Cellular technology and the Internet have completely transformed communications in the 21st century. Think for a moment: If suddenly your computer, TV, and cell phone stopped working, how would you communicate with others? Where would you go for information? The reality is, in the case of an emergency, most people would be completely cut off from the world, reliant on new technology that would cease to function in a disaster. Don’t be one of those people; in this article, we’re going to provide all the information you need to select the best emergency weather radio that will keep you in touch when all other communication mediums fail.
What Is An Emergency Weather Radio
In the case of disaster, an emergency radio will allow you to receive signals modern technology can’t, and stay current on important information such as weather or updates on the disaster situation. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts on frequencies not accessible to standard radios, such as the one that may be in your car, and is able to receive vital updates from the National Weather Service in the case of severe weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding.
When there’s no power, most emergency weather radios have additional features to power the device via solar or hand crank. When all other technologies fail, if you have an emergency radio, you will have access to information about road closures, the direction of the storm, where emergency shelters are located, and whether or not armed forces have been dispatched. With this knowledge at hand, you can better plan your next course of action; whether that be to stay put, or head out in a vehicle or on foot.
The best part is, unlike most survival gear, there’s no need to store your radio away until it’s needed – you can use it every day! It works just as well as a standard radio and can be used to monitor weather alerts, receive current news, or listen to your favorite music station.
Features To Look For In An Emergency Radio
While emergency weather radios do share many features with standard radios, there are certain functional requirements you will want to specifically look for in your emergency radio including tuning, sound quality and options, power source and battery life, durability, size and weight, and multipurpose options.
AM/FM, weatherband, and shortwave capabilities will give you the most options as the sensitivity of a radio determines how many stations it receives and the quality of reception. NOAA uses Very High Frequency (VHF) waves, transmitted using narrowband FM; most emergency radios will have a feature (either a sound or light) that will alert you when severe weather or other emergency broadcasting is taking place. Specific Area Message Encoding (S.A.M.E.) is also used by NOAA and the Emergency Alert System (EAS).
An emergency radio with S.A.M.E. technology is capable of customizing alerts to your specific area; some even have the functionality to turn off the alert at the End Of Message (EOM) prompt, so that the alert doesn’t continue after the first transmission has played.
In terms of digital vs. analog, digital tuning is much easier to accurately tune and program; however, an analog tuner presumably won’t be affected by an EMP event, whereas a digital system may become unusable.
Emergency Radio Fact: In testing your emergency weather radio, you may notice that more AM stations are received at night; there is a simple explanation for this. Daytime AM waves travel over the surface of the earth through a phenomenon referred to as groundwave propagation; generally, these waves reach no further than 100 miles. At night, reflection from the ionosphere, known as skywave propagation, increases the distance that AM waves can travel up to 100s of miles.
Sound Quality and Options
Things to look for: Maximum volume of audio, auxiliary input, headphone jack, mono or stereo.
When checking for sound quality, the maximum volume of the speakers will be measured in decibels (dB); often referring to as sound quality from a specified distance away, such as how loud the sound will be at one meter from the radio.
An equalizer setting is of little use for emergency purposes, but if you plan to use your radio on a daily basis for things such as news or music, you may want to look for a radio offering optimized settings for talk radio and various music genres, as well as indoor and outdoor use.
In terms of additional options, look for radios that offer headphone jacks and auxiliary input for playing audio from another device.
Power Source and Battery Life
Things to look for: Solar or hand crank capabilities, as well as plug-in feature for regular use; battery life.
Power versatility is a key feature in an emergency radio; look for radios with at least one alternative means for powering. The more options you have for powering your radio, the better your chances of staying connected; radios that run only on batteries require a backup supply and you may face the possibility of running out.
The hand crank is a simple, yet effective, form of power. Hank crank radios convert mechanical energy into electric energy, which is then stored in a rechargeable lithium ion battery. The efficiency of these systems varies greatly, but typically two minutes of cranking will provide five minutes of radio use at full volume; while that may seem like a lot of work for limited use, it is very dependable and always available.
Another common source of energy is a solar cell. You will find that some radios can run directly off solar power while others need to charge the battery, then run off stored energy. This method is of course limited to daytime use and may take up to six hours to fully charge a battery.
AC Adaptor or USB
If your radio comes with a rechargeable battery, you should also have an AC adaptor or USB that will charge directly when power is available, such as at home. Similar to solar powered radios, some can run directly off a connection while others need to charge first and then run.
In addition to your radio, you can also charge other electronic devices via mini, micro, and USB ports. Whether or not you can fully charge a smartphone depends on the battery capacity and discharge rate, but for emergency communications, this can be very helpful.
Whichever option you choose to power your radio, it’s extremely helpful to ensure there is some type of battery life indicator; this way, you will know when your battery is running low and can adjust your usage or seek out another power source.
Things to look for: Water and drop resistance, general construction, antenna, and buttons.
We were very surprised that only a few of the emergency radios we reviewed listed water and dust resistance ratings. Ideally, any device designed for outdoor usage should be splash resistant, but to be safe, we recommend tucking your radio in a plastic freezer bag to keep it protected when not in use.
