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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.”

31 Comments on Two-way radio buying guide

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

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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

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

  5. Awesome

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

  7. 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

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

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

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

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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

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

  15. 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

  16. what do you think about the garmin rino 110

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

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. asome:)

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

  22. 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. 😮

  23. 🙂 😦 8) 😛 😉 😮 😀

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

    The Garmin Rino is Awesome!!!!!

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

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

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