Walkie talkies, known also as two-way radios, are incredible pieces of gear that are necessary for anyone heading off into unchartered territory.
A two-way radio can be a life-saving device when exploring areas with little to no cell reception.
Be careful not to confuse a walkie talkie with a satellite phone or satellite messenger – both of which allow you to call or message someone anywhere else in the world, whereas these radios connect with each other over shorter distances.
If you’ve never thought about adding a walkie talkie to your kit list, you may need to reconsider what it means to be prepared for anything that nature throws your way.
Walkie talkies are something that adventurists don’t typically dare to treat themselves to. However, there are plenty around that won’t break the bank.
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Below we’ve pulled together a list of our favourite license-free walkie talkies on the market in 2020.
From radios that are simple and lightweight, to those that are feature-packed and waterproof, there’s something in the lineup for everyone.
Reviewed in ascending price order, we also touch on some of the drawbacks of each make and model.
If you’re not sure what you’re looking for just yet, scroll down to our buying guide further below.
Summary: A highly affordable, short-range device
- Dimensions: 60x 33x 170mm
- Weight: 180g
- Single band and single frequency
- 16 channels
- Working temperature: – 30 to + 60℃
- Rated Voltage: 3.7V DC
- Output power: ＜5W
- Battery type: Built-in Li-ion battery (capacity: 1500mAh)
- Built-in Led torch
- Low battery alarm
- Voice prompts (in English and Chinese)
The Proster 16 channel two-way radio is the perfect walkie talkie for people looking to stay in touch over short distances.
Their maximum range sits around the three-kilometre mark, and this is reliant on being in line of sight.
The construction is sturdy and they sit nicely in the hand. Despite their solid build, they are lightweight so won’t weigh you down on the trail but easily stand up to a few drops and scrapes.
The earpieces that come included let you enjoy a clear transmission and offer private conversations in any environment.
Whilst the radios work just as well without the ear pieces, they are extremely handy wherever there is a lot of ambient noise.
Because they are only useable over short distances, they have impressively clear communication.
The radios have 16 channels, just switch to the same channel and start talking. The DCS and CTCSS functions minimise noise and block signal interference.
The built-in LED flashlight is a handy bonus, particularly around camp or when searching for something in your pack after sundown. Just be aware that using it will drain the battery much faster.
The radios can be charged up via a USB power pack or using their docking stations and the battery lasts up to eight hours. Once you’re out, you can charge them from any outlet, your PC or your car.
Just remember to turn them off at the end of the day so you don’t get a rude awakening in the early hours from their low battery warning.
Summary: The most compact radio option available for users who prioritise weight over range
- Ideal for climbing, hiking, running, cycling
- Up to 3km Range
- 16 channels
- Voice prompts
- Roger beep
- Turnable belt clip
- Splash water proof
- Built-in rechargeable Li-polymer battery
- Micro-USB “Y” charging cable
- 10 hour battery life
Cobra has turned heads with its tiny Chat Tag Rock two-way radios.
One of the smallest walkie talkies on the market, these feature voice-prompt programming for hands-free use and a built-in micro-USB port for recharging batteries.
The Chat Tag Rock is an adventure-ready piece of kit that can be clipped on to clothing or pack straps and is IPX4 waterproof and dustproof. The belt clip is built-in and can swivel a full 360 degrees.
Small but mighty, the Chat Tag Rock has a range of up to three kilometres, which is surprising for its size.
It is however quite a basic device, with sixteen standard channels but no privacy coding.
There is also no VOX, as there is in other Cobra products, but it does offer voice prompts to provide audio feedback on operation (power on/off, channel selection, etc.) and it is compatible with all PMR radios.
The LED indicator and controls are strategically embedded around the Chat Tag for instant access while maintaining a discreet, stylish look and feel.
Although its max range is similar to the Proster above, the quality of transmissions is not nearly as good – due to its slimmed-down design.
For anyone seeking shorter range communication and wants a lightweight option, this should be at the top of your shopping list.
Summary: A high-powered radio with 10-kilometre coverage and clear communication
- High / Mid / Low (8W/5W/1W) tri-power settings
- Frequency Range: 136-174/400-519.995 MHz
- 23cm high gain antenna
- Radio Frequency IC: Upgraded Squelch enhances interference rejection
- Tail tone elimination function.
