The best walkie-talkies, aka handheld radios, offer two things that phones can't. One is the ability to stay in touch with others in areas of little or no mobile coverage, such as the countryside, mountainous areas, and out at sea. The second is to chat with a group of people at the same time. That makes them super-useful for all sorts of activities, from camping in the wilds to working as a photographer or film-makers on set.
Typically, every user in your group will have a matching radio on the same channel. One person can occupy this at any one time by pressing the ‘talk’ button; the other radios play what they hear through their speakers. (That’s why you're supposed to say ‘over’ and release the talk button when you're done talking.) Walkie talkies in the same band should all work together whatever the brand, but you can often save money buying in packs of two or more.
The range that walkie talkies cover depends on your line of sight. In theory, if two radios are about the height of a human, then the range will be around six miles (10km); any further and the curvature of the Earth gets in the way. Valleys and mountains can disrupt that dramatically, though, as can a repeating station. (If you need a greater range, see our roundup of the best satellite phones (opens in new tab)).
Some walkie talkies are aimed at specific sectors, such as construction and search and rescue. But they all work in broadly the same way, with multi-channels, and frequencies, and some even have GPS. Check our glossary below for all the terminology, acronyms, and EU/UK equivalents.
With all that in mind, we list the best walkie talkies you can buy today below. And we include the facts and figures you'll need to choose between them. Also, check out our guide to the best handheld GPS (opens in new tab).
The best walkie talkies in 2023
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Going on a hike, expedition or camping holiday out in the wilds? Then here's the walkie talkie you need to take with you.
The T800 boasts a sleek and water-resistant design, and ultra-cool reverse backlit LCD display. The recessed raised buttons are easy to feel without looking. And there's also a Bluetooth connection to your cellphone, which can create a mini messaging network even when you’re completely outside coverage.
That means your phone – with a Motorola app – can send texts and GPS locations using the walkie talkie’s radio. If you download stuff in advance, you can track your groups on maps outside coverage zones. The data transmission range is theoretically 20 miles (in practice about 5).
The phone is generously equipped in terms of features; emergency weather channel monitoring, auto-squelch, PTT power boost, dual-channel monitoring, emergency alert button, call tones, and more. Given all the choices, it’s great that you can also use the app for readable access to the radio’s settings.(opens in new tab)
Children love playing with walkie talkies, and here's our top pick. The Huaker Kids Walkie Talkie gives you 22 channels and 99 sub-channels; great for kids to find space to talk with friends in nearby homes and provides a boost to sound clarity. There's also a VOX (talk without pressing) function, which some kids might find easier.
The changeable call tone and LED torch are further nice additions. And the four-day standby from three AA batteries means that if kids fail to switch off, it will stay on until toy collection time (power off requires a determined press-and-hold). The clear sound is useful, too, and the side-mounted talk button and camouflage styling make the radio feel more ‘real’ than some children’s designs.
It might not look the way you’d expect, but this is a powerful walkie-talkie – in fact, the 2,300mAh battery is well over double that of many devices on this list. The separate handset and base unit means you can clip the device in place and still easily reach the microphone.
Controls built into the microphone unit include push-to-talk, on/off and volume, and thanks to a rotating clip it can be positioned as suits your clothing. Since it is snow-proof, it can be worn in tough conditions and reached quickly – a convenience that might put many off returning to single units.
The buttons on the main unit (4-way and centre) plus LCD
The radios also offer six preset channels and privacy codes which makes it easy to separate your group in busy areas like national parks.(opens in new tab)
Need a walkie talkie for a construction site? Here's the best choice. The DeWalt walkie is license-free but the 800 series uses the maximum power available to communicate through up to 25 floors.
Built firmly (in every sense) with the knowledge that the radio is there to help – not be the focus of attention – the channel display is clear and simple, clarity-enhancing auto-squelch is included and operation is straightforward with a beep tone confirming the end of each transmission. Equally handy is the automatic shift, to lower power to save battery when the channel isn’t busy.
The design has the perfect balance of familiarity – the button and volume knob are traditionally located – and striking, with dust and water-protected casing that's easy to spot even if dropped. The included charging dock is also reversible, so it doesn’t matter which way the handset is dropped in, it’ll still charge; if you’re rushing off-site for refreshment at the end of the day, that’s reassuring.(opens in new tab)
If you’re off into the great outdoors with your family, the Motorola T200 series (the TP stands for triple pack) represents great value. These radios look and feel good rather than cheap toys.
The extensive drop-testing will likely pay off at some point if your kids get boisterous. And also charge in a familiar way, through MicroUSB sockets, with Motorola’s Eco Smart charge management system helping to avoid power waste.
If you’ve got a bigger family that doesn’t want to share, you can add more FRS/GMRS compatible units (Motorola or otherwise) on the same channel. And for long trips, you can switch to disposable batteries.(opens in new tab)
If you’re going out boating for more than a couple of hours, the HH500 is ideal. The rechargeable battery provides several days of charge, which should be well suited to vacation fun. If you drop it, it's submersible and will float back to the surface, so as long as you can spot the bright orange back, you can quickly recover it. Even better, its vibrate function can “burp” the water from the grille, so it works again fast.
