There is no secret: strange things happen in life. And we must be prepared for various difficulties. One of such difficulties can be emergency situations such as hurricanes, tsunamis, storm, flood, earthquake, and others.
And imagine you stuck in the middle of the wilderness without any replenishment to sustain. Then what can you do?
No worries! Even in the most emergency situation, there is a chance to be saved. Thanks to the best handheld ham radio for survival.
It is better to take care of this useful thing before the emergency situation actually happens.
The reason is simple – this is the only thing that will help you connect with your relatives, coordinate the movement and survive without dependence on infrastructure. Plus, it will be a good thing at regular times as well. Do you want more useful information? Follow me!
Best Handheld Ham Radio for Survival
1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
BaoFeng BF-F8HP is a new generation of UV-5R. You have not seen before something like that!
It is one of best dual band mobile ham radio that has high transmit power. The main feature of this radio is the new generation chipset.
Additionally, there are 3 power levels that will be available when you put the battery in the radio. Radio lovers of different levels will appreciate this handheld radio because of the support of the concierge, the High-Gain V-85 antenna.
BaoFeng BF-F8HP will be a great thing for survival because it has a completely new battery pack, which gives a longer work of the radio – by 30%.
Radio amateurs buy a different extra set for their radio, this is not necessary with BaoFeng BF-F8HP, because it has a “full set” of battery, antenna, power adapter, headphones, belt clip, straps, and charger. So you can use this radio not only for survival, but also for entertainment.
- BaoFeng BF-F8HP has double the power output in three levels High / Med / Low Power or 8 W (24 hours), 4 W (20 hours), 1 W (18).
- The battery lasts longer by 30%.
- The radio has a high-gain V-85 antenna (i.e., twice the antenna performance).
- The frequency range of BaoFeng BF-F8HP is 65-108 MHz (FM radio), VHF: 136-174 MHz (Rx / Tx), UHF: 400-520 MHz (Rx / Tx).
- The radio has a concierge function, simplified for programming.
- BF-F8HP’s kit has a programming cable PC03 FTDI, 2000 mAh battery, and antenna V-85.
- It has the latest N5R-340A firmware which is absent in most other models.
- Will let you more control over the amplitude of the transmission radio waves
2. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld 5W VHF / UHF Amateur Radio Transceiver
Yaesu FT-60R is another best survival ham radio. It is because the radio is not overloaded with a huge variety of unnecessary functions. All the functionality is necessary and this is enough to do the job.
This radio has a good antenna that will allow operators to use the radio over a long distance. And 5 watts of power is enough for that.
Yaesu FT-60R is one of the best radio models in the industry due to its robust housing, programming capabilities, and high battery capacity. Amateurs will also appreciate the small size of the radio that fits comfortably in your hand, it is very important in rescue operations.
Here, 1000 memory blocks is a lot and very good so the Yaesu FT-60R will not be idle at the right time.
- Yaesu FT-60R – dual band VHF / UHF for 2, 70 cm.
- The radio supports the functions of CTCSS / DCS (PL & DPL), DTMF.
- It has an alphanumeric display, keyboard backlighting, scanning modes, 1000 memory channels, NOAA Weather Alert, receiving alarm channels at 800-900 MHz.
- The range is 108-520 MHz and 700-999.99 MHz (less than a cell), it transmits 144-148 MHz and 430-470 MHz.
- There is a blocking mode that prevents accidental changes in frequency.
- RF output power is on 3 levels: 5 W (high) / 2 W (medium) / 5 W (low).
- The radio also has a 1400 mA battery, charger, antenna and belt clip included, it can be compatible with such optional accessories as MH-37A4B, MH-34B4B, E-DC-5B, EDC-6, CT-44, and FBA-25A.
3. BTECH UV-5X3 5 Watt Tri-Band Radio VHF, 1.25M, UHF, Ham Radio
BTECH UV-5X3 is another handheld ham radio of the future. The fact is that it has a display synchronization feature so you can take advantage of the two-line LCD display extensively. Now you can get more complete information on the screen.
This radio is not similar to analogs, because it allows the operator to modify the channel mode.
Radio amateurs can change channels, delete a channel or re-create it again to change settings, change/ add privacy tones, change power levels and so on. And yes, you do not need a computer for this.
Having BTECH UV-5X3, you deal with three frequency bands that are available for scanning in a certain frequency setting.
The future is already here because this externally standard ham radio has the function of remote decoding DTMF (receiving remote commands). It seems that this thing can make any radio amateur happy.
