CB radios have been around since the 1970s. Though their popularity has dwindled slightly these days, they still continue to be quite popular. They are popular among truckers, off-road enthusiasts, emergency response groups, hikers, and hunters.
If you are contemplating a handheld CB radio purchase, I will suggest that you make an informed decision. It will save you money, and take away the post-purchase frustration. We have done hours testing with all available CB radios on the market and writing this post. So, you can choose the right CB Radio for your need.
If you are short on time, here is a quick list of our top 6 picks on handheld CB radios keeping different purposes in mind:
Handheld CB Radio Buying Guide
When you go shopping for CB radios, there are a few things that you need to consider very seriously. What are those things? Let’s find out.
Transmission Range of the Handheld CB Radio
A CB radio is for communication. It can be used during hiking, hunting, off-road activities, communication in a construction site, etc.
The distance between you and the partner(s) you will be talking with will define the purchase. The longer the distance between two people communicating with each other, the higher should be the transmission range of the handheld CB radio.
This is the golden rule of thumb you should always remember. Usually, for communication within a construction site or hunting, you will not need a long-range CB radio. The antenna is often the most critical piece that defines the CB radio range.
The longer the antenna, the higher the range. You should go for CB radios that support an external antenna.
Automatic Channel Scan
CB radios, in general, come with 40 channels. It can quickly become inconvenient to scan through each one of them manually. It is, therefore, necessary that you go for a handheld CB radio that can automatically navigate all channels effortlessly to search for activity.
Such automatic scanning will make the radio stop right when it detects a voice. This feature is particularly helpful for truckers as they need to focus on the road. Automatic channel scanning will prevent accidents.
Easy Access to Emergency Channels
Best CB radios for truckers or hikers or hiking enthusiasts are the ones that allow easy access to emergency channels. The 40 channels that come with CB radios include some emergency channels. These include NOAA weather channels, information channel 19, and emeegrn3yc channel 9.
An excellent CB radio should include these channels with the ability to jump to those channels instantly. Getting traffic and weather reports can sometimes be a lifesaver.
Automatic Noise Limiter
Automatic Noise Limiter (ANL) in CB radios helps in hearing transmissions clearly by clearing off background noises and other interferences.
You need to remember that not every CB radio will come Automatic Noise Limiter. This is a vital feature, and you should try to get one that comes with ANL.
Yet another feature that you should look for in any portable CB radio is the squelch control technology. This function helps you to send out clear transmission by removing noise.
It is essential because, in the case of an emergency, when you make a call, people should be able to listen to you clearly. If people can’t understand you, they can extend help.
A Backlit Display
Be it a mobile CB radio or a handheld CB radio, you will find a display screen. Information like alerts, date, the channel you are listening to, etc. will show up on the screen.
A larger backlit display is more suitable during adverse weather conditions where visibility becomes a problem. Also, a backlit display allows proper visibility both during day and night.
A larger screen means bigger fonts that translate into easier reading.
The battery life of your handheld CB radio can be a crucial factor in a life-and-death situation. You must ensure that the handheld CB radio comes with long battery life. Ideally, you should be looking at the range of 10-12 hours of usage time.
Also, go for those models that offer rechargeable batteries. They may cost you a few more bucks during the purchase, but the overall cost decreases over the long term as you need not replace batteries every now and then.
If you get a model that offers an extra battery pack, that’s an added benefit!
You should preferably go for those brands and models that offer compatibility with accessories. Accessories may include things like external speakers, headphones, microphones, antennas, etc.
For example, an external antenna can help you to increase the range of your handheld CB radio significantly.
Honestly, you may not find all of the features mentioned above in a single model. That doesn’t mean you should discard it immediately. If you can extend the capabilities of the radio using accessories, that will work as well.
Now that you know what to look for while buying a handheld CB radio, let us take a quick look at the list of best handheld CB radios.
I will be breaking up this list into two parts. The first part will give you the list of most-preferred CB radio models, and the second part will tell you the list of more great options you can choose from.
Sounds good? Let’s begin!
6 Best Handheld CB Radios Worth Buying
#1. Cobra HHRT50 – Best Handheld CB Radio for Truckers
If you love going on road trips or if your job dictates snaking through roads using your truck, the Cobra HHRT50 is the best option for you.
This handheld CB radio comes with almost every feature that you would ideally want from a CB radio.
What makes it an excellent choice for truckers is the magnetic mount mobile antenna that you can stick on the top of your vehicle.
In case you are not aware, most of the CB radios are not powerful enough to send or receive a signal through the frame of a car. This happens because, according to FCC regulations, CB radios cannot have a power output exceeding 4 watts.
