How to Select Two-Way Radios For an Off-Grid Emergency

When there’s a wide-scale disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, or flood, how do you communicate with others to get help? How do you reach out to family and friends to check on them and to see if they need assistance? During these catastrophes, the power grid may go down and cell towers may be inoperable. In such cases, you might not be able to rely on your cell or smart phone or landline.

That’s where two-way radios come in. They’re one of the most reliable means of communication not only during emergencies, but also when you’re off-grid in the middle of nowhere or outdoors.

Two way radios, then, are also necessities when you’re hunting, backpacking, or fishing, as well as other recreational activities where you can’t control the environment.

During these emergencies or outdoor sports, two-way radios may be the only devices that function.

Packing these radios in your survival or emergency kit will give you security and peace of mind. All you need to do is turn your radio on, push the talk button, and you’re ready to instantly communicate with a loved one or friend.

Uniden Hunting Walkie Talkie GMR4055-2CK

Uniden Hunting Walkie Talkie GMR4055-2CK

The Lowdown

We’ll give you the lowdown on what features we think are important in a two-way radio. Then we’ll give you 3 models we think do the job well.

What are Two-Way Radios?

They are radios that have the ability to both receive and transmit a signal, allowing someone to have a conversation with multiple people who are on the same radio frequency. This is unlike a cellphone where you can only speak to one person at a time.

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Two-way radios are relatively inexpensive and able to take a beating. They carry no user or roaming charges, contracts or monthly plans.

Two-Way Radio Features

Power

Two-way radios are usually powered by NiMH rechargeable batteries. Most also accept alkaline disposables, which are inexpensive and extends your battery life. During emergencies, these back-ups can be a lifesaver.

Waterproof

Your radio should be weatherproof, able to withstand rain. However, waterproof devices are better. They won’t malfunction even after they’ve been submersed in water. You might also want a radio that can float. The buoyancy allows for easy retrieval if dropped in water.

Weight and Size

It’s more comfortable to stow your radio in a backpack or survival kit if it doesn’t weigh much. And a compact radio means you’ll be able to carry it in your hands.

Range

Manufacturers often claim their ranges to be around 30 miles. Then, when you test the radio, you might only get a mile and that anything over is just static.

Ranges can never be achieved in the real world. The high estimate is based on optimal conditions, when the radios are in the same line of site, and without obstructions. Trees, rocks, hills, and mountains will impede your range. Climactic conditions, metal surfaces, topography, walls, buildings and houses will also impede your range.

Family Radio Service (FRS) bands have shorter range (around 5-6 miles) but don’t require a license.
General Mobile Radio (GMRS) bands, which are more powerful, with a range between 8-25 miles, require a license.

Emergency features

Radios with Emergency Alerts send an emergency signal to other radios in your group.

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Radios with a flashlight are helpful in emergencies, like when there’s a power outage.

Voice Activated Transmission

You don’t always have hands free. Voice operated transmit (iVox/Vox) turns your radio into a speakerphone instantly, allowing for hands-free communication.

Weather Alerts

Weather updates or a built-in NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radio from the National Weather Service is essential during disasters like winter storms and flash flooding.

Best Emergency Two-Way Radios

MOTOROLA 35-Mile Talkabout T400 2-Way Radio Pair

COST: $79.99

The T400 weighs just 0.43 pounds (with battery). It includes 2 radios, 2 NiMH rechargeable batteries, and 2 micro-USB wall charging cables.
The NiMHs last for 8.5 hours. When they run dry, you can use 3 AA batteries, which last up to 21 hours.
The T400 boasts a built-in LED flashlight, iVOX/VOX, 11 weather channels (7 NOAA) and emergency alert functions.

A scanner quickly locates an empty channel for you and your partners to use. With auto squelch, you can automatically cut off weak transmissions and unwanted noise as a result of range and terrain conditions.

The T400 is weatherproof, not waterproof and lacks Push-to-Talk (PTT) / Power Boost, and VibraCall, which allows for vibrating calls.

MOTOROLA 35-Mile Talkabout T400

MOTOROLA 35-Mile Talkabout T400

MOTOROLA T605 35-Mile Talkabout T605 2-Way Radios

COST: $119.99

The T605 weighs only .54 pounds. (with battery).

Included are 2 radios, 2 whistle belt clips, 2 NiHM rechargeable batteries, 1 Y cable adapter with dual micro-USB connectors, 1 car charger with 2 USB ports, and 2 USB charging cables.
The NiMHs last for 9 hours. 3 AA batteries last for 23 hours.

The T605 features an emergency alert button, iVox/Vox, 11 weather channels (7 NOAA), a built-in LED flashlight, auto squelch, keypad lock and keypad tone and scanning.
The T605 is waterproof.  It can withstand submersion in water of up to 1meter for 30 minutes. It can also float to the surface. And, with the water-activated flashlight, it’s easy to find in the dark.The T605, unlike the T400, has VibraCall and PTT which, when activated, extends the transmission range by increasing the transmitter power output.

MOTOROLA T605 35-Mile Talkabout® T605 2-Way Radios

MOTOROLA T605 35-Mile Talkabout® T605 2-Way Radios

MOTOROLA T480 Talkabout 2-Way Radio

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COST: $59

The T480, which weighs only .43 pounds, only comes with 1 radio, which accounts for the modest price. Included are 1 NiMH rechargeable battery and 1 micro-USB wall charging cable.
Two features make the T480 stand out. Besides the emergency alert, PTT and NOAA weather channels, it also has a FM radio that you can use to listen to your favorite FM channels. The flashlight automatically turns on during a blackout and when unplugged so you always have light.

With its affordable price tag, the T480 is a good option to add a radio to ones you already own or if you only need to buy a single unit.

With its affordable price tag, the T480 is a good option to add a radio to ones you already own or if you only need to buy a single unit.

The NiHM battery lasts up to 10 hours. 3 AA batteries last up to 26 hours.

A drawback is that theT480 is weatherproof, not waterproof.