It’s true that a large segment of ham radio fans is comprised of the elderly, though the community affectionately calls them Elmers.
But the ham radio industry keeps humming along, even in this age of the ubiquitous smartphone. New enthusiasts keep joining in the fun, which is why there’s always a market for the best ham radio for beginners.
Best Ham Radio for Beginners in 2020
Which one is best for newbies? We’ve looked over the various options and now give you a list of starter ham radios that works best for those just starting out.
1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
The Baofeng brand is bound to appear on a list like this, since it’s renowned for offering very affordable ham radio models. This BF-F8HP is actually one of their more advanced models, but its price is still good enough for beginners.
Your money pretty much gets you an entire kit, considering the number of accessories you get. This comes with a belt clip and hand strap to make it easier for you to carry around. It comes with a power adapter and a battery charger, along with a free earpiece.
More importantly, it comes with an excellent manual. Even experienced ham radio enthusiasts need a good manual for a new ham radio, since every model is different. This is even more important for newbies. Baofeng realized this, which is why they came up with a brand-new in-depth manual for this model.
They even offer a “concierge” service with their customer support. If you have questions and need guidance, you’re not on your own. This model comes with some advanced features, and you’re certainly going to need assistance.
The battery is also considerably larger than the ones featured in earlier generations of the UV-5R (this is the 3rd gen). Even with high transmit power, it can last for 20 hours. It’s also great to power the device as you use it to get FM radio or as a flashlight.
- High power output up to 8 watts
- Long-lasting battery
- Plenty of free accessories so you don’t have to bother buying them on your own
- A very detailed manual that can give you the guidance you need for every step
- Concierge service for custom customer support
2. BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Radio
This also comes with the Baofeng concierge service, because this isn’t an entry-level model either. It does have various features that make life easier for newbies.
These include a louder speaker so that you can understand what you’re hearing. The case is much more solid, and the buttons are larger making them easier for your large fingertips. More importantly, the user guide offers an in-depth look how this thing works, and it spans 80 pages. You have lots of studying ahead of you, but it can be a lot of fun to discover new functions along the way.
- The user manual is written in good clear English, and it comes with illustrations
- It even comes in a variety of colors (some newbies think these are also fashion accessories like smartphones)
- You have 128 channels you can program to a specific frequency
- The solid case is great as you hold it, and it can probably survive an accidental drop to the floor
- There’s a frequency lockout to keep you from inadvertent frequency changes
3. BTECH Mobile UV-50X2 50-Watt Dual Band Base Ham Radio
This is a mobile radio and not a portable one. The difference is that a portable unit is handheld. This mobile ham radio is meant for your vehicle, like your car. This also comes with an in-depth user’s guide. That’s certainly great for newbies, since this is packed with a bunch of advanced features that may overwhelm beginners.
With the freebies, you can also consider this as a kit. You have the DC cable, the speaker mic, the brackets for the radio and mic, and the mounting hardware. This also comes with a nice user’s guide, which you’ll definitely need as you learn along the way.
You do have some features here that plenty of first-timers will appreciate. The loud 2W speaker offers clearer sound than most handheld units, so you can definitely understand what other people are saying. This has an auto power off function, since you may leave it on. This can then save the battery from draining.
The key here is to learn how to program it, and it will really help if you also buy the optional USB programming cable. Once you learn about the programming, this will be very easy to use.
- Fairly easy to program when you get the hang of it
- Comes with lots of freebies
- Good speakers
- Auto power off, like for smartphones
- You’ll find it easy to read the manual, as it’s written in the US
4. President Lincoln II Plus (V3) 10 and 12 Meter Ham Radio
This is like the Lincoln II, except this Plus version has covers all of the 12 meter band too. If that didn’t make real sense to you since you’re a newbie, that’s okay. The manual helps, and the customer support is actually very supportive. That’s not always true for most brands.
This model is mainly used as a base station, meaning it’s more for home use instead of when you’re on the road. So, sit back and fiddle with it with the manual. Check out all the nifty features.
Even as a newbie, you’ll appreciate that everything works well. The power output is exactly as specified, so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises. The sensitivity is wonderful. It transmits very well even when left as stock, and you won’t need to make adjustments for this.
Some do use this for their car, and it’s nice and quiet. Sometimes it’s so quiet you may wonder now and again if it automatically turned off, but that’s not entirely a bad thing.
- Can be used as a base station or as a mobile station in your car
- Very quiet
- Covers 10 meter and 12 meter band
- Excellent transmission audio
- Terrific customer support
5. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld 5W VHF / UHF Amateur Radio
This is a handheld unit, and for this type of ham radio it’s not cheap. But then again, it’s basically better in all aspects (from performance to build quality) than much cheaper handheld models.
