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Best Two-Way Radios: No Cell Tower Needed

Have reliable communication the old-school way with these amped up two way radios.

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BYLisa Conant/ LAST UPDATED ON June 3, 2022

With today’s widespread reliance on smartphones, you might question the relevance or necessity of two-way radios. When you think of two-way radios, you probably throw back to your days with buddies running around your backyard playing “Capture the Flag” type games, but what purpose do they serve in today’s streamlined, touchscreen, satellite-connected society?


Well, two-way radios are still widely relied on and are frequently used by the military. They also have a solid following with off-road motorcyclists and overlanders who often find themselves in remote areas with little to no cell service. Taking a long car trip with some friends through some remote terrain? Stay connected with your caravan via two-way radio. Whatever your reason for wanting a two-way radio, we’ve got you covered with our top picks and our smart buying guide to ensure you get exactly what you need.

Best Overall

Motorola Talkabout T460 Rechargeable Two-Way Radio Pair

Summary
These weatherproof radios have 22 channels with 121 privacy codes and feature rechargeable batteries as well as two USB charging cables.
Pros
  • High-quality sound with an impressive range
  • Features two options for charging  batteries
  • Ergonomic structure makes them easy to grip
Cons
  • Obstructions drastically impact the range
  • Battery packs have fairly short lifespan
Best Value

Cobra CXT195 Two-Way Walkie Talkie

Summary
Priced affordably and built for durability, this two-pack of walkie-talkies boasts an impressive 16-mile range. It gives access to weather alerts and is well suited to outdoor use.
Pros
  • Clear long-distance UHF reception
  • User-friendly button controls 
  • Detailed circuitry prolongs battery life
Cons
  • Not waterproof
  • Range drops to one mile when used in urban settings
Honorable Mention

Midland GXT1000VP4 GMRS Two-Way Radio

Summary
This radio features a 36-mile range for longer communication distances and nine sensitivity levels for hands-free operation. Its privacy codes provide up to 142 CTCSS and 50 GMRS channels to block other conversations.
Pros
  • JIS4 waterproof rating prevents damage from accidental splashing
  • Includes NOAA weather alerts, scanning through 10 channels
  • Broad range if used in a relatively open outdoor space
Cons
  • Radio license is required to operate these walkie-talkies
  • Not entirely waterproof and cannot be submerged or used during heavy storms
Best Two-Way Radios: No Cell Tower Needed

Summary List 

Our Methodology

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.

Learn more

When it comes to choosing the best two-way radios, I wanted to provide you with a well-rounded list that features a good variety of reputable manufacturers with solid track records of providing high-quality, reliable products. I included a wide range of price points to suit any budget. I also focused on two-way radios that use the latest technology and that feature innovative, compact designs suitable for a wide variety of uses. For more information on the selection criteria, click this link to The Drive’s Gear About page, which explains our methodology further.

Best Two-Way Radios Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Brand: Motorola
  • Model: T460
  • Range: 35 miles

Pros

  • High-quality sound with an impressive range
  • Features two options for charging batteries
  • Ergonomic structure makes them easy to grip

Cons

  • Obstructions drastically impact the range
  • Battery packs have fairly short lifespan

This pair of 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, a NOAA weather channel and alerts, and an emergency alert button. These long-range two-way radios have an impressive range of 35 miles (in perfect conditions).

The Talkabouts are a versatile choice since they can either be powered using three AA batteries or charged with the included USB cord. They’re ergonomic, fit well in smaller hands, and work great in even some of the coldest temps. The drawbacks include no full battery charge indicator and the fact that it seems to take quite a while for them to fully recharge. They also seem to have a relatively short battery life compared to some other options on the market.

Specs

  • Brand: Cobra
  • Model: CXT195
  • Range: 16 miles

Pros

  • Clear long-distance UHF reception
  • User-friendly button controls
  • Detailed circuitry prolongs battery life

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • Range drops to one mile when used in urban settings

If you’re looking for a radio walkie-talkie that won’t break the bank, the Cobra CXT195 Two-Way Walkie-Talkie is a solid option. This set of two radios is made out of hardy polymers, built to withstand light impact. It touts impressive long-distance reception via its UHF radio system. With a 16-mile range (again, under perfect conditions), they’re not the strongest handheld two-way radios, but you can still make contact from considerable distances. They feature a high-end battery with circuitry that’s built to keep it working longer than other radios on the market.

