Best Handheld Ham Radios (Updated August 2020)

Singling out the best handheld ham radios can be quite challenging, especially if you are a first-time buyer. The market is flooded with high-quality radios that boast of advanced features and the latest technology.

If you are looking to buy a ham radio for emergency or adventure, we are here to help you answer the question what is the best handheld ham radio? We have compiled a comprehensive list of what we believe are the best ham radios in the market to help you make an informed decision.

Which Are The Best Handheld Ham Radios

  1. Baofeng BF-F8HP Dual Band Two Way Radio (Best Handheld Ham Radio under $100) Editor’s Pick
  2. Kenwood TH-D74A-Tri Band Ham Radio (Best Premium Pick)
  3. Baofeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio (Best Budget Ham Radio)
  4. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld Ham Radio (Best Handheld Ham Radio for Survival)
  5. Baofenguv-UV82C Dual Band Baofeng Ham Radio
  6. TYT MD 380-DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio
  7. Tri-band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio
  8. Yaesu Original FT-2DR Dual Band Handheld Transceiver

The idea of owning a ham radio in this digital era may sound far fetched. In fact, many people believe that ham radios are no longer in use, but that isn’t the case at all.

These simple communication gadgets are still essential and can come in handy at the least expected time. 

Comparison Table-Best Handheld Ham Radios

 Handheld Ham RadioCheck Price Now
Baofeng BF-F8HP
Output:8 Watt Max
Speaker Output: 700mw
Frequency Range (mhz): VHF (136-174), UHF (400-520)
Push-to-Talk: Single, Dual, or Both: Single
Display: Tri-Color
Check Price Now
(Best Handheld Ham Radio)

Editor's Pick

*9.8 rating
Read Review
Kenwood TH-D74A
Output:5 Watt Max
Frequency Range (mhz): 144/222/430
Push-to-Talk: Single, Dual, or Both: Both
Display: Tri-Color
Check Price Now
(Best Premium Pick)

*9.5 rating
Read Review
BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band
Output: 4-5 Watt Max
Speaker Output: 700mw
Frequency Range (mhz): VHF (136-174), UHF (400-520)
Push-to-Talk: Single, Dual, or Both: Single
Display: Tri-Color
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*9.0 rating
Read review
Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band
Output:5 Watt Max
Frequency Range (mhz): VHF (144-148), UHF (430-470)
Push-to-Talk: Single, Dual, or Both: Both
Display: Tri-Color
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Best Yaesu Handheld Ham Radio
*9.2 rating
Read Review
Baofenguv-UV82C
Output: 5 Watt Max
Speaker Output: 1 Watt
Frequency Range (mhz): VHF (136-174), UHF (400-520)
Push-to-Talk: Single, Dual, or Both: Both
Display: Tri-Color
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*8.8 rating
Read Review
TYT MD-380
Output: 5 Watt Max
Speaker Output: 1 Watt
Frequency Range (mhz): VHF (136-174), UHF (400-470)
Push-to-Talk: Single, Dual, or Both: Both
Display: Tri-Color
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*8.8 rating
Read Review
Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R
Output: 5 Watt Max
Speaker Output: 1 Watt
Frequency Range (mhz): 144/222/430
Push-to-Talk: Single, Dual, or Both: Both
Display: Tri-Color
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*8.6 rating
Read Review
Yaesu Original FT-2DR
Output: 5 Watt Max
Speaker Output: 700 mW
Frequency Range (mhz): 144/430MHz
Push-to-Talk: Single, Dual, or Both: Both
Display: Tri-Color
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*8.5 rating
Read Review

Types of Ham Radios

There are 3 types of Ham radios i.e. handheld ham radio, mobile ham radio, and base-station ham radio

  • Handheld Ham Radio: They are small and lightweight. The handheld transceivers allow ham operators to communicate on the go; due to their low power output, handheld ham radios typically have a range of only 5 miles at the most; their range can be increased by a nearby ham radio repeater
  • Mobile Ham radio: Designed to be used from an operator’s vehicle or a ham shack; their 200-mile range is mostly due to the increased power available through either a home wall connection or by a connection through a vehicle’s battery via a 12-volt outlet or power adapter
  • Base station: The largest of ham radio setups, generally have a range of several thousand miles; typically powered by household current, through an outlet, or a special 12-volt battery connection; these ham radio types cover the whole spectrum of radio frequencies, though some are set up only to operate in the high-frequency ranges.