- Power amplifier IC for low crossover distortion
- LED Flashlight
- Dustproof shell
- 18-month warranty and 60 days no reason return
Made in China, the BaoFeng GT-3TP Mark-III is an upgraded version of their popular GT-3 model.
Improvements include a dustproof and drop-resistant shell, a larger antenna, radio frequency IC, a FM receiver chip and a power amplifier IC.
It is easy to programme, even without a lead but you’ll need some basic radio knowledge (or a bit of Googling) before you can start broadcasting.
This eight-watt, dual band radio has a maximum range of 10 kilometres. Users can set the channel power for high, medium or low based on useage, the environment and distance requirements.
Incorporating a large, high gain antenna puts the Baofeng a step above our previous two radios, allowing it to transmit quality messages up to 10 kilometres.
The upgraded squelch enhances interference rejection and each channel can set different CTCSS / DCS for better transmission quality and to reject redundant calls from other stations.
Baofeng’s power amplifier IC also creates low crossover distortion.
The 1800mAh Li-Ion battery is easy to recharge via your car or the docking station but has a disappointing running time before it starts to drop out.
Note that you need a license to use this in the UK if you’re going to transmit (rather than just listen).
Summary: A brightly-coloured, floating and waterproof walkie talkie to real adventuring
- License free radio
- 8 PMR channels + 121 codes
- Up to 10 km range
- Dedicated emergency warning button
- Weight: 500g
- Dimensions: 17.8 x 3.8 x 6.2cm
- IP67 waterproof
- Handsfree VOX option
- LED Torch
- 20 call tones
With eight PMR channels and 121 codes, this radio has all the standard features you’d look for in a walkie talkie.
If you want something that will withstand a decent downpour, these weatherproof radios are IP67 and can remain underwater for 30 minutes to one metre.
If you drop it overboard or in a stream, the handsets float face up with a water-activated flashlight for easy retrieval.
Another function that sets the Tlkr T92 apart from our previous options, is the emergency alert feature.
One press of the emergency button activates a hands-free call and sounds a warning tone on the radio to signal to others in your group that you are in distress.
The belt clips also have an in-built whistle for attracting attention.
A number of other features that play in the T92’s favour are the handsfree VOX option, LED torch with white and red modes, vibrate alert, priority scan, dual channel watch, auto squelch, channel monitor and nuisance channel delete.
The fact that these walkie talkies are license free is great for saving money but that is definitely reflected in their transmission quality and range.
Motorola markets them as having a 10-kilometre range but testing and customer reviews put that number closer to five kilometres.
Another downside is that the volume only goes up to seven, which isn’t overly loud, meaning that you’ll need to put it to your ear to hear conversations whilst on the move.
Summary: Tough, light and floats if dropped
- UHF/FM Radio
- 8 channels
- 121 privacy codes
- IPX7 waterproof
- Rechargeable batteries and USB docking station included
- LED flashlight
Another Cobra device on our list with a unique selling point is the Cobra AM1035 – it is waterproof, floats and has a range of up to 12 kilometres.
If you’re looking for a camping-ready radio, then this is it. Its compact design and rubberised grip makes it ergonomically pleasing and it is built to survive wet and dusty environments.
Above all, not only is it IPX7 waterproof, it floats!
This makes them one of the best walkie talkies on the market for those whose outdoor adventures involve a mixture of hiking with kayaking or boating.
The AM1035 has an impressive range for a license-free radio and without too many objects around, it performs pretty closely to the manufacturers specifications.
These radios have over 968 channel combinations and can communicate with any other 446 radio.
Cobra’s VibrAlert notifies users of incoming transmissions and the Roger beep (which indicates the completion of a user’s transmission) can be flicked on or off.
The noise-suppression feature separates the weaker signals and improves the quality of communication, giving an overall clear transmission.
The VOX function has five sensitivity levels but struggles in noisy conditions, so can be toggled off to conserve battery.
On the whole, Cobra’s AM1035 is a high-performing walkie talkie, despite its middle of the range price tag.
Summary: A powerful license-free radio with VOX for hands-free transmissions
- Range of up to 8km
- 24 PMR446 channels (8 + 16 pre-programmed)
- 38 CTCSS tones in TX and RX
- Side tone end-of-call tone silencer
- VOX function
- Rechargeable via USB
- Two-pin Midland socket
Midland’s XT line is their most complete and powerful range ever. Their high performance walkie talkies are great for sports and outdoor enthusiasts who need reliable two‐way communications for their adventures.
