LAST UPDATED: November 19, 2019
Best Two-Way Radios: Stay Connected With Your Hiking Buddies
A quality two-way radio ensures you can keep in touch with your team
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON November 19, 2019
Although social media has made keeping in touch with colleagues easy, we still need walkie talkies. Consider that when you go upcountry for hiking or camping, you need an easy way to communicate. Sometimes cellphones are not reliable due to difficulties in finding service in remote areas. Therefore, we have assembled the best three two-way radios on the market.
These radios are weatherproof and have 22 channels with 121 privacy codes. They come with rechargeable batteries as well as two USB charging cables. The devices have LED lights to use in an emergency.
The range, sound, and quality on these radios are solid. Their dual charging options are convenient, and they are a good value for what you get. They also feel good in your hands.
The range may not be 35 miles as claimed, and it takes a while for the radios to charge. The included battery packs don't provide enough battery life.
With a five-mile range, frequency of UHF 400-470MHz and 16 pre-programmed channels, this radio enhances communication between team members. It features quality speakers for crystal-clear sound. It is also lightweight and small in size.
It comes with a 1500mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which lasts up to 96 hours on a single charge. Features an earpiece and a push to talk button for easy usage.
Its range is just 5 miles, which might not suit some users. It does not come with a programming cable or software needed for reprogramming.
This radio features a 36-mile range for longer communication distance and nine sensitivity levels for hands-free operation. Its privacy codes provide up to 3,124 channels to block other conversations.
Its waterproof rating of JIS4 means it is protected from splashing water. Features NOAA Weather Scan, which scans through 10 available weather band channels to alert you of severe weather updates.
You need a license to use this radio. Its battery life is not as good as others. Some users claim that the radio does not accept other AA batteries.
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Benefits of Two-Way Radios
- Easy communication. A two-way radio is a fast and easy way to communicate. For instance, if you go camping, hiking, or orienteering with your friends in the backcountry, you can use these devices where a cell phone network is not available. Also, some devices have hands-free operation, which makes them more convenient to use.
- Cover a wide area. When using a two-way radio in a remote area, you can communicate with those who are far away from you. Some two-way radios cover a six-mile radius. You can also go for licensed two-way radios that go up to a 36-mile range.
- Cost-effective. Apart from affordability, a two-way radio saves you a lot of expenses on communication and time. Unlike cell phones, you can use them anywhere without worrying about network restrictions. Also, the price of a high-quality two-way radio goes down if you shop in bulk.
Types of Two-Way Radios
Analog vs. Digital
Analog two-way radios are traditional radios, including those used in aircraft communication and traffic control. These two-way radios are the best for communicating in areas where the normal receive signal is lowest. One drawback is that they only permit a single conversion at a time.
Digital two-way radios include modern cell phones and mobile phones. These two-way radios are very fast in conversion speed. They have a sophisticated setup, and most of them are designed to the same compatible standard. Digital two-way radios cover a wider range and can be useful for communicating in both urban areas and the wilderness. A good example of a digital radio is the Baofeng UV-5R Dual Band, which uses both UHF and VHF frequencies.
Simplex Channels vs. Duplex Channels
Two-way radios with simplex channels can communicate quickly on a single channel. Examples include marine radios, aircraft VHF AM, and Citizens dual band. These radios have a simple architecture that enables them to be compatible with other modern two-way radios. They have a shorter range and bandwidth, which limits the time and extent of communication.
On the other hand, two-way radios with duplex channels permit repeater operations and cover a larger range. They come with better aerial locations and require equipment such as base stations or repeaters to communicate.
Conventional vs. Trunked
Conventional handheld radios can only operate on a single channel at a given time. The user selects the channel they want to use by clicking on the dial button on the device. For incoming calls, the user selects the channels he prefers to pick. Examples of conventional two-way radios include amateur radio, UNICOM, and marine VHF radio.
