Best Handheld HAM Radio for Beginners & Pros: Reviews of 7 Most Powerful HT Radios of 2020

Among all the ham radios, the handheld one is the favorite choice of many.

If you are a beginner, I would say a handheld ham radio is the best way to start your journey in the amateur radio world.

You might ask me why. Let me give you some insights:

  • Handheld ham radios are a great tool for survivalists and SHTF preppers
  • These portable radios are ideal for both experts and beginners
  • Very easy to use
  • Most affordable choice
  • … and many more(You can find more advantages later in the article)

However, I am sure that searching for the best handheld ham radio for beginners(or experts) online has given you a lot of options. You are still confused about which one to choose.  This is called the problem of plenty.

But don’t worry. We have found out the top portable ham radios for you.

Best Portable Ham Radios: Our Top Picks

  • BaoFeng BF-F8HP: Best for Beginners
  • Kenwood TH-D74A – Top Premium Handheld Ham Radio
  • BaoFeng UV-82HP – Most Powerful Portable Ham Radio
  • BaoFeng UV-5R – Most Affordable Choice
  • Yaesu VX-6R – Waterproof Handheld Transceiver

If you are in a hurry, you can have a quick overview of our top choices below:

Product Highlight
BaoFeng BF-F8HP: Top Choice For Beginners

 

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  • Compact size
  • Inexpensive model
  • Easy to learn and operate
  • Excellent overall appearance
Kenwood TH-D74A Check Latest Price on Amazon
  • Fantastic color display
  • Feature-rich device
  • Easy configuration
  • Great audio reports
BaoFeng UV-82HP: Most Affordable Check Latest Price on Amazon
  • Offers solid feel in the hand
  • Well-constructed
  • Wonderful reception
  • Excellent battery life
BaoFeng UV-5R

 

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  • Compact design
  • Easy programming
  • Lightweight and versatile
  • Good battery life
Yaesu VX-6R

 

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  • Waterproof and submersible
  • Compact
  • Solidly built
  • Superb reception
TYT MD-380

 

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  • Affordable
  • Holds well in hand
  • Outstanding audio
  • Well-built
BaoFeng UV-82C:

 

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  • Spectacular range
  • Highest build quality
  • Lightweight and small-sized
  • Good value for money

Why Get a Handheld HAM Radio?

An handheld ham radio is a transceiver, small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. It often comes with a battery pack, antenna, belt clip, and all other accessories required to make it come together.

These compact transceivers operate on certain radio bands. The radio band refers to frequencies assigned like UHF and VHF.

It can be quite a task connecting with people when you’re away from your mobile ham radio or base station. In such cases, something as convenient and small as this modern gadget can be an excellent option.

You can use the device for socializing like connecting with local users, or solely for work requirements. Some operators rely on it for survival during emergencies. Either way, this versatile device can be pretty useful in all kinds of situations.

Here are some of the advantages of using a handheld or portable ham radio.

  • One of the most significant benefits of purchasing ham radio HT is portability. That means you can carry your transceiver wherever you go, even on inter-state travels. You can use them like a walkie talkie.
  • You could be communicating from the jungle, desert, or even mountaintop with this portable device.
  • They are likely to work in all kinds of weather conditions. Moreover, you can even use them to listen to weather alerts and updates.
  • In case of emergency, you can communicate with relief operators using the device. The best part is that they do not require a connection to the Internet or satellites.
  • Along with these benefits, price is another essential aspect. The cost is minimal when it comes to portable models and can be perfect for beginners.
  • Depending on the brand and device model, you can also find handy features like built-in flashlight, GPS, weather alerts, and emergency channels.

Portable amateur radio devices are practical, durable, and inexpensive. If you wish to try your hands on it, you can consider some of the best-rated brands and models listed below!

Best Handheld Ham Radio Reviews (For Beginners & Pros)

1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP– Best beginner level transceiver

BaoFeng BF-F8HP

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Handheld ham radio doesn’t come better than this! The killer specs, combined with functionality, making it the top choice for beginners.

Pros Cons Key Specs
  • Highly powerful
  • Affordable
  • Larger battery life
  • Stunning appearance
  • Challenging to program for a newbie without a programming cable.
  • Battery: 2000mAh
  • High gain dual-band 7” antenna
  • 8W/5W/1W Transmit power
  • Tri-color display

When it comes to portable ham radios, BaoFeng certainly knows what it’s doing. It has followed up on the UV-5R generation with even more magnificent BF-F8HP. The 8-watt dual-band transceiver is everything you want to master the art of communication.

It has double the power output, longer battery life, and twice the antenna performance.