- BTECH UV-5X3 is fully compatible with all UV-5R and BF-F8HP accessories.
- The radio has a tri-band portable transceiver.
- Output power is 5 watts.
- The UV-5X3 radio has a 1500 mAh battery, a V-8 dual-band antenna and a 220-MHz single-channel antenna, a CH-5 charger, a CH-5 110V adapter.
- UV-5X3 is in CHIRP, for simple programming on Windows, OSX, and Linux.
- It has 128 programmable memory channels with the ability to delete and add channels using free software.
- Additionally, BTECH UV-5X3 has a set of headphones, a strap, and belt clip.
4. 5 Pack BaoFeng BF-888S Portable Handheld 2-way Ham Radio
BaoFeng BF-888S is great portable handheld ham radio for any purpose. You can use this radio for survival, for building, for connecting to the store, and even if you work as a security guard, go hiking or on a long bike ride. Regardless of the presence of an emergency, you can use this radio.
The matter is that this radio has all the most necessary functions. That is why it is easy to use. You have enough to turn on one of the 16 channels, press the button, say, and releasing the button, hear the answer.
BaoFeng BF-888S is available for programming, it has a cable for this. If you are an active radio amateur and do not sit still, this radio will also be an ideal choice for you.
The BF-888S has robust packaging that stops any damage to the case. And this is not all the advantages of this radio.
- The radio has a frequency in the range of 400-469.995 MHz.
- The BF-888S has 16 channels and 50 CTCSS / 105 CDCSS.
- It has a 1500 mAh lithium-ion battery, a low voltage warning function, and intelligent charging.
- The radio is equipped with a VOX function, voice prompt, programming on a PC, 3 W transmission.
- The power rating of the BaoFeng BF-888S is 5 W, and the controlled voltage is 3.7 V.
- There is an alarm, timeout timer, and flashlight.
- The battery lasts about 8 hours without recharging.
5. Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio
The perfect handheld radio for field conditions? Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R is what you need for this.
This amateur radio is easy to use and store in your pocket because it is small in size.
The VX-6R works great 3 miles away even with obstacles. Fans of radio programming will appreciate the ease of programming this transceiver with the software. It is very easy if you use a spreadsheet entry.
All radio lovers will agree with me: such a case is ideal for a radio that will be used for field conditions and for survival.
Plus, this radio has as many as 900 memory slots and is loaded with useful features such as harsh weather warnings, or transmit and receive indicators. Using the Yaesu VX-6R Tri-Band, you will know how much battery there is.
- Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R supports AM / FM BCB and has wideband reception in the 504 kHz-998.9 MHz band.
- It has a black magnesium case, a backlit keyboard and an LCD display, an Internet key for accessing WIRES.
- The radio is equipped with 900 memory cells, a warning about the harsh weather and a multi-color LED receive/transmit indicator, CTCSS / DCS, EAI Emergency Automatic ID.
- Yaesu VX-6R comes complete with antenna, HiCap 1500 Ma battery, and charger, B004H5Q8IM USB cable.
- The Tri-Band VX-6R is waterproof (can be submerged 3 feet in 30 minutes).
- It has a password security feature, built-in Morse simulator.
6. TYT MD-380 DMR Digital Radio
TYT MD-380 DMR is one more radio of the future that uses time division multiple access digital technology (TDMA). All new technologies and design make this radio irreplaceable. The MD-380 DMR is digital and analog. It is a unique precedent, you can use both modes in one radio.
And the radio is compatible with Motorola’s TRBO Tier I & II radios, including Motorola, Hytera, Kenwood and Vertex Standard radios. There are 1000 channels and 1000 contacts – just the maximum.
Radio amateurs will immediately appreciate the clear voice communication and display of operations, voice prompt, scanning, encryption function and text messages in digital mode.
It comes with a high gain antenna, a common antenna, a battery, a belt clip, a real charger, an adapter, and a programming cable.
- The radio has a UHF frequency range of 400-480 MHz.
- Up to 1000 channels are available here that can be remotely destroyed/stunned/ activated; channel spacing is 12.5 kHz.
- All calls and text messages are possible in digital mode.
- Both digital and analog mode.
- TYT MD-380 DMR equipped with built-in CTCSS / DCS, DTMF decoding and encoding, and it has operating voltage 7.4V.
- The battery capacity is 2000 mAh with a standard lithium-ion battery.