In case you are wondering whether the external magnetic antenna that comes with the Cobra HHRT50 can amplify the signal or not, the short answer is, ‘NO.’
What this antenna does is that it only sends a signal through the vehicle’s frame.
The Cobra HHRT50 comes with a ‘Sound Tracker System,’ that can cut off 90% of the noise, allowing clear transmission of frequencies. The noise that the system cuts off includes static noise or interference.
It comes with a unique feature of ‘Dual Watch’ that will help you to monitor two channels simultaneously.
This handheld CB radio comes with a maximum power output of 4 watts, but there are two different power output options – high power and low power. You can easily switch between the two to increase battery life by up to 75%.
Speaking of battery life, the Cobra HHRT50 is powered by AA rechargeable batteries. You can recharge the batteries using the DC power cord with included charge tip that comes as a part of the package.
You can plug in the included DC power cord directly into the cigarette lighter of your vehicle.
Alternatively, you can charge the batteries using an AC wall charger. The AC wall charger is not a part of the package.
What I found interesting about this handheld CB radio is its Omni-directional microphone that is capable of picking up frequencies from multiple directions at once. This is a great feature when it comes to scanning channels for transmissions.
The CB radio also comes with a speaker jack and microphone jack that will allow you to use either or both of the accessories with radio! However, if you want to use those accessories, you need to purchase them separately. They don’t come along with the package.
The radio offers a maximum range of 4 miles. You can get the maximum range only if the geographic terrain between the two radios is flat. In city conditions, the range can be limited to as little as 0.5 miles.
- Allows 40 channels covering the full spectrum of CB stations.
- Includes an external magnetic mount antenna.
- It comes with rechargeable AA batteries.
- It offers an Omni-directional microphone.
- It offers 10 NOAA weather channels. It can monitor 3 NOAA channels at once.
- In the case of an emergency or a threatening weather condition, the radio lets out an audible tone.
- It offers a Dual Watch feature that will allow you to monitor two different channels simultaneously.
- It supports accessories like an external speaker and an external microphone.
- It offers NiMH batteries. More advanced Li-Ion batteries would have been better.
- It does not have any channel memory.
- The included external antenna is not very long.
- The range can become very limited (0.5 miles) depending upon the geographic terrain.
#2. Uniden PRO501HH – Best Sound Quality
In optimal listening conditions, the Uniden PRO501HH is all about excellent sound quality. This handheld CB radio is known to give crystal clear sound in conjunction with an external pair of earbuds plugged into the external speaker jack.
However, you do need to consider that the transmission quality is impacted by several factors, including the atmospheric conditions, line-of-sight, etc.
There is something else! Though the Uniden PRO501HH comes with a stock rubber duck antenna, you can quickly upgrade it to a better antenna. A 3-foot FireStik antenna will work great with the radio.
The radio comes equipped with both Squelch Control and Automatic Noise Limiter built right into the device that you can use to fine-tune the performance of the device in terms of noise elimination.
It also comes with a backlit LCD display that you can easily read both during day and night. There are two levels of power output that you can use. The high power setting gives you 4 watts, while the low power setting gives you the output of 1 watt. 4 watt is the maximum you get for this radio because of the FCC restrictions.
As far as the range is concerned, you can expect up to 4 miles in open fields. However, this range can significantly drop if you are in a city setup or in the woods, the range will drop significantly to merely half a mile.
In case you want to use it while driving, you will have to use a separate roof-mounted antenna that can send the signals through the vehicle’s metallic body.
Pros of Uniden PRO501HH CB Radio
- The built-in Squelch Control function and the Automatic Noise Limiter gives crystal clear sound in conjunction with a pair of earbuds.
- It covers all 40 channels in the CB radio bands.
- It also covers 10 NOAA channels.
- It comes with a Dual Watch feature that will allow you to talk to one channel while listening to another channel simultaneously.
- It comes with a backlit display.
- Its Ni-MH batteries can be charged directly using the cigarette plug adapter.
- You can use external rechargeable Ni-MH AA batteries or AA alkaline batteries. You will need 9 of these batteries.
- It has two power settings 1 watt (low) and 4 watts (high).
- It can automatically scan through the channels.
Cons of Uniden PRO501HH CB Radio
- The provided antenna is not so good in picking up frequencies. You will be better off with a new and powerful antenna.
- The transmission range is mediocre.
- The radio has a very bulky design.
- The battery life is not so great. You will need a separate set of rechargeable batteries to ensure that your communication never ends abruptly.
