The 5 Best Ham Radios of 2021

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The Rundown
Both beginners and experienced users will love the TYT TH-9800.
The BaoFeng UV-5R is the perfect ham radio for beginners.
Best for Cars:
ICOM 2300H at Walmart
This ham radio uses a 12-volt power source, making it perfect for plugging into your car's cigarette lighter outlet.
Best for Durability:
BTECH DMR-6X2 at Amazon
For ham radio enthusiasts who need a radio that will stand up to the elements, the BTech DMR-6X2 is an excellent choice.
Best Lightweight Option:
Radioddity GD-73A at Amazon
The Radioddity GD-73A weighs just under 6 ounces, making it one of the lightest ham radios available.
in this article

While ham radios aren't as popular as they were in the '70s and '80s, there is still a robust hobbyist community. Gone are the days of having a dedicated closet or garage workbench for giant, clunky radio setups. Modern ham radios feature compact, mobile designs that can be tucked away on a shelf when not in use, mounted on a car dashboard or console, or even clipped to a belt and slipped in a pocket. Ham radio novices should look for a simplified model that lets you communicate over shorter distances and on fewer channels as you learn the different communication frequency requirements and output power.

Those with more experience can pick up models with tons of features like message encryption, built-in GPS units, and even text messaging. All ham radios require a license to use, so make sure to check with your local government for testing and permit laws. So whether you're looking to join a local hobbyist group or chat with folks across the globe, check out our top picks below to see which ham radio is right for you.

Best Overall: TYT TH-9800 Quad Band

TYT TH-9800
What We Like
  • Dual power

  • Dual channel monitoring

  • Keypad

What We Don't Like
  • No antenna included

  • Pricey

Both beginners and experienced users will love the TYT TH-9800. This ham radio features dual 50- and 40-watt power settings, as well as 800 channels and four broadcasting bands to suit your style and communication needs. The included microphone has an alphanumeric keypad for easy channel inputs, and the radio unit has easy-to-use volume and squelch controls for better audio quality. This ham radio model also allows you to monitor two channels at once, making it perfect for sending and receiving information in an emergency or to stay in contact while out camping or hiking. The unit comes packaged with a mounting plate for easy placement in your car or workshop.

Best Budget: BaoFeng UV-5R

BaoFeng UV-5R
What We Like
  • Under $50

  • Keypad lock

  •  Handheld design

  • Low output power

  • Limited channels

The BaoFeng UV-5R is the perfect ham radio for beginners. It sports a retail price under $50, so you won't break the bank starting your new hobby. This radio allows you to access 128 channels, including 7 NOAA weather alert channels, and includes a microphone headset for easy communication. The front keypad features a lock function to protect against accidental input, and the easy-to-read LCD display has three backlighting colors to suit your preferences. The handheld design makes this radio ultra-portable, so you can take it with you almost anywhere, and the included belt clip helps keep it close at hand when you aren't using it. The top of the radio also has a built-in LED flashlight for emergency use. The battery can be removed for recharging while you use a fresh power source, or it can be charged within the radio if you don't plan on using it.

Best for Cars: ICOM 2300H 05 144MHz Amateur Radio

What We Like
  • 200+ channels

  • 2-meter band

  • 12V power

What We Don't Like
  • No cooling fan

  • No PA function

This ham radio uses a 12-volt power source, making it perfect for plugging into your car's cigarette lighter outlet. With a 2-meter band, you can use this radio to talk to local radio clubs and organize meet-ups. The unit has a 3-inch LCD screen with backlighting for easier reading of channel frequencies and other settings. The keypad on the included microphone lets you quickly and easily enter over 200 channels for communication and adjust frequencies. The compact body of the radio can easily be mounted underneath a dashboard or in a center console for easy access and to stay out of the way for safe driving.

Best for Durability: BTECH DMR-6X2 7-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio

What We Like
  • 256-bit encryption

  • GPS

  • Impressive operating temperature range

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • Steep learning curve

For ham radio enthusiasts who need a radio that will stand up to the elements, the BTech DMR-6X2 is an excellent choice. This handheld model can work in almost any environment, from freezing temperatures to scorching deserts. The hard plastic body can stand up to bumps, drops, and vibrations, preventing damage during everyday use. You can program the radio manually or via PC to access around 4,000 channels and store up to 200,000 contacts and talk groups. Your communications will be kept safe from unauthorized monitoring with 256-bit AES encryption. The radio comes packaged with two batteries, so you'll never have to worry about running out of juice. The built-in GPS is perfect for hikers and campers to relay their location to a local radio group or home base.

Best Lightweight Option: Radioddity GD-73A DMR/Analog Two Way Radio

What We Like
  • Incredibly light and compact

  • Text messaging

  • USB charging

What We Don't Like
  • No keypad

The Radioddity GD-73A weighs just under 6 ounces, making it one of the lightest ham radios available. The radio, itself, is also incredibly compact, making it perfect for slipping into a pocket or backpack while traveling. Along with being able to use over 1,000 channels, you can also send 50-line text messages with your radio to compatible units; great for sending info to talk groups or home base when you can't or don't want to talk. The front of the radio features two programmable keys for custom inputs, and the removable battery can be recharged via USB cable; the same cable can be connected to your PC for programming the radio to suit your needs. On a full charge, the battery gives you up to 12 hours of use and 48 hours of standby time.

Final Verdict

The TYT TH-9800 (view at Amazon) is a great, well-rounded ham radio for both beginners and experienced hobbyists. It features a mountable body unit that can be put in a car or workshop for mobile use or as a home base, as well as an affordable price point. Experienced hobbyists will want to check out the AnyTone AT-D868UV. This radio has a ton of features that can be programmed via a PC, including a 4,000 channel memory bank, text messaging, and a built-in GPS.

About Our Trusted Experts:

Taylor Clemons is an expert on gaming hardware and other consumer technology and has covered them for various websites for more than three years.

FAQs

What is a ham radio?
Ham radio allows users to communicate over a wide variety of frequencies, making it ideal for long-distance communications; radio signals are bounced off of the ground, atmosphere, and even the moon to achieve greater communication distances. Ham radio is great for emergency communications when cell phone towers aren't operating or AM/FM radio stations are incapable of getting out messages.

Do I need a license to use a ham radio?
Short Answer: Yes.

Long Answer: Licenses are needed because the government began regulating amateur radio operation back in 1914, and FCC rules state that both children and adults can obtain a license. It's quite simple to become a licensed ham radio operator, since learning Morse code is no longer a requirement. There is a 35 question exam and an exam fee of $15 to obtain a 2-meter band ham radio license, which is one of the most popular amateur radio systems.

Do I need a lot of equipment to get started?
Not really! If you're just starting out, one of our top picks is a great way to dip your toes into the hobby until you feel comfortable enough for more elaborate and powerful equipment. You also can find amateur radio hobbyist groups online for resources and community forums.

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