A Review & Comparison of The Top Ham Radios For a Preppers and Survivalists

by John Wren

Being able to communicate in an emergency is a “must have” if you want to be able to protect yourself and your family when TSHTF. As a “survivalist” or “prepper” as we’re being called now, we cannot simply grab a cheap handheld GMRS/FRS radio from Walmart and to check the communications box.

You know the ones I’m talking about don’t you? Those little plastic things you buy for twenty bucks from the sporting goods section. Sure they’re fine as a toy for your kid, but I don’t know why people would be ok with one of those if their lives are going to depend on it.

If you do decide to go for the cheap handheld radio option, then whatever radio you use, please take them out and use them in a practical test environment and see how far they get you. I imagine that most of you would be utterly disappointed at their performance and you would rethink your plan to rely on them in an SHTF situation.

What you need is a ham radio that is suitable for preppers.

Why Should You Listen To me?

I’m a ham radio operator of 10+ years, so I’ve been through my fair share of equipment. I’m also active in the survivalist community, I frequent the forums and above all, I have first hand working knowledge of most, if not all of the products I am going to recommend to you today.

Parts of this article may cross over into the gray side of the legalities, but when your ass is on the line, that will be the last of your worries. Now, this is what I would recommend for survival purposes:

  • You do not need a license to buy one of these ham radios.
  • You do need a license to legally talk on them.

I would highly recommend to anyone interested in preparing for survival situations, to get a ham license because it’s not just about getting the license, but in the process of getting said license, you will learn a lot about the science of how the radio works on the inside.

Now don’t let this scare you, you don’t have to be a genius to do it. I studied for a whole two days and went and passed the test, so if I can do it, so can you. So I highly suggest everyone go get their license, it’s fun too and you’ll meet a lot of people.

Why Ham Radio?

In ham radio, there are radio clubs out there which specialize in prepping & survivalist stuff, and there’s a huge network of people to help you if you get stuck.

The main reason you should opt for a ham radio is that they are about 10 times more powerful than these handheld ‘toy radios’ that you see in sporting goods stores. Ham radios also have a removable antenna which means we interchange the antenna should we need something a little more powerful. For example, a telescopic antenna that’s a little over three feet long gets me many times the range of the standard rubber duck antenna.

The main benefit I wanted to tell you about today, however, is to do with the radio itself. The ham-radio that I would suggest you buy for the purpose of survival in an emergency situation is the Eton – Elite 750.

Now, when it comes to comms in an emergency, you want to be able to communicate with your family, friends, neighbors or prepper community. Therefore I recommend that you have a pair of the Eton – Elite 750‘s because in an emergency you’re going to need one and so it the other person.

It’s no use you having the best ham radio for preppers and them having a cheap crappy toy that will drop reception when you need it the most. So be sure to grab two of these beauties, they could save your life one day.

Personally, I have one and one for my wife to use as well, and here’s where we get into the gray area of legality.

It is perfectly legal to modify your radio to transmit outside of amateur radio bands. Now the Eton – Elite 750 is a dual band radio, they talk in the 2-meter and 70-centimeter bands (VHF/UHF) and I have modified mine, which you can do yourself as there is plenty of information online.

Simply put, my radio will now be able to talk to a lot more people than it used to when I first bought it. These radios when modded can talk to just about everyone from 136 megahertz to 174 in VHF and up in UHF from 420 to 470.

That is a heck of a lot of bandwidth and most commercial radios are in one of those two bands. So just to clarify, I’m not advocating breaking the law doing what I just mentioned, it could, in fact, be illegal in your state, however, there is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Legalities of Ham Radio Use in an Emergency

The FCC has a rule that in the event of an emergency you are allowed to do anything you need to do, in order to get help.

Basically, you can do whatever you want with these radios and if you know what you’re doing you can actually get into police repeaters and Fire Department repeaters etc. I would only advocate this in an emergency and to listen only mode, don’t be stupid and mess with people’s lives of course.

If you get a ham license and you get one of these radios and go about it the legit way and modify the radio so that you can get into these other services if you need to, then should the time arise you will be able to get into:

  • GMRS
  • FRS
  • Marine VHF
  • Railroad VHF
  • Military VHF
  • Military UHF
  • Commercial VHF
  • Commercial UHF

So these are an enormously powerful tool folks, and it can get you into enormous trouble as well so I’m not advocating breaking the law but I am advocating being prepared with this radio and to have it properly set up ready for an emergency.

It will, hands down, be the best communications tool you can have and it beats a cell phone as cell phones likely won’t work. I’ve been in many situations where they do not work both caused by natural disaster and actually mostly caused by people panicking and overloading the cell phone system.

So these ham radios are very important, if you’re going to spend the money on radios where your life is going to depend on it, maybe the lives of your family, then do not spend twenty dollars for a pair of cheap mini child junk radios.

The Eton – Elite 750 are close to two hundred dollars each, so you need about four hundred dollars, plus extra for accessories like the antennas and that sort of thing. So plan on five hundred bucks, most people spend more of that on a gun, and in my personal option, a decent ham radio is just as important.

