The Ultimate Two-Way Radio Buying Guide!
Two-way radios are invaluable items in a whole range of situations. You don’t have to be a hunter or a prepper to make use of these devices. From camping, hiking and orienteering to a family day out at a theme park, two-way radios allow constant, reliable communication with the rest of your party. They’re useful in an emergency, allowing you to call for help, and, when you’re split up from the rest of your group, ensure you can keep in contact and stay abreast of changes in plans.
To get the most from a two-way radio, the model or kit you choose has to meet your needs, so there’s a whole bunch of factors to consider before you make your final purchase. We’ve put together this comprehensive buying guide, along with our recommendations for specific scenarios, to help you make an informed purchase.
- Our Top Picks for Hunting Two Way Radios
- Our Top Picks for Hiking and Camping Two Way Radios
- Our Top Picks for Emergency Preparedness Two Way Radios
- Our Top Budget-friendly Two Way Radio Picks
- Our Top Multipack Picks Two Way Radios
- Our Top BLUETOOTH Compatible Two Way Radio Picks
- Our Top Picks For Cruise Two Way Radios
- Our Top Picks For Skiing Two Way Radios
- Our Top Picks For Kayaking Two Way Radios
- Our Top Picks For Paint Ball Two Way Radios
- Our Top Picks For Fishing Two Way Radios
- Our Top WaterProof Two Way Radio Picks
- Our Top Two Way Radio For Kids
- Our Top Long Range Two Way Radio Picks
- Our Top Pick For Two Way Radio With Headsets
Whether you’re keeping your two-way in your bugout bag or using it on a regular basis, there’s a strong chance that at some point it’ll be exposed to conditions other than temperate, balmy early summer days when the sky is gloriously blue, the sun is shining, and there’s a mild breeze to keep you cool. Even if a day starts out that way, Mother Nature can turn the tables in an instant. Therefore, the level of weatherproofing your two-way has is an important consideration. Some models are splashproof, able to withstand light rain, which is adequate if you live in reasonably temperate areas with light, predictable rainfall.
A better option is a completely waterproof two-way radio. These models can withstand heavy rain and many are submersible. Some can be submerged for 30 minutes at a time, without taking damage. And, if you use your two-way radio for fishing, over open water, or regularly cross bodies of water deeper than a babbling brook, a model that floats is your best bet, so you don’t have to dive down to retrieve it. Instead, should you accidentally drop it, you can simply scoop it up off the surface.
You should also check the operational temperature range, as if you live in particularly cold areas, or you plan to use your radio during the winter, you need a model that can operate at temperatures below freezing.
2.Weight and Size
When you’re carrying everything you need on your back, both weight and size are major factors. Compact, lightweight two-way radios slip easily inside a bag, attach to your belt, or fit in your pocket, without weighing you down. Smaller units are often more budget-friendly than bulkier options, but they may have fewer features and/or not have as much protection. Larger, heavy-duty two-ways that feature crush and impact-resistant construction weigh more but are more robust, making them a good choice for those who are tough on their outdoor gear.
3.Channels and Privacy Codes
The maximum number of channels on a standard FRS/GMRS two-way is 22. You have access to 7 Family Radio Service channels, 8 General Mobile Radio Service channels, and 7 shared FRS/GMRS channels. Before we get into any more specifics, it’s crucial to note that is you use GMRS channels, you need to acquire a license from the FCC. FRS-only models can operate on all 22 channels using the maximum 0.5 watts, but you’ll get a much shorter range than when using a GRMS or FRS/GMRS radio.
So, you’ve got access to 22 channels, but just using any of those straight channels, particularly in a busy area like a theme park, means that you’ll be hearing transmissions from everybody else on the same channel, and you may inadvertently miss a communication from a member of your group. Now, in spite of the common misconception, partly due to the term “privacy codes”, this feature doesn’t actually guarantee private communication. Instead, it filters out every transmission that isn’t sharing your channel and code combo.
