Welcome to T3's guide to the best walkie talkies. When was the last time your phone ran out of batteries? Any answer other than 'yesterday' is impressive to us, which means relying on your phone when you're trekking through the wilderness is a recipe for disaster. The vagaries of poor battery life, unreliable reception and the inability to withstand much more than a passing rain shower all mean having a tried and tested way to stay in touch is important.
The best walkie talkies have excellent battery life, don't rely on mobile phone infrastructure, and offer superb water- and drop-proofing, as well as ranges up to several miles. A quick game of Angry Birds while you wait for the rescue chopper is just about the only thing you can't do. Here, we've got five handsets that come in packs of two (three, in one case!), giving you everything you need to get started.
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How to choose the best walkie talkie for you
Walkie talkies range from ultra-simple units right up to ruggedised models that will make the most die-hard survivalist feel at home. At a minimum, you should consider a walkie-talkie's claimed range, and bear in mind these are almost always best-case scenarios, often with a clear line of sight between individual units. If you're going to use a walkie talkie in a busy city, or somewhere hilly where line of sight will be obstructed by buildings or geography, go for one with longer range.
After range, battery life and ease of charging are important. Some of the walkie talkies here come with rechargeable battery packs that allow you to simply plug your handset into the mains to recharge it – but will still accommodate old-fashioned AA batteries. Some units only let you use their own battery packs, while others only take AA batteries. AA batteries are arguably the most convenient as you can buy fresh ones anywhere in the world – but if you want to recharge you'll need to supply your own charger as well.
One differentiating factor is the number of channels your handset supports – all the units here support eight, but some include the option to go up to 16 channels, giving you a better chance of finding a channel that isn't being used by another group nearby. If you're going to use your walkie talkies somewhere busy this is worth checking.
Lifespan isn't just about batteries – it's also about how well your walkie talkie will survive. If you're simply looking to stay in touch with your kids on a campsite, mere splash-proofing will be adequate. If you're going to use your walkie talkie in all weathers, very cold conditions or – worst of all – on a boat, you'll want one that can take a proper dunking and has an IPX rating that will allow it to be submerged for a bit. Some walkie talkies are positively buoyant, which means they float if you drop them in the drink; others have water detectors on them which trigger a bright LED, allowing you to find them from the deck. Of course, the more rugged and feature-filled your handset is, the more it's going to cost, so it's worth thinking about the scale of your adventures before putting down a credit card.
The best walkie-talkies you can buy right now
Ready for a bargain? The T42 Talkabout costs under £40, and instead of coming in a pack of two – like every other set in this roundup – comes in a set of three, making it instantly appealing for larger groups, or households with more than one child.They're dinky, well-made little things, with a plastic loop on the bottom as well as a removable clip for attaching them to your belt.
They're powered by three AAA batteries each, and our experience suggests that you'll get plenty of use from each charge – we managed several days of on-again, off-again use before we started to see battery warnings. The AAA batteries do mean you can't charge these handsets from a car charger, though.
These are incredibly easy to use. They weigh under 80g before you install the batteries, and changing channels – the most frequent non-broadcasting job you'll do – only takes a few button presses. On the subject of channels, the T42 offer 16 channels rather than the eight for some other devices, making it easier to find uncrowded channels in locations with other walkie talkie users. The PTT button is large and easy to find, and audio quality is excellent.
There's no weather-sealing to speak of – not even a soft grommet on the battery door – so relying on these in inclement weather could be unwise. Also, although range is claimed to be 4km, we found that using these handsets in dense woodland reduced that number to several hundred metres, so groups looking for walkie-talkies for use in risky situations – orienteering in hilly ; in reality using these handsets in dense woodland dramatically reduced their range to several hundred metres: another black mark for groups who need to stay in touch in risky situations.
However, not every situation calling for walkie talkies is life or death, and there are plenty of situations where these small, capable, pocketable devices will be just what the doctor ordered. For the money, we don't think you can do better.
The T92 is full of neat little design touches. The bright LED on the base can be turned on manually, of course, but it also illuminates if the two metal contacts on the base of the unit get wet, so you can find it more easily if you drop it off the side of a boat. The belt clip incorporates a whistle for attracting attention – another useful touch. You also get an emergency button, which transmits a loud alert signal for eight seconds and then transmits hands-free for another 22 seconds. If the receiving handset is another T92, its volume is forced to maximum for the duration of the signal, making these potentially very useful in hazardous environments.
Range is good at a claimed 10km – we got dramatically less in a dense forest, which is to be expected, but we still got crystal clear communications well beyond line of sight. 16 channels means steering clear of other users was easy enough, and the compact form factor, including the stumpy little antenna, makes these easy to tote around.
