Baofeng radios are inexpensive hand-held two-way radios that look like walkie talkies but use licensed frequencies, and therefore require a license to operate. Over time the term “Baofeng” has come to encompass just about any inexpensive two-way handheld device that uses FRS or GMRS frequencies. Below are our picks for the best Baofeng radios of 2021.
1. BaoFeng UV-82HP
The UV-82HP offers three power settings – 1 watt, 5 watts and 8 watts – so you can pick the most appropriate one for your particular application. It offers VFO (variable frequency oscillator) and MR (memory) modes that you can switch between or which can be locked via the provided software. The feel of the unit is very sturdy and it’s available in 5 different color schemes, including camo for hunters/soldiers.
Audio is typically clear and strong (as long as you’re in a reasonably open location), and won’t leave you screaming “What?” if it’s noisy where you are. The UV-82HP features VOX Talk Around Mode, Frequency Reverse Tail Elimination, Alpha Numeric Channel Storage and is PC programmable.
2. Baofeng BF-F8HP
This is an upgrade of an earlier iteration and features 2X the power output of the earlier model, an improved, more durable hardened shell, a V-85 high gain antenna, an improved user manual and a battery that is 30% larger than before. This is a dual band radio with both UHF and VHF frequencies ranging from 136-174 MHz (VHF), to 400-520 MHz (UHF).
The higher frequencies give the BF-F8HP extended practical range over earlier versions, and there is a 7 inch ‘rubber duck’ antenna that extends that range even further. It’s easy to leverage a repeater using this device, and for non-ham users there are up to 22 channels you can program in legally. Audio is typically excellent, but you’ll need to get to a high, obstruction free location to really take advantage of the extra power.
3. Greaval UV-5R 8W Dual Band 2-Way Radio
The Greaval UV-5R 8 Watt Dual Band radio is a budget-friendly alternative to some of the other devices on our list. It’s easy to set up, has a nice clear LED display and is relatively powerful for a budget device. The outer casing has also undergone an upgrade and is now among the sturdiest you’ll find in a Baofeng.
The UV-5R provides 8 watts of power and offers 136-174 (VHF) and 400-479 (UHF) frequencies. You get excellent monitoring capability, and 2-way amateur communication is fully secure. You won’t get 30 miles out of this even if you’re standing on the top of Everest, but overall it’s an outstanding value, given the price.
4. Btech UV-5X3
The Btech UV-5X3 allows you to add or remove channels right in the device. No more having to hook it up to a PC to do so. This allows you to switch things up on the fly (should you need to) and can save you time if you have to train an entire crew in their use. The UV-5X3 is backward compatible with the full array of UV-5R accessories, so upgrading the unit is a relative snap.
The unit features VOX talk around mode, transmission time out channel receive only, work mode, frequency reverse squelch tail elimination and is PC programmable. Remote commands include stun, kill, revive, inspect and monitoring, and there’s incoming ANI Display. Comes with a 1500mAh battery and a V-85 dual band antenna.
5. Motorola Talkabout Radio MH230R
The Talkabout Radio MH230R is without a doubt the best looking Baofeng-style radio on our list. Fortunately, it’s also versatile, durable, reliable and reasonably affordable. The rechargeable battery gives you 12 hours of continuous use, you can access up to 22 channels – 11 weather channels – each with 121 privacy codes, and under ideal conditions you’ll enjoy a range of about 23 miles.
You can pair up as many MH230Rs as you like, making them a good choice if you’re part of a large camping or hiking group. They’re water-resistant, are able to take a pounding, and can be used as a walkie-talkie. If there’s a downside it’s that the user manual seems like it was put together by someone unfamiliar with the product.
6. Retevis H-777
If you’re looking for a simple, reliable push to talk (PTT) radio for your business or hiking expedition the Retevis H-777 is a solid choice. You get 10 units for a remarkably low price. But they’re not just cheap, they do the job. All 10 units are pre-programmed to the same frequency so you don’t have to spend hours setting them up with your PC.
This is a UHF only radio with a high-gain antenna that produces reliably clear audio in most conditions. You’ll get up to 9 hours of continuous use from the rechargeable battery as well as 72 hours of standby time. One other thing we appreciate about the H-777 is the ability to plug it directly into a wall outlet, bypassing the traditional charging station. While the range of applications is limited, what this radio does it does very well.
7. Baofeng BF-888S
The Baofeng BF-888S comes 6 to the package, has 5 watts of power, features a UHF frequency range of 400-470MHz and will search any of the 16 available channels in 25KHz intervals. It’s a great option for large construction sites, hunters needing to communicate over distance (temp range of -30 to +60 C), and families who want to stay in touch while on a cruise.
You’ll get about 8 hours out of the 1500MAh lithium ion battery, which can be swapped out for something more powerful if you want. The lack of VHF frequencies means applications are limited, but again, it’s a solid choice for those who simply need to stay in touch with up to 6 family or team members. The price is also very reasonable.