#3. Midland 75-822 – Overall Feature-Rich
Just in case, you are looking for a handheld CB radio is that is feature-rich, but yet gives excellent value for money, the Midland 75-822 makes a great choice. This portable CB radio is powered by six AA batteries.
If you want, you can also power it up using the cigarette lighter adapter. Good news, the adapter comes with the package.
Staying compliant with the FCC regulation, this device gives a maximum power output of 4 watts. It has an automatic channel scan feature that can scan through all 40 channels available for CB radios.
It comes with an instant access option for NOAA channels. You will get access to 10 different NOAA channels.
There is also a quick access option for both informational channel 19 and emergency channel 9. You can use the Dual Watch feature to monitor channel 9 and another channel of your choice simultaneously.
What I really liked about the radio is its rubber duck antenna that you can unscrew and remove so that you can connect it to a car-mounted antenna or a different high gain antenna.
Unlike many other competitors, the Midland 75-822 comes with a last channel memory feature. When you turn the radio on, it will automatically tune into the last channel that you use during your previous use.
The battery life is decent enough, and you can reduce the battery consumption by using the low power output of 1 watt. I will suggest you keep a set of six rechargeable batteries with you when you are going out for a long time, especially in the woods.
You can also use a separate speaker or a microphone if you want because there are ports available for both.
Pros of Midland 75-822 CB Radio
- You can change the antenna with ease, and upgrade to a high gain antenna, or connect it to a car roof-mounted antenna.
- It comes with the last channel memory function.
- It also offers a keypad lock function so that you don’t change the channel accidentally.
- It comes with an integrated Automatic Noise Limiter and a Squelch Control function to improve the sound quality by eliminating noise.
- It also offers a Dual Watch feature to monitor any other channel in the UHF band along with channel 9.
The Cons of Midland 75-822 CB Radio
- The screen, though advertised as backlit, is actually a sidelit one, making it difficult to read during the daytime.
- The stock antenna that comes with it is not so powerful. You should upgrade it.
- The design becomes a bit bulkier when you use batteries to power it up.
#4. Cobra HH50WXST – The Most Compact CB Radio
No, the Cobra HH50WXST CB radio is not the smallest out there. It is the most compact one. The maximum power output that you get is 4 watts.
The maximum range that you can get with this radio is 4 miles (can reach up to 5 miles) in line of sight or in open fields. However, the range can drop significantly to about half a mile, depending on the terrain.
If you use a separate high gain antenna, you may get a better range. But, before you upgrade to a different antenna, do keep in mind that the range is dependent on factors like terrain, atmospheric condition, power output, etc.
The Cobra HH50WXST comes with the last channel memory. So, when you turn on the radio for the next use, it will automatically tune into the last channel in the UHF band you used before shutting it down.
This CB radio comes equipped with a Sound Tracker System that cuts off annoying noises by 90%, giving you a clearer and crisper sound.
The Cobra HH50WXST gets up to 30 days of battery life using 6 AA batteries. You can increase the battery life using the low power output of 1 watt.
This portable CB radio comes with rechargeable NiMH AA batteries that you can charge using the recharging jack that comes with the radio. You can use the recharging jack directly on an AC wall unit, or with the 12V port available in your vehicle.
Just in case you want to use it in your vehicle, make sure that you are using a roof-mounted antenna. The stock antenna cannot send signals through the vehicle’s metal body.
It gives access to the full spectrum of CB channels in the UHF band, that is, you will get all 40 channels. You can access up to 10 NOAA channels.
The device is equipped with an Omni-directional microphone that can pick up frequencies from multiple directions. Just in case you want to use a separate speaker or a microphone, you can do so using the “speaker out” and “microphone in” ports.
The device takes only 4 seconds to scan through 40 channels and then keeps scanning. It automatically stops when it detects a sound.
It also sports a Dual Watch feature that allows you to monitor two channels simultaneously.
The Pros of Cobra HH50WXST
- It has a very compact design.
- It offers an automatic channel scan and Dual Watch feature.
- It comes integrated with technology that helps to remove 90% of the noise.
- It has a long battery life that you can increase using a low power output.
- It comes with a backlit screen that ensures clear visibility even in daylight.
- It remembers the last channel you use.
- It offers all 40 channels, including 10 NOAA channels.
The Cons of Cobra HH50WXST
- The antenna is not so powerful. It will be wise if you go ahead and change the antenna.
- It requires 9 batteries to operate. That’s a lot of batteries.
- The transmission range can drop significantly in city areas and in the woods.
