Best handheld Ham Radio for Beginners

Last updated on July 9th, 2021 at 10:10 pm

ham radio for beginnersAmateur radio, or “ham radio” for short, can be used to communicate with people near and far, during outdoor vacations or from the comfort of your home. Using ham radio is almost like going on a treasure hunt where the treasure is discovering signals and communicating with other users. The popular hobby of ham radio can also become incredibly useful in an emergency when other communication options are out of service.

If you’re interested in taking up ham radio as a hobby, you’re in luck! It’s not exclusive, and with some dedication, you’ll be making connections in no time. There are plenty of handheld radio models available for people of all skill levels, at many price points. If you are just starting out with ham radio, you may want to begin with a cheaper unit so that you’ll be able to explore the possibilities of amateur radio without breaking the bank. However, these options may not always be super user-friendly, or they may require additional accessories to be useful. If you plan to dedicate a lot of time and energy to ham radio, you might want to consider spending more in order to get a higher-end product with more functions and capabilities. There is no “best” radio—the choice truly depends on your personal priorities as an amateur radio user, but if you are shopping and looking for the best handheld ham radio for a beginner enthusiast then take a look at the carefully selected reviews below.

Regardless of which model you choose, always be careful to acquire the proper licensing for legal use of your handheld radio!

Best Handheld Ham Radios For Beginners to Buy

1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174Mhz VHF & 400-520Mhz UHF) Includes Full Kit

The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is basically the upgraded, more expensive version of a previous BaoFeng ham radio. It has new features, like a higher power option and a 30% larger battery. At 10.5 inches long, it won’t get lost easily, but it’s quite slim and portable. With this model, BaoFeng has focused on providing a comprehensive user experience, including an in-depth manual and an exclusive concierge help service. If you need some extra support in your beginner ham radio experience, the BF-F8HP is a great option. Programming is a bit difficult on this machine, so prepare to buy a separately sold programming cable, which can be used with CHIRP software.

2. Baofeng UV-5R Two Way Radio Dual Band

The BaoFeng UV-5R is the little brother of the BF-F8HP, and it’s a bargain. It doesn’t reach the same power level as the BF-F8HP, and it’s a little thicker and heavier, but at its low cost, it’s perfect for beginners. If you’re not totally sure you want to pursue ham radio as a hobby, buying the UV-5R will allow you to try it out without any major financial investment. Unfortunately, the UV-5R predates BaoFeng’s emphasis on customer care, so it doesn’t come with the comprehensive user manual (but you can download the BF-F8HP one online). As with the BF-F8HP, expect to buy a programming cable separately.

3. QuanSheng TG-UV2 Plus UHF/VHF Dual Band 10 watt 200CH Long Range Handheld Radio Walkie Talkie

Another low-priced option is the Quansheng TG-UV2. It’s a small, durable machine with a 10 watt rating that gives you far range.  The antenna is decently made with an excellent receiver.  The pc programming can be a bit difficult for the newbie, but with a little practice can be easily figured out.  The TX audio and receive is great!  This radio lacks DTMF, but you can workaround by generating DTMF from an android phone. Some features include the ability to program in FRS/GMRS frequencies.

4. Yaesu Original FT-65 FT-65R 144/440 Dual-Band Rugged & Compact Handheld Transceiver

The Yaesu FT-65R is a ham radio that takes things a step up from the BaoFeng and Quansheng models. It receives and transmits signals within larger ranges, meaning that you’ll be more likely to connect with other users quickly. This radio offers many features including versatile scanning capabilities such as programmable memory scan, VFO scan, WX channels with Severe Weather alert, Automatic Range Transponder System, Automatic Power off feature.  It’s compact and durable, with an aluminum body that can survive in the wilderness. If you’re an outdoorsy amateur radio user, this may be the machine for you!

5. TYT MD-380 – DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio

The TYT-380 is a Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) rather than an analog one, so it functions on a different frequency. It’s satisfactory for the mid-range price. Unlike the previously mentioned radios, the TYT comes with its own USB programming cable. It’s compatible with all Motorola TRBO Tier I & II radios, including ones manufactured by Motorola, Hytera, Kenwood, and Vertex Standard. It offers the capacity to place private or group calls, and its LCD screen is easy to read. For new digital ham users, this is a cheap starting point.

6. TIDRADIO TD-H6 Upgraded UV-5R High Power Ham Radio Handheld Two Way Radio

Another highly rated product that is considered as a top contender for one of the best handheld ham radios for beginners is the  Tidradio TD-HG, which is a much higher end ham radio, with impressive features to match the high price tag. Small, light, and weatherproof, this is an easily portable radio for the ham radio enthusiast. Be aware that the multitude of features could drain the battery, so you might want to carry a spare just in case!

