Written by Matt Cole
In any situation, communication is critical. When Katrina hit in 2005, it was the ham operators than came to the rescue, while telephones and wireless services were disrupted. Considered old technology, ham radio is anything but. According to Wired magazine, over 700,000 licensed ham operators exist in United States as of 2014. That is an uptick of 60 percent since 30 years ago. AARL (National Association for Amateur Radio) boasts United States continue the steady growth of licenses. At the end of 2013 the FCC database showed 717,201 compared to 709,575 at the end of 2012.
The ham radio equipment and antennas is ensured to remain operational when other communication sources fail. It is no wonder preppers and enthusiast turn toward portable ham radios as backup.
How does Ham Radio work?
Hams use a range of frequencies, allocated by the FCC for amateur usage. These frequencies, also called short-wave bound off the ion-sphere from the transmitter to the receivers antennae. Higher the frequency the shorter the wave-length will be. Ham users conduct a two-way conversation, as opposed to a shotgun approach of broadcasting their communication. Depending on the frequency and time of day, conversations can be done world-wide.
What to look for in a portable Ham Radio?
Typically one looks for the power output, antennae, available frequency range. Power output is dependent on the size, ranging from a few mill watts to 1,500 watts. For comparison a CB radio runs on 5 watt limit. Antennas range from the common 146-MHz (2 meter or 19 inch quarter-wave whip) to wire strung between trees. The diversity of antennas is too much for this single article.
Frequency range is allocated, depending on the license provided to the ham operator. Legally, you require a license in order to operate a transmitter. Each of these allocated radio bands is dependent on the ham radio operator’s license, and their available power output and antenna’s ability.
Discussing with ham radio operators, most will start off with a cheaper model, then work their way up to a model covering larger areas. Where it gets confusing for a non-radio operator, are the multiple methods to enhance the model by upgrading the antenna, ECT.
For the purpose of this article, we will confine to handheld ham radios. I have taken multiple review sites, and compiled the top 5 best handheld ham radios in no specific order.
Best Handheld Ham Radios: The List
1) Yaesu Original VX-6R
a. The VX-6R is an ultra-rugged 144-430 MHz FM Hand-Held featuring wide receiver coverage, JIS7 submersibility, the Yaesu-exclusive Emergency Automatic Identification (EAI) system, and ultra-simple keyboard access to important features.
b. New on the VX-6R is the One-Touch Direct Memory Recall feature, that allows you to recall ten favorite memories with a single button press, just like on your car stereo
c. Yaesu VX-6R Triband Amateur Radio Transceiver.
144/222/440 xmit (2 meter, 1.25 meter & 70cm), plus 0.5-999Mhz receive range too (AM/FMN/FMW, less cellular).
Built-in PL & DPL, Alphanumeric.
Can receive AM/FM broadcast radio, Shortwave, CB, Police, Weather, Aircraft & marine bands.
Includes Antenna, HiCap 1500Ma Batt & charger.
Waterproof & submersible (rated 3ft for 30 mins).
Has a security password feature, built-in Morse code trainer, black magnesium case.
For Optional Programming Software & USB cable search B004H5Q8IM .
This unit is also compatible w/the following OPTIONAL Yaesu Speaker mikes, chargers & accessories – CD-15A, VC-27, MH-73A4B, VC-24, SDD-13, E-DC-6, CT-91, ADMS-vx6, csc-91, FBA-23 (all sold separate).
2) Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio
a. The Baofeng UV-5RA is a hand held transceiver providing 5 watts in the frequency range of 136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz. It is a compact, economical HT that includes special VHF receive band from 65 – 108 MHz which includes the regular FM broadcast band. Dual watch and dual reception is supported. You get up to 128 memories. Other features include: selectable wide/narrow, battery save function, VOX, DCS/CTCSS encode, key lock and built in flashlight. Selectable frequency steps include: 2.5, 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5 and 25 kHz. RF power may be selected at 4 or 1
b. More Stubborn Case, More Rich and Enhanced Features ,Frequency Range: 136-174 / 400-480MHz; 25KHz/12.5KHz Switchable, 128 Channels 50 CTCSS and 104 CDCSS; Channel Step: 2.5/5/6.25/10/12.5/25KHz , Dual-Band Display, Dual Frequency Display, Dual-Standby; A/B band independent operation
a. Dual Band, Dual Display, Dual Frequency Handheld Transceiver
Frequency Range: 136-174MHz, 220-260MHz
VFO and Memory Scan, Tri-color back light selectable
PTT and ANI ID
FM radio and 25 station storage
2.5/5/6.25/10/12.5/25kHz Step selectable
Low Battery Alert
b. Baofeng Tech is the only authorized USA Baofeng Distributor to honor the Manufacturer Warranty. Only Baofeng Tech offers warranty claims without shipping anything to China. You must insure that Baofeng Tech is your selected buying option when buying to be able to have the full USA warranty. Frequency Range: 65-108 MHz(Only commercial FM radio reception) VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 220-260 MHz(Rx/Tx), Broad (Wide) / Narrowband (Narrow), High power / low (5W/1W), selectable. Selectable Frequency Step/2.5/5/6.25/10/12.5/25 kHz, Function “VOX” (Voice Operated Transmission), “OFFSET” (frequency offset for repeater access). Dual-band handheld transceiver with display function menu on the display “LCD”. Function Busy Channel Lock “BCLO”. Helpful BaoFeng Guides and Programming Tips at Miklor.com
4) Midland GXT1000VP4
a.The GXT1000VP4 2-Way Compact Communication Radio (Pair) from Midland is a feature-packed and convenient way to stay in touch on family outings, at amusement parks, during group sports, camping, and much more. Each radio has 22 selectable standard channels, plus 28 extra channels for extra privacy. The system offers up to 36 miles of wireless range in open areas. A channel scan feature automatically checks channels for activity, ensuring that you’re on an open channel for clear communication. A dual watch monitoring feature will check for any activity on 2 channels. There are 387 privacy codes, giving you up to 5560 channel options to block other conversations.
