Best CB Radios: Liven Up That Long Road Trip

Now you can be the Rubber Duck.

byChris Teague| UPDATED Sep 20, 2022 2:05 PM
Best CB Radios: Liven Up That Long Road Trip
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Dreaming with the heart of a child is what keeps you alive. We might not use a playhouse as a vehicle to escape into space or to rush off to put out a fire with our best buds, but we all pretend our daily commuters are big rigs from time to time. One way to feel a little closer to that dream is to set your ride up with a sweet CB radio. Well, maybe playing trucker isn't your goal as maybe you just want a CB radio for practical uses. There's no arguing that it's a great way to keep in contact with other members of your mini convoy and maybe even seek help in an emergency. Whatever your motivation, we're going to help you find the best CB radio for your needs.

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Our Methodology

In picking out CB radios to feature on our list of top picks, we stuck to the typical formula. We took the time to research the world of CB radios, and YouTube reviews, as usual, were a massive help in getting the basic information down, while sites dedicated to the industry, such as rightchannelradios.com, were an essential tool in feeling out what brands to trust. After turning in our homework, we opted to think about what we'd want in CB radios. We don’t pilot big rigs to make a living and we admit our list is proof of that. What we've come up with is a list of CB radios we think are tailored to general automotive enthusiasts ready to get their feet wet in the craft. 

Best CB Radio Reviews & Recommendations

Honorable Mention: President Walker II

Best for Truckers: Uniden Bearcat 980

Best Portable: Cobra Road Trip CB Radio 

Best for Off-Roading: Midland Off-Road

Specs

  • Part number: CBR29LTD
  • CB type: Mobile/Full-Size
  • Integrated SWR metering: Yes

Pros

  • Classic design boost style points
  • In-dash installation possible
  • Professional-grade quality
  • Integrated SWR metering

Cons

  • Microphone issues are somewhat common
  • Large

The Cobra 29 LTD is an industry standard that’s popular with professional drivers. It's styled on its original design but has been updated in several ways, including a front-panel microphone connector that makes in-dash installation simple. It gives you access to 40 channels and emergency Channel 9 and has a 4-watt output. These units are real workhorses commonly used in the trucking industry. The device comes with an antenna warning indicator that lets you know if your system needs to be checked, and it features accurate and tactile controls. The sound is clear on either end. It even packs heat with integrated SWR controls to keep the antenna and additional expenses in check.

Microphone issues are relatively common. Even if Cobra's customer service has a track record of correcting the matter, the price makes this a problem for many customers. The size is also something that may limit this from use in smaller vehicles.

Specs

  • Part number: CBR29LTD
  • CB type: Mobile/Compact
  • Integrated SWR metering: No

Pros

  • Compact size makes mounting simple
  • Affordable price point
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Decent performance despite price and size

Cons

  • May not meet aesthetic standards
  • No integrated SWR metering

Getting into CB radios isn't as easy as it seems. On top of trying to learn all of the terms and functions, you have to pick a unit that fits your vehicle. It's also always tough to spend a bunch of money on something you're unfamiliar with. That said, the President Adams CB radio is a great way to get your feet wet. Despite the price, it's a highly capable model that you can get plenty of use out of. The large LCD display keeps monitoring settings easy, which also works in favor of newcomers. The small footprint makes it exceptionally easy to mount this unit in even the tightest spaces.

It isn't the most aesthetically pleasing unit, and despite working as well as any other unit, its design might prevent some users from mounting it in their vehicles. It does not feature integrated SWR metering, and you can expect additional expense to get it up and running.

Honorable Mention
President Walker II

Specs

  • Part number: Walker II FCC
  • CB type: Mobile/Full-Size
  • Integrated SWR metering: Yes

Pros

  • Improved control
  • Relatively affordable price
  • Integrated SWR monitoring
  • Handheld mic included

Cons

  • Quality control issues somewhat common
  • Customer service and returns could be better

Odd product names aside, President Electronics makes solid CB radios. The Walker II is an affordable, no-frills design with the features you need to get started. It offers 40 channels, an easily readable display, and a compact design that makes it ideal for almost any vehicle. Don’t expect fancy digital controls or options here, as this is a manual, old-school radio.

