Survivalists, preppers, homesteaders, and those who want to be prepared for any emergency require a stable radio connection. Portable CB radios, also called handheld CB radios or walkie-talkies, are small devices that allow their owners to communicate using available channels or frequencies. These walkie-talkies can also catch the NOAA weather channels. They are found in almost any survival gear list and enhance convenience on the road by letting drivers listen to the radio and check the current road conditions — such transmissions help avoid traffic jams or car accidents, which is why CB radios are so popular among drivers.
In addition, these devices are preferable in emergencies. At least, that is what many users say. Of course, having a cell phone is great, but sometimes it is out of signal, and you cannot contact anyone in the external world. The compact CB radios were invented for these situations when your smartphone is useless because of low battery or lack of signal. Besides survival skills, some technical solutions are a helpful hand to rural and urban survivalists. CB radios, for one.
The CB abbreviation stands for a Citizens Band radio. Handheld CB radios vary based on certain features that make these exact radios different from others of the range. Some models gained popularity for their long service, others — for their signal quality. Getting such a transceiver remains to be a smart solution because if you look for a device for emergency communications, mobile phones are not always able to satisfy this need. Many of the compact CB radios are waterproof, which cannot be said about mobile phones. They have longer-serving batteries (many handheld CS radios can operate on the battery pack or rechargeable batteries). And generally speaking, they are cheaper — you pay once and use it for years, and you do not need to pay monthly fees for the mobile phone lines.
In this article, we will take a closer look at different models representing the handheld CB radio, or, in other words, a citizen’s band radio.
CB VS HAM
Pay attention — in the text, and we will focus primarily on the CB radios. Some people might be wondering if handheld CB radios and ham radios have much in common or not. Even though they both follow the same conception of audio transmission, these radios differ quite a lot.
First of all, an ordinary mobile CB radio found in many a survival sack usually uses AM frequencies to transmit messages from one user to another via a clear microphone and speakers. In contrast, a ham radio sticks to FM for this purpose. For better or for worse, users claim that FM frequencies have much clearer and cleaner transmission than AM do.
Besides, the antenna systems vary from radio to radio, and these two types of radios definitely have different antenna systems. To make the antenna function well on the CB radio, it has to be tuned very well. Unfortunately, it often takes quite a lot of time (and effort) to tune the antenna on a CB radio, and this might not be very pleasant. And, because the handheld CB radios operate only when they manage to connect two users (you have a radio and your friend has a radio of one complect — then you can communicate with each other), the antenna of your friend (or any other user) has to be tuned well too. So, even if you have a perfectly tuned antenna, you still might face difficulties communicating with others.
Now, let us consider some of the best CB radio options available on the market today.
Our top picks
There are many situations in which a handheld CB radio can come in handy, especially emergencies when cell towers may be out. There are various channels you can go to, and many people have a particular channel they choose ahead of time where they will “meet” friends and family for communication. Let us consider the best CB Radio options available on the market today.
1. Uniden 40-Channel CB Radio Review
The first radio we are going to look at is the Uniden 40-Channel Radio. This unit is perfect for long road trips when you might need to communicate with others. It features instant channel 9 settings so that you can dial up that emergency channel with ease.
The signal/RF power indicator lets you check the relative strength of incoming transmissions, which can tell you how close you are to the person you are talking to.
2. Cobra 29 LX 40-Channel CB Radio Review
Next is the Cobra 29 LX 40-Channel Radio. One of the most updated radios that Cobra offers, the specs include a stunning multicolor digital display, spanning the majority of the radio’s face offering information on the radio’s current channel, signal strength, SWR levels, and more. Since the display is so large, it can be seen with ease at night and set to blue, red, amber, or green as color options.
Another awe-inspiring feature of the Cobra 29 LX is its 10 NOAA weather channels with automatic scanning and alerts that will keep you up to date with any severe weather events that you might need to know about. Channel scanning allows you to scan for active channels while a range of diagnostic features provides information on RF power, battery voltage, and antenna condition.
This unit also has a PA capability as well as instant weather channel scanning, clock, timer, alarm, a nine-foot microphone cable, and a memory channel feature.
