Walkie talkies were all the rage in post-WWII era America. New York Times writer Jack Gould went as far as to say that two-way radio technology would “make life both more efficient, enjoyable and in many instances downright fun.” While this prediction certainly did come true, the fact remains that there was one thing about two-way radios that certainly wasn’t fun: garbled, staticy audio. Various obstructions can block the radio signals that a two-way radio transmits. Power limitations are another factor. If the transmission doesn’t have enough power, it will degrade before it reaches its destination.
Fortunately, two-way radio technology has come a long way since the 1940s. Because the range of today’s long-range radios exceeds the thirty-mile mark, town-to-town communication is possible in perfect conditions. Today’s powerful five-watt UHF two-way radios are strong enough to send signals directly through trees, non-metallic walls and other similar obstacles. Keep reading to learn about five of the very best long-range two-way radios on the market today.
The most powerful long range two-way radio
When it comes to sheer power, it’s hard to top the Midland GXT1000VP4. Instead of just 1.5 or 2 watts of transmission power, you get five. High-powered two-ways like this one are better able to overcome trees, walls and other physical obstacles. The fact that the box comes with a pair of professional-looking acoustic earpieces is a nice bonus. Just be sure to stick with the rechargeable batteries included in the kit if optimal clarity is a priority. If you use standard batteries you’ll get better battery performance, but the power output will drop to two watts.
- Five watts of transmission power. The GXT1000VP4 is one of the most high powered two-way radios we’ve seen.
- 36-mile maximum range. Midland claims that their GXT1000VP4 two-ways are robust enough to send signals up to 36 miles away.
- Easy access SOS button. You can notify everyone within range that you’re in an emergency situation with the press of a button.
- Picks up NOAA weather stations. Not all two-way radios can pick up weather alerts, but this one can.
- Water resistant. While it’s not fully waterproof, the JIS4 rating means that the GXT1000VP4 can survive light rain, splashes and exposure to sweat.
- Box includes a large quantity of accessories. You also get two professional looking earpieces, a car charger and a two-slot charging dock.
- Multiple style options. Available color patterns include mossy oak, black/yellow and black/silver.
- Two-watt power output limit when using standard batteries. You have to use the rechargeable batteries if you want five-watt performance.
In a nutshell
More wattage equals clearer transmissions and less issues with interference– and that’s where the GXT1000VP4 comes in. It’s a five-watt two-way radio with an impressive 36-mile line-of-sight range in perfect conditions. NOAA alerts, an easy-to-find SOS button and the optional camouflage design option round out its other features.
The most cutting edge long range two-way radio
Motorola Talkabout T800
Did you know that two-way radios can send and receive text messages now? We didn’t either until we ran across the Motorola Talkabout T800. You can connect your smartphone to the T800 and use it as a modem to text anyone within a 20-mile radius. Since the data transmission feature runs entirely on Bluetooth, you can use it to communicate in any off-the-grid situation.
- Off-the-grid data transmission via Bluetooth. You can link your phone to your T800 and use it to transmit text messages to anyone within range.
- Silent mode. You can communicate without disturbing others by switching to vibration alert mode.
- Two watts of transmission power. The above average power capacity helps ensure that transmissions come in loud and clear.
- 35-mile maximum range. In perfect conditions, communication over very long distances is possible.
- NOAA weather alerts and reports. The NOAA broadcasts help you stay ahead of storms and other foul weather conditions.
- Water resistant. Its IPX4 rating means that it can withstand raindrops, sweat and light water splashes.
- Can run on standard replaceable batteries. As long as you bring plenty of spare batteries with you, you’ll never have to worry about running out of energy.
- Basic accessories. The belt clip and charger are the only accessories you get. You have to pay extra to get the optional headsets.
- Won’t survive long in dusty or sandy environments. The “X” in the T800’s IPX4 rating means that it hasn’t been tested for dust resistance.
In a nutshell
The most interesting thing about the Motorola Talkabout T800 is the fact that it can function like a modem. You can use it to create a Bluetooth data network. Once this is activated, you can use your smartphone to send and receive text messages to anyone within its 20-mile data transmission range.