The privacy code essentially adds another layer of identification to your transmissions, and filters out all transmissions that don’t feature this identifier. However, anybody using the “monitor” feature on your channel can hear your transmissions. Some radios have 120+ privacy codes, and when combined with the number of channels, your radio may feature in excess of 2,500 possible combinations. Radios with large numbers of channel combinations are a smart choice for those who may need to use their two-ways in busy locations.
Some two-way radios feature “call” modes that let you specifically call one member of your group for a private chat.
Whether you’re prepping for when the SHTF, camping, hiking, hunting, or any other outdoor activity, it’s important to have an emergency plan in place, and your two-way radio can play a vital role. If you find yourself in need of immediate assistance, a radio with an Emergency Alert function sends an emergency signal to other radios in your group. The type of alert varies between brands and models. Some combine the alert with a beacon that flashes S.O.S using international Morse code, while others transmit a loud alert to other members of your group that blocks any other activity on said radios and gets continuously louder until somebody responds to your request.
You can find radios that boast a “lone worker” feature. This is useful if you’re off on your own and you find yourself in need of aid but cannot reach your radio. An alarm sounds at intervals of your choosing. You must reset the timer within a short period. If you fail to do so, the two-way automatically switches to emergency mode and sends alerts to other members of your group.
While a flashlight is a very handy emergency feature, it’ll also prove useful at night, if you’re caving, or generally in low light conditions. However, using the flashlight for extended periods will drain the battery.
Range determines the maximum distance between which two-way radios can transmit and receive communications. FRS radios will max out at a range of around 6 miles, while GMRS radios can reach up to 50 miles, with power boost enabled. However, that’s not the whole story. The maximum range the manufacturers claim is based on testing under optimal conditions. This means a clear line of site, no interference, and no obstacles between radios. In the real world, the actual achievable distance depends on a whole bunch of things like topography, climactic conditions, obstacles, and interference. Generally speaking, the more “built-up” an area, the lower the achievable range.
So, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere, at the top of a big hill, with only a few trees in between you and the other members of your group, you’ll manage considerable distances, but if you’re in a residential or industrial area, you’ll be lucky to achieve 2 to 3 miles. The distance over open water will also be less than the maximum range, but greater than the in built-up areas. So, if you do need to communicate over long distances, choose a radio that can achieve a maximum range greater than you need, and bear in mind that your environment will determine just how far you can communicate effectively.
Radios the boast VOX, or Voice Activated Transmit functions, let you operate the radio hands-free. This is an exceptionally useful feature to have in a hiking two-way radio, as when activated, this function transmits your communication as soon as you begin to speak. To get the most from this feature, pair the radio with a high-quality headset with mic.
Make sure you know how long your battery pack or batteries will last on a full charge. Generally speaking, two-way radios either have NiMH or NiCd rechargeable batteries. NiMH are preferable to NiCd, as they operate at a wider temperature range, don’t suffer from “memory effect”, and usually last longer on a full charge.
As well as the rechargeables that they come with, many two-way radios will except alkaline or Li-ion disposables and rechargeables, but make sure you confirm this before you install them. Li-ion have the longest shelf life, last the longest on a full charge, and have the widest operational temperature range. If you plan to spend long periods outdoors, make sure you choose a two-way radio that can take disposable or alternative rechargeable batteries so you don’t run out of power, then make sure your pack is stocked with plenty of compatible batteries.
If you don’t want to keep using disposable batteries or don’t want to carry multiple sets of rechargeables, choose a radio that charges via USB, and hook it up to a solar charger. Alternatively, use a portable solar charger to charge a compatible solar battery, then hook the radio to the solar battery to charge the internal battery pack.
Mother Nature is notorious. However much we respect her, she can turn on us in seconds. Choose a two-way radio that does double duty as a weather alert radio and stay abreast of the latest alerts. Some constantly scan NOAA channels and automatically transmit alerts as they occur. Some also let you tune into a weather channel, rather than just receiving alerts.
