Best Handheld Ham Radios: Top Picks for Every Amateur Radio Enthusiast has been live since September 2011, we specialise in both expert prepper guides, and a daily curated feed of the best prepper content online.

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, is a popular hobby that connects people worldwide through the airwaves. Handheld ham radios are portable, easy to use, and versatile, making them ideal for both beginners and experienced operators. With countless options on the market, choosing the best handheld ham radio can be overwhelming. To simplify your decision, we’ve compiled a list of the top handheld ham radios, each offering a unique combination of features and capabilities to suit every amateur radio enthusiast.

A portable ham radio is undoubtedly the most optimal option available to civilians for emergency communication purposes. While many popular “emergency radios” can only receive signals, which is suitable for basic kits, if you’re genuinely committed to being prepared, it’s essential to have the ability to transmit and engage in two-way conversations. In this review, we will explore the top models, as well as provide valuable tips on their features and accessories.

Ham radios can generally be categorized into three types: “handie-talkies” (HTs), which are compact and easily portable for field use; “mobile” radios designed for vehicles; and larger “base stations” intended for stationary desktop setups.

Although all these types are relatively small and can be theoretically carried with you, HTs are the most suitable selection for the majority of people’s primary bug out bag or emergency kit checklist. The objective is to travel with minimal gear, and while HTs may sacrifice power, range, and advanced functionalities, the advantages of portability make them the preferred choice for this purpose.

HTs operate on the VHF and UHF bands, enabling communication over short to medium distances, typically ranging from 1 to 40 miles. However, the actual range can vary depending on factors such as elevation and the surrounding terrain.

If you have access to a nearby repeater, which is an amateur radio station capable of receiving and retransmitting signals over a significantly greater distance, you can communicate with contacts located dozens or even hundreds of miles away. In some cases, repeaters are connected to the internet through services like EchoLink, allowing you to engage in conversations with individuals from around the world. Although HTs can establish communication with satellites like the International Space Station, such capabilities are generally not applicable to emergency situations.

For longer-range communication beyond standard VHF/UHF frequencies, High Frequency bands (HF) are utilized. While there are no technically classified HT models operating on HF, there are compact HF radios known as QRP radios, which are popular among some enthusiasts for recreational purposes rather than practical applications. QRP radios are characterized by their lower power output. Although the majority of individuals may not require this functionality, it is worth mentioning that HF bands offer interesting possibilities for advanced preppers in severe collapse scenarios. Below, we have included some options for those interested in exploring HF capabilities.


  1. It is important to note that while you can listen to radio transmissions without a license, transmitting requires a license. In genuine emergency situations, transmitting without a license is acceptable. However, since operating a radio effectively requires practice, it is recommended to obtain a license (which is easy to acquire) and familiarize yourself with the equipment before an emergency arises.
  2. Handie-talkies (HTs) are the most suitable type for portable kits for the majority of individuals. When all the components are combined, they are approximately the size of two decks of cards and weigh less than a pound.
  3. If you reside in an isolated area without other ham radio operators or repeaters nearby, HTs may not be the most practical choice due to their limited range. If you’re uncertain, consider purchasing an inexpensive HT to test the available options in your area before making a further investment or decision.
  4. The price reflects the quality. Brands like BaoFeng and similar Chinese brands have made ham radio more accessible for beginners and serve the needs of casual users who desire a device for “just in case” situations. However, they do not match the performance and reliability of well-established brands.
  5. Among the highly regarded brands in the ham radio community, Yaesu and Icom are particularly respected.
  6. The average expenditure for most individuals, considering the radio, battery, antenna, and other accessories, ranges between $50 and $200.
  7. There are various digital modes available, with certain modes exclusive to specific radio brands. However, when starting out, it is advisable to focus on analog transmissions before delving into digital modes, as they require a higher level of experience.
  8. The ham radio community is passionate and often delves into in-depth discussions that may exceed the level of detail you seek. However, if you are interested in immersing yourself in this hobby, websites such as can provide valuable resources and information.

