This is an updated review guide on the best survival walkie talkie. We update our roundups as new products are released, as we test more gear, and when we learn even more about our picks.
When you are surprised by an emergency, communication is extremely important. Phone lines, cell towers, and other everyday methods may not be operational, but you can take matters into your own hands. One of the best ways to communicate with your family or preparedness group is with a walkie-talkie. To handle a survival scenario, you’ll want to go beyond the kids’ toy models and pick a solid one that can handle whatever you throw at it: a true survival walkie-talkie.
There are plenty of brands and types to choose from that make longer range and tough walkie-talkies. This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best walkie-talkies, tested them, and the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need a walkie-talkie that won’t let you down in an emergency, one of our suggestions will help you keep in touch.
Contents (Jump to a Section)
The Motorola T800 is the best value if you plan on relying on walkie-talkies during an emergency. Its compact size combined with the rugged casing makes it easy to take anywhere to reliably stay in touch with your friend and family. The T800 has added versatility with a built-in LED flashlight and 11 pre-programmed NOAA weather bands. It stays in FRS channel frequencies with 121 privacy codes you can pair, so there are a total of 2,662 combinations you can set to operate within to avoid other people.
The T800 uses standard AA batteries, so it is easy to stock up on batteries or you can always use rechargeable batteries in it. The practical range is about 2 miles, but one has been proven to transmit 35 miles in the best conditions. One unique feature is the smartphone app, where you can use the T800 as a modem to transmit locations and messages using a smartphone. If you are looking for the best survival walkie-talkie, you’ve found it in the Motorola T800.
Baofeng is a big name in the affordable handheld amateur radio market and they also make an excellent budget walkie-talkie. The BF888s Plus gets the job done, with long-lasting Lithium-Ion batteries, They do have a cheaper walkie-talkie, but the durability improvements on the Plus versus the base model BF888s make the PLUS worth the extra couple bucks.
The Baofeng BF888s Plus transmits in a practical range of about 1 1/2 miles and is very easy to keep charged with the included cradle dock and USB charging. Like most Baofengs, it is programmable by PC, but you’ll need your amateur radio license to venture out of the FRS bands. If you are looking for a cheap handheld HAM 2-way radio, Baofeng offers better options like the UV-5FR with plenty more channels and range.
DeWalt makes some tough gear now and then, and their two-way radio walkie-talkies are no exception! In the iconic yellow color, these things are hard to misplace and easy to hold onto thanks to the rubberized casing. Waterproof, dustproof, shock-resistant- the DXFRS800 takes a beating and keeps ongoing. These easily survive daily use by the military, large construction sites, and many other ‘rough and tumble’ situations. They have plenty of channels and privacy codes to pick from and are very easy to use.
The DeWalt DXFRS800 has a Lithium polymer battery that lasts over 18 hours on a charge. Use the drop-in charging dock to quickly charge them. The 2 Watt RF output gives it a boost in range, allowing you to communicate several miles away.
Everything We Recommend
The Walkie Talkies We Compared
Our research narrowed the field down to the several walkie-talkie brands and types that we tested: Midland, Baofeng, DeWalt, Motorola, Retevis, Klein, Cobra, and more.
There are a lot of brands that make walkie-talkies these days with a wide range of prices and quality/durability. In a survival situation, you want your communication solutions to be dependable, so we focused quite a bit on durability and reliability. You can see our full list of review criteria below in the what to look for section, with an explanation for each.
We obviously steered clear of recreational or walkie-talkies aimed towards kids, because the performance and the durability are not going to be where we need them. We also did not consider CB or HAM radios, sticking with just the non-programmable FRS type for the most part. That helped us trim out plenty of irrelevant brands and models so we could focus on just the top-performing walkie-talkies that could get you through any emergency. We’ll cover CB and HAM radios separately since they are important emergency communication tools in their own right.
What to Look For
- Battery Type, Battery Life
The best walkie-talkies have several important features to look for.
When you get the right blend of these, you can find a top-performing walkie-talkie that will keep you in touch with your crew in a stressful situation. Below, we break down what each of these features means for a truly dependable walkie talkie:
Value: Cost vs. Benefit
The amount of money you spend on walkie-talkies shouldn’t blow out your budget unless you have special circumstances where separation in an emergency is very likely. Having one is better than having none, but the same applies to other gear and supplies you may need for an emergency. Budget according to your risk and your needs rather than just spending lavishly.
On the flip side, you don’t want to go too cheap. Even the base model Baofeng didn’t perform that well with durability (that’s why we suggest the PLUS model as our budget pick), and it’s not the cheapest you could find in a bargain bin. There are few things as soul-sucking as having gear fail on you in an emergency.
You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like walkie-talkies. It’s better to diversify your communication and preparedness gear to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios. There is a sweet spot where you get high value out of the best features with not-to-high of a price, which is where our top pick sits.
Walkie-talkies take more of a beating than you might expect. In an emergency, you don’t want to worry about handling your gear and equipment with kids’ gloves to keep them from breaking, so durability is a high priority. A good survival walkie-talkie should take a beating and keep working.
Solid ABS plastic casings are common, and rubberized cases end up being a great upgrade for durability.
The range of a walkie-talkie is largely impacted by obstructions and terrain, and the output wattage. Most of the ones we tested had 2W or less RF output. Walkie talkies have an exceptional range if you are transmitting from the top of the mountain down into a valley, but in typical conditions, they work in under a few miles.
