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The best walkie talkies in 2021: keep in touch anywhere

Best walkie talkies
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You might be surprised to learn that, in the age of the cellular phone, sales of handheld transceivers are on the up, but that’s because they offer a very different flexibility. The term ‘walkie-talkie’ has been around since Motorola first supplied backpack-sized radios to American troops in WW2; now the technology has not only shrunk considerably but moved on in several ways and found plenty more uses.

The classic walkie-talkie setup requires every user to have a matching radio on the same channel, which only one person can occupy at a time by pressing the ‘talk’ button; the other radios play what they hear through their speakers. 

That’s not only why you should say ‘over’ and release the button when you finish talking, but why in many-user environments you’ll be given a list of spare channels to switch to for a longer conversation.

• See also Best satellite phones

For small-scale use, the US explicitly created the weaker FRS and GMRS channels (the later requires a license which costs $70 for ten years). Walkies in each band should all work together whatever the brand, but you can often save money buying in packs of two or more can often save a good deal. Check the glossary below for all the terminology, acronyms and EU/UK equivalents..

A bit of science to remember when browsing specifications of all walkie talkies: range depends on line-of-sight; if two radios are about the height of, well, a human, then the range will be around 6 miles / 10km – any further and the planet gets in the way. Hiking valleys and mountains can change that dramatically, of course, as can a repeating station, but that is another story.

The best walkie talkies in 2021

(Image credit: Motorola)

1. Motorola Talkabout T800

Best Walkie Talking for going off-grid

Specifications
Channel: 22 (121 privacy) FRS (US model)
Power: 2 watts (US model)
Range: 35 miles (line-of-sight), 6 miles (outdoors)
Battery: 14h (rechargeable) 25h (alkaline)
Water protection: IPX4 Water resistant
Weight: 214g
Dimensions: 191 x 56 x 36mm
Reasons to buy
+Data transmission app+Emergency Button+Sleek design
Reasons to avoid
-Needs group to use all features-Water resistant, not waterproof

With a sleek and water-resistant design and ultra-cool reverse backlit LCD display, the T800 is more than elegant enough to hold its own against other consumer tech. The recessed raised buttons are easy to feel without looking, too. The stand-out feature, though, is a Bluetooth connection to your cell-phone which can create a mini messaging network even when you’re completely outside coverage.

Your phone – with a Motorola app – can send texts and GPS locations using the walkie talkie’s radio. If you download in advance, you can track your groups on maps outside coverage zones. 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 choice, it’s great that you can also use the app for readable access to the radio’s settings.

(Image credit: Huaker)

2. Huaker Kids Walkie Talkies

Best walkie talkies for kids

Specifications
Channel: 22 FRS
Power: -
Range: 3 miles
Battery: 3-4 days
Water protection: -
Weight: 150g
Dimensions: 140 x 53 x 23mm
Reasons to buy
+Full feature set+LCD display+Clear sound+Excellent value three-handset pack
Reasons to avoid
-Sub-channels may confuse younger kids

The Huaker Kids Walkie Talkie are a great choice for kids. Some major manufacturers slash the features aggressively for usebility, but if your kids are old enough to be persuaded to agree a channel (5 or 6 in our experience). If not, an adult can easily set a channel and sub channel for them. Huaker provide 22 channels and 99 sub channels; great for kids to find space to talk with friends in nearby home, and providing a boost to sound clarity. There is also a VOX (talk without pressing) function which some kids might find easier.

The changeable call tone and LED torch are nice addition which will please kids, and the 4 day standby from three AA batteries ensure 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 and the side-mounted talk button and camouflage styling makes the radio feel more ‘real’ than some children’s designs.

(Image credit: DeWalt)

3. DeWalt DXFRS800

Best walkie talkie for construction sites

Specifications
Channel: 22 FRS
Power: 2W
Range: 6 miles, 25 floors
Battery: 8 Hours
Water protection: IP67 waterproof
Weight: 350g
Dimensions: 185 x 66 x 55mm
Reasons to buy
+Shock-proof+Waterproof+Automatic battery-save mode+Vox 
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively heavy handsets

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 familiar – the button and volume knob are traditionally located – and striking, with dust and water protected casing which will be 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.

(Image credit: Midland)

4. Midland GXT1000VP4

Best walkie talkie for emegencies

Specifications
Channel: 22 FRS/GMRS (+28 ‘extra’)
Power: 2.5W
Range: 36 miles max
Battery: rechargeable or 4xAA
Water protection: JIS4
Weight: 150g
Dimensions: 201x62x39mm
Reasons to buy
+SOS button+Weather alert scanning +Whisper mode for hunting
Reasons to avoid
-Fixed antenna

Sold in a variety of cost-effective packs (and some more eye-catching case tones), the GXT1000 has good functionality which should prevent emergencies as well as helping you keep in touch in times of strife. Top of that list is the NOAA weather scan and alert system which can automatically cycle through ten WX (weather band) channels, lock onto the strongest, and pass on any sever weather alerts. As a GMRS radio (though only pushing up to 2.5W) it has more power than standard FRS, letting you travel further into the wilderness (though do check FCC rules if switching to the upper TX level). There’s also a siren you can use to seek attention if you’ve landed in a tricky spot and help is coming, and a whisper mode for wildlife photographers (or hunters) to communicate quietly.

