Hikers, campers, and vacationers in general understand the annoyance that is getting past where the cell service stops. It’s a great feeling on the one hand, but boy does it make staying in touch with separate groups more annoying. Thankfully there’s a great solution: Two way radios. Today we’re looking for the best two way radio and providing reviews on some of our favorites across the range of performance, price, and durability.
- 1 Best Two Way Radios
- 1.1 BaoFeng Tech BF-F8HP Dual Band Two Way Radio
- 1.2 Midland LXT630VP3 36 Channel FRS Two Way Radio
- 1.3 Motorola T260TP Talkabout Radio
- 1.4 BaoFeng Tech GMRS-V1 GMRS Two Way Radio
- 1.5 BaoFeng Tech DMR-6X2 (DMR and Analog) Dual Band Two Way Radio
- 1.6 Midland GXT1050VP4 50 Channel GMRS Two Way Radio
- 1.7 Retevis RT27 Walkie Talkies Rechargeable Long Range FRS Two Way Radio
- 1.8 Cobra CX312 Walkie-Talkie Two Way Radio
- 2 Buyers Guide to Buying the Best Two Way Radio
- 3 Final Thoughts
Best Two Way Radios
Two way radios really fall into one of two categories. Consumer radios designed for license-less use by your everyday people or workers on a job site, and amateur radios designed to offer substantially more power, performance, and flexibility that require licensing.
Our list includes some great examples of each so everyone from soccer moms looking to keep in touch with their kids at a campsite to ham radio enthusiasts looking to better explore their hobby can find a useful product.
BaoFeng Tech BF-F8HP Dual Band Two Way Radio
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is the 3rd generation upgrade of their industry-leading UV-5R two way radio. It includes all the features that made the original so beloved plus some interesting extras and improvements.
It offers three different operation modes, Low, Medium, and High that run at one Watt, four Watts, and eight Watts, and a seven inch high gain antenna designed for maximum broadcast and reception. It can operate at 65-108MHz, 136-174MHz, and 400-520MHz frequencies in either simple or semi-duplex mode.
The biggest improvements past the improved programming options are the hardened shell and the improved battery life. It comes standard with a 2,000 mAh rechargeable battery that allows you to operate up to 24 continuous hours.
One really important caveat with the BF-F8HP is that it isn’t an entry level two way radio. You’re required to hold an FCC license to operate on any of the frequencies it utilizes and at both the medium and high power levels.
It’s capable of reaching frequencies that neither FRS or GMRS bands are allowed to operate on. If you’re looking for a basic click to talk two way radio for keeping in touch with friends on a hike, this isn’t it.
All in all the BaoFeng BG-F8HP is a highly capable and affordably priced two way radio. It’s definitely not for beginners and requires both licensing and significant knowledge of radio laws, but is a great product for those who need its level of performance.
Midland LXT630VP3 36 Channel FRS Two Way Radio
The Midland LXT630VP3 is an FRS two way radio designed for casual use. They come in either pairs or multi packs and are designed to provide effective backcountry, job site, or other communication over distances of up to 30 miles.
As FRS radios you don’t require a license to operate these, but they still offer substantial functionality. You can broadcast on 36 different channels plus 121 different privacy codes. Unless you’re at a seriously crowded locale you’re almost guaranteed a private conversation.
Other great features we really liked include dual power functionality, eVOX compatibility, and NOAA scanning and alerts. You can run the LXT630VP3 using either the included rechargeable battery pack or three AAA batteries.
The NOAA function allows you to scan the 10 NOAA WX bands for severe weather warnings and will even give you an automatic alert if there are major changes. eVOX makes it easy to use these handy two way radios in a hands-free configuration.
If you’re looking for a good way to keep in touch while camping, vacationing, or in a work setting the Midland LXT630VP3 is a great and very well priced option.
Motorola T260TP Talkabout Radio
The Motorola T260TP is an FRS/GMRS two way radio designed for consumer to amateur use. It’s capable of communicating on 22 different channels and offers 121 different privacy codes.
