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Need a two-way radio? Our experts dove down the rabbit hole, researching 50+ top models before buying and testing 9 of the best walkie talkies. We tested these in the field and the lab to find the strengths and weaknesses of each one. We put these radios through the wringer, clipping them to our backpacks for recreation in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We measured clarity and range in varying conditions and undulating terrain, let them get wet in the rain and snow, and tested battery life until each one died. From simple-to-operate radios to fully-featured, waterproof models, our in-depth review offers expert recommendations to help you find the best radio for your next adventure.
Weight: 11 oz. | Dimensions (LxWxH): 2.5" x 1" x 6.5" (Body), 2.25" x 1" x 3.25"(Microphone)
REASONS TO BUY
Ease of use
Long battery life and rechargable
Handles snow and light precipitation well
REASONS TO AVOID
Size and heft
The Backcountry Access BC Link 2.0 is specifically built for outdoor enthusiasts, and it excels at its intended task. It's easy to use with a decent set of features; Backcountry Access keeps things simple yet still adjustable enough that you can talk on it in almost any condition. This radio stashes nicely in a backpack, and the external mic has an excellent design that makes it super easy to use as a walkie talkie. The batteries are rechargeable and have a long life (though not the longest of those tested). The BC Link 2.0 displayed a remarkable range when using the radio across steep landscapes and during a blizzard. In addition, the radio stands up against dust and water, this resistance staving off any signs of wear after returning from several trips into the mountains in harsh conditions.
Our main gripe with this radio is the size. It's the largest and heaviest model we tested, mainly due to the bulk of the external microphone and body. To keep the radio from becoming too awkward to carry, it's best to have somewhere to house the body and something to clip the microphone to — we recommend the shoulder strap of a backpack. Despite the considerable size and weight, it finds a spot in our pack without issue, and the external microphone stays compact and out of the way attached securely to our shoulder strap. This model also lacks the features of higher-tech radios, like the ability to connect to non-FRS frequencies or the option to add more range. However, a typical user won't need features like this. The Backcountry Access BC Link 2.0 is also sold as an individual unit instead of a pair, making the high price even steeper. Regardless, we think the majority of backcountry enthusiasts will be pleased with this radio.
Weight: 3.9 oz. | Dimensions (LxWxH): 2" x 1" x 5.5"
REASONS TO BUY
Simple, small, and lightweight
Great battery life
Has some water resistance
More features than most in its price range
REASONS TO AVOID
If you're on the hunt for a straightforward two-way radio, the Midland X-Talker T10 is an option with decent functionality. Though its range is somewhat limited, we think most casual walkie talkie users will find that this radio meets their needs. It is lightweight and compact, allowing it to be easily toted around in any backpack or even a standard pocket, with a battery life that's up there with the best we tested. It will also attach to a backpack's shoulder strap with a clip. Unique from others at this price point, this style comes with water resistance, surviving a shower from a water hose, as well as a rainy adventure during our testing. The ruggedly-built design of the X-Talker T10's case and antenna leads us to believe they can stand up to a bit of use and abuse.
As with all smaller, less expensive walkie talkies we have tested, this model's range is a substantial downside. One mile was enough to max out the X-Talker T10 in our line of sight range tests. When terrain obstructions and undulations were present, the range was reduced. That said, this is a standard limitation for most radios in this price range. Overall, this small and lightweight walkie talkie performed best compared to similarly priced competitors. It's not the model we recommend when reliable communication is imperative. Still, if you need a simple and inexpensive radio that you can hand off to anyone to use easily, the X-Talker is an excellent option.
Weight: 8.4oz. | Dimensions (LxWxH): 2.5in x 1.5in x 7.5in.
REASONS TO BUY
Has good range
REASONS TO AVOID
Large and heavy
The Motorola T600 is the obvious choice for someone who wants a radio for water-based activities. It boasts the best waterproof rating of the radios we tested, and it stood up to these manufacturer claims. It survives up to thirty minutes underwater, although it's unlikely ever to get that deep because it floats. It also performed very well in our unobstructed straight line range test, which means it's ideal for a long-distance conversation on the water.
