Best Handheld HAM Radio for Survival and Prepping

With all that’s happened in 2020 and 2021, it’s more important than ever to get a good HAM radio and prepare for if a worst-case scenario does occur. So what’s the best handheld HAM radio for intense survival situations?

1. Baofeng UV-5R

This HAM radio takes the number one spot, no questions asked. The Baoefeng UV-5R is an incredible model. It’s a handheld HAM for only twenty-five dollars and it’s well worth the price.

HAM handheld survival radios for dedicated preppers can cost up to two hundred (or more) dollars, but this is a fantastic model for only a fraction of that price. And it’s extremely high-quality for such an affordable product.

This “cheap” handheld HAM radio can reach repeaters up to twenty miles away and the signal delivered to expensive radios over sixty miles away comes out clean and clear, with no problems or static in the way.

It works for both VHF and UHF. It can also use the CHIRP program, so you can keep your address book easily manageable on your computer. The best part about this model isn’t just that it’s an affordable option.

It’s the best option because it works for preppers of all different skill and intensity levels. It’s a great handheld option for HAM beginners, and it’s powerful enough to be a great tool for experts in HAM.

That being said, if you are an expert, you might be willing to spend more money on your HAM tools. If that’s the case, keep reading for more intricate (and more expensive) options.

Baofeng UV-5R Two Way Radio Dual Band 144-148/420-450Mhz Walkie Talkie 1800mAh Li-ion Battery(Black)
  • Frequency Range: 144-148MHz, 420-450MHz. Please kindly know that UV-5R would not transmit without this frequency range.
  • 128 Channels 50 CTCSS and 104 CDCSS Dual-Band Display, Dual Freq. Display, Dual-Standby, A/B band independent operation, High/Low TX power selectable: Busy channel lock-out(BCLO)
  • High/Low TX power selectable: Busy channel lock-out(BCLO),128 Channels 50 CTCSS and 104 CDCSS Dual-Band Display, Dual Freq. Display, Dual-Standby, A/B band independent operation, Keypad Lock. Voice companding: 50 CTCSS/ 104 DCS coder & tone searching, Tri-color background light selectable: 0-9 grades VOX selectable. Large LCD Display, Emergency Alert: 12.5KHz Switchable, LED Flashlight: High/Low RF Power Switchable, Support manually program. Easy to program via PC. Support CHIRP quick programming
  • Tri-color background light selectable: 0-9 grades VOX selectable. Large LCD Display
  • Emergency Alert: 25KHz/12. 5KHz Switchable, LED Flashlight: Hight /Low RF Power Switchable

2. Yaesu FT-65R

This brand isn’t nearly as popular as the BaoFeng brand, but this is a close runner-up as the best HAM handheld radio out there. It’s more expensive (at one-hundred and twenty dollars), but it’s not the most expensive model out there. This product has been so good, that some customers confused it with a BaoFeng radio upon first glance.

This is another starter radio, but it’s extremely sturdy and has great functions for those who want a reliable device. There are so many options and functions of this radio that it doesn’t even come with the full menu when you purchase the item, and you have to go online and look at the full advanced menu to see all the functions. To see the manual for the Yaesu FT-65R, click here.

It also has great front-end rejection, so people who want to use this in urban and city areas won’t have nearly as much adjacent channel interference. It also allows you to manage your channel history, unlike most other HAM handheld radios nowadays.

There’s even a feature that filters out background noise, like an expensive microphone. This isn’t the cheapest option, but it’s worth it with all the added features. Beginners will be able to dive right into the HAM world with this little gadget by their side. Click here to buy on Amazon.

