You may not think you need an emergency radio since you can get weather reports and news from your cell phone or TV. During emergencies like a hurricane or earthquake or terrorist attack, however, when power and Wi-Fi may be out and cell towers may be down, an emergency radio can be a vital backup source of information, as well as of power, light, and even entertainment. “Diversifying your technology ecosystem to be able to receive the alert two, three, maybe even four times is a great way to make sure that you can protect yourself and your family,” says Andrew Phelps, COO of AC Disaster Consulting and the former head of emergency management for the state of Oregon.
Besides Phelps, we spoke to many survival and emergency preparedness experts to find out what to look for in an emergency radio. They told us a good one can be charged in multiple ways, and should have at minimum a flashlight and AM/FM radio, in addition to weather band channels, which broadcast weather alerts in a localized area. Other helpful features include a beacon, SOS alarm, and USB ports for charging devices. Some models have Bluetooth connectivity, so you can stream music from other devices, or shortwave radio as another information source.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updates can be found in the 162.400 to 162.550 MHz frequency band — you can look online to get the exact frequencies for your area. Radios with a Public Alert or NOAA All Hazards logo automatically play updates from the NOAA without having to be turned on, while models with the SAME designation can be programmed to issue alerts for a specific area. Alerts from other emergency services generally go out through AM and FM commercial broadcast stations — that’s the Emergency Alert System you might hear being tested from time to time. The AM band tends to have news stations, while FM stations such as NPR affiliates can be a good source for general news.
Each of our expert picks has a rechargeable battery that can be powered by a USB connection, hand crank, and solar panel. Some also take disposable batteries. The power generated by hand cranks varies depending on the radio, but a minute of cranking might power a radio for about ten minutes — just enough time to catch important updates. The USB ports on the radios can be used to recharge devices such as cell phones or tablets. If you think you might need to use your radio for an extended period of time or to charge devices, Mykel Hawke, a former U.S. Army special-forces captain and author of several survival books, suggests looking for an emergency radio with a battery that holds at least 4,000 mAh of battery capacity.
Stephanie Fox, national spokesperson for the American Red Cross, says there are three basic tenets to emergency preparedness: “Build a kit, have a plan, and stay informed.” That means just having a radio isn’t enough; to be truly prepared, make sure the radio is fully charged and set to the appropriate stations if needed before an emergency, and that you have spare batteries nearby if it takes them.
To help you find the best emergency radio that you hopefully won’t ever have to use, we asked preppers, survivalists, first responders, and the merely well-prepared what emergency radio models they use and recommend to family and friends.
Best for multiple information sources
Many experts we spoke to recommended Kaito radios, which have features like extra-sensitive antennas and crisp speakers. This model offers Bluetooth connectivity, so you can stream music from other devices, and short-wave radio, which can be helpful in non-weather emergencies. Shortwave-band signals bounce off the atmosphere and can travel long distances, so if you’re in a situation where all nearby communication is cut off — a coup, for example, or an earthquake that knocks out radio towers — you might be able to pick up a radio broadcast from another part of the world that offers updates on the situation in your area. “In an extreme global situation, an entire country may be off-grid, but someone, somewhere, will be broadcasting,” says Thomas Coyne, the owner and lead instructor at Thomas Coyne Survival Schools. Along with a 600-mAh rechargeable battery, the Kaito KA500 can be charged by AA batteries. It can be set to receive weather alerts and, says survivalist EJ. “Skullcrusher” Snyder, whom you might know from his many appearances on Naked and Afraid, “It has a five-LED reading lamp, LED flashlight, and red LED SOS beacon light.”
Best emergency radio for everyday use
Jim Cobb, author of Prepper’s Home Defense and The Prepper’s Complete Book of Disaster Readiness, calls the Kaito Voyager Max KA900 a “great option” that’s “intuitive and easy to use.” It offers a lot of bells and whistles, including digital tuning and a backlit display, and is an excellent choice if you’re going to use it both as an everyday radio and an emergency system (like the KA500, it receives AM/FM and shortwave signals). It has better sound quality than smaller radios thanks to the stereo speakers and 14-inch antenna, and there’s a built-in system for recording radio broadcasts. Bluetooth connectivity and an audio-input jack also allow you to stream your own music. “The crank and solar options are not incredibly efficient, but they work well enough,” Cobb says, and the 2,000-mAh battery can also be charged with a wall power adapter that’s purchased separately.
Best emergency radio to keep in your work bag
Pete, the Texas-based survivalist behind the YouTube channel the Roaming Prepper, who prefers to use only his first name, throws this radio in a carry-on bag when he’s traveling and leaves it on the nightstand at whatever hotel he’s staying at. He recommends city dwellers pack a compact model like this — this one weighs less than a pound but still packs in a flashlight, reading light, and SOS alarm — in their work bags. If you’re sitting at your desk and experience an emergency like a terrorist attack or a blackout, “You can pop it on and start getting information,” he says, even if cell-phone lines are jammed. Having real-time updates helps you start forming a plan, including whether to evacuate and where to go. This radio has a relatively small internal battery (2,000 mAh) but can be charged with AAA batteries.
Best emergency radio for powering other devices
Hawke gives this radio high marks for its 10,000-mAh battery, which will allow you to power more devices or keep your radio running longer than the less-powerful batteries of the other models on this list. This model can be programmed to receive NOAA alerts and also features a flashlight, SOS alarm, alarm clock, and headphone jack.
Best emergency radio for camping
Pete recommends this model from Eton, which sends out a notice whenever there’s a new weather alert from the NOAA. His Eton was “going off all night” when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017. With cell service down, he believes many of the fatalities associated with the storm were caused by people not knowing what was going on or trying to drive through flooded streets. It has a 2,600 mAh battery, Bluetooth connectivity, a digital tuner and display, a flashlight, and an emergency beacon. The panel light also works well as a camping lantern.
Most durable emergency radio
Phelps gives Midland radios high marks for being “really durable” and easy to figure out how to use right out of the box. Nat, known as the Preparedness Guy and host of a prepper podcast, has been using Midland radios for years. He says the company’s ER310 is a solid option, as is the ER210, which has slightly fewer features. Both radios have two key features he looks for: a flashlight (“a must”) and a backlit display screen (“nice to have”). In addition, the ER310 has an emergency beacon, weather-alarm capabilities, and an ultrasonic dog whistle, which sends out a call to rescuers if you’re lost in the woods. Along with a 2,600-mAh rechargeable battery, it can be charged with AA batteries.
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