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A good emergency radio that can be run on a variety of power sources is something you should consider adding to your preps, so you can stay informed and entertained.
In this post, I have attempted to throw a few ideas out there for affordable, best prepper radios to add to your setup. Just keep in mind, we won’t be covering MURS or Ham radio systems.
Criteria For A Good Emergency Radio
Before you head out and buy a radio, you should know what to look for. Use the following criteria as a guide before making a purchase.
An emergency radio needs to have little demand in terms of power consumption. It is best if there is some way to have a renewable energy source like a hand crank or a solar panel built-in. If you have a battery-powered radio then go for one that takes AA or AAA batteries since they are the most common battery sizes and easier to find. It is also easy to store some rechargeables and keep them topped off with a solar battery charger for use in multiple devices.
Some radios have a NOAA weather band, AM/FM, shortwave, and a public alert band while others may have only one or two of these features. Make sure to read the fine print so you know what bands you are getting for your money. Personally, I don’t care about AM frequencies but the other bands may all be quite nice to have in a major emergency or when hacking it out in the bush.
Like any electronic device you can pay a little or a lot and while there is some truth to the saying “You get what you pay for”, sometimes this is not the case. Just look at the cost of cell phones. My $30 Smartphone from Virgin Mobile was left out in the vineyard and went through rain and animals grazing for a month and it still works. Try that with a $600 iPhone and see how that turns out! When it comes to the best emergency radios for preppers, you really don’t need to spend more than $30-$80 to get a multi-purpose unit.
A speaker can only do so much and the same goes for an antenna. You may also want to be able to put your radio in a smaller pocket on a pack or you may simply be pressed for space because you are prepping while renting or have to travel a lot. Some radios are not much bigger than what will fit in your hand and they have a lot of function but the speaker is going to be small.
If you think radio might be part of your SHTF entertainment or are going to be sharing with the family then either have a compatible speaker or get a slightly larger radio. Remember that the more powerful the speaker, the more power it is going to consume. For units with solar panels or cranks at least you have a few options for keeping it going.
Display and Tuning
There is a bit of a debate about digital versus manual tuning. I will say that digital has the advantage of being easy and precise. On the other hand, digital tuners have a tendency to not last as long as manual ones. Digital displays and tuners are more complicated to make and have more components. I had a really good shortwave radio that worked well for many years but the first thing to mess up was the digital tuner. The buttons got stuck and would not stop when I wanted them to.
Digital displays often include a clock and you can set an alarm, while most radios with manual tuning are just that, radios, no clocks included. Remember that during an emergency or SHTF scenario, the cell phone and computer clocks we rely on might not be available for all or any of the time.
Reception can be affected by a lot of different things. Plenty of people use wires to make longer antennas to get a bigger signal. My Dad would run a copper antenna to the top of the house when I was a kid.
Trying to get a signal in a house with a metal roof or that has a lot of barriers in your line of sight can be a problem.
There is also the fact that some stations are simply broadcasting a stronger signal so you are going to pick them up better than others regardless of other factors.
If you want an extra antenna then I advise buying a kit. They are inexpensive and so easy to order now. No need to put one together yourself! If you do find yourself in a SHTF situation you can strip some scavenged wire and strip the ends to attach to your antennae.
Wayl Emergency Radio
This radio offers many different options for power! It is hard to imagine how you could not keep this radio going in a major situation!
- Dimensions: 7.4″x3.9″x2.7″
- Weight: 1.2lb
This radio features a 4000 maH power bank so you can keep your cell phone or other small device topped off. The radio charges fully off of solar in around 24 hours but can charge in less time depending on the level of light.
The radio itself can run for a full 12 hours on a single charge. This is pretty good especially considering that if the panel is collecting solar energy you are probably going to get more charge while listening during the day.
When solar is not available you can also run this radio off 3 AAA batteries. The hand-cranking option for charging works at a rate of 1 minute of cranking rapidly for 30 minutes of flashlight usage or 15-20 minutes of radio. Oh and you can charge it up via USB too!
Radio and Mp3
7 NOAA weather bands keep you informed of conditions whereas the AM/FM keeps you informed on other matters.
Tuning is manual but everything is easy to read.
This device is great for those that want to listen to their music or shows. You can use a USB stick with audio stored on it and listen to whatever you want. This means this radio has a lot of potential for entertainment during an emergency situation. Some audiobooks or music could help improve morale, and if you’re listening solo, you can spare the double speakers and use headphones instead. You can also use a TF (Class 10) card.
