If you need quick and seamless communication with someone who’s far away, then sometimes a text or call just won’t cut it. Unlocking your phone and searching through your contacts, or even just going to speed dial or your recent calls, can waste precious seconds. Ham radios are the best way to communicate as quickly as possible. All it takes is the push of a button and you’re in contact with your friend, colleague, or supervisor. That is, of course, if you find the right ham radio. We’re here to help you with that, so we’ve compiled this list of the best handheld ham radios out there to help you quickly communicate while on the job.
Carry on reading to see our full list of the best Handheld Ham Radios, followed by a recap breaking down what makes each product on our list stand out. Or jump straight to our number #1 pick here.
What Should You Look For in a Handheld Ham Radio?
Whenever you’re buying a certain product, it’s hard to know what to look for. Even if you’ve bought a handheld ham radio before, you may have found that you didn’t walk away with a great product, and you want to be more informed. That’s what we’re here for. We’ve done all the research for you, and we’re going to layout our criteria below in a clear and simple manner so that you can feel like an expert in no time. After you finish this section of our article, you’ll know everything you need to know in order to separate the good ham radios from the bad ham radios.
Criteria #1: Reception – Do you love asking “What?” over and over again? Yeah, me neither. The reception and sound quality on your ham radio is by far the most important factor. This is pretty intuitive. Its purpose is communication, so it should do that well. We’re only looking for the best ham radios out there that will let you hear the person on the other hand as if they’re standing right next to you.
Criteria #2: Design – A few different factors contribute to the design. We want to help you find a ham radio that doesn’t have a million buttons on the face and is relatively easy to use. We want something that’s made out of a material that will last for a long time. It’s just inevitable that you’re going to drop your ham radio a few times, so let’s get out in front of that problem. We want you to be able to communicate quickly, which means that fumbling with an awkward interface is not ideal.
Criteria #3: Size – Handheld ham radios should be, well…handheld. Unfortunately, as things usually go, there will be certain compromises if you want to get the smallest ham radio possible, such as fewer features and a smaller screen. But we want to prioritize small radios as much as possible. We won’t pick a small radio over an otherwise better performing radio, but it’ll definitely act as our tiebreaker.
Criteria #4: Battery Life – Here, smaller radios will actually usually take the cake. Smaller electronic products tend to have better batteries than their larger counterparts, so it’s nice that two of our criteria will go together. It’s important that your ham radio’s battery life can get you through more than a shift of work, so we want to help you find radios that have at least a battery life of about 8 hours. Leave your charger at home.
Criteria #5: Price – We’re not here to make you spend a ton of money for no reason. Meeting this criterion is less about being cheap and more about justifying your price. We’d rather buy an expensive product that’s cheaper than it should be than waste money on a cheaper product that isn’t worth the money and that will just break on you or not perform well.
Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best Handheld Ham Radios
We measured the specs of the top products on the market against our listed criteria to see how they held up and if they’re worth buying. We then checked customer reviews, blog posts, and “best handheld ham radios” articles to see if the products on our list performed as advertised. We’ll also make a point of mentioning any interesting or useful features that don’t fit squarely into our criteria.
And without further ado, here is our list – tailored to your specific needs – of the best handheld ham radios.
#1: Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio (Best Value – All-Purpose)
Our list starts off with the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio. Radioddity is one of the premier brand names in ham radios, and any list of the best ham radios will be full of Radioddity products.
Our number one handheld ham radio boasts some of the best audio quality on the market, and it features a quick dial feature on the number pad that lets you program the settings of the radio and choose among 32 pre-made SMSs to send between radios. You can boost the signal with a hotspot, and the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio even has two different channels so that two people can use the hotspot at once.
Perhaps the most useful feature of our top-ranked radio is the emergency feature, which allows you to send an SOS signal to the other end of the channel and communicate that things are getting dire. Next, the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio offers 1024 different channels to help you easily hop from co-worker to co-worker.
With a 2200-mAh battery and a maximum output of 5 watts, you can be sure that our best handheld ham radio has a battery that will easily get you through a full shift of work. Finally, with dimensions of 5.51 x 2.23 x 1.14 inches and a weight of just 1.6 pounds, you’ll never feel weighed down by the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio. As a nice bonus, it’s licensed for commercial use.
