The 7 Best Two Way Radios (FRS/GMRS) in 2019 Review and FCC Updates

Two Way Radios Buying Guide and FCC Updates

I personally called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clear up a lot of confusion regarding the important FCC radio updates that took place last year to FRS/GMRS radios. On this page, I’ll cover what I learned, the difference between FRS and GMRS, and share with you my favorite two-way radios.

Having a reliable means of long-range communication is handy for many applications, whether it be for your business, hunting, camping trips, a cruise, prepping for emergencies, or other outdoor activities.

Covering the Basics

GMRS stands for General Mobile Radio Service and FRS stands for Family Radio Service.

Both GMRS and FRS frequencies are set aside by the FCC with fewer restrictions than other frequencies. Many of the frequencies overlap for interoperability, so, for example, when you buy a GMRS radio you’ll still be able to communicate with FRS radios on certain channels. GMRS Radios are higher power two-way radios and have increased range capabilities.

What is the Difference Between a FRS and GMRS Radio?

An FRS radio does not require a license, while a GMRS radio does, but don’t worry, getting a GMRS license is simple. There is no test required to get your license. You’ll need to apply and pay a fee (around 70 dollars) to the FCC. A GMRS license is now valid for 10 years. When you get your license, you will be assigned a call sign, which you must use to self-identify when operating on a GMRS frequency at least once every 15 minutes, not doing so could lead to a fine (although unlikely, see more details below).

So, What Exactly is a GMRS Radio?

A GMRS is a land mobile FM UHF radio service specifically designed for two way radio communication. They are usually portable, handheld, and mobile radios that are much like the more common FRS radios and walkie talkies. GMRS two way radios are more commonly used for commercial purposes, however, they’re still used by many civilians and are popular among the hunting, outdoor, and prepper community because of their long-range capabilities. For most people, FRS radios will meet their range needs, so I list a few that do not require a license no matter what below.

Is a GMRS Radio Overkill?

Not really, more range is always better, but they generally cost a little more and require a license to operate on GMRS channels and interstitial channels above specific power thresholds, so if FRS radio capabilities meet your needs then that’s probably your best bet.

Important 2017 FCC Radio Update (Things you should know)

Before I get into the legalities of these radios, do note that the FCC does update their guidelines from time to time. I recommend referring to their website for the latest information (I will provide links), but as of September 8th, 2018, this information is all up to date.

Some previously FRS/GMRS hybrid radios are now considered FRS

Previously considered GMRS/FRS hybrid radios are now considered FRS with expanded capabilities so long as they do not operate with more than 2 watts ERP, do not have a detachable antenna, and do not operate on repeater channels 467.5500, 467.5750, 467.6000, 467.6250, 467.6500, 467.6750, 467.7000, and/or 467.7250 MHz (most don’t). These radios are now considered FRS and no longer require a license to operate. I called the FCC to verify even if you have a 5-watt radio that is repeater capable you do not need a license if you stay off GMRS only channels and set the power on your radio to stay below the frequency and power settings. I have a link to the power table on the FCC website below.

You can also check out this guide by the FCC on 2 way radio rules here.

So, if you’re someone who really doesn’t need the range capabilities of a high power GMRS radio and don’t want to worry about needing a license or messing with power settings, a previously FRS/GMRS Hybrid radio that has a max power under 2 watts may be a good solution. They have some pretty good range and don’t require a license anymore. I’ll show you some good ones below.

Expanded FRS and GMRS Radio Channels and Usage

The FCC radio changes increased the number of FRS frequencies from 15 to 22. FRS radios are authorized to use up to 2 watts effective radiated power on FRS 462 frequencies (channels 1-7), and on the new shared 462 MHz frequencies (Channels 15-22). FRS radios can transmit on channels 7-14 so long as they stay below an effective radiated power (ERP) of 0.5 watts. You can see the FRS frequencies and power table on the FCC website here.

GMRS now has 22 FRS/GMRS channels and 8 repeater channels. Previously FRS only 467 MHz frequency channels (Channels 8-14) can now be used by GMRS radios so long as they stay within the same technical limits allowed by FRS radios. Also, FRS frequencies can now legally be used for business or personal use.

The FCC changes increase the number of interstitial channels and increase interoperability between the two types of radios. Refer to the table to easily view the list of GMRS channels compared to FRS.

GMRS Radio FCC Radio License Update

With the 2017 FCC radio license update, many GMRS radio rules are the same, but some have changed. GMRS capable radios still require a license to operate and should have the

The FCC increased the license term from 5 to 10 years and now allows for the transmission of limited data applications like text messages and GPS signals.

To apply for a GMRS radio license you must be 18 years or older. If you have a GMRS license it extends to the other members of your family and allows them to operate within your license, so if you’re using the radio for a family business or other purpose they’re covered. The FCC will grant a GMRS license to individuals only, not corporations other group entities.

GMRS vs FRS Radio Range Capabilities

The short answer is with most GMRS radios you can expect a range anywhere between 10 and 35 miles. A lot of radios advertise their max range in big bold letters, but don’t be fooled, these are best case scenario projections. Typically, the range is decreased due to several factors (see below). For FRS only you can expect about a 2-mile range.

The long answer is FRS and GMRS range capabilities differ depending on the unit.

External factors that affect range include:

  • Signal and power settings have a great influence on the range. Two way radios operating on lower frequencies tend to travel farther but can be blocked easier. Higher UHF frequencies typically don’t travel as far but can pass around obstacles easier.
  • Terrain is another factor. If the terrain has fewer obstructions like mountains between the radios the signal will travel a lot farther. Being at a higher elevation like on a mountain or range can greatly increase range.
  • Obstructions decrease the range of GMRS radios because they typically operate on line of sight, meaning they can travel as far as they can “see” one another.
  • Antenna length is a huge factor. The antenna is the part of the radio that converts radio signals into electrical signals the radio can understand. Most of us have played with a radio and noticed the difference in signal strength just by collapsing or expanding the antenna.
  • Atmospheric conditions like humidity, rain, snow, and other factors influence range.

9 Considerations When Choosing a Two Way Radio

  • Range or the max distance the radios can communicate with one another.
  • Features are important depending on what you’re using them for. Whether you’re prepping for a SHTF situation or using the radio for another outdoor application, you’ll want to make sure the 2-way radio has the right features. I’ll list the features of each radio below.
  • Weight and Size are important factors especially if you’re looking for a portable GMRS radio for backpacking. We all know that ounces quickly turn to pounds.
  • Waterproofing is important if you’re planning on taking the radio outside. Weather can be unpredictable at times so it’s a good idea to get a waterproof radio.
  • Repeater capable radios allow the device to re-transmit frequency at a higher wattage for better reception and greatly increases the range.
  • Weather alerts give you important weather updates.
  • Bluetooth capabilities allow you to pair your radio to a headset. This is especially useful if you don’t want everyone to hear your transmissions or are planning on using the radio mounted. 
  • Battery capacity is another important component that determines how long the radio will last on a single charge.
  • User reviews can help learn what people like and dislike about certain radios

Here is a List of the Best Two Way Radios in 2019

1. BTECH V1 Hand Held Radio (GMRS Repeater Capable)

Btech V1 Hand Held Radio

Note: This is a GMRS repeater capable radio and can transmit above 2 watts if you are operating without a license be 100 percent sure you stay on FRS/GMRS interstitial channels within ERP limits set by the FCC (see the link to FCC website channel and power limits at top of the page). I do recommend buying a license just in case you need it, or accidentally mess up your power settings.

Max Range: Not specified but realistically around 15-35 miles.

My Review: The GMRS-V1 by the BTECH might just be the best GMRS Radio (repeater capable) for the money. I recommend it to a lot of people because it is a great radio for the money. The V1 has been updated to meet the new rules by the FCC and has all 30 possible channels (23 GMRS and eight repeater channels) for GMRS radios. It comes with dual-band channel receiver and can transmit on with a repeater.

The V1 is an easy to use radio with excellent range and battery capacity (can last a few days on a single charge depending on how frequently it is used). It has an FM radio that can play while you monitor up to 2 channels.

Here is a video review I found on YouTube that I think you might find valuable.

Potential cons:

  • License required for certain frequencies (need to pay attention)
  • Channel search could be faster
  • Few color choices

Key Features:

  • GMRS/FRS capable
  • Repeater capable
  • Built in flashlight
  • 50 privacy codes
  • 1800mAh rechargeable lithium ion battery with charger
  • V-85 Dual band antenna (removable)
  • Earpiece kit and belt clip included

2. Midland FRS/GMRS Radio (Great for Hunting)

Midland Long Range Two Way Radios

Note: Pay attention to channel and power settings if you do not have a GMRS radio license. A license is required to operate on GMRS specific channels or FRS/GMRS interstitial channels above max ERP guidelines set by the FCC (see link near the top of page for a link to the table on FCC’s website). I called the FCC to verify this.

Max Range: Advertised up to 36 miles

Here is a good video I found. I think it’s actually made by Midland but someone randomly uploaded it on their YouTube Channel.

My Review: If you’re looking for the best two way radios for hunting or day trips the Midland GXT1050VP4 is a good option. I say day trips because one of the major weaknesses of this radio is the battery life, but it’s a solid radio for day trips. If you’re planning on using it for multiple day trips just make sure you have a way to charge the battery or bring AA batteries. It also comes with 5 animal call alerts and has a vibrate feature to silence all tones, which is obviously nice when you’re hunting.