- There are three levels of output power: High: 5 W (High)/ Low: 1 W (Low).
7. Yaesu Original FT-2DR 144/430 Dual Band Ham Radio
Yaesu Original FT-2DR is suitable for amateur bands 2M/ 440 VHF and UHF. So, this radio will be useful not only in a situation of survival but also in the usual time for entertainment.This radio is equipped with many different functions.
For example, it has the digital C4FM FDMA feature with automatic mode selection, built-in GPS with recording/ recording functions, Hi-Res touch screen, and wide reception (including HF, which requires a general license). FT-2DR runs on a LiOn battery, which is powered by a charger.
FT-2DR is convenient for programming from the keyboard. Each battery can work 2 days without recharging, and one charge will last about 8 hours. So, be prepared for an emergency.
- The FT-2DR is compatible with many Yaesu accessories: Mh-85A11U, CD-41, CT-44, MH-34B4B, FBA-39 camera microphone, SSM-63A headset, B012E5UIQ4 for PC programming and cable set.
- There are Digital V / D mode C4FM, FR voice mode, FR data mode and regular FM.
- Digital control is possible with AMS (automatic mode selection).
- The radio has a large 43 x 43 mm touchscreen display, which displays the data obtained with the snapshot function.
- Yaesu Original FT-2DR has a 700 mW loud and clear voice technology.
- It has built-in high sensitivity 66-channel GPS with an antenna.
- Yaesu Original FT-2DR has the ability to receive broadband 0.5–999 MHz (band A), 180–580 MHz (band B), there is a slot for microSD memory cards.
8. HESENATE HT-UV8R Two Way Radio 8-Watt High Power Dual Band
HESENATE HT-UV8R is a premium radio station that improves the communication experience and is indispensable for survival. This radio is a special version of the HT-UV5R with the update HIGH POWER.
HT-UV8R seems to me a powerful radio because the maximum power is 8 watts. You have 128 channels with double redundancy available for such purposes, as well as a wide and narrow band, VOX function, time-out timer, the elimination of the tone signal.
There is an alarm signal and a low battery warning signal. Generally, there is everything you need, plus Dual Freq. display, charge saving indicator and flashlight. It is ideal for emergency and field conditions.
- It is a classic small basic handheld radio for the NEW Ham Radio User.
- The HT-UV5R has a HIGH POWER update.
- The radio has power output at three different levels: High-8W / Med-4W / Low-1W.
- There are dual-band, dual display, dual standby.
- HESENATE HT-UV8R operates in the frequency range: FM 65–108 MHz (for reception) / VHF: 136–174 MHz / UHF 400–520 MHz (Rx / Tx).
- It has a PC programming cable, MIKLOR tips, and free software available on CHIRP.
- The full package HESENATE includes HT-UV8R, lithium-ion battery 1800 mAh, dual-band antenna, strap, belt clip, headphones, adapter, desktop charger, and speaker.
9. Amcrest ATR-22 Baofeng Two-Way Radio Walkie Talkie
Amcrest ATR-22 Baofeng is the best ham radio for SHTF. Because it is a fully functional portable radio station that is equipped with two-way communication and a handheld transceiver.
The radio works from the charger, has an antenna and a full set of all necessary accessories for comfortable work. ATR-22 Baofeng is a radio that can come in handy in any situation. There are several reasons: ergonomic design, easy to hold for a long time, and many modern functions.
I suggest talking more about the function. First, they will all be indispensable for survival and for their loving use as well. For example, you can use the radio in the dark thanks to an LED light and a flashlight.
There are a lot of functions. The ATR-22 has a VOX function, a voice prompt function, a scan function, a scrambler function, a low voltage warning, and a time-out timer. This radio will appeal to those who appreciate intelligent charging and battery saving.
- Amcrest ATR-22 operates at a frequency of 420-470 MHz with an updated 1800 mAh battery.
- There is a noise cancellation function, a wait timer, a voice prompt.
- Monitoring is possible by scanning.
- The radio has 16 channels and works on 1800mAh lithium-ion battery.
- The maximum output power is 1.6 watts.
- The frequency mode is UHF 420-470 MHz and ATR-22 has 50 CTCSS / 105 CDCSS.
- The kit includes 2 pairs of headphones, 7.4 V 1800 mAh lithium-ion battery, SMA antenna, belt clip, desktop charger (100 V / 240 V), and wrist strap.
