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Two-way radios or walkie talkies have come a long way. When you were a kid, they were just goofy toys. But modern walkie talkies have a lot to offer. With compact design and easy voice controls, walkie talkies are incredibly useful. So what’s going to be the best way to stay connected when you’re hiking or out on the fishing boat? Let’s take a look at our recommendations for the best two way radios on the market.
Best Budget Choice
1. Motorola T100 Two Way Radios
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To say Motorola makes incredible two-way radios is an understatement. Motorola’s communications technology is top of the line. These are the people who pioneered cell phones, after all. Their two way radios cover a wide range of abilities and costs.
When it comes to the best value, we recommend the Motorola T100. These two way radios are affordable, durable, and made with Motorola quality.
The T100 radios operate on two AAA batteries. They can handle up to 18 hours of use but that’s going to decrease slightly with extended use. Plan for a little less and keep some spare batteries on hand just in case. You will get a flashing alert when your battery power is dying as a head’s up.
They boast a range of 16 miles in an open area. When you test this in a city expect to not get anywhere near that range. In an area with trees and houses the range drops to about a one mile range or less. That said, in the open country they performed much better. In the woods for hiking or camping you’ll likely have a range somewhere in the middle.
They also have 22 channels available for use. They can receive signals from all FRS and GMRS radios. The radios have an auto squelch. There’s also a separate tone for call, keypad, and talk confirmation.
You can pick these up in blue or pink to keep things festive. That makes them great options for hiking with the kids. The sound quality is great. One spot you may want to be wary of is the battery panel. For whatever reason, Motorola did not make it easy to get into these things. It can be a real chore taking the bottom off to get the batteries out sometimes. If your angles are off, the plastic seems almost impenetrable.
There’s a clip included for putting the radio on your belt. It’s well built and stands up to a lot of pulling and prodding. The radio itself feels good in your hand. Not too large and not too small. Button placement is well thought out and comfortable. At this price point, for a short range Motorola two-way radio, you won’t find anything better.
Best Overall Choice
2. Motorola T460 Two Way Radio
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Motorola shows up again proving mobile phones were just the beginning. The Talkabout T460 may be the best two-way radio that Motorola produces. Not only that, but as far as we can tell this is the best overall walkie talkie you’ll find from any manufacturer.
The Talkabout radio is weatherproof so it can handle trips to the woods in the rain or on the boat. Don’t submerge it, but don’t worry if it gets damp. As you might expect from Motorola, the sound quality is top notch. In terms of features, these are a huge step up from the much cheaper T100s.
There are 22 channels available. You can also use 121 privacy codes. Motorola boasts a maximum range of 35 miles for these. Again, that’s not a real world range by any means. On open water you may get a five mile range. Around town expect about a one mile range or so.
The NOAA weather alerts are available on these radios. So are alerts as well. That makes them handy for use especially when boating. The emergency alert button offers some peace of mind when you’re out in the world.
The radios run on rechargeable batteries. They also include USB cable for charging. You can also run them off of three AA batteries if you don’t have the ability to charge them. We recommend a solar battery pack as well. This will amp up battery life and ensure better longevity.
Good long range walkie talkies like these are more reliable than cell phones. They operate on FRS channels. Be mindful that they only seem to work with other Motorola FRS models.
Best Premium Choice
3. Motorola T800 Two Way Radio
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Yep, it’s Motorola again. They make the best walkie talkies. What can we say? The top of the line T800 models are definitely going to cost more. But the features here are well worth the investment. If you’re serious about a good walkie talkie, this is what you want. Even the snazzy, backlit blue LCD screen is a standout here.
The T800 offers Bluetooth connectivity with your cell phone. Once connected, this handy feature gives you a messaging ring at your disposal. This works even beyond normal coverage range. It’s an excellent feature to have when you’re far off grid. It’s able to send GPS coordinates and text messages. Data transmission range is about five miles. They boast a 20 mile range but you know how that goes.
In addition, there are many other features. There are 7 NOAA channels. In total there are 11 weather channels that monitor conditions in real time. Like other Motorola devices, there are 22 channels. You’ll also have 121 privacy settings.
