Cell phones are the easiest way to communicate with someone else, but there are times when they aren’t always practical. If you’re in an area where cell phone reception is spotty or nonexistent, you need something else. A two-way radio is one such option. It uses radio frequencies to help users communicate over short or long distances with ease. If you’ve never owned one before, it can be difficult to understand the ins and outs, so we’ve created this guide to help walk you through the most important considerations.
Considerations when choosing two-way radios
Consumer vs. professional
Two-way radios have two main purposes. There are consumer models that are designed for use while hiking, camping, or just for fun. And there are professional models that construction workers and others use on the job .
Consumer two-way radios: If you don’t need to cover large distances and you don’t plan to take the radios out in inclement weather, you’ll probably be happy with a consumer model. These are typically lightweight and easy to use. Plus, they’re more affordable than professional models. However, they aren’t as rugged and don’t have as many channels.
Professional two-way radios: Anyone who plans to use two-way radios often should consider investing in a professional model. These tend to have a longer range and more frequencies to choose from, but they’re also bulkier and more expensive.
Two-way radio features
Range: Consider the distance over which you plan to use your two-way radios and choose a model that can accommodate it. Keep in mind that the radios may not work up to their maximum range if you’re in an area with line-of-sight obstructions.
Durability: You can determine a radio’s durability by checking its two-number ingress protection (IP) code, which indicates how well it can withstand debris and dust. The first number shows how effectively it can protect against solid particles, while the second number measures how well it can resist liquids. You should also consider the durability of the casing. You don’t want to choose a model that will break the second you drop it.
Size and weight: Large two-way radios can be cumbersome to carry around for extended periods of time.
Extras: Some two-way radios have a hands-free feature or a built-in weather radio, so you can stay abreast of the conditions in your area.
Two-way radio prices: Consumer radios vary in price from $20 to $150, depending on the quality and range. Professional models start at around $60, and high-end units can go for as much as $600.
Q. Do I need a license to use a two-way radio?
A. That depends on what channel you’re using. Family Radio Service (FRS) channels are free for anyone to use. General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) channels require a license. You can obtain a license for about $75 from the Federal Communications Commission.
Q. Which kind of two-way radio is best for use in urban areas?
A. Ultra-high-frequency (UHF) two-way radios are the best choice for urban areas because their signals are better able to penetrate obstructions, like buildings, so you can hear more clearly over a longer range.
Two-way radios we recommend
Best of the best: Midland 36-Mile, 50-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio
Our take: This set is a great choice for the outdoor enthusiast who wants a rugged two-way radio to use in all conditions.
What we like: These waterproof radios can cover long distances. They have built-in AA Weather Radio to alert you to inclement weather conditions in your area. Two headsets are included, and there’s a siren you can use to send out distress signals if you’re lost.
What we dislike: You won’t be able to communicate across 36 miles unless you’re over water or in an area with minimal line-of-sight obstructions.
Best bang for your buck: Motorola MH230R 23-Mile Range, 22-Channel Two-Way Radio
Our take: These radios are a great value for the price, and they’re suitable for covering short distances. If you need long-range radios, our top pick is a much better choice.
What we like: These two-way radios have a rechargeable battery that can last up to eight hours at a time. You can also use AA batteries as a backup if your rechargeable battery gives out. These are compact and lightweight, and you can clip them to your belt when you want to free up your hands.
What we dislike: The 23-mile range is overly optimistic. If you’re in a heavily wooded area, these radios have a maximum range of a couple miles.
Choice 3: BaoFeng 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
Our take: The long battery life and durable casing set this two-way radio apart as an excellent choice for those who are going to be spending a whole day in the great outdoors.
What we like: This rugged two-way radio has a durable, weatherproof shell and a battery that can last up to 24 hours on a single charge. It has a one-year warranty, and users report that the company’s customer service is responsive and helpful.
What we dislike: Users report that the power output is much less than advertised, and a few people have had issues with the radios breaking after a short time.
Kailey Fralick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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