The XT50 is the most affordable option within this range and has good enough specs for most hikers and climbers.
Stepping up from previous models, users benefit from improved features including channel monitoring, VOX capability, Roger beep and easy channel scanning.
Once again, the maximum range of up eight kilometres is plenty for most people but not overwhelming once you knock a few off for changes in terrain.
In an open field they actually reach closer to 12 kilometres, with impressive sound quality but this is drastically reduced in the presence of obstacles.
The XT50 radios come with one 700mAh battery pack that can be recharged by connecting to the included desktop charger or a 220V adapter via the USB cable.
Battery life is one full day, thanks to the built-in battery power circuit (Auto Power Save), which extends battery life by over 50%.
PMR-band communication can be operated on eight standard channels and 16 pre-programmed channels.
On top of this, users can encode both the transmission and the reception for private conversations.
Summary: A four pack of rugged yet easy-to-use walkie talkies for larger groups
- IPX4 weatherproof rating
- Built-in LED torch
- 16 channels and 121 privacy codes
- Keypad lock
- Belt clip
- Micro USB charging port for charging
- 5mm headset jack
- Dimensions: 18.1 x 5.7 x 3.3cm
The T82 Extreme is a good-looking and easy-to-use radio that is tough going.
For anyone after a rugged travel companion, the IPX4 rating lets you hike through any weather conditions without needing to pack the device away.
Building on the success of previous T models, Motorola has included VOX voice activation which allows for hands free use of the radio.
Just like the Tlkr T92, a newly added emergency alert button allows users to let others know if/when they’re in danger and the 16-channel capacity is a further eight more than seen on the previous T80 model.
The T82 also offers a dual-power battery function, letting users operate from AA standard alkaline batteries or the included 800mAh NiMH batteries.
Battery life is up to 18 hours but you can also buy a 1300mAh NiMH that pushes that number up to 26 hours off one full charge.
Setup is straight forwards and easy pairing lets you get underway with minimal faff.
As expected, the 10 kilometre range drops down to just a couple of kilometres in urban settings or around five when out in nature (topography dependent).
The VOX function is a nice to have but don’t purchase the T82s based on this alone.
Because it is a directional microphone, you need to speak particularly loudly and clearly for it to work and there is a considerable delay.
Summary: A versatile radio with an impressive battery life and crystal-clear transmissions
- Dimensions: 24.4 x 7.2 x 34.4cm
- Weight: 350g (without batteries)
- RF Output: 500mW
- Battery life of up to 16 hours (90% Standby / 5% Talk / 5% Listen)
- Batteries: 1000mAH rechargeable Lithium Polymer
- Shock resistant, dustproof and waterproof
- VOX function
The DeWalt 800 is a license free UHF/FM radio with 16 channels and communicates with all radios built on the PMR platform.
For anyone who wants a versatile radio that can be used at home as well as out on the trails, the DeWalt 800 is able to penetrate up to 15 floors.
The 16 preset channels have preset privacy codes to reduce unwanted interference from others and avoid potential confusion when communicating.
The range seems to be as claimed and the sound quality is excellent.
The battery life is one of the best out there, bolstered by the battery saving mode which kicks in automatically if there are no transmissions within 10 seconds.
The VOX function, whilst not perfect, is by far the most reliable of any radio in our lineup.
Five different sensitivity levels allow the user to select the point at which the walkie talkie will detect their voice.
The unit also comes with earpieces included in the box to enable handsfree use.
A number of users have complained that the clips at the back are prone to sheering off after repetitive use, which is disappointing given the hefty price tag.
The rugged design is well-suited to outdoor adventures with a shock-resistant casing that can be dropped from two metres (though this is unlikely thanks to its grippy, anti-slip design).
The radio is also dust and waterproof for peace of mind.
What to look for when buying a walkie talkie
Types of walkie talkie
There are many types of walkie talkies on the market today. One of the first things to consider is which type to buy, based on how and where you will use it.
Family Radio Service (FRS) walkie talkies do not require any kind of licensing.
They are generally inexpensive, provide a short range of coverage of about three or four kilometres and are suited to occasional recreational outings.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios require a license as they have expansive range of coverage and come with at least 15 channels.