8. Baofeng GT-3TP
If you are willing to spend a bit more for your Baofeng radio consider the Baofeng GT-3TP. It offers both VHF and UHF frequencies (136-174 MHz, and 400 – 520 MHz, respectively), has a reliable 10 mile range and boasts 8 watts of power. It’s light, waterproof (not just water-resistant), and very durable to boot.
The GT-3TP is easy to program, features adjustable wattage so you can power down when you need or want to, and weighs a scant 10 ounces. You’ll need a license to operate this Baofeng but it will open up a world of communication possibilities. Fully compatible with CHIRP software, offers 128 channels and even includes a pretty powerful LED flashlight.
9. Motorola Solutions CLS1110
The Motorola Solutions CLS1110 is aimed directly at construction companies, schools and other entities that need basic communication and don’t have lots of time to devote to training. It’s a one channel UHF two way radio that can literally be powered up and used straight away. There’s no programming needed either as everything is preset and ready to go out of the box.
The unit features automatic keypad lock to prevent the user from accidentally changing settings and, if a single channel isn’t enough you have the option to upgrade to 4 channels. The CLS1110 is light, water-resistant, super-simple to use and comes with a rechargeable lithium ion battery that provides up to 18 hours of continuous use.
10. Retevis RT22
The last item on our list is the Retevis RT22. This is yet another simple, easy to use two-way radio that’s ideal for communication on construction sites, cruise ships, within schools or between security personnel working a large event. The device offers 16 channels that you can monitor license free, and there are 9 voice settings to accommodate different conditions.
Range for the RT22 is limited to about 2.5 miles so they’re not really a practical choice for hunters and the like. But it is a great choice for simple communication between family or team members over a limited distance. There’s keypad lock to prevent accidental changes to settings, and the RT22 slips easily into your jacket pocket (a little too heavy for the average shirt pocket).
What Is a Baofeng Radio?
A Baofeng radio is a handheld radio used to facilitate communication over both short and long distances often using licensed frequencies. Baofeng radios get their name from the Chinese company that first made them. Although these days, just about any comparable handheld radio device is categorized as a Baofeng radio.
If you spend any time in ham radio forums you’ll discover that opinion is divided when it comes to Baofeng radios between those who say they are a great, cost-effective way to enjoy the power of ham radio, and those who say Baofengs are unreliable and don’t live up to their output power claims.
Our experience tells us they’re much more the former than the latter. Are there some Baofengs out there that aren’t worth the money? Sure. But the ones on our list are all dependable and easy to use. Just keep in mind that you will need a license to use most of them.
Is This Type of Radio Legal?
Of course. You can purchase a Baofeng or comparable GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) radio without a license or any special permission, and you can use it to listen in on various frequencies. However, if you actually want to carry on two-way communications with your Baofeng radio you will need to obtain a license (1). You can always try and operate without the license, but we strongly urge you to resist that temptation. If you need an incentive to get a license just keep in mind that the FCC does not take kindly to people operating this type of radio without a license and may fine you up to $20,000.
How do I Get a GMRS License?
To obtain a GMRS license to legally transmit using a Baofeng radio you must meet the following requirements:
- You must be at least 18 years of age.
- You must not be a representative of any foreign government.
- You must pay a license fee of $35 which is good for 10 years.
- License extends to your immediate family but that’s it.
- You must disclose if you have any previous felony convictions.
- You must agree to adhere to all FCC rules regarding GMFS radio.
- The FCC does not issue company licenses, only individual ones.
And What Are Those FCC Rules?
- You may not use the radio in connection with any activity that’s against Federal, State or local law.
- You are forbidden from sending false or misleading messages via your Baofeng radio.
- If an FCC representative wants to inspect your device you must allow them to.
- You cannot use a GMRS device to send coded messages.
- You may not use the device as a marketing platform.
- You cannot use your GMRS device to broadcast political messages.
- You cannot transmit music or sound effects using your device.
- No communication is allowed with foreign radio stations or stations in the Amateur Radio Service (2).
- You cannot carry on long uninterrupted transmissions.
- Using your device as a type of public address system is not allowed.
- You have to identify yourself using the call sign assigned to you by the FCC periodically during transmissions and at the end of all transmissions.
Are There Any Precautions I Should Be Aware Of?
- The most important things to keep in mind is that you do need a license to transmit, and the above rules and regulations are aggressively enforced by the FCC. If you don’t want to get a license then all you can do with most Baofeng radios is listen to others.
- It’s important that you program your radio to specific amateur and/or emergency channels, lest you wander into military frequencies and incur the wrath of the FCC.
What are the Benefits of a Baofeng Radio?
- The most important benefit of a Baofeng radio is its ability to allow you to communicate and receive important information (3) in the event of an emergency. When cell towers are down your Baofeng will still get through.