If you are looking to cut the cord and communicate without messing with lot of wires, the blutooth option is a must have feature to look for in a two way radio. The Bluetooth compatible two way radios provides longer range group communication for mounted or dismounted motor cycle riders, campers and hunters. When paired via Bluetooth to the headset, the cord that connects the headset to your two way radios can be cut, resulting in a practical option for users looking for a common and hopefully low cost wireless solution for group adventures, bike riders, hunters and longer range communications.
|Radio By activity/Features||Two Way Radio Model||Range||Price||Main Feature of the Two Way Radio|
|Hunting||Midland GXT2050||36 mile||$77.50||camo design,headsets with mics, silent mode, weather alerts and more|
|Motorola MT350R||35 mile||$89.99||hands-free communication with iVOX, PTT, and multiple power options|
|Motorola MH230TPR||23 mile||$77.50||rugged construction, hands-free communication, headsets with microphones|
|Motorola TALKABOUT T465||35 mile||$79.00||22 Channels each with 121 Privacy Codes and Push-To-Talk (PTT) power boost|
|Motorola MS355R||35 mile||$86.99||Supports IP-67 standard, submersible in water and withstand rain|
|Hiking and Camping||Motorola T260||25 mile||$62.95||Compatible with Any Radio, 22 Channels each with 121 Privacy Codes, 11 weather channels|
|Uniden GMR 4055||40 mile||$99.99||22 Channels,121 Privacy Codes,Power Boost,NOAA with Alert and JIS4 Water Resistant|
|Midland GXT 1000||36 mile||$99.99||5 watts of power, up to 36 miles in optimal conditions,water resistant, and durable|
** Please note that range actual range will be affected by several factors including, but not limited to: terrain, weather conditions, electromagnetic interference, and obstructions.Typically manufacturer advertises the maximum range.
**Prices are written when we originally wrote the article and varies depends on many factors.
Our Top Picks for Hunting
- Our top pick for a hunting two way radio is Motorola TALKABOUT T465 two way radio. This excellent all-new Motorola TALKABOUT T465 two-way radio was designed with hunters as the primary goal, enabling them to connect wirelessly without the need to bother about the difficulty and hassle of bulky wires. The T465 comes in a tough green design for external use, an outstanding walkie-talkie for hunting, and emergencies as well as kayaking.
- Our next pick for hunting is Motorola MS355R FRS Waterproof Two-Way 35 Mile Radio pack. With Motorola MS355R radios, you will enjoy an amazing 35-mile range which is well suited for hunting on large area. It provides a battery life of 9 hours and what’s more they support AAA batteries to enable you to easily replace while you’re still out there hunting once the in-built NiMH ran out of juice.
- The Midland GXT2050 is a great buy as a hunting two-way radio. This set of two camo radios features everything you and your buddy need in a communications system when you’re on the hunt, including headsets with mics, silent mode, weather alerts and more.
- Our pick for hunting is Motorola MS355R FRS Waterproof Two-Way 35 Mile Radio pack. With Motorola MS355R radios, you will enjoy an amazing 35-mile range which is well suited for hunting on large area. It provides a battery life of 9 hours and what’s more they support AAA batteries to enable you to easily replace while you’re still out there hunting once the in-built NiMH ran out of juice.
- Another two pack, the Motorola MT350R can withstand harsh environments and rough treatment, boasts hands-free communication with iVOX, PTT, and multiple power options.
- When there’s a group of your needing hunting two-way radios, the Motorola MH230TPR 6 pack helps you all to stay in touch and stay safe. With a range of emergency features, rugged construction, hands-free communication, and 6 headsets with microphones, these compact, lightweight radios offer great value and reliable durability.
Our Top Picks for Hiking and Camping
- The Motorola T260 is a great choice of camping two-way radio. This particular twin pack gives you a 25-mile maximum range and is ideal if there’s just a couple of you camping out or hiking your favorite trails. This pack offers great value and the radios are lightweight and compact.