Battery life is to other Motorola devices. You have two power sources options here again. You can use two AA batteries. There is also the option to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries.
In addition to the cool messaging feature, there’s plenty more to like. It’s weather resistant and lightweight. There’s an emergency alert button plus power boost. Call tones, dual-channel monitoring and more make this a great walkie talkie. You even have offline maps on the LCD display.
You can use this as a GMRS radio. As we have covered, GMRS radios require an FCC license. With that in mind, you won’t be using channels 1-7 and 15-22. Those are for GMRS radio only. The rest are for FRS radios which, of course, are free.
Overall, the incredible off grid features make the T800 a superior, premium model.
4. Midland GMRS 50 Channel Two Way Radio
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Not every great two way radio is a Motorola. Midland’s GMRS 50 channel radio is a great option. As you can see, Midland offers more channels than a standard FRS radio. This is top of the line for long range communication. Like we keep saying, you need a license to legally operate on GMRS frequencies. But if you have that, the Midland is amazing.
You can get crystal clear sound even at long range with Midland. They claim a 36 mile range but it is somewhat lower. However, GMRS radios operate at a higher power than FRS and the range does reflect this. It features easy voice and sound activation transmission. That comes with nine sensitivity levels for hands free use.
NOAA weather scan scrolls through 10 channels for alerts. If there is severe weather, you can hear an audible alert to let you know.
In addition to the handsets, you get some great extras with the Midland. You get two boom mic headsets as well as belt clips. There are rechargeable battery packs as well. That’s one battery pack for each radio. There are 142 privacy codes and also an SOS siren. There’s also a whisper mode. This is great for hunting, as it silences the radio for you.
You can run these on a rechargeable battery pack or AA batteries. Be aware that these walkie talkies can suck the life out of AA’s though. They tend to drain pretty fast. The rechargeable ones are more reliable.
5. BTech GMRS V1 Two Way Radio
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The BTech V1 is a powerful radio. It’s able to watch two channels at once with dual band capability. It monitors both UHF and VHF. It gives priority to whatever channel you monitor that has an incoming call.
The LCD screen has three programmable colors. It’s very clear and easy to read. There’s also a built-in FM radio. You can also swap out the antenna for something more powerful, if you want. Just remember, as a GMRS radio you need to be licensed to use this.
One of the best selling points for BTech is its support. BTech is an American company. They fully stand behind their products. Their tech support is second to none. Their warranties are thorough.
Compatibility issues don’t exist here. You should be able to communicate with any FRS GMRS radio. You can receive and transmit on 30 channels. There are also 98 programmable channel options for receiving only.
The Btech is compatible with several battery types. Also speaker mics. It has a built in flashlight and comes with an earpiece and wrist strap. Battery life is exceptional and, in our opinion, this is the best GMRS radio out there. There is a reason we don’t recommend this as the best overall. It’s the license limitation and capabilities. This is more than the average two way radio operator will actually need.
6. Arschell 6-Pack Two Way Radios
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If you’re rolling out to the campsite or a hike with a crew, this is your best bet. Arschell’s 6 pack of radios is an incredible deal. Obviously, this is only necessary when you have your friends or family around. For the price, this is an amazing deal. These aren’t super high quality Motorola or Midland radios, but they’re actually very good.
The radios themselves are lightweight and well made. They are water resistant and the buttons are easy to manage. Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are included. Your battery life is likely to be around 12 hours of use. Much longer if you’re not giving them a workout.
There are 16 channels available. Range is listed at five miles but it will be a little less in a city or forest. There’s an emergency alert as well as a low battery alert. A built in flashlight, hand straps, and ear pieces round out some of the features.
These are by no means top of the line two way radios. But they’re suitable for getting the job done and having a good time. They’re reliable and offer enough decent functions to make them a great choice for a big group.
7. Rivins RV-7 Two Way Radio
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Another great and affordable option comes from Rivins. These two way radios feature a built in flashlight, 22 channels, an LCD screen and a great price. Practical range is on par with many other walkie talkies. That means between 0.5 miles and about 2 miles in a city.