Yaesu Original FT-65 FT-65R 144/440 Dual-Band Rugged & Compact Handheld Transceiver, 5W - 3 Year Warranty
  • VHF/UHF Commercial Grade Dual Band Handheld Transceiver - Compact Design, Measuring W 2.1” x H 4.1” x D 1.2” (52.5 x 104.5 x 31 mm) - Rugged Construction; Meets IP54 Rating (Dust/Water protection) , MIL-810-C,D and E - One Watt Powerful Audio Output and Clear Audio from the Big Front Speaker - 5 Watts of Reliable RF Power within a Compact body
  • Three Selectable TX Power settings (5 W (High)/2.5 W (Middle)/0.5 W (Low)) - Over 9 hours Operating time with Supplied 1,950 mAh Li-Ion Battery pack *1 - Optional High-capacity 2,500 mAh Li-Ion Battery Pack (SBR-26LI) provides over 11.5 hours of Extended Operating Time *1 - 3.5-Hour Rapid Charger (SBH-22) Included (Using SBR-25LI) - QRK (Quick Recall Key) : Four User Programmable Keys for Quick Access to Favorite Functions
  • Large White LED Flashlight, Alarm and Quick Home Channel Access for Emergency Signaling - Versatile Scanning Capabilities : Programmed VFO Scan, Memory Scan, Priority Channel Scan, Weather Alert Scan - WX Channels with "Severe Weather" Alert (US Version) - VOX Operation with Optional VOX Earpiece Microphone (SSM-512B) - PC Programmable with Optional Programming Cable (SCU-35)
  • Transceiver-to-Transceiver Cloning with Optional Cloning Cable (SCU-36) - FM Broadcast Receiver Equipped - ARTS (Automatic Range Transponder System) - DTMF Operation - CTCSS/DCS Operation
  • Busy Channel Lock-Out (BCLO) - Battery Saver Function - Automatic Power-Off (APO) Feature - Transmitter Time-Out-Timer (TOT) *1 (Tx) 6 sec. : (Rx)6sec. : (Standby) 48 sec Duty Cycle

3. BaoFeng BF-F8HP 8

BaoFeng does it again with their BF-F8HP model. This radio has an incredible range and great battery power. This radio is another great option for beginners and pros alike. It’s easy to use for newbies and it’s a dual-band option that will let experts use both the 144-148 MHz and 420-450 MHz bands. And the price is only around seventy dollars, so it’s high-quality without being obscenely expensive.

This is also one of the most popular models of HAM handheld radios, and there are over ten thousand reviews for it on Amazon. All those reviews give this model an average rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars.

That means that 92% of people who left reviews for this product thought it deserved 5 stars. A 92% might not be an A-plus, but with a sample size of over ten thousand people, it speaks volumes about the quality of this radio.

If you buy this, just know that you have to reprogram it for use in the United States. The preset channels for this radio model are in the range used by the military in the US, and you really don’t want to get in trouble with the military or the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

BAOFENG BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery
  • Upgrades from our Previous Generation UV-5R: Twice the Output Power (8 watts up from 4 watts output), New Hardened Durable Radio Shell, 30% Larger Battery, V-85 High Gain Antenna (Twice the Antenna Performance), USA Support + In-depth User Guide Included; A PC03 FTDI Programming Cable is Recommended for Easier PC Programming
  • High / Med / Low Power Settings (8W, 4W, 1W); Frequency Range: VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx); Broad (Wide) / Narrowband (Narrow) Selectable
  • The BF-F8HP was designed in the USA and because not everyone is a radio-expert we really wanted to focus on providing an easier user experience! That starts with the new in-depth manual that guides you through the capabilities and customization of the BF-F8HP. On top of that the BF-F8HP also includes exclusive concierge customer help and warranty support. This concierge service is only available on select BaoFeng models such as the BF-F8HP, UV-82HP, and UV-5X3
  • Kit Includes: BF-F8HP, 2100mAh Battery, V-85 Dual Band Antenna, CH-5 Charger, CH-5 110V Adapter, Earpiece Kit, Wrist Strap, Belt Clip, User Manual
  • BTECH is proud to be in the USA, which allows you to have the best available local support for any issue that may arise. BTECH only engineers and develops radio products. That brand focus allows you to have the best available radios and accessories with the most features, with real USA warranty and support.