10. BTECH GMRS-V1 GMRS Two-Way Radio
And the last is better handheld ham radio is BTECH GMRS-V1. This radio has 22 modified GMRS two-way channels, and reception and transmission are possible on 8 modified channels of the GMRS repeater – reception and transmission.
98 programmable scanner channels are available for reception. FM radio is also available here.
The GMRS-V1 has 50 CTCSS privacy tones, 346 DCS privacy tones. BTECH GMRS-V1 is ideal for survival because it is also a weather radio station (compatible with NOAA), has a three-color adjustable backlight and a flashlight.
This radio is convenient and understandable to use. GMRS-V1 can be changed to transmit a privacy tone directly from the radio menu. Any modification of the channels is possible.
There is another good news: GMRS-V1 can work with any GMRS radio device with the ability to scan tones from another radio. It is very convenient if another operator does not know what tone he uses.
- There is a channel skip function (add/remove a channel from the scan list), and GMRS-V1 has one built-in receiver with the ability to view two channels.
- This radio can control 2 GMRS channels or two different frequencies, for example, VHF / UHF.
- BTECH GMRS-V1 has a switchable FM radio with a frequency of 25 kHz/ 12.5 kHz (65.0-108.0 MHz).
- The case is equipped with a large three-color LCD display (3 selectable colors).
- There are LED flashlight scanning modes: switching channels, frequencies and tones, high/ low power switching, VOX 50 CTCSS 346, DCS tones, search/scan function.
- The radio is equipped with a programmable storage mode for alphanumeric channels (VFO / menu lock is selected), as well as a transmission timeout (TOT) function and a busy channel lock (BCLO).
- The kit additionally includes 1800 mAh battery, V-85 dual-band antenna, CH-8 charger, 110-volt CH-8 adapter, headset, wrist strap, and belt clip.
Overview Of Handheld Ham Radio
Radio that will be useful for survival is a lot. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, handheld ham radio. I think this radio is most suitable for survival, and here is why.
What is a Ham Radio?
Ham radio is also known as amateur radio. Ham radio assumes that you use radio frequencies on a private, non-commercial basis.
The ham radio operators communicate with each other, conduct fascinating experiments with wireless communications, and can also cause emergency communications in emergency situations.
Ham radio allows its operators to do the impossible. They can connect with a person from the other hemisphere or even an astronaut on the International Space Station. Few radios are capable of such.
This radio has such versatility as a hobby for completely different people. People of all ages and nationalities use ham radio not only for entertainment but also for saving themselves and their loved ones in difficult situations.
Types of Ham Radios
Ham radio is divided into several types. Each type is suitable for a particular activity. That is why if you choose ham radio, you must decide what you want to do at first, and then buy the appropriate type of radio.
Portable Ham Radio
A portable ham radio is an excellent type for those who love mobile devices that do not take up much space. Ham radio portable is a bit heavier than your mobile phone. But it will never lose touch at the most inopportune moment.
This type of ham radio has a special belt clip. The size of the portable ham radio is very small, so it can even fit in your pocket. Generally, everything is great with this type of radio. Only this is limited by the line of sight. So you can connect with objects within a radius of 1 or even 2 miles.
You might think: “In what cases can this baby come in handy?” In fact, such a handheld type of ham radio can be useful to you at a construction site, in organizing an event, and also in emergency situations, to establish communication with the team.
Mobile Ham Radio
Many amateurs consider mobile and portable radio to be the same. It is a fallacy of the century. Mobile radio will be perfect for a car. Moreover, mobile ham radio is more powerful than portable models. Complete with a mobile radio, you will need an antenna and a battery (or car) to power the radio.
The horizon line does not matter at all for this type of ham radio since it works at any distance. It is made possible by the repeater, which receives signals from the radio nearby and retransmits this signal with greater power.
Classic ham radio is for use at home or in the office. It is inconvenient to use it in the car and even more so in the pocket. That is a basic installation that surpasses the other two types of radio in power.
Basic ham radio is available for people with a general license. So basic radio gives you the opportunity to get access to the high-frequency bands (from 30 kHz and higher). It is this type of radio that makes the possible impossible and allows you to communicate with radio amateurs who are very far away from you.
If we are talking only about handheld ham radio, then there are 2 types:
Digital Ham Radio
Digital radios have wider coverage and better sound quality. You can use this radio where analog radio no longer works. The digital radio transmits a clear sound without background noise. Additionally, this radio has a GPS function, and some models are waterproof (depending on the manufacturer).