To ensure your radio functions when you need it to, choose one with a fold-away hand crank and antenna; this way, those items are less likely to be damaged when packed in a bug-out bag. Additionally, a rubberized finish provides better grip – as does a lanyard or handle – and some models even have protective roll cages to withstand a fall on the ground. If you’ll be heading for the hills in an emergency, these are the must-have features.
Size and Weight
Things to look for: Ease of transport.
When prepping your bug-out bag, size and weight are of utmost importance. Many emergency radios weigh less than one pound and some are even small enough to fit in a pocket. If you plan to bug-in, or store your radio at your bug-out location, you may want to prioritize other features over portability.
Added features are always a plus as they can help reduce the weight of your bag by combining several different items into one. Emergency radios can come equipped with a plethora of useful, additional features, including flashlights, compasses, strobes, sirens, and whistles. For more multipurpose tool ideas for your bug-out bag, CLICK HERE.
Key features to look for include the following:
- Flashlight: Having a backup flashlight you can power indefinitely will ensure you won’t be left in the dark
- Clock and calendar: Useful for keeping track of time when far removed from civilization or on a long-term bug-out
- Temperature and humidity readings: This will allow you to monitor weather conditions
- Cables: Always check to see which cables are included; simply because your radio has certain ports doesn’t guarantee it comes with the accompanying cables, many times these are sold separately
Top 10 Emergency Weather Radios
The following table showcases our picks for the 10 top emergency weather radios as well as key features, weight, and price range. To view the item and its current price on Amazon, click the accompanying image.
|Eton NSP101WXGR Scorpion ll
|• Multiple power options to keep it running
• LED flashlight for an extra light source
• Rugged construction withstands outdoor use
|Ambient Weather WR-111B
|• Solar panel extends battery life
• Illuminated digital display is easy to read
• Ultra lightweight for packing in a BOB or GHB
|MIDLAND WR300 Weather Radio
|• Alarm clock style is ideal for bug-in use
• S.A.M.E. technology for receiving local reports
• Preset up to 30 counties in the memory system for quick access
|Eton American Red Cross FR1
|• Compact design with flat folding crank and antenna
• NOAA alerts for weather preparedness
• Smartphone charger works quickly to power devices
|Sony ICF-S10MK2 Pocket AM/FM Radio
|• Simple analog AM/FM radio fits in a shirt pocket
• Excellent signal sensitivity for picking up stations
• Runs on 2 AA batteries
|Ambient Weather WR-335 ADVENTURER 2
|• Uses rechargeable lithium ion battery or 3 AAA batteries
• Audio input plays music from iPods and phones
• 125 decibel siren for emergency signaling
|iRonsnow IS-088 Dynamo Weather Radio
|• Rubberized coating for enhanced grip
• Efficient hand crank - 1 min yields 20 min of radio play
• Lightweight and compact for backpacking and BOB
|Eton FRX5 Hand Crank Emergency Weather Radio
|• Solar panel fully charges battery in 5 hours
• Rated IPx4 for protection against splashes
• Illuminated buttons for use in the dark
|Kaito KA600 NOAA Weather Radio
|• Solar panel is adjustable to achieve optimal exposure
• Input stations 4 ways - manual, direct digital input, ATS, and memory tuning
• Temperature and humidity display, plus calendar and alarm clock for daily use
|Ivation AM/FM/NOAA Radio
|• AM/FM/NOAA radio with Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting to devices
• Display shows station, date, time, and temperature
• Rugged and water resistant design goes anywhere with you
Our Picks For Best Emergency Radios
Best Emergency Radio For Bugging-In
Our top pick: MIDLAND WR300 Weather Radio
This particular emergency weather radio has more of a countertop design and is less suited for travel. It receives NOAA and Environment Canada alerts using S.A.M.E. technology as well as an audio alarm to warn of extreme weather in your area. It can be programmed to receive alerts from up to 23 counties, which can be especially helpful in areas prone to hurricanes, floods, wildfires, or tornadoes.
For those that are hearing-impaired, it has a lighted display that features a text warning message along with the county the alert was issued in; it also displays “EXP” when a particular alert has expired. You have the option to silence test alerts and weather watches while still being cognizant that one has been received through an indicator light; should a watch turn into a warning, your alert will sound.
One drawback for this particular radio is that it does not recognize EOMs and automatically returns to standby five minutes after the EOM prompt; however, you have the option to manually mute the alert at the end of the message. Another issue is that the headphone jack is mono and not stereo, meaning sound will only come out of one earbud; however, you can correct this with a adaptor to make it double monaural, which will produce sound from both headphones.
In addition to emergency broadcasts, it functions fully as a clock radio with alarm and is therefore a good bedside radio for everyday use. An AC adaptor is included and four AA batteries can be used as backup should the power go out.
Best Emergency Radio For Battery Life
Our top pick: Eton FRX5
The Eton FRX5 is an all-around great emergency weather radio, but its standout feature is the efficient power system. Its hand-crank will provide thirteen minutes of listening after only two minutes of cranking – more than double the average for crank radios. When plugged in using the AC adaptor, a full charge is achieved through the lithium battery within five to six hours.
