Best HAM Radios of 2019 – Stay in Touch From Afar

In today’s modern world, where everyone has iPhones and Androids and whatever smartphone is the newest coolest thing right now, radio communication may seem a little bit…antiquated. But there is a reason why our first responders and law enforcement personnel still continue to choose to communicate by radio – radios are a reliable form of consistent communication that, most notably, do not require a cell phone tower to work. If you are looking for a way to ensure you are always able to get hold of somebody, no matter where you are, you may want to look into buying a HAM radio.

Best HAM Radios Comparison Chart

Product

Rating

Price

Kenwood TM 281-A

Baofeng UV-82HP

Btech UV-5X 3

Icom 2300H

Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band

What is a HAM Radio & What is it Used for?

A HAM radio is, basically, a radio that is used for nonprofessional use. If you are not a firefighter or first responder, you do not work in law enforcement, and you are using a radio, you are engaging in HAM radio use. HAM radios can be used for a broad range of reasons.

They are helpful to carry along if you are going hiking or camping alone, or for long trips, so that you have a reliable means of communication even when you go out of range of cell phone service. They can be used to tap into radio channels from around the world and socialize with tons of different people. HAM radios are a great way to familiarize yourself with a whole new form of communication, one that may ultimately save your life one day.

Benefits of Investing in a Great HAM Radio

If you are going to start exploring the wonderful world of HAM radio communication, you want to get a good quality HAM radio. There are a number of reasons for doing so. First and foremost, you want your radio to consistently be able to work, especially if you are using it as a potential means of communication during emergency situations.

HAM Radios Aren't Just For Survival (Source)

You also want it to be easy to use – HAM radios are certainly not as intuitive as cell phones and you want a model that you will be able to navigate easily. Finally, you are going to want a radio with some decent capability. This capability looks like solid construction, extended battery life, multiple channel access – basically, what ensures your radio will last a long time and provide you access to multiple streams of communication.

Quick Take | Best HAM Radios

Before diving into our review of the best HAM radios, here is a quick take of our top 3 picks:

Review of the Best HAM Radios

Now that you know a bit more about the world of HAM radios, check out some of the best models below!

Pros

  • User friendly
  • Scans quickly
  • Durable and built to last
  • Connects to battery and solar panels
  • Has a lot of features for a basic radio

Cons

  • Does not have a 440 option
  • Programming can be complicated to figure out

The Kenwood TM 281-A is a reliable HAM radio that packs a punch in terms of power. This little guy has up to 65 watts in its high power mode. But do not think that just because it has got a lot of juice, it compromises in other areas. This radio is as rugged as the best of them.

Its high quality material design is built to last, and last it certainly does. Users report they have been using Kenwood radios on the daily for over twenty years, and the radios always work just as well as they did on the first day of use. Kenwood is a reliable radio brand that you can depend on to produce quality products. The Kenwood TM 281-A is no different.

It has an LCD screen so you will be able to read the frequency in the dark, which can happen a lot in outdoor survival situations (or even an emergency situation right at home when the power goes out). It is also environmentally friendly and has over 100 memory channels. If you are looking for a radio that will last through thick and thin and still function at the top of its game, you will not be able to possibly go wrong with the Kenwood TM 281-A.

Bottom Line

The Kenwood TM 281-A is a hardy, reliable little radio you can count it. It can be difficult for some users to initially figure out the programming, but once you have mastered that, using this radio is simple and fun.

Pros

  • Comes in a variety of colors
  • Endorsed by first responders
  • User manual is well written and easy to understand
  • Can switch between three different transmit power levels
  • Radio comes with a built in LED flashlight that can provide either a steady beam or a strobe

Cons

  • Scans slowly
  • Bottom of radio case is not flat, so radio falls over easily when it is inside the case – and this also causes some complications when charging

The Baofeng UV-82HP is a great handheld radio that will be able to accomplish everything you need in an emergency situation. It has some surprisingly awesome features for such a little radio. It has the capability to monitor two different frequencies at once.

It can tune in to FM radio as well as traditional HAM channels – and don’t worry, you can transmit something via a HAM channel and then listen to FM radio while you wait for a response without stressing that you will miss the response when it comes, because the FM radio will automatically cut out when the HAM channel is activated. 

