HAM Radio is very inexpensive, it is nearly unlimited and free to use. The only limitation is that you can only talk for five minutes to any given person because the station gets out of range within that time - Charles Simonyi
Communication has always been key to humanity’s success. We’ve always been better, more adaptable, more versatile, and more focused when we work together, which almost certainly stems from the fact that we are a social species.
While it might suit us to believe that we’ve left most of our more primitive tribal instincts in the past, the truth is we’ll always be governed by them and our need to talk to and interact with each other.
Whether we want to believe it or not, we need each other and we will always find a way to reach out, and talk to each other, even when the odds are against us.
Ham radio has always been the perfect medium to fulfill our need to talk to each other, and a worldwide gathering of devoted operators has kept its flame burning long after the mainstream believed it to be a brief blip on the radar of human interest.
Like everything else, Ham radio has evolved far beyond its humble origins and the advent of the handheld ham radio makes it an essential way to keep in touch with people you need to and to monitor the events that you need to be aware of if anything untoward were to happen.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the five best handheld ham radio sets that are currently available so that you’ll be ready to talk, and listen, if, and when the walls come tumbling down.
OUR TOP PICK
BaoFeng is as American as apple pie and football on a Sunday.
This South Dakota company was set up to do one thing and one thing alone, to help their customers connect with each other and stay in touch.
They serve a higher calling, but their overriding mission is to keep their customers happy, and that’s almost certainly why they’ve become one of the premiere names in handheld ham radio circles.
They call this particular ham radio their most powerful one yet, and it’s not hard to see why.
This dual-band radio uses a new generation chipset which means that it has more transmitting power than any other previous model and uses a tri-band power setting (one, four, and eight watts) that’s driven by BaoFeng’s more advanced battery to allow you to monitor anything up to one hundred and twenty-eight different channels and talk to whoever is in range whenever you need to.
As a brand BaoFeng also understands that most people weren’t born knowing how to use a ham radio, which is why the BF-F8HP comes with an incredibly detailed, and easy-to-understand user manual.
By the time you’ve finished reading it, you’ll be up to speed with every aspect of Ham radio and will know almost as much about it as BaoFeng does.
- The impressive list of features that this incredibly affordable ham radio is packed with is simply staggering. Incredible battery life (which on average will give you between eighteen and twenty hours of usage from a single charge), a high-gain antenna, and dual-band accessibility with multiple power modes. It’s literally a ham radio operator’s dream machine.
- And then there’s everything that BaoFeng includes with the radio - an earpiece, a belt clip, a hand strap, a power adapter, and charger, and, of course, the comprehensive and simple to follow users manual.
- If that wasn’t enough to tempt you, it also comes with a limited twelve-month warranty and tech support.
- While it’s powerful enough to allow you to tune into and listen to a whole host of different channels, in order to comply with FCC regulations, you’ll need to program the BaoFeng before you use it so that you don’t end up listening to military and government chatter that you weren’t meant to hear.
With two decades of experience in two-way radio design and manufacture, TYT has earned their ham radio stripes the hard way; by making radios that you can rely on, and always depend on, to do exactly what they’re supposed to do when you need them the most.
This DMR (digital mobile radio) and analog radio is a single band unit that’s deceptively powerful and versatile.
Built with ease of usage in mind, it’s the perfect vessel for ham radio users to venture into the world of DMR while staying fully grounded in the traditional analog realm.
Able to send and receive text messages when it’s in digital mode, the MD-380 knows that sometimes silence is a virtue and some conversations should be seen and not heard.
It’s full-color display also makes it easier to follow and monitor the channels and chat that you want, and need, to and proves that this user-friendly radio has been designed with the operator in mind.
Knowing when to, and not to, talk is one of the unsung lessons of ham radio, and the TYT makes it easy for you to know when you should be chatting and when you need to listen.
Bridging the gap between digital and analog, the TYT offers the best of both ham worlds at an incredibly realistic and affordable price.
- It's straightforward, easy to use, and simple to get to grips with DMR that makes it easier than you ever thought possible to embrace the benefits of the digital world that also lets you cling tightly to all of the joys of the analog.
- It’s light too. In fact, it’s so light, there’s a good chance that you’ll forget that you’re carrying the TYT unless you’re switched on and listening. And the included earpiece means that no matter where you are, with the TYT, you can always be listening.
- Even though it comes with all of the user-friendly software and equipment that you’ll need to program it, some dedicated ham enthusiasts have reported that it’s not exactly the easiest radio to program to make it FCC compliant. It’ll probably take you a while unless you have a degree in radio engineering and rocket design, to fully program it, but then the best things in life always demand a little extra time and effort.
When it comes to names you can trust, few carry the sort of weight and gravitas that Kenwood does.
While they’ve branched out into almost every sphere of modern life, they’ve always had a passion for audio and radio, and the TH-D74A is their most advanced entry into the world of handheld ham radio.
A multi-functional DMR that combines GPS, Bluetooth, and all of the virtues of traditional radio communication, the Kenwood can monitor around one thousand channels and switch between conventional FM, AM, and CB stations and the more elusive amateur digital networks.
And best of all? Should you wish to, you can also record anything that you’re listening to or conversation that you have on the Kenwood straight onto an SD card.
With most ham radios, the question you’ll usually find yourself asking is “What can this radio do?”, but with the Kenwood, that question becomes “What can’t this radio do?”