Trunked two-way radios pick the physical radio frequency automatically. They have a built-in protocol that guides and permits the channels. In this type of radio, multiple conversations can happen in a single physical channel. The physical channels assign time slots for conversation time and can be useful for automatic roaming. Examples of digital trunked two-way radios include DMR, TETRA, and APCO Project 25.
Motorola is one of the most prolific tech companies in the world. Established in 1928, the company offers a wide variety of communication devices such as two-way phones, cell phones, and digital video recorders. All of its two-way radios come with durable parts like NiMH batteries, battery chargers, headsets, and quality speakers. Motorola provides a product warranty and includes the VOX and CTCSS feature on its telecom devices for enhanced performance. Some of the best two-way radios from this company include the Motorola MS355R FRS Waterproof Two-Way and the Motorola MS350R Talkabout Waterproof Two-Way Radio.
Midland two-way radios are products of Midland Radio Corporation that started its operations in 1959 in Kansas City, Missouri. For more than five decades, the company has been offering quality and affordable two-way radios, walkie talkies, CB radios, FRS radios, and many other communication products. The company’s most sought-after products include the Midland GXT1000VP4 GMRS Two-Way Radio and Midland LXT560VP3 36-Channel GMRS with NOAA Weather Alert.
Cobra is an American-based company that has been in the telecommunication industry for many years. The company, which was founded in 1993, has its headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. The company makes answering machines, two-way radios, walkie talkies, and cordless telephones. Cobra provides a warranty on all of its products. Some of its best-selling products include the Cobra CXT1095FLTCW Two-Way Radios and Cobra ACXT645 Two-Way Radios.
Best Two-Way Radios Pricing
- Under $100: These are the most affordable two-way radios you will find. The radio covers a range of up to 25 miles on regular terrain. They come with built-in NOAA receivers, and their batteries do not last longer than eight hours when fully charged. However, they are still reliable for a small-scale usage.
- Above $100: This is the price range for most of the high-end two-way radios with a large range of coverage. The two-way radios in this category have up to 50 channels and many privacy codes. They come with a full-color display for the battery level and network. Also, they have a lithium-ion battery that will last for more than 15 hours on a single charge. These radios can be used in harsh weather conditions and meet all the military specifications for use in water and high-temperature places.
The maximum range of a hands-free two-way radio is something you must check. Most conventional two-way radios with 0.5W and PMR446 can cover a range of up to six miles. Note that the maximum range may vary, depending on where you are using the radio. The range will drop in urban places and be at a maximum in remote places with fewer communication channels. If you want a two-way radio that can cover a range beyond six miles, then you must get a license from the FCC.
Number of Handsets Provided
Two-way radios will also differ depending on the number of handsets the manufacturer provides. The number of handsets you need will depend on where you intend to use the radio. For instance, if you are going to use the two-way radio for camping or hiking with your friend, then a twin set is just enough. It is vital to note that two-way radios are cheaper when they come with more handsets.
Privacy Codes and Channels
The number of channels a two-way radio can communicate varies depending on its technology and type. A conventional and license-free two-way radio may accommodate 8-16 channels. The radios have no restrictions for users to freely communicate with each other. The lack of privacy in most license-free two-way radios makes them insecure if you want to talk about confidential issues with other users. If you need a more private two-way radio, then go for the licensed ones.
- Type of Battery: If you want a two-way radio that will last longer, then you must check on the quality of the battery. The best two-way radios will come with a lithium-ion battery that lasts more than 16 hours and takes three hours to fully charge. Select a two-way radio with a rechargeable battery pack if you intend to use your radio for more days on a hiking or camping trip.
- Water Resistance: This is another must-have feature in a high-quality two-way radio. The material should be water-resistant and rust-resistant if you are going to be using the device in a harsh environment. You can shop for radios with waterproof IPX7 and above if you intend to hike in a rainy place. These types of radios will survive in up to one meter of water. Also, they are dust-resistant.
- Flashlight: You can also use your two-way radio as a source of light when hiking or camping. It is advisable to get a radio with a long-lasting battery that can serve as both the communication and the lighting. You can also look out for other emergency features on the radio such as a panic button.
