Portable ham radio has long been a popular hobby, and it persists even in this age of smartphones and social networking sites. Ham radio society is incredibly diverse, and hams around the world are eager to connect with you.
You can be in the middle of an ocean or on top of a mountain, and the best portable ham radio can connect you to a fellow ham enthusiast.
Best Portable Ham Radio – Comparison
Best Portable Ham Radio Reviews
But which one is the perfect for you? We’ve managed to screen the market for the top candidates, and these are our recommendations:
1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
This is the first BaoFeng on the list and it’s also one of the higher-end models from the brand. The power output also goes up from 1 to 4 to 8 watts. That means more transmit power for the BF-F8HP while the reception is strong with the 7-inch V-85 high gain antenna.
Your purchase also includes a few freebies. It comes with an earpiece, a hand strap, and a belt clip.
This comes with a power adapter, but for the most part you’ll be using this outdoors. Lucky for you the new battery is larger, and it’s even rechargeable. Don’t worry, you also get a battery charger. The battery life gives you about 20 hours for high power output and 24 hours for mid power. The battery also powers the built-in FM radio and flashlight.
Finally, BaoFeng also fixed up the manual so now it’s much easier to follow and understand. For newbies, this is crucial.
- Long-lasting battery
- 7-inch antenna for better reception
- Comes with lots of freebies
- Very portable
- New in-depth manual
2. BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Portable Ham Radio
For newbies, the BaoFeng brand represents a great option. It’s affordable and you can learn a lot from it. There was a time when the Baofeng brand wasn’t quite respected, but that has changed for the better over the years.
This one is the 2nd gen of their classic UV-82 series. The new features here include 3 power settings, with options for 1, 5, and 7 (or 8) watts. You can also use software to lock in the frequency mode, and to synchronize the dual push-to-talk switch. You have a manual you can study here that goes for 80 pages.
This comes with the V-85 high gain antenna for optimal performance. The model is also affordable enough that you can get yourself some of the compatible UV-82 accessories.
With the 128 programmable memory slots, you can use the free software to take in or remove channels from your scanning list. With the computer, you can also give the channels their own unique alphanumeric names.
- This is a many-in-1 gadget, since it also works as a flashlight, emergency alarm, and an FM radio
- It uses a louder speaker than what you seen in many other Baofeng models
- The dual push-to-talk button lets you transmit on 2 frequencies
- Its built-in receiver can also monitor 2 frequencies
- Durable commercial-grade case
- The manual is in English, and it’s actually well-written
3. TYT MD-380 – DMR/Moto TRBO Portable Ham Radio
This one is a rather high-end model with lots of advanced features. It allows both digital and analog mode, and switching from one to another is easy enough with the software. This gives you up to a thousand channels, with priority scan and voice prompt. It also features power-on protection as well.
The battery can last up to 52 hours on standby. Normally this should last you about 9 to 12 hours, with about 2 hours for continuous use. Just recharge the 2,000 mAh Li-ion battery, which is a nice change from constantly buying and replacing alkaline batteries.
This is the model experienced ham radio users get when they’re new to DMR. Learning how to program the radio may require a bit of a steep learning curve, but you’ll learn eventually. Download the firmware and find user groups to help with the setup.
- Battery can last for 2 days on standby, or give you more than 2 hours of continuous use
- Allows direct communication from 1 to 7 kilometers
- Offers DMR technology
- A thousand channels available
- High and low power output from 1 to 5 W
- Weighs about 1.5 pounds
4. AnyTone AT-D868UV GPS Version II Portable Radio
This too goes up to a full 8 watts of power so you can reach repeaters you weren’t able to before. You do have to realize that this isn’t really the best for utter newbies, and most who get this simply upgraded from a simpler model. This one has both analog and DMR (digital mobile radio) and they can work side by side.
If you’re looking for such a model, then you’ve found what many consider the best in this class. For those who have prior experience with portable ham radios, this is actually easy to learn how to use. it helps that the color display is substantial at 1.77 inches, with a screen for day and night use.
This offers very clear and very loud so you won’t have trouble understanding what you’re hearing. It comes with a rechargeable 3100 mAh lithium ion battery that can last at least 35 hours before you need to recharge it. That’s probably with the power saver mode. The unit itself is solid, and it will last you a long while.
You also get a few accessories too, and these include an extra antenna. It also comes in a case, though it’s easy enough to hold in your hand. Other goodies include a belt clip, and a charger. It also comes with the programming cable, and then you can just download the software you need for it.
- You can monitor two bands at the same time (VHF and/or UHF)
- Dual or single-channel display on color screen
- Rechargeable battery offers at least 35 hours of straight use
- Comes with nice freebies
- Very portable
5. BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black)
Here’s the classic model that made the Baofeng rep. This is eminently affordable, giving you 4 watts with a frequency range of 136-174 MHz and 400-520 MHz, and 65-108MHz for receiving FM radio. the output power is actually adjustable too, with options for either 4 watts or 1.