As a beginner, you’ll like how simple and functional this radio is despite the long list of features. Its solid build is also reassuring. After all, if something goes wrong then you can safely assume that you made a mistake along the way. It’s very frustrating to think that you made a mistake when actually the fault is due to a defect in the unit.
This offers 3 transmit levels (low, mid, and high) to give you a lot of legroom to try things out. The frequency coverage is also ample enough, that you can cover lots of bands. These include weather and aircraft chatter.
It’s a testament to this model that it remains popular, even after more than 10 years in the market. Perhaps 10 years ago it was state-of-the-art, but now it still remains good enough especially for those new to the hobby. In fact, quite a few now regard this as a solid candidate for best handheld ham radio for beginner enthusiasts.
- Reliable performance
- Solid build
- Proven functionality
- Can receive weather and aircraft bands
- Can transmit up with high power output
6. Radioddity GD-77 Dual Band Dual Time Slot DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio
It’s a good thing this isn’t expensive, as newbies may not really want to gamble hundreds of dollars for a hobby that they may give up soon. At the same time, it’s not cheap either. You get lots of fun features that can help hook you to the hobby, while the quality and performance won’t be frustrating either. The price is just right, and many consider the GD-77 as the most cost-effective ham radio right now.
At least, that’s the view regarding DMR or digital mobile radio. This may not mean much to you if you’re a beginner, but the digital aspect offers crystal clear audio. To learn how to program this, you can consult any of the Radioddity fan Facebook groups and get a local codeplug. You can then customize the unit to match your own preferences.
It also helps that the User’s Manual and User’s Guide offers a nice guiding hand for the features and details. They even give you helpful links for demo videos, PDF files, and programming guides.
Finally, this unit even has a beginner mode expressly made for folks like you. Once you get the hang of it, you can then switch to expert mode to get full advantage of the extended features.
- Comes with beginner mode
- Helpful user’s manual with links to videos and other informative files
- Great DMR compatibility
- Contact ID extended to 1,000
- Clear, noise-free audio
- Facebook support groups are ready to help
7. BTECH UV-5X3 5-Watt Tri-Band Radio VHF, 1.25M, UHF, Amateur Radio
If you’re looking for the best starter ham radio, this can certainly qualify especially when considering the price. For your money, you the V-85 dual band antenna and the 220MHz Single Band antenna, a charger for the 1500mAh battery and an adapter, a wrist strap and a belt clip for outdoor use, and an earpiece to give you a bit of privacy ( and to prevent you from annoying people nearby).
This model lets you program it exactly the way you want it, after learning how to program. You get the CHIRP support you need so you can program on Windows, OSX, and even on Linux. This gives you 128 programmable channels, and the free computer software lets you put in or take out channels from the scanning list. You can also use your computer to name your channels.
- You’re able to get on 3 bands instead of just 2 (dual band)
- You can buy a programming cable and then use the free CHIRP software to program it
- It’s easy to use once you’ve had it programmed
- When you transmit, you’ll get excellent audio reports
- Comes with 2 antennas
8. Pofung UV-82 VHF UHF FM Transceiver Dual Band Two Way Radio
The Pofung brand isn’t really a new player in the industry. It’s simply the rebranding for Baofeng products for units sold outside the US market. However, the new brand name heralds in some improvements over the previous entry-level Baofeng models.
This one comes with both high and low power output, and this allows you to transmit to farther away. The speaker in this handheld unit is louder, at 1 watt compared to the 700mW speaker in the older generation. The antenna is better, offering improved reception and the possibility of catching signals farther away. Even the buttons are larger for easier use. You can program this to work on private repeater systems with your PC, or even without.
With these changes, this is still the starter ham radio that newbies ought to get. That’s always been the Baofeng specialty, offering entry-level ham radios at very low prices. This one is just an improvement on the older basic model.
- High and low power outputs
- Louder speaker
- Better-performing antenna
- Larger buttons for easier use
- You can find plenty of YouTube videos on how beginners can use this handheld unit
9. Motorola Talkabout T465 Rechargeable Two-Way Radio Bundle
This is great for those who want a reliable means of communicating with buddies when going into an outdoor adventure together. First of all, this comes with 22 channels, and each one comes with 121 privacy codes. Basically, you have 2,662 combinations to pick from to assure your group an available channel to communicate through.