1. Yaesu FT-60R

The Yaesu FT-60R is a reliable and user-friendly dual-band handheld ham radio, perfect for beginners and seasoned operators alike. It boasts a robust construction, making it suitable for outdoor adventures. With 1,000 memory channels, a wide frequency range, and an easy-to-read backlit LCD display, the FT-60R offers everything you need for effective communication.

Price: $225.90


2. Baofeng UV-5R

The Baofeng UV-5R is a budget-friendly option that doesn’t compromise on performance. This compact dual-band radio features 128 programmable memory channels, a built-in flashlight, and a durable design. Its affordable price makes it an attractive choice for beginners who want to explore the world of ham radio without breaking the bank.

Price: $33.99


3. Kenwood TH-D74A

The Kenwood TH-D74A is a feature-packed, high-end handheld ham radio designed for experienced users. It offers tri-band operation, GPS functionality, and APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) capability. With its large, full-color display and intuitive interface, the TH-D74A is perfect for users seeking advanced features and a premium user experience.

Price: $1,254.34


4. Icom ID-51A

The Icom ID-51A is a popular dual-band D-STAR (Digital Smart Technologies for Amateur Radio) handheld radio that offers both analog and digital communication options. With built-in GPS, automatic repeater list-up function, and a microSD card slot for recording and playing back voice messages, the ID-51A is a versatile choice for both beginners and experienced operators.

Price: $379.00


5. AnyTone AT-D878UV

The AnyTone AT-D878UV is a powerful dual-band handheld radio with DMR (Digital Mobile Radio) capabilities. This radio offers 4,000 memory channels, GPS functionality, and APRS support, making it an excellent choice for those looking to explore digital modes of communication. Its user-friendly interface, durable construction, and robust feature set make the AT-D878UV a top contender in the handheld ham radio market.

 Price: $314.99


Our Best Picks

Yaesu FT-60R

Among seasoned ham operators, the Yaesu FT-60R has consistently been considered a top choice, making it the most recommended option for the majority of users. Although it was initially released in 2004, the FT-60R continues to be highly regarded due to its durable construction and excellent performance. However, it is important to note that with a price tag of approximately $150, it represents a higher investment compared to the BaoFeng radios. Nevertheless, the FT-60R’s longevity and reputation make it a worthwhile choice for those seeking quality and reliability in their ham radio equipment.

Price: $154.95

Icom IC-705

The Icom IC-705, available on Amazon, is a popular and modern ham radio option that comes at a higher cost. It offers advanced features not commonly found in other radios, such as a touchscreen, Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Additionally, the IC-705 stands out as it can operate on both 2 meters and HF frequencies, providing versatility for different communication needs. In terms of user-friendliness among the HF radios mentioned, the IC-705 is widely regarded as the top choice. However, it’s important to note that the IC-705 does not include a built-in antenna tuner.

Price: $1,349.95


Budget Picks

BaoFeng UV-5R

The BaoFeng UV-5R (available on Amazon) is widely considered the top choice for those on a budget. Typically priced between $25 and $35, it offers affordability while having a wide range of accessories available. Its popularity has resulted in excellent community support. Although the UV-5R is not a top-tier radio, it serves as an excellent entry point into the world of ham radio and is particularly suitable as a first radio for kids. Another popular option is the BaoFeng BF-F8HP (available on Amazon), which is supposedly higher-powered at 8 watts.

Price: $18.40


Xiegu 5105

The Xiegu X1505 is a highly regarded budget-friendly model that stands up against much pricier radios. Xiegu radios are renowned for their exceptional built-in antenna tuners, which have garnered high praise from ham operators. These tuners have demonstrated remarkable capabilities, enabling transmissions from unconventional sources such as fire extinguishers and wire fences. The X1505 has received favorable comparisons to the Elecraft KX2, a higher-end radio, yet it comes at a significantly lower price point, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious users.

Price: $599


Upgrade Picks

Yaesu FT3DR

Price: $519

Yaesu VX-6R

Price: $249.95


When it comes to upgrade options, there are two distinct paths to consider. The first is the Yaesu FT3DR, which boasts a touchscreen interface and built-in digital messaging capabilities. The second option is the Yaesu VX-6R, which is a highly durable tri-band radio. Both radios are exceptional in their own right, catering to different requirements and preferences.

