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Best handheld Ham Radio for Beginners
Amateur 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
- 2. BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black)
- 3. Quansheng UV-R50 Rechargeable Dual Band Two-Way Radios with Earpiece Long Range Walkie Talkies (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Ham Amateur Radio
- 4. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld 5W VHF / UHF Amateur Radio Transceiver
- 5. TYT MD-380 – DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio
- 6. Kenwood TH-D72A 144/440 MHz Handheld Amateur Transceiver w/ 1200/9600 BPS Packet TNC, Built-in GPS, Echolink Ready, 5 Watts
- 7. Radioddity GD-55 Plus Compact DMR Digital/Analog Ham Radio
- 8. Yaesu Original FT-2DR 144/430 Dual Band Digital/Analog C4FM/FM Handheld Amateur Transceiver
- 9. Wouxun KG-UVD1P VHF/UHF Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black)
- 10. Kenwood Original TH-D74A 144/220/430 MHz Triband With Ultimate in APRS and D-Star Performance (Digital) Handheld Transceiver – 5W
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 Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black)
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 UV-R50 Rechargeable Dual Band Two-Way Radios with Earpiece Long Range Walkie Talkies (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Ham Amateur Radio
Another low-priced option is the Quansheng UV-R50. It’s a small, durable machine, with 128 memory channels, rapid alert, and hands-free operation functions, and a tricolor display. Its “auto squelch” technology cancels out sound interference, giving you clearer audio. Unfortunately, this radio is unsupported by CHIRP, so you’ll have to program it manually. The manual is written in broken English and printed in a very small font, though, so you may not be able to rely on that for much help. If you want a super cheap radio and are willing to put some legwork into figuring out how to use it, this is the radio for you!
4. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld 5W VHF / UHF Amateur Radio Transceiver
The Yaesu FT-60R 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 a thousand memory channels, an NOAA Weather Alert function, and the capacity to receive emergency channels in 800-900 Mhz. 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.
Another highly rated product that is considered as a top contender for one of the best handheld ham radios for beginners is the Kenwood TH-D72A, which is a much higher end ham radio, with impressive features to match the high price tag. It’s a GPS receiver, is APRS compatible, and supports cluster/packet tuning. It even provides weather alerts so that you don’t get stuck in a storm! The radio is equipped with a USB port and cable to use with Kenwood’s official programming software. 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-55 Plus Compact DMR Digital/Analog Ham Radio
The Radioddity GD-55 Plus 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 10 watts of power. With a full-color screen, good battery life, and 2 antenna options, you’ll find the GD-55 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 year-long warranty, though, you have nothing to worry about. This radio is perfect for the versatile ham who wants some security in their purchase.
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.
The Wouxun KG-UVD1P is 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.
The Kenwood Original TH-D74A 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 and D-STAR digital amateur radio networks, broadening the access of amateur radio hobbyists to multiple channels. It offers GPS services on a transflective TFT color display. The Kenwood Original has a micro-SD port and Bluetooth capability, and its software is easy to use. 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.
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 Yaesu Original or Kenwood Original, both of which have APRS, GPS, and more amazing, technologically impressive features.
There’s a great option out there for everyone. Enjoy your ham radio adventures!