- Dimensions: 7.25 x 9.25 x 2.25 inches
- Weight: 5.6 pounds
- Features: Inst. channel 9, 19, and weather channels, memory channel, PA, Radio check diagnostic.
3. Midland 1001Z 40-Channel Radio Review
The Midland 1001Z 40-Channel Radio is a handy, affordable little unit that will do just what you need it to do. The 40-channel, 4-watt radio is perfect for first-time users as well as seasoned CB users alike. The CB/PA switch allows you to use the radio as a public address system when paired with an external speaker. Reception sensitivity is adjusted easily with the RF gain control and allows for clear emergency communications without any background noise. It is the perfect size to install in any car, truck, or RV.
Since four watts is the maximum wattage allowed by law for a radio, you can trust that you will have the most powerful one around with this unit for the best communication range.
This Midland is a great long-range radio.
- Dimensions: 5 x 7 x 2 inches
- Weight: 2 pounds
- Features: 4 watts of power, squelch and RF gain control, locking microphone connector, instant channel 9
4. Midland 75-785 40-Channel Handheld CB Radio Review
The Midland 75-785 40-Channel Handheld CB with an external antenna is a 7-watt input, 4-watt output handheld CB that features all 40 channels, just like a regular CB radio.
You can power this device with 9 AA batteries or the cigarette lighter DC adapter. The charge jack allows the NiCad batteries to be recharged without removing them from the device. This dependable little unit with an antenna features an automatic noise limiter as well as squelch control to allow for better reception and a lower background noise threshold.
The durability of this device allows you to take it just about anywhere since it is made of such a rugged construction. Even though it is smaller and handheld, the features are all still there, including the maximum 4 watts allowed by law, for great reception and range with the help of the antenna. The bright LED display allows you to see with ease the information displayed, and it also features a high/low power switch to trim power when you want to save your charge or your batteries.
- Dimensions: 7 x 2.25 x 2 inches
- Weight: .55 pounds
- Features: Small and handheld, 7-watt power in, 4-watt power out, 40 channels, different powering options, automatic noise limiter, and squelch control.
5. Cobra HH 38 WX ST 4-watt 40-Channel Device Review
Finally, we have a compact Cobra handheld CB radio. This is another handheld radio model, just like the Midland 75-785, but with a little more options. Along with all 40 channels of the CB, it also features 10 weather channels to keep you alert if there are emergency weather situations. The dual watch and full channel scan allow you to constantly scan for activity with a range of up to four miles or more. The high/low power switch can be used to reduce power consumption while the sound tracker system cuts noise by up to 90 percent, which is a great feature for a handheld radio for your convenience.
In addition, the Cobra HH comes with a belt clip, wrist strap, antenna, 12-volt cigarette lighter plug, and a handy operation manual.
- Dimensions: 2.5 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
- Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Features: Soundtracker system, NOAA weather and emergency radio, channel scan, dual watch, 4-watt power output, battery (9AA), or DC operation.
My Vote for Best Handheld Radio
My favorite pick of these five CB radios is the Cobra HH 38 WX ST radio. While it is a handheld, there are many places you can use this radio that you cannot use the mountable radios that stay in the vehicle. With this model, you can still use it inside a vehicle, but in the event that you need to exit that vehicle, you can take this communication device with you. This makes it a great hybrid radio: it can be a good radio for trucks or for campers and hikers. And since it has a four-mile range, you know that you can get in touch with someone from almost anywhere.
Unlike the other long-range handheld CB radio model that we looked at today, this one features the 10-channel weather and emergency radio that is built-in. That way, even if something doesn’t come across channels 9 or 19, you can still stay abreast of emergency and weather situations that could necessitate taking cover.
Of all the ones mentioned in this article, this would be the best across a wide variety of situations, so if you aren’t going to be mostly in a car, or mostly on foot, you might want to choose this one. It is a wonderful addition to a bug-out or EDC bag for quick access when you need it.