It’s important to note that low-power portable “QRP” HF radios are not recommended for beginners. In the United States, operating these radios requires an advanced General license, and HF transmissions involve a steeper learning curve compared to VHF and UHF. It is advisable for newcomers to start with a 100-watt radio, as they provide a more accessible entry point. However, low-power HF radios can still serve a valuable purpose in field operations.

Elecraft KX2

Price: $999.95

Elecraft KX3

Price: $1,479.95


Lastly, the Elecraft KX2 and Elecraft KX3 radios are often considered the pinnacle of prepping radios. While they come with a higher price tag, their ruggedness and modular design make them suitable for a wide range of radio tasks (assuming you have the funds for the necessary accessories). It’s worth noting that these radios hold the distinction of being the only standalone HF radios currently manufactured in the United States.



While these models may not be currently regarded as top picks, they are still worth considering if you are seeking additional shopping options:

  1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP
  2. Icom IC-V86
  3. Wouxun KG-UV9D
  4. Yaesu FT-4XR
  5. Yaesu FT-70DR

What About BaoFeng?

Let’s address the prominent topic: BaoFeng, a Chinese manufacturer, has gained significant attention in the ham radio market with their affordable handie-talkies like the UV-5R and BF-FH8. When newcomers seek recommendations on platforms like social media, they often receive suggestions for BaoFeng due to its affordability and popularity among entry-level preppers.

However, experienced hams often express concerns as these radios fall into the “you get what you pay for” category. The lower barrier to entry has attracted a substantial number of newbies who sometimes neglect proper rules and etiquette. Given that the airwaves are public, being a responsible “radio citizen” is crucial to avoid causing issues for others, such as disruptive “kerchunking” of repeaters.

In fact, it’s advisable to refrain from disclosing the use of a BaoFeng when communicating with unfamiliar hams.

The bottom line is that BaoFengs, despite generating controversy, serve as suitable options for individuals who want a basic radio while they learn the essentials and obtain their license. Once they become familiar with ham radio operations, many choose to invest in better-quality equipment for long-term use, while keeping the BaoFengs as additional devices or passing them on to family members.


✔ Affordability: They often cost less than $50 to get started.

✔ Popularity: Their widespread use ensures a wide range of accessories and online tutorials.

✔ Easy Programming: They can be conveniently programmed using the free CHIRP software.

✔ Additional Features: They come with a built-in flashlight and FM receiver.

✔ Expanded Frequencies: They can transmit on frequencies that are typically inaccessible to other ham radios.


Lack of Durability: BaoFengs are not ruggedly built.

Signal Quality: They may produce noisy and less clean signals.

Weaker Reception: Their reception capabilities are comparatively weaker than superior models.

Slow Scanning: BaoFengs may have slower frequency scanning capabilities.

Manual Programming Difficulty: Programming them manually can be challenging.

Transmit Power Discrepancy: They tend to offer lower transmit power than advertised.

Non-Standard Frequencies: BaoFengs can transmit on frequencies that are typically not authorized for ham radio use.

Following the Rules vs. Having Flexibility in an Emergency

The last point about BaoFengs being able to transmit on frequencies outside the usual ham radio range can be seen as both a pro and a con. Here’s an explanation:

✔ Pro: Having the capability to transmit on non-standard frequencies can be beneficial for prepping purposes. It allows for communication across various bands such as GMRS or FRS, providing versatility in emergency situations where different radio services may be utilized.

Con: From a legal standpoint, it is important to adhere to regulations regarding the use of specific frequency blocks for different radio types. BaoFengs, while approved by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), operate in a gray area due to their lack of transmission limits. This has raised concerns among the ham radio community and even led to discussions of potential bans by the FCC. It is crucial to respect and follow the rules set forth to avoid interfering with other radio services, such as those used by paramedics and fire departments, who rely on clear communication channels.

In summary, while the ability of BaoFengs to transmit on various bands can offer advantages in certain scenarios, it is important to ensure compliance with regulations and prioritize responsible use of radio frequencies.

