An emergency radio may sound like an ancient dinosaur now that everyone has a smartphone. But, if there’s something an emergency radio has that a smartphone doesn’t, it’s long battery life and reliable connection.
Aside from that, emergency radios are tough. They can take a bashing or be used in wet weather conditions and still deliver a strong signal. Plus, modern emergency radios do so much more than playing your favorite stations. Most double as flashlights and power banks while also relaying emergency weather alerts.
Although most emergency radios function in the same way, specific features make some better than others. In this article, we’ll outline the key features of the five best emergency radios.
What is an emergency radio?
In short, an emergency (weather) radio is a battery-efficient radio that picks up NOAA weather frequencies as well as the standard AM and FM stations. They’re designed to continue working when the electricity is down or when you’re far from civilization. For this reason, emergency radios run on minimal amounts of power and renewable power, such as solar energy.
Additionally, some emergency weather radios can notify you of extreme or dangerous weather conditions in your area, such as storms and hurricanes. Some have a special setting so that these weather notices will interrupt whatever station you are listening to and relay the information even if your device is switched off.
All of the emergency radios in our top five can receive NOAA weather bands as well as AM and FM frequencies.
When will I need an emergency radio?
Like first aid kits and emergency blankets, you’ll hopefully never need to use an emergency radio, but it’s always wise to carry one when you’re backpacking or camping in remote areas. The same applies if you’re heading out on the water, driving off the beaten path, or exploring places with limited phone signal. If you live in an area that’s prone to extreme weather or sudden weather changes, then you should also consider getting an emergency radio.
5 best emergency radios
Built to withstand the great outdoors, the Sangean MMR-88 Emergency Radio has everything you’ll need. It’s compatible with both AM and FM frequencies and receives all 7 NOAA weather bands. Plus, its 19 pre-sets should help you find the right channel quickly.
In case you get into trouble, the MMR-88 has a built-in loudspeaker unit and an emergency buzzer. There’s also a triple LED SOS light and a built-in flashlight.
When it comes to portability, this radio fits into your hand and weighs just 392g. Its bright yellow color should make it difficult to lose and, thanks to the reinforced rubber corners, you shouldn’t worry about dropping it.
This emergency weather radio has three modes of charging, USB, solar panel, and hand crank. It also doubles as a power bank so you can recharge your mobile devices via a micro-USB.
- Tough design
- Very portable
- Battery saving features (automatically shuts off after 90 minutes)
- Not compatible alkaline batteries
If you want to be ready for all scenarios, the Kaito KA500 Emergency Radio might be the best choice for you. This radio offers multiple ways of charging, including a solar panel, hand crank, and NI-MH battery that you can recharge by USB or AC/DC adapter (not included).
Unlike many emergency radios, this one also gives you the option of running it on three AA batteries. This might be useful if you’re multiple days without electricity and can’t wait for the radio to charge by UV rays or hand crank.
The 7 NOAA weather stations are pre-programmed and numbered so you can find the right station in seconds. Additionally, the KA500 can receive AM, FM, and shortwave frequencies.
It also has a Public Emergency Alert System (PEAS), so you’ll get important notifications no matter what you’re doing. Other safety features include a red SOS beacon light and LED flashlight.
- Multiple ways of charging
- Made from water-resistant ABS plastic
- Can take AA batteries
- Slow to charge with solar panel
- Heavier and larger than other options
The Running Snail is a compact emergency radio with a simple face but plenty of features. Although you can’t pre-set channels; the Running Snail is very easy to use. A switch on the front lets you change between AM, FM, and NOAA weather stations, and you have two dials for fine-tuning and volume.
This model comes with a built-in LED flashlight with three settings and an SOS alarm. We also like that it has a motion sensor that automatically powers the flashlight. That should be useful when wiggling out of your tent in the middle of the night.
Despite its compact size, the Running Snail Emergency Radio supports four ways of charging; hand crank, solar power, USB (6-hour charge time), or a replaceable Li-ion battery.