These aren’t top of the line but they function really well. Sound clarity is good.. There’s also an easy to read battery life meter on the backlit LCD screen.
Keypad lock, hands free operation, and a durable design make these a great choice. The price also means you can trust the kids using them without fear of damage. One thing worth knowing is that you can’t use just any earpiece with these. You need to use the earpiece made by the manufacturer or it’s just not going to work at all.
They run on AAA batteries so be prepared to have some on hand. Surprisingly, the battery life on these is actually above average. Removing the back panel to get the batteries in and out is a little tricky.
8. Back Country Access Link Two Way Radio
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Clearly one of the most unique looking two way radios you’ll ever see. The Back Country Access BC Link is great for more serious outdoorsmen. Most two way radios don’t have the power or performance of this model. It’s loud, it handles it outdoors, and it’s rugged.
Battery life is around 6 hours worth of talk time. It comes with one lithium ion battery. Obviously the big design element here is the mic. The body is the same as most walkie talkies. But the mic is styled like a CB radio. It’s designed for operation in harsh conditions and is snow resistant. If you’re a fan of hiking in the winter, this is the best walkie talkie you’ll find. It’s also a great option for skiing and other winter sports. The controls are easy to use even if you have gloves on.
The handset has a loudspeaker option. That makes this much louder than any other walkie talkie we tried.
The trade off for the design here is that the unit is heavier than an average walkie talkie. But the point of this is to not actually be holding it the whole time. If you slip it in a backpack or clip it on, then the weight difference is negligible.
The price is a little steep on these radios. But if you’re an active person, especially in snow, these are ideal.
9. Uniden Atlantis Marine Two Way Radio
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If you need a two way radio at sea, consider the Uniden Atlantis. Your boat should have a VHF radio, but these are a nice addition. Waterproof and able to float, these are made for life on the water.
The Uniden is able to pick up all US and Canadian Marine channels. It has all the weather band channels as well. It also comes with an impressive three year warranty that also covers waterproofing.
Battery life is up around ten hours of talk time. It can run on AAA batteries or rechargeable batteries. This is also what we’d say is the biggest drawback of this model. You need to charge it with a car lighter port. If you want to use any other method of charging, you have to unscrew the back panel. It’s a bit of a hassle. Plus total charge time is very long as well.
The backlit screen is white for day use and red at night. It’s also one of the largest screens we’ve seen, which is nice.
Things to Remember About the Best Two Way Radios
Some long range walkie talkies and two way radios have limited features. Others may be needlessly complex. Here are the areas you want to focus on for your two way radios.
General Mobile Radio Service vs Family Radio Service Walkie Talkies
We’ve mentioned both General Mobile Radio Service and Family Radio Service. Mostly these are abbreviated as GMRS radios and FRS radios. These refer to popular sets of radio frequencies. FRS actually dates back to the days of Radio Shack.
Walkie talkies became popular after the second World War. These operated on low frequencies for many years and that seems fine. With the rise of CB radio in the 70s things start to get complicated. Walkie-talkies and CB radios operated on the same frequency. That meant that kids with walkie talkies were getting radio signals from truckers.
Walkie talkies drop down to a different frequency through the 80s and 90s. So that’s when other electronic devices started being mass-produced on those same frequencies. In the 90s, RadioShack petitioned the FCC to reserve frequencies between 462 and 467 MHz. Those are now the Family Radio Service frequencies that modern two way radios use.
General Mobile Radio Service operates on a higher frequency. They have a greater range than Family Radio Service frequencies. However, these are used more frequently for commercial purposes. In fact, you need a license from the FCC to broadcast over GMRS radios in some case. For that reason, most two-way radios don’t use it. You can broadcast on those frequencies, but you may get fined if you’re on the wrong one. That’s why it’s generally better to stick with a family radio service if it’s just for casual radio chat. You don’t want to be operating on a commercial or emergency band when you’re not supposed to.
