listen to FM Broadcast radio, while still monitoring radio frequencies
  • Bright, customizable 3 color display
  • Affordable pricing
  • Compatible with UV-5R and BF-F8HP accessories
  • Small, palm-sized radio

Cons

  • Smaller 1500mAh battery compared to the 2000mAh of the BF-F8HP

Strong Recommendations

  • Upgrade the antenna as soon as you can afford it. This will dramatically increase your reach.
  • Get the programming cable. It makes adding repeater information (with Chirp) very easy.
  • Purchase a larger battery 3800mAh battery.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

Second Choice – Very Popular Radio
BaoFeng BF-F8HP Dual Band Handheld Radio

The BF-F8HP is a rather popular radio among ham radio enthusiasts. It’s a high quality radio for the price and plenty small enough for a bug out bag or the glove box of a bug out vehicle.

Pros

  • 128 programmable memory channels
  • Listen to FM Broadcast radio, while still monitoring radio frequencies
  • Bright, customizable 3 color display
  • Affordable pricing
  • Small, palm-sized radio
  • 2000mAh battery (we still recommend upgrading to the 3800mAh battery)

Cons

  • Less user-friendly than the UV-5X3

Strong Recommendations

  • Upgrade the antenna as soon as you can afford it. This will dramatically increase your reach.
  • Get the programming cable. It makes adding repeater information (with Chirp) very easy.
  • Purchase a larger battery 3800mAh battery.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

Best Handheld Ham Radio If Money Is No Object
Yaesu FT-60R

If money were not an object the Yaesu FT-60R would be an excellent handheld ham radio for survival. The FT-60R is water resistant and much more rugged than the BTECH/BaoFeng radios.

Pros

  • 1000 programmable memory channels
  • Solid, well-built construction
  • Water-resistant

Cons

  • More expensive that the BTECH/BaoFeng, but still well-priced for radios in its class
  • 1400mAh battery

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

Best Handheld Ham Radio On A Budget
BaoFeng UV-5R

If you’re on a budget the UV-5R is our choice for the best handheld ham radio for survival. It’s less than half the cost of our top pick yet will still be very useful. This favorite among amateur radio enthusiasts is reliable with good range and good battery life.

Pros

  • Excellent price point
  • Cheap enough to purchase, setup, and throw in your bug out bag
  • Easy to read display and back-lit keypad
  • Good battery life
  • Good range

Cons

  • Programming is not as user-friendly
  • Reception can be spotty at times
  • Channel scanning is slower than other models

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *