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Two-way radio buying guide


Good communication is the key to Dirk Collins’s job. As an action-sports filmmaker for Teton Gravity Research, he relies on handheld two-way radios (a fancy way to say walkie-talkies) to coordinate shots between, say, a snowboarder atop a mountain and filmers on the snow and in the air on helicopters.

“Without clear communication the shot will be missed,” he says, “and unlike Hollywood shoots, there is no second take.”

Whether you’re communicating with your troop at a jamboree or keeping in touch with Mom and Dad in your neighborhood, two-way radios are among the most useful pieces of gear you can carry. But not all radios are created equal, so we asked Collins to give us some smart buying tips.

The Gear Guy is currently researching new models and writing an update to this article. Watch for his updated tips and reviews in the June 2017 issue of Boys’ Life.


Most two-way radios operate on two special radio bands: Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). You need a license to use GMRS, so that’s why you might hear most of the two-way radios you’d buy referred to as “FRS radios.” All have 22 channels. Dial in one channel and, with just a push of a button, you can instantly talk with your friend on the same channel—even if he’s miles away.

PRICE: These days, you can find two-way radios for as low as $20 and up to $250. Usually the list price is for a pair of radios, but always check to be sure. In general, the more you spend on a radio, the more features, durability and greater talking range you’ll get. Just $50 should get you a radio that’s plenty good for most Scouts’ uses.

RANGE: Basically, range is the maximum distance you can have between two radios and still be able to communicate. You’ll see range claims plastered all over the packaging, saying things like, “Up to 20 Miles.”

“Be aware of the range that each radio claims,” Collins says. “They list the optimal range, but this does not apply when there are mountains or lots of tall buildings in the way. The range will be significantly smaller when you have these obstructions.”

Manufacturers make their range claims based on line of sight. So for radios with a five-mile range, you’ll only get that sort of distance when you and a buddy are standing in the middle of a wide-open field five miles apart. Throw in trees or valleys and you’ll be lucky to get a mile-and-a-half of range.

FEATURES: Most two-way radios let you communicate between your radio and everyone else in the group with radios on the same channel. But more expensive units include features like direct call, which — like a cell phone — lets you dial a number and communicate privately with just one other person in your group. Radios in the $80 to $100 range often come with a weather radio feature that alerts you automatically if bad weather or other hazards are headed your way. Privacy codes are also an important feature to consider. They scramble your communication to help prevent other people from listening in on your conversations. The more privacy codes, the greater protection you’ll have.

BATTERIES: Some two-way radios are powered by regular alkaline batteries. Others come with rechargeable batteries and charging stands that you can plug in. If you plan to use your radio in the field for more than a couple of days, look for units that let you use both kinds of batteries. “After you’ve had them awhile, rechargeable batteries don’t seem to hold a charge very long—especially in cold weather,” Collins says. “We always carry extra AA batteries just in case.”

62 Comments on Two-way radio buying guide

  1. Hello I am looking for walkie talkies that are hands free. I will be using them inside a building so distance is not a concern, however I will need more than two any suggestions of brands and what to make sure I look for when buying them so I purchase what is needed. Thank you so much

  2. I need two two way radios that are water proof and have a three mile range through
    mountains and are $15 can you help?

  3. Privacy codes do not scramble the message, they just add a subaudible tone to the beginning of the message that opens the tone squelch circuit in the radio. If you have a ham license, these are normally referred to as CTCSS tones.

  4. Some nice info, thanks again everyone for all the input.

  5. Radiotechkb1 // August 29, 2011 at 3:17 pm // Reply

    Ham Radio is the best way to go.

  6. I like the Garmin Rino but I prefer a ham radio.

  7. Pepperthechessmaster1 // August 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm // Reply

    and in the $40-$80 range

  8. Pepperthechessmaster1 // July 30, 2011 at 7:35 pm // Reply

    need walkies talkies BAD plz help one that not too expensive but still works good and has a big range (20 miles)

    Thank u

  9. i want 2 good walki talkies 4 hunting below $50, any sugggestions?

  10. i’m looking for a two way radio that is water proof and has 15 chanel if any body wants to tell me about one in the $40-$70 range please tell me

    • scoutmaster // May 24, 2011 at 9:00 am // Reply

      With that price range, you’re looking at Family Radio Service (FRS) frequencies. The range is listed on the front of the radio but will be significantly less with any terrain in between you and what you are communicating with. You should also consider a model that is rechargeable. Privacy codes allow you to block out other coversations but you should be careful not to interfere with others. These are available at many outdoor and department stores.
      Look for a comfortable size and buttons that you won’t hit by mistake. Otherwise, just start reading the feature lists and compare till you find something you like.

  11. i love them with head sets

  12. Cobra Micro talk 21 mile range durability great watertight 21,000 private channels

  13. I am looking for a a two radio for talking with other people at our club fairs, there is alot of talking in the background, we need to communicate between10 people. Any help

  14. Parky's Farm // July 7, 2010 at 8:58 am // Reply

    Anyone have suggestion on radios that are waterproof. I work on a educational farm with a bunch of teen staffers who have a tendency to drop their radios in water troughs. Range isn’t that important to me but durabity and waterproofing are.

