Last Updated on October 30, 2020

Before the era of the internet and mobile phones, people around the world used amateur radios to communicate. Amateur radio was discovered in the 1890s by adapting radio waves into a communication system which was later called the amateur radio, or ham radio as we know it today. It was designed to provide the exchange of information through the use of the radio frequency spectrum.

Later on, came the two-way radio, the walkie talkie, and the hand radio. Since their upcoming in the 19th century, ham radios grew popularly for communication and found various uses, such as communication between different cities, countries, or even to space! Up to this day, the use of the ham radio is widespread – for the exchange of messages, radiosport, education, emergency communication, and so much more.

If you are reading this article, chances are you decided to buy one and you need help in choosing the best one for you. We did the research for you and sorted the best handheld radios available right now. In this article, you’ll get to read about:

  • Top 5 handheld ham radios
  • How to find the best handheld ham radio for you
  • Frequently asked questions

Quick Summary: 5 Best Handheld Ham Radio

Our editors go through and research, test and qualify our recommended products. We receive commissions on purchases from certain links.

  1. Best Overall 1. BAOFENG UV-5R Two Way Radio Dual Band
    One of the best dual-band radios on the market.
  2. Runner-Up: 2. Yaesu FT-65R Dual-Band Handheld Transceiver
    A dual-band handheld ham radio best fit for lovers of tech.
  3. Best for Beginners: 3. BAOFENG BF-F8+ 2nd Gen UV-5R Dual-Band
    A powerful yet compact amateur dual-band radio.
  4. Best Quality:  4. Kenwood TK-3402U16P Two-Way Radio
    A dual-band ham radio that is quite a powerhouse!
  5. Best Battery Life:  5. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld Radio
    A more affordable dual-band ham radio that’s robust and durable.

Frequency: 136-174/400-480 Mhz
Battery: 1800mAh Li-ion
Dimensions: 7.05 x 5.55 x 4.02 inches
Weight: 1.17 pounds
Price: $$

Our Pick

The BaoFeng UV-5R dual-band stayed on the top of the list of best handheld ham radios for years, and there’s a reason why.

Since its appearance on the market in 2012 it has undergone two updates and got features that made this product one of the best dual-band radios on the market.

Highlights

The latest edition of the BaoFeng UV-5R (2nd generation) provides 4 watts in the frequency range of 136- 174 MHz and 400-480 MHz. It comes with one built-in receiver, but it can act as a semi duplex and can monitor two different frequencies at once.

This unit can transmit either on Narrowband (12.5 kHz) or Wideband (25 kHz), and it is completely legal for use on amateur frequencies. An important thing to look for when talking about frequencies is the stability, and BaoFeng didn’t disappoint with this one – this model’s frequency stability is ±2.5ppm.

One of its greatest features is its quite lasting lithium polymer battery and its 128 programmable memory channels. Using computer software, you could easily add or remove channels and customize your operation. Plus you can also choose how far you’ll communicate thanks to its two power levels (5 watts maximum). Depending on obstacles, it would give you a range of about 10-20km (if the battery and power mode are full).

This radio comes with a CTCSS (Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System) which makes the sound more pleasant by reducing the noise by other users on the same radio frequency. The operating voltage of this two-way radio is DC 7.4V, and its output power is 4W / 1W (Max 5W). (1)

Beside paying great attention to the technical features, BaoFeng put a lot of thought in terms of the design of this handheld ham radio, so you can get exactly what you want. The BaoFeng UV-5R has 5 different cosmetical options: UV-5RA, UV-5RE, UV-5R+ (Plus), UV-5R5, and V-5R v2+. It is an overall compact handheld ham radio with dimensions 100 x 52 x 32 mm and it weighs  250g  including the battery and the antenna.

The bottom line is if you’re looking for a handheld ham radio that’s easy to program, reasonably robust, with great battery life, and numerous memory channels that are also easy to set up, this would be the choice for you. Hands down, this is the best value ham radio there is, with great features and a starting price of only $23.50.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • 128 Channels 50 CTCSS and 104 CDCSS Dual-Band Display
  • Dual frequency display
  • Keypad lock
  • Tri-color background light
  • Emergency Alert
  • Easy to program via PC

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • Only analog signal and not digital
  • Accessories are not the best ones

Frequency: 144/440 MHz
Battery: 1950mAh Li-Ion Battery
Dimensions: 2.1 x 1.2 x 4.1 inches
Weight: 3.84 ounces
Price: $$

Runner Up

A dual-band handheld ham radio best fit for lovers of tech. The FT-65R is one of Yaesu’s most sold transceivers, and there’s a reason why it ranks as the best handheld ham radio.