A gun will get you out of immediate danger, but a radio can call up reinforcements and get you out of dodge.

Here are some great ones to try and other great accessories!

Bestseller No. 1
ICOM 7300 02 Direct Sampling Shortwave Radio Black
  • 100W (25W AM) Output power
  • 0.030-74.800 RX frequencies
  • Receiver type: Direct sampling
Bestseller No. 2
AnyTone AT-778UV Transceiver Mobile Radio Dual Band 25W VHF/UHF VOX Vehicle Car Radio w/Cable
  • 1.Upgrade AT-778UV Mobile Transceiver Radio, VOX Function, Two Mode for different operation requirement Distribute buttons reasonably, Convenient for operation. RX Frequency: 144-148MHz/420-450MHz,...
  • 2.Mic Gain for sounds worlds better: The higher the mic gain will get louder sound, the more noise. If you want more clarity, you need to set level 3. It can be set manually or by software, the...
  • 3. 180 degree rotatable TFT LCD display, Narrow band compliant, Built-in speakers in radio & microphone, Built-in cooling fan.❤❤CHIRP SUPPORT !!! FREE download the programming software on AnyTone...
  • 4. Size: 4.9" (W) x 6.4" (D) x 1.5" (H) (124 x 163 x 39 mm); , Output Power 25W/15W/5W, 200 Channels Store, CTCSS/DCS, DTMF, 5Tone signaling for data transfer, alarm, all call, ANI, remote kill,...
  • 5. Single call, Group call, Selective call and Emergency call are all available, Keypad lockout function, Squelch level setting, LCD brightless control, Voltage level protection, Automatic power...
Bestseller No. 3
BTECH UV-50X2 (Second Gen.) Mobile 50 Watt Dual Band Base, Mobile Radio: VHF, UHF Amateur (Ham)
  • The UV-50X2 has been upgraded with Audio I/O support through the RJ45 Microphone Port. Included is also a K1 Audio adaptor. The K1 accessory jack is the most common radio accessory jack in the market....
  • The UV-50X2 includes all of the necessary mounting hardware to easily wire into any vehicle. You can use the UV-50X2 as a base station at home or in the office with the optional RPS-30M power supply...
  • Recommended Accessories: Pair UV-50X2 with the Nagoya UT-72 Magnetic Mount Antenna for easy installation. The PC04 FTDI Cable is recommended for easy computer programming
  • The UV-50X2 operates as multiple radios in one, with either 144 MHz or 430 MHz as the "Main" TX/RX band, while simultaneously watching up to 3 other frequencies or channels; and, if you like, you can...
  • Kit Includes: BTECH UV-50X2, RJ45 to K1 Audio Adaptor, Speaker Mic, DC Cable, Radio & Mic Brackets, Mounting Hardware, and User Guide
Bestseller No. 4
President Lincoln II Plus 10 and 12 Meter Ham Radio
  • Same as LINCOLN II but 12 meter band added, key "CH19/9" replaced by "Emergency Channel 1 and 2" programmable by user; HF output power 35W PEP SSB instead of 31W PEP SSB, 35W FM instead of 28W; AM is...
  • Rotary switch and Up/down channel selector; Volume adjustment and ON/OFF; Manual squelch and ASC; RF Power; MENU function key; Dim; Mode switch AM/FM/LSB/USB/CW.
  • VFO Mode w/ continuous scanning; Multi-functions LCD display; Frequencies display; S-meter; Channels and memories scan; 6 Memories; CTCSS (38 tones); DCS (104 codes).
  • Public Address; Vox function (hands-free); ANL filter, NB and HI-CUT; RF Gain / Mic gain; Clarifier; Roger Beep; Front microphone plug; External loudspeaker jack.
  • Dual watch; Key locking; SWR (Power Reading/SWR); Preset emergency (EMG 1/2); TOT (Time Out Timer) adjustable.
Bestseller No. 5
BAOFENG UV-5R Ham Radio 8W Long Range UV5R Dual Band Handheld 3800mAh Extended Battery Rechargeable Walkie Talkies for Adults with Earpiece,USB Charger and Programming Cable Full Kit,2Pack
  • 【Professional Baofeng UV-5R Full Set】High/medium/low power TX selectable,Outpower:8Watts.All You Need Is In One Box!Package contents include:Portable Radio,3800mAh Extended Battery,US Base...
  • 【FCC Certified】Dual band/Dual display/Dual standby,128 groups of storage channels;50 CTCSS and 104 CDCSS,AUTO Keypad Lock,LED Flashlight;This model has been FCC certified,FCC ID: 2AJGM-UV5R.
  • 【Large Capacity 3800mAh Battery&USB Charger】Come with Large Capacity 3800mAh Battery,200% Standby time higher than original,power saving function can extend battery life,Keep you non-stop...
  • 【USB Programming Cable】Come with USB Programming Cable,With PL2303 Chip,Drive free,more convenient and durable,can work fine with chirp software,Support Win10/Win11 etc System.If your radio model...
  • 【High Quality Headsets】Come with K Port Headset,K head connector: Ear 3.5mm stereo (top pin), Mic 2.5mm stereo (bottom pin),G shape Earpiece and 360°rotatable earplug fit your ear...