The radio does not have a shortwave band but other than that it has a lot to offer.
Extra light is always nice and it is even better when you have so many options to charge it up. The 20-lumen reading light can be angled or you can use the 100-lumen flashlight features. You can get up to 40 hours of light on a full charge.
There is an SOS alarm feature if you need to draw attention or even scare off wildlife.
Kaito KA500 5-way
- Dimensions: 8.3 x 2.3 x 5.3 inches
- Weight: 1.8 lb
Kaito is a name you see a lot in emergency radios. They make a wide variety of styles with various features. This radio will appeal to those that like a more retro radio. You are going to have to turn and adjust some dials to get anywhere with this one. That being said there is the advantage that dials are reliable and last a long time.
The Kaito has a built-in battery that can be charged in a variety of ways. It can be hand-cranked or run on the included solar panel, charged on USB, or through a separate AC adaptor. If the battery runs out, three AA batteries can also be used and can be a nice backup.
If you need to charge a small device like a cell you can use the radio as a power bank. While solar is enough, the hand crank option is recommended.
This radio offers all the bands you could ask for. From 7 NOAA bands for the weather to your classic AM/FM to shortwave, you are covered. The manual tuning can be a bit frustrating for those used to digital but it gets the job done.
This radio does not offer as much light as some but it does have a reading light which can be helpful during those evenings during an emergency or even just when camping out.
The American Red Cross FRX3+ Emergency Weather Radio
- Dimensions: 5 3/4″ H x 7″ W x 2 2/3″ D
- Weight: 1.25 lb
The American Red Cross seems to use the well-known Eton brand to make their emergency radios. I have one of the emergency hand-cranked LED flashlights and battery banks from their line and it works well. This radio is a space-efficient cube with a solar panel on the top as well as a hand crank for charging in an emergency where electricity is scarce or non-existent.
Digital LED Display and Clock
For those that like a nice bright LED display and digital tuning, this emergency radio is a great option. The display lights up for great visibility during an emergency. It is nice to have a clock so you can time things and keep better track during an SHTF scenario.
The overall design of this radio makes it very packable and easy to fit into a small compartment. It is also easy to pick up, hang in a tree, or just sit down. I like stable devices that offer versatility and this delivers.
Solar Hand Crank Emergency Radio
- Dimensions: 7″ x 4″ x 2.7″
- Weight: 1.4 lb
I have a soft spot for these classic little survival boom boxes! On top of their small size, they have a lot of functionality for your dollar.
The solar and hand crank charging options sure are handy and mean you can keep this going in a dire situation. The dual speakers produce strong sound but you can use a set of headphones if you want.
Bonus Paracord Bracelet
This radio comes with a few other things that are attached to a paracord bracelet. You get an emergency whistle, compass, and firestarter flint. I can see how this might be a good gift for a beginning prepper or younger person that likes to get out on the trail sometimes too!
A 2000 mAH battery provides some power for your cell or e-reader during an emergency. I am one of those that would care more about keeping some entertainment than my cell going. I am rarely on the phone so during SHTF I find it unlikely that I will use a phone much during a major situation.
On a single charge, you can expect 15 hours of lighting or 6 hours of radio. When it comes to charging up your cell you can use the hand crank for 1 minute to gain 3-5 minutes of talk time which should be plenty to let others know your situation!
Kaito Voyager Pro KA600
- Dimensions:9 ½ x 5 ½ x 2 ½ inches
- Weight: 1 lbs
This Kaito is a grade up from the previous model we talked about in this post. This model features an illuminated digital display and comes in a variety of colors. I can see that sometimes a brighter color might be good for visibility but some may want a color that blends in.
This is a very high-grade emergency radio that will stand the test of time.
One of the critical points I have read about is that this radio is lightweight and seems more like a kid’s toy. Well, I have to chime in and say that this is a common complaint from those that have not bought a radio in a while and think that quality items should be heavy. Years ago it was absolutely true that radios were heavy but a lot of work has gone into making them light and easy to carry.
The Kaito can be powered using the included solar panel or hand cranking. You can also use an AC charger when there is reliable electricity. The battery pack that is included is replaceable if you find it is not holding a charge as well as it used to.
The Kaito can be used as a battery bank for charging cell phones and such. Customers recommend using the hand crank for charging up your phone.
If you want a radio that offers all the different bands then this is an option. This radio also supports radio data so the digital display can offer more info such as what is playing. There is also 355 memory slots so you can program in your favorites for easy listening later on.
Flashlight and Reading Lamp
Kaito says the reading lamp is 5 LEDs and adjustable. The flashlight is supposed to be very bright.
