The Best Portable Ham Radio

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Last updated: Feb. 01, 2018

best portable ham radio

Selecting the best portable ham radio is a bit like choosing one salad off an extensive menu. Your taste buds will lead you to believe that one salad is the best while each of your dining partners may select a different salad and each declare theirs the best.

The market for ham radios is growing due to consumer demand, and selecting just one can feel much like staring at that menu loaded with salad options. The goal is to pick the best radio for your personal needs, and this guide will deliver the information that you need to make a smart buying decision.

Best Portable Ham Radio

Portable Ham Radio
Features
Our Rating
  • Built-in GPS
  • Five Power Settings
  • Excellent Battery Life

  • TDMA Technology
  • Compatible with Motorola TRBO

  • Cross-band Repeat
  • Store 999 Channels
  • Large Display

  • Channel Lock
  • Program Up To 1,000 Channels
  • NOAA Weather Alert

  • Backlit Keypad
  • Weather alert functionality
  • Multi-color LED lighting

Portable Ham Radio Reviews

Are you ready to learn about our top five portable ham radio picks? We understand that every buyer has different needs and probably a firm budget, so we include a variety of handheld ham radios from reputable brands. We'll introduce you to the features of each radio while telling you what we like and don't like about each option.

Kenwood TH-D74A

Kenwood TH D74A

If you can afford to spend more than $600 on a portable ham radio, the Kenwood TH-D74A is one to consider. What makes it worth that price tag? It comes down to the built-in GPS system and a variety of advanced features that you just won't see on lower-priced handheld radios today.

The Kenwood TH-D74A is an APRS-compliant ham radio that allows you to send out your real-time location with precision. You can also receive the location of others around you, assuming that their transceivers also contain a high-quality GPS system capable of transmitting this data.

While many handheld ham radios have two or three power settings, this Kenwood radio comes with five settings between 0.5 watts and 5 watts. This is more power than you will get with any other portable radio on this list, and it gives you a much lower power option if you need to conserve battery power.

Things we liked:

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    Built-in GPS with auto-clock feature
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    Five power settings going up to 5 watts
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    Reception includes wide-band and multiple modes
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    Clean software makes programming easy
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    Excellent battery life

Things we didn't like:

  • Higher price than many buyers can afford
  • minus
    Doesn't include charging stand or fast charger
  • minus
    Manual is difficult to read and doesn't include vital information

TYT MD-380

TYT MD 380

Often selling for around $100 at full price, the TYT MD-380 is the most affordable portable ham radio to make our list. It comes with all accessories that you will need to use the radio, including:

  • Belt clip
  • AC charger
  • 2000 mAh Battery
  • Antenna
  • USB programming cable

You can expect to invest more time setting this radio up than you would some others because the programming options include contacts, color codes, groups, zones and many other features.

The TYT MD-380 is a Digital Mobile Radio, which is otherwise known as DMR. It gives you access to all bands available through Motorola's Tier I and II service. Tier I is a single channel with limited reach, and tier II is a larger network that allows you to connect to repeaters in your local area.

Every metropolitan area varies when it comes to available repeaters, so you may want to determine what is available in your area before investing in this type of portable ham radio.

Things we liked:

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    DMR radio features TDMA technology
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    Compatible with Motorola TRBO (Tiers I and II only)

Things we didn't like:

  • Programming is extensive and somewhat complicated
  • minus
    Documentation is less than desirable

Wouxun KG-UV8D

Wouxun KG UV8D

If you have trouble reading small digital displays, you may find that the Wouxun KG-UV8D is the best portable ham radio for your needs. It comes with an oversized display that may allow you to squint a little less.

We also appreciate this handheld ham radio for the cross-band repeat feature. This isn't something that every user will need, but it's a convenient option that isn't offered on all handheld transceivers. It allows you to connect your device to transmissions from more powerful transceivers in the area, extending the reach of your handheld device.

The Wouxun KG-UV8D is a dual-band radio, which means that it can operate on two frequencies simultaneously. It offers a power output of 4 watts for UHF and 5 watts of power for VHF.

You can choose between high or low power settings. The lower setting will extend the life of your battery while the higher setting maximizes the area that your transmissions can reach. You can store up to 999 of your favorite channels for fast tuning.

Things we liked:

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    Cross-band repeat
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    Dual-band VHF/UHF
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    Large display is easy to read
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    Room to store 999 channels

Things we didn't like:

  • Battery backup is poor
  • minus
    Large display scratches easily
  • minus
    Chip support is lacking compared to other radios

Yaesu FT-60R

Yaesu FT 60R

The Yaesu FT-60R is a dual-band radio that picks up UHF, VHF and amateur radio frequencies. It has an alphanumeric keypad with backlighting and allows you to store up to 1,000 of your favorite bands for fast tuning.