Analog Ham Radio
Analog radio, especially with less coverage and less clear sound than digital radio. Such a radio is needed for use in one house or at another short distance where there are no generators or other background noise.
Benefits of Getting Best Handheld survival Ham Radio
Those who have used survival ham radio at least once know that this is exciting. And what is useful handheld ham radio?
It is fascinating because you can practice your interest in radio and communications. And this type of radio is most convenient in emergency situations.
Ideal For A Hobby
First, it gives you the opportunity to coordinate the rescue operation and the movement of people. It is especially useful if you do not have other means of communication.
Secondly, the handheld ham radio allows you to decentralize the communication system so that each operator has its own station. And it increases the chances of survival.
OK, you can say: “Many radios will work in emergency situations”. It really is. The problem is that not every radio can relay a connection. Ham radio is capable of that. That is why this type of radio is very popular for preparing for emergency situations.
There is no doubt this type of radio is very useful during earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters.
Handheld radio allows you to coordinate movements and actions not only during emergencies but also when performing certain operations/ campaigns. An example would be the organization of a major event.
The game of pinball, the game of children in a tree, the departure of the whole family to the camp – there are many situations where you need to coordinate the actions and movement of members of your team.
Why Ham Radio Is Important For Survival & SHTF Preppers
Unlikely anyone will have doubts about ham radio is very important for survival and most of all for SHTF preppers.
The matter is that the results of distress situations have shown that cell phones and the Internet fail during disasters.
Such type of the communication cease to be useful because it does not depend on the infrastructure. If the infrastructure suffers as a result of floods or due to strong winds, there will be no Internet and cellular communications. But the handheld ham radio will continue to work.
Looking for specific examples? Look: in 2017, the strongest hurricane Maria fell on Puerto Rico. It was a destructive cyclone of the 5th category. Any kind of wireless communication was impossible because the hurricane “disconnected” it.
That is why all the devices on cellular and on the Internet were completely useless. Only ham radio was useful like the help of which people could listen to emergency alerts and communicate with emergency services.
Ham radio is important for survival and SHTF preppers, if only because it continues to connect with other people and emergency services, even when the entire infrastructure is destroyed.
How To Use Survival Ham Radio
Imagine that you already have an emergency call device like ham radio. Now you need to understand how to use this radio to catch the whole wide range to transmit important information.
Emergency communication is needed to coordinate the movement and actions of family members, neighbors, and other survivors. If this is a hurricane, then you can find out the latest news and further forecasts to plan further actions.
Ham radio will be exactly what will help to “kill two birds with one stone”, that is, to be informed about the forecast and about how your family is doing.
But the law is such that first, you need an entry-level license (that is, a technician class license). It will allow you to be on VHF and UHF frequencies (these are local frequencies).
If you have a general class license, you can even be on RF frequencies. Such frequencies allow you to communicate around the world, regardless of satellites or other infrastructure.
Real talk, in the conditions of a real emergency situation, no one will look at the fact that you do not have a license, but you transmitted a signal through ham radio.
It is about survival and therefore everything else does not matter. If you have a radio, then a license must be required. It is necessary at least in order to know how it works.
Do not you have a license yet? Based on the purpose for which you are using the radio, choose a license class.
The technician license will be useful for local communications, and the general class license will be useful for global communication. Both are suitable for survival (an extra license has a lot of extra, but not enough for survival).
To Get A License You Need To Pass An Exam
If you have passed all these stages, and you already have a radio receiver, then it is time to move on to the next step.
Emergency Power Supply
Infrastructure will be broken during disasters. It means that the power supply will also suffer. That is, you need something that will provide electricity no matter what.
It may be an emergency generator or solar panels (if you live in a sunny place). Keep in mind that you must have had something like this because the radio will be as useless as a telephone without electricity.
Use the Radio Before The Disaster
It is important because your skills must be developed. An emergency situation requires snoring and quick response. So, you should feel comfortable using the radio.
Features To Look For During Purchase
Are you interested in best handheld ham radio for survival? Before you buy, have fun and save yourself, you need to consider a few important points.
Firstly, portable ham radio does not resemble other radios, it has other functions.
Therefore, I advise you to pay attention to the points below so that the journey, the upcoming cyclone and some event take place without incident.
The frequency depends on the class of the license. First, have a license, and then buy a portable ham radio of the appropriate frequency. You must be clearly convinced that the ham radio you want to buy corresponds to the frequency that is possible for your license.
