Best Handheld Ham Radios of 2020

If you’re interested in radio and are looking for a new hobby which can bring you hours of education, socializing and fun, ham radio is well worth getting into. People of all ages talk on ham radio around the globe. Ham radio is portable and you can set it up literally anywhere you can imagine. During times of emergency, it can be incredibly useful and may even save lives.

If you are thinking about buying a ham radio, there are a lot of features you will need to evaluate in order to make the best purchase decision. We have saved you some time by putting together a comparison table for the top ham radios.

Yaesu FT-60RCheck Price on Amazon
Baofeng BF-F8HPCheck Price on Amazon
Yaesu VX-6RCheck Price on Amazon
TYT MD-380Check Price on Amazon
Kenwood TH-D74ACheck Price on Amazon
Icom ID-51ACheck Price on Amazon

What is a Ham Radio?

“Ham” radio is also known simply as amateur radio, and it is exactly what it sounds like. It is the private noncommercial use of designated radio frequencies. Ham radio can be used for socializing, experimenting with wireless communication, emergency communication, and more.

Ham radio is an incredibly diverse world. If you get into this hobby, you will meet people of all ages and nationalities—colloquially known as “hams.” The 23-year-old plumber down the street might be a ham—but so might the 52-year-old CEO who lives uptown. Her 10-year-old son may also be a ham enthusiast.

Ham radio operators communicate through many different means. While voice is obviously most common, they may also use Morse code, radio teletype, packet, PSK, and even pictures.

Ham Radio Benefits

Why is ham radio exciting? Here are some of the top reasons cited by ham enthusiasts:

  • It is a fascinating hobby if you are interested in radio and communication technology.
  • You can communicate from literally anywhere in the world, even the peak of a mountain or the middle of a desert.
  • Ham radio is incredibly useful during emergencies. Ham radio operators can coordinate rescue and supply missions when other communications fail.
  • You get to join a community of more than two million users around the globe.

Licensing Requirements

Licensing is a requirement for Ham radio, but the process has been streamlined over recent years. It is now easier than ever to get involved and progress up the rungs.

There are three types of licenses currently offered:

  • The Technician License. This is the entry-level license. To obtain it, you must pass one examination with 35 questions. You get access to all frequencies over 30 megahertz as well as some HF band privileges. For the most part, you can communicate domestically and locally.
  • The General License. This license requires you pass another 35-question exam, and allows you to take part in international communication. The Technician License is a prerequisite.
  • The Amateur Extra License. You must pass a 50-question exam for this license. It confers all operating privileges on all modes and bands. The General License is a prerequisite.

What Is a Transceiver?

A transceiver is quite simply a transmitter and receiver combined into a single unit. The majority of modern radios fall under this category, including ham radios.


The ham radio frequencies you are permitted to use depend on which of the licenses above you have under your belt. Not all radios work with all frequencies, so make sure that you buy one which will offer you the frequencies you want to access.


Most handheld radios are limited to around five watts of power; you may find higher-powered options if you choose a base model. If you purchase a handheld, make sure it has high- and low-power settings you can manually adjust as per your needs.


For emergency communications, you will generally be using the two-meter ham band. The 440 MHz band is another that you will likely make plenty of use of. There are a couple of band-related features you may want to consider. One is dual band, which allows you to monitor two frequencies at the same time. Another is general coverage. This feature allows you not only to use ham radio bands, but also pick up AM, FM, and TV frequencies. Advanced features for bands include SSB and CW (Morse code).

Memory Slots

If you are going to be communicating locally and/or for emergencies, you may get away with a few dozen memory slots, as you would typically find in older and smaller ham radios. If however you will be using your ham radio for national or international communication, weather, or other applications, it is smart to purchase a model with 100-200 memory slots.

Backlit Display

If you will be using your ham radio at nighttime or in dim environments, you may want to purchase a model that includes a backlit display. Remember, emergencies sometimes happen in the dead of night. If the power goes out, you may be stuck operating in the dark. You should have the option to toggle the display light on and off so that you can conserve power when you do not need it.


This is the ability to manually program the CB radio. Most models allow you to do this using a keypad and the CB radio display. Some newer high-tech models include a cable you can hook up to a computer. This gives you access to programming software which makes it a lot easier to input what you want.

