If there is one thing you want to make sure is in your Emergency Preparedness Kit, your car’s glove compartment, or the pocket of a trusty backpack, it’s a trusty Emergency Radio.
These aren’t just for catching the morning show on your way to work. The best emergency radios have been imbued with features that would make even the most enthusiastic survivalist drool all over his camouflage. So just what kind of features are we talking about?
How about LED Flashlights to help you make your way through a power-out, or S.O.S. alarms you can use to alert search crews to your presence? Or maybe you’re just the kind of person that likes to have good tunes playing whenever possible. If that’s the case you might be interested in a little bit of Bluetooth connectivity.
Emergency radios are also programmed to provide weather alerts based on your location, which can be a handy thing indeed when all other communications have been knocked out by the storm.
So what’s the best emergency radio? We might be able to guide you in the right direction. Here’s our top ten of 2023, presented in no particular order:
|Best Feature||Weight||Hand Crank||Alt. Power||USB Charger||Features||Pros||Cons|
American Red Cross FRX3
|0.9 LBS||Yes||AAA/DC Inlet||Included||Flashlight/Beacon||
Best Flashlight Pick
|1.33 LBS||Yes||Solar/2600mAh battery||No||Flashlight/Weather scan||
Best Value Pick Emergency Radio
|0.6 LBS||Yes||AAA/DC Inlet/Solar||Included||Flashlight/iPhone adapter||
Best Solar Powered Emergency Radio
|1.25 LBS||Yes||AA/AC-charge/Solar||Included||5-LED lamp/Flashlight||
Emergency Radio with the Loudest Siren
|0.8 LBS||Yes||AAA/DC Inlet||Included||Flashlight/Emergency siren||
Best Tuning on an Emergency Radio
Voyager PRO KA-600
|1.25 LBS||Yes||AAA/DC Inlet/Solar||Included||Flashlight/Beacon||
Best for Streaming Music
|1.6 LBS||Yes||AAA/DC Inlet||Included||Bluetooth audio streaming||
Best All-Around Value Pick
|0.7 LBS||Yes||AAA/DC Inlet/USB/Solar||Included||S.O.S. alarm/Red light||
Best Antenna Pick
|1.1 LBS||Yes||AAA/DC Inlet/USB/Solar||Included||P.E.A.S.||
Most Water Resistant Emergency Radio
|1.2 LBS||Yes||AAA/DC Inlet/USB/Solar||Included||LED Flashlight/SOS Alarm||
Best Emergency Radio for Medical Professionals – The American Red Cross FRX3 Hand Crank NOAA AM / FM Alert Radio
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAAs, DC Inlet|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||LED Flashlight & Emergency Beacon|
Although this emergency radio is branded as a product of the American Red Cross, the manufacturer is actually ETON, who you might know as a reputable producer of quality radios, speakers, and other similar electronic equipment. Their decision to pair with the Red Cross for their newest product is a testament to the radio’s ability to handle even the most disastrous situations without blinking an eye.
The hand-crank feature is here, obviously. This is perhaps the cornerstone of any good emergency radio, as batteries can be the kind of thing that are hard to find in the post-apocalyptic future. Being able to create new power in order to pick up a radio signal is essential for an emergency radio. The charge action here is actually quite good and you get a decent amount of light before having to use the crank again.
One of the most unique features of this particular radio is the presence of a USB charging port, which is a convenience that we welcome with open arms. After all, making sure that your iPhone is charged at all times has become one of the most important tasks of modern society, and when you are out in the wilderness, there is no legitimate excuse for a dead battery, not with all the wonderful technology on the market today.
Our biggest issue with this radio is that while it is possible to replace the AAA alkaline batteries, no access is provided to the rechargeable battery. Because one of the main problems with rechargeable batteries is that you can only recharge them so many times, it would be nice to have the ability to swap this battery our ever couple of years as well. But overall this is a highly functioning machine with enough features to make it more than worth the modest price that they are asking.
- Built-in USB Port
- Good hand-crank charging action
- Rechargeable battery is not replaceable
- Buttons are small and difficult to use
Best Flashlight Pick – Midland ER310 Emergency Crank Weather AM / FM Radio
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||Solar panel & rechargeable 2600 mAh batter|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||Emergency flashlight, ultrasonic dog whistle, NOAA Weather Scan|
Here is a sturdy and stylish emergency radio that doesn’t skimp on the features, offering the user a lot more than just a way to listen to the top-10 county countdown when you aren’t anywhere close to a plug-in radio.
Here’s what we’re talking about when we say features: first off, the emergency flashlight is wonderful on this product. Unlike some hand-crank lights, this one can actually provide enough light for you to see what you are doing, which means you can get more done in less time. I
don’t care who you are, that is a pretty tempting offer.
