Two-way radios are still important in 2020. While smartphone technology has revolutionized how we communicate, there’s still a place for the two-way radio. For one thing, communication is more reliable, with the ability to communicate on the same channel being so convenient. For another, two-way radios are more durable, being able to take drops and blows that not even a smartphone with a protection box could take. Finally, the battery life of a two-way radio is much better.
Because of this, many people rely on the two-way radio for travel and for business. If you’re with your family, you may want to get a radio to keep up with them, especially if you’re in the wilderness or another dangerous area. If you own a business, you may want private frequencies so your employees can communicate with one another with no problems whatsoever. There are plenty of reasons why you need a reliable radio with plenty of range, channels, and other features.
However, it can be quite confusing looking for walkie talkies. You get bogged down by jargon. You get radios that claim to have a lot of range, but you’re unsure if it will truly cover that range promised. You’ll find radios that cost $20, and radios that cost $500. It’s enough to make you want to give up.
In this post, we will look at five 2-way radios that are ideal for you and your business. We’ll also look at everything you should look for in a radio, from channels to range. We hope this article will make selecting these much easier.
- What Should I Look For When Buying 2-Way Radios?
- Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best 2-Way Radio
- Budget Options
- What Is the Best 2-Way Radio for Mountains?
- What Is the Best 2-Way Radio for Long Range?
- Verdict: Your Best 2-Way Radio
What Should I Look For When Buying 2-Way Radios?
When choosing the best two-way radio package, here are some factors you should consider.
What Are You Using It For?
First, consider what your main use for these radios will be. For some people, they need these for a business. For example, if you work in a skyscraper, you may need a business radio that communicates between floors. If you’re using it for the wilderness, you may not need something as long range, especially if you are on a flat field with no obstructions.
The two-way radio comes in all shapes and sizes. For example, there are some that are thin and lightweight, and there are others that are bulkier with a long antenna. A bulkier unit may be tougher and have long range, but there are many times when you may want to buy something lighter, especially if you want to carry it around a lot.
A radio may have 22 channels from which to choose, and it usually has FRS (Family Radio Service), or GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) channels. For those who want GMRS, you need an FCC license to operate it.
Wait, What’s the Difference?
If you’re new to the two-way radio world, you may wonder what the difference between FRS and GMRS channels is. It can be hard to figure that out if you’re a newbie to the world of hand radios. Let’s look at the differences.
Family Radio Service – FRS
Family Radio Service is actually sort of new in the world of two-way radios. In 1994, RadioShack proposed it. Yes, remember RadioShack? At that time, frequencies were a problematic issue for two-way radios. In the 1970s, the FCC picked a frequency for the radios to operate on. In the 1990s, popular devices such as baby monitors used similar frequencies, causing issues. RadioShack proposed FRS as a special frequency specifically for two-way radios, which they use currently.
Being on a unique signal means that you’re not going to pick up other radio signals or phone calls. So now that you know about FRS, GMRS is the next to be discussed.
General Mobile Radio Service – GMRS
With GMRS, two-way radios still have the same frequencies as FRS. Because of this, FRS/GMRS may seem like the same thing at first. However with GMRS, two-way radios have unique channels that FRS doesn’t have. In order to use GMRS, you need an FCC license.
Why is this? One reason is because these are powerful radios that are modifiable to be even more powerful. So if you want to use GMRS two-way radios, you need a license. In the war between FRS and GMRS, GMRS has better audio quality as well.
For most situations, FRS is fine. If you’re outdoors, in decent enough range, you can get a solid 2 miles of clear communication. In addition, if you’re picking between FRS/GMRS, FRS is good for casual use.
In the choice between FRS/GMRS, GMRS is better if you want to use the radio more often and need a long range.
And that’s about it between the differences of FRS/GMRS.
How Much Does It Cover?
Different radios can have a long range or short range. One thing you’ll notice is how many miles they claim to get. The problem is that these miles are with ideal conditions, which is rare. Expect 2 miles of actual range, or a little more than 2 miles if you’re lucky. For example, some high-end FRS models can get up to 6 miles. Between FRS/GMRS, GMRS can give you quite a bit more.
The more watts of power a radio has, the better range it will have as well. You’ll get better range and have better sound. While the battery life isn’t as good, and they can be pricier, that’s the way you should go if you want the most range possible with your radio.