The waterproof casing is the main selling point of this radio, and it's a great option for a sea kayaker or paddleboarder. However, if you don't need a waterproof radio, there are smaller and cheaper options available with similar capabilities. But for those working in or near the water, the T600 is our recommendation.
Weight: 7.8 oz. | Dimensions (LxWxH): 2" x 1.25" x 10.25"
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Big learning curve
Requires specific license(s) to operate in most areas of the world
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is by far the most capable and fully featured radios in our test, but it requires a ham radio operator license to use legally in the US. If you are licensed to use it, this might become your favorite portable two-way radio. It packs more power than any other model in our test, making it more capable of transmitting further and through more obstructions like hilly terrain and foul weather (this is also why it requires a license to utilize). The BF-F8HP has a significantly (2-3x) better range than any of the other radios tested, which is in line with its higher power and larger-than-average antenna. There are multiple add-on accessories available, and it is programmable on-board or by connecting it to a computer with a separately purchased cable. Its rechargeable battery life is also among the best tested.
However, with great power also comes responsibility. For example, only licensed amateur radio operators utilizing amateur radio bands could use this product in our test locations. To avoid any fines or penalties, you need to understand the local regulations and rules to ensure your use is compliant — don't say you weren't warned. If you're not prepared to spend hours gaining the necessary licensing to operate it and learn how to work your radio, this isn't the right one for you. You will also be continually walking a tightrope between legal use and breaking FCC rules due to its higher power and programmability. This radio is for licensed and technically inclined users who need the best range and the flexibility to program functions for their specific needs.
After careful market research of dozens of walkie talkies, we selected the 9 models in this review for purchase and testing. These radios were put through the paces, spending over 150 hours in the field on hikes, ski trips, bike rides, and on the water. They encountered hot, dusty trails and the bottom of soggy, wet backpacks. We scoured and scrutinized their settings, with and without the instruction manual. They got doused with the hose or even submerged. Range was tested over both flat and undulating/obstructed terrain. When the Sierra Nevada delivered a massive snowstorm, our testers also ventured out to brave the weather and assess performance in stormy precipitation. Then they went into the lab to conduct 24 hours of tedious battery testing and independent size and weight measurements. These radios were operated with gloves and dirty hands, tired eyes, and worn-out brains to see which ones were easiest to use. In other words, we were thorough.
Our walkie talkie testing is divided across five different metrics:
Range and Clarity (30% of overall score weighting)
Ease of Use (25% weighting)
Weather Resistance and Durability (15% weighting)
Battery Life (15% weighting)
Weight and Size (15% weighting)
Gray Grandy, our lead tester, uses radios professionally and recreationally all year long. From his winters professionally ski patrolling and backcountry skiing, he has been rumored to use the PTT button to talk in his sleep. He is known to offer unsolicited tirades on the importance of effective communication as a tool for safety and efficiency in high-risk environments. He is a SPRAT Level II rope access technician, an EMT, and holds a Professional Level Avalanche 1 certification and a California Explosives Blaster's license. On the technical aspects of these radios, GearLab experts Michelle Powell and David Wise lent their expertise as professional tech gear testers and writers. Michelle is experienced in developing ways to test electronic equipment, and David has maintained an active ham radio operator license for over a decade. If the apocalypse strikes, we'll all be heading to David's house for this reason, and more.
Analysis and Test Results
We judge these two-way radios on a mixture of practical field use and more quantitative lab testing. Each model is scored on its range and clarity, battery life, weather resistance, ease of use, size and weight, and durability. All of those categories were weighted and compiled together to calculate a final overall score for each radio.
We observed a significant difference between the performance of the lower-priced radios and the more expensive ones. For the most part, radios are a product where you get what you pay for. The cheapest options (Motorola T100, Cobra ACXT145, Midland X-Talker, Radioddity FS-T2) all exhibited relatively poor range and lacked many useful features. But, they are affordable and small, and if you don't expect to be communicating across great distances, need days of battery life, or subject your radio to extreme weather, they could fit the bill and keep money in your pocket. One benefit of these radios is that they are sold in pairs, unlike some of the high-end walkie talkies, which are sold individually. The simplicity of these models is also pretty appealing, along with their minimal weight and size.
