A renewable, versatile source of vital information, power, light, and even entertainment, the hand-crank radio is an indispensable part of any emergency scenario. “These devices don’t rely on access to power or Wifi to function,” says Stephanie Fox of the American Red Cross, so they “can provide you with potentially life-saving emergency information.” Most hand-crank radios are what’s called NOAA weather radios — meaning they can receive weather and emergency updates from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association’s 24-hour radio station. And there are two kinds of weather radios: weather band radios, which have to be on and tuned to the right station to get alerts, and weather-alert radios, which give you emergency alerts no matter what station you’re on, even if the radio is off. For obvious reasons, survival experts recommend the alert kind, so those are the only ones we’ve included here.
The best weather radios can be powered in multiple ways, which is what experts like John Ramey of the prepper site, the Prepared, recommends. Besides a hand crank, they typically take regular batteries and have internal rechargeable lithium-ion ones, and often have solar panels as well, and once charged, they can be used to charge other devices like your phone and computer. Additionally, some double as flashlights, are equipped with compasses and thermometers, and can send SOS signals and play music. And of course, they make great radios, which can provide not just emergency information, but much needed entertainment during long power outages. But with so many models and options available, it can be daunting to try to pick out this emergency essential yourself, so we asked six experts to give us their favorites.
Best hand-crank radios under $50
Our experts love radios from Kaito, and the popular Michigan YouTube prepper who goes by Prepper Potpourri calls this one her favorite. She loves that it can be powered 5 ways (by hand crank, solar panel, AA batteries, 5V AC/DC, built-in NiMH replaceable and rechargeable battery pack) and has a USB port to charge your devices. “It gets the NOAA Weather Alert station, regular AM/FM, and short-wave (international) channels,” she says, and she also likes that “if the radio is set at the ‘Alert’ mode, you will be automatically notified of weather alerts.” And, says survivalist E.J. “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.”
Mykel Hawke, a former U.S. Army special forces captain and author of several survival books, keeps a lot of weather alert radios around, “one for each vehicle and family member,” in fact. This one from Kaito, one of his favorite brands, is small enough for vehicle use and can double as a hangable lantern. It has five sources for power (hand crank, solar, batteries, a built-in lithium ion rechargeable battery, and a USB input), has Bluetooth, an MP3 player, and a siren.
Hawke also recommends Running Snail radios, like this sleek and economical one, which has an LCD display that tells you how much battery is left, station information, volume, and so forth. It has a hand crank, solar panel, a place for AAA batteries, an internal rechargeable lithium ion battery, a USB port to charge your devices, an AUX jack to play music, flashlight, and SOS alarm.
Best hand-crank radios $50 and above
Midland, a survivalist favorite and Hawke-endorsed brand, makes this small weather alert radio that can be powered with a hand crank, solar panel, or the rechargeable 2,000 mAh battery. Its 130 lumen flashlight can be used on the SOS setting to signal for help, or on a lower setting to conserve power. It also has an LCD display and a USB port and cable.
Stephanie Fox of the American Red Cross says there are three basic tenets to emergency preparedness, and they are to “build a kit, have a plan, and stay informed.” A weather-alert radio like this one from Eton should be a part of your kit, and will keep you informed when all other sources fail. It receives AM/FM and all 7 NOAA and Canadian emergency weather channels. You can hand-crank it, or power it in the sun, and charge your phone with the USB port. It also has an LED flashlight and a flashing signal beacon.
Another Kaito, the KA7000 can be charged three ways (via hand crank, a patented, 180-degree adjustable solar panel, and rechargeable 2,000 mAh lithium ion battery pack). It has a Bluetooth speaker, recorder, USB charger for both iOS and Android devices, bright LED Flashlight, red LED SOS beacon light, and 5-LED reading lamp.
Thomas Coyne, the owner and lead instructor at Thomas Coyne Survival Schools, loves the rugged and water-resistant Kaito Voyager Mas KA900. The granddaddy of them all, the KA900 is Bluetooth-enabled and has stereo speakers for excellent sound, as well as a built-in recorder. It can be powered by hand crank, solar panel, DC wall power adapter, (which is not included), a built-in 2,000 mAh li-ion rechargeable battery, and has a USB port. In addition to receiving AM, FM, and NOAA weather radio, it’s shortwave, which means it picks up broadcasts from around the world. “In an extreme global situation,” says Coyne, “an entire country may be off-grid, but someone, somewhere, will be broadcasting.” It has an extra sensitive antenna, flashlight and reading light, and backlight LCD screen with an alarm and countdown sleep timer.
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