#5. Uniden PRO401HH – Cheapest CB Radio You Can Find
If you are just starting out your journey with CB radios, I will suggest that you for the highly portable Uniden PRO401HH. This is the cheapest CB radio you can find. Once you get comfortable, you can later upgrade to pricier options.
The Uniden PRO401HH comes with a good range of features for its price. It covers all 40 channels allowed for CB radios of the UHF band. It also gives access to NOAA channels to get weather alerts.
It has a Dual Watch feature as well that will allow you to monitor two channels at once. You can talk on one channel and keep listening to another channel.
The stock rubber duck antenna that comes with the radio can give a maximum range of 4 miles in a clear line of sight. However, the range will dramatically drop when you are using it in city terrain. Walkie talkies can outperform the Uniden PRO401HH in city areas.
You can, however, upgrade the antenna. Upgrading the antenna will not ensure a more extended transmission range, because that depends on many factors like the power output, geographic terrain, weather conditions, and more.
The maximum power output of this CB radio is 4 watts (that is what the law allows). You can use the low power output to extend the battery life.
The device needs 9 AA batteries (either rechargeable or alkaline).
The batteries are not included in the package. You need to buy them separately.
In case you are using alkaline batteries, make sure that you flip the switch in the battery compartment accordingly.
You can use the DC power cable included in the package to recharge the Ni-MH batteries.
The Pros of Uniden PRO401HH CB Radio
- It is a cheap portable CB radio, and yet covers most of the basic features you will get with other popular handheld CB radios.
- It comes with a Dual Watch feature to monitor two channels simultaneously.
- It has a speaker output and microphone input option just in case you want to use a separate speaker or a separate microphone.
- It is just under 1 pound, making it a lightweight radio.
- The radio comes with a flexible BNC antenna that you can change.
- It has an auto noise cancellation feature.
- The radio package includes a strap and a belt clip.
- There are two power settings – 1 watt and 4 watts.
- It covers all 40 channels allowed for CB radios.
The Cons of Uniden PRO401HH CB Radio
- The screen is not backlit, making it difficult to read in the daylight.
- The batteries are not included in the package. You need to purchase them separately.
- There is no last channel memory.
- Though the maximum range is 4 miles, it barely reaches that limit. You need to have perfect atmospheric conditions and terrain to get such a range.
Alos, read tips to improve radio reception at home.
#6. Midland 75-785 – Good for Beginners
In case you are looking for a cheap option, the Midland 75-785 will do the trick. This cheap CB radio offers a wide range of functions that you have already read about in the options above.
This CB radio is equipped with a bright backlit screen that makes it easy to read even in daylight. The radio comes with built-in Automatic Noise Limiter that improves reception for weak signals.
The device also has a Squelch Control option for further fine-tuning. This helps to eliminate most of the background noises.
The onboard electrostat microphone ensures that your transmissions are also crystal clear.
The CB radio gives access to all the 40 channels available for the CB band. You can access NOAA channels to get weather alerts.
The maximum power output is 4 watts. However, you can quickly change to a lower power output of 1 watt with a push of a button. The radio comes with an onboard PLL channel selection option that will allow you to select any channel with pinpoint accuracy.
There are two ways you can power up this radio. You can either use 9 AA batteries (Ni-Cad) or the cigarette lighter adapter.
You can recharge the Ni-Cad batteries without removing them from the radio using the charger jack.
In case you wish to use accessories like a headset mic or a speaker box, you need to use the external accessory jack that comes with the package.
The Pros of Midland 75-785 CB Radio
- It is very lightweight.
- It is cheap, but packs in a lot of features.
- It provides clear sound output and clean transmission using Automatic Noise Limiter and a Squelch Control option.
- It offers access to NOAA channels in the UHF band.
- The screen is backlit, making it easy to read.
- It has two power output levels. The lower output can increase battery life.
- You can get a transmission range of up to 4 miles.
The Cons of Midland 75-785 CB Radio
- The unit doesn’t have any automatic channel selection option.
- There is no Dual Watch feature to monitor two channels simultaneously.
- The screen is too small.
- Batteries are not included in the radio package.
- The antenna is not robust. If you want to use it in a vehicle, you will need a roof-mounted or a window-mounted antenna.
Alright, now that the list of best handheld CB radios is complete, let me answer a few critical questions related to CB radios. This segment will help you to get a clear understanding of CB radios, their strengths, and limitations, etc. Ready?
General FAQ on CB Radios
What is a CB radio?
CB radio refers to Citizens Band radio. It is a land mobile radio system. It is not meant for long-distance communications. It is meant for a bidirectional or two-way and short-distance person-to-person communication. There are 40 available channels for CB radio, all of which are near 27 MHz high frequency (which is also known as the short wave).