Another pair of acronyms you may see thrown around a lot is CTCSS and CDCSS, which stands for Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System and Continuous Digital Coded Squelch System, respectively. You see, even when you have 22 channels, that’s not a lot when you’re in a busy area. With privacy codes, a combination between your channel and your code allows for a unique signal that will reduce how much interference you get when you use the radio.
This may be referred to as an “interference-elimination” code in some cases, as privacy codes don’t encrypt your conversation.
The keypad lock means your settings won’t be changed. Since you are walking around, movement can sometimes mess with your settings, and you don’t want that. A good lock is easy to use and easy to unlock when you want it to be open, but it’s difficult to unlock when you’re walking around.
These are preset tones that can alert the people you’re calling. Some also vibrate. Think of it like a cell phone ringtone or vibration. This can tell you when you should pick up the radio and when you can leave it out.
A radio has the ability to scan around to look for empty channels or to find your group’s channels. It’s a special feature that you will normally want to use.
Hands Free Features
Many types of two-way radio may use VOX, or voice-activated, features. This allows the radio to automatically broadcast when you speak, which means you don’t need to use your hands.
Another feature a hands-free operation may have is the ability to use headphones, so you alone can listen to audio.
This is when a radio clears out any background noise and cleans up the audio, which is always important. Modern radios nowadays tend to have clearer audio than the radios of the past, but some put in more effort to clean the audio than others do.
NOAA Weather Radio
When you’re in the wilderness, you need to be in the loop regarding the weather. You can’t exactly look at a weather app and see what the conditions are going to be. A radio may have the ability for you to connect to weather stations for up-to-date forecast information, allowing you to prepare should you be out in the wilderness and miles away from civilization.
You may find a radio with GPS capabilities. You can show your coordinates through screens, allowing your party to catch up to you. Some of them allow you to text others your location as well. This is something found in higher end radios, so it may not be something you necessarily need, but it is worth mentioning.
In order to use the radio, you are going to need some batteries. It used to be that the radio would use AA or AAA batteries, and it would have a certain amount of battery life. However, many of them now have rechargeable batteries. Some will use both, which allows you to have both. Get the battery packs that are right for you.
This is especially good if you have a powerful radio. Though certain types of radios have battery saving modes that are available for you.
Does It Come in Pairs?
With FRS/GMRS radios, you can buy them in packs of two, four – the list goes on. Obviously, if they are using the same channels, then two different brands of radio can communicate with each other. However, one radio may have certain features the other radio doesn’t have. In order to have the most balanced communication, buying the same type of radio for your family may be the best move.
Is It Meant to Be Used in Your Country?
If you’re traveling internationally, you need a two-way radio that is usable for your country. If you live in the US, you can use a two-way radio meant for the US and in Canada, but in other countries, it may not be legal. In some areas, FRS/GMRS signals that are legal for the public use may be used by the government, and you may be in trouble if you use a radio not meant for the country.
You can find a two-way radio available at higher or lower prices. More expensive radios may have a rechargeable battery, weather channels, a long range, longer battery life, and so on. This is great for business use. However, a two-way radio that is cheaper may not have as many miles in range and may not have a rechargeable battery, but it may include weather channels and have enough range for a family trip.
For some people, getting a radio that falls in the middle may be a good solution. These have decent battery life, some privacy codes, and NOAA weather updates, but they don’t have all the unneeded features more expensive walkie talkies have. In the end, the best for the job depends on what you need it for.
Warranty and Customer Service
When buying a two-way radio, you should pick one from a company that has good customer service and a warranty. With customer service, you may want to talk to someone should you have a radio that has poor range or you don’t know how to access certain channels. Or you may need help with something else related.
With a warranty, you want a radio that has a company that will stand by their product. Should you have any problems, you can return it for a full refund or replace the radio.
Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best 2-Way Radio
We looked at two-way radios of different prices and uses. From how many channels they had to whether or not they were long range, we factored in all of these features and picked five unique types of two-way radio for different purposes. Plus, we tried to pick from radios that had positive reviews overall.
#1: Midland Radios (Best Value – All-Purpose)
In case you are looking for walkie talkies and you have a decent budget, but you don’t want to pay too much, these combine value with quality features.
First, you have a variety of packages to choose from. You can get a single, double, or triple pack. You can also pick from several colors – from a traditional black and silver interface to camo. Having some variety is always nice when choosing walkie talkies.
These walkie talkies have 50 GMRS channels along with the ability to scan for more channels. You can communicate in an open area for up to 36 miles, meaning that the range is quite decent. It does include 141 privacy codes as well, meaning you can select over 3,000 ways to block certain conversations.