4. BaoFeng UV-82HP 

This option is also extremely affordable, as well as an extremely well-designed model. It’s a sturdy HAM handheld dual-band radio that works as well as any other BaoFeng product.

You can monitor two frequencies at the same time, but you can turn off that feature if it’s too much to keep track of. There are three transmittable power levels for both VHF and UHF.

Plus, the audio quality for this model is insanely good. Everything comes through crisp, clear, and loud.

Not only does this BaoFeng measure up to the quality of all the other BaoFengs on this list, but it also comes in a multitude of color options. If you’re a true prepper, you can purchase the camo version, so you can keep hidden and safe during intense survival situations.

Or you can buy a yellow one if you like yellow. To get one for yourself, check out the Amazon link here.

5. Radioddity GA-510

This radio isn’t the most sensitive one out there, but it is great for preppers. It comes with two batteries (so you’ll have a spare when you need it most) and it can transmit with power up to 10 Watts. The high quality is probably because BaoFeng makes this radio for Radioddity, but that doesn’t invalidate its quality.

Some have even referred to this radio as an “upgraded UV82HP.” The price is around the same price as the BaoFeng UV82HP, but this comes with that extra battery and a programming cable. It’s the same quality as UV82HP, but the added features make it a better deal and an even better product all around.

The product design makes this even more user-friendly. Most HAM handheld radios look complicated to beginners, but this one uses black and orange contrast to make it easy to distinguish between buttons and know where all the features are.

Radioddity is becoming more and more popular in the HAM radio world, and it’s not just because their products are great. They also have some of the best customer service out there.

Radioddity GA-510 10-Watt Ham Radio, Dual Band Handheld High Power Long Range Two Way Radio with Two 2200mAh Batteries & CH340 Programming Cable
  • ✔ Tri-Power & Long Range: A further and more impressive communication range comes from the 10W high power feature. The Radioddity GA-510 can be set in 3 power modes (high/medium/low) (10W, 5W, 1W) to give you the best talking quality under different circumstances.
  • ✔ Easy Programming: More convenient to manual programming most of settings via the keypad, as well as PC programming with the cable in the box.
  • ✔ 96 Hours Battery Life: Come with two 2200mAh high-capacity batteries this radio has a continuous working time of 12 hours under 10W (high) power mode, 24 hours life under 5W/1W (med/low) power mode and 96 hours on standby. Supports you longer, especially in emergency situation.
  • ✔ Dual Band, Dual Watch, Dual Display. Completed with a hard case outside, supports using for years, especially for business and outdoor using, like at the construction field, security work, survival rescue.
  • ✔ What's in the Box: GA-510 Radio, 2 x 2200 mAh rechargeable batteries, CH340 programming cable (work with win 11 or previous system), dual band antenna, charger, adapter, belt clip, wrist strap, earpiece and user manual.

6. Wouxun KG-UVD1P

This option works really well, and it should, especially since it costs one-hundred and seventy dollars on Amazon. The Wouxun KG-UVD1P is an incredible HAM handheld radio, and it’s as good as a military-grade radio.

It’s highly recommended by veterans and on-the-job firefighters. Wouxun isn’t the fanciest, but it’s great as a reliable communication device, which is really all HAM handheld radios need to do.

It can reach repeaters over thirteen miles away with no problems, and you can even charge it in your car, which is perfect for survival situations if the power goes down.

This radio can also handle extreme situations like heavy rainfall. It won’t work in the middle of torrential pouring, but it will work well as new as soon as it’s been fully dried off.

Some people have complained about poor quality (unexplained bugs, constant feedback, charging light coming on unexpectedly), but the best way to avoid getting a flop is by attending hamfest and picking out a good Wouxun KG-UVD1P for yourself.

7. Alinco DJ-VX50

If you’re looking for a pure survival radio, the Alinco DJ-VX50 is the one for you. For only one-hundred and twenty dollars, you can have a radio with an IP rating of IP67. That means that its body is so good at protecting the internal mechanism that it can protect itself against heavy dust, sand, and water.