How many miles can a handheld CB radio transmit?
A CB radio, in general, transmits up to 4 miles. This distance or range is possible only on a clear line of sight. If there are geographic terrains like buildings, mountains, etc. to block the clear line of sight, the range drops significantly, which can be as low as 0.5 miles, or even 1/8th of a mile. Some users have reported a transmission range of up to 5 miles, and sometimes a little more. That is possible only when the atmospheric conditions are perfect in addition to the availability of a clear line of sight.
How do I increase the range of my CB radio?
There are several ways of doing that. You can increase the range of your CB radio by increasing the antenna length.
- The optimal antenna length of a CB radio is 1/4th the wavelength. This translates into 102 inches or 8.5 feet.
- So, if you can find an antenna of that length, it will be great. However, you need to know that using an antenna of such a length may not always be feasible. A perfect example of such an antenna is the Hustler IC56.
- The general rule of thumb is that for every 1 foot of antenna, you can expect a range of 1-2 miles. So, an 8.5 feet antenna should give you a maximum of 17 miles of coverage.
When you change the antenna, do consider the following things as well:
- You should place the antenna as high as possible.
- Make sure that the antenna you are using is manufactured specifically for CB radios.
- You should also adjust the squelch of your radio, but never be too tempted to crank it up to maximum. Doing so will reduce your reception range.
- Make sure that the connection between your antenna and your radio is secure. The connection cable should not have twists or snags.
- If you are attaching the antenna to a non-metallic surface, make sure that you are using a “no ground plane” antenna.
What is the best place to mount a CB antenna?
If you have a standard CB antenna, you should ideally place it at the center of the roof. This will give the maximum ground plane coverage. In case you place the antenna on the bumper or fender, or somewhere around the edge of your vehicle, the signal will go away from the vehicle, giving you a weaker signal.
What should be the ideal length of the coax cable?
The coax cable runs from the radio to the antenna mount. The location of the antenna mount should determine the coax cable length. However, you need to understand that most of the CB antennas are pre-tuned using 18-feet coax. So ideally, you should be choosing a coax cable that is 18 feet in length. In case you have to select a cable that is shorter or longer, make sure that you do that in the decrement or increment of 3 feet to match the wavelength of the radio.
If you have a coax cable that is much longer than 18 feet, do not cut it off. You should not even store it as a coil. The moment you store it as a coil, it will create another antenna, severely effecting SRW readings. In a scenario like that, store the excess cable in figure 8, about one foot in length, and tie it up in the middle. It should look like a long and skinny 8.
What are some of the most popular CB radio channels?
Channel 19! That’s the most commonly used channel among truckers when they hit the highway. Some CB radios even have a dedicated button to bring up that channel with a single push. Other channels like 10, 17, and 21 are regionally famous.
Are CB amplifiers illegal?
Yes, they are illegal! Never use one. Using an amplifier with your CB can lead to hefty fines and even jail time. The Federal Communications Commission is not going to play it smoothly.
Do truckers still use CB radios in 2020?
Yes, truckers still use CB radios even today. They have been using it for some 5, 10, and even 20+ years. It is a valuable tool. For example, if a trucker spots a bad trailer tire, he can quickly inform that to the driver of the impacted truck. This can prevent accidents.
Do you need a license to operate a CB Radio?
No, you don’t need a license to use a CB radio. The name clarifies it. It is meant for citizens. There is no need to acquire a license even if a citizen wants to use it for business.
Can a CB radio talk to a walkie talkie?
No, a CB radio cannot talk to a walkie talkie. A CB can communicate only with a CB. A handheld walkie talkie can receive transmissions from a CB radio, but when it transmits, the person using the CB radio cannot hear anything.
External Resources to know more about the Handheld CB radios for beginners:
- Cobra HH RT 50 – ROAD TRIP
- 40 Channel Handheld CB Radio – PRO501HH
- Midland 75-822 PORTABLE/MOBILE CB RADIO
- 40 Channel Handheld CB Radio
- Handheld CB Radio Buying Guide
- 6 Best Handheld CB Radios Worth Buying
- General FAQ on CB Radios
- What is a CB radio?
- How many miles can a handheld CB radio transmit?
- How do I increase the range of my CB radio?
- What is the best place to mount a CB antenna?
- What should be the ideal length of the coax cable?
- What are some of the most popular CB radio channels?
- Are CB amplifiers illegal?
- Do truckers still use CB radios in 2020?
- Do you need a license to operate a CB Radio?
- Can a CB radio talk to a walkie talkie?