The United States power grid is a lot more fragile than most people think. This was proven in 2012, when Superstorm Sandy deprived 8.1 million Americans of electricity. In some areas, power was restored within a matter of hours, but others had to go without power for a full two weeks. Weather-related emergencies are only one threat to the grid. Cyber attacks and solar bursts could bring the grid down for an even longer period of time. Without the proper equipment, you won’t be able to know what’s going on during a crisis situation.
If you own an emergency radio, a power outage won’t stop you from receiving news and updates. The dynamo crank is a standard emergency radio feature. When you run out of batteries, the crank will convert mechanical energy that you provide into additional power. Most emergency radios also come equipped with solar panels, which transform the sun’s energy into electricity.
Here are the best emergency radios you can buy:
The most full-featured emergency radio
Kaito KA500 Voyager
When it comes to features, it doesn’t get much better than Kaito’s KA500. The fact that it can receive shortwave radio transmissions from ham radio operators makes it even more effective for gathering information compared to radios that can only get AM, FM and NOAA broadcasts. Another bonus: there are four different ways to power it up.
- Patented solar panel design. You can rotate the Voyager’s solar panel and adjust its angle so that it’s always directly facing the sun.
- Receives shortwave broadcasts. In addition to receiving NOAA weather reports and AM/FM stations, it can also pick up shortwave radio transmissions.
- Compatible with ordinary batteries. The fact that you can use regular AA batteries with this radio is another significant benefit.
- You can use headphones to save power. You even get a pair of headphones in the box, which you can plug into the Voyager when you want to conserve energy.
- Mechanical crank power option. The crank– which you can use while you listen to the radio to keep it powered up– ensures that you can stay tuned in, even when it’s dark outside.
- Rechargeable battery pack. The 600 mAh battery meets the industry standards for energy capacity.
- Five different color options. No other emergency radio we’ve seen has as many style options as this one.
- Lacks key accessories. You have to pay $10 extra if you want the 6V DC adapter. The antenna extension– which costs $10– is sold separately, as well.
- Pricey compared to other emergency radios. All the extra features that the KA500 offers come with added cost.
In a nutshell
Equipped with a wide variety of impressive features, the Kaito KA500’s main strength is that it can do things most other emergency radios can’t. For example, in addition to receiving AM/FM and NOAA broadcasts, it can also pick up shortwave radio transmissions. The fact that there are four different ways to charge it up adds versatility.
The most compact emergency radio
If your storage space is limited, iRonsnow’s IS-088+ makes a lot of sense. It’s only 5 inches long, 2.4 inches across and 1.6 inches thick. In other words, it’s small enough to hold in your hand. Despite its small size and affordable price point, it’s equipped with a hand crank, USB port and all the other standard features that you’d expect to find in an emergency radio.
- Compact design. Measuring just five inches long, the IS-088+’s most distinguishing characteristic is that it’s small compared to other emergency radios.
- Affordable price. The low sticker price is another one of its main attractions.
- Built-in battery. The 1000 mAh battery offers above-average energy capacity compared to competing emergency radios.
- You can use the hand crank to supply power. If your batteries are running low, you can slide the hand crank out and supply mechanical power manually.
- Can be used to recharge a phone. Like most modern emergency radios, the IS-088+ comes with a built-in USB port and can be used to power up smartphones and other similar electronic devices.
- Two different color options. You can choose between two basic color schemes: red or black.
- Basic features only. There is no headphone jack or shortwave radio support. It doesn’t support standard batteries, either.
- Sound quality is slightly below average. Most people who bought the IS-088+ seem to agree that while the IS-088’s speakers get the job done, the quality of the sound they produce is somewhat tinny.
In a nutshell
The main benefit of iRonsnow’s IS-088+ is its slim, compact design. It’s only five inches long, which makes it almost twice as small as some emergency radios. Despite that, it has all the basic features you’ll find in competing products. If you are going on a backpacking trip, it could be your best option.
