If you’ve ever spent any time in the backcountry either hiking or camping, you likely already know that using cell networks to stay in contact isn’t always reliable. This can make communication with the rest of your party — let alone friends and family back home — a real challenge. For those adventurous few who truly 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.
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.
The best overall
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 which double as a flashlight in a pinch and a built-in NOAA weather radio provides alerts during emergency situations. It also 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.
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The best long-range
Uniden GMR5095-2CKVP ($100)
If the key factor you’re looking for in a walkie-talkie is long-range communication, then look no further than the Uniden GMR5095-2CKVP. Although there is a slew of variables which impact real-world performance (including terrain, altitude, and weather), this device has a theoretical range of up to 50 miles, putting it head and shoulder above most of the competition.
Rugged and reliable, the GMR5095 is water resistant, offers 22 different channels, and 284 privacy codes to keep your messages completely private. It’s equipped with an emergency strobe light and an NOAA weather radio for receiving severe storm alerts. The device floats on water, has excellent battery life, and even ships with a set of over-the-ear microphones for handsfree operation. This model even allows users to make direct calls to one another, rather than simply broadcasting private messages to an entire group.
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The best for backcountry emergencies
Midland MXT1050 Micromobile GXT Bundle ($179)
Midland goes the extra mile, offering this useful bundled package which comes with a set of GXT1050VP4 two-day handheld radios and a MXT105 MicroMobile. The GTX is especially well-equipped for backcountry travels because, in addition to having an NOAA weather radio, it comes standard with 50 channels with 285 privacy codes, a 36-mile range, and an SOS siren. This feature alone could be enough to save your life in a wilderness emergency.
Giving users the ability to broadcast a call for help in the event of an emergency, the siren is especially useful for anyone who finds themselves incapacitated in the woods and unable to directly call for help. Simply activating this beacon alerts others that they need assistance.
The GTX1050 also includes 10 customizable call alerts to indicate exactly who an incoming message is from, as well as five animal call alerts for creatures encountered on the trail. Those calls included turkeys, ducks, crows, cougars, and wolves. While those features aren’t exactly groundbreaking, they can be handy for larger groups. As a bonus, the MicroMobile unit — which features 5 watts of GMRS power and double the range of the walkie-talkies — can be kept in a car or at basecamp for extra communication capabilities.
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The best budget
Baofeng BTECH GMRS-V1 ($55)
Baofeng may not be as well known as some of the other walkie-talkie manufacturers on this list but it’s built a loyal following thanks to its affordable and reliable devices. The company has continued to produce solid handsets that often cost half of what’s offered by the competition.
Take the BTECH GMRS-V1 model, for instance. It features 22 two-way channels, eight repeater channels, and even 98 programmable scanner channels. It even features 396 privacy tones to ensure security while communicating. This walkie-talkie is also equipped with a built-in FM radio, a flashlight, and an NOAA weather radio, all for the low cost of just $55.
Many of these features match those found on other walkie-talkies on this list but at a fraction of the cost. If you’re on a budget, Baofeng’s handsets should be on your radar.
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The best for kids
UOKOO Kid’s Walkie-Talkie ($26)
Rather than shell out money for cell phones, some parents are choosing to purchase a pair of inexpensive walkie-talkies to stay in contact with their children instead. In these instances, UOKOO’s kid-centric model is the way to go. The walkie-talkies let you communicate over a range of four miles — more than enough if your child is playing in the neighborhood or if you become separated at the supermarket.
Each unit is also fairly loud, meaning your child won’t need to actually wear the device when out and about. A rear clip does ensure convenient hands-free stowing, while also making it more difficult for them to misplace. Other features, like a handy auto-squelch tool that blocks unwanted background noise, add to the package.
As for battery life, the two-way radios allow for 3.5 hours of continuous use, or about nine hours on standby. More importantly, these walkie-talkies won’t break the bank when your child inevitably loses one.
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