Here’s why BF-F8HP is the most-sought after transceiver today:

      • With its three variable power settings, you will not have to miss any action during a power outage. Moreover, its improved construction ensures long-lasting product life and 100% returns on investment!
      • If you’re a newbie in the field with a keen interest in outdoor activities, you must choose the BF-F8HP. It offers ease of operation, with exceptional reception, making it ideal for survivalists.
      • Additionally, it also offers an in-depth manual to keep beginners from struggling with the transceiver!
      • Trust BaoFeng to come up with unique HTs for most users out there.

2. Kenwood TH-D74A – Premium choice

Kenwood TH-D74A

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The high-end performance of the Kenwood TH-D74A makes it a premium choice for many ham experts. Its built-in GPS, weather alert function, and 1000 memory channels are not to be missed!

Pros Cons Key Specs
  • Offers adequate battery life
  • Ease of use
  • Excellent color display
  • Well-structured menu
  • Expensive
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • APRS and GPS enabled
  • DStar
  • AM, FM, and CB

This Kenwood model is a spectacular ham radio HT. Among many other things, it is APRS compliant and boasts a high-performance GPS unit. Its improved reception, coupled with the DSP-based audio processing, makes it a stellar in terms of sound quality.

If the price is not a point of significant concern for you, why would you consider any other model but Kenwood TH-D74A!

When it comes to customer reviews, you won’t find anything but 5-stars on this one. It has earned its popularity with its solidly advanced tech features.

Kenwood TH-D74A also presents a color transflective display. This uber-cool attribute lets view the screen without any trouble in all kinds of light. In addition to that, it also features tough weatherproofing under IP54/55 standards.

3. BaoFeng UV-82HP – Most powerful Handheld Ham Radio

BaoFeng UV-82HP

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UV-82HP is very well-worthy of your consideration of the best portable ham radio. It is a powerhouse of performance and design with unique specs and features!

Pros Cons Key Specs
  • Well-written and handy manual
  • Durable construction
  • Remarkable audio quality
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Needs a better-quality ear piece and belt clip
  • Dual push to talk button
  • 3 programmable transmit power levels
  • Available in multiple colors
  • Includes flashlight and alarm features

There’s no doubt that the UV-82HP is the best when it comes to high-power transceivers. It comes packed with excellent specs and has plenty of additional features to appeal to new hammers. This what makes it one of the most powerful HT ham radios you can ever buy.

Take the dual PTT switch, for example. It allows you to transmit at two frequencies (A and B). Additionally, the updated firmware, hardware, and packing make it quite impressive!

The UV-82HP is one of the most commercialized radios by BaoFeng and here’s what all the versatile radio has to offer:

      • It enables CTCSS, DCS, and DTMF calling methods.
      • It includes FM radio, flashlight, and emergency alarms.
      • The transceiver boasts a tri-color display.
      • UV-82HP offers three programmable transmit power levels: high/medium/low.

Most products involve a trade-off of design between functioning, aesthetics, price, and more. The same can be seen with the BaoFeng UV-82HP, which is a powerhouse of performance, comes at an affordable price, but lacks in areas of design.

However, given its outstanding value, we don’t mind compromising on the belt-clip and earpiece quality!

4. BaoFeng UV-5R – Most affordable Portable Ham Radio

BaoFeng UV-5R

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BaoFeng hits the sweet spot again with its range of affordable ham radio HT! The fashionable and well-updated model is one of the best at a bargain price point.

Pros Cons Key Specs
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Stunning, rugged design
  • Clear display
  • Budget-friendly device
  • The casing may not offer protection in case the radio is dropped
  • Built-in VOX Function
  • LED flashlight
  • Output Power: 5 /1 Watts
  • Available in 5 colors

With the BaoFeng UV-5R, you will always be in the know! It is a host of features that are known to appeal beginners and experts alike. It’s quite a task to pick flaws in anything that the UV-5R offers!

The pocketable transceiver works excellently in offering frequency coverage outside of the ham bands. Additionally, its durable casing makes it a good-enough handheld ham radio. Furthermore, it includes a clearly-written, useful manual to help you with the operation.

It has 128 programmable memory channels. Besides, it allows you to add or remove at will. You can also customize the channel names on this device.

Furthermore, it features a full HD color LED display with splendid visibility and clarity. The rugged metallic shell makes it tough, ideal for outdoor operation, and off-roading.

One highlight is that it is compatible with the Radioddity PC001 FTDI programming cable! If we go by customer verdict, the UV-5R is a fantastic investment for the price.

5. Yaesu VX-6R – Waterproof transceiver

Yaesu VX-6R

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VX-6R is a superb, powerful transceiver; perfect for your outdoor and survival needs. Its one-of-a-kind construction makes it robust and submersible.

Pros Cons Key Specs
  • Damage-proof
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Ideal for outdoor adventures
  • Performs beyond expectations
  • Slight learning curve
  • Waterproof tri-band radio
  • Built-in PL & DPL, Alphanumeric
  • 1500mAh Battery
  • Police, weather, aircraft and marine bands

With the added versatility and attention to detailing, Yaesu has become a favorite among operators. The highly reputable brand is offering this feature-rich, yet easy-to-use model at a bargain price.

It’s a tri-band ham radio HT that enables you to listen to every frequency between 0.5 to 999 MHz. It transmits on 144, 220, and 440 MHz bands.

      • When it comes to construction, it is highly rated for waterproofing.
      • Furthermore, it also offers weather alerts, emergency updates, and everything you would need from a survival point of view.
      • When stuck in an unthinkable situation, VX-6R triggers your radio and transmits your callsign for help.

Yaesu VX-6R may not be as powerful or capable as the BaoFeng BF-82HP. Nevertheless, it is a solid purchase, given the price and value.

6. TYT MD-380 – Excellent value and performance

TYT MD-380

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If you’re starting with DMR, look no further than TYT MD-380! It is portable yet offers excellent reception, functionality, and performance for a pretty low price.

Pros Cons Key Specs
  • Good receive quality
  • Highly affordable way to enter DMR
  • Holds well in the hand
  • Offers ease of use and programming
  • DMR may be slightly confusing for a beginner with color codes and timeslots
  • 2000 mAh Battery
  • Utilized Time-Division Multi-Access technology
  • Offers full support of analog repeaters including CTCSS and DCS.

The MD-380 by TYT oozes power, design, and performance. When it comes to the best handheld ham radios, this one’s an obvious choice!

Besides stylus, you get exceptional audio quality with zero static!

If you’re looking to venture into DMR, without spending $500, TYT MD-380 is the right choice. While it may be slightly challenging to learn, with the tech support from the brand, you will master it in no time. Also, it features a large, bright display, offering you complete ease of reading.

The bottom line is, it is a spectacular purchase with all the right specs at an affordable price. We bet you wouldn’t want to pass on this easy-to-use digital transceiver!

7. BaoFeng UV-82C –Killer specs and user-friendliness

BaoFeng UV-82C

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BaoFeng has packed all kinds of tech in this handheld ham radio yet kept it beginner-friendly. It’s worth investing in as your next portable transceiver.

Pros Cons Key Specs
  • Longer run time
  • Lightweight
  • Fantastic for business operations
  • Excellent quality and power for a budget-friendly price
  • You required the GMRS license to operate it legally
  • Selectable dual/single PTT switch
  • 128 programmable channels
  • Tone-searching
  • Busy channel lock-out

BaoFeng UV-82C is of the UV-82 generation, an ideal choice for those just starting in on ham radios. Why?

      • It offers a selectable dual PTT or single PTT by software.
      • The UV-82C is affordably-priced.
      • It features 128 programmable channels alongside three power settings.

This is another powerful handheld ham radio you can add to your inventory if you are looking for a powerful beast.

Most notably, this BaoFeng model matches the likes of Yaesu and TYT, but at 1/3rd of the price. Its sturdy build quality is hands-down impressive.

Why would you look elsewhere when you have the BaoFeng UV-82C?

Handheld Ham Radio Buying Tips for Beginners

If you have read our article on best ham radio for beginners, you might already know how good ham radios are for the starters. Most of our top choices in that list are handheld ones. This means you are in the right path.

Once you delve into the handheld ham radio scene, you’ll be overwhelmed to find an array of brands and models.

most powerful HT ham radio for beginners

Here’s how to shortlist a device with the advanced features to look for in a handie-talkie:

Power

First and foremost, you need a powerful radio that suits your communication needs. The more power that you have, the more efficiency you get out of it. Hence, doubling the wattage of your HT can help get you excellent range coverage.

If you’re looking for one to accompany you on your outdoor activities, a 4-watt device will do. Some of the best HT ham radios also come at 8-watt powerr with great reception.

However, to maximize the range, you want to add in an external antenna instead of the rubber duck. It can provide better performance without draining your battery life. I suggest you to read our article on top ham radios antenna here: https://xroadgps.com/best-ham-radio-antenna/

Battery life

Portable ham radio transceivers tend to have a better battery life than that of typical walkie-talkies. With the advancement of technology, you find these HTs with battery-saving modes. It can come in handy when you’re out of power and are looking to extend its life.

As a newbie, you should focus on the battery life and the battery-saving features the transceiver has to offer.

Having a larger battery can make any lightweight handheld ham radio bulkier. However, this difference can save you from always having to recharge the device.

Before adding any device to your cart, always check if it has an external DC connection. It makes recharging easier and makes sure that the HT has plenty of power at all times.

User manual

Always go for a brand that offers user-friendliness alongside quality products. The learning curve with most new products can be steep, especially for a newbie. Having a detailed guide can make operation straightforward and convenient.