- If there’s a small group camping together or you need hiking two-way radios with a bit more distance, the UNIDEN GMR4055 4 pack is a great option, giving you an impressive 40-mile range, two dual docking stations, and 4 earbud headsets with mics and inline controls.
- With a 36-mile range, JIS4 splashproof construction, and a durable, rugged chassis, the Midland GXT 1000 4-pack is a nice, value-packed choice for camping, hiking, and any other outdoor activity for small groups.
Our Top Picks for Emergency Preparedness
- The Motorola T400 4 pack is one of our best sellers and is the ideal emergency preparedness two-way radio kit, with a 35-mile range, multiple charging and power options, and IP54 weatherproofing technology. As an added bonus, it comes with a free emergency survival kit.
- Tough and durable, with an ergonomic shape for comfortable use, the Olympia R500 is a superb addition to your emergency kit. It boasts a maximum range of 42 miles, IP67 dust and splashproofing, dual power options, emergency features, and repeater channels for maximum range.
- For larger groups, the Midland GXT2000 6 pack offers a maximum range of 36 miles, 50 channels, 142 privacy codes, weather alert functionality, whisper mode, fast charging, and a bunch of other useful features that make this pack perfect for your bugout bag.
Our Top Budget-friendly Picks
- For most of us, budget is always a consideration, and here at Digital Nerds, we like to offer you outstanding quality and value, so here are our top 3 budget-friendly two-way radios:
- Durable and reliable, the UNIDEN GMR3055 2 pack offers great value. These radios don’t have too many whistles and bells but they are budget-friendly, feature weather alert, operate hands-free via VOX, and give you a 30-mile maximum range.
- The Motorola MR355R 4 pack gives you 4 high-quality camo two-way radios plus a Survivor Emergency Kit. These weatherproof radios are budget-friendly and are a great choice for anything from hunting to emergency preparedness.
- The Motorola T100 triple pack is inexpensive, simple, and an absolute bargain. Quality meets value with 22 channels, auto squelch, keypad locking, and a compact size.
Our Top Multipack Picks
- For large groups, the UNIDEN GMR5099 10 pack is one of our top choices. With an impressive 50-mile range, these 10 two-way radios are fully waterproof and even float for easy retrieval.
- For up to 8 people, the Motorola MS350R 8 pack offers complete emergency preparedness, waterproofing, and hands-free communication at great value.
- This Midland value pack offers 6 rugged camo two-way radios perfect for emergency preparedness, hunting, camping, and pretty much any other outdoor adventure, with power boost, weather alert functionality, and hands-free communication.
Our Top BLUETOOTH Compatible Two Way Radio Picks
- Our top pick for two way radios with Bluetooth capability is Motorola TALKABOUT MU350R Bluetooth Compatible Talk about radio with optimal range of operation of up to 35 miles in the valley and mountains. The MU series radio allows you to pair your BLUETOOTH® headset with the two way radio so you do not need to use wires to your headset. With this radio, you still need to press the PTT button to communicate. For complete wireless communication you can also pair the radio with a wireless BLUETOOTH PTT button that can be located at a convenient location in your body. BLUETOOTH PTT button is sold separately.
Our Top Picks For Cruise
- Our first choice for two radios while communication with your family and friends is the Motorola Talkabout T605 2-Way Radio. It is a high-performance, durable waterproof radio that’s perfect for any water activity and with a range of up to 35 miles and the freedom to communicate wirelessly, the T605 allows you to keep in touch with your family members. Take a pair with you on your next cruise.
- Our next choice for cruise is the UNIDEN GMR3055-2CKHS 2-way GMRS/FRS radio which has a 30-mile range and an array of features, the UNIDEN GMR3055 2-way GMRS/FRS radio makes an unbeatable addition when you are going for cruise and this two pack of compact rugged two-ways make a solid choice. Better yet, with this pack, you also get compatible headsets for more convenience and versatility.