Battery Type, Battery Life
Both conventional batteries and rechargeable batteries can be found in walkie-talkies. Using rechargeable conventional batteries can be a good idea, so you have a renewable method to power your walkie-talkie. You could also just stock up on batteries, depending on your power strategy for emergencies. Battery life is heavily impacted by how much you talk and receive transmissions. You want your walkie-talkie to last at least 12 hours so that you can use it on the go without interruption.
Belt clips built into the housing, integrated flashlights, programmable features, built-in weather radio frequency buttons, and other features all add versatility to a walkie-talkie. While these are nice to have, the walkie-talkie’s main function and durability are more important. You will see many off-brand walkie-talkies including earpieces and other gadgets to make them look like a good value when their range and durability just don’t compare well.
What Walkie Talkie does the US Military Use?
Special Forces and other branches are still using the Harris Falcon III AN/PRC-152A in combat zones. There isn’t really a need for civilians to get a hold of these, and buying one would set you back about $360 after shipping.
Out of combat zones, they use fairly common Motorolas around bases and for exercise due to cost. It’s not uncommon to see Motorola charging racks in most military base buildings.
How to Use a Walkie Talkie
Using a walkie-talkie is pretty darn easy, which is one reason they are great for groups. You don’t need a course or license to use them by law (in contrast to amateur radios), and you’ve probably used one at some point in your life. They are common in all sorts of settings, from work environments to recreational activities- and they just happen to be very useful during emergencies too.
Understanding walkie-talkie limitations and some basic radio etiquette can help you out. Here are a few things to remember when using a walkie-talkie:
- You can’t speak and listen at the same time. Know what you’re going to say before you start talking.
- Don’t transmit sensitive information. Walkies are very easy to intercept transmissions if someone else is in range.
- Consider using call signs if there are multiple groups in your party and to be able to identify who is speaking.
- Use radio checks frequently to check if you are separating out of range.
Some good walkie talkie lingo you may want to use include:
- Affirmative – Long way to say ‘yes’ that is easier to understand
- Break – Interrupting for emergency message, repeat for effect
- Come In – Use with callsign to request to talk to specific group
- Copy – Heard and understood
- Go Ahead – signal you are standing by for a message
- Negative – Long way to say ‘no’ that is easier to understand
- Out – End of conversation
- Over – End of message
- Radio Check – ask for a response if your group can hear your transmission
- Read Loud and Clear – response to radio check, also just “Loud and Clear” or “Lima Charlie”
- Repeat – Used when you are repeating a message on transmission
- Roger – message acknowledged
- Say Again – ask last transmission to be repeated
- Stand By – you are busy and will respond momentarily
- Wilco – abbreviation for ‘will comply’
Using the military phonetic alphabet will also come in handy since it was developed to be better understood over radio transmission: The Military Phonetic Alphabet Guide.
This British chap does a pretty good job of walking through the basics of using a walkie-talkie:
Who Needs a Survival Walkie Talkie?
Groups that are looking to stay in contact through an emergency often rely on walkie-talkies. First responders, emergency responders, and field operators all use walkie-talkies for basic communication. Lack of encryption capabilities on most civilian walkie-talkies does prevent the military from using them in theater, but as long as you are aware that other people can communicate on the open channels then you should be fine.
A walkie-talkie isn’t the most versatile piece of communication equipment, but they are very nice to have if you are looking to keep your group/family coordinated when you are out of earshot of each other.
You should consider adding walkie talkies to these kits:
- In-Place Survival Kit
- Car Survival Kit
Walkie-talkies are useful beyond emergencies too, of course. A solid survival walkie-talkie will easily be able to handle your road trip or an amusement park.
Sources and References
All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best walkie-talkies for survival is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:
Kurnia, S. (2021). Covid-19, Walkie Talkie and Teacher Agency in Educating Young Learner at SD Punik. Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research. Volume 556. (Source).
Sterling, C. (2008). Military Communications: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century. ABC-CLIO. Page 504. (Source)
Watts, T., & Barton, J. (2011). “I Can’t Drive 55”: The Economics of the CB Radio Phenomenon. The Independent Review. Volume 15, Issue 3, Pages 383-397. (Source).
The Final Word
Walkie-talkies have been around for a while and now come in several varieties. They have come a long way since they were invented during World War II, and are easily accessible to everyone.
To go along with your survival walkie-talkie, you should also consider other communication backup methods: How Will You Communicate in an Emergency?
Our subscribers have also found these articles helpful:
- The Best Emergency Radio, Light, Charger
- The Military Phonetic Alphabet | A Clear and Concise Guide
- Home Survival Kit Guide, Gear, and Checklist
We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found that the Motorola T800 Walkie Talkie is the best option given its value, durability, range, battery life, and versatility. If you take our suggestion and grab one of our walkie-talkie picks- make sure you get used to it by learning how to use it.
It’s always a good idea to get used to your gear and resources before emergencies- you don’t want to be fumbling around with your walkie settings!
Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.
You’ve Been Missing Out
Join the 2+ million preppers that rely on our prepping advice by subscribing to TruePrepper.
- Practical guides and tips
- Useful survival giveaways
- Free, forever
- < 0.4% of people unsubscribe
Thanks for subscribing, reading, and welcome to the club.