As models increase in price, the most significant benefit is typically a substantial increase in range and clarity across longer distances and terrain with obstacles. They also tend to grow bigger and heavier because more battery power is required to send more powerful transmissions. Their additional features may, unfortunately, make them more complicated to use. The BC Link 2.0, the most expensive radio in the test, is worth the money for avid backcountry enthusiasts based on its ease of use, reasonable range, and battery life. If reliability is necessary for you, it's likely worth paying extra for the better options. The Midland X-Talker 36 does a fair job splitting the difference between the less expensive and less powerful options and the most expensive models.
Ultimately, the value of each radio will depend on your specific needs and intended uses. If you just want a small radio that doesn't need to work over long distances, you will get a lot of value for your money. However, if you require long-range or full waterproofing, you will need to pay a bit more to get those features. Note that more expensive radios are often sold individually. Budget accordingly.
Range and Clarity
Our range and clarity metric weighs heavily into each product's final score because transmitting a clear message across a distance is, well, the whole point of a radio. We started with a long straight stretch of Nevada road with minimal obstructions to carry out a straight line range test. Then we compared transmission quality with terrain and vegetation obstructions using a tree-covered hill. We performed a similar test in a heavy Sierra Nevada snowstorm to see how severe weather influenced their range. Both tests were scored using a pass/fail format. Radios passed if they clearly transmitted the message on the first attempt from the specified distance. The radio failed if the message was broken and could not be understood.
In our real-world testing, none of the radios transmitted anywhere near their advertised maximum ranges listed on manufacturers' specification sheets. It seems the real world has significantly more variation and interference than the "optimal conditions" that manufacturers rely on to make these claims. Keep in mind that these claims can often be misleading, sometimes incredibly so.
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP utilized its higher power capabilities (up to 8 watts) to provide a notably larger range than any radio in the review. Its power and programmability are two reasons why the FCC requires a valid ham operator license to operate it. In a straight line, over hills, and in good and bad weather, it was the most consistent and highest performing radio in our tests. It made clear calls at over ten miles in a straight line while the next closest, the Motorola T600, failed at six miles, and the majority of the field failed at less than three miles. If the transmission range is important to you and you're willing to study and obtain a license, this BaoFeng model is the one to keep you connected. You can also buy a longer antenna to extend its range even more as needed.
The Motorola T600 performed very well with minimal obstructions, transmitting up to six miles in our straight-line test. When testing in hilly terrain and poor weather, its performance dropped significantly to well under a mile. This model is designed for open water use, which is synonymous with line-of-sight communication, a strength of this model. The BCA BC Link 2.0 didn't perform as well in our straight-line test, maxing out at 2.8 miles. However, it performed admirably in our hill and stormy weather tests, coming out as the top performer in both tests among the no-license-required models we tested. The Midland GXT also beat certain inexpensive competition in the straight-line test by 1-2 miles, but it out-shined the Motorola T600 in our tests with varied weather and topography. The BCA edged out the Midland GXT in varied terrain. The BCA performed very well in a snowstorm, significantly beating all the competition except for the powerful BaoFeng BF-H8FP. The mid-priced Midland X-Talker 36 had the best range of the small and cheaper radios but could not match the range of the larger and more expensive options.
Among the lower price tier, the reliability of successful transmissions dropped, and consistency became suspect. The Radioddity FS-T2 performed best in our straight-line test, transmitting successfully up to 2.4 miles. It was closely followed by the Motorola Talkabout T100, which hit the two-mile mark. The others failed at the first mile marker. When testing their ability to transmit up and over a forested hill, the Midland X-Talker outshined the Motorola and other budget-friendly models. When testing in inclement weather and varying topography, however, our testers grew very suspicious of the consistency of range test results for all the models in this price range. The largest consistency observed, if there was any among these models, is that the Cobra ACXT145 scored worst or tied for worst in each range test performed. These models are best suited for short distances, flat terrain, or in fair weather.
Ease of Use
The ease of use category encompasses many small aspects of each radio, and we feel it is one of the most important components of our analysis. First, we used each radio out of the box without directions to assess the user interface's intuitiveness. We dug in to understand the setting and options. We looked at how the radio functions when wearing thick winter gloves and how securely it clips to a pack. We assessed the difficulty of changing or recharging the batteries and the button lock's efficacy to prevent accidental setting changes. We factored in any features designed to improve our ability to communicate with our partners, such as privacy codes for blocking outside traffic on busy channels.