The ultrasonic dog whistle is something of a novelty for the average user, but for search and rescue teams it can mean the difference between “just in time” and “too late”.
But let’s talk about the biggest selling point. This emergency radio is actually recommended by the Department of Homeland Security for emergency preparedness. That has to mean something, right?
There are a couple of problems with this model that prevent it from reaching a full ten out of ten stars. The first is the included solar panel, which while it is indeed a generous feature for a starting-level radio, it simply is too weak to maintain an adequate charger. Similarly, the hand crank is not efficient enough to handle the charging of an IPhone much less anything bigger, so it is currently little more than a buzz-word feature designed to draw us customers in. Did it work?
- Lots of different methods / means of charging the unit
- Included high-frequency dog whistle
- Solar panel doesn’t bring in enough charge to be usefu
- Hand crank doesn’t generate enough electricity to even charge a phone
Best Value Pick Emergency Radio – RunningSnail MD-088s Hand Crank Self Powered Solar Weather Radio
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAAs, DC Inlet|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||LED Flashlight, 1000mAh Power Bank for iPhone|
Coming in at just under twenty dollars, the RunningSnail is perhaps the most cost-effective item on our list, offering top-level performance for a price that is so affordable, everyone could buy one. And why wouldn’t they want to? What you basically have is a quality radio with an emergency light and a power bank that is capable of charging your phone or other small-watt electronic device.
Our favorite thing about this particular radio is that it is a very compact unit with high performance capabilities. It weighs in at a measly .5 lbs, which means that you will be able to take this with you anywhere you want to go, or, alternatively, it can sit on its shelf to live out the rest of its life while us humans live out the end of days (which qualifies as a legitimate emergency today’s day and age.
One thing you should know before buying, this thing is small. A lot smaller than the pictures online make it out to be. In fact, it’s about the size of an average cell phone. Now this can be a good thing for portability, not to mention it makes it possible to store in a glove compartment or go-bag pocket. But the downside to the reduced size is that it is not capable of holding a
batter large enough to keep a decent charge.
What does this mean?
It means that you should be prepared to use that crank lever, like, a lot. But it can actually be a good arm workout, so maybe we are making mountains out of ant hills here.
- Most affordable emergency radio on our list
- Great lightweight & compact design
- Battery is too small to hold a decent charge
- Requires a lot of cranking to charge the phone bank
Best Solar Powered Emergency Radio – Kaito KA500 5-Way Powered Emergency AM/FM Weather Alert Radio
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAs, AC-charge, solar panel|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||5-LED reading lamp, flashlight, 180-degree solar panel|
The Kaito Voyager KA500 is a compact weather alert radio receiver with a 5-way power source options and emergency use features.
The first thing we would like to highlight is multiple different charging options, which is a good feature to have on a radio that is designed specifically for emergency situation. There is the classic hand-crank, standard to just about every radio in the list. Then comes a rotating solar panel that provides charging into the replaceable the battery pack. (the Ni-MH batteries are included)
The outer case is available in multiple colors also hard plastic with black accents. The plastic carries no recycling information.
The included USB cable fit perfectly most recent IOS and android smartphones but it takes much time to be fully charged by the radio. Approximately 4 hours to charge an Iphone and 5-6 hours to charge an android (Tested on Iphone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6).
Optional accessories you can get out of the box are AC charger and a shortwave external antenna, each costing about $10 while some other products in the list offer this features from the start. The shortwave antenna is a 23 feet long wire that clips onto the telescoping antenna.
TIP: The shortwave radio reception doesn’t work without the shortwave external antenna, which makes the Kaito Voyager KA500 less efficient without the accessory.
They also offer a free antenna if you leave a review on Amazon or you pay $10 – which is really strange.
- 5 Different ways to charge this radio
- Replaceable battery pack
- Solar charger is so slow that it’s basically obsolete
- Bad shortwave reception; needs an SW antenna (available separately)
Emergency Radio with the Loudest Siren – Sangean MMR-88 AM/FM/Weather Alert Emergency Radio
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAAs, DC Inlet|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||Flashlight, Emergency Siren|
With all the new innovations in emergency radio technology, the shape and style of these products have been altered dramatically in recent years, with new models taking on shapes and sizes that we do not always appreciate as purists of both style and design. Perhaps that’s why it’s so refreshing to see a radio like the MMR-88, whose blocky rectangular construction give it a simplistic sturdiness that we just have to appreciate.
The included NOAA weather stations are not particularly new in terms of features, as most radios have these station alerts programmed into them and it is actually a big reason why these radios are so good for emergencies.
