Whether for outdoor work, leisure or as a hobbyist, walkie talkie radios provide a great way to communicate up to around 5 miles.
There’s a few different types of handheld radio, with the GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) frequency service one of the most popular in the US given it is managed by licence and the wide range of models available on the market. If you’re used to FRS radio transmission, making the change to GMRS is the natural next step to improving your walkie talkie performance.
In this article, we’ll pick out the best GMRS handheld radios on the market. We’ll compare our favorites based on their features, spec and price after we’ve taken a deeper dive into GMRS and what makes a great handheld.
Not got time for a full article? Use the quick links below to find what you need!
- GMRS Explained – What Makes It Good?
- What To Look For In a Good GMRS Handheld Radio?
- 5 Best GMRS Handheld Radios
Table of Contents
- 1 GMRS explained – what’s so good about it?
- 2 What we look for in a good handheld GMRS radio
- 3 5 Best GMRS Handheld Radios
- 4 Summary
GMRS explained – what’s so good about it?
Many people see GMRS as an upgrade to traditional FRS radio. GMRS uses Frequency Modulation (FM) to transmit across the 462 MHz to 467 MHz range, but unlike FRS, GMRS can use up to 50 watts of power. Naturally, you’re unlikely to ever get this sort of power with a handheld, with the maximum power more likely to be 5 watts.
GMRS’s strength comes from being part of the Wide Area Service. In much the same way as a mobile network, many infrastructure services, especially in cities, place GMRS repeaters in pivotal locations to boost transmittable range. This means that instead of the signal going directly from radio-to-radio, repeaters may be involved to give users extra communication power.
Maintaining this infrastructure costs money, and that’s why you’ll need a licence to operate on a GMRS radio. It’s not particularly expensive for individual users, with a payment of around $85 to the FCC keeping you good for 5 years. This licence model also helps to make the network less crowded, again improving signal quality and reducing the chance of interference.
It’s this repeater enabled network and licence model that makes GMRS systems more attractive to serious radio users.
What we look for in a good handheld GMRS radio
When it comes to deciding on your next GMRS radio, there are some key factors to consider. We’ll benchmark our ratings off of these, so get to know what makes a great GMRS handheld device below:
- Power – As with all handheld, the wattage output is key to providing the range you need to transmit successfully. As the rule of thumb, handheld radios will deliver somewhere between 1W-5W of power with the more powerful your output, the greater your range. Those operating under one mile should be fine with anything though.
- Durability – Especially if you’re using your walkie talkie for work, it pays to get a model that can survive some bumps and scrapes. Know the types of conditions you plan to be transmitting and get a radio that’ll keep you good over the long term.
- Frequencies – Whilst the GMRS range is fairly small across 462 MHz and 467 MHz, it pays to ensure your radio has access to the full range. You’ll want options to move between different channels, especially in busy areas with other operators.
- Tuning Features – Many radios have a range of manual/automatic tuning options and features to store and save pre-selected channels. This is all about simplicity and will be especially useful if you’re going to be regularly re-tuning between frequencies.
- Antenna – As with all radios, one of the key components to great reception is the quality of the antenna. Either go for a radio with a great stock antenna or find a model that allows for external antennas to be fitted – the latter will really make a lot of difference!
5 Best GMRS Handheld Radios
What makes it one of the best? – Twin pack of radios with a good base level of functionality, durability and power
We start this roundup off by picking out the 50 Channel Waterproof Radio from Midland. This radio makes our best list for three reasons. Firstly, it’s a great budget device that’ll meet the needs of two basic communicators. Second, they come as part of a twin pack setting you and a buddy up to start communicating straight away. And third, they’re ideal for outdoor uses such as hiking & mountaineering.
At full charge, the radio offers 5W of output power and comes with a range of additional features including 50 programmable channels, 142 privacy codes, built-in NOAA weather alerts and sound-activated transmission.
Despite the relatively cheap build, the radios are pretty rugged and come complete with JIS4 water protections which should keep the radios pushing on through list splashes of water and rain. The rechargeable batteries give you up to 11 hours of use, with the ‘low-power’ mode extending that by a further 3 if you can accept limited performance.
Midland claim that in perfect conditions, you’d achieve a range of up to 36 miles. We’d always suggest claims such as these are false in reality, so expect good operational range up to 2 miles. The best news with these radios is their cost – You’ll be able to get the pair, including battery packs, chargers, belt clips and headsets for around $70. A pretty good deal to get you operating on GMRS straight away!