Top 8 Best Handheld Ham Radios

1.Baofeng BF-F8HP Dual Band Two Way Radio (Best Handheld Ham Radio under $100) Editor’s Pick

BaoFeng BF-F8HP

  • Most Powerful Ham Radio
  • Great price with many features
  • Great sound quality
  • Great Battery life
  • Squelch settings work
  • Transmit and monitor on all GMRS, FRS, Marine and Business bands

The Baofeng BF-F8HP is the editor’s pick for the best handheld ham radio. It is also the best handheld ham radio for beginners due to its affordability, ease of use and popularity among beginners as well as experienced hams.

It is a powerful handheld radio as it boasts of three power levels i.e low- 1 watt, medium-4/5 watts, and high-7/8 watts.

With this radio, it is possible to monitor two channels simultaneously, thanks to its Dual watch receiver, also known as semi-duplex. You do not have to worry about not having enough power when you have the 2000Mah power battery as your back up.

Why get bored when you can listen to the radio while monitoring radio channels?

Thanks to its FM broadcast capability. The best thing about it is, it can accommodate a total of one hundred and twenty-eight channels that are programmable and can be put to memory. There is the option of adding or removing channels, hence you get to choose what you want to listen to.

In addition, incoming calls will always be given priority over the FM broadcast radio. This ensures that you do not miss any radio calls while on the radio.

This is a ham radio that even a beginner can comfortably use.

This Baofeng radio is frequently bought together with:-

Pros
  • Affordable, best ham radio for under $100
  • It has good sound quality, transmission power and reception is decent
  • Battery life is great
  • It is easy to use
  • Upgraded chipset
  • It comes with a better antenna
Cons
  • You may need a USB cable and computer to configure
  • Increased power output does not make a significant difference

The Baofeng BF-F8HP is considered by many as the best ham radio for shtf as well as the best Baofeng ham radio.

Check out our detailed Baofeng BF-F8HP review

*Check our review of Best Mobile Ham Radios

Baofeng BF-F8HP User Manual

2. Kenwood TH-D74A-Tri Band Ham Radio-Best Kenwood Handheld Ham Radio (Best Premium Pick)

Kenwood Original TH-D74A

 
  • Durable build, made of high-quality materials
  • Simple operation in DR (D-STAR repeater) mode
  • Built-in APRS allows real-time two-way data exchange
  • High-performance DSP voice processing
  • Tough weatherproofing meeting IEC 529 IP-54/ 55 standards
  • Voice Recording (Files size up to microSD memory capacity)
  • Built-in GPS and Bluetooth support

The Kenwood TH-D74A is our pick for the best premium ham radio due to its enhanced functionality, durability and a great user experience that seasoned hams desire.
This Kenwood handheld ham radio comes with four power output settings. They start from 0.05W, followed by 0.5W, 2W and finally 5W. Depending on the output level and usage of the radio, the battery has a capacity of 6-15 hours
Kenwood TH-D74A has a TFT display with a bit of color. This makes it possible for the user to read at any time of day or night. In it is a GPS system, which comes in handy in search and rescue situations and has Bluetooth support

This Kenwood ham radio is coupled with a wide band and multi-mode reception, that can operate on three frequencies, namely 144, 220 and 440 MHz. Its flexibility is impressive because of its compatibility with some applications. 