Many reputable brands design their ham radios to operate exclusively within the amateur bands and prevent transmission outside of those frequencies. However, these radios can be modified to extend their transmission capabilities, commonly known as a MARS or CAP mod. MARS refers to the Military Affiliate Radio System, while CAP stands for Civil Air Patrol. The modification typically involves removing a specific component, such as a resistor or diode, and some ham radio retailers may offer this modification as an additional service for a fee when purchasing a new radio.

Portable Radio Features

Finding a single ham radio model that fulfills all desired specifications can be challenging, often requiring tradeoffs. While there may be individuals who desire a tri-band handheld transceiver (HT) with features like a BNC antenna connector, lithium-ion battery, high IP rating, and more, such an all-inclusive radio is currently non-existent. Even if it were available, it would likely come with a substantial price tag, potentially reaching around $1,000. Therefore, it’s essential to prioritize features based on personal requirements and expectations when selecting a ham radio.

  1. Bands: Ideally, you want a radio that covers both the 2m VHF and 70cm UHF bands. While most radios fulfill this requirement, some models, such as the Icom IC-V86 and IC-U86, only cover one band. Single-band radios tend to offer better performance on the specific band they focus on. Additionally, there are tri-band radios like the Yaesu VX-6R that include the less-commonly used 1.25m VHF band.
  2. Transmit power: The standard for HTs is 5 watts, which is the minimum recommended power output. While some BaoFeng radios advertise 5 watts or more, their actual transmit power may fall short of that claim.
  3. Battery: Many newer HTs come with a lithium-ion battery (Li-ion), while older models like the Yaesu FT-60R utilize nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Consider factors such as the availability and cost of spare batteries, the option for extended batteries, and whether the radio can be powered by standard AA batteries with an adapter.
  4. Backlight: A desirable feature is a keypad and display that illuminate when buttons are pressed, which has become a standard feature in most radios.
  5. Antenna: The included rubber duck antennas are a compromise, but their quality can vary. Some radios, like the UV-5R, come with subpar antennas that can be easily replaced. Additionally, consider the antenna connector type. SMA connectors are standard but can be fragile and challenging to install and remove. The ideal connector is BNC, which offers easy twisting on and off. If the radio has a different connector, inexpensive adapters can be used to connect BNC antennas.
  6. Ruggedness: Especially in more expensive radios, it’s desirable to have a certain level of dust and water resistance. Look for IP ratings, such as IP68, which indicate total dust protection and long-term submersion protection.
  7. Ease of programming: Different radios vary in their programming ease. Japanese brands like Yaesu and Icom tend to be more user-friendly for manual programming compared to BaoFeng radios. This is important when you need to input frequencies or program repeater information in the field. Reading radio reviews or downloading the manual can help determine if the programming procedure suits your preferences. Also, consider radios that are compatible with open-source software like CHIRP.
  8. Memories and channels: A built-in address book or memory is beneficial to avoid the need to remember specific frequencies, such as those of local repeaters. For example, the Yaesu FT-60R can store 1,000 channels, while BaoFeng radios typically offer 128 channels.
  9. Digital modes: Higher-end radios like the Yaesu FT3DR support features like text messaging through APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System). There are also proprietary digital voice modes to be aware of.
  10. GPS: Some high-end HTs feature a built-in GPS receiver, which can be highly useful in situations where wilderness rescue or precise location information is necessary.
  11. Weather channels: All HTs can pick up NOAA weather stations, but better radios often have pre-programmed weather channels to save memory space. Certain radios may even offer weather alerts.
  12. Accessories: Consider the availability of accessories beyond antennas and batteries. Explore the market for items like handheld microphones and headsets that you may find useful in the future.

