The 5 Best Two-Way Radios of 2020

Short on time? Pick up the BaoFeng BF-F8HP, my #1 recommendation for the best all-purpose walkie talkie.

Cell phones have sure come a long way from the 10-lb boxes you’d have to lug around in the ”80s. Nowadays, we have them practically glued to our hands, and they can pretty much do anything.

But…what if you’re somewhere without cell service? How do you stay in touch?

The answer is to use a two-way radio. Still used by many outdoor enthusiasts, law enforcement officials, and construction workers, walkie-talkies are still a powerful tool for real-time communication.

Today I’ll go through the five best 2 way radios I recommend that work well for outdoor excursions and day-to-day work.

Top 5 Two-Way Radios

BaoFeng BF-F8HP


Let’s start with the BaoFeng BF-F8HP, which is my favorite out of the five. I chose this unit because of its wide variety of settings and even wider range. This radio is a beast when it comes to performance but is still small enough to fit comfortably in your hand or backpack.

Using this radio is user-friendly thanks to its included CHIRP software. For radio neophytes, many pro-tier radios require frequency programming to make it communicate correctly. CHIRP is an easy-to-use desktop software that walks you through the programming process effortlessly. Also, BaoFeng provides second-to-none documentation and on-demand concierge support exclusively for its BF line of products.

Moving to the exterior, this radio is very durable and sturdy despite its size. At first glance, it might look like it’s made out of cheap plastic, but after opening the box, you’ll be impressed by its hard and compact shell that will definitely last for a long time.

The one caveat of this tool is that you may need proper licensing and training to operate it due to its power & frequency range. Depending on where you live, check with local laws & ordinances (or else my lawyer will not be happy).

If that seems too complicated, read on for walkie-talkies that don’t require any setup.

Pros:

  • 400-520 MHz frequency range
  • Small and compact
  • Clear sound quality
  • Good battery life for moderately heavy use

Cons:

  • Takes a few steps to setup
  • Needs proper licensing and training

Best for: Professional operators who want a top-of-the-line product and don’t mind programming their radios.

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Cobra ACXT145


Suppose you’re looking for a reasonably priced radio that doesn’t require any programming. In that case, the Cobra ACXT145 might be the best radio for you.

The standout feature of this radio is its size. Even if your backpack is filled to the brim, you’ll be able to squeeze this bad boy in without adding too much weight. No matter how much stuff you bring, you won’t feel like carrying a rock when you’re packing this.

Next, this radio may be tiny, but it provides an excellent frequency range from 462.55 to 467.71 MHz. It also has different tones so you can distinguish calls from oncoming channels. There is also a confirmation tone that signals when it is clear to talk. These features make it that this budget kit has powerful tools equipped.

The downside of this radio set is that it’s not programmable. However, for most campers, that’s a good thing!

Pros:

  • Small and lightweight
  • Long battery life
  • Great frequency range
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • Not the most weather- or drop-resistant radio.

Best for: Casual campers that don’t need heavy programmability.

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Midland LXT630VP3


While the Cobra is affordable and accessible, it might not be powerful enough for long-distance missions. A good hybrid between affordable walkies and rugged HAM radios is the Midland LXT630VP3.

This radio is powerful enough for any needs with its range of up to 30 miles or 48 kilometers for open range areas. The digital display on the radio is beneficial in case you need to check for activity.

These walkie-talkies also have 30 FRS(Family Radio Service) channels, making it easy to segment your communications. This also helps communicate with a broader group of people, as other manufacturers make FRS-compatible devices.

The Midland LXT630VP3 also has an NOAA weather alert feature that gets updates about weather conditions that can hinder outdoor activity. This is super useful for long-distance hiking, where you don’t have Siri to tell you the forecast.

This radio is popular because of the simplicity of its functions. Its weight and size are just perfect for an adult or even a younger child, making it a customer favorite. Plus, the functionality of the radio enormously exceeds its low price point.

Pros:

  • The most amount of power available without a license
  • Lightweight and easy to use
  • Clear sound quality
  • Great frequency range
  • Rechargeable and long-lasting batteries
  • Budget-friendly

Cons:

  • Channel scanning isn’t as fast as a professional radio but still works.

Best for: Serious outdoorsmen who want some hutzpah in their walkie but don’t want to learn to program.

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Motorola Talkabout MH230R


If you like the Midland’s power but want a little more rugged model, the Motorola Talkabout is an excellent choice. It’s a bit more expensive than the Midland model, but will definitely last you longer.

This is great for the outdoors and due to its rugged yellow exterior. It’s easy to find and hard to break. It also includes a weatherproof flashlight, making it great for emergency preparedness.

When it comes to performance, the Motorola MH230R provides a range of up to 23 miles of coverage. It has an eVOX feature for hands-free operation, perfect for outdoor activities like hiking or fishing. For added call clarity, this radio has a headphone jack for headset compatibility.

The Motorola MH230R also covers various features such as NOAA weather channels for emergency alerts quiet talk mode ideal for hunters that require silence when spotting prey.