The most versatile long range two-way radio
The Midland LXT630VP3’s varied constellation of features makes it an excellent choice for a wide range of applications, from outdoor activities to business use and more. The built-in NOAA alerts will help you stay up to date with the weather, while the private communication feature lets you talk discreetly without sending your transmissions out to the entire group.
- Two different power options. You can either use the LXT630VP3’s battery pack or regular replaceable batteries for power.
- Private communications. The 121 privacy codes are useful for increasing communication efficiency in a large group setting.
- Picks up NOAA weather alerts and reports. The NOAA feature gives you the opportunity to learn about weather changes and adjust your plans if necessary.
- Comes with a charging dock. This accessory might come in handy if you plan on using the LTX630VP3 for setting up security stations.
- Splash proof. The JIS4 rating means that it won’t break when exposed to sweat or light rain.
- Affordable price point. Competitive pricing is another benefit of the LXT640VP3 that’s worth mentioning here.
- 30-mile maximum range. As long as the horizon, the weather or some other obstacle doesn’t cause interference, the LXT630VP3 provides impressive range.
- Choose between two different color schemes. If the black and yellow design is too loud for your taste, you can get the all-black version instead.
- Midland doesn’t seem to want to disclose the LXT630VP3’s wattage capacity. The user manual and promotional materials don’t tell you how many watts it can output.
In a nutshell
The Midland LXT630VP3 is an affordable jack-of-all-trades two-way radio that has a varied range of features. Since it comes with a charging dock and can be used to communicate over 121 private channels, it can be used as a business two-way radio. Its NOAA features and splash-proof design add to its versatility.
The best waterproof long range two-way radio
Like an actual cobra, the COBRA RX680 can survive both dusty and watery environments. Hunters might like the silent mode feature, which gives you the option to receive vibration alerts instead of audible alerts when calls are coming in. The built-in flashlight gives you the ability to see in the dark. Its 18-hour battery is another strong benefit.
- Won’t break when exposed to water and dust. The IP54 rating means that it’s dust and splash resistant.
- Built-in flashlight. You can use the RX680 to light your way in the dark thanks to this handy feature.
- 38-mile maximum range. The RX680’s above average maximum range specification is another strong plus.
- Two watts of transmission power. One reason for its impressive range is that it has more power capacity than most consumer-grade two-way radios.
- Receives NOAA weather reports and alerts. Alerts from NOAA give you early warnings of inclement weather.
- Silent mode. If you’re a hunter, you’ll appreciate this feature because you can switch it on in situations where you want to avoid accidentally startling your prey.
- Excellent battery performance. You can get a full 18 hours of usage out of a single charge.
- Only one color scheme. Camouflage is not an option.
- The two-function buttons can be a bit of a hassle. Instead of giving each function its own separate interface, Cobra decided to assign two functions to each button.
In a nutshell
Tougher than most extended range two-way radios, the COBRA RX680 is resistant to both water and dust. Its convenient built-in flashlight makes it a good choice for camping and other similar outdoor activities. The silent mode feature will prevent you from accidentally alerting your prey on hunting trips.
The best low-cost long-range two-way radio
The Retevis RT21 is a sleek, powerful two-way radio that costs much less than what you’d probably assume just by looking at it. Its 2.5-watt rating places it ahead of two-way radios that cost twice as much in terms of raw power. In the box you’ll find cool looking acoustic earpieces (the coiled, transparent kind that Secret Service agents use) to go with each device. The only significant downside is the lack of built-in support for NOAA weather alerts.
- Inexpensive price point. The RT21 is one of the cheapest long range two-way radios you’ll find.
- The antenna is detachable. The space-saving design might be a plus if you have limited space for walkie talkies in your backpack.
- Built-in programming port. This feature lets you quickly program a large number of RT21 devices.
- 2.5 watts of transmission power. The RT21 is more than twice as powerful as a standard walkie talkie.
- Water resistant. Light rain and sweat won’t cause any damage.
- Comes with professional looking acoustic earpieces. Wrist straps, belt clips and charging ports are some of the other accessories that you’ll find in the box.
- No-questions-asked 30-day return policy. If for whatever reason you don’t like it, you can send it back for a full refund.