As we’ve already mentioned, Radioddity is one of the premier brand names in the ham radio business, and the GD-77 is one of their premier models. It’s featured on multiple lists of the best ham radios, and it’s garnered over 500 reviews on Amazon. Customers praised the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio for being a great value and for being easily accessible for beginners. This combination makes it hands down the best choice for your first handheld ham.
The Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio gives the best return on your dollar, is the easiest to you use, and an easy choice to be our number one pick.
#2: Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner (Best Overall Handheld Ham Radio)
The Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio may be the best value available, but what if you’re willing to splurge for the heavy hitter. If you’re a pickier customer that understands that you get what you pay for, then you’re definitely better off going with the Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner as your handheld ham radio. It’s more expensive than our number-one product, but it has a few extra features that are definitely worth considering. Here are the features that may convince you to spend your extra money on the Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner.
Reason #1 to Choose This Product: Close Call Mode
Finding the exact frequency you need can be a little annoying. The folks at Uniden understand that, and that’s why their Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner features a close call mode that will automatically and instantly tune in on transmissions from nearby signals. This means that you can forget about picking the right channel, as your new ham radio will automatically pick up all of the conversations nearby.
And thanks to do not disturb mode, you don’t need to be worried about being bothered by stray transmissions while you’re talking. To make things even more convenient, you get 500 channels available with this radio, and you can name each of them individually. “Work” is a lot easier to remember than channel number 392. The Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner helps you save time on the logistics and spend more time communicating.
Reason #2 to Choose This Product: Weather and Safety Alerts
You never want to be unprepared when a storm begins rolling in or when there was an accident further up the road. The Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner features weather and safety alerts that will help you stay in the loop at the drop of a hat.
Uniden boasts that with their Bearcat BC125AT, “You can listen to both civilian and military bands, including police, ambulance, fire, weather, marine, aircraft, railroad, [and] civil air” channels, and more. Nothing will go under the radar when you’re using the Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner. This is the best handheld ham radio for anyone who hates being left out of the loop.
In addition to the Close Call Mode and the weather and safety alerts, our second-ranked handheld ham radio boasts a 10-hour battery life and a lightweight and compact design. This ham radio measures at just 4.33 x 2.17 x 7.28 inches and weighs only 1.4 ounces.
It boasts close to 4,000 reviews on Amazon, so it’s actually much more popular than the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio. Users praised the Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner for being versatile and a solid value purchase. Of course, it’s still more expensive than our top pick, and one user mentioned that it’s not accessible for beginners. But if you’re more experienced and you’ve decided that it’s time to splurge for a better handheld ham radio, then this is one of the best options out there for you.
#3: Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver (Waterproof Ham Radio)
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You never know what life will throw at you, and especially if you’re planning on using your radio near water, it’s possible it’ll get a little wet. This can be a huge problem, as water can ruin your ham radio and waste all the money you spent on it. Unless of course, you have the waterproof Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver.
Our third handheld ham radio features IPX5 waterproofing that will make sure that your ham radio can hold up to even an accidental drop in a pool. On top of the high-quality waterproofing, the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver measures 10 x 7.3 x 4 inches and weighs a mere 2.6 pounds. It also features a built-in stopwatch timer and weather alerts.
This handheld ham radio also boasts a strong lithium-iron battery, and one customer claimed that they were able to go a full month before recharging the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver. That means you’ll be able to make full use of the “handheld” part of “handheld ham radio.”
Customers complimented the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver on its easy-to-use design, its large display, and its sound clarity. While this is an all-around high-quality handheld ham radio, be warned – it’s pretty expensive. It’s expensive enough that you should probably only buy the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver if you specifically suspect that you’ll need the waterproof feature. Otherwise, you’re better off buying one of our first two ham radios. But if you know you’re going to be spending some time on your radio near the pool, then the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver is the best handheld ham radio for you.
#4: BaoFeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio (Best Low Cost)
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Right up there with Radioddity, BaoFeng is one of the most popular ham radio brands out there, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a “best handheld ham radios” list that doesn’t feature at least one BaoFeng product. That means you can rest easy if you go to BaoFeng for your budget ham radio, as you can assume you’re still getting a high-quality product even if you’re not paying a high-quality price.
The BaoFeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio is one of the cheapest ham radios out there, but sometimes you get more than what you pay for. This budget option boasts a small frame of 8.3 x 6.5 x 3.7 inches, and it weighs less than a pound. But it’s not just small; it comes equipped with a powerful lithium-ion battery that lasts for an average of 72 hours. This affordable ham radio offers 12 channels and two different frequencies.
Despite the unbeatable price of the BaoFeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio, this BaoFeng handheld ham radio has garnered praise for its reliable range and sound quality, so you won’t feel like you ripped yourself off, and you won’t regret your decision to try and save a few bucks.
The BaoFeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio has close to 400 reviews on Amazon, so you know you’re getting a reliable product. On top of being cheap, it’s been praised for being durable, so not only will save on initial costs, you may be able to have this ham radio for much longer than you may have expected. Especially if you’re buying your first ham radio, you may decide that it’s not worth it to spend a fortune. You shouldn’t feel pressured to spend the big bucks just because there are more expensive options out there. The BaoFeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio is the best handheld ham radio for anyone who understands the value of a dollar.
#5: Mirkit x BaoFeng Radio UV-5R MK3X (Best Speakers)
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We all know that sounds get distorted over speakers and transmissions. A phone call is never as clear as an in-person conversation. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a ham radio with really powerful speakers, so you can mitigate that damage as much as possible. Lucky for all you audiophiles out there, the Mirkit x BaoFeng Radio UV-5R MK3X exists. The powerful speakers in this Mirkit x BaoFeng handheld ham radio will help you crank up the volume and be absolutely sure that you’ll be able to hear the person on the other end loudly and clearly without jamming the radio up against your ear.
But there’s more to this handheld ham radio than just its speakers. The Mirkit x Baofeng Radio UV-5R MK3X boasts an absolutely tiny frame of 8 x 4 x 5 inches that weighs an insignificant 7.04 ounces. That means that if phone, wallet, keys, mask, and radio is becoming a bit much for you, then the 8 x 4 x 5 inches is the best handheld radio for you.
This ham radio is also a particularly versatile machine that’s compatible with most repeaters. The Mirkit x BaoFeng Radio UV-5R MK3X also comes with an affordable price that’s cheaper than our number one pick in the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio. If you want loudspeakers that come in a tiny package, then the Mirkit x BaoFeng Radio UV-5R MK3X is the only ham radio for you.
#6: Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio (A Cheaper Waterproof Radio)
Radioddity managed to bookend our list. If you really want a waterproof ham radio, but the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver was just too far above your budget, then you absolutely have to consider the Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio for all of your radio needs.
This handheld radio is waterproof just like our Yaesu radio, but it’s more than 50% cheaper. On top of that, the Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio weighs just 5.28 ounces, and it has a pocket-sized frame of 8.03 x 6.57 x 2.48 inches. Just like our first Radioddity ham radio, the Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio can send text messages for fast communication, though you’re limited to just 73 characters per text, so this feature is definitely not intended for full conversations. To give your radio a nice personal touch, the Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio has two programmable buttons that can be set up to activate whatever feature you choose.
The Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio has a decent battery that lasts for 48 hours, and it has a range of 8 kilometers. While the battery is a little bit weaker than that of our other waterproof radio, it’s still more than long enough that you shouldn’t run into any problems. You’re also definitely not getting the large display that made the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver. But by passing on the Yaesu radio, you’ll save yourself a small fortune.
If you want the waterproof perk without abusing your wallet, then you have to buy the Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio. It’s the only ham radio for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Need a License for My Ham Radio?
The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, for almost all ham radios, you’re going to need a license in the USA. What kind of license you need will depend on whether your ham radio is for pleasure or for business. And on top of that, it even depends on which frequencies you’ll be transmitting. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of bureaucracy involved, and you run the risk of getting fined if not everything is in order. I could write an entire second article on the ham radio licensing process alone, but you’re best off taking your question to Google, or better yet, consulting an expert.
What Is the Range of a Handheld Ham Radio?
Obviously, this will depend on what radio you’re using. That being said, you can expect a range of somewhere in between 2 ad 18 miles from your radio. Obviously, the radios with that long range of 18 miles will be more expensive, but well worth it if you really need the range.