Highlights

We’re talking about a compact, well-constructed ham radio, built to fulfill commercial-grade standards. Because of its features that satisfy these standards, like dust and water protection, the Yaesu FT-65R ranks high in endurance in harsh environments.

The front panel speaker is fit to provide a full 1 watt of great audio quality. There are three power settings available: to ensure a better sound you can use the 5W alternative, or switch to 2.5W and 0.5W. Regardless of which power output you choose, the 1950 mAh Li-Ion battery on this radio will do a great job. Thanks to its high power, it is capable of providing up to 9 hours of operating time.

This two-way transceiver is highly and easily programmable too. It can be programmed from your PC using the optional software. If you wish to scan the channels in a particular frequency range, you can easily do that by using the programmable VFO Scan. Other available features are the memory scan, priority channel scan, and the weather alert.

In terms of design, we think it’s crucial to point out that the YAESU FT-65R’s newest design comes with a large white background LED display which is both vibrant and visible.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • It has 5 Weeks to 3 Years Warranty
  • It boast an IP54 rating along with MIL-810-C, D and E.
  • Crisp and clear audio

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • A bit more expensive
  • Not best for those who have no technical background

Frequency: 136-174/400-520 MHz
Battery: 1800mAh Li-ion Battery
Dimensions: 7.1 x 4.3 x 3.7 inches
Weight: 15.8 ounces
Price: $$

Best for Beginners

The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is another powerful yet compact amateur dual-band radio, specifically designed to give beginners an easier user experience and fulfill their needs.

Highlights

The in-depth manual will save you the trouble of programming since it will guide you in detail through the customization of your radio. But don’t let this give you the impression that the BF-F8HP comes with basic features – even though it’s easy for use, this handheld transceiver holds its high rating for a long time because of its quality and powerful features.

There are two power output levels available (1 and 5 watts) and a powerful 1800mAh battery which will last throughout the day. That being said, you can even use the FM radio all day and still communicate without the battery draining out. BaoFeng added a great feature for monitoring radio frequency while listening to the FM radio! The speaker’s output gives a great sound, and the noise reduction feature just adds to the overall audio pleasantness.

This handheld ham radio has 128 channels and a frequency range of 65-108 MHz (Only commercial FM radio reception); lower bands (VHF): 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx); decimetre band (UHF): 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx). You can also choose whether you’ll use broadband or narrowband communication.

Last but not least, it is important to mention that this dual-band radio has a V-85 High Gain Antenna that will increase your signal strength and allow you better communication. By purchasing this product, you also get a belt clip, hand strap, earphone, a desktop charger, and the in-depth manual. To sum up, if you are new to this, this could be the best handheld ham radio for you.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Selectable frequency
  • It has a “VOX” function (Voice Operated Transmission)
  • It has an “OFFSET” for repeater access.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • It has a slight issue on the quelch

Frequency: 451-470 MHz
Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion 2000mAh Battery
Dimensions: 9.4 x 3.1 x 7.8 inches
Weight:  1.98 Pounds
Price: $$$

Best Quality

A dual-band ham radio that is quite a powerhouse! The Kenwood TK-3402U16P is one of the best handheld ham radios by Kenwood.

The fact that covers a range of 370,000 square feet, 33 floors, or up to 7 miles clearly adds weight to this radio staying on the list of the best.

 Highlights

This device has impressive physical features: it is both water and dust resistant, the operating temperature range goes from -22 degrees F to +140 degrees F (-30 degrees C to +60 degrees C), and all of this carefully crafted in a compact shape. All of this makes this radio a great fit for industry workers, tough construction, restaurants, hospitality, factories, and so on.

The software is no less of a gem. The 2000mAh battery does a great job and gives approximately 18 hours of an interrupted workflow. You can also switch to battery saver mode after you get your low battery alert – a feature of this radio that comes in handy!

This handheld two-way radio has 16 channels (at 12.5 kHz channel spacing), 90 pre-set frequencies (451-470 MHz), a UHF tuner technology, all powered by 5-watt output. It is also good to mention that it’s greatly portable since it supports a hand-free (VOX) operation and is user-programmable.

Having all these features in mind, the higher price of this radio is understandable – if you work in a field of high risk and emergency, the Kenwood TK-3402U16P won’t disappoint you.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • 16 total channels
  • It includes drop-in fast battery charger
  • It is a water/dust resistant device
  • It can operate at a temperature ranging from -22 degrees F to +140 degrees F (-30 degrees C to +60 degrees C)

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • A bit expensive

Frequency: 144-148Mhz & 430-470Mhz
Battery: 1400mAh Battery
Dimensions: 2.28 x 1.18 x 4.29 inches
Weight: 13.1 ounces
Price: $$$

Best Battery Life

Yet another of Yaesu’s handheld two-way radios makes it on this list – this time, it’s Yaesu FT 60R – a more affordable dual-band ham radio that’s robust and durable.