If you’re struggling to understand transmission, the continuous looped recording means you can rewind a potentially crucial 20 seconds to listen again, plus the NOAA weather alerts should keep you out of harsh conditions. This walkie-talkie also features Bluetooth, so you can connect it to your phone (kept somewhere dry but within range) and make calls using the more element-resistant handset.(opens in new tab)
If you're going out on a boat, the T92 H20 is a perfect choice. The bright casing and ability to float means you’ll be able to carry this over water without being too worried about dropping it. Not only that but it’s engineered to right itself (so the water stays out of the speaker) and activate the flashlight.
It's fine for use on land, too. The T92 H20 is compatible with other PMR446 radios (look at Motorola Talkabout T402 for a US equivalent). In the base is a torch with red and white LEDs giving you a handy choice in the dark (red is great for map checking without wiping out your night vision). You can opt for the supplied rechargeable batteries if 17 hours standby is enough, or swap for AA for that alkaline boost. And there's not just an emergency alert, but a whistle in the belt clip.(opens in new tab)
A two-way radio it is, at its heart, a walkie talkie, but also provides scanning receiver functionality on VHF/UHF frequencies and an FM tuner. The antenna is replaceable with a common standard, providing an opportunity to improve radio performance or fit to a vehicle kit.
Baofeng has iterated this product a couple of times and, though those prepared to get involved in the GMRS spec (and the license required), this handset is an affordable way to experiment with the possibilities.
All 30 GMRS channels, including the 8 repeater channels, are supported in receive and transmit modes, and dual PTT buttons make it easy to take advantage of the semi-duplex function. This monitors two channels at once, giving priority to the one with an active call.
The keypad and matrix LCD (with a backlight of a tone you can choose) make choosing channels and privacy codes relatively easy, and the radio is compatible with a range of accessories like speaker mics and a PC programming lead (to customize channel names). Vox is built in, and a MURS-V1 edition (see glossary below) is available which might better suit local regulations.
The T100 is a great choice for families since it costs a little more per device than some toys yet comes with the design quality associated with a major brand. It’s even available in pink (the T107) if that’s what you (or your kids) prefer.
The FRS radio is the same as many others, with 22 channels and no need for registration. The LCD display shows the selected channel as well as feedback on the batteries. The PTT button is on the left, with raised bumps for tactile operation.
This might not be the best radio out there, but it’s not as far behind the premium models as you’d think, and is easy to operate. Perhaps the best thing, though, is that it comes in bundles for different-sized families, like this triple pack.
The Midland X-Talker T61VP3 offers a good middle ground in terms of capabilities and price, between the cheapest and priciest walkie-talkies. It's pretty easy to use, and the 32-mile range will be more than enough for most casual use.
It's not overly small and light, but it's not big and heavy either. The battery life isn't amazing, but it's decent enough. It's claimed to be water-resistant, but there's no IP rating. You get the idea: there's nothing exceptional about this walkie-talkie, but if this is the price you were aiming at, it offers good value overall.
Note that the X-TALKER 36 has dual power options, so you can either use 700mAh rechargeable batteries, or three AAA batteries each. The rechargeable battery packs take around three to four hours to charge.
Glossary of walkie talkie terms
Family Radio Service is an FCC defined set of channels – 22 + 8 for repeaters – shared with GMRS, however FRS does not require a license as it is limited to lower power. These channels are 462-467 MHz UHF..
Using the same frequencies as FRS (see above) the GMRS system allows for operation at over 2 watts of power; up to 50 watts on some channels. The down-side is that you need a license which costs $70 for ten years and – unusually for a government outfit – applies to all immediate family members of the owner. GMRS is often described as offering over 30 miles of service and, realistically, can manage around 5 (which isn’t that bad – remember what we said about the planet’s shape earlier).
Stands for Multi-Use Radio Service, and is a different group of frequencies (151-155 MHz VHF) which the FCC allocate for non-licenced use in a similar manner to CB radio.
Federal Communications Commission license radio frequencies in the USA; there is a similar body in most countries as the bandwidth must be shared, though believe it or not government agencies do try and cooperate across borders – to some extent, the FRS channel group is acceptable in Canada, Mexico and – at least some channels – in South America too; handy for trips abroad.
Frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum are divided into broad categories (visible light is one of these) and the subcategories are known as channels. For convenience, these are named with simple numbers within GMRS/FRS For example, Channel 1 is 462.5625 MHz.
Despite the name, these offer no protection from eavesdropping; when you broadcast with a walkie talkie it is not encrypted. Instead you can agree on a tone (which you won’t be able to hear yourself) which will tell your handset which is the preferred signal.
The European equivalent of FRS, PMR stands for Private Mobile Radio and covers 16 channels around 446MHz. The frequencies aren’t exactly the same, which is why you’ll rarely find the same model numbers for Europe and America from big-name manufacturers like Motorola.
This is another term for using sub-audible tones to filter out unwanted chatter from other users on the same frequency – see Privacy Codes.
This is a method of determining the location of a walkie talkie, which isn’t easy, making them relatively private in this regard. Triangulation can only be done when the talkie is turned on because it is broadcasting radio waves. This is unlike, say, a mobile phone which is always broadcasting a pulse so that the network knows where to find you, plus probably sends a GPS location via an app which, again, a walkie talkie doesn’t do.
VHF v UHF
Frequency spectra are somewhat arbitrary groups selected to some extent for the benefit of regulators, but VHF is 136-174 MHz and immediately above it is UHF at 400 to 512 MHz. This makes them better able to penetrate structure, so people sometimes think of UHF as ‘more powerful.’
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