This gives you 128 channels, with 104 DCS and 50 CTCSS. This offers an emergency alert and a low battery alert, plus a battery saver and a timeout timer. It gives you a large LCD display (with 9 colors for background) and you can use this as an LED flashlight.
- Nice entry-level portable ham radio
- Feels good to hold
- Powerful radio
- Comes with a flashlight
- Can be used for short-distance communications
6. Yaesu Original FT-2DR 144/430 Dual Band Digital Handheld Amateur
Now we come to the premium models that will cost significantly more money. But then you get your money’s worth, starting with the large (1.7 inches) touch screen display that gives you plenty of info. It actually offers a very long list of highly technical features, but you’ll get a lot of fun figuring things out as you get going. These include APRS.
Once you’re familiar with the menu logic and layout, you’ll realize that this is actually easy to program manually. The audio receive quality is also outstanding, with in analog mode is still loud and crisp. Your own transmissions get through clear enough with the mic gain setting from 0 to 9.
The battery can last the whole day, though the charger it comes with doesn’t quite work as well. It can take 9 hours to fully recharge, so you may want to replace it with a charger that works much more quickly.
- Large touch screen display
- Rugged and solid feel
- The adjustable mic gain offers great transmissions
- It sounds sharp and crisp and good for outdoor use
- The intuitive interface is easy to program
- Built-in GPS and APRS functionality
7. Pofung UV-82 VHF UHF FM Transceiver Dual Band Two Way Radio
We’re back to the more affordable entry-level portable ham radios, which isn’t a surprise considering that “Pofung” is merely the rebranding of Baofeng for the international market. Still, this is an upgrade on the previous UV-5R and UV-B series.
What’s different? You’ll realize this quickly enough with the better sound, as the speaker is 1W instead of 700mW. The design is much more solid, with buttons that appear larger. Even the antenna is better as well. You can use a PC to program this, though manual programming without the PC remains an option.
The usual list of technical features is here, including high and low power output options and 128 groups channel storage. This also works as an LED flashlight. Your purchase includes a power adapter, belt clip, hand strap, battery charger, and earpiece.
The only disappointment here is the rather unhelpful manual, which doesn’t really help newbies at all. It’s a good thing you can get proper instructions online. All in all, for its price range its technical capabilities are surprisingly terrific.
- Great sound
- Solid design
- Larger buttons
- High and low power output options
- Comes with plenty of free accessories
8. Tenway UV-5R Pro 8-Watt Dual Band Two Way Radio
We understand that most of our readers are comparatively new to the portable ham radio hobby, which is why we’ve listed plenty of affordable models on our list. However, the price of the Tenway UV-5R doesn’t quite limit the capabilities of the model. To start with, your power output here goes all the way to 8 watts.
This comes with the standard 1800mAh battery. It’s good enough to last 3 to 5 days on standby. Continuous use is available for 8 to 12 hours, giving you an average of 1 to 2 days of battery power for typical usage. It’s remarkably quick to recharge, needing only 4 to 5 hours.
The signal range can extend 3 to 5 miles with open fields, while you still get 2 to 4 miles inside urban areas. For security people using this inside a building, this works from the ground floor all the way to the 60th floor. However, don’t expect it to work when you enter the basement.
Your money also gets you plenty of freebies, despite its affordable price. You get a power adapter and a desktop charger, a hand strap and a belt clip, along with an earpiece. Plenty of people just buy this for a walkie talkie, until they realize that it can do a lot more. It can be a candidate for best portable ham radio for off road in its price range.
- Long-lasting battery
- Quick to recharge
- Great walkie talkie
- Lots of freebies
- Good for newbies
9. FT-70DR FT-70 Original Yaesu 144/430 MHz Digital/Analog Handheld Transceiver
This provides you with the advanced C4FM digital mode along with the analog FM operation. You get 5w of RF power. The audio quality is also excellent, thanks to the C4FM and the large speaker.
You won’t have to manually change the receiver to the right mode. This has the automatic select mode (ASM) feature. It reads the signal it gets as either analog FM or digital C4FM, and then immediately switches the receiver to the right mode. The large display clearly shows you which mode your transceiver is on.
This comes with a mini-USB port, which helps a lot with the software updates. The while unit is very rugged and solid. It even meets IP54 standards, meaning it has some resistance against dust and water.
Some people say that you should replace the stock antenna and you’ll get an even better portable ham radio. Download the programming software, but quite a few have reported that it’s easy enough to program without the computer.
10. Kenwood Original TH-D74A 144/220/430 MHz Triband
Now if you’re really serious about spending good money to get the very best, try this model. This is regarded as the portable amateur radio to get for D-STAR and APRS performance. It allows for simultaneous D-STAR and APRS operation, and that’s the first time this was possible in the portable ham radio industry.
Your money gets you plenty of features, including Bluetooth/USB connectivity, microSD memory slot, and even a DSP equalizer and IF filters. The superior “transflective” display is easy to see, even in direct sunlight or in the dark. It offers GPS, KISS, and a thousand channels.
