Two-Way Radio Buyer’s Guide

two-way radio

Six people die in national parks every week, and that’s just the official record. In truth, the number of people who vanish into the wilderness and are never seen again is unknown.

If you venture out into the wilds a lot, you know how Mother Nature can change her mood on a dime. A feature-complete two-way radio can make the difference between life and death.

Keep reading to learn the crucial facts.

Types of Two-Way Radio

There are two main types of two-way radios: family-radio service (FRS) and general mobile radio service (GMRS) radios.

  • FRS radios are license-free and capped at 2 watts
  • GMRS radios require a license and are capped at up to 50 watts

The wattage of a two-way radio determines its maximum transmission range and audio quality. In general, the transmission range isn’t a one-to-one ratio, so doubling your radio’s wattage won’t double its range.

Most handheld GMRS radios have a maximum power output of 3 watts – those that exceed this amount are typically bulky, require power outlets, and aren’t portable.

Common Two-Way Radio Features

Most two-way radios come with a rounded set of features, but it’s important to think about what features you will need.

That’s doubly true if your radio is your lifeline to the outside world – in an emergency, you’ll be thankful for those “luxury” features that can make all the difference. Head over to for a wide catalog of the latest models to suit any need.

Emergency Alerts

A must-have if you’re taking your two-way radios into the wild with a group, an emergency alert function broadcasts a special signal in an emergency. Examples of this feature include automated S.O.S. beacons and repeating emergency signals that prevent others in your channel from broadcasting until they respond to your signal.

Transmission Range

Transmission ranges depend on a variety of factors that can’t be accounted for. Weather, obstruction, electromagnetic interference, and large metal surfaces all affect the final transmission range.

The maximum ranges specified by manufacturers are usually only attainable in optimal conditions. That means line-of-sight to your radio partner, clear skies, and no interference.

Check the fine print of a two-way radio for an estimate of “real-world” ranges.

Power Boost

Some radios feature a boost function, which drains batteries quickly but can improve audio quality and extend the transmission range for a short period of time. It’s a good idea to choose a model with replaceable batteries (and carry some spares with you) if you use a power boost feature.

Rechargeable Batteries and Battery Life

Radio batteries don’t last forever, and top-of-the-line models rarely exceed nine hours of battery life. However, most models come with rechargeable battery packs and allow you to supplement them with AA and AAA batteries in a pinch.

Channel Scanning

Channel scanning lets you easily browse channels to find the one you need to use. Some radio models have the added feature of finding an unused channel automatically, which is helpful when you’re laying out how you’re going to communicate.


It’s a safe bet that your two-way radio will be exposed to the elements at some point. Weatherproofing options should be high on your priority list when comparing radio models, and the features to look out for include:

  • Water-resistant displays
  • Shock-absorbent cases
  • Optimal temperature ranges

Weather Alerts

Some radios let you tune into weather channels, but an automated weather alert feature is more helpful if you plan on using a two-way radio for outdoor expeditions. These radios constantly scan NOAA channels and can help prevent you from being caught off-guard.

Find the Right Model for You

The best two-way radio models are durable, have long battery lives, and come with an array of emergency features. Nobody wants the worst to happen – but your two-way radio might be the thing that leads to you being found in an emergency.

Did you find our article helpful? Be sure to check out others in our sports and recreation categories.

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