User’s Manual

Usually when you purchase a new product, the quality of the user’s manual isn’t the top thing on your mind. But with ham radio, it is actually very important. Ham radio does have a learning curve, and if you are a beginner, you will need as much guidance as you can get.

Even if you are a ham radio veteran, you may still sometimes hit a button by mistake and find yourself in a mode you do not want to be in. Rather than having to experiment to get the radio back into the mode you want, it is helpful to be able to flip to a user manual which will tell you quickly and easily how to get back to regular operation.

Unfortunately a lot of these manuals are written overseas and may be in poor English—not something you want to be struggling with to understand a technical device. A good idea before purchasing any ham radio is to download the manual online and check it out. If you like the radio but not the manual, run a search to see if there are user groups that can help you online or in your area.

1. Yaesu FT-60R: a Well-Built, Water Resistant Ham Radio

The Yaesu FT-60R is the perfect ham radio to take on a camping trip. Most portable ham radios are made out of plastic, but this one features a sturdy aluminum case. It’s also resistant to rain. Plus, it beeps when the batteries get low.


  • Solid, well-built construction. The aluminum case won’t crack if you drop it.
  • Beginners can easily figure it out. If you’re new to ham radio, you won’t be confused.
  • Great battery life. One charge lasts several days.
  • Inexpensive price. The FT-60R is cheap compared to most ham radios.
  • Water resistant. Light rain and drink spills won’t damage it.
  • 5 watts of power. Even though it’s not as strong as a high end ham radio, it’s still quite powerful.
  • Audio alarm tells you when the battery is low. This feature comes in handy when you’re out and about.


  • The stock antenna is not very powerful. But, it can be swapped out for a better one.
  • The volume knob is hard to use because it’s positioned in an awkward spot.
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2. Yaesu VX-6R: A Rugged Tri-Band Radio Transceiver

Those searching for a sturdy handheld radio transceiver which can stand up to a lot of wear and tear will want to check out the Yaesu VX-6R. This radio includes a lot of great features which make it a versatile system for outdoor use.


  • Rugged design. This ham radio transceiver is designed specifically for outdoor use. It is ruggedly built out of sturdy materials which can take more than a few knocks and still hold up great.
  • Compact. Considering how many features are packed into this little radio, it is amazing how small its profile is.
  • Waterproof. This radio has earned the JIS7 waterproof rating, which means that it can be submersed. This is another feature which makes it ideal for use outdoors.
  • EAI system. EAI stands for Emergency Automatic Identification (EAI) system. This feature is exclusive to Yaesu radios, and can help to keep you safe.
  • Easy to use. The Yaesu VX-6R is designed to be easy to operate. The keyboard controls are intuitive, and there are ease-of-use features built in like One-Touch Direct Memory Recall which facilitate fast, effortless navigation.
  • Plenty of other excellent features. This radio also includes 900 memory channels, a black magnesium case, the ability to set a secure password, a trainer for Morse code, a multicolour LED, backlighting for the LCD screen and the keypad, weather alerts, and more.


  • Battery problems. The 1400 mAh Lithium-Ion Battery Pack does a great job while it lasts. Unfortunately, it sometimes dies a bit sooner than it should.
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3. TYT MD-380: Excellent Quality Speakers

The MD-380 by TYT shines when it comes to audio performance. Voices come in extra clear through its high quality speakers. Its microphones perform well too, and its built-in wind reduction system kicks in when you use this device outside. For even greater clarity, switch you can switch to digital mode.


  • Awesome audio quality. The audio quality that you get with the TYT MD-380 is quite impressive.
  • Color display. Most handheld ham radios have a monochrome screen, but this one boasts a full color LCD display.
  • Choose digital or analog mode. The TYT MD-380 makes it easy to switch between digital and analog operation.
  • Good menu system. This portable radio’s menus are easy to navigate and use.
  • Water resistant. Because it can survive rain, you can take the TYT MD-380 with you when you go camping.
  • Sends text messages. When in digital mode, you can communicate via text.
  • Comes with accessories. In addition to the TYT MD-380 itself, you also get a battery, a belt clip, a desktop charger, a programming cable and two different antennas.