The radio is listed as a 50 channel GMRS radio, but it really only has 24 GMRS channels, and it is not repeater capable. The other 26 channels are FRS only, which is fine but can be misleading to some. It’s also advertised as having a 36-mile range, which it might under ideal conditions, but realistically you won’t get anywhere near that range because of factors that affect signal strength listed above.

I recommend getting a license for these radios, but legally you can operate these radios on channels 1-7 and 15-22 with the “M” Power setting enabled (puts the radios under 2 watts), and channels 7-14 if you stay below the updated max output (0.5 watts) power standards set by the FCC. However, the manual says a license is required for this radio (possible hasn’t been updated since the 2017 changes). Do note that the channel and power setting the radios are set on out of the box require a license, so I would just save yourself the stress and apply for GMRS license if you plan to use these radios. Who knows, you might end up needing the increased range anyway. Like they always say, “it’s better to have and not need than need and not have.”

Potential cons:

  • Less than exceptional battery life
  • Not repeater capable
  • Batteries can be overcharged

Key Features:

  • Simple power output settings (Low, Med, High)
  • Vibrate feature to silence all tones
  • 2 Boom mic headsets and belt clips included
  • Comes with Rechargeable batteries and also compatible with any AA batteries
  • Waterproof
  • Desktop chargers and AC/DC adapters
  • NOAA weather scan and alerts
  • Available in Camouflage and several other color schemes

3. BaoFeng BF-F8HP Radio (Best Range)

BeoFeng 8 Watt 2-Way GMRS Radio

Note: This radio has high power capabilities and can operate on frequencies that require a license, so if you don’t have a license be sure to stay on FRS/GMRS interstitial channels within max ERP settings set by the FCC (see link to FFC table at top of page for more info)

Max range: Not specified but realistically 25+ miles

Here is a very detailed review I found on YouTube that you might find valuable.

My Review: In my opinion, this is the best two-way radio for the money on this list. Honestly, its range capabilities are overkill for a lot of people, but if you are someone who really cares about range and power this is the radio I recommend.

With 8-watt max power output, this 2-way radio has some great range. They BaoFeng company made some great improvements on a previous model (UV-5R) that give this radio a 30 percent larger battery and a lot of other significant upgrades.

Potential cons:

  • High power so you need to be cautious about power/channel settings
  • Charger cable is cheaply made
  • Only one color available

Key Features:

  • High gain dual band 7” antenna
  • Power output settings 8W (high) /5W (medium)/1W (low)
  • List Item #3
  • 2000 mAh Battery
  • Ear Piece, desktop charger and battery charger Included

4. Arcshell Long Range Walkie Talkies

Arcshell Long Range Two Way Walkie Talkies

Max range: Advertised as 5 miles under optimal conditions, but 2 miles is more realistic.

My Review: These portable 2-way radios by the Archshell company are a great value and highly rated.

They have a lot of notable features like VOX function, an emergency alarm, built-in LED flashlight, High and lower power selector, and battery save function.

They might just be the best two-way radios for the money. To operate on a UHF frequency range between 400-470MHz and come with a mechanical 16 position channel setting selector. If you are operating without a license be sure to double check your channel and power settings (I have a link to FCC website with legal limits at the top of the page). If you want to be sure you stay within power limits I recommend setting the radio to lower power mode with the power selector.

The radios have rechargeable 1500 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that last for up to 96 hours on a single charge.

Potential cons:

  • Lower range capabilities than advertised
  • Battery capacity is ok but not great
  • Only available in black

Key Features:

  • Rechargeable batteries equipped with overcharge protection
  • 16 pre-programmed settings with rotating mechanical selector
  • List Item #3
  • Exceptionally loud and clear sound
  • Comes with earpieces
  • No license required if stay within FCC guidelines for power/channel rules.
  • Long range capable (advertised as 5 miles)
  • RF power output of 3 watts

5. Midland 2-way Radio for Hunting

Midland 2-way Radio for Hunting

Note: Be sure to stay within FCC rules and power/channel limits if operating without a GMRS license.

Max Range: Up to 36 miles (although realistically considerably less)

Here is a good video that provides an overview of the radio’s features.

My Review: Midland makes some of the most popular 2-way radios out there and this is one of there best sellers. The 50- channel GMRS capable radio is advertised as having a max range of 36 miles under optimal conditions.

This is another good set that can be used as long-range walkie talkies for hunting, cruises, fishing, or other outdoor activities. They can operate on the included rechargeable batteries or with AA batteries. I like that they can operate on AA batteries because they’re cheap and you can throw some emergency batteries in your pack if you are planning on using this as a portable or mobile radio.