These radios also offer hands-free use and feature a jack for headphones. Working with 22 channels, these radios can access important weather alerts. They even have an auto squelch function that shuts down weak transmissions or noisy signals. This two-way radio is a great pick in terms of function and price tag. However, the LCD screen is small, and the lack of backlighting can result in issues telling the channels apart. Use it during the daytime for best results.

Specs

  • Brand: Midland
  • Model: GXT1000VP4
  • Range: 36 miles

Pros

  • JIS4 waterproof rating prevents damage from accidental splashing
  • Includes NOAA weather alerts, scanning through 10 channels
  • Broad range if used in a relatively open outdoor space

Cons

  • Radio license is required to operate these walkie-talkies
  • Not entirely waterproof and cannot be submerged or used during heavy storms

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 long range of 36 miles (perfect conditions, yada, yada). It has a whopping 142 DCS privacy codes and 124 channels. With this variety of channels, you can pick any and communicate with other users without restrictions. This Midland GMRS radio is splash-proof, meaning you can go camping with it on a rainy day without worrying about its functionality.

This two-way radio also offers 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.

Specs

  • Brand: Motorola
  • Model: T260TP
  • Range: 25 miles

Pros

  • Long battery life
  • Affordable three-pack with headsets for versatile use
  • Excellent sound quality

Cons

  • No battery charge indicator
  • Scan function is easy to trigger accidentally

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. This three-pack bundle also comes equipped with handy two-way radio headsets for added versatility.

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 obvious and perfect for multivehicle road trips. Unfortunately, it's easy to trigger the scan function accidentally, 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 charge completely. It's also unclear when the units are fully charged because there’s no battery indicator on the radios.

Specs

  • Brand: Midland
  • Model: GXT1030VP4
  • Range: 36 miles

Pros

  • Great two-way radio for mountain locations, RVers, and hikers
  • Offer plenty of privacy codes for autonomous communication
  • Impressive range

Cons

  • User’s manual can be a bit confusing
  • Requires a license from the FCC to access the high-powered GMRS channels

These two-way radios come in black/yellow, black/silver, and black/mossy oak camo and 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. 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.

Specs

  • Brand: Nerf
  • Model: 36056-TRU
  • Range: 1,000 feet

Pros

  • Basic and affordable option for learning
  • Rugged and durable
  • Ergonomically suited for smaller hands

Cons

  • Minimal range
  • Not suitable for serious use

This fun radio walkie-talkie set is super affordable and comes with two basic radios for easy and accessible communication. While these radios can only communicate from 1,000 feet apart, they do offer crisp audio and reliable transmissions. Because they are limited to that dedicated channel, the radios provide direct communication between two parties. Suited towards younger users, the colorful yet rugged design gives these an edge of flair.

The buttons are easy to use, the antenna is reliable, and the entire structure is meant to withstand the kind of wear and tear that only kids can inflict. If a low price tag and user-friendliness are at the top of your priority list, this is an excellent option. While they rely on radio tech, these walkie-talkies are not meant for serious use. They are great for staying in touch on a hike and make it easy to learn to use a radio. However, they lack everything from channel access to weather alerts, so stick to light-duty use with this set.

Specs

  • Brand: Retevis
  • Model: FA9118B2-C9003A10
  • Range: 0.5-2.5 miles

Pros

  • Ideal for workplace communications
  • Comfortable earpiece allows for noise reduction and hands-free use
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Short range
  • Antennas have a tendency to unscrew accidentally

If you’re looking to equip a team or workplace, check out this option from Retevis. You get 10 portable handheld two-way radios 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 a secret service earpiece to boost sounds and reduce noise. It also has 16 memory channels, a CTCSS/DCS function, a VOX function, a battery save function, and a low-battery alarm.

Users love the ear tubes 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.

The Verdict

If you want the ideal combination of functionality, durability, reliability, and price point, my top pick to click has to be the Motorola Talkabout T460 Rechargeable Two-Way Radio Pair. These weatherproof radios have 22 channels with 121 privacy codes and feature rechargeable batteries as well as two USB charging cables.