The display can be lit up in a variety of different colors, and includes a battery display that shows you how much battery life you have left. Odds are you are going to have a ton – users report being able to use this radio for twelve straight hours with the battery barely decreasing at all. This radio will certainly be able to help you communicate whatever you need, and provide some fun little perks in the process.

Bottom Line

The Baofeng UV-82HP is a nice little handheld radio that will get the job done. You may need some patience when plugging it in properly to ensure that it is charging well, though.

Pros

  • Comes with earphones
  • Provides 127 memory channels
  • Good for indoor use and car use
  • Btech provides good customer support
  • Displays are synchronized so that users are able to see the frequency and the channel name at the same time when scanning

Cons

  • Power drains quickly
  • Not easy to program
  • Not as durable as other radio models

The Btech UV-5X 3 is an awesome radio option for a radio with tri-band frequency and all the regular functionality of your average handheld radio. The Btech does have some limitations, but overall, it is an excellent handheld radio for beginning or amateur HAM users who are still learning the ropes.

For more experienced HAMs, the Btech is still a good option for a backup radio, or a radio to be used at home or in the car. It is not designed to be used in outdoor, rugged situations, and will likely not last long in those scenarios, but for practicing HAM use, it is fantastic. Its 127 memory channels and synchronized displays will win over those who are skeptical about the effectiveness of HAM radios.

Bottom Line

The Btech UV-5X 3 is a great radio for training those users who are new to the world of HAM radio communication. It will likely not make it in an actual survival situation, as it is not particularly durable and eats through its battery power much faster than other radios that are specifically designed for survival.

Pros

  • Produces a loud sound
  • Easy to use, easy to program
  • Large display that is easy to read
  • Can be used at four different power levels
  • Made of high quality material, users report it still works after twenty years of daily use

Cons

  • User manual comes in CD form not paper form, but is very thorough

The Icom 2300 H is a good radio for amateur HAM users. It is not a handheld unit, so if you are looking for something that works reliably to post up in your home or your car, the Icom is a great option for you.

Speaking of using it in your car – this radio is definitely loud! Users report that when it is turned up they can still hear it crystal clear in their car, even when they are driving on the freeway with all of their windows down.

It is pretty crazy to think about the noise it can produce when you compare the sound output with the radio’s size, as this is one of the most compact units on this list that is not a handheld. Because it is designed mostly for amateur HAM user usage, it is quite easy both to program and to operate. You would be able to figure out this radio even if you were a complete novice to the HAM radio world.

Bottom Line

The Icom 2300 H is an excellent radio for anyone interested in getting involved in the HAM radio world, or in getting a great reliable unit for their home or for their car. You will need computer access to read through the user manual, though.

Pros

  • From the reliable Yaesu brand
  • Works reliably in emergency situations
  • Radio ports are protected with rubber covers
  • Transmits really far even on a lower power mode
  • Easy to learn how to program, does not require constant manual referencing

Cons

  • Battery does not last very long

The Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band is an awesome handheld radio that will fulfill all of your basic needs. This radio will not overwhelm you with an overload of the newest coolest bells and whistles, but definitely provides enough to satisfy any want you may have related to HAM radio use. The radio is made of high quality material and feels really solid, yet at the same time its size and weight are super manageable for carrying on your belt all day.

Speaking of belts – how annoying is it when your radio belt clip breaks off almost instantly? This situation definitely will not be happening with the Yaesu – its belt clip is quite strong. The rest of the radio is incredibly strong as well.

One user reported that she dropped hers over fifteen feet onto a pile of rocks and it still worked perfectly and was barely scratched! If you are looking for a great handheld radio that can stand up to the elements and transmit reliably in all situations, including emergency situations, you will not be able to find a better HAM radio than the Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band.

Bottom Line

The Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band is an ideal handheld radio to carry along when hiking or camping in case of an emergency situation. The battery life does not last as long as other models, however.

Conclusion

Whether you are completely new to the world of HAM radio communication, or you are a seasoned veteran; whether you are looking for a HAM radio that will be guaranteed to communicate when you need to in an emergency situation, or you just want one that will enable you to connect better to the community of HAM users, the radios on this list will have you covered.

HAM radios are one of the best ways to ensure that no matter where you are, and no matter how far outside of cell service range you may be, you will still be able to get hold of another person, even if it is just to check in and say hi. But in lifesaving scenarios, HAM radios can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, so make sure you buy one that is reliable and will always perform when you need it to.

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