The Walker II draws exceptional feedback from buyers. It’s got auto SWR and delivers great range, especially with longer antennas. Some buyers, however, report smells and rattles when opening the package.

Specs

  • Part number: 010-01958-20
  • CB type: Handheld
  • Integrated SWR metering: No

Pros

  • Long range
  • Easy one-hand operation
  • 13-hour battery life

Cons

  • Massively expensive
  • Requires another Garmin user to access all features

It isn’t cheap, but Garmin’s Rino 700 Handheld Two-way radio provides a range of up to 20 miles, and the ability to send text messages between Garmin units. You can take it with you into challenging terrain off-road worry-free, because it delivers 14 hours of battery life. The device shows your position in the world, along with the positions of other Rino users sharing a channel with you.

Garmin says the Rino 700 is sensitive enough to detect its position in deep canyons and in places that traditional GPS units struggle. The 2.2-inch monochrome display remains visible in direct sunlight, and the thumbstick controller makes for easy one-handed use.

Best for Truckers
Uniden Bearcat 980

Specs

  • Part number: UNNBC980SSB
  • CB type: Mobile/Full-Size
  • Integrated SWR metering: Yes

Pros

  • Customizable display
  • SSB setup gives radio huge range
  • 40 channels

Cons

  • Customer service could be better
  • Dim display

The Uniden Bearcat 980 brings 40 AM channels and a crystal clear display that makes it ideal for life on the road. The unit also offers seven customizable colors for the display, so you can dial in the visual that works best for you. Uniden includes a noise-canceling microphone and NOAA weather alerts as well, making the Bearcat 980 a great bang for your buck.

Uniden used an SSB configuration for the Bearcat, which enables 12-watt transmission over the standard 4 watts. That gives the unit a larger range and can improve reliability, but the person or people on the other end will need an SSB radio to take advantage of its capabilities.

Specs

  • Part number: HHRT50
  • CB type: Handheld
  • Integrated SWR metering: No

Pros

  • Easy to set up and use
  • No hardwiring required
  • Can be used freely of vehicle

Cons

  • Limited range
  • Dependent on nine AA batteries

Cobra doesn't limit its sights solely to full-size CB radios, as it does a great job of servicing all ends of the industry. The Cobra is a prime example of what it has to offer to those needing something a little less robust. Running this CB radio in your vehicle requires little more than popping on a magnetic antenna, which is included in this package. The handheld unit uses AA batteries or a 12-volt DC port, meaning there's no need to tap into your vehicle's charging system to get going, and you can use it on foot if you need to. It also means you can quickly transport your CB radio from vehicle to vehicle.

It can function as a 40-channel CB radio and do everything you need it to. Still, it better serves as something for use in private groups that don't roam far from one another. Also, the dependency on a total of nine AA batteries is far from ideal.

Specs

  • Part number: TXUS611
  • CB type: Handheld
  • Integrated SWR metering: No

Pros

  • Compact and easy to carry
  • Battery and DC powered
  • Compatible with external mic and antenna

Cons

  • Limited range and clarity
  • Relatively high price

Hear us out before you jump down our throats for calling this a mobile CB. Push-to-talk cell phones aren't as common as they used to be, nor are they always the best solution. The President Randy just might be, though. This handheld CB radio is sized just right to throw on a lanyard or in your pack before you hit the trail, keeping you in contact with other hikers or riders along the way. It also features an optional DC charging port as well as external antenna and microphone adapters, meaning you can use it in your rig in a pinch.

Range and clarity are limited, and this is best-suited for small off-road clubs. You also pay a pretty penny for the smaller-than-average size.