None of the internal radio parts will be damaged, even after heavy exposure to any of those elements, which is perfect for a natural disaster situation. You don’t have to wait to use this after a natural disaster hits–you can use it during a hurricane to help people in dangerous situations without worrying about breaking your radio. And this radio will work perfectly for Skywarn weather spotting.

The programming is simple and easy, and you can even program from the little keypad on the radio with no problems. Beginners and experts alike can use this handheld as a great HAM TX and RX radio. And unlike the Baofeng models, it’s really easy to add a new memory from the front panel.

Just because this brand isn’t as popular as other brands (like Baofeng and Yaesu) doesn’t mean that it can’t be trusted. Most hams who try this brand and this model are incredibly impressed by the long battery life, simple design, and durability.

8. Yaesu VX-6R

This one might be a little more difficult to get your hands on since it’s been around since 2005, but it’s so good, that it’s still in the market. In this case, age is definitely a sign of the Yaesu VX-6R’s superiority.

This puppy can last for over fifteen years, which is longer than a basic HAM license. It is a tri-band with 2 meters, 440 MHz bands, and the 222-MHz band. In terms of survival, it’s good to get a radio with so much versatility that you know can last a long time.

The only downside is the price. It costs around two-hundred and fifty dollars, which is a lot compared to every other handheld on this list, but it is a tri-band that lasts a long time.

This model is known for its longevity, so it might be worth paying the extra hundred bucks to get a radio that will last a lot longer than any other model. You might be saving money in the long run.

Experienced HAM operators have tried many models over the years, but the Yaesu VX-6R is what they keep coming back to. You can check out the price here, or try to track one down at a hamfest.

Yaesu VX-6R 2M/70CM 5W 220 1.5W Dual Band HT and Ham Guides TM Pocket Reference Card Bundle
  • Yaesu 264-2M/70CM 5W 220 1.5W DUAL BAND HT
  • Ham Guides TM Pocket Reference Card Bundle

9. TYT MD-UV380

TYT Electronics offers a great dual-band product at a somewhat affordable price (around a hundred dollars) in their MD-UV380 model. It does its job; it has 64 channels per zone (which is fantastic for HAM), it has great audio quality on TX and RX, and it has a long battery life, but there are a few flaws that keep us from putting this at the top of the list. This is more of an entry-level radio. It works, but not extremely well.

This radio has some software bugs that make it difficult to work with. If you want the programming to work at all, you must use a cable to connect it to a Windows computer and do programming from there.

The side knob also is a bit glitchy when changing from channels, but it’s not impossible to use. The battery does last a while, but when it’s drained, it takes about ten hours to recharge fully.

Overall, this is still a solid choice. It’s not a perfect handheld, but it’s an option for someone who’s just starting in HAM and doesn’t know if they’ll want to keep going with the hobby.

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10. TYT MD-UV390 MD-390

This radio is also fantastic for survival situations. It is both water and dust-proof and can last a long time in heavy humidity. The body construction makes this an extremely durable radio, so you can bet it will last through any natural disaster or even during an apocalypse.

It is very similar to the TYT MD-UV380 model, just larger, and uses the same code plug. This is also a higher quality handheld, and it has an internal mic and speaker instead of the external mic and speaker that you see on the TYT MD-UV380.

The problem with the TYT is the software. Some people have complained about the software not working at all, while others have software that works perfectly. The drivers online provided on TYT’s website don’t seem to work.

This radio might be a great choice for some people, but others seem to get the short end of the stick. If you’re going to buy one of these, try and find one at a hamfest so you can make sure it works well before purchasing, instead of buying it online and playing a game of radio roulette.

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Wrapping Up

There you have it. Ten solid choices for you to take a look at. Be sure to do your research and find what works for you.

Most importantly, know how to use your gear. Technical equipment is not something you throw on a shelf and pull out when disaster strikes. There is a learning curve that you need to address well in advance.

Not to mention, it’s a great hobby that can have practical application when things go back.

Drop a comment below and let me know what you think should have made the list.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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