At maximum volume (an impressive 90 dB at one meter), the radio will play continuously for over fifteen hours. It uses AAA alkaline batteries and also has a high-efficiency solar panel that will keep the battery topped up when in use or fully charged after five hours of direct sun. This outperforms the solar panel systems previously discussed, making the Eton our pick for best battery life.
Additionally, this radio charges devices quickly over an extra fast USB output of 5V 2.1A and receives AM, FM, and NOAA; it also has S.A.M.E. technology and works well even in remote areas. You can program up to 25 locations from which to receive local reports and alerts.
Bonus features: Splashproof with IPX4 rating, headphone jack, auxiliary in jack, glow in the dark locator, LED flashlight and red emergency beacon, and alarm clock.
Best Emergency Radio For GHB/BOB
Our top pick: Ambient Weather WR-111B
Weighing less than half a pound, the WR-111B is perfect for use in your get-home or bug-out bag. It comes equipped with NOAA alerts and a digital AM/FM tuner, making the WR-111B a powerful receiver in a compact design. It is extremely portable and has a rubberized finish as well as lanyard for ease of carrying.
The battery can be charged via USB, AC, hand crank, or solar panel, and a low-battery indicator lights up when battery power falls below three volts. One drawback is that it does not use S.A.M.E. technology for receiving customized alerts.
The sturdy hand crank can be used for recharging while the radio is playing and conveniently folds away when not in use. An AC adaptor is available to purchase separately for plugging into an outlet; a “hard charge” via USB or AC adaptor is recommended every few weeks to maintain battery life.
While the hand crank and solar panel can be used to charge the radio in an emergency, keep in mind that the solar panel serves to extend the battery life but does not provide a full charge; ensure you read the instructions carefully regarding care of the battery for optimal performance.
The battery is also removeable and replaceable, which is a useful feature if you intend on regular usage. This radio also includes cables and adaptors to charge different types of cell phones (mini, micro, and USB) as well as a headphone jack.
Best Emergency Radio For Selection Of Features
Our top pick: Kaito Voyager Pro KA600
When it comes to extra features, the Kaito Voyager Pro is fully loaded. The illuminated digital displays show mode, station, and battery life, as well as temperature and humidity. It features digital tuning that is adjustable via manual knob or buttons, including a number pad for direct entry of stations and programmable preset memory. The calendar, clock, and alarm are useful additions for everyday use as well as in a grid-down scenario.
With a turn of the dial, power input switches from the AC adaptor, solar charger, and AA batteries. The solar panel pivots 180 degrees and is larger than most emergency radio solar panels; in full sun, it is powerful enough to run the radio directly. The included rechargeable battery fully charges in under two hours via USB or AC, while you also have the option of using the hand-crank.
It receives high quality reception in FM, AM, and all 7 NOAA weather channels, even in remote areas – although the maximum volume is a bit low at 76.7 dB at a one meter distance. However, if background noise drowns out the sound, there are two headphone jacks. The antenna retracts neatly onto the back when not in use.
Another feature to note are the flashlights: It has a 5-LED reading light below the solar panel for mapping and small tasks, plus a 3-LED flashlight above the hand crank.
For portability, it is compact in size but a bit on the heavy side, weighing in at 20 oz; also, it is not rated for water or dust resistance.
Choosing The Best Emergency Radio For YOU
When choosing the best emergency radio for your needs, you need to consider transportation requirements, ease of use, and your particular priorities.
Before choosing a radio, determine whether or not you will be transporting it, i.e. bugging out or using it in a get-home scenario, or staying put for bugging-in.
For bugging-out and get-home scenarios, weight matters and extra multipurpose features will help to offset any added weight by providing key items such as a backup flashlight or survival whistle. Additionally, having a means to charge batteries for other devices will come in quite handy.
When bugging-in, you need not be as concerned with size and weight, but local reporting features, such as S.A.M.E., will be very useful. While you may not need extra multipurpose features, a self-powered radio is always a boon, especially during power outages.
Ease Of Use
If you can’t use your radio, no amount of features or alternative power sources will be of use; make sure you practice using your radio so you are familiar with all of its features and can tune in to required information channels and sources.
If there are any preset functions, make sure to tune them into your local stations so everything is ready to go. Additionally, if you live in a remote area or plan on bugging-out to one, ensure your radio has the capacity to receive signals in your area.
Know Your Priorities
To make sure you get the best value for your money, think carefully about your needs before purchasing and choose a radio that addresses all your must-have features.
When cut off from everyday technologies we depend on, such as cellular and the Internet, staying informed and receiving the information you need to optimize your survival plan becomes a real challenge. Don’t be caught off-guard; safeguard your survival by staying informed during an emergency, no matter what. Choose an emergency weather radio that best serves your purposes and will provide the most value in a disaster. Most important, use your radio regularly so that you become familiar with its various functionality and are fully prepared to stay connected when disaster strikes.
Have you ever used an emergency weather radio before? Have you used one in an emergency? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts and questions with us in the Comments section, thanks!