However, the MMR-88 suffers a big flaw in this respect. These alerts do not take into account county information provided by NOAA, so you will likely receive alerts for a much wider area than you actually want (think statewide).
Another issue is that the included battery simply doesn’t cut it. Anyone who wants to add some real power to their MMR-88 should take advantage of the replaceable nature of its battery and swap it out with a third party battery that can hold a bit more of a charge.
- Great blocky shape & size
- Super durable
- Doesn’t take into account NOAA county information for weather alerts
- Included battery doesn’t hold much of a charge; can be replaced
Best Tuning on an Emergency Radio – Kaito VOYAGER PRO KA600 Digital Solar Dynamo
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAAs, DC Inlet, Solar,|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||LED Flashlight & Emergency Beacon, multiple tuning methods|
Fans of the Kaito KA500 who appreciated its reliable performance but who might be interested in having access to a few new features should take a look at the KA600. This here is the newest addition to Kaito’s VOYAGER PRO series of radios, which are advertised as the absolute top of the line consumer emergency radios.
Let’s take a gander at what exactly is making this radio “top of the line.”
For one, the tuning performance is simply unmatched. There are four different ways to tune the radio, which gives you a
much greater control of which stations you can clearly tune to. While some emergency radios might not be able to pick up all stations with clarity, the KA600 can do just that, and this alone makes it worth the few extra dollars in the price tag.
There is only one significant flaw in the KA600’s design that was immediately apparent to us, and that was the hand-crank design. It is perhaps the only element on the radio that could be swapped out for a tougher material.
- Great tuning performance (4 ways to tune)
- Durable & reliable
- Hand crank could be more durable
Best Emergency Radio for Streaming Music – Eton FRX5-BT Emergency Weather Radio
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAAs, DC Inlet|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||Bluetooth Audio Streaming|
We are just going to come out and say it: the FRX5-BT has full Bluetooth connectivity built in, meaning that you can stream your favorite music and podcasts from your smartphone. We’ve only seen this feature on a few devices so far, but never have we seen it done in such an elegant and functional way.
There is a pleasing aesthetic design to the FRX5-BT that some radios don’t seem to care about. This looks like something that you could keep on your desk, actually, without raising any eyebrows. In fact, it’s quite stylish.
Another thing we love that we should mention is the unit’s utilization of the Specific Area Messaging (S.A.M.E.) system, which allows you to receive NOAA weather updates from your area, not the wider state in general. This makes the alerts less annoying, and more valuable by a longshot.
We experienced some slight lag / freeze in the digital menu, but the problem managed to work itself out before too long.
- Sleek design
- Bluetooth connectivity
- On-board computer seems to lag a bit
Best All-Around Value Pick – RunningSnail MD-090 Solar Crank NOAA Weather Radio for Emergency
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAAs, DC Inlet, USB|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||S.O.S. Alarm w/ Flashing Red Light|
A small step up in both price and quality from the aforementioned Running Snail EMERGENCY Radio, the Solar Crank model features a bulkier build, better AM/FM reception, and a few extra features that make it all worth the extra ten bucks that you are going to be shelling out.
One unique thing that we have to give RunningSnail points for is the S.O.S. Alarm Beacon, which features a flashing red light and loud alarm, both of which would be incredibly helpful to anyone too lost or injured to make their way back to civilization. The light alone could possibly be seen by aerial search teams, and it could mean the difference between life and death.
RunningSnail is known for their more affordable products, and unfortunately this sometimes also means that there will be some performance deficiencies to deal with. On this model, the biggest issue is the lack of available stations, as the included bandwidth is smaller compared to more advanced emergency radios.
- Better reception than RunningSnail’s other model (above)
- Still quite affordable
- Low bandwidth means fewer stations are available
Best Antenna Pick – Kaito KA550 5-Way Powered AM/FM Shortwave Emergency Radio
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAAs, DC Inlet, USB|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||P.E.A.S. (Public Emergency Alert System)|
After reviewing both the KA500 and the KA600 by Kaito, it’s time to have a look at the KA550, the model that sits directly between the two both in number and in quality and performance. While the KA550 has both improved reception and charging capabilities than the KA500, it does not quite reach the level of the KA600, which just might be the best emergency radio that Kaito makes.
One of the most important things that you are getting with this radio that you won’t find elsewhere is a relatively long telescoping antenna. It’s 14.5” inches tall when fully extended, which might not seem like much, but it is 14.5” taller than what most emergency radios have. The result is high-sensitivity reception that increases station accuracy.