Potential cons:

  • Realistic max range is below advertised
  • Lower than industry standard battery life

Key Features:

  • SOS siren
  • 22 GMRS and 28 additional channels
  • Privacy codes to block out other conversations
  • JIS4 Waterproof
  • Weather Scan and call alerts
  • Vibrate alerts and silent operation
  • High/medium/low power settings

6. Retevis RT27 License Free Radios (Best FRS Set)

Retevis RT27 Walkie Talkies

Note: FCC certified license free set

Max Range: Not specified

My Review: If you’re looking for long range walkie talkie radios that don’t require a license these Retevis RT27 radios are a great option. These are a great option for businesses or personal use. They sell larger radio sets as well, I think you can get a 10 or 20 radio pack right on Amazon. They are FCC certified license free, so you don’t have to worry about breaking the FCC radio rules and regulations.

They have 210 privacy codes to block out other conversations.

One weakness of these radios is the battery life. You can’t expect multiple days of use on a single charge. With their radios, you can expect a battery life of between 10-12 hours, which is fine for most people. Although they do have some minor flaws they are still, in my opinion, some of the best FRS radios out there.

Potential cons:

  • Limited battery capacity (1100 mAh)
  • Limited range compared to high power output radios

Key Features:

  • 22 channels
  • VOX function
  • Scan function
  • USB plug for fast charging
  • Exceptionally loud and super high quality sound

7. BTECH MURS-V1 Two-Way Radio (No License Needed)

MURS V1 Radio

Max Range: About 2 miles

Requires license: No

My Review: This radio is a great choice! The video below does a good job covering some of its features. You can also read my text review below.

If you want a two-way radio that doesn’t require a license this one is a great option. All the radios above can be used without a license if the radios are properly set up, but if you’re someone who isn’t tech savvy and doesn’t want to stress about the radios being legally set up or doesn’t need super long range then radios are a good option.

Note: I have never personally used this radio, but it has good reviews and seems to be a solid radio.

This is a good cheap radio for businesses, hunting trips, fishing, retail, cruises, and other actives.

Potential cons:

  • Low range compared to other radios on this list
  • Not waterproof or water resistant

Key Features:

  • License not required
  • 15 modifiable MURS two-way channels
  • FM radio and built in flashlight
  • 1800mAh battery
  • High (2W) and low (2W) power settings
  • Earpiece kit, belt loop clip and wrist strap included

Radio FAQ

Which Radios Require a License?

Most radios can be used without a license so long as you stay on FRS/GMRS interstitial channels within power standards set by the FCC (see link at the top of the page for more information).

I want to get a long-range radio, but don’t want to pay for a license, what can I do?

You can buy the high power radios and switch them to lower power settings and still legally use them on appropriate channels. If you decide you want longer range capabilities you can buy a license and increase the radio’s power settings.

Do I need a radio license if I operate on FRS only channels?

No, as long as you stay within power settings and channels set by the FCC.

Can I apply for a license after purchasing a radio?

Yes, either way is fine.

Do I need a GMRS license if I live outside the United States?

No, you only need a license if you are using GMRS frequencies in the United States

Final Thoughts

That is a lot of information to digest if you read the entire review. Just because a specific radio isn’t on my list doesn’t mean it’s not one of the best two-way radios. There are so many great options available that it would be impossible to cover them all.

If you know of a good radio you want to recommend to others please leave it below and I’ll do my best to get my hands on it!

A quality two-way radio or set of walkie talkies is great for so many purposes including emergency situations. They are a great addition to an SHTF gear list.

If you noticed any information on this review that is inaccurate please let me know so I can update the information to be accurate for others.

Please share any of your thoughts or experiences with 2-way radios below. Thanks for visiting my website and check out some other pages before you go. 

Semper Fi,

Corporal Wabo

Sources:

Wikipedia: General Mobile Radio Service

FCC: https://www.fcc.gov/media/radio/broadcast-radio-links

2 thoughts on “The 7 Best Two Way Radios (FRS/GMRS) in 2019 Review and FCC Updates”

  1. Hi Corporal Wabo,
    I have an older set of the Midland handhelds that were top of the line a few years ago. I also noticed the short battery life, especially in VOX mode. We replaced the supplied battery pack with four rechargeable high milli amp hour rated AA batteries and keep the original packs charged in our pockets for backup. Have not needed them since the change out.

    • Hi Steve, thanks for your comment. I’m sure a lot of readers will find it useful. Swapping out the original batteries for some high milli amp hour rated AA batteries is a great idea. I would also advise readers to do exactly what you did and keep the old batteries as back ups.

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