If you’ve ever spent any time in the backcountry either hiking or camping, you know that using cell networks to stay in contact isn’t always a reliable option. This can make communication with the rest of your group — let alone friends and family back home — a real challenge. For those adventurous few who literally do go to the ends of the Earth, a satellite phone overcomes these challenges. But for the rest of us, good old-fashioned two-way radios (aka walkie-talkies) remain an efficient and affordable option for off-grid communications. Thankfully, there are hundreds of models to choose from, most of which won’t break the bank. Here are five of the best walkie-talkies currently available.
At a glance
|Cobra CXT 1035R FLT||Best walkie talkie overall|
|Motorola T600||Best long-range option|
|Midland GXT1000VP4||Best for backcountry emergencies|
|Midland LXT500VP3||Best budget option|
|Motorola T100 Talkabout||Best for kids|
Cobra CXT 1035R FLT ($100)
From an overall build quality and design standpoint, the CXT 1035R FLT from Cobra is a hard product to beat. This two-way radio has a range of up to 37 miles, which is more than enough distance for most outings. The walkie-talkie also has a water-resistance rating of IPX7, meaning you can submerge the unit in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes without fear of causing it damage. And since it’s designed to float, you shouldn’t have to worry about it sinking in the first place.
Beyond that, this model also features a series of LED lights that double as a flashlight in a pinch, and a built-in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio provides alerts during emergency situations. It offers support for a dual-port charger, as well as alkaline batteries for additional versatility. One of the most impressive features of this unit, however, is its voice-recognition technology. The walkie-talkie actually detects your voice, allowing you to communicate completely hands-free, which comes in handy while hiking or climbing. Our favorite feature of all just might be the “Rewind-Say-Again” feature, which automatically records the last 20 seconds of incoming messages for playback of missed audio.
There are units with a wider communication range and more enhanced battery-preservation settings, but the rugged build of Cobra’s flagship model, along with its array of useful features, makes it our top pick.
Motorola T600 ($120)
The best long-range option
If the key factor you’re looking for in a walkie-talkie is long-range communication, then look no further than the Motorola T600. A slew of variables impact real-world performance (including terrain, altitude, and weather), so those theoretical ranges are just that. The promised 35-mile range could only be achieved on a flat surface under ideal conditions. Real-life testing is what matters, and this device proved its chops. The T600 outputs at 1.3 watts on high and covers more than 2 miles when you have a line of sight from the top of a mountain to a base station or across summits. When in the woods, the range is closer to 0.5-miles to a mile.
Rugged and reliable, the T600 is also IP67 waterproof and capable of withstanding the heaviest of rains or submersion in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. It offers 22 different channels and 121 privacy codes to keep your messages completely private. It’s equipped with a water-activated flashlight, red LED for night vision, and a NOAA weather radio for receiving severe storm alerts. The device floats on water, has decent battery life, and uses either rechargeable batteries (included) or three AA batteries.
Midland GXT1000VP4 ($90)
The best for backcountry emergencies
Midland has been making two-way radios for decades, and yet it still finds new ways to innovate. Case in point, the company’s GXT1000VP4 model features 50 channels, 142 privacy codes, and an impressive 36-mile range. It also comes with a bright, backlit LCD screen that’s easy to read in the dark, 10 customizable alerts for incoming messages, and a whisper mode for communicating in situations where staying quiet may be a priority. These walkie-talkies are also rugged, waterproof, and come with rechargeable battery packs that can keep them operating for hours at a time.
Beyond its basic functionality, the GXT1000VP4 was specifically designed for use in emergency situations. To that end, the device is equipped with an SOS siren that can alert others when urgent help is needed, and it comes with a built-in NOAA weather alert radio to keep users informed of changing weather conditions. Midland even ships the radios with boom microphones for hands-free communication.
Midland LXT500VP3 ($40)
The best budget option
Midland earns its second entry on this list thanks to its affordable – and versatile – LXT500VP3 model. This two-way radio features 22 channels, a range of up to 24 miles, and an option to automatically scan frequencies for any broadcast activity. Powered by either the included rechargeable battery packs or 4 AAA batteries, these walkie-talkies also include a high/low power setting that gives the user the ability to adjust the transmit power to conserve battery life. If you know you don’t have to broadcast very far, you can turn the power down and increase the life of the installed energy cells. If the batteries are fresh and fully charged, crank up the settings to send your transmissions even further.
Other nice features include auto-squelch technology to help keep annoying noise to a minimum, an incoming call alert that automatically notifies you when someone in your group is broadcasting, and a keypad lock that prevents you from accidentally changing the settings. There is even a silent operation mode that turns off the noise altogether, allowing the user to get stealthy.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, the Midland LXT500VP3 sells for just $40, making it one of the most affordable walkie-talkie sets on the market today.
Motorola T100 Talkabout ($35)
The best for kids
Rather than shell out a lot of money for cell phones, some parents purchase a pair of inexpensive walkie-talkies to stay in contact with their kids instead. The Motorola T100 Talkabout is a great option for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a decent range. This device lets you communicate over a range of up to 16 miles — more than enough if your child is playing in the neighborhood or if you become separated at the grocery store.
These two-way radios offer good sound quality, a bright LCD screen, call tones, and 22 channels to chat on. Best of all, they are incredibly easy to use and have a keypad lock to prevent your child from accidentally changing the settings. All you have to do is set both radios to the same channel, give one to your child, and keep the other for yourself.
As for battery life, the two-way radios allow for up to 18 hours when used with alkaline batteries. Most importantly, these walkie-talkies won’t break the bank.