They're not quite indestructible, but they're close. They're IPX67 rated, which means they're dust proof as well as being able to survive immersion in water up to one metre for up to 30 minutes. They're clad in chunky, tough feeling plastic and the buttons feel robust – we'd have faith that these would continue transmitting and receiving in some really demanding situations.
Battery power is via a supplied rechargeable pack, but the T92's form factor will also accommodate three AA batteries, allowing you to run a handset without the charger. A final nicety is the included semi-hardshell carry case, which gives you a way to keep your handsets and their accompanying charger and cable neat in your luggage.
It's definitely worth weighing up the T92's relatively high price against its feature list and double-checking that you definitely need such a well-featured and well-built piece of kit – but if you want something that will last whatever you throw at it, value for money doesn't come much better than this.
Practically an impulse-buy, these ultra-affordable Amazon-branded units are actually pretty good. Apart from transmit and receive audio they don't do a lot – there's no weather-sealing, no audio socket for a headset and you can certainly forget about an LED lamp, positive buoyancy or rechargeable batteries – you'll need to supply three of your own AAAs. In our tests these lasted absolutely ages, allowing us to go for days of occasional use without seeing a battery warning.
What you do get is a pair of handy, robust-feeling handsets with eight channels (as opposed to the 16 of many other units) that produce good-quality, easily-intelligible audio at a claimed range of 5km. As ever, you'll need your pinch of salt at hand – we found their real range closer to 1km, a truth-to-marketing ratio that's similar to most other handsets. The small LCD display is backlit, so you can set these up after dark, and the provided belt clip feels a little lightweight but not overly fragile.
If you're looking to entertain little ones these are the absolute ticket. Just remember the Motorola TalkAbout T42 comes in a set of three, is a little more impressively made, offers more channels (16 to Amazon's eight) and costs under a tenner more.
Designed to complement your impact driver and hard hat, the DXPMR300 is a walkie talkie with plenty of appeal who give their gear a hard time. Dust-proof, waterproof and drop-proof up to a claimed two metres, these 16-channel walkie-talkies are designed to live a hard life. At claimed 8km range, they should stay in touch long after other handsets have gone quiet.
They certainly feel well put-together – the soft-touch black surround doesn't show marks easily and the buttons are all weather-sealed. There's a 2.5mm headset jack which is protected by a thick rubber stopper. Pop open the battery compartment and you'll find more weather protection. If your walkie talkie is just as likely to be dropped in a cement mixer as be exposed to driving snow, DeWalt might have designed the perfect unit.
The battery pack is a bespoke unit and is protected by a weather-sealed door. Because it's bespoke there's no swapping it out for an emergency set of standard alkaline batteries which could be a drawback for some. On the plus side you get a lot of battery life per charge – the units go into a semi-shutdown after 10 seconds (they're still awake enough to transmit and receive), and you should get several days' use from them. DeWalt claims 12 continuously powered-on. You get a double-ended charging cable for charging both units at once. There's also a tidy desktop charging cradle that lets you charge both at once.
At over £100 for two, these are towards the luxury end of the market, and while they're a must-have for those who need to stay in touch in positively hazardous environments, you'll find more bells and whistles elsewhere.
Given that walkie-talkies are for use in places smartphones can't reach, it's worth thinking about just how much of a disaster you need to be able to withstand. With its positive buoyancy, bright emergency LED and 12km claimed range, the Cobra AM1035 should allow you to stay in touch after the rubber has well and truly left the road.
They're chunky little units – they weigh 174g before you install a battery – but there's plenty of evidence of weather sealing, including a chunky stopper protecting the mini-USB and audio ports. That makes the AM1035 very hardy – they're IPX7-rated, which means they can survive underwater at depths of up to a metre for up to 30 minutes at a time, and they also float. The AM1035 can also 'burp', expelling water from its speaker by playing a very loud sound for a little under eight seconds, allowing you to un-waterlog your handset without resorting to drying it on a radiator.
There's a small LED at the bottom of each handset – useful if not spectacularly powerful – and power is courtesy of four included rechargeable AA batteries. These are doubly useful – not only did they keep our handsets powered on for more than a day at a time, but as long as you can get the battery cover off (it's held in place by slot-headed screws) you can install any AA battery if you're not near a source of electricity or don't have the charger.
As a matter of personal preference, we like Motorola's T92 a little better – the Motorola's buttons feel a little more refined and the handsets are a touch smaller, but if you need maximum range above all else, the AM1035s are priced extremely attractively.