There is a big difference between VHF and UHF on the one hand and HF on the other. RF frequencies are wider and require more power, so the license must be a higher class. You need a swr meter to bettter frequency set.
Handheld ham radio usually has a power of no more than 5 watts. There are models with more power. It is an average figure. 5 watts is enough for manual use and is ideal for an emergency.
You do not need to strive for higher power because 5 watts of power on average saves battery and provides communication. It is all you need.
The ability to program radio is the dream of most amateurs. If you can program the radio manually using the software, then the radio will be invaluable. For this radio must have a cable for programming.
In the case of the handheld ham radio, give preference to manual programming, because the keyboard and radio buttons allow you to do this anytime and anywhere.
Memory slots are very important. But the number of slots is a dependent indicator. It depends on the purpose for which you want to use the radio. For example, if your goal is local communication or emergency use, then 12 slots will be enough.
International communication (this is not possible for portable radio) requires at least 100 or even 200 memory slots. In general, memory slots are needed to store frequencies.
Say backlit display “Yes!” This feature is one of the most desirable and useful.
If you find yourself in an emergency, the display (ideally if the keyboard is also) with the backlight will allow you to target and use the radio without problems.
As a rule, the backlight can be turned off if you need to save battery power.
You may be surprised but not all portable radios have antennas. Many models have antennas. In this case, the model must be of high quality. A good antenna will give good reception and signal transmission.
Have you bought a radio with a weak antenna? You have the opportunity to fix it. You just need to buy a new antenna.
Weather Alert Function
Our goal is survival. It is only possible if you are well informed. The approach of inclement weather can be known using this feature in a portable radio.
During an emergency, there is no time for unnecessary actions. Any action should be quick. That is why the scan function will be indispensable.
The scan function is needed to search for the desired frequency quickly. Such features help include full scan, memory scan, programmed scan, ban scan, priority scan, skip scan and others.
CTCSS & DCS
CTCSS or continuous tone-based noise reduction, as well as DSC or digital-coded noise suppression, help keep the conversation on the same frequency independent of each other.
How Long Does Handheld Ham Radio Work?
Handheld ham radio does not require much energy. You can use batteries, and if they are not there, then there are batteries in vehicles, boats.
There are also special batteries that can be pre-charged and then used on the radio.Depending on the battery, handheld ham radio can work from 8 to 12 hours when fully charged.
What Is The Difference Between UHF And VHF?
In this review, you have repeatedly seen the concept of “UHF” and “UVK” and probably you have the question “What does this mean?”
VHF – the choice of those who are going to use the radio on the street (on the line of sight, without obstacles or with a small number of obstacles), then you get a clear sound. It is great for sailing boats, for use in open areas.
UHF – the choice of those who are going to use the radio in and around buildings. It will be needed where there are many obstacles in the form of concrete walls, steel structures, offices and so on.
Is Handheld Ham Radio Waterproof?
It depends on the manufacturer. But waterproof handheld ham radio is a real rarity because most models do not have this feature. You will be able to find models with protection class IP57 (you can immerse the radio in water to a depth of 3 feet for 30 minutes).
Do portable ham radios come with antennas and microphones?
Unlike regular ham radios, most portable ham radios have microphones and speakers built in and also come with an antenna because they cannot function without them. So safe to say, they will be usable right off the packaging and you don’t need to waste more time and money to make them usable. Happy?!
How many users can I have in one channel?
That is going to depend, radio to radio. Normally, you will be able to have five to ten other devices on the same channel that you can simultaneously communicate with. Higher end ones may accommodate for more users though.
Do portable ham radios also need licenses before you can use them?
Yes, the same license that is needed to become an operator of ham radios is needed to use these portable ones. Do not let the appearance of what looks like a walkie-talkie fool you; these are some really powerful tools in a small package!
Will devices with native microphones let you use external ones?
Yes, the worse and the best mobile ham radios for survival, all tend to have a microphone jack somewhere around the body that lets you attach an extra microphone to it. There are also some microphones that work standalone so you can use them only for transmission and use your ham radio for receiving radio signals. If still has the same benefit of not having to carry your radio device on your hand.
Can I use external antennas instead of the included one?
Yes, as long as the antenna has the same connector as the native one, it should fit and perform just fine but you might experience some changes in the supported frequencies if you use an antenna with different physical properties.
There is very little information about handheld ham radio on the Internet. You are lucky that all the useful information you could find here. Choose, get a license, train and be prepared for difficult situations with the best ham radio for preppers.