Pros
  • The menu has been structured well
  • Easy configuration
  • The D-STAR feature enables sending a text message, checking somebody’s call sign, get online and more
  • Great battery life when advanced features are not in use. e.g GPS and APRS
  • The large color display is easy to read in the sunlight and other less ideal lighting conditions
  • ARS compatibility on the 220 MHz band unlike other HAM radios and this enables all kinds of great functionality such as sharing GPS data
  • Can be used both outdoors and indoors
  • Clean software that is easy to use
  • Weatherproofed (rating of IP54/55 )
Cons
  • It is pricey than other models. But the features make it great for value
  • The battery life will not last long if you’re into heavy GPS and APRS
  • It is bulky and heavier than average handheld radios
  • The handbook/manual for this Kenwood amateur radio is poor and not so helpful
Check the detailed review of Kenwood TH-D74A

Check out our reviews of Best DMR Radios 2020

Kenwood TH-D74A-Tri Band Ham Radio User Manual

3. Baofeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio-Baofeng Ham Radio (Best Budget Ham Radio)

BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Radio

  • Versatile radio for amateur use
  • Easy to use
  • Small size, just the size of an iPod
  • Good frequency range
  • Durable and extremely strong
  • High two colors LED definition display
  • Dual Watch Receiver
  • Group Tones supported

If you are looking to save some money this is the best budget ham radio. It is another Baofeng ham radio that can watch two channels at the same time.

It has a frequency range of 65-108mhz. Features high/low power settings of 4W/1W and contains a programmable radio. The FM broadcast radio can be used on amateur frequencies and can transmit on both the Narrowband (12.5 kHz) and wideband of about 25 kHz.

It has 128 programmable memory channels with the option of adding and removing at will. This gives you the option of customizing the channel names on the device. Not forgetting, its superior rechargeable battery.

The battery is 1800mAh Lithium-Ion with a power capacity of about 12 hours. When you are not in need of the power from the battery, it contains a save feature that saves power to be used when needed. It is one of the best cheap ham radio on the market.

Pros
  • A handy all-round radio that is durable and extremely strong
  • It has good frequency range – 5 to 15 miles depending on obstacles
  • High two colors LED definition display
  • It has Dual Watch Receiver
  • Group Tones supported
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Has an FM radio
  • Power saver feature
Cons
  • Programming not intuitive, manual programming could be a lot better
  • VFO function has no copy memory channel
  • Selecting channels is slow
  • Scanning is a little slow
  • No copy to the memory channel
  • No voice prompts

Baofeng UV-5R User Manual

Read our review on the Best Long Range Two Way Radios

4. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld Ham Radio-Yaesu Ham Radio (Best Handheld Ham Radio for Survival)

Yaesu FT-60R

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Durable with a good battery life
  • Great audio on RX and TX
  • Can reach good distances with LOW and MED power settings.
  • Easy menu system
  • Storing of frequencies is straightforward and easy, no real need for manual programming.

 

This Yaesu ham radio is a great ham radio. Among other things, it boasts of a superb audio quality which coupled with a huge LCD display makes it one of the most popular ham radios.

As the name suggests, it has a dual-band with a total of 5 watts output on both. It comes with two unique and very important features. There is the Emergency Automatic Identification Feature. This is normally used in search and rescue situations since it helps those that cannot press the PTT switch for one reason or another. It is because of this feature that disabled persons can easily use it. This makes it great for survival situations.

Pros
  • It is inexpensive/affordable
  • Comes with a long-lasting battery
  • Has a sturdy shape
  • Has a good range even on LOW and MED power settings
  • Has great audio on RX and TX
  • Incredibly easy to program by hand
Cons
  • The interface could be better with tone/ shift/split easily accessible
  • Antenna’s quality is lacking. You will need to get another antenna e.g Diamond SRH77CA
  • Absence of memory mode in the menu

Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld Ham Radio User Manual

5. Baofeng-UV82C Dual Band Baofeng Ham Radio

BaoFeng UV-82C Dual-Band

  • Inexpensive
  • Light and compact.
  • The white LED is handy.
  • CHIRP programming
  • Can be used on FRMS and GMRS and monitor weather.

