How to Shop for a Two-Way Radio
If there is a disaster in your area, whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, or economic collapse, there is likely to be a breakdown in communication systems. Land-line phones could be down and cell phone towers might be jammed. If you and your family are at home and have decided to bug in, this might not seem like a problem. But what if your spouse is at work when the shtf, say in an office building on the other side of town? Or what if one of you needs to go out for supplies such as firewood and water? In such cases, you need to have a way to communicate with your loved ones so that you can come to one another’s aid should someone need it.
- Call Features
- Keypad Lock
- Privacy Codes
- Weather Alerts
1. Batteries. You’re going to want a two-way radio that doesn’t suck up the battery life too quickly. However, you’re also going to want a radio that is rechargeable in case the power is out for an extended period. Most manufacturers will note the battery life in the product description assuming 5% reception, 5% transmission, and 90% standby. I recommend buying one that takes rechargeable batteries and getting a solar battery charger. I have the 4 Battery Solar Charger by SunJia and I’ve been very happy with it. Put freshly charged batteries in your radio every day.
2. Call Features. Some things to look for are call alerts (it’s good to have one with different call tones to choose from), channel saver, channel scan (so you can easily see which channels are being used), talk confirmation (a beep that lets the other party know you’re done talking), last channel recall (very convenient), memory (so you can find frequently used channels), and speaker/mic jack (for hands-free conversations).
3. Channels. It’s best to have a two-way radio with dozens of channels so you can find one that’s open (this is especially important in the city).
4. Display. Most models have a screen that displays reception, transmission, battery life, the time, and more. It’s even better if it also has a stopwatch, a thermometer, or a compass. Look for one with an LCD (liquid crystal display) as they are easy to read in any light conditions.
5. Frequencies. FRS stands for Family Radio Service, a set of frequencies for recreational use, but there is a limitation on power. UHF (Ultra High Frequency) is better, and the best is GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service). However, to use GMRS you’ll need a license from the FCC.
6. Keypad Lock. This ensures you stay on your channel even if you’re moving. Also keep an eye out for one with auto squelch which removes annoying background noise.
7. Privacy Codes. This is particularly important in urban survival situations because you don’t want others to overhear you saying something like, “I’m going to go dig up the food I buried in the woods behind our house.” People will still be able to tune into your channel, but your voice will be scrambled and unintelligible. A radio with 20 channels and 100 privacy codes would provide up to 2000 channel options.
8. Range. Before you start looking at radios, you should get out a map and determine the distance from your home to your place of work (or school, church, etc.) and find a radio that will reach even farther. A radio that reaches up to 30 miles should be good enough for most people living in the city.
9. Size. I prefer something that can fit in my pocket, but larger radios tend to be more durable and have more features. Your choice.
10. Weather Alerts. A good two-way radio should be able to scan for weather alerts from the NOAA. They might stop issuing alerts if things get really bad, but in the meantime it’s a very useful feature, especially if you’re hunting/gathering supplies.
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide what radio is best for you and your family. There are some very affordable radios at Walmart, or you could browse through the two-way radios on amazon.com. An affordable radio (only $30 for the pair) with most of the features mentioned above is the Midland LXT490VP3 Two-Way Radio. This makes a great gift!