The Final Word
Now you have a deeper understanding of what the radios are, what features they might obtain, and which versions are the best on the market. But, for you to know, handheld CBs are not the only possible options. Basically, there are three main types of radios.
Types of radios
1. Handheld device
- Handheld devices are used to stay in touch while doing some active activities, like walking on a huge territory. These models are frequently used in such games as airsoft to communicate to other teammates or while hiking.
2. Mobile unit
- A mobile unit is a device that often has a plug-in antenna (or an external antenna) attached to your vehicle. Having an antenna increases your chances of catching better signals.
3. Base station
- People usually place base stations at home. This mechanism also has an external antenna that is usually located on the roof. An external antenna can turn out more beneficial in some cases.
However, before buying a radio, you have to consider several issues. Pay attention to the list below:
- An FCC license
Do you have such a license? If you do not, this is not a problem for people who intended to buy a CB. But, if you are a “ham-fan,” you will have to go get the license first.
- Reasons why
Just because the citizen band radios are rather popular, some people get them simply because of the herd instinct. Of course, it is not prohibited to obtain one or more devices, but to avoid useless spendings, think if you need a radio or not. Do you drive a car? Do you play team games on large territories? Do you have kids to stay in touch with them on the walk? How often do you actually leave the house? Answer these questions to understand if this purchase can satisfy your needs.
- Radio type
When you realize that you definitely have to get a radio, choose the one that will meet your expectations in the best way. Should it be a mobile unit? Or maybe the handheld device will be the best option?
Finally, when you define the type you need, think of the features you would like your device to have. Should it have a front mount mic or an Omni-directional microphone? What about the power cord? Having a fixed power level, which distances would you like it to cover? How many channels would you like to be able to scan? Does it have an antenna for better signals? All features matter — small pieces of the puzzle create a unified picture.
Instead Of The Conclusion
In the modern world, many of us rely on cell phones. The majority of them are already “smart” — smartphones — they have access to the Internet, you can get any information you might need in seconds, you can contact your relatives and friends easier than decades ago. But, in the case of emergencies, the smartphones might not be working at all. The battery might run out, the phone might be drowned in the water, or the phone signal might just not get through.
How can you stay in touch with your family or friends? What should you use? Small signals are quite outdated, do not you think so? Luckily, now you do have a solution. Getting a CB radio for you and your loved ones might be one of the smartest decisions you have ever made.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the range of a handheld CB radio?
When choosing a CB radio, you might get lost because of the variety of ranges these devices can provide you with. In general, you can count on a one-mile range for your radio between your vehicle and the vehicle of your partner. But, if you add an external antenna, you might increase the range significantly. For instance, some handheld CB devices might guarantee the range of three miles, whereas more advanced radios come with the range of up to 20 miles.
How much do CB radios cost?
You can count on a working compact radio if you are ready to pay at least 100 dollars for the device. The cheapest nicely working CBs cost approximately 70 dollars. Usually, the relationship is direct: the more expensive the radio is, the more advanced and high-quality it is. Some of the professional radio representatives might cost up to 1000 dollars. Usually, the more necessary basics the radio includes, the higher its price. Try to pick the radio with an external antenna, a built-in SWR meter, a dual watch function, a belt clip, if possible.
What are CB radios good for?
People widely operate portable CBs for different purposes. Such a radio is a nice helper in traveling, and it can connect you to an NOAA weather channel for you to “stay in touch” with the current conditions. Depending on the range the radio can provide, you can talk to other users, which your device can access. Switching from channel to channel, you can get information to avoid car accidents or traffic jams. That is why the “CB world” remains to be so popular even nowadays.
What are the main differences between CBs and Ham radios?
Ham radios and CBs have different power capabilities. Usually, a handheld ham can function just as well as your full-powered CB in the car.
But, CBs remain to be a popular choice among drivers for two key reasons. First of all, you do not need an FCC (Federal Communication Commission) license to obtain a CB radio, and a ham radio does require such license. Second of all, CBs are considered to be cheaper versions, and this characteristic is usually of great value. You can get a handheld CB radio to talk to your friends or other drivers on the road and stay connected to this “CB world.”