Best Walkie Talkie Buying Guide
Do you remember playing cops and robbers with your cousins and friends when you were young? Pretend robbers would feign stealing things around your play area and pretend cops would plan a bust and talk to each other using your toy walkie talkies. Or you might remember going on a wilderness adventure with your parents and each one of them had a walkie when you split up into teams. Those days were so much fun and walkie talkies were the pinnacle of coolness! Maybe they aren’t as big of a craze with your kids now – these days they all want the hottest new cellphone – but if they give it a chance, we’re sure that they will find a lot of uses for these cool two-way radios that are just as useful as they are fun.
What can you use a two-way radio for?
In this age of cellphones, the walkie talkie or 2-way radio is still one heck of a versatile communication system. Originally invented for use by the military, it has been adopted in different industries that require short to medium range communication devices. These days, between the time you wondering "when do babies start talking and walking?" phase and your kids getting hand on their first set of toys, your children probably have just see them being used by security personnel and fire fighters. But acquiring a few units for your family can be very useful as well. You and your family can use walkie talkies for:
• Your trips to the mall
2-way radios can actually have a range of just about 5 miles (although some would claim to reach farther and wider) to be effective in a place where there are a lot of obstructions – such as in office and school buildings where there are a lot of walls. But it doesn’t matter because a you’re never too far away from each other when you are in a mall. So if you are in the mall with your family and you find that you need to split up to complete your tasks, it’s a good idea to have a walkie talkie to get in touch with each other especially when all you want is to have a quick word. You will find that the walkie talkie is faster than texting or calling. The best part is that you won’t incur charges on your mobile phone bill.
• Outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, climbing
When the product description of a 2-way radio claims to have a really wide range of 30 miles or wider, they really mean it as the product’s maximum potential range if the radios have a clear line of sight. The line of sight is a straight line between the two units. This means that you can fully take advantage of your walkie talkie’s range on top of mountains and across valleys where you would likely be hiking, skiing, or climbing, or doing some sort of wilderness adventure. These are also places that are not likely to have cell sites, so you will really get great use out of your radios when you’re outdoors. Maybe it’s time to plan a wilderness survival camping trip with the family!
• In case of an emergency
In case of a calamity that causes major cell sites to go off service, you will be really glad that you have a walkie talkie. Being able to get to communicate with your loved ones brings peace of mind and allows you to plan how you are going to move through a disaster. It also makes for a great way to reassure a family member who gets separated from the pack. In addition, you can use your walkie talkie to communicate with emergency personnel should things really go wrong. Truly, in unforeseen circumstances that place your family at risk, a two-way radio is of immeasurable value.
• Long range baby monitor
Of course we don’t recommend leaving your baby alone and travelling as far as your two-way radio will allow you. But if your baby monitor ever breaks, your walkie talkies can serve as a substitute until you can get your baby monitor fixed or until you buy a new one.
• Fun with the kids
The best way for kids to learn is through play. You can bond over teaching them to use a walkie talkie and maybe have a few laughs as you use code names and to contact each other. Maybe your kids want to play a game of cops and robbers? They can have a lot of fun without even realizing that they are learning the important skill of using a radio.
Features to consider when buying a walkie- talkie
Surprised that a walkie talkie is still a relevant communication tool in this day and age of cell sites and wifi? It’s high time for you to go out and buy a set for your family. Just remember the following features:
● FRS or GMRS
FRS (or Family Radio Service) and GMRS (or General Mobile Radio Service) are bands frequently used by two way radios. GMRS has a much larger range, however, licensing from the Federal Communications Commission is required to use this band. Most walkie talkies for personal use operate in FRS, but you will want to ask the vendor to make sure you are getting radios in the correct band.
● VHF or UHF
If you are buying more than one set of walkie talkies, you might want to pay attention to whether you are buying VHF (very high frequency) of UHF (ultra high frequency) radios. VHF frequencies tend to be loose and longer, making it the best option for covering wide distances and penetrating through foliage. UHF, on the other hand, makes for shorter waves. These can penetrate through building walls. Of the two, UHF is the more versatile.
