What Is The Best Walkie Talkie For You?

Written by Mike Young

When an extreme weather event or civil unrest emergency that overwhelms communication infrastructure – or else knocks it out entirely – it’s best to have a backup plan in place. Being able to communicate with loved ones in an emergency situation is crucial to finding them and getting everyone to safety quickly.

In urban areas, cell phone towers can quickly be overloaded, preventing the use of cell phones as an effective means of communication. And in remote areas, cellular service can often be patchy and unpredictable even under normal circumstances. For these reasons, you’ll want to make sure you have walkie-talkies on hand in case of an emergency.

Here are the most important features you should look for when shopping for the best walkie-talkies in an emergency:

Range is an important consideration when you are looking for a good emergency walkie-talkie. You will want to be able to depend on your walkie-talkie to have a long enough range that you will be able to communicate with loved ones even if they are several miles away.

However, while many walkie-talkies will advertise range of more than ten miles – and some as many as twenty – you should be prepared for the fact that in urban environments and broken terrain, radio range can easily be reduced to less than a mile.

Multiple channels are also an important feature of a good walkie-talkie. You want to have the ability to prepare emergency plans that allow you to contact your loved ones on a particular band so they know what to look for. But it’s also useful to be able to access multiple other channels so you can monitor emergency channels, listen for emergency bulletins and keep tabs on potentially hostile individuals on other bands. You’ll also want to try to find a model that works on both GRMS bands (1 to 5 watt) as well as the less-powerful FRS bands (0.5 watts).

An emergency button is an important feature of any good emergency walkie-talkie. These buttons allow you to transmit SOS signals and use the walkie-talkie hands-free, and also allow you to silently send information using Morse code if you are in a dangerous situation and don’t want to risk talking into your walkie-talkie.

Power source is another critical consideration in an emergency walkie-talkie. You can probably assume that power lines will be down after a severe weather event or during a period of major civil unrest. So you won’t want to have to depend on charging your walkie-talkies.

Battery-operated walkie-talkies can easily solve this problem, provided you make sure you also have plenty of back-up batteries in your go bag. But you may also want to consider looking into hand cranked walkie-talkies, which allow you to forego the power issue altogether. Hand-cranked walkie-talkies will not have the same kind of range as more powerful models, but they’ll do in a pinch.

Durability is also an important feature in your emergency walkie-talkie. In an emergency situation, you want to make sure your sole communication device doesn’t easily break if it is dropped or banged up. And you also want to make sure your walkie-talkie is waterproof. In an extreme weather event, or if you are escaping emergency situations by boat, you don’t want to risk your walkie-talkie shorting out if it gets wet.

Size and weight are the final things you should consider with an emergency walkie-talkie. As with any equipment in your go bag, space and weight are major considerations. The more room your walkie-talkies take up, the less room there will be for other vital gear, such as foot and water rations, first aid gear, or flashlights. Make sure you get walkie-talkies that are lightweight and not to large.

Updated May 30, 2014

11 Comments

  1. Tim wrote:

    Getting A ham radio license will help anyone learn more about communications and installing your own repeater even using the GMRS frequencies can be a lifesaver for your group.

    May 31st, 2014 at 5:19 am
  2. Carl M wrote:

    Tim, is spot on, get a HAM radio license, it took me several days studying, hamwhisperer.com video lessons. I have a Baofeng UV5R around $40.00 I can listen to the local police, fire, rescue, talk to other Hams, and even talk to other walky talkys. Programming manually is tricky, use the computer program, buy the CD and programming cable, that way is very simple and quick. How else will you communicate when the phones are down, and no cell towers are working?

    May 31st, 2014 at 5:36 am
  3. Bart wrote:

    First – some nits to pick –

    Would have been better to mention you were speaking about GMRS/FRS radios right off –
    Range – On FRS, the FCC has very strict antenna restrictions on those things, and range given in advertising is useless, especially for comparison shopping. They all perform about the same, with RELIABLE useable range of less than a mile or about six vertical stories (they are, after all, only 500 milliwatts – GMRS is up to 5 watts with antenna restrictions loosened)

    In an emergency, do NOT use ‘privacy’ codes or “sub-channels” – they only block you from hearing what else is going on on that channel.

    Channel assignments can be strongly enforced, depending on the emergency, by FEMA, the FCC and CERT teams and local law enforcement.

    CERT has national Radio Operations setup and training training and manuals available, and they will have first priority in a big emergency. FEMA/FCC can shut down ALL radio comm’s except those they designate as useful. That includes FRS as well as Ham, CB, commercial systems, etc.

    Be prepared correctly – get your Ham license AND your RACES number, train with your local ARES and CERT groups – it is well worth the effort.

    May 31st, 2014 at 8:27 am
  4. Rick wrote:

    All good comments because having the ability to communicate in a disaster situation is tantamount to survival.
    The hand- helds will also allow you to remove the antenna and hook up to a larger antenna which will help increase your range.
    You will also want to consider a throat mike /ear bud combo set up for quieter communications; just make sure the throat mike is the two mike system as the one mike system often is garbeled.

    May 31st, 2014 at 8:51 am
  5. Ken wrote:

    A ham radio license is a good place to start and solar battery back up is an even better idea for your communications needs.

    May 31st, 2014 at 9:20 am
  6. Kevin Wagenknecht wrote:

    I have several ways .A old 40 channel walkie talkie set both 5 watts. And cheap Baofeng UV5R with upgraded ant. on them they are cheap.39.00 on amazon, I need still to get my ham license and am working on it but you can get on many channels with the UV5R that do not require licenses.Have to watch your wattage. I also have the midland 50 channel radios that are supposed to go 36 miles and don’t. You cn use the UV5’s to talk to them also. There are many places on the internet showing you frequencies for the channels. I have solar back up and gen. back up. The midlands will get out farther if you do antenna mods there are many on youtube that walk you through. They may or may not be 100 percent legal though but for an emergency might be what you need.

    May 31st, 2014 at 10:45 am
  7. Joe wrote:

    Great info., even the responses were informative. Just what we were looking for as far as getting people started in EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS.

    May 31st, 2014 at 3:57 pm
  8. wally wrote:

    if the you know what hits the fan why have ham radio license???

    May 31st, 2014 at 6:50 pm
  9. Bart wrote:

    One further note –

    GMRS radios do, but FRS radios BY FCC Regulation do NOT have the ability to attach an external antenna – that is part of the laws that allow them in unlicensed hands – very limited range. The severely limited permanently attached ones are all that is allowed –

    and comment –

    Yes – the CB 40 channel radios make great communications units – AM modulation allows multiple users to “share” channel resources better than FM for lack of the “capture” effect. That is why AM is still used on Aircraft frequencies. Excellent property for emergency use!

    June 1st, 2014 at 8:41 am
  10. Raetta wrote:

    i am totally lost.so,who can help me get a minimum
    and economically?

    July 8th, 2014 at 10:11 pm
  11. Mary Ann wrote:

    Can one get a consultant to assist in finding the best, most effective communication avenues? This is a lot to understand.

    October 9th, 2014 at 8:50 am

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