Our Top Picks For Skiing
Communication while skiing is important it’s easy to get separated from your skiing crew. Cell phones coverage may be limited in the skiing slopes. Instead of spending the entire day skiing by yourself, get yourself quality set of walkie-talkies (Two Way Radios) and enjoy hands free communication while climbing a steep ascent.
- Our first choice is most popular and reliable Midland GXT1000 radios – 36 mile GMRS Two Way Radio.For less than $90, you get an extremely capable radio with a ton of extra accessories. All in all, it will be tough to find a better Midland two way radio for this price. In fact, it would probably be difficult to find another two-way radio from any manufacturer with so many features at such a reasonable cost ad suitable for skiing.
- Our second option is Motorola TALKABOUT T465 has the optimum range of up to 35 miles in the valley and mountains. We have tested it with 2 mile range in the suburbs and we got clear reception with the power boost features. In the mountains it was giving amazing 25 mile range when used with power boost feature. Keep in mind that the actual range one will get from these radios or any kind of two way radio is determined by the terrain, climatic conditions and obstructions in the surrounding area.With it 25 miles range in the mountains,this is perfect solution for keeping in touch with your skiiing buddies.
Our Top Picks For Kayaking
One of the main things to consider when looking for a kayaking two way radios is to see if they are fully water proof.IP67 rating is the minimum supported rating that you need to protect the radio from water.
- Our first pick for best water proof radios is Uniden GMR5099-2CKHS 50 mile range two way radio. In addition to its extensive communication abilities, it has 15 GMRS channels for long range communication and seven FRS channels for shorter distances. The Uniden GMR5099-2CKHS can be submerged in water depths of up to three feet for 30 minutes with no problems. This feature makes the GMR5099-2CKHS desirable for canoeing, kayaking, or any other exploration on the water.
For more information about two way radio water proof ratings and water proof radio buying option,please read our detailed post, Best Five Waterproof Two Way Radios for Camping and Outdoor Adventures.
Our Top Picks For Paint Ball
Communication is vital to overwhelm your opponents when playing paint ball. If you have large teams with more than 5 players, then you need proper coordinated communication with your group. Even small teams can defeat the large team with precise and co ordinated moves by using two way radios. Small teams can prevail again large paint ball teams by exploiting the weak point using precise two way radio communication.
- Midland GXT1050VP4 is our first pick when it comes to playing paint ball. The GXT1050VP4, with its Mossy Oak camo coloring, was developed by Midland specifically for outdoor activities like paint ball. Mossy Oak camo coloring gives you stealth capabilities to hide the radio in your clothing so that you opposing paint ball team can not see them.
- Our next pick is Motorola MS355R which also has the camo design .The MS355R was designed for the outdoors activities and supports weather channels, and can operate on AA batteries if you run out of battery juice. The MS355R talk about radios support all 22 FRS and GMRS channels with a 121 interference eliminator privacy codes per channel which translates into awe full lot of combinations.
Our Top Picks For Fishing
When you are fishing, it is good idea to carry a pair of two way radios to communicate on a river or lake and you need something that would survive the fall in the water as well as floating on the water. Two way radio with a protection level of IP67 would be better choice for fishing and canoe trips.Fortunately we have few option with JIS-7 protection level from top brands.
- Our top pick for fully submersible two way radio for your fishing expedition is GMR5089-2CKHS 50-Mile Submersible GMRS/FRS Two-Way Radio .It can withstand 3 Feet water for 30 Minutes (JIS-7).Walkie talkies with a protection code of IP67 are able to be completely covered in water with no damage accrued and GMR5089 should meet your fishing needs with Submersible options and 50 mile range. This radio also has JIS-7 protection level.
- Our second option is MOTOROLA MS350R 35-Mile Talk about Waterproof 2-Way Radio that we covered in the kayaking two way radio section. On the open water, MOTOROLA MS350R 35-Mile Talkabout can communicate in distances of up to 6 miles apart.
