Getting the best portable radio surely isn’t on most people’s daily shopping list. The majority of people will probably never even think of it. The concept itself sounds so 20th century in an era when consumers shy away even from things that sound “so 2000s”.
But preppers and survivalists know better than to conform to fads. They know that in life-threatening situations, analog can often beat the digital. If you’ve been through a single hurricane, you certainly know what I’m talking about.
But if you haven’t, here’s an in-depth guide that will teach you all you need to know about emergency radios. Plus, there are a few recommended options that offer most bang for your buck. It’s important to carefully sift through the best options since you don’t want this little aide to suddenly break on you and leave you in the lurch.
In all likelihood, you don’t need a portable emergency radio today. It isn’t very likely that you will need one tomorrow either.
Nevertheless, you should get one, and do it today. As with all things emergency-related, it’s best to buy them before you need them and not after.
Do I Really Need a Portable Radio in This Day and Age?
On the surface, this sounds like a legitimate question. Who needs to fiddle with bloody AM and FM frequencies and hand tune a device in the era of radio streaming and online broadcasting, where the only thing you need is a smartphone with an internet connection?
The answer is: everybody needs them. We haven’t gone so far as to discard the good ol’ radio technology too quickly. The internet will fail at one time or another – just like the power grid. It’s not a question of “if” but “when”. What will you do then? No information on current state of affairs, not to mention your favorite podcasts or Spotify! The only thing that is hard to fail are local and regional community and weather radio stations. But to take advantage of them, you need to have a compatible device.
In cases of hurricane or tornado strikes, or basically any other environmental catastrophes, that device will be the one informing you about the outside world. Maybe you’ve already made it to your bug out retreat. But you’ll still need to stay in the know with what happens outside of your shelter. When SHTF, learning the right information at just the right moment can make a difference between life and death.
Portable Radio vs. Police Scanner vs. Walkie Talkie – What’s the Difference?
There are many gadgets that can provide you with info in disaster scenarios. And all of them differ in their features, capacities, and purpose. A digital police scanner will let you catch and listen in to various frequencies coming from police, firefighters, and other forces that employ two-way radio communications. You can get a two-way radio (walkie-talkie) yourself, in case of a survival scenario where you may have to call for help.
A portable radio is none of these things. It will merely let you tune into the weather and radio stations. And listen to the carefully curated content. While it definitely lacks the versatility and dynamics of either of its two cousins, a traditional FM radio has its advantages.
The primary benefit that the two others lack is – fun. Wait, why do we even consider having fun in the context of disaster scenarios?
Because boredom is one of the cruellest enemies of your mental health when you’re locked in or locked down. When you’re stuck in between the hammer and the anvil of truths, half-truths and downright lies, all of which are equally debilitating, having some fun can virtually save your ass. Even if it’s just a lively piece of music you would never have added to your playlist, it will provide a welcome distraction from the doom, gloom and confusion.
The best way to use a radio as a survivalist is to combine it with a digital police scanner. That way, you will have access to both the officially broadcasted info, as well as the raw, unprocessed truth that rarely if ever makes it to public frequencies. You’ll want to keep informed about events as they happen, but also compare with the official interpretation. The differences between the two may be crucial to your very survival.
Additional Options to Look for in a Portable Radio
Apart from providing weather information and some fun, modern emergency portable radios offer quite a lot of functions in small packages.
And it only makes sense. In a disaster scenario, you’ll need something that works without access to the power grid. That’s why these radios often run on solar power, batteries, or winding up by hand. The best models combine all three power sources to keep you covered in almost any situation imaginable.
Light is another precious addition. Sure, you probably have a flashlight in your backpack, but it’s still nice to have an alternative.
Some of them even feature an SOS alarm, which is basically a sharp, siren-like sound that can direct the rescue team your way. A handy feature if you don’t have a whistle at hand, or enough strength to blow it.
Many emergency radios also have a USB port, so you can turn them into power banks and charge your devices. They won’t pop up a touchscreen keyboard so you can text your mom to let her know you’re fine. But they will feed your phone enough power to do it.
The Best Portable Radio – Our Top 5 Picks Reviewed
1. FosPower Emergency Solar Hand Crank Portable NOAA Weather Radio – Best Survival Radio
This thing is great on so many levels that I wouldn’t know which one to put first. What I do know, however, is that it’s hands down one of the best choices for all preppers and survivalists.