  15. get up and go // April 4, 2010 at 5:17 pm // Reply

    Again, I’ll say it. Unless you plan to go get lost on Gilligans Island, or some such, save your money.
    I just use a 30 mile walkie-talkie. I just use the hams at a merit badge course.

  16. The Midland LXT-300 talkies are good for scouting events, and they work great if you work at cub scout camps or council summer camps. I also use them for river canoeing, hiking, and caving. They have a pretty good range and work well, but use a wall charger instead of batteries, so you have to charge them prior to your adventure.

  17. I have. A
    motorola. Em1000r. It. Is. Great. You. Can. Talk. 20 miles. Away. But. The. Problem. With. Motorola. Gmrs./frs. Radios. Is. When. You. Try. To. Plug. In. A. Headset. The led. Lite. Is. Always. On. When. I. Plug. It. In. That. Means. It’s. Pushing. The. Talk. Button. By. It. Self

    • littlemike // March 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm // Reply

      u need to turn the radio off before plugging in an accesorie to a motorola radio then turn it on and the accesorie will then work

  18. try the motorola talkabout 5000.pretty good range of 5mi, and water resistant. comes in alkaline battery model and rechargeable models.

  19. DonkeyKong // August 4, 2009 at 5:13 pm // Reply

    I have the Cobra PR 170-2 VP one. I wish it had a silent mode 😦

  20. If you want to talk a long distance > 2mi over different terrain the FRS/GMRS radios are not going to do it. You’d be best to get your ham radio license and get a better understanding of radio communication in general.

  21. would like good quality, inexpensive radio please advise thanks!

  22. uyyyyyyyyyyy // June 4, 2009 at 11:50 am // Reply

    the Midland LXT330 is amazing

  23. Is there any way to know which brand/ model would work best in an area with a mixture of lakes, hills and forests?


  24. tankmaster94 // January 31, 2009 at 4:32 pm // Reply

    i have 2 motorola FV200R

  25. eagleorbust // January 6, 2009 at 5:31 pm // Reply

    I have 10 Motorola FV200R but several of them don’t work. 😦

  26. Archeopteryx // December 24, 2008 at 5:50 am // Reply

    The Garmin Rino 530 rocks!!!!!!!!

  27. king tut:
    not a radio but might be effective: telephone

    • Ivan A.K.A. KL2UG // November 1, 2016 at 3:34 pm // Reply

      Unfortunately phones only work in the “Front Country”, heck they sometimes don’t work there. “Back Country” locations, genereally, do not have cell reception.

  28. I was going to buy a radio but i just want a good one that will reach about 15 miles

    They all say that they will but they only reach about 2.

    So if anyone knows a good two way radio please let me know

  29. I love waki takis and have used everything but i dont like motarala very well because they dont have rechargable batteries.

  30. Awesome

  31. i thought about wiring a flashlight to it a crank one but that would be a waste

  32. I have 2 bellsouth radios model 2210 issued i ’01 there great but eat up the batteries so much so i put in a smaller speaker and its better but i still go through a lot of batteries

  33. i got a cobra micro talk it is great and a little waterproof

  34. Make sure whatever you get has whether alerts. I got caught in a blizzard in Big Bear once!

  35. if you want a good 2 way radio thats not to pricey you should get a motorala they last forever

  36. these are awesome two way radios especialy the one with a GPS built in that could be handy for anything

  37. There is no need to get a GMRS license. I have one and it was a waste of $80. No one has never ask to have my license #. I will never buy a nother one.

    • It is a federal law and you do need one because they do find people that don’t havfe a license. And yes there is a way to find you if you don’t have the license.

  38. Hi,

    Would I need a FCC license if I buy Motorola TALKABOUT EM1000R 2-way radio ?

    It has both FRS & GMRS, but I have no intention of using the GMRS mode.

    Pls advice

  39. where do u get a FCC license and why? Thanks.

  40. People often forget that it costs 80 bucks for a FCC licence

    • Thats not all true you can get a Ham Radio Liscence For about 15 bucks.
      Although you need to pass a written exam

  41. what do you think about the garmin rino 110

  42. Thanks for the tips Motorola FV200R looks good for me

  43. The Uniden GMR 1438 ($50) is a great mid-level unit with a 14-mile range, 99 privacy codes, vibrate and silent modes and rechargeable NiMH batteries.

    If this just carried luthium AA or AAA batteries I would buy it!

  44. Do not think about the XT511 from Midland; it’s not going to come

    to market anytime soon. Look for the older T7200 handheld from

    Motorola. It has lots of features.

  45. asome:)

  46. walkie talkies are great for capture the flag wich our troop plays alot of

  47. Pretty cool. 8) I’d prabably go for the MidlandXT511 or the Motorola T9500. That Garmin Rino 530 must be kind of rare, I mean, it’s $535. 😮

  48. 🙂 😦 8) 😛 😉 😮 😀

  49. Pack760Scout // August 30, 2007 at 5:06 pm // Reply

    The Garmin Rino is Awesome!!!!!

    Our Troop used it it was great!!!!!!

  50. Thanks for your info on these Hand-helds.How does one get a license for the GRMS radios??

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