Last updated: Feb. 01, 2018
Singling out the best handheld ham radio gets harder each year. The market is flooded with high-quality radios boasting the latest technology and advanced features. Which is really the best?
This ultimately comes down to how you intend to use the radio. We understand that you're concerned about price just as much as quality, so we created this guide to help you find an affordable ham radio that works well for your intended purpose.
We've introduced you to some of the best ham radios on the market today, but now it's time to narrow it down to the top five. This is where we look at the specs and analyze functionality to identify one radio that can rightfully claim the title of best handheld ham radio.
The Kenwood TH-D74A is a high-end handheld ham radio that allows you to exchange information regarding your real-time location. This is accomplished through a GPS feature that has an automatic clock setting.
Programming is often the biggest obstacle for users of handheld radios, but we were impressed with how simple this radio makes that job. The software is clean and efficient, so you can quickly work through the most common configurations and program options.
We were also impressed by the battery of the Kenwood TH-D74A. Many radios struggle with short or inconsistent battery life, but this unit outperforms lower-priced radios as long as the GPS feature is turned off.
If you don't want to purchase a bulky unit, you might consider this Kenwood handheld ham radio. It weighs just over 7 ounces, so it won't weigh your belt down as much as some competing radios.
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is the upgrade for the previous BaoFeng model, which was the UV-5R. The improvements are substantial and include:
The increase in power and superior antenna translate to a more impressive reach for your transmissions with less static and interference. The more durable shell is a welcome addition because you never know when a handheld radio is going to take a tumble from the table or get knocked from your hand.
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is a two-band radio that operates on UHF and VHF frequencies. You can select between broad and narrow band and three power settings. The less power utilized, the longer the battery will last.
If you invest in a PC03 FTDI programming cable, you can extend the functionality through computerized programming. Just keep in mind that programming comes with a learning curve and will take some time if you haven't done it before.
The Yaesu VX-6R handheld radio retails for more than $250, but it's loaded with features that you won't find on most cheaper ham radios. For instance, it's submersible up to three feet for approximately 30 minutes.
The display is upgraded to feature different colored lighting for transmissions released and received. The severe weather alert will ensure that you're aware of storms rolling your way, and there is room to store up to 900 channels for quick tuning.
This is a tri-band radio, so it gives you the ability to tune into three bands rather than the standard one or two. You can also access AM and FM stations.
If you want to access the WIRES system, the Yaesu VX-6R radio comes with an internet key. You can also set a password on the radio for heightened security.
Are you worried about carrying a heavy radio on your belt? This unit weighs less than 10 ounces.
Are you looking for a dual-band radio that locks to prevent accidental frequency changes and that will tune into emergency stations? If so, you may consider the Yaesu FT-60R an outstanding handheld ham radio for your purposes.
In addition to those features, the Yaesue FT-60R operates on UHF and VHF frequencies and has a setting for scan mode. It's easy to use with lighting on the alphanumeric keypad and room to store up to 1,000 channels for fast tuning.
You can choose between three power settings, which allows you to conserve battery power when needed. The higher power settings will maximize the reach of your transmissions while the lower power settings are ideal for connecting with others a short distance away. The maximum output is 5 watts.
The Yaesu FT-60R ham radio comes with all the accessories that you will need to use the radio right out of the box, including:
Do you find yourself squinting at electronic screens that are too small? If so, then the Wouxun KG-UV8D may serve as a first-rate handheld ham radio for you.
It features an over-sized display that is well-lit and easier to read than some competing displays. Just keep in mind that it is more vulnerable to scratches.
This dual-band radio operates on UHF and VHF frequencies and is approved for commercial use. It will operate on UHF bands with a power output of 4 watts. The power output for the VHF bands is 5 watts.
You can also store up to 999 channels. This means that you can hit a button to automatically tune to your favorite channels. This makes skipping between channels to find other hams on air fast and easy.
We were also impressed that the Wouxun KG-UV8D handheld radio comes with a cross-band repeater. This allows you to intercept transmissions from a double-band, double-monitor transceiver, sending those transmissions out from your handheld unit. Not everyone will use this feature, but it's a good option to have.
The handheld ham radios available today are nothing like the walkie-talkies you may remember from your childhood. A decent quality radio can transmit further with amazing clarity, and the best models come with long-lasting batteries.
If you've ever wondered how you would communicate with your loved ones if cellphone service was ever disconnected during a crisis, you're starting to understand why we need such powerful radio devices. A handheld ham radio gives you the freedom to communicate without an internet connection and without pinging off cellphone towers.
The challenge is that the higher quality radios now come with a variety of features that are difficult to understand. Let's look at some of the more prominent features and terms that you will run into when shopping for the best handheld ham radio today.
The amount of power in a ham radio determines how far it can transmit without losing quality. Radios with a higher wattage will allow you to connect with other hams in a larger area. You're also less likely to experience static and interference from other transmissions if you have a high-power device.
How much power you need depends on how you intend to use your radio. If you will mainly communicate with other hams down the street, you will need less power than someone trying to reach others across town or across the country.
When you see a measurement of MHz in the specs, you're looking at the frequency on which the radio operates. This will determine how far your signals can travel and which bands you can tune into from your radio. The two frequencies that you will see most often are UHF and VHF.
A VHF ham radio is your best option if you want to communicate with people who are located outside of your immediate area. This frequency offers longer wavelengths that reach further and are less susceptible to interference.
A UHF radio has shorter wavelengths and is often used for communication between people at the same location. For instance, you may select UHF radios for your employees to connect while at work.
VHF radios can go up to 300 MHz. UHF radios can go up to 3 GHz.
A dual-band handheld radio can monitor two bands simultaneously. Single-band radios are limited to one band at a time. Whether this matters to you or not will depend on how you intend to use your radio.
Most handheld ham radios come with antennas, but you might consider investing in a higher-quality option once you start using your radio. The quality of the antenna will impact the clarity of sound received and the reach of your transmissions.
It's important to make sure that your upgraded antenna is compatible with the frequency and power of your radio. If you have a double-band radio, then make sure that your antenna is double-band compatible.
These definitions are brief, but they should give you an adequate understanding of what each of these terms mean. As you read our reviews of the best handheld ham radios and go over the specs for different products, these definitions should guide you in selecting the radio that is ideal for your needs.
Our handheld ham radio reviews cover all price ranges and a variety of features and power outputs. This should make it easy to determine which one is the best fit for your personal needs.
We would select the Kenwood TH-D74A as the best handheld ham radio because it offers 5 watts of power and is loaded with GPS and other advanced features.
If you can't afford the price tag on that unit, we recommend the BaoFeng BF-F8HP for its 8 watts of power, upgraded antenna and affordable price tag.
We've create a buyer's guide that will tell you everything you need to know to buy the best Ham radio.