Accessories to Consider

Here are some recommended accessories for BaoFeng radios:

  1. Data cable: A data cable is essential for connecting the radio to a computer, allowing easier programming with software like CHIRP.
  2. SMA to BNC adapter: Since most HTs use fragile and tedious SMA antenna connectors, an adapter like the Diamond Antenna BNCJ-SMAP enables easy twist-on and twist-off functionality with BNC connectors. Using a removable adhesive like Blue Loctite can help secure the adapter.
  3. Better antenna: While Icom and Yaesu radios usually come with decent antennas, upgrading to a flexible antenna like the Signal Stick, which can be purchased with a BNC connector, can enhance performance.
  4. Slim jim antenna: Consider purchasing a roll-up “slim jim” antenna, such as those offered by Nelson Antennas and N9TAX, for improved performance compared to standard “rubber duck” antennas. These can be hung in a tree for better signal reception.
  5. Extra batteries: Carrying at least one spare battery is a good practice. Some radios offer higher-capacity battery options, although they may be larger in size.
  6. AA battery adapter: Many HTs have optional battery packs that can accommodate standard AA batteries, providing additional power options.
  7. Solar charger: BaoFeng radios typically have USB chargers that can connect to USB solar chargers. For radios without a direct charging method, rechargeable AA batteries with a AA battery adapter can be paired with a USB battery charger.
  8. Headsets and microphones: Explore the availability of headsets and shoulder microphones for hands-free operation with your HT.

Digital Modes

Did you know that there are several digital modes available for amateur radio communication? While voice communication is predominant on the 2m and 70cm bands, there are digital modes that offer features like text messaging and improved voice quality. It’s important to consider whether you’re interested in using any of these modes before purchasing a radio.

One of the oldest digital standards is Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS), which enables the transmission of text messages and data over the airwaves. Any handheld transceiver (HT) can support APRS with the right adapter and smartphone apps like APRSdroid or Some higher-end radios, such as the Yaesu FT3DR, even have built-in APRS capabilities.

If you’re curious to explore APRS, you can use the website to locate nearby APRS stations. The standard frequency for APRS in the US is 144.8. Tune in and see if you can detect any digital signals!

Different vendors support various digital modes. Icom promotes the open D-STAR mode, while Yaesu offers their proprietary System Fusion and WIRES-X modes. DMR (Digital Mobile Radio) is gaining popularity, but you won’t find it in Icom or Yaesu radios. Instead, models from Alinco, Anytone, TYT, and other manufacturers support DMR. However, Yaesu does produce a repeater that allows System Fusion and DMR to work together.

It’s important to note that no single radio supports all digital modes. To determine if the repeaters in your area support the specific modes you’re interested in, I recommend checking RepeaterBook. Ham radio operators often acquire radios specifically dedicated to a particular digital mode.

These digital modes primarily apply to VHF and UHF frequencies. The world of digital protocols for HF (high-frequency) communication operates differently and offers its own set of digital modes.

Portable HF Radios

Including an HF transceiver in most go-bags may not be practical for several reasons. Firstly, to fully utilize HF frequencies, a General license, which is more challenging to obtain than the basic Technician license, is required in the United States.

Secondly, HF operations are more complex compared to VHF/UHF, necessitating larger radios and more intricate antenna setups. Additionally, HF is primarily utilized for long-distance communication rather than short-range communication due to skip zones.

Nevertheless, experienced operators like OH8STN enjoy taking their HF radios into the field, and having a portable HF radio can be advantageous. Technically, any radio can be considered portable if you have the strength and connect a battery to it. The following models are battery-powered HF transceivers that can be conveniently packed into a go-bag.

It is important to understand that these models are QRP radios, which means they operate at lower power levels. You can expect an output of 5-10 watts at most, as opposed to HF base stations that typically deliver 100 watts. The lower power output can be challenging for phone communications since a high-powered operator may unintentionally overpower your signal. Many QRP operators leverage CW (Morse code) or a wide range of digital modes such as PSK, FT8, JS8Call, WSPR, and many more.

Another crucial aspect to consider is that there isn’t necessarily a “better” HF radio among the available options. Due to limited production and individual strengths and weaknesses, each model has its own merits. If you are new to HF operations, the models listed below may be too advanced, and it would be advisable to start with a more beginner-friendly option such as the Icom IC-7300 or a 20-watt Xiegu G90.

