Long range two way radios or Walkie Talkies as they are also commonly known, will be without doubt, the most commonly used form of emergency radio communication should a SHTF situation cause all the usual methods of communication to become obsolete or useless.
Even though this will be the case it doesn’t mean they are the best form of communication on which to rely upon when the world goes quiet, that title would definitely have to go to ham radio.
Although there is a slight problem with using ham radio in that you will need considerably more power than the battery operated two way radio requires to operate, and you will need to have a license if you intend to broadcast and not just receive on your set.
A good ham radio set up will also set you back quite a few bucks, and you will almost certainly need to undergo some level of training to achieve a decent level of user competence.
Nevertheless, if you want to be as well prepared as you can be for doomsday then ham radio is the way to go, and something you should seriously look into.
However, ham radio isn’t for everyone, and for the vast majority of people, looking into the purchase of a pair of Walkie talkies is going to be their first step into the world of apocalyptic emergency radio communication, and for good reason.
Two way radios are an extremely cost effective entry point into emergency communication, PLUS you do not need a license to operate them.
When the SHTF, the vast majority of us, in all probability, will be unable to use our phones or cells as lines and networks will be down. In preparation for just such a situation it would be prudent to make sure you have access to at least a pair of good reliable two way radios.
The Best Long Range Two Way Radios
What are Two Way Radios?
Many people refer to two way radios as walkie talkies, as we mentioned at the start of this post, which is absolutely fine but it’s not 100% correct and does need a little clarification before moving on.
A walkie talkie is a two way radio, but not all two way radios are walkie talkies!
Actually, it’s not as confusing as it sounds.
Two way radios have a few different forms;
- Base station two way radios: These are the radios that are designed to either be mounted on a wall or be sitting on a desk at home or at your ‘base station’.
- Fixed mobile two way radio: These are the types of radios that you often find mounted in pick up trucks and other vehicles.
- Mobile Handheld Two Way Radio: These are the types of radio that are most commonly referred to as walkie talkies, because you can walk whilst you talk!
There you go, not that confusing after all!
How to Select a Good Two Way Radio
It definitely goes without saying that walkie talkies should be part of your emergency kit but you shouldn’t just go out and buy the first pair of two way radios you come across.
There are a huge number of two way radios from which to choose and there are improved and more advanced models being released all the time, so ensuring you choose the best model for your specific needs or likely situation is extremely important.
Not all two way radios are created equal but by comparing a number of key features the selection of the radio that best fits your needs will be made a whole lot easier.
The key features that you should always be scrutinizing when selecting handheld long ranged two way radios will be; range, number of channels, power, weight, battery life, durability and whether they are waterproof or just weatherproof (there is a difference), and finally, to a lesser extent, the ability to access up-to-the-minute local NOAA weather forecasts
The distance your radio can effectively work over is called its range. The range of a handheld two way radio is always measured in miles and the maximum range that a manufacturer advertises will be the longest unobscured distance between a receiving and a transmitting handset that a clear signal can be received.
It is important to understand the term ‘unobscured’ here, because what that actually means is that there are absolutely no obstructions of any kind between the transmitting and receiving handsets,
That sounds pretty straightforward but to achieve the maximum ranges advertised by vendors you will not only have to make sure there is nothing between handset A and Handset B, but you will also need to eliminate the curvature of the earth.
The Earth is round (sorry flat earthers), even on the flattest most featureless terrain, the average 5′ 9″ person will only be able to see for just under 3 miles, which means a walkie talkie will lose its signal beyond that distance because the earth itself then becomes an obstacle.
The only way to extend the range of a walkie talkie beyond those three miles is to have one handset situated considerable higher than the other. Doing so will ensure the walkie talkie can achieve the advertised maximum range.
To cut a long story short, you will be extremely lucky if you get anywhere close to achieving the advertised range in the wilderness never mind in an urban environment!
When a Walkie talkie is used in mountainous, wooded, or urban area, as WILL be the case, its range will be seriously reduced, in most cases to just a couple of miles or even less, irrespective of the maximum range claim.