Another feature this 36-mile, two-way radio has is NOAA weather alerts. It can scan 10 weather channels, giving you the ability to see any weather updates coming your way. When you’re in an area where your phone signal is unreliable, being able to access weather alerts is so important.
We should mention that this two-way radio is durable as well. It is splashproof, meaning you can get some water on it and you can still use it. The radio also uses AA batteries and rechargeable batteries as well. It comes with boom mic headsets, belt clips, and other features as well.
Reviews of this 36-mile walkie talkie have been positive overall. Most reviewers say it works just fine for its purpose. Some reviewers used it for a cruise and said it worked marvelously. Negative reviews were in the minority, but they were vocal, with one getting over 1,000 helpful votes. This reviewer had issues with the battery life, noise of the receiver, charging time, and channels that didn’t work.
Overall, this 36-mile walkie talkie is a good choice if you’re looking for something that can handle a small business or you need to communicate over a 30-mile radius. If you’re looking for a radio with decent range, channels, and battery life that will last, this should be your first solution. Obviously, you may need more range or you may not have the budget for this radio, which is why the others on this list may work out for you.
#2: Motorola RDU4100 (Best Overall)
If you have a higher budget and a bigger business, these 2-way radios may be what you need. These two-way radios don’t have any gimmicks or any fancy designs but are instead durable two-way radios designed to work.
First, look at the range. In case you’re using it for a business in a building with many floors, this radio can cover up to 30 floors. Outside, it has a range that is up to 350,000 square feet. It can cover long-range communication providing there are no obstructions.
This has 10 pre-programmed channels, meaning that it works well if you have different groups. It has 89 UHF frequencies for business and 121 codes for interference elimination. It even comes with three ways to scramble your voice so you don’t have any eavesdroppers – great if you need privacy.
These have rechargeable batteries and the ability to use AA batteries as well. They are quite water-resistant too, able to survive rain.
Reviews of these walkie talkes have been positive overall. All reviewers say they work magnificently, and as of this writing, there are no negative reviews to discuss yet.
Overall, this is great if you have a big business or need a long-range set of radios. They are expensive, but many will find that they are worth it. With the farthest range out of any of the radios on this list, a battery that is built to last, and a professional-grade unit that is meant for frequent use, we believe this is well worth it if you need the best.
#3: Obuby Walkie Talkies (Best for Kids)
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Who hasn’t used a kids’ walkie talkie while they were children? You probably remember them from back in the day. They were cute, colorful, and didn’t get much range, but they were fun to play with.
Nowadays, you’ll be surprised with what a kids’ two-way radio can do. This one offers 3 miles of communication, as long as the field is open. It’s able to mute any background noise, and it has 10 call tones a kid can choose from.
As you can imagine, there are many features that make these two-way radios child friendly. For one, it is extremely easy to use, with simple, big buttons and some hands free features. It’s also durable, being able to survive drops and water. This takes 4 AAA batteries as well.
Reviews on this walkie talkie have been positive overall. Most people say that these are impressive walkie talkies considering they are meant for children. Negative reviews center around people who got lemons, but the majority say that these kids walkie talkies with hands free operation are great.
Overall, this is a great radio for kids. While we wouldn’t recommend this for a camping trip, it’s great if you have a young child who is interested in a radio but doesn’t know everything there is to know about it. With a decent range and power for a kids’ toy, it’s an impressive unit.
#4: Motorola T100 (Best Low Cost)
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Two-way radios are available in different price ranges, including low cost ranges. If you have a low budget, or you just need some two-way radios for a family hiking trip, these work good for that.
The mile range on this is up to 16 miles. While not the best mile range around, this is good if you’re out in the wilderness or in another area with few obstructions. It has 22 channels as well, meaning it works well for small groups. it can get signals from FRS and GMRS two-way radios.
Since this is a cheaper walkie talkie, it doesn’t have rechargeable batteries or battery packs. Instead, it uses 3 AAA batteries. These AAA batteries can give you up to 18 hours of use, luckily, and will flash should the batteries be low.
Reviews on these two-way radios have been positive overall. Most people say these work great for the price. They are easy to use, have a good battery life, and a good mile range considering what you pay. A few reviews had complaints, with the highest voted critical review saying they couldn’t get the batteries out. However, most said the batteries were easy to take out.