- Easy to use
- Can change the battery
- Doubles as a power bank
- Can’t pre-set radio channels
The Eton Scorpion II Emergency Radio is an excellent choice for backpacking and adventure sports. Like the other emergency radios on this list, it receives AM, FM, and NOAA frequencies. It also boasts an impressive battery life and speedy recharge with the hand crank, solar power, or USB.
Its narrow shape makes it easy to hold in one hand. Alternatively, you can clip it to your backpack for weather updates or background music while you’re on the move. We are also pleasantly surprised to see that the Scorpion II has a digital clock and tuner display, something that’s less common on compact emergency radios.
Other useful features include the super bright LED flashlight, the USB port for charging a smartphone, and the aluminium carabiner. One drawback is that the Scorpion II is not fully waterproof. However, it is water-resistant (IPX4) and strong enough to be dropped and bashed.
- Water-resistant (IPX4)
- Excellent battery life
- Lightweight (300 g) and compact
- Not 100% waterproof
To make you prepared for all occasions, Eton and the American Red Cross offer the FRX3+ Emergency Radio. This emergency radio will keep you informed of any extreme weather changes, although you can turn off the emergency alerts if you prefer. This model will receive AM, FM, and NOAA frequencies as well as Environment Canada Weather bands. Additionally, it comes with a bright LED flashlight and red SOS beacon.
The FRX3+ offers a long battery life and time-efficient charging options. Like most emergency radios, you can recharge this model by a hand crank, solar power, or USB. It’s a reliable emergency radio to keep in your home, car, or campervan.
We like that its unique shape is easy to carry. You can grab it with a finger as you walk to go out the door. However, backpackers might find it awkward to pack into a rucksack.
- Sturdy design
- Doubles as a power bank
- Large rechargeable battery (2600 mAH)
- An awkward shape for backpackers
- Can’t pre-set radio stations
How to choose an emergency radio
Choosing the best emergency radio might be tougher than it seems because most offer similar features. To make sure that you select the right one for your personal use, you might need to look past the basics and focus on additional features such as connectivity, charging options, flashlight settings, and price.
Connectivity & tuning
The best emergency radio will receive AM, FM, and NOAA weather band. Also, you should decide whether you want a radio with an analogue or a digital tuner. Both have pros and cons. While a digital tuner might be simpler to use, analogue tuners can be more reliable. Some digital emergency radios also have analogue tuner dials.
Battery & charging
The last thing you want in an emergency is a flat battery so look out an emergency radio with long battery life and multiple charging options. Most emergency radios offer at least three ways of charging, solar power, hand crank, and USB. Additional methods of charging include AC/DC adapters or alkaline battery compatibility.
Also, remember to check if the emergency radio has a replaceable battery and whether the battery is easy or awkward to change. This gives you the option of carrying a spare battery and extending the life of the radio.
Most emergency radios also have a USB output port which allows you to recharge small electronics, such as mobiles and music players.
Listening to a tinny radio is never pleasant. Although some speakers are better than others, sound quality will be hugely affected by signal strength, and you might have to compromise when you’re out in the wilderness. Plus, high winds and rain can drown out the sound of even the best radios so check that the radio you’re looking at has a standard size headphone jack.
Size & weight
When you’re travelling, size and weight are essential. Fortunately, most emergency radios can be held in one hand and weigh under 600 g. Some weigh just 300 g. For backpacking and adventure sports, you’ll probably want to prioritise size and weight over additional features.
Emergency radios should be tough enough to survive an emergency. Robust plastic casing, like ABS plastic, and reinforced corners, will protect it from drops from and scrapes. But, if you plan on taking it trekking and camping, it’s worth looking for a waterproof or water-resistant emergency radio.
Flashlight & lighting settings
The great thing about an emergency radio is that it doubles as a flashlight. All the items on this list are fitted with powerful LED lights and offer multiple lighting settings. You can use them for anything from bedtime reading to walking at night. Some emergency radios also have an SOS lighting setting which is a valuable feature when you’re a long way from town.
Emergency radios are very affordable. Many quality emergency radios range from $30 to $60. In terms of connectivity, there’s not a massive difference between the higher and lower-priced products (assuming that you purchase from a reputable brand). But, those on the lower end of the price scale tend to have the essentials only while more expensive radios come with more bells and whistles.