The 8 Best Ham Radios to Buy in 2018

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Whether you're new to the world of ham radios or have been sending out your callsign for decades, technology advances and the entry of Chinese manufacturers have meant major improvements and significant price cuts in this area over recent years.

While it's still possible to spend five figures on a high-end rig, a decent handheld radio can also be picked up for well under fifty dollars. In between lies a vast range of devices, portable and stationary, analog and digital, with a dizzying array of features.

No matter your experience level or budget, there's a good ham radio option on the market for you. Whether you're looking for a solid entry-level option, a handheld device that'll handle whatever you (and the weather) throws at it, the ideal radio for in-car use, or something else entirely, we've tracked down the best ham radios on the market right now.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Kenwood TH-D72A

With features you'll rarely find in the competition, solid construction, and a reasonable price, the Kenwood TH-D72A is a formidable contender when it comes to handheld radios.

It's one of the very few with a built-in GPS receiver, the data from which can be exported to PC mapping software via the USB port. You'll get around six hours of continuous use at the highest (5W) output setting, and can reduce output to 0.5W or 0.05W as needed. There's also the option of turning off the radio functions and using it as a GPS tracker, with 30+ hours of battery life.

The D72A can receive simultaneously on both bands, or on two frequencies on the same band. It meets both MIL-STD810 and IP54 standards for durability and weatherproofing, and is compatible with APRS data communications, as well as VHF and UHF bands. Backed by the Kenwood name, this is the best overall handheld ham radio on the market today.

Best on a Budget: BaoFeng UV-5R

BaoFeng UV-5R
Courtesy of Amazon

If you're short on cash, or just want to dip your toes in the ham radio waters without a big financial commitment, it's hard to go past BaoFeng. This Chinese manufacturer has a range of inexpensive two-way handheld radios, and the UV-5R is one of the cheapest of the lot.

Despite its low price, however, this model has most of the main features you'll need in a handheld radio, including VHF/UHF support, and switchable high/low power settings to help conserve battery life. There's also a built-in LED flashlight and commercial FM radio reception.

Range isn't great with the standard antenna, but adding an inexpensive high-gain alternative like the Nagoya NA-771 greatly boosts transmit and receive distance. Even experienced ham radio users swear by the UV-5R for backcountry use, since it's relatively robust, and if it does break or fall down a ravine, you'll pay little to replace.

The combination of cost, features, and reliability make it easy to recommend for those on a budget.

Best for In-Car Use: Yaesu FT-857D

Yaesu has a well-deserved reputation for producing quality radios, and the FT-857D is no exception. Designed for in-vehicle use, it's small enough to be mounted easily under the dash or in some in-dash slots but still has nearly all of the features you'd expect from a much larger radio.

The 857D supports UHF, VHF, and HF bands, with fully-adjustable power output from 5W to 100W depending on the band. FM broadcast reception is also included. The radio supports 200 memory channels that can be given custom names and grouped into collections for quick setup.

The menu interface can be a little confusing in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy enough to access the radio's wide array of features and settings. If you're after a reliable general-purpose radio for use in your car or truck, that can do almost anything you ask of it, the Yaesu FT-857D is an excellent choice.

Best for Getting Started With HF: Yaesu FT-450D

If you're after a good entry-level ham radio with all the features you'll need, made by a reliable manufacturer, look no further than the compact Yaesu FT-450D. With up to 100W of transmit power, support for VHF, UHF, and HF (6-160m bands), and a high-quality digital signal processor for clearer sound, it covers all the bases for those starting out with ham radio who want something more powerful than a handheld device.

The Yaesu FT-450D weighs a portable 12.9 pounds and will run all day on a 12v 30-amp battery, making it equally useful at home or wherever your travels take you. There's also an optional carry handle available if you'll be moving it around regularly.

Regularly used in the field or mounted inside an RV, this is a reliable, well-performing, and versatile radio that outperforms many competitors costing hundreds of dollars more.

Best for Durability: Yaesu VX-6R

When you're operating outdoors, especially in particularly rugged or remote areas, the last thing you need is to damage or drown your radio. If you know you're likely to give yours a hard time, check out the rugged little Yaesu VX-6R handheld.

The solid magnesium case helps protect it from even major drops and knocks, but the biggest selling point of the VX-6R is its waterproofing. Fully submersible, it's rated to handle 30 minutes under six feet of water, so even a quick dunk in a river or getting caught in a storm won't cause any problems.

The radio has tri-band transmitting (2 meter, 1.25 meter, and 70cm), with four different power output settings to help conserve battery and reduce heat buildup,

A nice extra is the inclusion of ARTS (Automatic In-Range Transponder System), to help you stay in range of other devices in the field. All in all, the VX-6R is a feature-packed, rugged, and reliable companion when you're heading into the backcountry.

Best Lightweight Option: TYT Tytera MD-380

When you're carrying a bunch of gear on your person, anything that helps keep the weight down is a welcome relief. Enter the TYT Tytera MD-380 handheld digital radio, which tips the scales at just nine ounces, but doesn't skimp on features despite that.

While DMR (digital mobile radio) handsets require more expertise to get set up, there are plenty of how-to guides online specifically for this model, and your local ham radio club can likely provide a "code plug" to get you started.

Able to run in both Tier 1 (low power) and Tier II modes, you'll typically get a full day or more out of a single battery. Since it takes up to eight hours to charge it back up again, however, you may want to purchase a spare as well.

With up to 1,000 memory channels available, the handset operates in the UHF 400-480Mhz band and includes support for standard digital features such as text messages, encryption, and individual or group calling. It's also possible to operate in UHF analog mode as needed.

With a pair of antennas and a programming cable included in the box, the MD-380 is an ideal lightweight and inexpensive DMR option.

Best for Battery Life: BaoFeng BF-F8HP

If you're sick of your handheld radio going flat in the middle of a conversation and don't want the extra hassle and weight of carrying spare batteries, take a look at BaoFeng's BF-F8HP. It comes with a 2,000mAh battery that gives up to 20 hours in high power mode or 24 hours at the mid-range setting.

The extra charge isn't the only good thing about this dual-band UHF/VHF model, however. The maximum output has been boosted to 8W, and there's a flashlight and FM radio built in to make the radio even more useful.

It's bundled with a high-gain seven-inch antenna (although that's easily removed if you prefer a third-party alternative), and the company even includes a "concierge service" for faster customer assistance and warranty support.

As with all BaoFeng radios, pricing is very competitive, so if you're looking for better battery life in an affordable package, you've found it in the BF-F8HP.

Best for Extra Features: Kenwood TH-D74A

If you're looking for maximum versatility in a handheld radio, Kenwood's TH-D74A is about as good as it gets.

This tri-band model (144/220/430Mhz) packs a huge amount into its 12-ounce frame, including a color display, built-in GPS and Bluetooth support, a microSD card for logging voice recordings and GPS tracking data, and APRS two-way data communication.

An analog radio by default, the D74-A also supports digital communication via D-STAR, and dual-frequency reception lets you send and receive on UHF and VHF simultaneously. The device will easily shrug off a little dust or water as well, due to its IP54 ingress rating.

Unsurprisingly you'll pay more for the D74A than many other models, but when it comes to features, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything else that competes.

Our Process

Our writers spent 10 hours researching the most popular ham radios on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 16 different radios overall, screened options from 6 different brands and manufacturers, read over 120 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.