Crane CC Solar Observer Wind Up Radio
- Dimensions: 7.25″ W x 5.5″ H x 2″ D
- Weight: 1 lb
Discussing radios without including CC Crane is almost impossible. This is a classically styled little radio with a handy carry handle.
You can charge this radio up with the hand crank or use the solar panel. If the radio is allowed to charge in full sun for 8 hours you can get 4-6 hours of radio playtime. That means you could listen to the radio a lot during the evenings and just be using solar.
Of course, the hand crank allows you to maintain power for longer or help charge the radio when there is little sunlight, 90 seconds of cranking allows for 12 minutes of radio play.
The battery pack that is included should be “cycled” every 4-6 months for best results according to CC Crane. This just means you should get your radio out every once in a while and top off the battery so it is ready for a full charge when you need it.
You can also use 3 AA alkaline batteries for backup or just when you don’t want to fool around with solar or hand cranking.
Batttery Bank Charging
CC says that you can expect to get 40 minutes of talk time off of a full charge from the battery bank. Of course, if you crank the handle you won’t deplete your power bank too fast and you can listen to your radio too.
This radio has the basic bands and no shortwave. I like that it at least has a weather radio feature. To me in most survival situations, the weather radio feature is more important than shortwave.
There is a small light on this radio that would be okay in an emergency but should not be considered a total main flashlight replacement.
Analog Radio Portable Shortwave Transistor
- Dimensions: 4.9 x 2.9 x 1 in
- Weight: Around 5 ounces!
This is a really basic little receiver that I wanted to include for those that want something very affordable, compact, and that includes a shortwave listening band. This is a radio that you are going to need to use batteries or an AC adaptor but for some this may not be a problem.
It just takes 2 AA batteries and that gives you a lot of time. If you have a little solar battery charger then you shouldn’t have much problem keeping this little radio going. It will literally fit in your pocket and the antennae it comes with is decent and you could easily attach a wire and make a more extensive antenna.
Sangean MMR-88 Radio
- Dimensions: 5.98 x 2.71 x 3.3 in
- Weight: 0.86 lbs
My Dad has always been really into radio and he had a few Sangeans he was happy with. When looking into survival radios I found this ruggedly built affordable option. I like how this has tough exterior housing and the bright color makes it easy to find even in darker conditions.
You can choose between solar, hand cranking, or USB. Remember that you can get AC to USB adaptors that would allow you to charge this through a standard power outlet too if that is something you are interested in.
This radio has the distinguishment of being a Public Alert Certified radio so it will give you warnings if there is bad weather coming.
There is not much stated about how fast you can charge a small device but using USB you can charge things like your phone. The charging capabilities are listed as 5 watts and 0.3 amps out.
Clock and Emergency Buzzer
The bright LED display features a clock but you also have a buzzer for making some noise when you need it.
The flashlight is bright and features a lot of different light modes like blinking, morse code, and SOS, high, and low.
This radio keeps it simple with just the basic bands most people want. 19 presets allow you to tune in to your favorite stations with ease.
One thing I would like to point out about this radio is that there is a cover to keep dirt and debris out of your USB and other ports. It can be hard to keep those clean so I am glad the manufacturer thought of that.
Shortwave and MURS Radio System
Alas, I can only fit so much in a single post. and this post was meant to provide some options for those that want a general radio for information, weather alerts, and entertainment. For those that want more information on the MURS and shortwave or ham radio systems, I encourage you to check out the following previous posts.
Why Preppers Need A Ham Radio License and How To Get One
Having More Than One Type of Radio Might Be the Best Answer
The best emergency radios in this post are very affordable. Sometimes you may want a different type of radio than others. The radios I discussed in this post, for example, are not for communicating with others which is why I encourage you to look at more types than those in this post.
Having several radios for your household is a good idea. The special features like light and charging up phones and other small devices can make it a bit more bearable for each person to get through an emergency.
Do you have a favorite radio? Have you found that multiple radio types are best for your situation? I would also be interested in hearing from anyone that has actually had to rely on the solar and hand crank charging methods for at least a few days
14 Responses to “Best Emergency Radios for Prepping & Survival”
When I was a kid and FM was in it’s infancy you could occasionally pick up AM stations from the other side of the globe but that was infrequent as the atmospheric conditions had to be just right. AM traveled long distances because it is bounced off of the stratosphere(?) and can if strong enough re-bounce off calm water. Where as FM is pretty much a line of sight thus a much shorter distance signal. Since AM has to travel so much farther it requires a much stronger (higher wattage) signal, so the chances of the necessary electricity being available during a SHTF situation is questionable. Also if the SHTF situation is perpetrated on purpose by undesirables, then any short wave (HAM) transmissions will likely be of very short duration and from ever changing locations and probably at a different location on your dial, as the sender will try to avoid being located by undesirables tracking the transmission location.