7. Radioddity GD-77 DMR Digital/Analog Two Way Radio Dual Band Dual Time Slot

The Radioddity GD-77 combines digital and analog functions for a relatively low price! Its DMR is compatible with Motorola’s, so you won’t be out of the loop. It’s a high-powered machine, offering a maximum 5 watts of power. DMR mode also supports the ability to send text messages from one radio to another.  With a big LCD display, good battery life, and 2 antenna options, you’ll find the GD-77 radio functional and easy to use. Unfortunately, the software can be a little confusing, so you may have to do a bit of legwork on that front. With the 18 month long warranty, though, you have nothing to worry about. This radio is perfect for the versatile ham who wants some security in their purchase.

8. Yaesu Original FT-2DR 144/430 Dual Band Digital/Analog C4FM/FM Handheld Amateur Transceiver

Another expensive ham radio model, the Yaesu Original FT-2DR offers a hugely wide frequency range and dual-band capacity to access both analog and digital frequencies. 

Like the Kenwood TH-D72A, the Yaesu Original is an APRS- and GPS-capable device and this one has smart navigation as well. It’s large, fully backlit touchscreen display allows easy use, and it can even screenshot and send images. With a maximum of 5 watts of power, a loudspeaker, and a good battery life, this radio is definitely worth the price! If you want a very high-quality machine with lots of features, this is the radio for you.

9. Wouxun KG-UVD1P VHF/UHF Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black)

The Wouxun KG-UVD1P is a popular digital handheld ham radio used by radio veterans as well as beginners.  The DMR radio provides excellent battery life touting a 35 hour battery life.  an analog ham radio that provides two-way and dual-band services. It’s quite a bit larger than most of the others on this list, weighing in at almost two pounds. It has a long-lasting battery and can offer up to 5 watts of power. While it is on the expensive side compared to other radios with similar features, the Wouxun is easy to program with a good range, so it could be worth it depending on how important ease of use is to you as an amateur radio user.

10. AnyTone AT-D878UV Plus Bluetooth W/GPS 

The AnyTone AT-D878UV is the most expensive handheld radio on our list, but it has the credentials to back up the exorbitant price tag. It complies with APRS digital amateur radio networks, broadening the access of amateur radio hobbyists to multiple channels. VFO channel enabled input to repeaters and other frequencies.  This dual band UHF/VHF radio on DMR and analog channels provides a one radio solution.  The 7-Watts of power provides a maximum range for the radio with unparalleled battery life estimated at 35 hours with a 3100mAh battery.  It’s small, lightweight, and weatherproof, so expect maximum portability. This is a premium radio that will get you from “amateur” to “pro” status in no time.

Conclusion

Ham radio can be daunting to the beginner—there are lots of terms to learn, factors to consider, and radio options to choose from. Before you pick a radio, make a list of the features you care about, as well as your priorities. Do you demand DMR? Do you need a radio with GPS? How much would you like to spend? Make sure you take into account the accessories that you might need. Will you need to buy a programming cable? An antenna to boost your radio’s signal?

Hopefully, this list has provided enough context to help you pick the radio that will work best for you, no matter how you answered those questions. For the casual hobbyist, an inexpensive analog model, like a BaoFeng or the Quansheng UV-R50, will be able to meet your needs without hurting your wallet. These radios are cheap, effective, and durable, although you may need to buy some accessories or do some research online to answer any questions you have.

If you want to try digital, the TYT DMR radio or Radioddity model will work well for you. These radios are relatively inexpensive DMR-capable models that will allow you to explore the option without splurging too much. This carefully selected list of handheld ham radios for beginners are considered to be the highest rated and reviewed ham radios.

And those of you who want to break into the ham radio world with a high-end starter you don’t need to look any further than the  AnyTone AT-D878UV,  which has APRS, GPS, and more amazing, technologically impressive features.

There’s a great option out there for everyone. Enjoy your ham radio adventures

I have a degree in engineering and am passionate in helping people find the best products for the money using my own personal experiences. I'm a father, son, brother, uncle, coach, husband, and engineer who loves to spend time with his two boys and beautiful wife. In my free time my passion is to help others. I love anything and everything technology and spend many hours researching products that I have interests in for myself, my family and friends. My hope is that my time spent researching products will help you save time and money so you can free up your time and spend it doing what you love to do most!

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