This radio is very appealing to the eye because of its yellow faceplate and ergonomic design, reminding you of old school Nextel phones. They might be a bit wider than other small walkie-talkies, but many enjoy this because it’s easier to grab.

Pros:

  • 8 hours rechargeable battery life
  • Frequency range up to 23 miles
  • Easy to deploy and use
  • Hands-free feature
  • Affordable price

Cons:

  • The range is pretty sensitive to the terrain you’re working on

Best for: Parents with young children doing outside activities such as hunting, camping, etc.

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Arcshell Two-Way AR-5


If you’re looking for a radio with a lightweight price tag and extensive power, the Arcshell Two-way AR-5 is an excellent choice. I highly recommend this product, but the downside is that it skimps out on bells & whistles to lower the price. This means that it doesn’t have weather updates or a display, but it still has excellent performance at a low price.

Despite its limited 5-mile range, it can transmit messages with clear and commendable sound quality. Moreover, its overall build makes the radio very easy to carry and fit comfortably in one’s hand. Not to mention, its low price makes it incredibly competitive with budget models from higher-end brands.

However, this walkie suffers from short battery life, which may not be suitable for campers who plan to spend long trips outdoors. Still, you can quickly solve this problem if you don’t mind bringing some spare batteries.

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly price
  • Superior sound quality
  • Great customer service
  • Comfortable to hold and carry
  • Secure attachments and build

Cons:

  • Not the best battery life
  • Minimal range

Best for: Campers looking for affordable, short-range walkies.

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Things to Consider Before Buying Two-Way Radios

At this point, you might be ready to own a two-way radio. However, you’re still on the verge of indecisiveness when it comes to actually pulling the trigger.

If that’s you, this guide will show you exactly what to look for to gain confidence in your decision.

Read on to find out exactly what to consider when choosing the right walkie-talkie for you.

Range and Clarity

This should be the first thing you should consider when buying 2 way radios. Depending on your use case, a model’s range could be the limiting factor dictating what you end up purchasing.

A walkie’s range is crucial as a low-range radio will be unable to transmit far distances or when obstacles are in your way. It also needs to withstand poor weather, which your basic Wal-mart walkie might not be able to handle.

If the range is a top priority, splurge on a higher-end walkie, or even consider adding an antenna to your radio.

Also remember, that radio range will be correlated with call clarity. The higher the comms field, the usually better the sound will be, so keep that in mind.

Ease of Use

Aside from range and clarity, you need a walkie that’s easy to use. If your radio takes a Ph.D. to operate, it’s unlikely you’ll use it much. On the other hand, most of the high-performance radios require programming, so balancing the two is essential.

I started this article by suggesting a programmable HAM radio for those who want peak performance. If reading that description makes you start doubting your education, don’t fret, and just buy one of the later suggestions. That way, you won’t have to go through training, programming, or licensing.

Newbies should buy a more affordable (and thus, lower performance) radio. That way, you don’t buy something you don’t end up using, and you can ease into the world of radio communications. More on price later.

Weather Resistance and Durability

In addition to the ease of use, weather resistance and durability also need to be considered when buying two-way radios. Your walkie needs to withstand extreme stormy conditions and have a rugged casing to prevent water from entering (and breaking) the device.

Some two-way radios claim to be water-resistant, but that label is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Many are only water-resistant for a certain amount of time or depth. So, it’s possible your walkie is “water-resistant” but will still break if you go scuba diving with it.

Material is also a crucial factor to consider in regards to durability. Plastic might all look the same on the outside, but it’s essential to put your hands on the radio to feel if it’ll stand being dropped on a rocky trail.

The best radios to choose are those that are lightweight but made of strong materials. These indeed are the best of both worlds, so I tried to find suggestions that match these criteria.

Battery Life and Type

Lastly, consider how long you’ll be out in the woods before buying your radio, as battery life is crucial. Some walkies are powered by alkaline batteries, while others have rechargeable ones. Your specific application dictates which one you’ll want to decide on.

If you’re going on a trip without any power plugs, regular alkaline batteries might be the best option. Or, make sure you pack a portable battery pack to recharge your lithium batteries. Either way, consider your goal before buying.

Conclusion

Whew! That’s a lot of information.

To cut to the chase, my #1 two-way radio recommendation is the BaoFeng BF-F8HP. Its features and capabilities are top of the line, but this set won’t hurt your wallet.

Its sleek and intelligent design and the easy CHIRP software make graduating into professional radios elementary. These features help you understand the functions of a two-way radio faster than anything else. This is an ideal radio for radio enthusiasts and ham radio operators working on busy workstations.

That being said, if you’re looking for a radio that doesn’t require licensing or programming, the Cobra ACXT145 is the perfect radio for you. Its size comes in handy if you don’t want bulky radio weighing you down while hiking. Plus, its simple functionality means you can unbox it and be communicating in seconds.

At the end of the day, choose any of the five options in this article, and I’m sure you’ll be well cared for. These options are all high quality, top performers that’ll last you years without draining your savings account.