Ham radios are a great tool for communication and provide a unique hobby for those interested in electronics and technology. They offer the ability to communicate with people from all over the world without relying on the internet or phone lines. Ham radio operators also play an important role in emergency communication during times of crisis, such as natural disasters, where regular communication systems may be unavailable. With the increasing reliance on technology in our daily lives, ham radios provide a break from the digital world and offer a chance to connect with others in a meaningful way. For these reasons, anyone interested in technology, communication, and community building should consider getting a ham radio.

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Emmett January 5, 2018 - 8:37 pm

IMHO, recommending an HT for someone’s first ham radio is a mistake. HTs have very limited range, and pretty compromised antenna systems. I think they’d be much better off buying a decent mobile rig (either 2 or dualband 2 / 440), a 13.8 volt power supply, and an external antenna either for the car or for home.

I’d then recommend an HF rig and wire antenna of some sort. Only then would I advise getting an HT. At that point, the FT60 is indeed an excellent choice. Be sure to get the programming cable so you can set up the radio with Chirp software. Programming radios these days without the aid of a computer is a real drag.


Rusty January 9, 2018 - 10:15 am

When the Yaesu FT-60R was first released (more than 20 years ago), it was state of the art, but just like in dog years, electronic communication changes (alot) every year. Sure you can buy a FT-60R for around $170 on Amazon (and elsewhere), and I agree it’s better than any Baofeng radio, but is it the “best” prepper radio out there for $170?

I think not, and here’s why:

The FT-60R can only display one band at a time, so “technically” it’s really a twin-band radio, not a dual-band radio. In addition to you not being able to hear two channels at the same time (with the Yaesu), it can’t do cross-band repeat either (which is a H-U-G-E benefit for anyone using a radio outdoors that wants to greatly extend their range).

In addition, the standard Yaesu battery is a 1400 mAh NiMH (really old battery chemistry and really small amount of power vs. today’s newer radios). Sure, you can buy newer (and larger) batteries for the Yaesu, but that also adds to your costs.

BTW, even “if” you hardware modify your brand new Yaesu, it still won’t do 2.5kHz band step sizes, which means if you do attempt to use it out of band for those “emergencies” on FRS (for example), you’ll be off-frequency.

You’re also stuck with a Yaesu display that only shows 6 characters (while most newer radios show 7 or 8). It may not seem like much, until your trying to abbreviate multiple repeaters located on the same mountaintop.

I’m lucky enough to have a local prepper friendly radio dealer in my area. With their guidance, I’ve purchased several Wouxun KG-UV8D Plus and KG-UV9D Plus radios (which they also programmed for me). Both do cross-band repeat, both have compandered audio and audio scrambling features, the 8D Plus has a 2600 mAh Li-Ion battery while the 9D Plus has an even larger 3200 mAh Li-Ion battery (vs. 1400 mAh on the older Yaesu).

Purchased the 8D Plus for $149.95 and the 9D Plus for $169.95 at RF Gear 2 Go (here in AZ) and immediately sold my two older FT-60R radios (that can’t touch either Wouxun radio spec for spec, or feature for feature).

Make no mistake, the FT-60R was a very good radio (in it’s day), but it’s really long of tooth now (compared to the newer stuff out there).

RAMPAGE10D December 2, 2018 - 6:27 pm

Rusty, If someone else programmed your radio for you, I’m not taking your advice and in my opinion (humble, arrogant, or otherwise) no one else should either. Sorry.

Bill February 19, 2019 - 11:51 pm

I own a lot of HTs (several Baofengs) a Yaesu Ft2Dr, Yaesu VX-8R, and a couple of Yaesu VX6r

… but the easiest and simplest to use (for me and my family) has been the Ft-60’s. It’s the one radio that my wife (W5PSI) can work without looking at the manual. I own 4 of them! They just WORK. and they are built like a tank. Yes, they’ve been around for a long time, but they are still selling like crazy. Why buy new when you can find them used at Hamfest and QTH.com for $50-100 and they are simple to modify. LOVE THEM!

Bill (K5NOW)

Mark KC9GUY April 15, 2019 - 8:30 pm

I have something like 4 different handhelds. My FT-60R has been my go-to for awhile, but I’ve about beat it death and there are some things that I wish were different. The most problemmatic for me are: 1) You have to careful about leaving it in the charger too long, 2) the external Mic connection doesn’t hold on to the mix very well, 3) eventually the frequency select knob get finicky and 4) the belt clip isn’t near as robust as the rest of the radio. That being said, it has all the positives you mention and does them well. I’m looking at other options for my next and hope to find something just as rugged with some updated technology. .

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