There are however some pretty condemning overload issues with both AM and FM on this radio. That means that it tends to pick up a lot more than just the station you are trying to get, and the result is an “overloaded” signal that can be loud and annoying.
- 14.5” telescoping antenna
- Better charging capabilities than the KA500
- Overload issues on both AM & FM
Most Water Resistant Emergency Radio – WAYL Emergency Weather Radio 4000mAh
|ALTERNATIVE POWER||AAAs, DC Inlet, USB|
|ADDITIONAL FEATURES||Water Resistant|
Out of all the emergency radios on our review, the WAYL Emergency Weather Radio is the only one that advertises itself as “water resistant”, which is something of a curiosity when you consider what these radios are actually designed for. It seems to me like there are plenty of emergency situations in which sudden or unexpected water damage might occur, so it doesn’t hurt to have a little more protection for this kind of thing.
Another feature that you think would be more common is the ability for the incoming weather alerts to actually interrupt the AM/FM listening. This means that you don’t actually have to be on the weather station to hear the alerts. Because what’s the point of an emergency weather alert when you are expecting to hear it?
We just think it could be a bit bigger. This is a small radio with small dials, and we are wondering if the smallness has anything at all to do with how flimsy the thing feels. It’s a great little radio, but not one that will be working for more than a few seasons before breaking in one way or another.
- Water resistant
- Weather alerts cut through FM transmission
- Small with small buttons and dials
- Somewhat flimsy … not sturdy
One strange thing about Emergency Radios is that you hope you will never have to use them for what they were programmed for, which is providing safety and information when you need it the most, not to mention a bit of light when there is none other to be found.
Nonetheless, it is hard to not love the new class of emergency radios that have hit the market in recent years. For our money it is hard to not be immediately enticed by the Eton FRX5-BT Emergency Weather Radio, whose Bluetooth connectivity is a feature we haven’t found anywhere else. And in an emergency situation, what could be better than playing some music from your phone to calm everyone down?
But entertainment certainly isn’t everything. Emergency radios need to be as functional as they are fun. That’s why we’re proud to recommend the Kaito VOYAGER PRO KA600 Digital Solar Dynamo as the all-around most functional; perfect for the dedicated enthusiast who doesn’t mind the slightly elevated price tag .
What Makes a Great Emergency Radio
As you could probably tell from our list, there are more than a few factors that determine whether or not an emergency radio will be worth its weight in wire, so to speak. Here are a few things to look for when choosing your next model:
NOAA Weather Alerts
One of the most common and most important things that a good emergency radio provides is access to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Radio Network, which provides emergency weather updates on a network of radio stations that are maintained across the country. Warnings may include earthquakes, avalanches, chemical releases, public safety, 911 outages, and severe weather warnings.
Why is this important? After all, can’t we just pull out our smartphone and see what the weather is going to be? Sure, if the power grid is still up and there’s still WiFi. But emergencies can be tricky things, and you might need a more reliable source of technology to fall back on.
Power Sources for Emergency Radios
All of the emergency radios utilize more than just one way to power the internal battery, which could be a lifesaver in a situation that calls for quick thinking. Here are the common power sources, along with a few of the pros and cons associated with each
• Hand Cranks
This is the most common charging feature on emergency radios because it is an absolute surefire way of creating electricity to power the radio. It can be used day or night with no additional technology, making it the first thing you want to make sure is present.
Why they’re great: 100% Reliable way to create power
What they lack: It requires effort and our review team is lazy!
• Solar Panel
Solar powered technology is becoming more and more affordable to produce, so we are seeing it on more and more different kinds of gear and outdoor equipment. Generally this features the use of a small panel somewhere on the unit that collects sunlight and then trickles it down to the battery.
Why they’re great: Passive energy collection means you can sit back and relax
What they lack: Solar charging is a very slow way to charge the battery
• USB or Micro USB Cable
This is perhaps the fastest and most efficient way to get the internal battery charged, but it requires the use of an electrical outlet, which is the one thing you might not have in an emergency. What a micro USB port is really good for is charging your cell phone from the internal battery.
Why they’re great: Quick & easy charging, can charge your cell phone or iPhone
What they lack: Requires an electric outlet
• AA or AAA Batteries
One way to power your emergency is to bypass the internal rechargeable battery altogether and instead use a set of trusty batteries, usually either AA or AAA depending on the model. These are somewhat heavy to be lugging around with you all the time, but they provide a
great backup in case the unexpected happens.
Why they’re great: A reliable backup source of power
What they lack: They can be heavy, expensive, and not always around
This is another feature that you will find on nearly every model of emergency radio out there, and why not? If all you have to do is add an LED compartment to the radio, when we are certainly in favor of it. And having access to a light source that does not require batteries is the very definition of emergency preparedness.
