Bug Out Bag (BOB) is a portable emergency kit equipped with tools to enable someone to survive for at least 72 hours after evacuating from a disaster. It consists of a variety of things. Primary things include essentials, i.e. food and drinks, like a Meal Ready To Eat (MRE) pack, water bottles and containers, or water filters. Additionally, first-aid kits, medications, tools for building up shelter and starting a fire, camping equipment, and clothing are all on the must-have list. Finally, important parts of all Bug Out Bags are tools for Navigation and communication. These include various maps and disaster plans with emergency center locations and the traditional means of communicating mid-distance – a whistle and a reflecting mirror. However, there is a need for communicating long-distance messages, mainly to seek help in remote locations. To do so, there are two options – a satellite phone or radio.
While slightly simpler to use, satellite phones are rather expensive, both the device and the monthly subscriptions by the service providers. Therefore, radios easily make the most convenient means of communicating complex messages in emergencies.
In this case, the perfect type of radios is Two-Way radios, enabling you to both send and receive a message. In terms of practicality and space efficiency, your options are narrowed to either HT’s (Handy Talkies / also known as ‘Walkie Talkie’) and Portable HF (High-Frequency) Radios. However, we believe that the difference in efficiency and effectiveness of the two is not significant. Therefore, HT’s will offer you more than enough and save you the extra space, so, we will focus on them.
What to Expect From a Good Bug Out Radio?
When thinking bug out bag, we are thinking of remote locations, rough wet terrains, limited access to electricity. Therefore, choosing the perfect bug out radio should be based on a few key points: durability, high performance, resistance. The last thing you want is your radio running out of battery after an hour, it getting destroyed the first time you drop it by accident, or it not working because a few raindrops have gotten into it. Basically, you want a radio with HF (High Frequency), good battery, and preferably drop and water-resistant one.
While not as complex as quantum physics, using a radio is not necessarily an easy thing. Therefore, if you have never used one, we advise you to get familiar with the basic concepts of the device beforehand. Figuring it out on the spot might be challenging and stressful. In the USA, you can contact the FCC for additional information. If you don’t leave in the USA, please contact your local or national communications body and follow their instructions. Again, it is not extremely hard to learn the basic concepts of communicating long-distance with radio waves. In less than a month of studying, you should gain the skills required to operate an HT radio.
Additionally, for many radios, you need to have a license to send transmissions on Amateur Radio Services and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). However, no license is required for receiving transmissions. Also, in case of an emergency and life-or-death situation, you can transmit messages on any band you get connected to.
Our Choice – Top Bug Out Radios
Now that we have the basic covered, let’s look into our selection of the best HT radios for your Bug Out Bag.
1. TIDRADIO TD-F9GP Ham Radio Dual Band Walkie Talkies
The Tidradio TD-F9GP 8Watt Ham (amateur) radio is an upgraded version of the Baofeng UV-5R, which also made its way to our list and is covered below. However, the TD-F9GP 8Watt Ham radio comes with many advantages. It has a Receive-only frequency of 65-108MHz and a transmit-and-receive frequency of 136-174MHz and 400-520MHz (TX/RX).
What is also good about this bug out radio is its Transmitter Output power, which has three different options of 8W, 5W, and 1W. That offers High, Mid, and Low range frequency respectively. Meaning, if you use output power of 8W, the radio has a Very high-range frequency (VHF), i.e. can connect to transmitters and channel bands up to tens of miles in radius. Some other features include Dual-Band and Frequency Display, VOX function, LED flashlight, Emergency, and Low-battery alert.
The radio comes with all extensions and additional parts, so you won’t need to spend a dime after you buy it. Two 7.4V/2100mAh batteries are included, and if you have them both fully charged, it will serve you way over 72 hours. Besides AC and Power adapters, an earpiece, a hand microphone, and a few additional extensions, the radio comes with two antennas. A standard one, and IDRADIO 771, an extra-large antenna that can increase the communication distance.