Arguably one of the most important factors when buying 2-way radios. Walkie talkies with limited range are great for kids talking to each other at home and in the yard. Let’s say you were boating and wanted to talk to somebody on shore. You need to make sure your two-way radio has a solid range. Whenever possible, test the range before committing to a purchase. We are giving you our best recommendations here based on Range. Many companies advertise that the radio has a certain range. But in real terms it doesn’t mean it’s actually clear at that range. You need to make sure you can still hear the other person close to max range. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Many walkie talkies will have a listed range around 32 miles. Sometimes up to about 45 miles. When you’re using your two-way radio, don’t count on those numbers. Range is almost always calculated in a straight line. So unless you can see the person that you were talking to on the other end, your numbers are going to be off. Trees, bad weather, mountains, buildings, these all affect range. Practical range Maybe 10 miles less than listed, or even more.
As we have all learned from our cell phones, battery life is something you really need to pay attention to. A product may say it offers endless hours of battery life but that’s not always the case. Some unscrupulous companies bend the rules a little when describing battery life. They’ll tell you how long the battery lasts if you’re not actually using the device. You need to know how long your two-way radio will last with batteries.
The kind of batteries that you are two-way radios use is also a consideration. Many models work with rechargeable lithium battery. You’ll just need to plug it in like you would have a cell phone. This can be either with a charging cable, a USB cord, or on a charging stand. Others will just use standard AA batteries or AAA batteries. There are some advantages to either one.
Remember, if you are two way radios just use AAA batteries then you could swap those out any time. You won’t have to wait for a charge. On the other hand, you need to make sure you have batteries available all the time. Depending on how you use your walkie-talkies and where you use them, this can make a big difference.
A two way radio with no clarity is no good. This often goes hand-in-hand with range. If your walkie-talkie has a 30 mile range, how does it sound at that distance? Probably little more than static. You need to have a two-way radio that is clear when in use. If it gets too crackly, then it’s no longer worth using. Keep in mind what you’re using your walkie talkies for. If you’re going on a very long hike at a very great distance, the clarity is going to suffer. Make sure you would have asked in a two-way radio that has the range to offer you the clarity you need.
It’s worth checking to see if the two-way radio you’re looking to buy has any extra features. This includes access to NOAA weather alerts. Some walkie-talkies will give you access to these channels. That can help to keep apprised of the weather. This is especially helpful if you plan to use your walkie talkies for hiking, hunting, or boating.
Other extra features can also tip the scales to make a two-way radio more appealing. Things like belt clips for hands free, charging cables, or charging stands. A keypad lock is also helpful Always check to see what comes in the box to make sure you’re getting what you need.
Hands free operation and voice activation are definite benefits. Going hands free can be crucial when you’re juggling a lot of other gear. Or on a boat and things are hectic.
The ability to transmit GPS coordinates is a great safety feature to have. Sharing location information is a safety consideration some hikers might want. This is especially important for boaters or skiers. Cheaper two way radios won’t have this feature. And of course it’s not always necessary. But if you take long trips or solo trips, it could save your life.
Of course, GPS is invaluable for navigating as well. Most of us will opt for a phone to do this task. But cell phone reception isn’t always reliable so having a backup is never a bad idea.
You want to have a rugged set of walkie talkies. The ones we have recommended can take a bit of abuse. The cheaper models do trade a bit of this endurance for price. Pay special attention to things like belt clips when it comes to this. The radio itself may be built to last. The belt clip, however, may just be cheap plastic. It happens more than you might think.
Design is not a thing that everybody thinks of immediately when it comes to two-way radios. Often we are more concerned with the features and power of the radio. design really comes into play once you are actively using it, however. You want a radio that’s going to feel comfortable in your hand. One that is properly laid out as well. If the buttons are not easy to access or press, that’s the problem.
If you’re using your radio while you’re out hiking or hunting, it means to be the right size and weight. You don’t want to really bulky two-way radio. If you’re carrying a ton of gear, a smaller, lighter two-way radio is going to be better.
Less important to the function is just the way the radio looks. There are a lot of cool and unique designs available for two-way radios these days. 20 years ago they were almost all exclusively black. Now you can get them in multiple colors and camouflage patterns. It doesn’t change the way the radio functions, but it can add a unique, personal touch.