The Backcountry Access BC Link radios have a well-designed interface, an adequately large PTT button, and an excellent clip on the remote microphone. This remote microphone allowed us to easily make calls, hear replies, and change channels and volume without having to dig in our pockets or unclip anything from our pack. All of the main functions are at your fingertips in a small package. Basic functions are easy to figure out without reading the manual, and it is easy to use with gloves on. The BCA has cleverly preset channels that automatically use privacy codes to avoid overlapping traffic in busy areas. This radio is our favorite in the ease of use category. We were thoroughly impressed by how user-friendly this powerful little radio is, especially compared to much of the competition.
Due to their lack of functions and features, the budget models are all relatively simple to operate. They are similar in how they operate and how to navigate their interfaces. However, most of our testers agree that these budget models could still be easier to operate. The buttons are tough to use with gloved hands, and often, we prefer turning knobs to change channels rather than pressing buttons, but that's a small quip. The Midland X-Talker and the Midland X-Talker 36 have the most features in this group of radios. It's capable of receiving NOAA weather alerts, has a keypad lock, and has many privacy codes to eliminate interference on a channel that you and your partner(s) are using. The other radios in this price range have some combination of these features, but not all.
Conversely, BaoFeng BF-F8HP takes complexity to a different level than all others we tested. First, as we have mentioned but cannot stress enough, it requires obtaining a ham operator license to transmit legally, which involves studying and passing an exam. The radio itself has so many buttons and settings it took us significant time and a few internet sources to communicate with the other radios. Setup is simplified if you hook it up to a computer, but that requires buying an additional cord and downloading the correct program. Once this radio is set up and you know a few of its intricacies, it is not too difficult to operate, but the learning curve is challenging, and users may live in fear of pressing the wrong buttons and not being able to get the radio working properly again. One of our testers created a cheat sheet of the instructions to get back to functioning for himself and his backcountry companions (even licensed operators) who would otherwise struggle to figure it out in the field without the manual. We did like the power/volume knob and the A/B button that allowed us to toggle between two different channels easily. The illuminated screen displays the information you need to know, and once you get the hang of the settings menu, it is less of a bear to use. It's not a radio to easily hand off and expect someone to use without complication, even if they have some familiarity with radios.
Weather Resistance and Durability
We used all of the radios in all sorts of weather, but we only intentionally tested the waterproof qualities of the ones that make claims of water resistance. For example, we tested the Motorola T600 to a submersion depth of 1 meter because that is what Motorola says it withstands. As our most waterproof radio, it performed perfectly well in this test and survived 30 minutes underwater just fine. Few of the walkie talkies advertised any weather resistance, but those that did managed to live up to the manufacturers' claims.
The BC Link 2.0 is rated for a stream of water from a high-pressure water jet, which it survived without any problem. All of the Midland radios are water-resistant but offer no warranty support for water damage, and Midland didn't define the extent of their "resistance." Both of them handled light precipitation during our tests, and the X-Talker 36 only took on a bit of condensation in its screen.
Most of us are buying walkie talkies to take on outdoor adventures, which is typically hard on equipment. We expect radios will be dropped onto rocks and smashed into a tight backpack with dirty socks. You need to rely on them in tough environments because radio failure can cause critical logistical problems. We took the radios on all of our fall and winter adventures to expose them to all sorts of environments and abuse. We were intentionally a little rough with them to mimic a longer use time. We noted that premature wear and small pieces looked easy to break even if we did not break them through normal use in our testing period. We scoured customer reviews to uncover any common problems that we didn't encounter in-field testing.
Nothing broke on any of the radios throughout our testing, but some displayed better build quality and accumulated less wear than others. In general, we noticed a correlation between water-resistant models and their durability—the radios with more water-resistant also felt more robust. The Motorola T600 strikes us as the most water-resistant and burly enough to survive a lot of knocking around. The BC Link 2.0 is also very sturdy, and we can't imagine it wearing down anytime soon. The extending parts, such as the antenna, are stout and inspire confidence in their longevity.