You may also want to pay attention to whether you are buying a Very High Frequency (VHF) walkie talkie or an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) option.
VHF radios operate at 126 to 174 MHz, allowing them to excel over long distances where there is little interference from buildings and landscapes. Their long antennas allow them to penetrate foliage and trees.
On the other hand, UHF radios utilise frequencies of 400 to 512 MHz to penetrate through buildings and walls. This makes them more versatile if you want to use your walkie talkies in urban and rural areas.
Just note that UHF and VHF radios are not compatible, so ensure all devices are of the same kind.
Number of handsets
This will depend on how many people you typically hike, climb or ski with. For most people, a twin set is enough as a leader or parent from each group can take one handset each.
Some brands also sell single handsets so that you can expand your setup at a later date if required.
Equally, if you need more for large groups or if you often filter off into solo day trips, then go for a few more as the price of each handset comes down when you buy in bulk.
This is probably the single most important factor when purchasing two-way radios. If you opt for something with a limited range, you may as well not be carrying a walkie talkie.
Consider where you typically hike or explore and figure out the likely distance between your parties at any point.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that ranges provided by the manufacturer are achieved in ideal conditions, i.e. at a high altitude with no obstacles between the two radios.
In urban or hilly areas, this will come down significantly.
Note that the maximum range capable on consumer radios on a transmit power of 0.5W is up to 10 kilometres.
If you need anything over and above this, you’ll need to invest in a more powerful (and more expensive) two-way radio that requires a license.
All unlicensed radios are set to the same output power at 0.5 Watt by law, so there will be little difference in performance between.
On the flipside, licenced radios at 5.0 Watts are 10 times more powerful, providing infinitely better coverage and reception, but not necessarily 10 times the distance.
For long-range walkie talkies, they come with differing ranges. The range of coverage increases with power.
A two-watt radio, for example, can cover up to 12 kilometres, whilst a four-watt radio can reach up to 50 kilometres.
Note that at time of writing, UK licenses for long-range radios start at £75 for 5 years.
Number of channels
License-free walkie talkies have a fixed frequency that they can transmit on – PMR446 – and have somewhere between four and 16 channels to communicate with each other.
On top of the channels, there are usually a number of privacy codes, which allow you to chat freely without interference from others who are using radios nearby.
Note that the name is a bit misleading, as they don’t necessarily keep your conversation private.
Having a radio with more channels makes things a little easier but will also push up the price.
If you hike regularly, the chances are you’ll get caught out in a rainstorm eventually. As such, splashing out on waterproof radios can be a worthy investment.
They can be used in all weather conditions and will survive much longer.
Waterproof radios are also generally dustproof, further extending the longevity of your device.
Look out for IP ratings if you want walkie talkies that will survive in dusty and/or wet environments. The higher the IP number, the more resistant to dust and water the radio is.
Some radios run off rechargeable batteries, whereas others are powered by regular alkaline batteries.
Consider whether you’ll have regular access to a power outlet during longer camping trips, as walkie talkies generally don’t last longer than a few days.
If you have a portable charger or will be near a plug or car, then choose rechargeable batteries to save money in the long run and reduce the impact of throwaway batteries on the environment.
As with any piece of technology, walkie talkies vary massively in terms of additional features and corresponding price.
Most people simply need two-way radio capabilities to connect with other members of their group. However, some extra things to look out for in the radio specs include:
- Voice Activated Transmissions (VOX) – this allows you to use your two-way radios hands-free. This could be handy if you are mountain climbing, cycling or another activity where your hands aren’t always free.
- Jack for a microphone or speaker – another easy way of getting hands free.
- Backlit LCD screen and keypad – this will allow you to continue using your radio after dark. Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to check how much battery life you have left, or referring to a compass, as you navigate your way back to camp.
- Income alerts – these little bleeps or pings notify you when there’s an incoming transmission in the form or a tone or vibration.
- Weather radio – so that you can get weather reports as things change to stay prepared.
- Talk confirmation or Roger beep – a short signal lets you know when transmissions have started/finished so you know when to reply rather than cutting someone else or being cut off.
- Keypad lock – this prevents you from accidentally holding down the button and starting a transmission that could confuse others or prevent them from contacting you.
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Last update on 2020-11-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API