I’d highly recommend you think carefully about how much distance you think you’ll need your ham radio to cover. For example, if you work at a school or on a construction site, you probably won’t need too much range from your radio. Of course, if you tend to drive a lot for work, or if you want to use your new ham radio for hobby nature exploring, then it’s most likely a good idea to splurge for a radio that will really go the distance.
What’s a Repeater?
We’ve mentioned repeaters a few times in this article, so if you don’t already know what they are you might be feeling a little confused. A repeater is a combination of a radio receiver and a radio transmitter that receives a signal and retransmits it. This effectively gives your signal a well-deserved pit stop, and extends the range of your transmission.
If you already have access to a repeater, then you can really cut back on the cost of your ham radio by purchasing one with a sort range knowing that your repeater will extend the signal. Even if you don’t already have a repeater, you may be able to find one for cheap enough that it’s a better deal to buy a weaker radio and a repeater than to buy the strongest handheld ham radio available.
Of course, you can also take the best ham radio on the market and beef it up with a repeater to have the longest range imaginable so you can use your radio to communicate over distances that previously seemed impossible. While we won’t get into it too much right now, a good repeater can really be a game-changer when it comes to how you go about buying and using your handheld ham radio.
Verdict: Your Best Handheld Ham Radios
We’re reaching the end of our list, and you’re hopefully starting to get a good idea of which of our products is best for you. But if you haven’t made up your mind yet, not worry. We don’t want to rush, and we know how important it is to make sure you’re getting the handheld ham radio that’s perfect for you. That’s why we’re going to recap all of our handheld ham radios and focus on their standout features. This way, you’ll be able to see the highlights and really know what each product has to offer for you.
If you want the best value for your money, pick the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio.
The fact that Radioddity was the only brand to have two products on our list that are entirely their own (not including the Mirkit x BaoFeng Radio UV-5R MK3X for BaoFeng) tells you everything you need to know about this handheld ham radio company. As for the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio specifically, this handheld ham radio boasts a strong and reliable signal that will give you clear calls at a long distance, and you can boost that signal with a hotspot, which two radios can use at once.
With this radio, you also get a quick-dial feature on the number pad that lets you program the settings, and you get 32 pre-made texts that you can quickly send to the other end. The Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio offers 1024 channels, and perhaps most importantly of all, it can send an emergency SOS signal that lets you communicate an emergency as quickly as possible. It’s hard to list all of the features of our top-ranked ham radio, and the Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio is the best value purchase out there. This is our number one pick for a reason.
If you need a waterproof radio, pick the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver.
Who knows what conditions your handheld ham radio will be subjected to? If you know or expect that you’ll be using your new radio around water, then it’s worth it to splurge a little for a waterproof product. Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver is just about the best waterproof model available, and besides offering IPX5 waterproofing, this ham radio has a light 2.6-pound frame and a strong lithium-ion battery.
On top of that, you’ll be able to receive live weather alerts to help you stay prepared. You’re also sure to get a reliable and strong signal from this ham radio. Of course, there’s always a catch, and the Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver is the most expensive radio on our list. But if it seems worth it, treat yourself to a radio that can survive a swim or two with this Yaesu product.
If you want to keep the spending cheap, pick the BaoFeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio.
Don’t spend money when you don’t have to. If you don’t feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, then you’ll want to do your wallet a favor and buy the BaoFeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio. This super-affordable ham radio is just about the cheapest option out there, and it’s also one of the smallest.
Our budget option boasts a small frame of 8.3 x 6.5 x 3.7 inches, and it weighs less than a pound. Plus, it has an extra-strong battery that lasts for about 72 hours, so you’ll be able to go almost the entire work week without charging your ham radio’s battery. With the convenient size, the strong battery, and the solid performance, you’ll find yourself wondering why anyone would even bother getting something more expensive than the BaoFeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio.
That just about wraps up our list, and our work here is almost done. If you’re not particularly excited about the highlighted ham radios above, you may be more interested in the Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner, which offers Close Call Mode and delivers weather and safety alerts. Of course, there’s also the high-volume Mirkit x BaoFeng Radio UV-5R MK3X, and the waterproof-but-affordable Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio.
Remember to think long and hard about which radio feature is most important to you. Once you have your priorities in order, you’ll be able to really speed up the research phase by skipping past the products that don’t have what you need.
That’s all for now. We hope this list has helped you find the best handheld radio for your needs.