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Emergency Communication: A Survival Neccesity
When cell phone networks and the internet crash (which they frequently do in the face of genuine, large scale disaster), that’s when it’s time to reach for the ham radio. Did you know when cell networks stopped working due to overload in the aftermath of 9/11, it was ham radios that kept emergency responders in contact with one another?
Ham radios – also known as amateur radios – are more than just fun gadgets for independent radio operators, conspiracy theorists and hobbyists. They can be a important tool of communication when your survival is on the line. If you have decided it’s time to start thinking seriously about prepping and investing in your survival in case the world takes a turn for the worse, a handheld ham radio is an essential tool that will keep you in contact with friends & family and help you maintain a line of communication with the outside world (even if you’re bugging out or bugging in).
The Best Handheld Ham Radios for Survival, Ranked
Best Handheld Ham Radios for Survival: A Buying Guide
Ham radio devices use radio frequencies to connect and communicate with other people using the same kind of comms. Handheld radios communicate audio, text, data, and images through radio frequency spectrums. Just because they fit into your hand doesn’t mean to say these devices are not powerful. There are ham radios capable of communicating with people in space!
These compact, portable devices can be taken anywhere you go. Sure, they look efficient and handy, but what other benefits do mobile digital radios offer?
Radio Endurance Capabilities
A handheld ham radio device has restricted power output of around 5 watts. There are higher powered device available, with longer battery life, but you should always look for a handheld ham radio with manual, adjustable power settings. These settings, in addition to the power output, determine how far away your radio will reach.
This is especially important in survival situations, as battery life can literally mean the difference between life and death. Also, be aware that different model radios will use different batteries. Some devices use rechargeable batteries and some use non-rechargeable ones. Before entering into a survival situation, think about adding an emergency power source to your kit, such as solar panels or an emergency generator.
In survival situations, the more access you have to alternate light sources, the better. You should consider this when looking at which model DMR (Digital Mobile Radio) you choose. If yours can pull double-duty as a flashlight this could put you at an advantage.
Look at ham radios for survival with LED lighted screens. Not only will they come in useful when you need to find your way around in the night, but will also assist you in reading the settings in the pitch dark. Just be careful not to use too much of the battery power if you don’t have a back-up power source around.
High Frequency/Far Reach
Only the best ham radios bought for survival and outdoor experience need to have reliable coverage and a wide range. Remember that the range depends on the type of frequency the handheld radio offers. This is determined by the band allocation the radio uses.
Be aware that the kind of license you have also determines the range of frequencies you can use on your radio. You will need to assess your FCC license restrictions prior to purchase. In order to be granted a license, you have to demonstrate understanding of FCC regulations, radio stations, and safety considerations. Don’t be too worried about this assessment: five year old license applicants have been able to pass the examinations.
Not all receivers are able to cooperate with every frequency, however. Be sure to choose a ham radio that can cover the appropriate and correct frequency range you need to use.
As a ham radio newbie, rest easy that UHF and VHF bands are the most popular ones in use across the board. This is because Ultra High Frequency and Very High Frequency do not require as much power as the other bands do. You will be able to communicate on a wide level using only these 2 bandwidths. When you see handheld ham radios that offer “Dual-Band” capabilities, you know it offers these two frequencies at the very least.
Beginners should also look out for a device that allows you to be able to switch between the 2 bands, as this is a very desirable feature to have in survival situations. Give some thought as to how the frequency your device offers affects the range. It’s essential in survival to be able to speak over long distances.
The problem with trying to get hold of fully waterproof ham radios is that they most often have a sizeable price tag attached. Plus, they are quite difficult to get hold of in a civilian setting. There are some model DMRs that feature waterproof protection Class IP57. The price tag shouldn’t be a factor if you are serious about survival and prepping because your equipment should be as durable as possible.
A good quality ham radio can withstand any number of scratches and bumps if it has been manufactured by a reputable company. Look for device with a compact, durable case and sturdy materials.
Programming Your Ham Radio
You have to set up your ham radio before you can use it. For all you technophobes out there, pay close attention to the devices that come with an easy to use manual and set up. You have to input the data first to program your handheld radio, so that it can tune into the correct frequencies.
Some handheld devices come with keypads, and some forego this feature in order to save space. If your ham radio hasn’t got a keypad, it will feature a VFO – Variable Frequency Oscillator – as this mode helps to program the device. It searches for active frequencies within a certain range. Then you can add the channel to your frequency bank.
All you need to do to add a channel is press a button to save it. The only drawback is if you accidentally make a mistake in the programming process, you will need to begin again. Even though it is possible to use a ham radio without a keypad and only using the VFO, it can be a difficult process for a beginner to get the hang of. In that case, rather choose a model with a keypad.
It is very simple to find the right balance of memory slots. The more channels you need to program (depending on the type of survival training you are doing), the more memory slots you will require. If your communication needs involve the local area or emergency services, fewer than 50 slots should be adequate. The number of memory slots rises depending on the survival scenario for which you plan on training. Some models offer around 1,000 memory slots which will make it possible for you to communicate on a national or international level.
Our premium choice is the Dual-Band Yaesu Handheld Amateur Radio FT/60R. It’s the ideal handheld ham radio for survival scenarios as it has the perfect combination of easy to use, understandable tech for beginners and wide range of features and capabilities for the survival enthusiast. If it’s outside of the price range that you’re looking for, we recommend the one of the Baofeng models – the BaoFeng BF-F8HP is the best overall handheld ham radio for survival (when taking into account price), and our value pick is the other Baofeng model on this list, the Bao-Feng UV/82/HP.