Best Two-Way Radio Reviews & Recommendations
This pair of dark blue, weatherproof, two-way radios includes two micro-USB wall charging cables, rechargeable batteries, two belt clips, a user's manual, and an accessory sheet. They have built-in LED lights, 22 channels with 121 privacy codes, NOAA weather channel and alerts, and an emergency alert button. They have a range of 35 miles.
The range and sound quality are good. They can be powered with three AA batteries or charged by a USB cord, which is convenient in situations where power supplies may be limited. They have a solid build quality and are a good value. The radios also fit well in your hands, and they work well in cold temperatures.
However, there's no indication when the device is fully charged, and it takes a while for them to fully charge. Also, the range may not be the 35 miles as advertised, and the battery life is not very long, so you may need to purchase aftermarket battery packs with a higher wattage for better performance.
Unlike many two-way radios on the market, Arcshell stands out for its quality features. This two-way radio comes with 16 pre-programmed channels and covers a range of five miles on a UHF frequency. It is suitable for communicating between two people because of its low range. The device comes with high-quality, built-in speakers for sound.
The two-way speaker has a 1500mAH rechargeable lithium-ion battery that takes only 2.5 hours to charge. The battery will last more than eight hours after a full charge. The simple and compact design of this radio makes it easy to use for beginners. It has a push-to-talk button and earpiece that makes it convenient to use.
Arcshell’s two-way radio is a bit off the mark when it comes to range. The five-mile range makes it only suitable for two users. Also, the range of the device drops on rough terrain. You cannot reprogram the device because it does not come with a programming cable.
This is another two-way radio that you want to consider when you go hiking with your family and want to keep in touch with them. The radio covers a range of 36 miles. It has 142 DCS privacy codes and 124 channels. With this variety of channels, you can pick any and communicate with other users without restrictions.
The Midland 50-Channel GMRS Radio is splash-proof, meaning you can go camping with it on a rainy day without worrying about its functionality. The two-way radio has NOAA weather alerts and a scanning feature that will update you on the weather conditions when you are using the device in the wilderness.
Since it covers a wider range, you must have a license to use this two-way radio in your area. The battery the manufacturer includes on this radio does not last long. Also, the radio may not be compatible with other brands of regular AA batteries.
The Rivins two-way radios have 22 channels plus 99 privacy codes. They have a five-mile range in open fields and between 0.6 and 1.2 miles in more congested areas. The devices have an LCD display, built-in flashlight, hands-free operation, and a keypad lock. They are powered by AAA batteries.
This is a pair of low-cost, walkie talkies that are easy to customize and program. They have a battery life bar on the display that makes it clear when you need to replace the battery. The instructions are easy to follow, and the sound clarity is good. The volume is nice and loud, and overall, they are very well-designed. They're perfect for places such as cruise ships in which there is no cell phone signal.
However, the battery life is not that good, and they don't have a separate charging cord. And while they're great for families, they really aren't designed for warehouse, industrial, or commercial use. Some users also report they don't have the five-mile range that is promised.
Each of these radios has 22 channels with 121 privacy codes, and they are powered either by the included NiMH rechargeable batteries, which last up to 10 hours, or three AAA batteries, which last up to 29 hours. The units have 11 weather channels for real-life weather conditions. They also have a low-battery alert and a scanning feature to find channels that are currently being used.
The sound quality is excellent without any static, and the units are compact and reasonably-priced. They are easy to set up and use and are very durable even if you drop them now and then. They also feel good in your hands, and they are very visible and perfect for multivehicle road trips.
Unfortunately, it's easy to accidentally trigger the scan function, and you can lose communication unless you turn the unit off and on again. In addition, the rechargeable battery has a low storage capacity and takes a long time to completely charge. It's also unclear when the units are fully charged because there’s no battery indicator on the radios.