 

This is one of the best baofeng radio models. With a v-85 antenna for optimum performance, this is one of the best ham radios on the market today. It has a switch known as a PTT switch. This comes in handy when you opt to transmit on two frequencies.

It also comes with a dual push to talk button. In addition to this, it has the capability of receiving two frequencies at the same time, at different bands. This is made possible by a feature known as a dual watch receiver.

So why else do we consider it as one of the best portable radio? To start, it boasts of FM broadcasting capability with the incoming call given first priority. This comes with a total of 128 programmable channels that can be programmed via software or manually.

The software considered best for this is CHIRP. It may take a while to learn how it works. But once you get the hang of it, it is a piece of cake. You will need a USB programming cable to make this happen. This enables you to program alphanumerically if that is what you prefer through the use of this software.

Lastly, its power settings can either below (1W), medium (4W), and high (7W).

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Great battery life
  • Much better antenna
  • CHIRP programming
  • Enough power output
Cons
  • Alphanumeric programming only possible via the software
  • No clock

Baofeng-UV82C Dual Band Baofeng Ham Radio User Manual

6. TYT MD 380-DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio

 

It has a single band coupled with a dual mode capability. The receiver in this radio is one of the most sensitive receivers we have on the market today. The quality of the audio is quite high compared to other similar gadgets with superb frequency response. The thing about the TYT MD 380 that makes it unique is its multi-color display with remarkable resolution.

The speaker is not only loud, but is clear enough too, and is powered by a 5-watt transmitter which is more than sufficient. Its programmable keys are located on the side. Their main purpose is to scan all available channels

Pros
  • The audio is of high quality
  • It is easy to use
  • Lightweight
Cons
  • It sometimes drains the battery
  • A bit difficult to program

7. Tri-band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio

First and foremost, it is easy to use. With an output of 5 watts and a total of 900 alphanumeric memory channels, it is no doubt one of the most sought after ham radios. It features a triple band and possesses wide receiver capabilities.

Other additional cool features include a severe weather alert system. This comes in handy when you come across harsh weather conditions. Features an Emergency Automatic ID. This proves to be very useful.  In case of an emergency and for one reason or another, you are unable to press the switch. This feature will identify you as the authorized user and you will be able to make your call.

Pros
  • The audio is of high quality
  • The battery performance is not so bad
  • It is easy to program
Cons
  • The speaker is not loud enough
  • The keypad is a bit too small

Yaesu VX-6R User Manual

8. Yaesu Original FT-2DR Dual Band Handheld Transceiver

 

Powered with an output of 5 watts, this Yaesu ham radio is one of the best handheld radio for beginners. Its battery boasts of a capacity of about 2200mAh which means that the user gets to enjoy more time working with it and less time charging it.

It has an in-built antenna with a magnificent GPS receiver. In case you get lost and you happen to have this radio, no need to worry. The GPS can, not only provide your location in real-time but also provides APRS information.

The FT-2DR comes with a navigation feature, which is considered smart due to its capability of performing in real-time. This makes it possible to constantly know exactly where you are at all times,  hence you get to enjoy your hike in the woods with no worries at all.

Last but not least is, there is the little camera located near the microphone. It is a small, handy piece of tool that can take a snapshot and the image is saved in a micro SD card for future reference.

Pros
  • Smart navigation
  • Built-in GPS
  • Compatible with system fusion
  • Wideband receiver
Cons
  • The audio can be a bit distorted

Yaesu Original FT-2DR Dual Band Handheld Transceiver User Manual

Buyer’s Guide – Best Portable Ham Radio

Dual Band

This feature will give you the ability to monitor two different frequencies simultaneously. The dual-band function makes it easy for you to select the frequency you would like to transmit on. You should also be careful with the antenna that comes with the radio. A genuine antenna should have no problem, but the ones not bought with the radios are sometimes not compatible with the dual-band feature.

Programming

There are two questions you should ask yourself, can the radio be programmed manually as well as via the software. If it can be programmed via software, it is prudent to confirm that the programming cable is available and functioning. For a radio to be programmed manually, there needs to be a functional keyboard.