For a high-quality budget-friendly option, check out the Cobra CXT195 Two-Way Walkie-Talkie. Priced affordably and built for durability, this two-pack of walkie-talkies gives access to weather alerts and is well-suited for outdoor use.  

Consider Secondhand

When we start shopping for tools and products, we never overlook the secondhand market. In fact, it’s usually the first place I look. Whether you’re scrolling through Amazon’s Renewed section, eBay for car parts or tools, or flipping through the pages of Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, you have hundreds of thousands of used tools, parts, and gear ready to be shipped to your doorstep. Refurbished to like-new status, they’ll be willing to give you many more years of faithful service all while saving you money. 

If those options don’t have what you need, your local salvage yard is great for car parts, while swap meets are a great resource you should tap. Just Google either and head on down.  

Secondhand Tips

To make your secondhand search easier, here are two tips to finding the best deals and making sure your new-to-you stuff wasn’t destroyed by the previous owner. 

  • When going with an online seller, make sure they have a high user rating and a great reputation among other consumers. 
  • When buying secondhand, do your homework. Shop around and compare pricing between sellers to make sure you’re not getting taken to the cleaners.

Things to Consider Before Buying Two-Way Radios

When it comes to two-way radios, many people think it’s a one-size-fits-all thing and that there’s really not much to consider. While that may have been the case decades ago, it’s certainly not the lay of the land in today’s market. Today’s two-way radios come in a wide variety of ranges, purposes, and price points. It’s important to consider certain factors to ensure you get the ideal product to suit your needs.

Key Features

Communication Range

To determine whether the radio meets your needs, first look at its range. The standard power of commercial two-way radios is half a watt. The higher the wattage, the further the signal can carry. 

You can find radios that boast a communication range of up to 36 miles in optimal conditions, though there are models at the lower end with ranges closer to 10 miles. Keep in mind that, to legally operate a two-way radio with a range of more than six miles, you need a license. Regulated by the FCC, you’ll need a relatively basic two-way radio if you want to avoid this process.

Number of Radios

Most two-way radios come with at least a single pair. However, you can also find options with as many as a dozen radios in the same set. The more radios per package, the lower the cost per radio. 

Consider how many people you must equip before making your selection. Often, radios from different manufacturers won’t work together well, so it can be tricky to expand after the fact. Plan ahead to ensure that everyone on your team is equipped with compatible radios. 

Radio Security

Depending on the type of two-way radio, and the tech on which it relies, you can access a certain number of channels. Radios that don’t require licenses usually have somewhere between eight and 16 channels, though you can find some with as many as 22. 

The drawback is that the communication isn’t secure. To protect private information, it’s better to opt for a higher-grade model and get your license from the FCC. If you require secure and private communications (like, say in a war between Russia and Ukraine or work-related sensitive situations), think twice about relying on your cell phone.

Two-Way Radio Pricing 

If you’re looking for a decent two-way radio that offers a reasonable range of more than 10 miles, good reception, clear communication, but doesn’t offer a ton of security features, expect to spend $30-$80. For higher-tech solutions that offer multiple units, optional headsets, longer range, secure channels, and emergency weather information, expect to spend anywhere from $125-$250.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

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: Are two-way radios illegal?

A: Recently, the FCC has begun cracking down on casual two-way radio and walkie-talkie use. As long as your two way radio has an FCC Identification Number, it’s legal for sale and operations. Any two-way radio without this is deemed illegal and could be subject to confiscation and fines from the FCC.

Q: Are two-way radios secure?

A: Some are, some aren’t. If you want a secure, private level of communication between your two-way radios, be sure to pick one that offers multiple dedicated frequencies and encrypted communication technology. These will likely require an FCC license to operate.

Q: What is the longest range for a two-way radio?

A: The range for a two-way radio 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 two miles of range.

Q: Can a 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.

Q: What is the difference between a two-way radio and a walkie-talkie? 

A: The two are basically the same. A walkie-talkie is a portable, handheld two-way radio. Since there are two-way radios that have a stationary base, it helps to know the difference. If you need something to move around with, look for handheld walkie-talkies. For situations where one party stays put and the other moves around, you can pick a two-way radio with a base station.

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