The thing with VHF and UHF is that they are not compatible. So if you’re buying more than one pair of walkie talkies, make sure that they are all of the same kind.
As mentioned earlier, walkie talkie manufacturers will probably specify the farthest distance that the walkies will be able to communicate with each other if there are no obstructions between them. A product that has a specified range of 8 miles will probably be useful for only 3 or 4 miles in a building with a lot of walls. So make sure that you buy a set that will reach as far as you need them to go. Just remember that the wider the radius of your walkie talkies, the more expensive they will be as well.
The matter of where you are going to be using your walkie talkies is also an important factor in purchasing a product. Will you be using them where there are a lot of obstructions such as in a building or in a mall? Or will you be using them so you will be able to communicate from any point in your family’s farm? Knowing your location is a great indication of your needs. As a rule, VHF radios can reach far and wide across open spaces and bodies of water while UHF radios are pretty nifty for penetrating walls.
Walkie talkies communicate with each other using channels or frequencies. Information from the device creates waves of varying speeds. The speed of the sound waves is what we call the frequency and when your two radios are operating in the same frequency or channel, then you can talk to each other. FRS radios can have as many as 14 channels and as little as 2. But the reason that you would want to have multiple channels is so that your frequency will be less likely to be interrupted by other two way radios in your area. Some radios can even scan all available frequencies, and this might be a feature that you want to look for in a two-way radio. One thing to note is that radios with more channels are more expensive, so you might want to get as much as would fit your budget.
You can buy radios with rechargeable batteries or those that use alkaline batteries. The most convenient, of course, is to look for a pair that can use both rechargeable and disposable batteries as a power source. But, if your choice is limited, we recommend buying walkie talkies that use alkaline batteries in case you find yourself in areas where you could not recharge your batteries. Alkaline batteries are more widely available and it is not too cumbersome to carry extra packs, this makes them very useful in an emergency.
● Other features
Some two way radios are no longer your basic walkie talkies. Some additional features include:
- Backlit LCD screen and keypad so you can see and use the walkie talkie in the dark without the use of a flashlight
- Lock key that keeps your radios in the same frequency for quick contact
- Sub-channels that allow fine tuning of your signal by breaking each channel down to multiple frequencies
- Channel recall that lets the device “remember” the last channel used
- Incoming call alert that rings or vibrates first instead of broadcasting right away
- Weather radio that allows you to pick weather reports
- A mic and earphone jack for hands free communication
Amazing how technology made walkie talkies even better huh? These added features, though, are what is called nice to haves instead of must haves. But there really should be nothing stopping you from getting the most modern units available.
Tips for using your 2-way radio
- Designate a “BASE.” This is the person who calls the shots in case everyone needs to get to one place or to follow a specific instruction in a hurry. The base person can be either Mom or Dad.
- Give each other nicknames when you use a 2-way radio. It protects your privacy, even in just a small way. Besides, you and your kids will have so much fun calling each other by your special names.
- Learn “walkie talkie talk.” It might sound a bit formal or even funny to use words from old cop movies, but they really do help communication. Teaching your kids to communicate in “two-way radio speak” is a good habit that will serve them in the future.
- Coming up with your own codes might be fun but probably not a good idea in case your child needs to communicate with an emergency volunteer. Stick to the basics!
- Even though you have taught your young child to use a walkie talkie, it is still a good idea to have them accompanied by adult at any time they will be at a distance from you. They will always be more secure with a person they know. Remember, safety first!
- Always have extra batteries. You’ll never know when you might need it.
No doubt you’re raring to go out and purchase two-way radios for your family’s short or medium range communication needs. When it comes to walkie talkies, you are spoilt for choice which is a good thing if only it wasn’t super mind-boggling. To save you the overwhelming effort, we here at ParentsNeed HQ tested a large number of walkie talkies to narrow down your options. So before you go out, make sure you look at our Top 5 Best Walkie Talkies reviews and read about why they made it to the list. You will also want to read about the Midland GXT 1000VP4 FRS/GMRS Two-way Radio and why it is our favorite of all the units we tested. To us, it is the little radio that could and our top pick to be your handy dandy walkie talkie. And this is ParentsNeed, signing off. Over and out!