This large discrepancy between advertised range and actual range is one of the main reasons many people are disappointed with their radios when they first try them out, don’t be one of them. If you have a Walkie talkie that can provide a 2 mile range of communication in an urban environment you have got a decent handset!
Power – The overriding factor behind the range of a two way radio
In short, increased power will mean increased range but it should always be remembered that even if you have an extremely powerful two way radio it is still limited by the line of sight principal! However, having extra power does mean improved signal strength particularly in urban and wooded areas, not massively improved but improved none-the-less.
One thing that should be noted are the two different frequency groups that are available to users of consumer two way radios these are FRS and GMRS. You can learn more about these two types of frequencies by checking out “What is the Difference between FRS and GMRS frequencies“.
The brief explanation is this:
- FRS (Family Radio Service) is the name given to the group of frequencies designated for use by anyone with their 2 way radio without requiring a license. Radios that use FRS frequencies cannot have a power output greater than 2 watts.
- GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) are another group of frequencies that anyone can use up to 2 watts of power but beyond 2 watts, a license will be required.
Many of the radios included on our tabled list above are what are often referred to as hybrid radios these radios offer the use of both FRS and GMRS frequencies.
Any two-way radio that has a maximum power output of 2 watts or less will not require license to use, but those that have a power output greater than 2 watts will require a license before use irrespective of whether the user only intends to use the FRS frequencies or the GMRS frequencies under 2 watts.
In a lot of cases an FRS radio will be more than enough for what you need, however if you want a SHTF emergency two way radio that has an extended range and increased power and therefore increased signal strength, then you will need a two way radio that uses GMRS frequencies and a license from the FCC to use it legally.
Give increased power an additional boost by adding a larger antenna
Although looking for a handset with a greater power output should be your priority it isn’t the only factor that will improve the range and signal strength of a radio.
An antenna works predominantly as a boost for the collection and distribution of radio signals and the longer the antenna the better it will do those jobs. Whether you have a radio with a long antenna or not, for improved performance the regular 2 way radio rules apply; a clear line of sight is best and transmit/receive from higher ground if possible.
If you are looking to purchase a consumer two way radio or a walkie talkie, then there is usually very little scope for increasing the length of your radio’s antenna as most will have a fixed ‘stubby’ antenna, as a result, antenna length differences will come down to an inch or two between different radios.
For mounted mobile two way radios and base stations it is much more likely that the option to change to a longer antenna will be available, so bear that in mind when checking out those types of radios.
The more channels the better!
Channels are the highways of communication and pretty much every consumer two-way radio will have 22 channels. You can probably imagine that with only 22 channels there could be a lot of interference, particularly during times of crisis when there would be a lot of like-minded individuals who will have also wisely invested in sets of two way radios, clogging up the channels.
This is why all radios will come with a number of privacy codes* (usually 121). These codes will allow users to use the same channel as other users but still be able to speak privately without interference.
The 22 channels are broken down thus:
- 7 FRS channels
- 7 Shared FRS and GMRS channels
- 8 GMRS channels.
*The term privacy codes is a simple term used to describe CTCSS or CDCSS (Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System or Continuous Digital Coded Squelch System, respectively).
It doesn’t matter how you intend to use your two way radio the chances are at some point it will be part of your bug out bag gear so you will want to keep its weight to a minimum but don’t trade your handset’s durability for the sake of saving a few ounces in weight. There always has been and always will be a lot of truth in the old adage that the heavier an object is the better made and stronger it is, but choosing the best two way radio is about getting the balance between weight and durability right.
Durability and Waterproofness
There will be times when you are operating in rough terrain and your radio may receive a hefty knock or two, so having a radio that is well made, strong and damage resistant is a huge plus. You should also ensure that the radio handset you buy is waterproof, or at the very least weatherproof. There should be no grey area here as you will definitely be using your radio in the rain or over water at some point. By the way, weatherproof means that your handset will put up with being used in light to moderate rain in most cases but anymore than that and it is likely to drown! Each handset will have a industry standard specification for weatherproofing or waterproofing so make sure you check these out. (see: IP Code specifications)
Battery power – Which is the best way to power your walkie talkie?