The body of the radio is made from a tough polymer and offers limited water and dust resistance. We wouldn’t drop it in any lakes or even puddles, but you can get it a little wet in the rain and you should be alright.
The range is listed as up to 25 miles, but that’s under seriously perfect conditions. Under most normal working conditions you can expect a maximum range of about a mile, with any obstructions cutting it even further. That’s not to say it isn’t a quality product with a useful range, just that you should make sure your expectations are realistic.
One really important caveat when talking about the T260TP is that it’s only a semi license-less radio. It can operate on either the sub one Watt FRS bands or the GMRS bands. If you only operate it on the FRS bands you’re okay without a license, but if you move into GMRS without first getting an FCC operator’s license you can face a fine.
So long as you know how to properly stay on band and are aware of the real range the Motorola T260TP is a robust and well made two way radio that will provide you with years of useful service.
BaoFeng Tech GMRS-V1 GMRS Two Way Radio
The BaoFeng Tech GMRS-V1 is a semi-duplex two way radio designed to operate in the GMRS bands. It has a digital display and a host of useful features for the professional or amateur radio enthusiast.
It doubles as a VHF/UHF receiver and is fully capable of receiving and alerting you to NOAA weather emergency messages. It comes standard with a bunch of useful accessories including an eVOX compatible earbud kit, wrist strap/belt holster, and a removable V-85 dual band antenna.
It can operate on FRS frequency bands as well, but given the advanced features the GMRS-V1 offers it’s a good idea to get licensed if you’re going to own one. If you don’t have the proper experience or knowledge to stay in legal territory.
This bad boy is fully PC programmable for creating custom channels and really locking down where you want to broadcast. You can program specific features such as a busy channel lockout (BCLO) and transmission time out (TTO).
The BaoFeng GMRS-V1 is a great entry point to amateur radio as it gives you a lot of the more advanced features enthusiasts look for without the high price tag. You’ll need an FCC Technician license at a minimum to operate this radio, but if you’re willing to take the test it’s an excellent product.
BaoFeng Tech DMR-6X2 (DMR and Analog) Dual Band Two Way Radio
The BaoFeng Tech DMR-6X2 is a dual band two way radio that offers advanced features useful to the amateur radio community. It offers fully 4,000 different programmable channels, 10,000 talk groups, and 200,000 saveable contacts.
To get the most out of your DMR-6X2 you need to also download BaoFeng’s free software suite. It allows you to make substantial modifications to frequency and usage and really opens up how you can use your radio.
One thing we should mention right out the gate is that this isn’t a consumer focused product. You need an FCC license to operate on the vast majority of channels open to the DMR-6X2.
Physically it’s a robust and well designed two way radio. It comes in a sturdy polymer housing and includes a laundry list of useful accessories right out of the box. Everything from an enhanced six inch dual band antenna to a pair of high-capacity batteries to extend your operating time are included standard.
If you’re interested in amateur radio and would like to learn more about the hobby, the BaoFeng DMR-6X2 is a great way to get a lot of capability for a very affordable price.
Midland GXT1050VP4 50 Channel GMRS Two Way Radio
The Midland GXT1050VP4 is a 50 channel GMRS two way radio designed for use by licensed enthusiasts. It provides 142 different privacy codes that give you an effective range of 3,124 different channel options for a private conversation.
Under ideal conditions the broadcast range can reach 36 miles, though we found it to be a lot closer to one to two miles under real-world use. That’s actually still really good for a two way radio of this size and power though.
Out of the box the GXT1050VP4 comes with a rechargeable battery pack, both car and home charging cords for the base, belt clips, and eVOX compatible boom mikes. That’s a pretty good mix of accessories for a relatively basic GMRS radio, great for folks just looking to stay in touch while in the woods, on vacation, or even somewhere like a cruise ship.