- They can also be used to communicate with employees in the field or others on large construction sites.
- There is no monthly fee as there is with a cell phone.
- Baofeng radios are highly portable and as a general rule, much more durable than smartphones.
- You’ll be able to communicate clearly even in noisy environments, something that’s nearly impossible with a smartphone.
- You can connect your radio to an entire group of people.
How do I Program a Baofeng Radio?
Select the Right Connecting Cable – Your Baofeng radio will connect to your computer using a USB cable. Not just any USB cable will do, but happily the right type should come with your radio. If your Baofeng did not come with the right cable you should be able to pick one up on eBay or Amazon without much problem.
Set up the CHIRP Software – Programming your Baofeng radio will require the use of what’s called CHIRP software (4). This is free, open-source software you download from the internet. The version you get will depend on your computer’s operating system. Once you have downloaded and installed the CHIRP software, connect your Baofeng to your computer using the USB cable and power.
Open the Software and Begin Programming – Open the CHIRP software and look for the button that says “Go to Radio”. Click it. Then click “Download from Radio”. One word of caution here: make sure your radio is set to its original factory settings, or the programming won’t work. If you’ve previously programmed the radio, you’ll need to go back into “settings” and reset everything to factory default. Also, if the radio is communicating with you in Chinese, go back into the settings menu, find the language settings, and choose English. Once you’re sure your radio is set to the factory default settings you can proceed.
Set the Frequency and CTCSS Tone – Go into the “menu” on your radio and select button 1. This is where you’ll choose your frequency. Most Baofeng’s support both UHF and VHF frequencies and operate in either the narrowband 12.5 KHz or the wideband 25 KHz. Save your changes. Then go back into the menu and select the CTCSS tone settings. CTCSS stands for “Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System” (5). This is a kind of in-band signaling that reduces other voices on shared two-way radio channels. Simply navigate the menu until you find the CTCSS tone you want and then save your changes.
Set the Transmitting Frequency – Put your radio into VFO mode by pressing the orange VFO/MR button until 2 frequencies appear. Then press and hold the blue A/B button until you see an arrow appear pointing to the top frequency. Type in what you see minus any decimal point. So if the frequency you see is 146.76, type in 14576. If the frequency is less than 6 digits, add zeros to the end to make it 6. (i.e. 146760 etc).
A note of warning: different Baofeng radios tend to have different menu structures so you may find yours does not dovetail perfectly with the above instructions. The important thing is to adhere to the steps as they’re laid out in bold:
- Make sure you have the right USB cable
- Download and activate the CHIRP software
- Connect the radio and open the software
- Set the frequency and CTCSS tone
- Set the transmitting frequency
For more details refer to the owner’s manual that comes with your particular Baofeng.
How Can I Get a Good Signal?
Making sure you get a good signal is not as tough as it may seem. It’s mostly a matter of common sense. Here are some tips that will help ensure you get a clear signal every time.
Make sure you’re in an unobstructed area – If you stand outside in a clearing or a parking lot you’re going to get a better signal than if you are in a basement, or in an alley between tall buildings. The more wide open the space the better will be your signal. If you are indoors and there is a balcony available you’ll probably get a better signal on the balcony.
Stay where you are while talking – Once you have a clear signal don’t move around while you’re communicating. If possible, just stay where you are until the conversation is over. Encourage the person you’re conversing with to stay put as well.
Don’t use your Baofeng while driving – First of all, because it’s not safe to be distracted while you’re driving. But from a technical standpoint, trying to use the radio in a moving car will be difficult because you’ll encounter numerous obstructions including buildings, bridges, trees, tunnels and more. If you must use your Baofeng in the car, pull over and stop in an area that is free of obstructions.
Buy an external antenna – If you must use your Baofeng in your car for whatever reason, you can improve your chances of getting a clear signal by purchasing an external antenna. This will attach to the outside of your vehicle and improve your odds of getting a clear signal. Even so, you should not use the Baofeng radio while actively driving.
If you have a weak signal, check the batteries – People often think battery operated tech is malfunctioning when in fact the problem is the battery or batteries. If you’re having trouble getting a signal with your Baofeng check the battery before you chuck it in the trash out of frustration.
Use a signal repeater – A repeater (6) is a combination amplifier and relay device that increases the power of the incoming signal before sending it on. If you have trouble getting a good signal in your home or office you can try setting up a repeater on your roof or balcony to boost the signal.
What is the Range of a Baofeng Radio?
That’s the $64,000 question. The most common compliant users have of Baofeng radios is that some of them don’t live up to their range claims. They’ll claim to communicate over 30 plus miles but the reality will be considerably less. This is not always the fault of the radio, however. As we mentioned above the Baofeng, or any other make of handheld two-way radio, will not provide optimal performance if there are obstructions nearby. So stay out of the woods, or basement, avoid crowded city streets and don’t expect to hear anything if you’re driving through a tunnel.