The nice thing about AM bands is that at night you can pick up broadcasts from far away. (My personal record is getting a California station in Virginia, just once, but it’s not unusual to hear stations several hundred miles away.) In the case of a major emergency that might come in handy if it becomes especially important to hear news from well outside your local area.
(Just now looking over older comments and saw that the distance idea was already covered, and not politely. I’m really not here to name-call or start an argument. 🙂 )
Who wrote this a 5 year old. You don’t care much for am, really considering it travels several hundred to even thousands of miles. Great for survival.
Never heard of bigger signal. Longer antennas usually allow for reception of lower frequencies which travel further.
Dont count on NOAA in a severe situation. It will be private radio stations providing the vital information. Case in point ice storm of 98, Federally funded radio station was OTA. But WVOM the voice of Maine a private station stayed on the air the entire time.
Sorry to upset you so much with a personal opinion. For me, AM is not something I consider crucial for a radio. I realize that others may feel differently. It never ceases to amaze me how manners go out the door over such a small thing. Yes, I am 35 years old but I do not think it is okay to insult others over differences in opinion. You could have stated your opinion without that. Different opinions help us all learn and think about things but starting out with an insult doesn’t encourage others to read on and see what you have to say. Regardless, thanks for reading and offering your input.
Well said. I don’t know if people think that they are smart or entertaining or just plain don’t know better, but good manners are going the way of the dodo, extinct. Keep up the good work, I enjoy your posts, even if I don’t totally agree with them. I take what I can use and leave the rest, as should all.
If your goal is to gather serious intel from the high frequency bands, your budget needs to be in the several hundred to a couple of thousand, because survival radios can’t pick up all of the bands where the signals might be, nor do they have the high selectivity and sensitivity that will be required to receive relatively low powered amateur radio or regional shortwave broadcasts.
If you are serious, you need to look for radios sold by amateur radio equipment retailers instead of those advertised on shortwave radio stations.
When it comes to this kind of radio, my thoughts are K.I.S.S. Don’t have a lot of “Gee Gaws” and “Thingamabobs” on it. AM/FM/WB/SW and Solar power is the max I want. No cranks, no USB chargers, no flashlights etc.
None of the shortwave radios mentioned (as far as I could tell) have sideband reception. Why is this important in an emergency radio? Because that is precisely what HAM radio operators broadcast on (because much less power is required to do so). Without the ability to tune upper/lower sideband, HAM radio is unintelligible/garbled chipmunk sounding on “regular” (AM) shortwave. In the event of a worldwide disaster if you try to glean what you can via HAM without sideband reception, you will be SOL.
This is an omission that is typical when discussing emergency/disaster prep radios. Grundig and Kaito sell some starting in the $100 range, sometimes a little under that.
I didn’t mention it in my earlier comment, but the GP-5/SSB DOES have a true USB/LSB single-sideband demodulation mode, and have heard hams and CW very clearly with the telescoping whip antenna. I’ve patched my 80m dipole into the external antenna port, and found that it was competitive with my Kenwood HF transceiver in many situations (not better, but good enough).
Some pocket-portable SW receivers have an SSB setting which is just a BFO, but this has true sideband.
Sportsman Guide has a radio that has all the good features and members get a very good price.
I like that you included a radio that doesn’t “look like” or fall into the disaster radio category. I only have one electronic device with a hand crank, all the rest require batteries. So it makes logical sense to focus on charging units that can accept multiple inputs if there’s no AC. A charging unit allows flexibility to choose any radio you like. Great information, thanks Gaye.
Take a look at the CountyComm GP-5/SSB. It’s smaller and lighter than any of the radios listed here, so it can fit in any go-kit. It takes 3 AA cells, and includes an internal charging circuit. External power is provided (if needed), through a mini-USB connector. It doesn’t tune the weather channels, but covers AM through 30 MHz (shortwave), plus the full range of international FM broadcasting (somewhat wider than US-only).
A good radio in your pocket is better than a great radio back in the closet.
(I have no financial interest in the company.)
I completely concure with this. I have one and it’s the best (smallest) radios that covers many bands and even does SSB and does it well! For $90, you really can’t get better.