While the GXT1050VP4 does require a license to operate we think it gives you enough additional power and functionality to be worth it. It’s got a greater effective range than many FRS only two way radios and is still at a very reasonable price point.
Retevis RT27 Walkie Talkies Rechargeable Long Range FRS Two Way Radio
The Retevis RT27 is a license-free FRS two way radio designed for consumer and job site use. It comes in a pack of five, perfect for a small job site or large family on vacation.
They each use a 1,100 mAh rechargeable battery that gives you eight to ten hours of use with a single charge. Even better, every radio comes with its own charging cradle so you can keep them where you need them, when you need them.
It offers DCS/CTCSS codes for better privacy and is fully compatible with eVOX and other useful hands free features. All in all the RT27’s offer a lot of functionality for being license-less.
For those looking for a click and talk experience without the need for programming channels or going through a licensing process the RT27 is a really great choice.
Cobra CX312 Walkie-Talkie Two Way Radio
The Cobra CX312 is an entry level walkie talkie style two way radio designed for consumer use. It offers a combined 22 channels on the FRS/GMRS bands and has a listed range of up to 23 miles.
If you just use the FRS channels there’s no need to get licensed, but if you aren’t certain which are which or if you want to expand the usefulness of your radio’s it’s an easy test to take and pass. Feature-wise the CX312’s are basic, but in a good way.
You don’t have a lot of options to worry about and you can pretty much turn them on, sync up your channels, and be good to go for the foreseeable future. That’s great if you’re just looking to keep in touch with your kids when you’re out hiking or while they run off to explore the campground.
Overall the Cobra CX312 is a capable little walkie talkie at a very attractive price. You can pick up enough for the whole family for well under $100.
Buyers Guide to Buying the Best Two Way Radio
When picking out the best two way radio you really need to know your own capabilities and the level of performance your task requires. Two way radio’s range from children’s toys on up to high-powered amateur radios that require extensive experience and multiple licensing exams to use.
Make sure you know where, how, and at what distance you need your radio to work at.
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We’re living in a golden age of high-quality, low-cost two way radios. Sub $100 radios today offer features and performance you would have been hard pressed to find on a $1,000+ model just a decade or two ago.
Suffice it to say you can get a two way radio or even a set of multiple two way radios for keeping in touch with family for a very reasonable price.
Half Duplex or Full Duplex
Half-duplex and full duplex are highly technical designations that refer to the base functionality of your radio. Duplex two way radios use two channels to communicate, one for outgoing and one for incoming information.
A full-duplex two way radio can communicate in much the same way as a phone. You can talk and listen at the same time without having to push a button.
Half-duplex systems have a similar two channel arrangement to full-duplex but require a push to talk button be pressed. The vast majority of portable two way radios are half-duplex radios.
How you intend to use your two way radio plays a huge role in what features you should look for. If you’re a radio hobbyist who merely wants to communicate with others locally from your home you’ll have significantly different needs than someone looking for a way to stay in touch while out in the backcountry.
Outdoor use two way radios need to be small and portable, offer a working range of several miles minimum, and offer access to the most commonly used FRS channels. They should also be at the very least shock and drop resistant and offer some level of water resistance.
Amateur radios need a lot more features, flexibility, power, and programmability. A modern amateur radio should be connectable to your PC to do some serious programming and frequency maintenance.
Size and Portability
The bulk of consumer two way radios are handheld affairs commonly referred to as walkie talkies. These are generally hand portable and weigh under a pound each.
You can easily carry one in a belt pouch or within your backpack. They offer substantial backcountry communication capability for their size. Some larger models are designed for use in vehicles or at a basecamp, these are about the size of a small DVD player and weigh just a few pounds.
The range of your two way radio is directly related to its antenna effectiveness and the power of its broadcast capabilities. Modern radio broadcasting is measured in watts and directly relates to the distance it can broadcast.
The vast majority of small handheld two way radios claim an ‘optimal condition’ range of around 20 to 25 miles. Realistically though you’re unlikely to encounter optimal conditions during practical use of your radio.