- Full All-Included package
- VHF – Long-range for communication
- Long battery lifetime
- Led-light (saves extra space)
- Memory channels:128 Channels 50 CTCSS and 104 DCS
- Not water-resistant
- It comes without a programming disc.
- Users report external mic is not perfect
2. BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio
The 2nd generation of UV-5R scores a little lower than the Tidradio but is still a decent bug out radio. Design-wise, it is pretty similar to the Tidradio. However, the UV-5R has a transmitter power of 5watts max, i.e. how and low, and no mid-range TX.
On the plus side, it has both a Very High Frequency (VHF) of 136-174MHz and an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) of 400-520 MHz. The first, VHF, sends wider waves that can travel a longer distance, making it easier for the device to connect to nearby emitters. The UHF waves are closer to each other and not as wide. While, on open-air, VHF waves can travel further distances, UHF waves do better with obstacles and can penetrate or avoid objects like trees and high rocks.
The programing of the BaoFeng is complex on the device. If you only need a few channels, you can do it on the unit. But, for more complex programming, a computer is needed. Additionally, you will need a special USB to connect the unit to the computer. The scanning of channels works but is not extremely fast. Our recommendation is to program a bunch of repeaters. Overall, a decent radio to have.
- VHF-UHF dual option
- Memory: 128 Channels 50 CTCSS and 104 DCS
- 5Watt Max output
- Hard manual programing
- Not water-resistant
3. BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) Dual Band Two-Way Radio
The third generation of UV-5R radio of the producer BaoFeng comes at more than triple the price. Performance-wise, it is perhaps twice as good as well. The output power is increased from the 4 watts of the 2nd gen to 8 watts on this unit.
The BF-F8HP also comes with a 30% larger battery, and a new, Hardened Durable Radio Shell. Manufacturers are also proud of their V-85 High Gain Antenna and guarantee twice the antenna performance. The Output power has 3 switch options, High (8W), Mid (4W), and Low (1W). As well as the 2nd generation, the unit has both VHF 136-174MHz and UHF 400-520MHz.
A game-changer in the 3rd generation is the user experience. The BF-F8HP Dual Band Radio comes with the full kit, including a USB connector for computer programing. Additionally, the in-depth manual +guide should help you get the hang of it. Buying the unit, you also get a 1 Year Complimentary Concierge Service and Warranty Support (conditions apply, check manufacturer).
- In-Depth Manual Guide
- Larger Battery
- Good Antenna performance
4. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld Amateur Radio Transceiver
Compared to the others, a significantly smaller device. But performance-wise, it does not fall behind. The FT-60R provides up to 5 watts of transmit power on the 144MHz and 430MHz Amateur bands. Like most of the other radios that made it on this list, the FT-60R also has a VHF/UHF dual-band, and a wide range of public safety, as well as commercial frequencies.
A unique feature of the FT-60R is the Emergency Automatic ID (EAI) function. It automatically transmits callsigns and engages your rigs microphone, without the need to press the PTT switch. Also, the Enhanced Paging and Code Squelch (EPCS) lets you choose specific stations to only receive calls from. Are you worried about unauthorized use of your unit? The FT-60R Yaesu comes with a security Password feature with which it stands out from the competition.
Moreover, Yaesu’s unique ARTS™ (Auto-Range Transponder System) starts beeping if you move out of the communications range. Besides, the device offers a huge memory of over 1000 Channels and wide-band receiver coverage (108-520MHz / 700-999.99MHz). Even though kind of pricey, with the Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Radio you get your money’s worth.
- EAI function
- ARTS™ (Auto-Range Transponder System)
- 5W Transmit Power
5. TYT UV8000E Dual Band Ham Walkie Talkie Two-Way Radio
Performance is what makes the UV800E stand out. It is Dual-Band, with UHF 420-450 MHz frequency range, i.e. VHF 144-148 MHz range. It also has a 76-108 MHz Commercial FM radio reception.