Overall, this is a good radio if you don’t want to spend too much and you need something for a family trip. It has decent enough range for that. It’s not business grade or anything, but it doesn’t sell itself as such. We believe that this radio may be good for most casual uses.
#5: COBRA CXT1045R-FLT 37 (Most Durable)
Most walkie talkies are durable. They can take some drops and some splashes of water. However, many of them may not survive being dunked in the water. If you have slippery fingers, you may want to go with these two-way radios.
These have a rugged camo design and can survive a drop in the water. They are designed to float, not sink, meaning that you can get them out without any damage. Besides that, these walkie talkies have up to 37 miles of range, 22 channels, and 121 privacy codes. This means you have 2,662 channel combinations to choose from.
In addition, it does have 10 NOAA weather channels, meaning you can find weather alerts ASAP. This also makes it a great outdoors two-way radio.
One unique feature this two-way radio has is that it records 20 seconds of audio, meaning that you can replay if you missed what someone said. No more awkward, “Can you repeat that?”
Reviews of this two-way radio have been positive overall. Most say that this is a durable, reliable walkie talkie. The biggest criticism it has, which some positive reviews even reflected, is that the range isn’t as good as advertised. Some say it could only get a couple of miles of reliable signal. However, that wasn’t everyone’s experience.
Overall, this is a good radio for wilderness trips. It’s very durable and has that camo design that makes it marvelous for that. It’s also a good radio for those on a lower budget.
A cheapie two-way radio isn’t good for a business, but for casual use it may work well. Here are the top three cheapies.
#1 Budget: Cobra CX190-4
This is a 16-mile walkie talkie that comes in a pack of four. For the price, we believe it’s worth it if you’re on a tight budget.
#2 Budget: Cobra CX112
This walkie talkie has weather channels and other features you’d expect – all for an unbelievable price. It may not be bad for casual use.
#3 Budget: Wish Walkie Talkie
This is so cheap that we question its quality, but for the price, you might as well give it a try.
What Is the Best 2-Way Radio for Mountains?
Mountain climbing can be fun, but dangerous. When you’re in the mountains, you need to keep the group together, and cell phone signals aren’t prevalent. Walkie talkies can keep people talking during a storm or when the group gets separated.
A good radio for the mountains needs to have a decent range. You may be out in the open, but depending on your environment, some things may obstruct your range. In addition, you need a radio that has plenty of battery life. If you’re at a ski resort, you may want walkie talkies that have privacy codes too.
We believe the best one is the COBRA CXT1045R-FLT 37 for this. It has 37 miles of range and is quite durable. However, we believe that any of the walkie talkies on this list may help.
What Is the Best 2-Way Radio for Long Range?
If you’re looking for a radio with a long range, we recommend the Motorola RDU4100. This is a more expensive radio, but it has 350,000 square feet of coverage and up to 30 floors of coverage.
We should probably mention that a radio’s coverage as advertised is never exactly that. The land has to be flat with few obstructions. In reality, you tend to have trees, people, walls, and other obstacles in your way. This can reduce your range drastically. A more expensive radio can get longer range, but once again rarely as advertised.
If you can operate the radio under GMRS, this is another way to get longer range, even though you’ll need an FCC license for this.
Verdict: Your Best 2-Way Radio
With that, these are the best two-way radios money can buy. In case your mile range on your receiver was poor, here are the top five once again.
First, we have the Midland Radios. These are good walkie talkies if you’re looking for something that is the perfect mix of value and quality. It has all the features you expect, including a long mile range.
Second, the Motorola RDU4100. These are professional two way radios with 30 floors of long range. While more expensive, these are perfect if you need some professional grade two-way radio service.
Third, the Obuby Walkie Talkies. These are great if you’re looking for something for kids. It’s easy to use, has decent mile range for a kids’ toy, and even adults marvel at their quality.
Fourth, the Motorola T100. These are two-way radios that are great if you are on a tight budget. While cheaper, they have 22 channels, a long range from the price, and good battery life.
And finally, the COBRA CXT1045R-FLT 37. These two-way radios are amazing if you want something truly durable. Besides handling drops, they can float in the water.
And there we go. Enough two-way radios to keep you communicating for a while. Even though smart phones can do a lot more, there are many cases where radio channels are still important. When you’re in the wilderness and there’s no cell signal, you can’t call someone, but you could if they have walkie talkies. Besides that, it’s just fun to use them.
We hope this post helped you find the best two way radios for your situation. Good luck.