Best for Off-Roading
Midland Off-Road

Specs

  • Part number: MXT115VPR
  • CB type: Handheld
  • Integrated SWR metering: No

Pros

  • Extreme range capabilities
  • Six-watt external speaker
  • Built-in charger for external devices

Cons

  • May require permit
  • Off-road use only

When you’re in the sticks, you need a powerful radio that can get your signal out into the world, and Midland’s MXT off-road radio is a great option. The radio offers 15 watts of power, a built-in weather radio, and easy no-drill installation. If your pals have Midland walkie talkies, the unit can communicate between them, and there’s a built-in USB-C charging port to power a cellphone, handheld radios, and more.

MIdland includes a 6-watt retro-styled external speaker to blast transmissions into your rig, and the company says its radio has a range of up to 50 miles in the right conditions. Since the radio offers such high wattage, the Midland radio is limited to off-road operation. It’s also worth noting that you may be required to get a license or permit to use the radio, depending on where you live and where you’ll be using the radio.

Our Verdict on CB Radios

If you're looking for a solid CB, the Cobra Professional CB Radio is hard to ignore as necessary additional equipment is limited, and the quality is hard to beat. The President Adams FCC CB Radio is a fantastic option for those on a budget. 

What to Consider When Buying a CB Radio

This guide can help you sort through some of the jargon and variables and figure out which model best suits your needs. 

CB Radio Key Features

Channel Scan

You already know what channel scanning is all about. It's what your old AM/FM radio used to do. It automatically scanned channels, giving you a glimpse of hot tracks playing on various channels. Channel scanning on a CB radio does the same thing, except it automatically stops when it finds a channel where people are talking. 

The obvious benefit of channel scanning is that it keeps your eyes on the road while you search for discussions. This is typically a standard feature but is worth keeping an eye out for and making use of. 

Instant Emergency Channel

In 1969, the FCC designated Channel 9 for emergency use only. To help you out, CB radio manufacturers have incorporated a Channel 9 switch so you can get a hold of the authorities quickly. At the very least, this is something to keep an eye out for in a CB radio as it can obviously get you in contact with the right people when things go wrong. 

Another great channel to be mindful of is Channel 19, which is dedicated to truckers or other drivers who can provide traffic updates to one another. Some CB radios also come equipped with an instant Channel 19 switch. 

Automatic Noise Limiter and RF Gain

The automatic noise limiter reduces the amplitude of impulse noise by clipping incoming audio signals. This lets users avoid ear-piercing signals that can damage the speakers. Along with ANL, one of the most important features any CB radio can have is RF gain. Basically, it allows you to quiet the radio by opening and closing the receiver instead of using the radio’s squelch control. The result is improved reception over a greater distance. 

CB Radio Pricing 

You can spend a few hundred dollars on a high-end CB radio, but you don't need much to get started. About $50 to $100 can get you handheld CB radios and smaller mobile units. Moving up to the $100-$200 range starts to draw in some better quality models with better signal quality and enhanced audio controls. Paying $200 or more brings you into the territory of professional-grade CB radios. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: How many miles can a CB radio transmit?

A: For the most part, CB radios have a range of just a few miles. Better units in ideal conditions can sometimes expand their range to 20 miles, but all transmit with 4 watts of power, as required by the law. In some instances, a rare phenomenon known as skip can essentially expand your range to hundreds if not thousands of miles. 

Q: What is shooting skip?

A: Atmospheric conditions can cause the range of a CB radio to fluctuate but not always for the worst. When the atmospheric conditions are just right, your CB radio may be able to make contact with operators that are thousands of miles away. The phenomenon of shooting skip gets its name because you're essentially able to get your radio waves to skip along the Earth's surface and reach much further than they normally would. 

Q: What is the best antenna for my CB radio?

A: Proper antenna selection for a CB radio is worthy of discussion on its own. It is dependent on the model you select, the intended range, and personal preference.