This also comes with a range of 35 miles, so you can talk to a buddy you’ve lost contact with. It also has the PTT (Push to Talk) power boost that lets you extend the transmission range. Don’t push the button when you don’t need it, so you can save power.
This lets you get the weather channel for emergency news regarding changes in the weather. If you’re in trouble, you can just press the unit’s emergency alert button. it’ll transmit an alert siren to let your friends know you need help.
- Remarkably simple to use
- Comes with high or low power output
- Receives weather alerts and sends emergency signals
- IP45 waterproof and dust-resistant
- Comes with earbuds
- Can be used as a flashlight
- Uses 3 AA batteries which last for 26 hours, but it also already has the rechargeable batteries that can last for 10 hours
10. Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio 136-174/400-480 MHz Dual-Band
This is another best entry level ham radio from Baofeng, with a compact design and an affordable price. Sure, there are other ham radios out there that are considerably better. But they’re often offered at 5 times the price of this one—and they’re certainly not 5 times better. Besides, the simplicity of the UV5RA is just right for newbies.
In fact, even experienced ham enthusiasts buy this as their backup ham radio just in case there’s something wrong with their primary unit. With this, you can do a lot despite the low price.
You can use this to communicate with the local ham community. Use this when you go hiking, and you can communicate with buddies if anyone gets lost. This is especially useful when you’re going out hiking alone. This lets you get alerts on bad weather, listen in on real-time updates regarding what the emergency responders are doing, and also call for help if you get in trouble.
Even if you don’t have a ham radio license yet, you can still use this. You don’t need a license to receive transmissions, and the info you get during outdoor adventures alone may end up saving your life.
- Incredibly affordable
- Lets you get in touch with local ham radio community
- Allows for group communication during group outdoor adventures
- Gives alerts on bad weather
- Informs you on how the emergency responders are doing
- Use this to send for help
Best Beginner Ham Radio Buying Guide
You should read plenty of beginner ham radio reviews, especially those written by customers. They can give you a more accurate idea of how it feels to use these ham radios, more than what you can glean for tech sheets. When you read these reviews, focus on what they say regarding the following factors:
Often the exact price isn’t mentioned in reviews, and that’s because sellers may offer the same models at different prices. But you do need to limit your options to the more affordable models if you’re a beginner. Only when you’re more experienced, should you spend more.
One reason for this is that you’re not yet entirely sure you’re going to stick with this hobby. It can be an incredible waste of your money if you give up on ham radio right after spending several hundred bucks on a premium model.
The other reason is that more affordable models are more basic, and therefore there’s easier stuff for you to learn. More expensive models offer more sophisticated features that can overwhelm you with the technical details.
The best beginner ham radio doesn’t come in just a basic package. It should come with lots of freebies so you’re spared from having to buy them yourself. You should at least have a battery charger and adapter, along with free earpieces.
Beginners ham radio must have learning materials to learn. First off, you need to check the quality of the user’s manual. It should be well-written and comprehensive. Nothing’s more frustrating for a US newbie than a manual that was written by someone without the slightest shred of knowledge of the English language. It’s also annoying when the manual offers incomplete information, such as a process described missing a few crucial steps.
Check too if there are user groups you can consult for a particular ham radio model. These people will be invaluable for you as they can answer your questions. Check out the actual helpfulness of the brand’s customer support. See if you can find demo videos on YouTube about the ham radio, and if there are articles and PDF files you can read for instructions and tips.
Ease of Use
This factor pertains to several specific concerns. It’s better for you if the LCD display is easy to read, and the buttons are large enough for your fingers. Louder speakers are better as you’re able understand what you hear.
If it’s a handheld unit, then it should be compact, lightweight, and nice to hold in your hand. It should come with a strap and a belt clip for better portability. It should come with the necessary installation hardware (including brackets) if the unit is meant for your car or for your home.
The ham radio shouldn’t be so fragile that it breaks when you drop it. The build quality must be solid, with resistance to rain and dust. It’s super-annoying to think you did something wrong when actually there’s something wrong with the ham radio itself.
Some are powered by alkaline batteries, but it’s not always convenient to buy several extras for backup when you’re hiking. It’s also tedious to keep buying new batteries each time you use the ham radio.
Rechargeable batteries are better on the whole. Take note of how long each charge lasts, for continuous use and for standby. You should be able to talk for several hours, and on standby mode the charge should last the whole day. Also check how long it will take to recharge the battery. In some cases, a new charger can get the job done faster.