Our Top WaterProof Two Way Radio Picks
In the wilderness, the weather conditions are constantly a factor. It is absolutely essential that all of our outdoor gear is protected from the elements including our two way radios. Thus, various manufacturers have developed waterproof two way radios. These walkie talkies are made to float in the water as well as submersible in the water for few minutes.
One of the more common codes seen in waterproof two way radios is IP67. The “IP” signifies Ingress Protection, and the two following numbers are in reference to different types of protection. Essentially, the IP67 code tells us that the waterproof two way walkie talkie in question will hold up under harsh conditions.
- Our Top Pick for water proof radio is Uniden GMR5099-2CKHS and this his waterproof two way radio by Uniden has a connection range of up to 50 miles. In addition to its extensive communication abilities, it has 15 GMRS channels for long range communication and seven FRS channels for shorter distances. An interesting feature of the GMR5099-2CKHS is its direct call ability.
Our Top Two Way Radio For Kids
Keeping an eye on your children could be very difficult at times. With that in mind, it might be made easier with the use of two way radios. The issue that always comes in reply to that statement is this one: Why buy a two way radio set when my kids already have mobile phones? Well, there are a couple of answers to that question. To start with, many people do not have chargers for their cell phones that they carry with them on a regular basis. Second thing is, there will not cell phone signals if you are on fishing or camping trip in remote areas. Having a two way radio presents you with a wonderful backup plan just in case.
- Our first pick for kids two way radios is Motorola MG160A.It is simple enough for kids to use and it has easy to see buttons and a blue color which is great for improving the visibility of the unit as a whole. Kids will find it very easy to use and it can stand up to a beating in the field.
- Our second option is Midland LXT118VP 18-Mile GMRS Radio Pair Value Pack with Charger & Rechargeable Batteries. This midland radios has a range of 18 miles
The radio has good range and can cover couple of miles in a city setting and You can’t beat the price on this one and very durable radio. As these are comparatively cheap walkie-talkies, many shoppers purchased them for their children as an improvement from kids’ play sets. As customers are fast to point out, the voice quality isn’t superior and the range and channels are not | really aren’t that extensive, however they are more than sufficient for the majority of kids.
Our Top Long Range Two Way Radio Picks
Longer range is desired if you are hunting in an open field or fishing trips and talk to your buddies. There are few radios which offers upto 50 mile range and one thing to keep in mind about the range is the type of terrain that you are using the radios. If you are using it in the open field, you will get more range as advertised by the manufacturer.
- Our first pick for long range FRS/GMRS two radio is UNIDEN GMR5095-2CKHS 50-Mile two way radio. It comes with headsets which is an added bonus. It has good reception and clarity in open fields and gives reasonable range when compared to other radios. If you are using it between trees and building, range will be significantly reduced.
- Our second pick is Motorola MU350 two way radio which we already covered in the BLUETOOTH Compatible Two Way Radio section. It has a range of 35 miles with blue tooth support and good candidate for biking and hunting.
Our Top Pick For Two Way Radio With Headsets
When buying two way radios, it is a money saving idea to buy the two way radios with prepackaged headsets for hand free operation. There are many models which comes with VOX support for hands free operation. The vox is the feature intended for using with a two way radio headset accessory. VOX is an acronym for voice operated Transmit and the VOX indicators on the radio tells you if the radio is on VOX mode or normal mode.
- Our first pick for two way radios with headsets is UNIDEN GMR5095-2CKHS 50-Mile Two way FRS/GMRS Radio. GMR5095 model comes with two headsets and ideal for hunting, boating, biking and skiing.
- Our second choice is the Motorola Talkabout T465 which comes with amazing features and comes with PTT microphone.It is designed particularly for hunters. The T465 Two Way radios’s are waterproof, immune to rain, snow and various climate conditions. There are actually 22 channels, using privacy codes, you will find over 1662 combinations of channel configurations.