Only the Midland X-Talker 36 made us question its reliability and quality control. On our first day of use, the port for the microphone/earphone did not work. It did not work on multiple attempts with multiple models of earphones. This feature may or may not be important to you, but it shows a potential for poor reliability.
A radio with dead batteries is an unwanted surprise that becomes useless weight and causes unnecessary complications. To prevent this, we systematically tested the battery life of each model. With fresh batteries in each radio, we made a 10-second transmission every 5 minutes until the radio's battery died. We made notes of the battery indicator (for the radios that had an indicator) throughout this process to compare the indicator's status and accuracy to the actual life span of the battery. Note that our standard test represents more frequent transmissions on the radio than many recreationists will utilize. However, it provides a clear baseline for comparison. Expect these walkie talkies to last much longer when operating in standby mode, or when sending significantly fewer transmissions. The walkie talkies we examined use either lithium-ion, NiMH, or alkaline batteries, or a combination of rechargeable and alkaline.
In our tests, the BCA BC Link 2.0 proved to have the longest battery life. It died after 22 hrs and 45 minutes in our repeatable battery life test. We also appreciate that this radio has an indicator that is accurate and useful. An accurate indicator is unique compared to all of the other radios. We feel that is a pretty important feature if you're trying to ration your radio use over a longer trip appropriately.
Notably, the Midland X-Talker T10 also showed up strong in this metric. In our test, it lasted 21 hours and 20 minutes before it transmitted no more. Unfortunately, its battery indicator was constantly changing to the point of being more confusing than useful. It showed good battery life while in standby mode, but the indicator dropped while we transmitted. The small and simple Motorola Talkabout came up 30 minutes short of reaching the 20 hour-mark, which we consider respectable. The BaoFeng BF-F8HP held up longer than we expected (17 hrs, 40 min), considering the greater power behind each transmission. The large lithium-ion battery found inside the BaoFeng undoubtedly plays a role in how long it keeps a charge.
Among the models we tested, only the Midland X-Talker and Motorola Talkabout are not rechargeable. Furthermore, only the BC Link 2.0, Radioddity, X-Talker 36 and Cobra ACXT145 are rechargeable with an included USB cable. The Motorola T600 will charge via a micro USB cable, but that does not come with the radios. The T600, Midland GXT, Midland X-Talker 36, and Cobra will run off NiMH or alkaline batteries. Most of our testers prefer rechargeable models over non-rechargeable models because purchasing batteries frequently can be expensive. Best of all, we like the Midland GXT and Cobra's ability to run off standard alkaline and rechargeable batteries—this seems the best of both worlds.
Weight and Size
We measured each radio's dimensions and weighed it with batteries installed. Then we noted how the radio felt as we carried it in real life. The shape or distribution of heavy elements of a walkie talkie could make a heavier radio feel lighter. In contrast, a blocky shape could make a lighter radio feel more bulky and noticeable in your pocket.
Four of the radios, the Cobra, Midland X-Talker, Motorola T100, and the Radioddity FS-T2 stood out as significantly smaller and lighter (3.1 oz to 4 oz) than the rest. They are all similar in size and weight, and we easily forget we were carrying them even for weight-conscious activities like climbing or trail running.
These four supply excellent size and weight savings but lack performance in other areas, so buyers should decide the importance of the small size before picking one. Just larger than that group was the Midland X-Talker 36, which used its larger size to perform well in the range tests compared to the other small radios. At 11 ounces, The BCA BC Link 2.0 measures in as the heftiest of the bunch in both size and weight, mainly due to its two-piece design.
The design of the BCA BC Link 2.0 splits the weight between two pieces, making it harder to notice in real-life use. The external microphone is nicely proportioned to be comfortable on your backpack shoulder strap. The radio's body fits fine in the smaller pockets of any backpack or even in a jacket pocket, and it's a good shape and weight to not feel like a brick. Yes, it is quite large and heavy compared to others, but we did not feel this hindered its performance for anything but the most weight-conscious activities.
A good set of radios can be one of the best devices for the backcountry because effective communication is crucial for avoiding or dealing with accidents. However, electronics must be capable of withstanding the rigors of the harsh environments we adventure in, or they won't be worth taking along. We put these radios into the hands of experienced testers who use radios daily, professionally, and recreationally to see which ones are worth the weight and cost for your next outing.
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