  • If you want to use TYT’s free software to program this handheld radio, you need a Windows compatible PC.
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4. Kenwood TH-D74A: A Tri-Band Amateur Radio Designed With Convenience In Mind

In search of a tri-band handheld transceiver which does more than the typical amateur model? Take a look at the Kenwood TH-D74A. This radio was built for convenience and ease-of-use, and offers APRS support as well as a D-STAR digital transceiver. So while the cost may be a little higher than it is for other amateur radio transceivers, the value is more than worth it.


  • APRS. Since the Kenwood TH-D74A includes full support for APRS, that means that you can send and receive real-time local data like GPS coordinates, texts, and more. This one feature alone provides a ton of functionality.
  • IF Filtering. This boosts reception for SSB/CW/AM.
  • D-STAR compatibility. Like APRS, this feature is a big deal, making global communications possible.
  • Weathering proofing. This radio meets IEC 529 IP-54/ 55 standards for weatherproofing.
  • Intuitive menus. Navigating through the menus and operating this radio should be easy for an amateur, even with the abundance of advanced features available.
  • Lots of other great features. These include DV fast data mode, a repeater list which can be updated with ease, compatibility for multimode and wideband reception, DSP voice processing, dual frequency reception, information on weather stations, a GPS logger mode, voice recording, a micro USB port, and much, much more.


  • The manual for this radio is pretty bad. First of all, it is not in native English. Second, it does not provide the information you need to get started with APRS or D-STAR.
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10 thoughts on “Best Handheld Ham Radios of 2020”

  1. So which radio is best for a disaster? I bought the BaoFeng F8HP and had to return it because it wouldn’t stay on!! Also it’s harder then you think to download the little CD that comes with it!!! Is there a radio that ALREADY HAS CHIRP PLUS THE INFO THATS ON THE BAOFENG CD ON IT WHEN YOU BUY IT????

    • Hi Mike. I’m not sure about an alternative BaoFeng radio without the CD, but I did go ahead and update our review with your feedback so that others will know about the issue with the CD for the F8HP.

  2. I recently purchased the BaoFeng F8HP and I’m a new Ham, but so far I’ve not had any problems however, I knew several things going into the purchase and adjusted with some accessories.
    I knew about needing to purchase an interface cable so that I could use “CHIRP” and got one. I had been told previous versions didn’t have the best antenna, so I purchased an upgraded dual band antenna that seems to be working so far.

  3. I have all but one (the Yaesu VX-8DR) of these radios listed above. My most used one is the FT-60. It’s a solid radio that I use daily.

    The BaoFeng radios often have a fair amount of bugs in them. I had a UV-5R that transmitted when you touched the antenna. Not good if you are listening outside of the ham bands (such as NOAA weather). They are rather fragile too. The price is right, though. I own four different BaoFeng radios.

    The TYT radio… setting up the DMR was overwhelming at first but once I got it set, it was fantastic. Great radio. DMR is a lot of fun.

    Whatever you do, upgrade the antenna and order it from a reputable seller such as HRO or DX Engineering, etc. Cheap knock-offs can harm your radio with bad VSWR and there are plenty of fake Comet and Diamond antennas on ebay and other such sites. The rubber ducky antenna that comes with most radios just doesn’t cut it.

    • Thanks for your information and advice. It’s great to hear from a site visitor who has experience with all of these radios and has had a chance to compare them and figure out how to get the best use out of them. Totally agreed on the aftermarket antenna. That goes a long way toward boosting performance!

  4. Our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is hoping to find one rugged radio that legally gives us FRS/GMRS AND ham 2Meter and 70 cm. Any such a radio out their at a low-bid government price?

    I have a Wouxon that allegedly covers UHF Business Band, FRS/GMRS and type certified for ham 2 Meter and 70 cm.


    Don Dodson

    • There are a lot of handheld transceivers out there which you can get working on FRS/GMRS frequencies, but you should know that they are not type-accepted. That means that if you are caught using one on FRS, you are in violation of the law, and you could end up losing your licensing and paying fines. The same goes for GMRS. There the licensing requirements are different, but there are still penalties for unlicensed operation.

      You can view a list of recommended rugged and waterproof two-way radios (FRS/GMRS) here. For the ham bands, I’d recommend the Yaesu VX-6R.

    • Your looking for a unicorn. It would break several laws to have a radio that did all that unless you made it with a fixed antenna and locked out wattages for differing bands. A fixed antenna would only work efficiently on one of those bands and not at all for TX on others btw.


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