Most consumer radios will be sold with an accompanying rechargeable NiMH or NiCad battery pack although there will be a few out there that simply use AA or AAA alkaline batteries, each have there advantages.
Rechargeable battery packs will definitely save you money over time but have a short operational life before they require recharging; this is particularly true in colder weather conditions. Standard Alkaline batteries perform much better and last longer, but once they are flat they will need disposing of safely and replacements will always have to be carried.
The perfect two way radio will be able to use both rechargeable battery packs and disposable batteries and have a battery saver mode function.
We at Alpha Survivalist advise our readers to always buy an extra rechargeable battery pack for each of their radios and to also consider handsets that can be charged using solar power which will be a huge benefit when there is no way to recharge batteries or replacement batteries are unobtainable.
What features should you be looking for on your radio?
Two way radio manufacturers are always looking for an edge over their competitors when releasing new radio handsets. There is so little they can do in regards to increasing range and power so they look at building in other features that will hopefully grab the interest of potential purchasers.
Some of these features are handy to have but not that necessary and can simply confuse people who are not familiar with the handset, but there are a few features that are extremely useful that could and should sway your decision making processes, particularly if you are looking for a two way radio for use in SHTF situations, and they are:
- MIL-STD – MIL-SPEC – You will probably want a tough, reliable, radio that will put up with a lot of heavy treatment, both physical and environmental, so looking for a radio that is designated a MIL-STD or MIL-SPE is a no-brainer as these types of radio have been manufactured to military specifications.
- Waterproofing or weatherproofing? – Every radio will have been tested for their resistance to dust, dirt, and moisture and will have been given an IP rating. A radio handset with an IP rating of IP68 is perfect because it is basically a sealed unit as no dust/dirt will enter it and it will be able to withstand long term submersion up to a certain pressure, or in other words, it’s fully waterproof! However, most consumer two way radios will generally fall into the weatherproof bracket and will have an IP between IP54 and IP65. You can see a full list of IP grades here.
- NOAA Weather radio updates – Having updated weather information as provided by the NOAA is critical particularly for those trying to navigate natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding.
Although I know many of you will be trying to work on a tight budget when it comes to spending on a two way radio set up I have purposely left ‘cost’ till the bottom of my list because with two way radios you will generally get what you pay for.
Let’s be honest; if you only have a few bucks to spend you might as well go and buy a couple of plastic cups and a ball of string because you certainly won’t pick up a two way radio of any worth!
That isn’t to say you won’t be able to find a well priced, good value for money, pair of handsets out there, because there are a few, but if you want the best set up you can get your hands on then expect to pay a few bucks for it.
The following list of two way radios are in no specific order, as there is no stand out performer. Each radio has its own fan-club that will swear it is the best thing since sliced bread, whilst the same radio will more than likely have a few detractors also who simply did not like it for one reason or another.
Our research has led us to conclude that selecting the perfect two way radio is very much based on personal experiences. One thing that does appear to be important when choosing a radio is the brand name.
There are a number of well established companies that consistently produce great radios, and it is from these trusted brand names that the list below has been constructed.
Remember, there is little to choose between the two way radios below when talking about range, in an urban setting, all of them will only achieve a range of 1 – 2 miles max. It might be a better idea to base your selection on battery life and power output rather than range, but that’s your decision to make.
Whenever a two way radio of note is released I will update the list above.
However, there are rarely notable improvements to the handsets on a year to year basis and most new models are simply rehashed versions of previous models with an additional extra or a restyle.
Nevertheless, I’ll keep you posted.
And remember, if your radio ever goes down you can always rely on your emergency whistle and if you haven’t got one…get one!
Best Long Range Two Way Radios – Pin