- Rugged design with IP54 dust and water resistance
- A very long list of technical capabilities
- You can record anything on a 32-gig SD card
- You can get FM and AM radio, and even CB stations
- Great free software
Best Portable Ham Radio – Buying Guide
You can’t just look at the price to determine which portable ham radio is best for your needs. They’re not all the same, so picking the cheapest you can find will most likely not cut it. But you can’t also assume that the best ones will be the most expensive models.
Read the portable ham radio reviews written by experts and customers alike, and take particular note of the following factors:
More specifically, check out the User’s Manual. Newbies to ham radio will especially need a manual that’s easy enough to understand so that they can learn they way around their new ham radio. Very rarely will you find a portable amateur radio that you can use right out of the box, because you thing the controls are intuitive. That almost never happens.
So, check if you can understand the manual at all. See also if you can find plenty of support videos and articles from user groups which can give you tips on how you can use your new portable amateur radio properly.
Most portable ham radios get up to 5 watts of power at the most. Base models, which means they’re used mainly at home, tend to offer more power options. Try to get a portable model with both low and high-power settings which you can adjust.
You’ll probably use the 2-meter ham band for emergencies, and you’ll need the 440 MHz band too. But you may want more advanced band features. Dual band lets you monitor 2 frequencies at the same time. Or you can go with general coverage, meaning you can also get AM and FM (and even TV) frequencies. You can get SSB (which is great for 2-way communications) or CW (Morse code).
This is crucial, and it’s better to have it and not need it than to fumble around in the dark. There should be a way to turn the light on or off so that you can conserve power when there’s enough light around.
A few dozen memory slots may suffice if you’re limiting your portable amateur radio use to local or emergency use. But if you want to communicate with people from all over the country (or even internationally), you ought to get about a hundred (or two hundred) memory slots.
Many portable ham radios let you manually program the radio using the display and a keypad. But other models can be connected to a PC, so you can program the radio a lot more easily.
Uses of Portable Ham Radio
In the age of smartphones, why aren’t portable ham radios gone the way of the dodo? They’re still around because they still have their uses:
- They’re your best alternative during natural disasters when mobile phones are unable to work.
- It’s a fun way to talk to people from all over.
- It’s a great skill to learn.
- You become part of an enthusiastic community.
- You can especially learn from old folks (called “Elmers”) and military veterans.
Why so many Baofeng products on the list?
Baofeng may be a Chinese brand, but it’s an exemption to the generalization that Chinese products are substandard. Baofeng was launched only in 2001, starting with a factory of just over 30 workers. In the early days, they admittedly just concentrated on making cheap products. Now it’s a high-tech giant in the industry, which attests to its quality. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re one of the brands making some of the best cheap portable ham radio units around.
Ham radio is just another name for CB radio, right?
Dead wrong? Saying this tends to annoy some ham enthusiasts, so you should never say this out loud. It’s like saying the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese people are basically one and the same cultural group. (We strongly suggest you don’t say this either when you’re in any of these countries.)
Ham radio (which is also called amateur radio) is very different from CB radio. Among the numerous differences is that CB radio range maxes out at about 50 miles. With portable amateur radio, you can be in the US and talk to someone in the Middle East or China.
CB has only one band, while portable amateur radio has lots of bands to choose from (depending on the size of your radio). You don’t need a license for CB radio either, which is another reason why ham enthusiasts resent being called CB radio users.
Is this like talking with a walkie-talkie and you have to talk back?
No, that’s not an absolute requirement. You can just listen like you would to an AM or FM station. You don’t even need a license to just listen.
Do you really have to get a license for portable ham radio?
The short answer is yes. There are 3 levels of licenses, and you need to obtain the lowest level license first to get to the next level.
The entry-level Technician license requires you to pass a 35-question exam, which generally lets you communicate locally and domestically. You’re able to access the frequencies above 30MHz plus some HF band privileges too. You get a call sign as well, though you can apply to change it if you don’t like it.
The next step is the General license (the Technician license is a prerequisite), which comes with another set of 35 questions. This time, you can now communicate internationally. The last step is the Amateur Extra license, which gives you all the privileges on all bands and modes. You can get this after getting the General license and then passing a 50-question exam.
Why is there a need for a license in the first place?
It’s needed the same way it’s needed for driving a car or owning a gun. You can’t just use any of these things right out of the box. You have to develop the skill for it, and you need to learn the rules.
What happens if you’re caught operating a portable amateur radio without a license?
It’s very likely you’ll get a visit from the FCC, and then they’ll take your equipment away.
If you’re looking for a fun yet challenging hobby, portable ham radio may be a great option for you. It gives you a nice sense of satisfaction the more you learn, plus you’re able to connect with people all over. The best portable ham radio will be very handy if there’s a natural disaster, or even a nuclear war, alien invasion, or a zombie apocalypse.