Different Types of Ham Radio
Ham radio models can be grouped into 3 categories
These are the handheld models. TBest Handheld Ham Radio For Survival & SHTF Preppers in 2020hey’re generally the more affordable units, and that’s because their features are typically more basic. They’re made to be solid and weatherproof, so that you can use them outdoors and they won’t break if you drop them now and again.
The mobile ham radio models meant for your car or for another vehicle like a boat. The capabilities are generally better than what you see in portable ham radio. The range is greater, the speakers are louder, and you have lots more features to fiddle with.
This is meant for the home. With this you now have what’s basically a radio station of your own. Not only can you use this ham radio to receive signals, but you can make your own broadcasts for other people to listen to.
Uses of Ham Radio
So exactly why do people still use ham radio in the world of smartphones and the internet? Here are some of these reasons.
This is one of the most popular reasons of them all. You can use ham radio to reach out to local ham enthusiasts, or to people on the other side of the world. Sure, you can do that too with the Internet, but this is just another way for people to engage with each other. At least you already have something in common with the other folks you con contact with ham radio—you’re all interested in ham radio.
You can use a ham radio to receive real-time weather reports from the NOAA satellite weather system. This is crucial if you’re planning to spend a week or so out in the countryside hiking alone. You can also prepare your home for various types of severe weather.
With the ham radio, you can receive emergency alerts for any sort natural disaster. Again, that’s important if you’re hiking or living alone. You can then prepare yourself for whatever comes your way.
You can also use your ham radio to broadcast your own emergency alerts, or to ask for help when you’re in an emergency situation.
Equip each person in your group with ham radios, and you can then talk to each other even when you get separated. This makes a lot of sense when you’re all hiking in the woods or visiting a new city on vacation. Workers, such as security personnel, can also coordinate their efforts as they talk to each other even as they’re spread out over a compound or a building.
With ham radio’s ability to provide live information, you and your friends can use it to offer public service broadcasts for your community. One example recently cited is about how a group of ham radio enthusiasts broadcasted for a local cycling tour. They gave updates about who was leading the race, where the leaders are, and also about the state of supplies along the way.
Is HAM radio the same as CB radio?
In a word, no. Ham radio is another name for amateur radio, but it’s a different animal to CB radio.
First of all, you need a license for ham radio. It’s this requirement that makes “hams” (ham radio enthusiasts) just a bit proud of themselves. After all, they had to prove that they’re worthy of using ham radio. This is a very technical field, after all. In contrast, you can buy a CB radio and use it right out of the box with no license.
With ham radio, you have plenty of bands to choose from while CB radio only has a single band. The range is also much different. With ham radio you can transmit internationally and communicate with people around the globe. With CB radio the range is just 50 miles, and that’s if you’re lucky.
You may want to tone down mentioning how CB radio is just the same as ham radio, especially among hams. These folks are nice for the most part, but this statement can really annoy them.
Is a license absolutely mandatory before you can use a ham radio?
Technically, no. You can buy a ham radio and just limit yourself to receiving messages. That doesn’t need a license at all.
But then again, you buy a ham radio so that you can make your own transmissions. For that, you need a license. It’s a bit like running your own radio station. For that, you have to learn the rules laid out by the FCC, and you have to prove it.
What happens if you make transmissions without a license for ham radio?
Sooner or later, the FCC makes a visit and then politely confiscates your equipment.
How do you get a license?
The rules tend to differ depending in which country you are. In the US, your first stop ought to be the ARRL website (arrl.com). Here you can take free practice exams using questions that the FCC exam uses. The site also gives you info about where you can apply for the license.
There are 3 license classes available for you. The license is good for 10 years before you need to renew it. In the US, you can get a license even if you’re not a US citizen. The only people not allowed to hold a license is a representative of a foreign government.
The entry-level license is the Technician license. You take a 35-question exam testing your knowledge about operating practices, rules and regulations, and radio theory. Once you’re done, you can access the amateur radio frequencies above 30 MHz. That’s good enough to let you communicate within most of North America. You also get limited privileges for shortwave bands that can let you access international communications.
You have to first get the Technician license before you can apply for the next level, which is the General license. It’s another 35 questions, but pass the test and you’re able to obtain some privileges with all amateur radio bands and operating modes. This lets you communicate all over the world.
The most difficult license to get is the Amateur Extra license. First you need to obtain the Technician and General licenses, and then you have to pass a 50-question test. But this gives you all privileges for all amateur radio bands and operating modes.
Wrapping It Up
Ham radio is a fun hobby to get into, but for a frustration-free time you need the best ham radio for beginners. Get something affordable and basic, and take your studies seriously. Ham radio can be very useful aside from just fun, but you need to invest a bit of time and effort.