b. Midland GXT1000VP4 5 50 Channel Waterproof GMRS Radios with NOAA Weather/All Hazard Alert. Includes Rechargeable Batteries, Dual Desktop Charger, Headsets and 12 volt Vehicle Adapter, Pair Packed. The GXT1000VP4 features the standard 22 GMRS Channels plus an additional 28 Channels. The GXT1000 meets the JIS4 Standard of exposure to water for 30 minutes and features the Maximum Power allowed for GMRS Handheld Radios for up to a 36-Mile Range. Weather Scan finds the nearest NOAA broadcast to stay up to date with the latest weather and hazard information. In addition to important weather announcements, All Hazards Alert means the GXT1000VP4 will receive other emergency announcements such as Child Abduction (Amber Alert), Nuclear Power Plant Warnings, Biological Hazard, Fire, and Landslide Warnings. New features for 2009 include the Whisper feature which allows you to speak quietly and still be heard clearly by others and SOS to send out a distress sound for emergency situations. The Group Call allows you to make “direct calls” to other people within the group without alerting the entire group. The GXT1000VP4 features a Vibrating Alert for silent notification and 9 Level E Vox for Hands Free operation. Additional features are 142 Privacy Codes, Scan of the 50 Channels, Hi/Med/Low Power Settings, 10 Call Alerts, Keypad Lock, and Battery Save Circuit. Unlike other GMRS radios on the market that use lithium batteries, Midland’s Dual Power Option allows the use of the included rechargeable batteries or 4 “AA” batteries (Not included)
a. This Radio Has Been The First Uv-5R Radio To Get A Full Internal Upgrade. Like The Uv-82 It Has An Expanded Frequency Range And A Stronger Antenna. It Has A Vfo/Mr Button Found On The Uv-5R Series Not Found On The Uv-82 Series. The BF-F8 Is The Successor To The Uv-5R Series. 2013 Latest Version. This radio can be programmed with or without a PC to also work on private repeater systems. It is a compact, economical HT that includes a special VHF receive band from 65 – 108 MHz which includes the regular FM broadcast band. Dual watch and dual reception is supported. You get up to 128 memories. Other features include: 25KHz/12.5KHz Switchable FM Radio (65.0MHz-108.0MHz) Large LCD Display Li-Ion Frequency Range: 65-108Mhz (FM Receive Only) 136-174Mhz And 400-520Mhz (TX/Rx)Channel Number: 128Channel Spacing: 2.5/6.25/10/12.5/20/25Khzfrequency Stability: +/-2.5Ppmantenna: High Gain Dual Band Antenna Antenna Impedance: 50 Operating Voltage: Dc 7.4Vmode Of Operation: Simple Or Semi-Duplex
b. Dual band/dual display/dual standby: A/B band independent operation( UV UU VU VV )
128 groups channels storage: Shortcut menu operation mode
VFO & Memory channels scan: Emergency Alarm
Time-out Timer (TOT): 0~9 grades VOX selectable
PTT & ANI ID: FM radio and 25 stations storage
Voice commanding: 50 CTCSS/105 DCS
High/Low TX power selectable: DTMF function
Busy channel lock-out(BCLO)
Busy lockout function
Time-out Timer (TOT)function
Battery voltage display function
Channel name display and editing functions
Signal strength indicator
Keypad lock function
Built-in Led torch
Wire clone function
Emergency alarm function
Low battery alarm
Power saving function
Tone end of transmission
Chinese and English voice prompt
PC software programmable