This Yaesu ham radio comes with everything that you need to use the radio right out of the box, including:

  • 1400mA battery
  • Belt clip
  • Charger
  • Antenna

The Yaesu FT-60R is one of the heavier handheld radios on the market, so keep that in mind if you intend to hook it onto your belt loop. It weighs just over 13 ounces, and you can find handheld radios that weigh less than 10 ounces these days.

If you use your radio around children or are prone to knocking dials and buttons accidentally, you may consider this the best portable ham radio for your needs. It allows you to lock the frequency in place so that those accidents don't leave you fumbling to find your band.

Things we liked:

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    Channel lock
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    Program up to 1,000 channels for fast access
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    NOAA weather alert

Things we didn't like:

  • Transmission frequencies are limited
  • minus
    Display is lower quality than expected
  • minus
    Slightly heavy at 13 ounces

Yaesu VX-6R

Yaesu VX 6R

The Yaesu VX-6R is the second most expensive option on our list, but it's also likely to become a top pick for buyers with a budget over $200. It's loaded with advanced features that you won't get with most lower-priced ham radios, including a built-in Morse code training system and a password lock for security.

This Tri-band radio is also equipped with a severe weather broadcast feature that is useful in storms or during natural disasters. It will give you access to a greater variety of channels, including AM and FM radio, marine, police and aircraft bands.

You have the option of extending the functionality of the Yaesu VX-6R to truly make it a great portable ham radio for your needs. Just search for B004H5Q8IM programming software and cables online.

Things we liked:

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    Keypad is backlit and easy to see in dim lighting
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    WIRES access key provided
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    Weather alert functionality
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    Multi-color LED lighting for transmissions and receptions
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    Submersible up to three feet for up to 30 minutes

Things we didn't like:

  • Transmission frequencies are limited for the price range

Buying Guide

Ham radio operator

There are portable ham base stations that you can set up in many parks or public spaces, and then there are handheld ham radios that you can use at any time without a base setup.

The handheld transceivers are becoming more powerful by the year, and some now contain advanced features that are comparable to what you might get with a larger unit that requires a stationary setting.

Why Choose a Portable Ham Radio?

There are many reasons that you may select a handheld radio over one that is light enough to take away from home but requires you to setup in one area:

  • Handheld transceivers are always ready for use. Keep the battery charged, and you're ready for on-the-fly action.
  • The antennas are built into the unit. You can even purchase more powerful antennas to extend the reach of your transmissions.
  • Some handheld units are loaded with emergency stations that will keep you up to date when the weather gets bad, a natural disaster occurs or another tragedy takes place.
  • The best handheld ham radios can connect to repeaters, extending the range of your device. This is a convenient way to connect with other hams further away without losing the mobility that a handheld radio offers.

Do You Need a Ham Shack?

Have you heard about hams setting up their "shack?" This term refers to a home, room, garage, vehicle or another location where a stationary radio is based. This can apply to some portable ham radios if you purchase a larger unit that is mounted into your vehicle for on-the-go use or set up in one spot away from home.

If you're interested in maximizing mobility with your ham radio, the best option is a handheld unit that doesn't require a stationary shack. You will get more use out of transceiver that clips to your belt and goes anywhere that you go.

Do You Need a License?

While there are no restrictions on who can buy a ham radio, you are legally required to secure a license if you're using a transceiver with a frequency beyond 30 MHz. The technician license is the entry-level option.

ARRL logo

According to the National Association for Amateur Radio, you must pass a 35-question exam to secure this license. You will then have legal clearance to use your radio on all UHF and VHF frequencies as well as limited access to HF frequencies. This is adequate for most hams using handheld transceivers, and you may not need a license at all.

Final Thoughts

Selecting a top quality portable ham radio may seem difficult right now, but our portable ham radio reviews will help you make a smart decision. No radio is perfect for everyone, so we highlighted five options that we would use ourselves or recommend to our loved ones.

Conclusion

If you have the budget for the Kenwood TH-D74A and will use the advanced GPS feature, then we highly recommend that you select that portable ham radio. It's loaded with advanced features and weighs just over seven ounces, which will make it easier to carry than the other options.

If you won't use the GPS or simply cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars, then our top pick for the best portable ham radio is the Yaesu VX-6R. It delivers more bang for your buck with some advanced features, and you can drop it in water without fear of damage.

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The Best Ham Radios of 2018

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About the Author

Brian Wallace decided to put his fascination with radio devices to good use and started WalkieTalkieCentral.com, hoping that his knowledge on the topic will be helpful to others.

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