The best emergency radio for outdoor use
FosPower’s emergency radio has two different built-in lights. One is a flip-up style LED light and the other is a standard flashlight-style light. That unique setup– combined with the fact that it’s waterproof and shock resistant– make it ideal for use outdoors. These two words summarize its main appeal: versatility and toughness. Its low price point is another strong benefit.
- Two different built-in lights. You can use the flip-up LED light for activities like reading or looking through your backpack, and the flashlight for making your way through the forest.
- Weather resistant and rugged. The FosPower’s IPX3 rating means that it’s waterproof enough to resist not only dripping water but also pressurized water spray.
- Adjustable solar panel. The fact that you can pull the solar panel out and tilt it towards the sun is another significant benefit.
- Hand crank power option. If you don’t want to wait for the sun to charge it up, you can use the hand crank instead.
- Compatible with ordinary batteries. In addition to the built-in battery pack, it can also draw energy from regular AAA batteries.
- Inexpensive compared to other emergency radios. Despite its solid range of features, the price is low in comparison to other emergency radios.
- Can’t receive shortwave radio transmissions. It can’t send or receive HAM radio broadcasts.
- Doesn’t support headphones. The lack of a 3.5 mm jack is another significant disadvantage. Speakers tend to consume more energy than headphones.
In a nutshell
Rugged and equipped with a unique adjustable solar panel, the FosPower is an excellent choice emergency radio for campers and outdoorsmen. Some emergency radios aren’t designed to be exposed to rain, but this one’s IPX3 rating ensures that it won’t break if a storm rolls in and you can’t find adequate shelter.
The best emergency radio for crisis situations
Eton American Red Cross FRX3+
Eton’s American Red Cross FRX3+ bears the world-famous humanitarian organization’s official logo. Like many other emergency radios, it’s equipped with a hand crank that lets you convert mechanical energy into electricity and a USB port that allows you to power up digital devices. The built-in handle makes it easy to carry, as well.
- Meets the American Red Cross’ standards. The FRX3+ is one of the only emergency radios on the market that bears the Red Cross’ official logo.
- Flashing red distress beacon. The beacon is bright, but it doesn’t consume much power because it’s a LED light.
- Runs on solar power. If you leave it out in the sun, the FRX3+’s panels will convert the solar energy it receives into electrical power.
- Built-in hand crank. The hand crank is handy because it provides a means for charging the radio when it’s dark outside.
- You can use headphones instead of the speakers to save power. Another benefit of using headphones is that you can get the latest news and weather updates without disturbing your companions.
- Provides power to digital devices. If your smartphone runs out of batteries, you can use the FRX3+’s USB port to charge it back up again.
- Doesn’t support standard disposable batteries. Other emergency radios give you the option to use AA or AAA batteries as power sources, but this one does not.
- Can’t receive shortwave radio signals. It only picks up AM, FM and NOAA broadcasts.
In a nutshell
Eton’s FRX3+ bears the official American Red Cross logo. Because of this, it’s arguably the most official-looking emergenc radio on the market. Its convenient handle and built-in headphone jack are two of its best features. Along with the above-average battery, the bright red LED alert beacon is a strong benefit.
The emergency radio with the best battery capacity
The Midland ER310’s high capacity battery sets it apart from most competing emergency radios. It’s rated at 2600 mAh. To put that number in perspective: most competing emergency radio manufacturers equip their devices with 1000 mAh or 600 mAh batteries. The built-in ultrasonic dog whistle is another unique feature.
- Impressive battery capacity. The battery is rated at 2600 mAh, which means that it can hold enough power to recharge a smartphone about four times.
- Dynamo hand crank. Just one minute of cranking yields a full ten minutes of usage time.
- Compatible with standard disposable batteries. If the battery runs out of energy and you don’t want to use the crank, you can switch to standard replaceable AA batteries.
- Ultrasonic dog whistle. Rescue teams that use dogs to locate lost or injured people will be better able to hone in on your position when the dog whistle is activated.
- Supports headphones. You can switch to headphones to conserve battery power or in situations where you need to listen to news and weather reports discreetly.
- Carrying handle. The convenient handle not only provides an easy way to carry the ER310, but also gives you a way to tie it to your backpack.
- May be too big and bulky for some applications. Measuring 9.61 x 2.95 x 6.85 inches, the ER310 is significantly longer and wider than most competing emergency radios.
- It’s not waterproof. Midland advises against using the ER310 when it’s raining or in other conditions in which it may be exposed to water.
In a nutshell
The Midland ER310 holds over four times the amount of power as some emergency radios. However, that extra capacity comes at a cost: it’s somewhat heavy and bulky compared to the competition. On the other hand, the built-in handle offsets that disadvantage– and no other emergency radio we’ve seen comes equipped with a digital dog whistle.
Buying guide for emergency radios
The more mAh your emergency radio has, the less often you’ll have to charge it. Most emergency radios are very power efficient and can run for many hours on a single charge, even if the battery is on the low end of the spectrum in terms of capacity. However, if you intend on using your emergency radio to recharge your smartphone, you may want to get one that has a high capacity battery.
Now a standard emergency radio feature, emergency radios with USB ports can power up smartphones and other digital devices.
Flashlight type and luminosity
Almost all emergency radios are equipped with some type of flashlight, but some other brighter than others. Check the light’s luminosity (measured in lumens) before you buy if you intend to rely on your emergency radio as an emergency light source.
Solar panels have become a standard feature for emergency radios. However, some solar panels are more efficient than others. Check your radio’s specifications chart to find out how many hours of sunlight you’ll need to get a full charge.
If your emergency radio has a dynamo crank feature, it can convert kinetic energy into an electrical charge. This lets you operate your radio in nearly any type of situation, regardless of power grid availability. All you have to do to charge it up is twist the crank.
Disposable battery support
Support for disposable batteries is another convenient emergency radio feature. Some emergency radios come with a built-in power source, but don’t let you use ordinary batteries for power. If you want more versatility, look for an emergency radio that supports standard batteries.
Weather and shock resistance
Not all emergency radios handle harsh weather conditions well. In fact, some aren’t even waterproof at all. If you intend on using your emergency radio outdoors, make sure to check its IP (Ingress Protection) rating before you buy.
Because headphones are more power efficient than speakers, you can get more usage time out of your emergency radio if it comes equipped with a headphone jack. The ability to listen to weather updates discreetly is another advantage.
In the event of a truly massive natural disaster that shuts down NOAA and AM/FM radio stations, ham operators may be the only source of information available. In these types of situations, an emergency radio that’s equipped with a shortwave receiver may come in handy.
You can find good quality basic emergency radios for around $30. Their batteries typically don’t hold much power, though– and they can’t do things like receive ham radio broadcasts. In addition, most budget emergency radios aren’t meant to be used outside.
Emergency radios that sell for $40 have better batteries and more and better features. They also tend to be sturdier and more weather resistant.
Premium emergency radio prices start at around $60. Many devices in this price range feature high capacity batteries, adjustable solar panels, and headphone jacks. In addition to FM, AM and NOAA broadcasts, some can receive shortwave messages from across the world.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What is NOAA?
A: NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s a federally funded agency that’s in charge of monitoring the weather. NOAA-operated radio stations located all over the country provide official information about weather warnings, watches and other similar dangers.
Q: What’s the benefit of getting an emergency radio that can pick up shortwave broadcasts?
A: In severe crisis situations, even NOAA stations might be forced to shut down. But since all it takes is one person to operate a ham radio, you’ll still be able to learn about what’s going on if your emergency radio can receive shortwave signals.
Q: My emergency radio is running out of batteries. Do I have to turn it off to power it up again with the dynamo crank?
A: No, you can almost certainly leave your device on. Almost all emergency radios can be used while they are being recharged via the dynamo crank.
- Don’t make the mistake of leaving your emergency radio in your shed or in storage until you need it. Instead, test it out about once a month to make sure that the batteries are still operational and that all the other features work as expected.
- Do you know the difference between a weather watch and a weather advisory? If not, you may want to visit weather.gov and read the definitions provided there so that you fully understand the alerts that come through on NOAA broadcasts.
- The official FEMA app has information about how to handle more than 20 different types of disasters. There’s also a map, which shows you where all the nearby FEMA stations are located.