While flashlights have been a common feature for many years, smaller and dimmer reading lights have become more popular as they use less electricity.
Frequently Asked Questions
You might actually be surprised with just how easy it is to fully charge these batteries with the included hand crank.
The total time that it takes to charge the battery using this method will vary significantly from model. But in general, for every hour of cranking, you will get 30 minutes of light or 15 minutes of radio.
Generally, it is possible to charge these batteries with a 220V source, as long as the charger itself was rated for this purpose. However these radios are programmed with American (US) Emergency Radio frequencies, which may differ from those used by other countries.
One of the greatest things about emergency radios is that they function pretty much just like a regular radio … they’re just smaller, lighter, and infinitely more useful in all sorts of situations.
However the short-wave reception of some of these radios might be somewhat limited due to the small size of the radios themselves. Because they are so small, they have small antennae and cannot pickup as many channels.
This is one of the most important features that you want to keep a close eye on when sleuthing for new emergency radios. A replaceable battery is a good thing to have, because it allows you to swap out the battery over time.
Here’s the deal: rechargeable batteries don’t last forever. Every time you fill and drain, the capacity of the battery is reduced by a miniscule amount. After a few seasons with significant use, the battery simply won’t last as long. It is also possible to swap out for a battery with greater capacity, as long as that battery conforms to the specifications of the radio itself.
It seems like one thing that a lot of these radios have in common is that the built-in solar panels take a really long time to contribute any significant amount of charge. Is there a way to swap out the on-board panel for something a little bigger? Or any other way to “super-charge” the existing panels so they are more effective at charging the battery?
While it is true that the solar panels that are installed on many of these emergency radios are not extremely efficient, and really work best on a sunny day over a long period of time, such as at the campsite or beach. The panels are simply too small to capture a whole lot of energy, and making them any larger would kind of defeat the purpose of having a smaller, more compact and portable radio for emergency situations.
One of the easiest solutions to this problem would be to purchase a 3rd party solar battery setup, which these days have big, fold-out solar panels that are capable of capturing a significant amount of energy and then funneling it into a battery pack or power bank. Then, you can use the power bank to charge up your emergency radio, provided that you selected a model with a USB-in power source.
The Kaito KA550 is one of the best models for this purpose as it does have USB compatibility.
I’ve been told that it is absolutely imperative to have an emergency radio that is also a functioning NOAA receiver. Some of the radios on this list say that they can get the NOAA frequencies, but other reviews don’t even mention it. Can all emergency radios pick up the NOAA frequency?
To elaborate on the premise of your question a bit, we should say that it is true that not all radios can pick up the NOAA frequency, and in fact, the large majority of them cannot. This is especially true of regular radio receivers like the ones in your car, but even some specially designed emergency radios cannot pick up the right frequency.
Therefore it is important to look for an emergency radio that is a qualified NOAA Weather Radio receiver. This meands that it will be able to pick up all the messages, warnings, and alarm tones that come from NOAA in the case of severe weather or an emergency. Emergency radios with this function are also capable of picking up on NOAA’s alarm tone when a weather broadcast is incoming; interrupting the current transmission so you don’t miss anything.
The newest generation of emergency radios also utilize something known as the SAME feature , which stands for Specific Area Message Encoding. This is a more specialized version of NOAA’s broadcast that can allow the user to ‘subscribe’ to a specific area of the country, therefore making it possible to receive more area-specific weather alerts and ignoring the ones that are nowhere close to you.
In our opinion, the Eton FRX5-BT is a great portable NOAA receiver that is the perfect size for your emergency supply kit. It also has a hand crank and battery compartment, meaning that it is highly likely to be available for use when you need it most.
My wife is a firefighter so I wanted to get her some emergency equipment that she can keep in her pickup in case of emergency. One of the last things I needed to get to complete the kit was an emergency radio, but I pretty much stopped in my tracks when I realized just how many of them were on the market claiming to offer the same level of performance for wildly different prices. In the end I pretty much had to point my finger, click on something, and hope for the best.
In the end I went with the Midland ER-310, which is the one at the top of this list under ‘Best Flashlight Pick’. I can’t say I agree with that point … the flashlight is alright, but only if the batteries are completely charged. If you are operating with hand-crank only, it it difficult to get it to maintain high brightness.
But the compact shape and easy push-button functionality was what won me over. My wife loves it because it is really easy to operate, and I am happy with anything that can receive emergency weather alerts from NOAA.
If you’re going to use the solar panel on this thing, plan on giving it a whole day of bright sun! Overall score: 4/5