You can use it on and off the grid, as it runs on solar energy. What if there’s no sun? Just crank it by hand, of course! Or, if you prefer (or have at your disposal) fancier ways to charge it, you can use a micro USB or batteries. Some of that has got to work enough to keep your precious companion alive in the wild.
You can even use it to charge your phone through a USB port. The 2000 mAh is enough to charge almost any phone or even tablet. And it’s IPX-3 water-resistant, which means that it can withstand water sprays when it’s tipped up to 60 degrees. It won’t survive if you dip it in water, but it will stay alive and kicking during rain showers.
Another reason why this is an excellent survival radio is that it can turn into an SOS alarm if needed. Plus, it has an in-built flashlight and a LED reading light, in case your regular tools go out.
Last but not least, it’s dirt cheap for all the functionality it brings. All in all, it’s a must-have item for your bug out bag.
- Three power sources, two of which are regenerative: solar, hand crank, batteries
- Serves as an emergency radio, flashlight / LED light, phone charger, SOS alarm
- Decent frequency range for AM, FM, NOAA weather stations
- IPX-3 water-resistant
- Enough power capacity to serve as a power bank
- Sturdy and dependable
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Pretty cheap for what it offers
- It takes a lot of stamina to crank by hand
- No headphones jack
2. RunningSnail Solar Crank NOAA Weather Outdoor Radio – Best for SOS
This one is like a bit less powerful alternative for the mentioned FosPower portable radio. It’s very small, so it won’t take up much room in your bug out bag or backpack, yet sturdy enough to last pretty long. The size is the only department where it beats the bulkier FosPower.
A nice addition to the SOS alarm is the flashing red light. That could really make a hell of a difference in noisy situations where auditory signals don’t mean much.
- 3-in-1 functionality: emergency radio, flashlight / LED light, power bank for your phone
- Picks up AM, FM, as well as NOAA weather stations
- SOS alarm + a flashing red light
- Small enough to fit in a hand’s palm
- Reasonably priced
- Excellent customer support
- Some users claim that the solar and/or hand cranking takes too long to charge
- Hard to tune in some areas
3. Eton Rugged Multipowered Portable Emergency Weather Radio & Flashlight – Best Portable Radio for Camping
This little thing has all the basic functionality, but it’s also a pretty rugged item that will withstand much wear and tear. Another option that singles it out is that it’s water-resistant, which makes it a great tool for severe weather situations. It’s also an ideal companion for camping because, among other things, it also functions as a bottle opener. Not essential, far from terrible! Now that will make a difference for all fans of cold booze oozing with freshness on a hot summer day.
- Supports AM, FM, NOAA weather stations
- Multiple power sources (rechargeable lithium battery, hand crank, solar)
- Rugged little beast
- Among other functionalities, it also opens bottles
- It might be hard to break physically, but some customers complain that it stops working pretty fast
- Lousy customer service
4. Midland ER310 Emergency Crank Weather AM/FM Radio – Best Power Capacity
Apart from multiple power sources and multiple uses, this is probably the best portable radio if you need urgent help when there are rescue teams looking for you. That’s because it has an ultrasonic dog whistle, which is nearly inaudible to humans but very audible to dogs.
The 2600 mAh (Milliamp Hours) battery is more than any other radio offers on our list. To put it in simpler terms, it’s enough to last for up to 32 hours of use. Or to fully charge an iPhone 7, whereas an iPhone 7 Plus will stay a little bit hungry.
- The rechargeable 2600 mAh battery is capacious enough to feed your phone the full amount of energy in one charging
- Has a digital tuner and a battery life gauge
- Has an ultrasonic dog whistle
- Takes too long to hand crank or solar charge
5. RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank Self Powered AM/FM NOAA Solar Weather Radio – Best Budget Option
We’ve already seen this guy’s cousin – but what can you get for a bit lower price?
Three power sources – check. LED flashlight – check. AM and FM frequencies plus NOAA weather info? Check. Converts into a power bank? Check.
Okay, it doesn’t have a reading light, and the power capacity is twice as low. But the price matches these differences. Even if you don’t have a pleasant light source for flipping through your favorite dystopian novels, comics or handbooks, you’ll still have it for essential activities.
- Has a flashlight
- Worry-free 1-year warranty
- Great price/quality ratio
- Great customer support
- The flashlight isn’t very bright (although it does shine pretty long)
- Some customers complain that the solar charging doesn’t work for them