5 Expert Tips to Help You Buy the Perfect Handheld Ham Radio

words Al Woods

Buying your first handheld ham radio is definitely overwhelming if you’re not familiar with the models on the market of the specific terminology. You might not know what the latest Anytone AT-868UV code plug is, or what makes a good ham radio stand out from a mediocre model.

However, we’re here to tell you that you don’t need to be a ham radio specialist to sort through these complicated tech terms and buy a great handheld ham. Here are five factors you need to focus on when looking to get a handheld. Keep your eyes on these and block out everything else.

Handheld Ham Radio

1)      Radio Bands

If you are a prepper looking to get a handheld radio for emergency communications, you need to get a model with a two-meter band. This allows you to communicate on the 440 MHz.

You should also consider if it’s a dual-band radio. Dual-band radios enable you to use two frequencies at the same time. They are more effective at communicating, and there’s less static when listening.

There are also tri-band options, which support three radio bands. However, you should be OK with a dual-band radio in most cases.

However, if you are trying to unlock your Sherlock Holmes side, you can go for the general coverage band models. These bands allow you to receive Morse code signals. 

2)      Frequency Range

After the radio bands, the next feature you should consider is the radio frequency range. While the frequencies you can tune into and use are dependent on your FCC license, not every mdel has the same frequency. Ensure if the radio you plan to purchase has the frequencies you need before you complete the order.

If this is your first handheld ham radio, you can choose from one of these three licenses:

  • General
  • Technician
  • Amateur extra

You will need to take an exam before you are granted your license.

3)      Backlit Display

You will definitely use your handheld radio at night or in dimly lit environments. You don’t want to be using it if it doesn’t come with a backlit LCD display. You want the screen to be readable at all times, no matter the time of day or weather.

The disadvantage of radios with backlit screens is they use up a lot of power. To counter this, get a radio that has daylight settings. These settings allow you to reduce the backlit when it’s not needed and conserve battery power.

4)      Power

Most handheld radios will have between 0.5W – 5W of power. Some heavy-duty options are designed for use between 1W – 5W. The higher the wattage, the greater the range. This also affects the price of the radio.

You might see the term “peak wattage” on the packaging. This is the highest possible wattage for the ham radio. However, that doesn’t mean that it operates at that power consistently. Note that a ham radio using 2W of power always will perform better than one running at 5W peak wattage.

5)      Memory

Memory capacity is your final consideration, which will depend on your specific needs. If you only plan to use your handheld within your locality, you don’t need that many memory slots. However, if you are a weather hobbyist or any other advanced applications, you should get a model with over 100 memory slots.

Final Thoughts

There are hundreds of handheld ham models on the market, and thousands of reviews have been written on almost every one of them. To reduce the overwhelm, use these five features to create a checklist, and you should be able to make a choice quickly.


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