What makes it one of the best? – Strong and durable GMRS radio with handy keyword for easy tuning
Move we move onto the RT76P from Retevis, which offers a mid-range feature set inside a nice and durable package. Retevis advertise this radio as the perfect hiking/camping companion thanks to its mix of durable construction and weather-related features.
It has the ability to store up to 30 channels, has a dual-band standby for listening to two channels at once, all the NOAA channels, emergency alarm, squelch and VOX hands-free. It’s a pretty good, all-round walkie talkie with reviewers fairly happy with general performance, especially at what is a modest price point.
The digital screen also makes it super easy to use, with the full keypad a joy to easily select channels and re-key settings! Maximum power sits at around 5w with low power mode dropping down to 0.5w to keep you going for longer.
At around $40 per radio, this is a good mid-range offering that will fit the needs of most people. If you need premium performance, you may want to invest a bit more but if you’re reading out for a camping weekend with friends, the Retevis could be the radio for you.
What makes it one of the best? – A powerful GMRS radio with easy to use features, good power and a strong antenna
As we move onto the Radioddity GM-30, we start to look at GMRS radios with commercial-level performance. You get a real step up in design and feature performance with a high-grade antenna providing strong transmission power.
Feature-wise the biggest feature here is that this radio is repeater enabled giving you a real boost in signal capability. Alongside that, you get 250 channels, UHF/VHF scanning, weather alerts, dual-channel monitoring, CTCSS tone search, a crisp digital display and a full-sized keypad.
We don’t get to say this much, but it’s also a nice looking radio that users like holding in their hands and operating day-to-day. The modern design also extends to areas such as USB-C charging, SOS alerts and a built-in torchlight.
Per radio, you’ll be paying around $45 for a GM-30 model but it’s well worth the step up in unit price. If you’re looking for strong and reliable transmission performance, in a well-designed and modern package, it’s hard not to recommend the GM-30 as your GMRS radio of choice!
What makes it one of the best? – Durable construction and great audio quality for those that need a business-level performance at short-range.
The BTECH GMRS-V1 is one of the best GMRS handheld radios on the market if you’re looking for something functional and durable with great audio quality.
From a features perspective, there’s a lot here that we’ve seen before. GMRS compatible across UHF & VHF bands, over 100 programmable channels, dual-channel monitoring, NOAA alerts, SOS alarm, full keypad, digital screen and a good quality antenna.
On the surface, it may not look that special from other models. The difference here is the customer reviews. Across the board, the BTECH is lauded as being a step above most handheld radios you can purchase given its great mix of performance, durability and audio quality. Especially if you’re needing a radio for commercial use, the reliability here may draw you to the BTECH.
At $60, these are the most expensive handhelds we’ve featured so far but for those that need reliability, the increased cost should be worth it.
What makes it one of the best? – This portable pack radio isn’t strictly ‘handheld’ but shows what a more fixed unit can achieve with greater power and a stronger antenna.
To finish up, we’ve pulled out something a little different. We’ve already seen a model from Midland, but the MicroMobile sits just outside of the traditional handheld bracket as a portable, in-car GMRS radio.
If you’re going to be transmitting on the move, the MicroMobile’s additional 15w of power gives an unbeatable range giving you performance easily up to 10 miles. You get all the same features here as we’ve seen before including 142 privacy codes, NOAA compatibility, digital screen, channel scan and dual-band operation.
This unit is powered by in-car 12 volt DC, meaning that it isn’t truly ‘handheld’ but incredibly portable when in the car or out and about. Again, this will all come down to your requirements, but if you’re going to be using the radio a lot in the car, and would benefit from extra power, something like the MicroMobile could be a good alternative to a traditional handheld.
Something packing this much juice you’d expect to be a little more expensive. At $150, you’re getting a powerful GMRS radio that’s perfect for those out and about in the car as well as for those that need extra power!
GMRS is a great radio option for those that need better range and security than traditional FRS. The licences nature of the frequency plus the network of repeaters make it a step up that’s worth the investment of an $85 licence.
Luckily, there is a range of great GMRS handheld radios on the market with a mix of functionality and durability specs to meet most needs. As always with a handheld, you’re mostly limited by the power output, with 5W the maximum you can expect.
If you’re needing to boost up your power, we’d recommend taking a look at a ‘pack’ radio that’s a little bit bulkier, but will give you the extra range you need.