Highlights

Due to its small shape, this compact ham radio is surprisingly portable and easy to carry around – it’s probably one of the best options if you’re going skiing or hiking.

The previous, complemented by the extensive receive-coverage and the new Emergency Automatic ID (EAI) feature makes this radio one of the best companions you can take on your trip. Additionally, there is the locking mode that prevents accidental changes of frequency. Design-wise, Yaesu put a good thought in this one and constructed a water-resistant, rugged die-cast case. The vast display is also quality-crafted and crisp looking.

This 144/430 MHz 5-Watt FM handheld receives coverage by both VHF and UHF bands. There are three power outputs available: high 5 watts, middle 2 watts, and low 5 watts. With the purchase of this ham radio, you also get the antenna, charger, and a 1400mAh battery. There are over 1000 memory channels available, all labeled alpha-numeric.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Dual Band VHF/UHF
  • 2 Meter & 70cm Amateur Radio
  • NOAA Weather Alert (2)

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • A little over a year lifespan

Our Pick Again

The BaoFeng UV-5R dual-band stayed on the top of the list of best handheld ham radios for years, and there’s a reason why.

Since its appearance on the market in 2012 it has undergone two updates and got features that made this product one of the best dual-band radios on the market.

How to Choose a Ham Radio that Suits You

In the ever-changing world of technology, it is hard to make the best choice at first. This is especially true if you’re a beginner in the field. The best handheld ham radio can represent different things to different people, but after researching we can help you figure this out.

The most important thing to think about when choosing your first amateur radio is to think of its use: Is it to be used for emergencies? If this is the case, you may want to invest more and look for wide coverage. Is it to be used for casual communication, or maybe for work in your classroom? If this is the case, you may want to look at the battery life. If you are in the dining and restaurant business, dual-band ham radios can also come in handy, and you may want to pay attention to their weight (since you’ll always carry them around) and included accessories like a headset.

Another thing is the price. If you are a beginner, you probably don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started. After getting your license, you may want to start with an affordable radio that’s easy to set up. In the list below, we’ve listed two perfect fits for this! On the other hand, if you are a lover of the good old ham radios, there are many fascinating radios with a variety of options to choose from… just keep reading.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's a Ham Radio & What can I use it for?

Ham radio, or by some known as amateur radio, is a device used for communication through the use of the radio frequency spectrum. Since “amateur” stands for “non-commercial”, these radios can only be used for personal needs using the radio frequencies assigned to the amateur radio service. Through the years, the ham radios grew popular not only as a hobby but also as an emergency service.

Why do I need a Ham Radio if I have my cell phone?

Let’s look at it this way: a cell phone has a power of 1 watt, while a ham radio has up to five or eight times more. This being said, when an emergency happens, thanks to the higher power the ham radio will transmit voice to a greater distance over sound waves. Another advantage of the handheld two-way radio is that it can broadcast to all available stations at the same time. Besides this, ham operators execute 24/7 monitoring frequencies, thus they can triangulate your position right after you send the emergency signal.

Last but not least, technology advanced in many ways, so the newest handheld radios are compact and easy to carry around. In a way, this powerful yet compact device – the handheld ham radio can save your life.

What's the difference between Dual-Band and Single-Band Ham Radios?

A single band radio is becoming a thing of the past because it only uses the 2.4 GHz band for transmission. This means that communication can be easily interfered with by other nearby electronic devices, and result in slowing down the wireless speed. On the other hand, a dual-band radio makes use of two bands – the previous 2.4 GHz band and the newer 5GHz band, which declutters the frequency.

How do I get an amateur radio license?

Every country has its procedures for obtaining an amateur radio license. Generally, there are different licensing levels (for example, in the United States there are the following: technician, general, and extra) that require a piece of certain knowledge. Depending on the level you choose, there are certain tests you have to pass, with questions concerning procedures, rules, safety, the inner working of radios, etc.

What are Ham Radio repeaters?

Ham radio repeater is what a phone tower is to cell phones. They receive all signals and broadcast it to the network.

 Conclusion

Since we’ve all adapted to new, easy-to-navigate technology such as cell phones, choosing a ham radio can be a tricky business, even if you have some experience in it. Of course, there are lots of features you need to pay attention to, but it all becomes easier if you have someone to guide you. Keep in mind, that the most important thing when purchasing a two-way radio is its purpose. We made this list to make your journey easier and we hope we helped you choose the best handheld ham radio for you.

You may check other guides here: Best Coax for HF Ham Radio, Best Shortwave Radio, and Best Multimeter among others.

For learning articles, you may click here. We hope these articles will help you choose products that best fits your need.

References

(1) CTCSS – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAQYfpETDdM
(2) NOAA – https://www.noaa.gov/

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