- Doesn’t provide NOAA weather alerts. The fact that NOAA weather updates aren’t available in China might be the reason why the RT21 lacks this feature.
In a nutshell
If you’re on a budget, the Retevis RT21 might be worth a look. Even though it’s significantly less expensive than its competitors, its two-watt rating gives it above-average range. The programming port lets you quickly set up large numbers of RT21 devices and its detachable antenna is a handy space-saving design.
Buying guide for long range two-way radios
Transmission power vs. price
High-wattage two-way radios outperform low-wattage ones when it comes to penetrating walls and obstacles. However, more power typically means a higher price tag. Five-watt two-way radios are often a lot more expensive compared to two-watt or 1.5-watt ones. The extra cost may be worth it if you intend to use your two-way in a forest, an urban area and other similar environments.
Transmission power vs. battery efficiency
In addition to price, there’s another trade off involving transmission power to consider: battery efficiency. The more power that goes into the transmission signals, the more energy your walkie talkie will consume. To offset this, most high-power two-way radios have a low-power mode. Switching to low-power mode when the people you want to communicate with are nearby can help you squeeze more battery life out of a charge.
Maximum range according to the manufacturer
Two-way radios require a direct path for transmission. Anything that gets in the way– including the curvature of the earth– creates interference. Since the horizon is only three miles away, you probably won’t have much luck sending a two-way radio signal beyond that distance unless you happen to be on a very high mountain in perfect weather conditions.
Channels tend to get crowded when they’re used frequently by a large number of people. If you plan on using two-ways as a communication solution for your business, you may want to go with one that has a high number of private channels. Private channels allow individual nodes on a two-way network to communicate directly without broadcasting to everyone in the group.
Water and dust resistance
A variety of different standards for water and dust resistance exist. The two most common ratings you’ll run into when shopping for two-way radios are IP (Ingress Protection) and JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard). Numerically, both standards use the same scheme for water resistance. In other words, an IPX4 two-way is just as water resistant as a JIS4 two-way. However, IP ratings can also contain information about dust protection– that’s what the first number is for. If this data isn’t available, “X” is used instead.
NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The US government agency operates weather stations that are located all over the United States. Most US-based two-way radio manufacturers offer built-in support for NOAA stations, but brands that are based in China often do not.
Prices for long-range two-way radios two-packs start at around $50. Their wattage rating is typically low compared to mid-range and high-end two-ways.
At the $75 level, you’ll start seeing two-ways that can output two or more watts. In addition, mid-range tend to have more and better accessories. Acoustic earpieces, belt clips and charging stations are a few of the most common accessories that you can expect to find at this price point.
Two-ways that cost $100 or more are not only more powerful than mid-range and budget two-ways, but also come with better antennas, Bluetooth support and other high-end features.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Given the fact that nearly everyone has a smartphone, why is there still a need for two-way radios?
A: Smartphones have a lot of functions but they aren’t always the best tool for communicating. Two-way radios are better suited for intra-group communications because they allow everyone to communicate on the same channel instantly. In addition, two-way radios are more durable, affordable and easier to use than smartphones.
Q: What are the main components of a standard two-way radio?
A: All two-way radios have transmitters, receivers and antennas. The transmitter is the component that transforms your voice into a signal and sends it out, while the receiver is responsible for transforming the signal back into a series of audible sounds. The antenna is the medium through which the sending and receiving takes place.
Q: What’s the difference between walkie talkies and two-way radios?
A: There is no technical difference. Both terms can refer to the same types of portable communication devices. However, the term “walkie talkie” implies casual use. In addition, base stations can’t accurately be described as walkie talkies because they aren’t portable but they can be called two-way radios.
- Elevation is the key to improving your two-way radio’s range. That’s why repeaters are usually located on the tops of skyscrapers and other tall buildings. If you’re having trouble communicating over long distances, look for higher ground.
- Many two-way radios are equipped with removable antennas. If the stock antenna is limiting your range, it may be worth your while to upgrade to a longer one. Antenna boosters can also help.
- Did you know that some two-way radios can cause GPS interference? If you’re using a two-way radio and a GPS device at the same time and your GPS device stops working, try turning your two-way off and see if you notice any performance difference.