These two-way radios come in black/yellow, black/silver, and black/mossy oak camo and have a 36-mile range in open areas. They have 50 General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) channels and 142 privacy codes. The units also feature eVOX (easy voice and sound activation transmission) and a NOAA weather scan. The radios come with rechargeable battery packs, two boom mic headsets, a 120V desktop charger, AC and DC adapters, and a user's manual.
These radios feel sturdy and solid in your hands, the sound is crystal clear, and there is plenty of volume if needed. They're great for RVers or to keep in touch with your friends while you’re riding ATVs. The battery lasts all day, and overall, they're a great product for the price.
However, the FRS channels will only transmit at low power, while you must have a license from the FCC to use the higher power GMRS channels. In addition, the instructions aren't that great, so you may need to go online for a video tutorial. And while they are splash-resistant, they are not 100 percent waterproof.
The eSynic two-way radios have 16 memory channels and a three-mile range. They have 50 CTCSS tones and CDCSS tones on each channel and come with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that works for eight to nine hours with continuous use. The units also have a USB cable charger, which you can plug into your phone, laptop, or power bank. In addition, they have LED lights and come with an 18-month warranty.
These work great if you only need a range of three miles or less. One advantage is you can keep them plugged into the USB charger while you're driving so they stay fully charged, and you don't have to be dependent on wall power. The battery life is also good, and they are very easy to use. Overall, the design, operation, and quality of these units are excellent.
Unfortunately, these radios are not a good option if you need a wider range of reception. It can also be hard to remove the screws that attach the clip to the device, and they don't feel nearly as solid or sturdy as some competitor brands.
You get 10 portable walkie talkies in this package. They are ready to use out of the box with the FRS frequency and have an emergency alarm for safety purposes. The Retevis RT21 has "secret service" earpiece to boost sounds and reduce noise. It also has 16 memory channels, a 1100mAh Li-ion battery that lasts up to 12 hours, and a low-battery alarm.
Users love the ear tubes/ear pieces because they work great in environments with a lot of noise. These entry-level radios are easy to use and are very clear without any garbling or scratching sounds. The battery lasts all day, and they cost much less than some well-known brands. You also don't need an FCC license to use them.
One downside is the antennas can easily unscrew and get lost, which can affect the reception range that isn't very big to begin with. There have also been some complaints that the 10-pack is shipped with a device or two that doesn't work. Also, some of the batteries may not hold a charge.
- Different radios have different purposes. It is important to choose the one that suits your requirements. For example, if you need a hiking radio, go for one that is waterproof. On the other hand, if the radio is for a business, you may want one with a suitable frequency range.
- It is important to note that some radios (GMRS) require licenses. If you want to avoid radio license classes, go for models that have family radio service (FRS) features.
- It is advisable to buy a radio based on your level of experience. If you are new to them and need just a communicating unit, get one that does not require programming. Also, consider the portability of your device.
Q: How does a two-way radio work?
A: A two-way radio can transmit and receive a signal (transceiver). It uses a single radio channel and operates in half-duplex mode, which means a user can either receive or listen, but not do both at the same time.
Q: How can I boost my two-way radio signal?
A: The best way to boost a radio signal is to avoid obstacles. Therefore, if you cannot receive a signal clearly, try getting on higher ground.
Q: What is the longest range for a two-way radio?
A: The range on which the radio can transmit a signal depends on the make of the radio and the obstacles in the area. Some radios have a range of more than 35 miles while others have as little as 2 miles of range.
Q: Can UHF radio talk to a VHF radio?
A: UHF radio communicates only in UHF frequency (430-470Mhz), while VHF radio transmits in VHF (105-174Mhz) frequency only. Therefore, it is not possible to merge the two frequencies.
If you mean business and you need a reliable, long-range, and portable two-way radio, we recommend the Motorola Talkabout T460 Rechargeable Two-Way Radio Pair.
However, if you are on a budget and still need a radio that can communicate at up to a 5-mile radius, consider the Arcshell Rechargeable Long Range Two-Way Radios.