Moreover, it can also provide details on how to program the transceiver in the shortest time.

Look for a user-manual which is well-arranged to avoid any hassle. BaoFeng is one such brand that provides exceptional user support through its detailed guides.

Programming

Purchasing a portable amateur radio is the first step in venturing into the Ham radio world. What follows includes mastering the skills involved, like programming.

You program the typical HTs through programming software using your PC. Alternatively, you can also perform the task manually. However, we recommend going the software way to keep things simple.

If you’re planning on the same, you may want to check if the package includes a programming cable. If not, you will need to purchase one separately, one that is compatible with your particular transceiver.

Bands

Different device models transmit at different frequencies. If you’re looking to receive and transmit at the same band as your buddy, you must take ranges into attention.

Additionally, many transceivers broadcast at frequencies that may be illegal. However, it shouldn’t be a concern as it can come in handy for emergencies.

Dual-band

Having a dual-band ham radio HT allows you to monitor two different bands simultaneously. It also gives you the freedom to select the frequency you wish to transmit on.

If you’re looking to add an external antenna to your transceiver, ensure that it is dual-band compatible.

Waterproofing

Another element worthy of consideration is weatherproofing.

A portable device can then be carried anywhere you go, and can survive through a storm as well! Moreover, having a waterproof one means you won’t have to worry about any impending damage.

If you’re interested in hunting, hiking, and other adventurous activities, you must find a submersible transceiver like Yaesu VX-6R.

FAQs

What is the range of a handheld ham radio?
The best type of communication radio for survival is the ham, as it has the most extensive frequency range. Although there may be gaps, the frequency on most handheld radios ranges from 1.8 to 13000 MHZ.

You can read more about handheld ham radio rang here.

What frequencies should I program handheld ham radio?

You may not be licensed to transmit at specific frequencies, so you should only program frequencies you can legally use.

Operators commonly find the frequencies to program on CHIRP or in guide books with lists of local frequencies.

You may add 47.42 for Red Cross, 162.40 for weather bulletins, 243.00 for military aviation emergencies, etc.

How can I boost the power of handheld ham radio?
What you need is to connect your ham radio HT to an RF power amplifier. It will help in increasing 5 watts or less, depending on what your device can muster.
How to program a handheld ham radio?

Programming instructions vary depending on the brand and model. But, here’s some guidance on how to program a BaoFeng radio using CHIRP.

      • Before anything, you need first to order a programming cable compatible with your device model.
      • Next, download the latest version of CHIRP on your PC. Open and Run the software and plug-in your BaoFeng using the cable.
      • You will also need to install appropriate USB drivers for your cable (e.g., Prolific).
      • Download a copy of the existing CONFIG of your radio device before making any changes.
      • Moving on, you will need to select the channels you wish to add by going on CHIRP and selecting OPEN STOCK CONFIG. Make your selection and copy it to the BaoFeng Tab on the software, and paste.
      • Please note, you can only add as many channels as your device memory supports.
      • Upload this new configuration by selecting UPLOAD TO RADIO on CHIRP.
What can you do with a handheld ham radio?

Contrary to what most people believe, you can do much more with the ham radio HT than just talking.

      • One handy feature is the Morse code, which enables text-based communication, excellent for emergencies.
      • Moreover, with the advancement of technology, the internet is now intertwined with the ham radio.
      • Did you know you could also use it for public service communication?
      • Many operators also use the portable ham radio for traffic handling, emergency updates, weather alerts, and more.
      • One intriguing thing we found out about ham radios was contests! Yes! Many operators participate in competitions by connecting with as many users in distant locations as possible. It works like magic when you’re looking to make new friends!
What does HT mean in ham radio?

HT is an abbreviation given to handie-talkies. They are better known as portable, two-way radio devices or handheld ham radio. Pretty often, these transceivers get compared to the classic walkie-talkies, where the name comes from!

This radio type is quite popular among amateurs looking to communicate at VHF and UHF bands. Security personnel, military officers, rescue operators, and police officers use them quite widely.

A standard HT is a rectangular gadget that resembles an old-fashioned telephone handset. It includes an antenna protruding out from it, also known as the rubber duck. Additionally, it also houses volume plus squelch controls.

Found the Most Powerful Handheld Ham Radio?

Finding the best handheld ham radio can be quite a daunting experience for a beginner. There can be so many crucial factors to consider!

Hopefully, by now, you may have found answers to all your questions and can now pick the right device for your needs.

If you’re starting up on ham as a new hobby and need something inexpensive, BaoFeng is a pretty cool choice. You can find some high-quality gadgets without hurting your pocket! For digital, you can try out TYT as it is inexpensive, but DMR-capable device!

There’s something for everyone!

Last update on 2020-07-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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