And the answer is very little. If you can think of something that you want your radio to do, there’s a good chance that the Kenwood can, and will, do it.
Featuring four different power settings and a surprisingly efficient and long-lasting battery, the TH-D74A is a go anywhere and do anything ham radio that drags the conventional world of amateur communication into the future. And it does it with flourish, charm, and an incredible amount of user-friendly know-how and technology.
- It uses DStar, which allows you to also send and receive text messages while embracing the more conventional aspects of the ham radio world.
- Fully weatherproofed and built to take a beating, no matter where you are in the world and what sort of situation you find yourself in, you can depend on the Kenwood to never let you down.
- Designed with the user in mind, it’s easy to operate and simple to master and offers a world of ham radio functionality at the touch of a couple of buttons and much, much more besides.
- All of the technological punching power that Kenwood offers comes at a price, that’s reflected not only by its eye-watering cost but also by the fact that it’s incredibly big and bulky for a handheld ham radio.
- And, given how user-friendly it is, its operating manual is surprisingly difficult to follow which means that it'll take you a while to figure out how to make the most out of this incredible piece of kit.
Yaesu is the ham radio devotees brand of choice and for more than sixty years they’ve been at the forefront of amateur radio communication.
Yaesu has forged a cast-iron reputation for reliability and innovation that few other ham radio brands can hope to compete with, which is why they’re regarded as being the best of the best.
This dual-band ham radio exemplifies what Yaesu does, and has a one thousand channel memory, can receive NOAA weather updates, and has been a favored weapon of choice in the ham radio scene for a number of years.
Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a slightly older design, as this handheld ham radio adheres to the idea that if something isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it.
And when a radio works as well as the Yaesu does, it makes you realize that sometimes the best tunes really are played on old fiddles.
And it has a surprise up its dual-band sleeve that few other ham radios possess. It comes with EAI (Emergency Automatic Identification), which means that if you ever need to be rescued, the emergency services can track your location and find you, even if you don’t know where you are.
- While most ham radios rely on firmware updates and need to be programmed via the machination of the internet, the Yaesu relies on its user to program it by hand. Which is surprisingly easy to do.
- With a one thousand channel range and long-lasting battery, this lightweight handheld ham radio has been designed to go everywhere with you and keep you in the loop at every stage of your journey.
- Designed, engineered, and built by the ham radio aficionado’s brand of choice, the Yaesu has been made to be reliable and will help you to explore every corner, and all of the minutiae, of ham radio.
- Even though it’s versatility and functionality among ham radio fans is near legendary, the Yaesu is saddled with a surprisingly inefficient and ineffective antenna, so if you want to make the most of this radio, you’ll need to look at changing that component as soon as possible.
We’re ending our list as we began it, with one of the premier brands in ham radio, BaoFeng, and their UV-5R dual-band ham radio.
While the BF-F8HP showcases the very best of BaoFeng’s high-end radios, the UV-5R is their budget-conscious entry-level model that’s designed to introduce everyone to the world of ham radio.
Small, light, and effective, the UV-5R has one hundred and twenty-eight programmable channels, two power settings, and a battery life of around twelve hours, depending on the power setting that you use.
Capable of transmitting on almost all amateur wavelengths and frequencies, the UV-5R is an affordable way to dip your toes into the surprisingly inviting waters of ham radio without unduly damaging your pocketbook.
The UV-5R proves that good things often come in small packages and that the multitude of technological bells and whistles that some ham radios are packed with aren’t always necessary.
Sometimes, you just want a radio to be a radio.
- Lightweight, durable, and easy to use, the UV-5R will help you to find your feet in the ham radio universe and will help you to master everything that you need to know quickly and effectively.
- It’s also surprisingly affordable, and won’t break anyone’s bank or even leave a dent in the most slimline of pocketbooks. Seriously, we don’t understand how BaoFeng can afford to sell this radio at the price that they do without taking a massive financial hit.
- If you’re looking for a world-changing radio that’ll do everything except sit up and beg, then you’re looking in the wrong place. The UV-5R is a straightforward, easy to use handheld ham radio. Nothing more, nothing less.
Best Handheld Ham Radio Buying Guide
Which Handheld Ham Radio Should I Use To Tune In With?
That’s the one thousand dollar question, isn’t it? Or rather it would be if any of the handheld ham radios on our list were anywhere near that expensive - which they’re not.
But your budget is the primary factor that you’ll need to take into consideration when choosing a handheld ham radio, especially if you’re taking your first tentative steps into the ham radio world. Set your budget and stick to it.
Then read through our list again, as we guarantee that there’s a radio on it that will suit the demands of your pocketbook.
However, if you’re looking for our advice and want to know which handheld ham radio we favor, we’d recommend that you invest in the same ham radio that we use, the BaoFeng UV-5R. It’s an incredibly cost-effective way to explore the boundaries, and everything in between, of ham radio.
Turn your volume up and tune in. It’s time to start talking and listening, the ham radio way.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is A Handheld Ham Radio?
Ham radio or amateur radio uses non-commercial radio frequencies to allow people to communicate and talk with each other over, often great, distance.
A handheld ham radio is a small portable radio that allows a user to access, and monitor, amateur radio frequencies and communicate with like-minded devotees and hobbyists everywhere.
Even though ham radio is regarded as being the purview of amateurs and has no commercial applications, it is still strictly monitored by the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) and in order to legally use a handheld ham radio, it’s operator is required by law to have a ham radio license.