The radio comes with 2 High Gain Antennas, guaranteeing perfect audio/signal for both transmission and reception. Programming this device is rather easy. Preferably, download the programming software that comes with an in-depth guidebook, and use Windows PC for best results. Surprisingly, the device can work on up to 10 watts of high power, increasing the range of the radio. However, we do not recommend operating the unit on high power for more than 15 minutes, as it will heat up and might get damaged permanently. Additionally, the 3800mAh battery has a long life, so you can rest easy once you have charged the device.
Also, the TYT UV8000E has amazing features for communicating with other devices of the same kind. Of you are planning a risky trip with a group of friends, this might be the best radio for all of you to have. The DTMF & Remote kill/stun functions are perfect for coordination and clear group communication. Needless to say, this device will offer more than what you need in terms of quality of audio, good connection, and durability. The CTCSS/DCS encoding and decoding and Cross-band repeater function and 2×128 channel memory will get your ready for most things that might come your way.
- Long Life Battery
- Ultra-High 10W output power
Costumers report difficulties figuring it out and programming it
6. Kenwood Original TH-D74A Handheld Transceiver
The Kenwood Original TH-D74A is a complete game-changer. Despite offering way more than amateur radios, Kenwood manufacturers are proud of the simplicity of this device. As they put it, this radio is built for convenience and ease-of-use, so the intuitive menus make operating the radio easy for amateurs.
However, it is hard not to see the jump in price with this radio, compared to all the others on the list. But if you have the money, with the Kenwood TH-D74A, you are getting what you paid for.
To begin with, it is a tri-band handheld transceiver, which means it can connect to three different bands at the same time. Furthermore, the unit is compatible with wideband and multimode reception. The IF Filtering is another feature, boosting reception for SSB/CW/AM. Overall, with Kenwood TH-D74A, you are highly likely to get quality connection almost anywhere you might be.
Moreover, the APRS and D-Star features make this bug out radio really stand out, but they also make its price rocket high. APRS allows you to send and receive real-time local data, such as GPS coordinates, text messages, and more. On the other hand, the D-STAR compatibility allows for world-wide communications to be possible. The built-in GPS, DSP equalizer, microSD memory slot, and Bluetooth/USB connectivity all make this a top-of-the-line device. Lastly, the tough waterproofing meets IP-54/55 standards, and the unit is protected from limited dust ingress and low-pressure water jets from any direction. In other words, it is fully water-resistant and should survive a fall in a shallow pond.
On the downside, the radio manual is rather complex, and not written in native English. Additionally, it lacks information on APRS and D-STAR, making it hard for beginners to get familiar with the concepts. The battery life is not significantly long but with all the futures this unit has to offer, over 8 hours of active use should be more than enough to get you out of trouble.
To sum everything up, the Kenwood Original TH-D74A offers everything you might need in a Bug Out situation. That is if you have the bucks. And, if you do, you might want to check out other pricey devices like this one, as is the Yaesu VX-8DR Quad-Band Submersible VHF/UHF Amateur Radio Transceiver.
- APRS & D-STAR features
- IP-54/55 Weatherproof
- Built-In GPS
- Complex manual
That was a list of what we think are the best options on the market for Bug Out Radios. Some of them inexpensive, some of them pricey, but all far beyond their competitors. Once again, we would kindly advise you to contact your national Communications authorities and get familiar with the basic concepts of using two-way radios. Even though the bug out radios are mainly seen as last resort and you will likely be unpunished for using one without a license, we believe that there are no cons of having one.
If you are not happy with the specific performance of your unit, you can easily boost it with some extra effort. Perhaps you read a review that some radio’s antenna is outdated and there are better ones on the market. Or the earpiece is producing bad audio, or the speaker microphone is sometimes malfunctioning, or what have you. Fortunately, the parts and accessories for HAM radios are rather cheap, so you can go the extra mile to make sure your device does not fail you.
Our last note is to always have with you extra battery units. If your radio is powered by the standard AA batteries, make sure to throw in your BOB a few extra ones. Else, you can order an extra battery that is unique for your radio but make sure that it is the original one, from the same manufacturer, identical to the one that came with the purchase of your bug out the radio. Our team is glad that we helped you make your choice, and we hope you never end up in such an emergency in the first place.