Selecting a Portable Handheld Two-Way Radio

Selecting a Portable Handheld Two-Way Radio by R. – Survival Blog

Recently I purchased a good two-way HT (slang for a hand-held Ham radio), and I thought I would share my thinking process behind picking it.

General Points

Here are a few general points. (Later I will get into the specific details.)

Conditions and Reasons May Differ

First off, I want to say that these are the conditions and reasons I used to make my choice. Yours may be different. I have a Ham radio license. This means I can operate within a wider frequency range than those frequencies covered by an off-the-shelf radio (FRS/GMRS). If you just don’t want to get licensed, I’m sure you can use the criteria I will go over to help you choose a FRS/GMRS/CB hand-held radio.

Not My Only Hand-held, Two-way Radio

Second, this is not my only hand-held, two-way radio. I have others that are inexpensive ($30 each). They do not match my criteria for a critical radio. Those $30 HT radios are made with $15 worth of parts and by what I would call “Chinese slave labor”. They work, are fun, and are inexpensive enough to take apart and hack. Get them. Learn with them, but I would never bet my life on them.

Money Set Aside As If Life May Depend Upon This Radio

Third, I figure one day my life may depend on this radio, so I put away the same kind of money for it that I would a primary rifle or handgun.

Criteria For Selection

That being said, these are criteria, in order of priority, that I think are critical when choosing a two-way radio:

1. It Works

This may sound obvious, but the most important feature is that I know “it works”. That kid-like radio you bought for Y2K, and hasn’t seen daylight since, is an unknown. It might turn on, but the conditions the battery went through may prevent it from taking many new charges, or even running for an extended time.

2. Weather Proofing

Consider this criteria of weather proofing in bold, in red, italicized, and triple underlined. If I had to chose between all the features below and weather proofing, I would chose weather proofing. I want this radio to function after swimming with it or in a hurricane. A two-way radio that is “dust and maybe sprinkle proof” is about as useless as a rifle that jams unless it is operating room clean and with very specific ammo.

3. Frequency Range Appropriate For Terrain

It must be frequency range appropriate for my local terrain and adjacent terrain. What’s usable in an apartment building may be useless in a mountain range. See my SurvivalBlog article on “Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies” for more details.

4. General Coverage

It much have broad coverage. Beyond the frequencies that it is designed to transmit on, I want it to be able to receive the following: AM, FM Broadcast, and NOAA/WX. GMRS and FRS are a plus too, but these are not as critical.

5. Security Through Obscurity

Security is important. I want the radio to have either a lesser used digital mode or spread spectrum capabilities. Digital modes are not encryption. But like in one of Rawles’ books where he uses a CB with SSB because SSB isn’t on all CB’s, I want to have a mode that my base station has and that fewer people use.

I have a few side notes:

  • a. DMR is the most popular digital mode.
  • b. Echolink is not really digital; it’s analog out the radio, later converted for VOIP.
  • c. Hand-held radios and even base stations using 2m or 70cm frequencies rarely have SSB. They are almost always FM only, making one with SSB a good alternative to digital in that frequency range. Ideally, I would like to hear all digital modes and transmit on a lesser used one. However, that choice isn’t always available.

6. Cloning Software

The radio needs to have cloning software. It must have something that will let you program and save the programming features of the radio. This lets you copy the same config from one radio to another. It also makes frequency rotations for your radios much easier.

7. No Fancy Rechargers or Weird Adapters

It should require no super fancy recharges with X plugs and a weird adapter. I want a normal 12v barrel connection and an adapter to charge off a car cigarette lighter. 12V barrel connectors opens a whole world of recharge opportunities when you have to get power from a variety of sources.

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Our IP Address: primary I’m James Wesley, Rawles (“JWR”), a survivalist author. I’m a former U.S. Army Intelligence officer and technical writer. I’m now a full-time novelist and part-time blogger and retreat consultant. I founded SurvivalBlog in 2005, and now serve as Senior Editor. Day-to-day operation of the blog is handled brilliantly by Hugh J. Latimer (“HJL”), our Managing Editor. (To contact JWR or HJL, see our Contact Page.) Because of SurvivalBlog, we are part of something bigger: a virtual community of some of the most brilliant people that you could ever meet. Despite our differences, we all have an interest in preparedness.