If you are looking for a two-way radio set which is going to give you long-distance reception, you will quickly discover that “long distance” does not mean what you would expect with 2-way radios. While many walkie-talkies are advertised as giving you “up to 35 miles” in range, you will usually only get several miles of effective range. If you shop carefully however and you follow best practices, you should be able to maximize that range. In this guide, we will share everything you need to know to get the most out of your long range two-way radio set.
Looking for the best long range two-way radios? Below we compare prices and features for top models on Amazon.com.
Still need extra guidance in making your purchase? Read on to learn more about long range two-way radios.
What is a Long Range Two-Way Radio?
A long range two-way radio is exactly what it sounds like: a walkie talkie designed to offer you a wide range of transmission and reception.
But many customers misunderstand what “long range” means in two-way radio terms. They buy a radio which says “up to 36 miles of range” and then feel ripped off when they get only two or three miles.
Three miles of range is actually pretty good in most circumstances. The key words are up to 36 miles. If you see that phrasing on a set of two way radios, it means that in ideal circumstances, they could feasibly give you 36 miles of range. That means a totally flat, open, unobstructed location like a desert.
Trees, buildings, hills and other obstructions all can significantly hamper range. In suburban and urban locations, it is common for range to be reduced to a mile or less. If you can actually get three miles in settings like these, you should be impressed.
Questions to Ask When Shopping for a Long Range Two-Way Radio
Where will you use the radios?
If you are going to be using your two-way radios in a heavily forested or urban setting, you simply cannot expect a very high range. That said, if it is important to have one, you will want to make sure you buy a two-way radio set which includes a long antenna and the option to boost your power.
What real range can you expect?
Unless you live in a wide open space, you should do some research to find out what kind of reception people are getting in other settings. If you live in the city, look up reviews from urban users, and so on. Remember to keep your expectations realistic.
How many channels do you need?
If you will be using your long range two-way radios in a setting where a lot of other people use walkie talkies (such as a resort for example), consider getting a set which provides you with extra privacy channels.
Features and Add-Ons to Look For When Shopping for a Long Range Two-Way Radio
A good rule of thumb is this: the longer your antenna, the better your reception is going to be. If you like a particular radio but the antenna is short, check to see if you have the option to purchase an aftermarket antenna to extend its range.
NOAA weather channels
Your 2-way radio is more than a communication device; it can also help you to stay safe in emergencies. If you will be traveling with your radios, NOAA weather channels can provide you with useful alerts to steer you clear of inclement conditions.
VOX is a feature for hands-free operation, where you can activate your radio using only your voice. This can be very helpful if you will be using long range two-way radios in the workplace. It may also be useful to you if you are going to be using the radios while you are hiking, boating, or doing other outdoor activities.
Some long-range 2-way radios include a feature which allows you to increase the wattage temporarily. You can do this to boost your signal when you need to achieve a longer range. A higher wattage drains your battery, but on a radio with a manual setting, you can reduce the wattage to conserve the battery when you do not need it.
If you will head out for long time periods with your radio on, look for a device with long battery life.
Compact, lightweight radios are more comfortable to carry and use, particularly if you need them for work.
If you are buying long range 2-way radios, one feature you might find especially helpful is an Out-of-Range Alert. This is a feature which transmits a code periodically in an attempt to identify if another radio is in or out of range. If the two radios are in range, the other radio will transmit back a confirmation code, and you will receive an alert to let you know that you can talk.
Many people who purchase 2-way long range radios are doing so for use in the wilderness while they are on backpacking, camping or hunting expeditions. If you plan to use your radios in this way, one helpful feature is a digital compass. This will show you which direction you are facing. Not only can this help you to stay oriented in your environment, but it may also help you to figure out where you are located in reference to the other person who you are speaking with.
Now you understand the limitations of long-range 2-way radios, you have a much better idea what you can realistically expect if you purchase a set. Think about how and where you will use them, and then check customer reviews to see if buyers in areas like yours achieved the range you need. Purchase an aftermarket antenna if you need to in order to boost reception. Scroll back up to our product comparison chart to get started!
Motorola MT352R: City Performance
The MT352R is yet another solid two-way radio from Motorola. It’s one of the only two-way radios on the market that performs well in cities. Also, the MT352R’s USB jack allows for easy charging. The only issue with this radio is the fact that it isn’t very durable.
- Performs well in urban settings. Some two-way radios are useless in cities. But from two miles or less away, the MT352R’s signal gets through even when blocked by walls and large buildings.
- Charge via USB. Most radios come with an A/C adapter that you can plug into a wall or a car charger. But the MT352R can be charged almost anywhere because it has a USB port.
- Vibration mode. This is one of the only two-way radios that can be set to vibrate. This feature comes in handy in situations where it’s too noisy to hear a ringtone.
- Private communication codes. 121 privacy codes prevent eavesdropping.
- Strong batteries that will last all day long. You can make it through the day without having to recharge.
- Weather alerts. Like most two-way radios, the MT352R scans weather channels and broadcasts an alert tone if there’s a problem.
- 35 mile max range. This is one of the most powerful walkie talkies on the market.
- The MT352R isn’t very durable compared to other two-way radios.
- It’s easy to accidently switch this radio on because of the awkward knob design.
Motorola MS350R: Built for the Great Outdoors
The Motorola MS350R is more portable and durable than Midland’s other two-way, the GXT1000VP4. Like Cobra walkie talkies, the LXT630VP3 has a rubberized shell. However, this radio is not quite as powerful as other walkie talkies on the market.
- Almost indestructable. The rubberized shell is very hard to crack.
- Feels good in your hand. The ergonomic shape helps you hang on.
- Boost the signal with a repeater. If you have a GMRS license, you can use a repeater to boost this radio’s signal.
- Waterproof. This IP67 certified hand radio floats and can withstand submersion for 30 minutes.
- Good battery life. You can use the MS350R all day long and it won’t run out of juice.
- Scans for NOAA weather alerts. This standard feature lets you know when a storm is blowing your way.
- 35 mile maximum range. The signal stays strong across long distances.
- The MS350R won’t float or survive for long in water if you use normal batteries. You have to use the NiMH rechargeable batteries that come with the unit.
- The MS350R is pricey compared to other consumer grade walkie talkies.
Cobra ACXT545: Stylish and Sporty
The Cobra ACXT545 sports a cool looking, unbreakable rubber shell and a built-in LED flashlight. Because it has a USB port, you can use a computer to charge it. However, ACXT545’s battery life is short compared to competing two-ways. And like most walkie talkies, the ACXT545 will break if you drop it in water.
- USB compatible. You don’t need a special charger to fill up your batteries. Alll that’s needed is a free USB port.
- Built-in flashlight. The LED flashlight might come in handy in an emergency if the lights suddenly go out.
- Durable design. The rubber coated plastic shell resists chips and dings.
- Vibrating call mode. Like Motorola’s MT352R, you can set this radio to vibrate instead of ring when a call comes in.
- Confidential communication. 142 privacy codes prevent unauthorized listeners from hearing your conversation.
- Weather alerts. Like the majority of the two-way radios we looked at, this two way radio will alert you if there is an emergency weather situation in your area.
- 28 mile max range. The Cobra has an average range compared to other walkie talkies, but it performs pretty well in ideal conditions.
- These walkie talkies aren’t submersible. This JIS4 rated radio can withstand small splashes, but extended exposure to water will cause damage.
- Other two-way radios are more energy efficient. After less than 8 hours, the ACXT545 will require a recharge.