The best two-way radio has many convenient features that help you get the job done when you’re out in the field. Some of these helpful features include a longer battery life, automatic weather scanning, and plenty of available channels. Our pick, the Midland GXT136-Mile 50-Channel Two-Way Radio, combines these features with a host of others to provide users with a truly exceptional two-way radio that is reliable out in the field.
Two Way Radio Comparison
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Two Way Radio Buying Guide
Types of Two Way Radios
There are two types of two way radios that are on the market today and they operate on different bands. Hybrids are available too but the main offerings you will find will be one of these two, basic types.
- FRS – The first FRS band was created in 1966. This type of two-way radio operates at ½ a watt, which is a lower point than the GMRS radios. They usually transmit on a minimum of 7 FRS channels and also on shared channels.
- GMRS - These are more powerful that the FRS radios and operate at a max of 50 watts. This is significantly more powerful than the FRS’s ½ watt operation. In the 1940s, the FCC created the GMRS band for commercial use. Now consumers can purchase GMRS radios for recreational use but may be required to obtain a 5-year license from the FCC.
Two Way Radio Features
There are several features you want to look at when you are shopping for the best two-way radio for your needs. We have listed these below so you know exactly what to check into when you start your research.
- Channel Capabilities – Most radios on the market, especially those used for outdoor activities, have 22 basic channels that are either on the FRS or GMRS bands. Many of the radios (including those we reviewed above) offer extra channels. This is a good feature, especially in crowded areas where finding a clear channel can be more difficult. The more channels offered, the better your chances are of finding a free channel. Don’t forget that using the GMRS channels require a 5-year family license that you can get from the FCC.
- Range of Coverage – Two way radios offer coverage that ranges from 25 miles to as much as 50 miles. However, consumers need to be aware that those distances are based on testing done in optimal conditions which often include flat terrain. Real world conditions are not typically flat which will affect the range of your radio.
The FRS-only models may provide a maximum range of 5-8 miles and the GMRS may offer coverage that goes from 8-25 miles. Larger GMRS models are more often used for base-type operations and not for hand held activities. The more power a model has the better the quality of the signal. Higher powered two way radios are more expensive but if signal quality and range is high on your priority list, it may be worth spending the extra money.
- Size/Weight - Two way radios come in all shapes and sizes. If you will be using the radios for hiking and camping you want to look for two way radios that offer a less bulky weight and size. If you will be using the radio while skiing or hiking where cold weather is prevalent, you will do well with ergonomic models that fit easily in your hand even when wearing gloves. Look for radios that have an antenna as long as the radio’s body for peak power.
- Calling/Paging – There are many pre-set tones that a two way radio can offer. This works well to alert group members that you are getting ready to talk. Some models also have vibrating alerts.
- Keypad Lock - A keypad lock protects your settings from being erased or changed when you are actively moving around.
- Weather Radio - The NOAA weather stations are those that most two way radios tap into automatically. This is a very important feature for those who are using radios in the wilderness. This ability to know the weather will help you keep track of emergencies and bad conditions occurring in your local area.
- Noise Filter – This feature helps two-way radios achieve better signals and a broader range when in use.
- Batteries – Two way radios will either run on 2 or 3 AA batteries or rechargeable batteries if you have them. Some models do come with rechargeable battery packs. If your two-way radios are high powered, the batteries will drain much more quickly so it is always a good idea to keep plenty of extras on hand.
- Scanning - Most radios have channel scanners that make finding the channels you are looking for much easier. This scanning feature also kicks in when the two-way is looking for the local weather stations.
- Compatibility - Two way radios that are broadcasting using the same FRS or GMRS frequencies and that support the same channels will work together. One thing to keep in mind is that radios that offer the same features will work the best together and allow those features to be fully utilized. Most radios are sold in pairs but if you are outfitting a group of people, there are sets sold in packs of 6, 10 and even more that will work together and support the same features.
- Usage Area - If the two way radios you are considering are made for use in the USA, they are not going to be legal to use outside of North America. Canada is aligned with the US on the frequencies and Mexico only uses FRS frequencies. The best way to find out about this if it is an issue is to check with the FCC for information. Most other countries use FRS or GMRS frequencies for police, military and other professional applications so you may need to find out if those channels are restricted or not.
Two way radios are used for professional, commercial and recreational use. If you are interested in purchasing a set of two-way radios it is important to know what features they offer and what those features will provide in real world applications.
With many choices of radio available, you are sure to find a model and style to fit every need you might have for a two-way radio. The information we provided in this buyer’s guide is designed to help you understand all the features and capabilities of two way radios. With this knowledge you will be able to choose the best two way radios for your needs.