Two way radios, sometimes also called walkie talkies, are extremely useful for a variety of purposes both in emergency situations and with large families at ski resorts or in a variety of work situations where cell phones are not ideal, such as farms.
Our picks for the best emergency 2 way radios:
Midland is a well known maker of two way and emergency radios and their LXT500VP3 radio system is one of the best emergency two way radios for the money. This package includes two 22 channel radios and a dual unit charging base station (allowing both radios to be charged simultaneously). The 2 way radios can be powered either by rechargeable battery packs (included) or four AAA batteries. These walkie talkies also have an optional low power mode which can elongate the life on a single charge up to an impressive 16 hours. If you need more than 2 units, just buy another set (they will of course work with the same channels). Includes drop in charger.
Range: Up to 24 miles
Battery: Up to 16 hours
These two way radios by Motorola have a 23 mile max range and run on the included rechargeable batteries or 3 AAAs. They offer a feature upgrade over the basic Midland unit above because in addition to offering 22 channels, they also offer 11 weather channels (7 of which are NOAA frequencies) to receive emergency broadcast notifications. These are also some of the best emergency 2 way radios because they have so-called “privacy code” modes which let you filter out unwanted conversations on the same frequency (useful for popular frequencies in crowded areas). Also available as a three pack. Optional separate walkie talkie headsets are also available. Includes drop in charger.
Range: Up to 23 miles
Battery: Up to 10 hours
If you want an emergency two way radio but you don’t need a weather alert radio built in, this might be one of the best best emergency radio for bug out bags. It is a three pack of emergency two way radios able to be powered off of either included rechargeable batteries or 3 AA batteries. When powered by the rechargeable battery it gets up to 12 hours of life, but with double A batteries it can achieve up to 29 hours of life. Note: these walkie talkies are charged via included AC adapters (not drop in chargers like some of these other units).
Range: Up to 16 miles
Battery: Up to 29 hours
When range is the most important factor in buying a walkie talkie pack, this unit from Motorola may fit the bill. It offers a range of up to 35 miles although of course in practice any two way radio’s range will be smaller if there are terrain obstacles or tall buildings in the way. This emergency two way radio offers a battery life of 23 hours on 3 AA batteries or 8 hours when using the included rechargeable battery packs. Although this is a pack of three walkie talkies, it’s also available in a two pack.
Range: Up to 35 miles
Battery: Up to 23 hours
If you need a seriously long range two way radio with professional grade features, this might be the unit for you. The BaoFeng F8HP works with 128 channels and is compatible with walkie talkie frequencies as well as an expanded range of UHF and VHF frequencies. It even can receive weather channels. It’s also one of the best emergency two way radios for the money because it has an LED flashlight built in (which can also be set to serve as a blinking beacon which lets you locate the walkie, or allows others to see your location in the dark if you’re wearing or holding it). Note that without a HAM radio license, transmitting on UHF and VHF frequencies is only permitted in an emergency. This unit includes a high gain antenna, an optional belt clip, an earpiece/microphone headset, and drop in cradle charger.
Range: Unlisted, but some users routinely get 15 miles
Battery: Up to 24 hours
Frequently asked questions about emergency two way radios
If I purchase multiple sets of the same radio, can I use them all together?
Absolutely, yes. The main thing is to make sure that all your two way radios are tuned to the same channel. It does not matter how many radio sets you are using: 20 walkie talkies will communicate just as well as two will.
Can multiple different brands of two way radios work together?
For consumer class two way radios with 22 channels, the answer is usually yes. More expensive professional class radios may operate at exotic frequencies however, making them incompatible with other brands sometimes. The two way emergency radios listed in this article with 22 channels will most likely work with each other, across brand.
Do these emergency two way radios require a HAM radio license?
If you’re using a consumer grade 22 channel two way radio, you don’t need any special license.
If however you’re using a UHF/VHF professional grade two way radio, you need a HAM radio license (unless you’re using it in an emergency scenario). The only radio on this list that broadcasts in these pro frequencies is the last one. You can learn more about obtaining your own HAM radio license at HAMStudy.org, which prepares you to take the 30 question multiple choice amateur radio exam to get licensed.
Can these two way radios receive CB radio transmissions from trucks on the highway?
Generally no. CB radios in trucks use different frequency ranges.
How many miles in range can I reasonably expect to achieve with these two way radios?
Although all walkie talkies advertise ranges of “up to 20 miles” etc in realistic practice, your range will be much smaller. The ideal case would be if the transmitting radio was on top of a mountain and the receiving radio was in the valley. On flat ground with building or hills in between, you may realistically be able to expect closer to a 2-5 mile range with family style two way radios. With that said, the advertised ranges are helpful when comparing units to each other because in relative terms they give you a sense of generally how strong or weak their transmitters are.
Can I get hands free headsets to use with these two way radios?
Yes, to find a handsfree headset compatible with your choice of radio, simply search in Amazon for the model number and the word headset. In many cases there are both original manufacturer headsets as well as third party headsets which offer different configurations, styles and sometimes lower prices than the first party manufacturer.
These two way emergency radios come with rechargeable battery packs and they also work with AAs, what is the difference?
Besides not having to replace AA or AAA batteries, there are two main differences between using your walkie talkie’s rechargeable battery pack and normal alkaline batteries. The first difference is that alkaline AA or AAA batteries will give you a longer battery life, sometimes as much as 10 hours longer than rechargeable batteries. The second difference is that if you’re using AAs you can simply replace your old batteries with fresh ones, whereas if you only use the included rechargeable battery pack you’ll need to charge your walkie to use it again, which can often take a few hours.
Can a walkie talkie be used while it’s in its charging cradle?
Generally yes, although it may be awkward to press the talk button while it’s sitting in a charging cradle.
Can other people listen in on my walkie talkie conversations?
Yes. Walkie talkies don’t prevent anyone else with a similar unit from tuning in to your conversations. At the same time, depending on where you are the chances of that may be rather low.
Some higher end walkie talkies like a few on this list have so-called “privacy codes.” These codes do not prevent other people from listening in if they have a two way radio tuned to the same frequency as you, but instead they limit your radio from receiving transmissions on whatever channel you’re using, unless the transmitting radio is also tuned to that same privacy code.