Rechargeable battery

After using ham radio for a few hours, it should be recharged. It is paramount to confirm before making a purchase that it has an external DC connection. This will make the work of recharging easier and ensure that the radio has enough power for it to operate at all times.

A well-arranged user manual

In other words, find a ham radio with a manual that is easy to understand. This comes in handy when you try to operate your device, but does not work in the manner you expected it to operate. When something like this happens, it is advisable you look for an easy manual that will help you get going in the shortest time possible.

Speaker quality

Sometimes the audio quality of the ham radio is directly affected by the nature of the environment. If you are trying to listen to your radio in the city or on a busy market, it might be difficult to understand whatever is said via the radio. This is why it is important you look for a device with a good speaker and an external earphone jack. If the outside world becomes too noisy, you just plug in the earphones and receive the information on the radio loud and clear.

Types of Licenses for Ham Radio Operators

There are three main types of licenses for ham radio operators.

a) The Technician License

This license is normally issued to beginners. It is considered an entry-level license and you only need to pass one exam to attain this license. Once you get this license, you gain access to a frequency above 30mHz hence can communicate locally.

b) General License

To attain, you will need to pass an exam with a total of 35 questions. Needless to say, you need to have attained a technician license or passed the Technician written examination. With this license, you will have access to all amateur radio bands and operating modes.

c) The Amateur Extra License

This is a higher-level license, therefore, it requires passing a more difficult exam with a total of 50 questions. Before sitting for this exam, one of the requirements is you must have passed previous license class written examinations. With this license, you get to enjoy all operating privileges on all bands and modes.

With those few points on what you should look for and need when getting the best ham radio, it is time to take a closer look at our handheld ham radio reviews. These are the best picks.

How Does a Ham Radio Work?

Typically, ham radios use a wide range of frequencies for communications. Non-hams can “listen in” to hams via radio scanners or their own receivers. Ham radio utilizes a variety of frequency bands across the entire radio spectrum. The frequencies are usually allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and are only meant for amateur use. Many ham radios operate well in the frequency range just above the AM broadcast band.

Many ham bands are found in the radio frequency that ranges between 1.6MHz to 27MHz. During the day, 15MHz to 27MHz provides a good band for all long-distance communications. However, during the night, the band ranges between 1.6MHz and 15MHz offers a good band for long-distance ham radio communications. These bands are commonly referred to as short-wave radio bands.

Unlike the frequencies used by television stations and FM radio stations which are line-of-sight and limited to up to 50 miles, the short-waves usually bounce off the ionosphere from the transmitter antenna to the receiver antenna. Thus, the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.

While some ham radios use the Morse code, other use voice. The Morse code signals are much more reliable since they can still get through even when voice transmission can’t.  It is also good to note that these amateur radios use radio modems to communicate in various networks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do you require a license to operate a ham radio?

A license is not required to purchase ham radio or listen/monitor to the many amateur (ham) radio frequencies. You will, however, require a license from  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to transmit on amateur radio frequencies in the USA. There are 3 levels of licenses for amateur and one needs to pass simple multi-choice questions, no detailed “Morse” code kind of knowledge.

How long is a ham radio license good for?

In the US, a ham radio license is renewable after 10 yrs.

How much does it cost to get a ham radio?

The cost component of using a handheld ham radio is made up of two items:-

  • Fees to obtain a license which is set by and payable to the volunteer examiner coordinator. The amount is usually small. At times some VEC do not require a fee.
  • Cost to purchase the ham radio depending on budget and preference from as low as $23 for a BaoFeng UV-5R

CONCLUSION

To sum it all up, it is important to get the right best amateur ham radio for you. It should fit in your budget and at the same time meet your expectations, at least most of them. Take your time before making a decision on the type of radio you are going to buy. Most importantly, understand what you are buying with regard to its features and limitations. This will avoid a lot of frustrations in the future. –

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Paul Dudley