(Image credit: BTECH)

5. BTECH GMRS-V1 Two Way Radio

Best budget walkie talkie for emergencies

Specifications
Channels: 128 channels,
Tuner: VHF + UHF (GMRS)
Frequencies: FM 87.5-108MHz, VHF 136-174 MHZ, UHF 400-520MHz
Power:
Range: over 15miles
Battery: 1800mAh rechargeable
Water protection:
Weight: 219g
Dimensions: 109 x 32 x 58mm
Reasons to buy
+Clear display+Dual scanning+Built-in FM radio +Programmable channel names
Reasons to avoid
-Dual PTT buttons can confuse-You need a license

Making full use of the GMRS spec (which does require a license) this handset is ideal not only as 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 improve radio performance or fit to a vehicle kit.

All 30 GMRS channels, including the 8 repeater channels, are supported in receive and transmit mode, 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 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) is available which might better suit local regulations.

(Image credit: Uniden)

6. Uniden MHS75 VHF marine radio

Best budget handheld radio for boat use

Specifications
Channels:
Tuner: VHF (Marine Frequencies) / GMRS
Frequencies: 156~158 MHz. US marine channels, Canadian marine channels, International marine channels & Weather channels
Power: 5 Watts
Range: 10 miles
Battery: Up to 12 hpirs
Water protection: IPX8 / JIS8
Weight: 10.2oz, 290g
Dimensions: 6.4 x 6.2 x 3.4 inches
Reasons to buy
+Fully waterproof+NOAA Weather Alerts+Adjustable power
Reasons to avoid
-No GPS

A handheld marine radio is like a walkie-talkie for the ocean, and the Uniden MHS75 is everything you could want as you begin to explore the waves at an accessible price. It can be held underwater for up to 30 minutes and the wrist strap will help you keep it to hand.

It covers the key US, Canadian and international channels, at up to 6 watts via a boost key. Since that kind of power can provide 10 miles of range, it’s handy that it can usually be switched between 1W or 2.5W to save batteries.

The noise and volume knobs are easy to grip, and the buttons well separated for even damp hands to operate, plus the system’s triple watch mode automatically monitors channels 16 and 9 for emergency alerts. The only complaint is the newer 4-digit or Canadian “B” channels aren’t supported and the only charger is a 12-volt car-style socket, but NOAA weather alerts are available.

(Image credit: Backcountry Access)

Best outdoor walkie talkie for emergencies

Specifications
Channel: 22 channels FRS + 121 sub channels(US model)
Power: 2W
Range: 40 miles
Battery: 6 hours talk, 40 hours standby
Water protection: IP56
Weight: 312g
Dimensions: 160 x 56 x 36mm + 90 x 54 x 40mm (mic)
Reasons to buy
+ Snow-shielding+Long battery life+Good range+Loud
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively heavy

The BC Link is two-way radio which pairs the portability of a walkie’s body, with the firm feel of a handheld mic more commonly associated with CB radios. Why, you might ask? The external microphone (with snow-protected grille) allows you to keep operating in difficult conditions (perhaps cross-country skiing?) Despite the higher weight, you can tuck the body of the device away in a pocket or pack and clip the radio to your pack’s straps, which might make chatting more appealing than reaching to the belt all the time.

The radio is rugged, thanks to its removable rubber case; the only area that looks like it could be stronger is the clip on the mic connector, but a screw-in mount seems to 

For those hiking popular areas like national parks, the BC Link features privacy codes pre-set into the default channels. Even overnighters will find the 22-hour battery impressive, though if you need to top it up it’s a fully enclosed 2,300mAh lithium so you’ll need a battery bank or equivalent to hand, but the mini-USB charge port makes that straightforward.

(Image credit: Motorola)

8. Motorola T92 H2O

Best walkie talkie for wet conditions

Specifications
Channel: 16 channels + 121 sub channels (Europe model)
Power: 2 watts
Range: 10km
Battery: 23 hours standby
Water protection: IP67
Weight: 246g
Dimensions: 180 x 61 x 38mm
Reasons to buy
+Submersible for up to 90 seconds+Floating design+Red/white torch
Reasons to avoid
-Average range

The T92 H20 – yes, that’s its full name – is perfect for boating. That’s not to say it’ll have any trouble on land – it is compatible with other PMR446 radios (look at Motorola Talkabout T402 for a US equivalent), but 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 water stays out of the speaker) and activate the flashlight. 

On that subject, 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. 

Finally, for bold adventurers, there is not only an emergency alert but a whistle in the belt clip.

(Image credit: Motorola)

9. Motorola Talkabout T200

Best Walkie Talking for going off-grid

Specifications
Channel: 22 channels FRS + 121 sub channels
Power: 2 watts
Range: 20 miles
Battery: 12/29 hours standby
Water protection: IP67
Weight: 180g
Dimensions: 163 x 54 x 32mm
Reasons to buy
+Small, light and durable+Custom call tones+USB charging
Reasons to avoid
-Average range

If you’re looking for a pack of walkie talkies for the family, whether it’s for a camping trip, an advanced game of hide and seek or something else, the Motorola T200 series (the TP stands for triple pack) represent great value. 

Motorola’s extensive drop-testing will likely pay off at some point while you’re using the devices with the family, and even if not they’ve managed to make the radios look and feel good rather than cheap toys. They also charge like so many other things round the home – through MicroUSB sockets – which makes life easy, and even boast Motorola’s Eco Smart charge management system 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 simply, and for long trips you can switch to disposable batteries.

Glossary of walkie talkie terms

FRS
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..

GMRS 
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.

MURS
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.

FCC
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.

Channels
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.

Privacy codes
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. 

PMR446
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.

Squelch
This is another term for using sub-audible tones to filter out unwanted chatter from other users on the same frequency – see Privacy Codes. 

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Adam Juniper

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 


Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 


He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook