Getting the Best Walkie-Talkies: Official Buying Guide

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

We always try our best to test the products before recommending them. But there are still some aspects that require knowledge and help in making the right decision. All of the points below will help you learn which walkie-talkie model is the best to add to your caving gear. The best walkie-talkie models work exceptionally well in almost all types of caves, so it’s important to choose wisely; if it fails you in an emergency, it serves no purpose to bring it with you.

We have also explained the ‘Range of Coverage’ feature in this guide that often confuses people and affects their buying decision. After reading that section, you will be able to comprehend why the range isn’t as important as we think.

The Basic Purpose of Walkie-Talkies

Staying in touch with other people in an emergency is the basic purpose of walkie-talkies. You can communicate even in those areas where mobile signals don’t work or get a reception. For that reason, they are known as two-way radio systems, designed for remote places.

If you are planning to take part in some outdoor adventure with your family, buying a walkie-talkie is a wise decision.

It is great for hiking, camping, mountaineering, caving, and all kind of outdoor adventure. Even police officers use them to stay connected with their partners, and for good reason.

Which walkie-talkie models do police officers use?

This is a very interesting question and many people are interested in the walkie-talkie models that police officers use, because they see in the movies that police officers quickly and easily communicate even at far distances. People even get the urge to try it after seeing it enough by their favorite actors. Surprisingly, police officers use the same high-quality walkie-talkies that are available for the public. The only difference is the type of frequency they operate on. They are assigned a single frequency or channel that connects them with the headquarter and with the other officers and patrol cars. This has some drawbacks, but keeps the communication secure and uninterrupted by outsiders.

A police officer uses a walkie-talkie to communicate.

Speaking of outsiders, you might be wondering, is it possible for a stranger to contact you via walkie-talkie?

There are security flaws in almost all digital devices. It is very much possible to be contacted by a hacker or a stranger. Besides, you are using channels, which a smart hacker can infiltrate and communicate through quite easily. However, it rarely happens. There isn’t much to gain from interrupting a remote caver’s conversation with his spouse. Today we have too many devices, and many can be secured by passwords. Hackers don’t have time to hack your walkie-talkie and know about your location. If you want to be extra secure, just don’t share your passwords or any vital details on a walkie-talkie, and you probably won’t need to anyway.

Are walkie-talkies secure?

Basic walkie-talkies are secure but privacy isn’t a factor in them because they are developed for one-to-one or group-to-group communication. If you are looking for more secure communication, get a GMRS walkie-talkie. It is a lot more secure than standard models. Though it is expensive, it has several upsides. The GMRS walkie-talkies make the signals travel much further than standard models, and you can privately communicate with them without worrying about interference. Many organizations use GMRS walkie-talkies for reliable communication.

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What is the main difference between a walkie-talkie and 2-way radio?

Both terms are now used interchangeably. Two-way radio receives and transmits signals and now it is available just like a phone or a walkie-talkie. On the other hand, a walkie-talkie is a two-way portable radio. All walkie-talkie products are two-way radios, but all two-way radios aren’t walkie-talkies. A two-way radio system can be present in a desk-mounted radio too. Armies often use them while communicating with their soldiers from inside a room. In addition, due to the diversity in shape and design, two-way radios are more suitable for commercial users like businesses with large sites and lots of workers.

Types of Walkie-Talkies

Walkie-Talkies are available in many types today.

The two main categories are the Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). These types work in most parts of the world. The main difference between FRS and GMRS is the license. FRS walkie-talkies don’t require any kind of license and they can be used in almost all countries since they have a legal limitation of 500 milli-watts. The range FRS walkie-talkies provide is around two-miles; it is great for occasional outdoor outings.

On the other hand, the GMRS models are expensive and compel you to have a license from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). In the UK and in some parts of Europe, it is not legal to use them without official permission.

If you are wondering about why GMRS walkie-talkies must require a license, it’s because the government wants to regulate the frequencies. After the 2017 FFC changes, FCC ensures any GMRS radio that transmits 2 watts of power must be accompanied by a license.

Fortunately, it is easy to get a license; it costs only $70 and it automatically covers your family members like kids, wife, siblings, grandparents, etc.

Range of Coverage

The range of coverage determines quality.

The problem is it is not as simple as it looks. Some products claim they offer 20 or 25 miles range in optimal conditions. This is probably right but only if there aren’t any obstructions. In an urban environment, don’t expect to have this range of coverage with standard walkie-talkie models; it doesn’t matter whether they are FRS or GMRS.

Similarly, inside caves, the conditions aren’t ideal and the paths aren’t clear. The passages turn over and over again and they are quite tight as well.

That’s why even if you have a powerful walkie-talkie, don’t expect to receive more than a 2-mile range. Technically, they can give you the range they advertise, but they are often tested on a wide-open environment without any kind of blockages.


The backs of two separate two-way radios, showing 10W and 2W power output.
Note the power output difference on these two way radios.

What you should look out for is the wattage. The wattage of the walkie-talkies decides how much range you are going to avail. For example, 0.5 watt is more than enough to cover a half mile. It is good for almost all kinds of outdoor activities like caving and hiking. But if you are a mountaineer, you probably need more than 0.5 watts. For long-distance communication, 1-2 watts is a good option; it covers up to 2 miles. If you opt for even higher, 3-4 watts, you will be able to reach your partners up to 5 miles in good weather.

A good wattage option gives one more benefit; it has the ability to fill in coverage dropouts. If you are in an urban environment with tall buildings and hills, and if you have a 1-2 watt walkie-talkie, you won’t have any trouble at all while communicating with the other person. The high power improves the quality of the signal and delivers your voice clearly.

VHF vs. UHF: A Tale of Two Models

Both VHF and UHF are very high frequency; in fact, they stand for Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF). The key difference between them is that VHF operates between 126 and 174 MHZ, whereas the UHF operates around 450 MHz. For your typical caving adventure, UHF is better since it can get through interference. On the other hand, VHF radios provide a great range, but due to their lower frequency, they have longer waves compared to UHF. Therefore, you have to use them in open spaces. Just keep in mind: higher frequency = shorter waves, lower frequency = longer waves. The more enclosed the space, the higher the frequency you’ll want for reliability. You will want to keep this in mind when making sure your walkie-talkies are compatible, if different caving members bought different brands.

A diagram showing the different wavelengths, including UHF and VHF.

Are the walkie-talkies of different brands compatible?

Yes, even different brands of walkie-talkies are compatible as long as they can use the same frequency and channel. But you can face issues in the range sector. For instance, if one model is at 0.5 watts and the other model operates at 2 watts, both can work on 0.5 range only which is only about half a mile. So there a limiting factor with their wattage, but they will work fine when not too far apart. The thing you need to keep in mind is the VHF and the UHF factor, which we have described above. Walkie-talkies that operate on VHF aren’t compatible with UHF walkie-talkies.

Can we extend the range of a walkie-talkie or two-way radio?

Some ways can help you in extending the range of a walkie-talkie or two-way radio. For instance, get a large antenna. This tip is for the two-way radio system. It boosts the range and improves the voice quality significantly. Some experts recommend using the ‘Repeater’ too. It re-transmits the signal with increased power. Though you have to install it in a tall building or tower. Lastly, make sure the batteries are charged and in good condition. Batteries of a walkie-talkie lose strength over time. This affects the range of your walkie-talkie. So, try to change the batteries if the walkie-talkie isn’t giving you the range you need.


Are walkie-talkies a water-resistant product? They better be!

Walkie-talkies that are not water-resistant are good for nothing. They are mainly developed for the outdoor environment where you face harsh, unexpected weather. They are a tool of survival that assist you in saving your life during floods, falls, or worse.

But if you can’t use them in a harsh environment like heavy rain, there is no almost no point in buying them. Experts believe a good walkie-talkie should survive in up to one meter of water at least. This ensures that it will actually help you when it’s needed and if you can’t get to a safe location.

Some walkie-talkies have a flashlight feature too. If they aren’t waterproof, rain or humid environment can damage their flashlight performance as well. And at that point it will just become a paperweight that cost a little too much. Make sure the walkie-talkie you get is clearly labeled as water-resistant.

Following FCC Rules

If you have a GMRS walkie-talkie for better coverage, you need to follow some FCC rules.

  • The radio should be used for normal conversation only; any conversation or any activity which is against the federal or state law will be considered illegal.
  • You aren’t allowed to send any deceptive or false messages. For instance, don’t use it as a false emergency alarm or try to trick others with it.
  • Though it is almost impossible, you can’t use it for any kind of marketing or selling.
  • Similarly, the GMRS radio shouldn’t be used for any kind of political campaigning too.
  • If you have been convicted of a felony, it is pertinent to disclose it before acquiring its license. This doesn’t mean you will be denied; the authorities simply need to know about your past before issuing the FCC license for GMRS radio.
  • Representatives of foreign governments can’t use GMRS radio. Sorry!
  • Lastly, the GMRS walkie-talkies are mainly used for emergency communication; don’t try to use them for communicating with radio services or unauthorized stations.

Learn and understand all these rules before getting a GMRS radio walkie-talkie. Also, don’t forget to give them your valid email address as they send you the official copy of the FCC license once your application is granted.

Here is the official FCC consumer guide for personal radios.

Other Questions

Can we turn our phone into a walkie-talkie or two-way radio?

The idea of instant chat thrills many people and it can look compelling to use a smart phone instead of a separate device. Thankfully, we have some free Android and iPhone apps today that assist us in turning our phones into walkie-talkies or two-way radios…sort of. You communicate through a specific channel and press the button on the screen when it is your turn to talk. It feels like a real walkie-talkie and the voice quality is brilliant as well. However, when you turn your phones into a two-way radio, you don’t get the real advantage of radios, and phone or internet connection often doesn’t work in remote places or inside the caves. So they won’t work in actual caving situations as well as a real walkie-talkie, and you shouldn’t expect them to.

Can we use AirPods with the walkie-talkie?

There is a new Apple Watch feature that can be availed by the walkie-talkie app. When you use AirPods with a walkie-talkie, keep in mind, it is like you are on a phone call. You might notice a static sound in the background. It works via iPhone connection and Wi-Fi – which may not be very reliable underground.

A watch displaying a "Talk" bubble, signifying its working as a walkie-talkie.

Are there any offline apps that work when you don’t have the internet?

There is no point in using offline apps for instant communication. Apps that let you message the other person without an internet connection use the Bluetooth feature. Realistically, they don’t rise in popularity because of this. If they have to rely on the Bluetooth feature, using apps is unnecessary. Moreover, the range of Bluetooth is limited. It can’t be compared with a two-way radio or a 1-watt walkie-talkie. The standard range of Bluetooth is 300-feet, whereas a decent walkie-talkie gives you 1-2 mile range minimum easily.

It is important to note one thing here. Offline messaging is getting more attention; experts are trying to create and increase offline message capabilities. It is still an underdeveloped technology, so it is very much possible to see our phones working like walkie-talkies soon. Stronger bluetooth can extend to up to 1000 feet. However, a typical smart phone bluetooth range is only effective up to 10-20 feet, so we may see vast improvements in that area in the future.


Now that you know a little about walkie-talkies, it is time to choose the best walkie-talkie for your caving adventure. You might not need your group to carry them in a guided tour or more beginner-level caves, but we still recommend you keep them in case. If someone wanders off, you will be happy to have the ability to contact them reliably.

We hope this guide helps with your decision, and as always, feel free to leave questions or comments if you have them.

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