Xiegu 5105

Xiegu is an emerging Chinese radio manufacturer that offers a range of radio products. One notable model is the Xiegu 5105, which has received positive reviews as an affordable QRP radio option starting at $500. It has been favorably compared to the more expensive Elecraft KX2. The Xiegu 5105 boasts several appealing features, including a built-in antenna tuner, a BNC antenna connector, and the ability to upgrade its firmware. For those interested in exploring QRP radios, the Xiegu 5105 serves as an excellent entry point with its attractive features and budget-friendly price.

Price: $599

Icom IC-705

The Icom IC-705 has gained significant popularity and is considered a cutting-edge device in the world of ham radio. It stands out by incorporating modern features commonly found in smartphones but not typically seen in ham radios. These include a touch screen, Bluetooth, GPS, and a single USB port for data connectivity. With the included external power supply, it can output 10 watts or operate at 5 watts when using the battery. Its 4.3-inch screen provides a real-time spectrum scope and waterfall display, enabling users to visually observe active frequencies. Additionally, it supports transmission on the 2m band and allows for FM and Airband listening.

The Icom IC-705 is recognized as one of the most user-friendly HF radios available. However, with a starting price of $1,300, it may not be the most budget-friendly option. It’s important to note that it does not include a built-in antenna tuner.

Price: $1,349.95

Elecraft KX2 and KX3

Price: $999.5 –  $1,479.95


Portable HF Antennas

When engaging in portable HF operations, the key lies in finding an appropriate antenna for effective transmission. It’s crucial to have an antenna that resonates on your desired frequency, allowing for optimal signal reception and transmission.

This aspect becomes even more critical when operating with low power (QRP), as you can’t afford to waste power on a suboptimal antenna. However, it’s equally important to consider portability and avoid large HF wire antennas that are impractical to carry in a go-bag.

In case your antenna is not resonant, you might require an antenna tuner. It’s worth noting that tuners don’t magically enhance antenna performance. Rather, they help balance impedance mismatches, reduce SWR (standing wave ratio), and safeguard your radio from potential damage. The Xiegu 5105 comes equipped with a reliable built-in tuner, while Elecraft radios offer add-on tuner boards for an additional cost. For radios lacking an internal tuner like the Icom IC-705, an external tuner such as the Icom AH-705 can be paired. However, if possible, it’s preferable to minimize the need for an extra tuner as they can be costly and add bulk to your equipment.

Antenna theory and design have been extensively covered in numerous books. Here are a few practical approaches to field antennas that are easily accessible:

  1. Whip antennas: These compact and adjustable antennas, like Elecraft’s AX1 telescoping whip, offer portability. While they have received mixed reviews, some operators have successfully attached CB radio antennas to their Xiegu X5105, enabling HT-like usage and successful contacts.
  2. Lightweight wire antennas: Instead of carrying multiple dipoles tuned for specific bands, you can opt for end-fed half-wave (EFHW) antennas. These antennas can function well across multiple frequencies, even without a tuner. The Chameleon EMCOMM III Portable is a highly durable and compact option favored by experts.
  3. Hanging wire antennas: If you choose a wire antenna, be prepared to hoist it high in a tree. The traditional method involves attaching a long cordage to a rock, throwing it into the tree’s top, and then pulling the antenna up. Another approach is using a slingshot to shoot a string-tied nut into the tree. Enhance the process by employing a fishing reel along with the slingshot.
  4. Portable vertical antennas: While bulkier, portable verticals like the Wolf River Coil TIA offer the advantage of adjustability to different frequencies. This adjustability reduces the necessity for a tuner.
  5. Improvised antennas: For added versatility, include wire, alligator clips, and a BNC adapter in your go-bag. These tools allow you to transform almost any metallic object into an antenna. However, it’s crucial to note that this method requires a reliable tuner, such as the one found in the Xiegu 5105.

By selecting the antenna option that best suits your requirements and provides optimal performance, you can enhance your portable HF operations.


The best handheld ham radio for you depends on your needs, preferences, and budget. Each of the radios listed above offers unique features and capabilities to suit a variety of users, from beginners to experienced operators. When choosing a handheld ham radio, consider factors such as ease of use, durability, frequency range, and available features to find the perfect fit for your amateur radio journey.