For most consumer focused two way radios you’ll have a consistent range of about two to three miles. An important term you’ll see thrown around a lot is ‘line of sight’.
FRS radios below two Watts will generally provide only line of sight, or the distance you can see from your vantage point, range.
For modern two way radios there are a limited number of channels available that correspond to different broadcast frequencies. For a non-licensed individual there are 22 channels available on the FRS band.
If you’re willing to get a license from the FCC, good for ten years, you can also use the additional channels of the GMRS.
Privacy Codes/Interference Codes
One of the biggest downsides with two way radios in the past was that anyone on the same frequency as you could listen in on your conversation. If there were a lot of people around on two way radios it could be difficult to find a clear channel to talk on.
Here’s where the tech gets really interesting. Privacy codes, also known as interference codes depending on the manufacturer, allow people to have multiple conversations going on the same channel/frequency without interfering with one another.
The actual tech behind it is seriously technical in how it works, but the easiest way to explain it is that your walkie talkie ‘hears’ everything on a channel but only ‘listens’ to the conversation with a privacy code.
If there are 10 people trying to broadcast on the same channel your walkie talkie will pick up all the conversations. You and your friend can set your privacy code to 3, as an example, and have a clear conversation. Your walkie talkie only conveys what’s said with privacy code 3 to you.
If you’re willing to spend a little more for a higher quality two way radio VOX is a really nice feature to have. VOX, or Voice-Operated Exchange, technology allows you to use your radio in a hands free manner.
The microphone is always listening and can start transmitting when it detects your voice. This can work both through the radio itself or, more commonly, through an attached headset.
VOX capable radios often include a delay circuit as well to prevent the broadcast from closing during the short pauses that often take place during natural conversation. Having a VOX capable radio lets you talk in a much more natural fashion.
Battery Life and Chargers
Two way radios are only as good as their battery life. Most quality walkie talkies these days have internal rechargeable batteries, though some still run on primary batteries such as AAs or AAAs.
Pay attention both to how long your two way radio battery lasts and how it can be charged. We like to see both home and car charge compatibility for a quality two way radio.
NOAA Weather Radio
A great value add for a two way radio is the inclusion of NOAA emergency channels. These provide up to date information on serious weather events in your local area.
In an emergency having access to NOAA can be the difference between life or death. Even if you’re just out hiking, hunting, or camping it’s great to be able to know what’s coming weatherwise.
Do you Need a License?
For civilian two way radios there are two bands of frequencies used. These are the Family Radio Service (FRS) frequencies and the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS).
FRS frequencies are between 462 and 467 MHz and offer 22 potential channels. Most inexpensive two way radios operate on FRS frequencies and don’t require a license to use.
GMRS frequencies are also between 462 and 467 MHz but do require a license to operate. That’s because GMRS radios can easily be modified to increase their power, boosting them into frequencies FRS radios can’t reach.
If you plan to take your two way radio outdoors you need at least a minimum level of water resistance. Two way radios are sophisticated digital devices with a lot of internal electronics.
Unless you’re ready to drop a serious chunk of change you won’t be able to get a truly waterproof model. You will be able to find limited protection from misty conditions and basic splash guards.
Don’t expect to be able to submerge your two way radio.
Many higher-end two way radios now offer Bluetooth capability. It allows you to pair your favorite headsets and headphones with your two way radio and use it fully hands free.
Whether or not you need the flexibility that Bluetooth provides depends on how and where you plan to use your radio. For basic users the extra expense that comes along with added capability probably isn’t worth it.
If you’re going to be using your two way radio frequently or in activities that require the use of your hands it may be a good value add.
So long as you know where and how you intend to use your two way radio it’s easy to find a great option.
Ask yourself how you plan to use it, if you want to go through the licensing process, and what level of performance you need.
Keeping all that in mind, picking out the best two way radio is a breeze.