A portable CB radio is a gadget that may not immediately come to mind when you think about essential survival and camping gear. However, as an almost universal method of communication that works independently of cell towers, citizen band radios can serve a useful or even life-saving purpose. While the use of CB radios is ubiquitous across the country, the features that they contain are a lot more variable.
Here are some of the best portable CB radio models, and the features that make them great.
Last update on 2020-06-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
- 1 The Best Portable CB Radio Reviews
- 2 Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner
- 3 Midland 75-822 40 Channel CB-Way Radio
- 4 Midland 75-785 40-Channel CB Radio
- 5 Cobra HH50WXST Hand Held CB Radio
- 6 Uniden PRO505XL 40-Channel CB Radio
- 7 What to Look For in a CB Radio
- 8 Conclusion
The Best Portable CB Radio Reviews
Being informed is often 90% of the battle. That’s why many survivalists opt for a more streamlined scanner as opposed to both a radio and transmitter. The Uniden Bearcat BC125AT does not allow you to have two-way communication, but that does not mean that it lacks features. This scanner has over 500 tagged channels, making it one of the most versatile portable scanners on the market. In addition to CB bands, this device allows you to listen to numerous public safety, police, fire, emergency, marine, military aircraft, and even auto racing channels.
Beyond these communication channels, this radio can receive NOAA weather reports. Thus, this pocket device can be used to receive some of the most accurate and informative weather forecasts imaginable, without any cell or wifi. If you need to be informed about the events going on in your immediate area, this is an immeasurably useful tool.
The number of channels is not the only highlight here. Uniden has a long history of making high-quality portable radio equipment, dating back to 1966. That experience is apparent when using this product. The fit and finish are exceptional, the buttons are tactile and easy to use, and the display is bright and clear. It feels like an incredibly premium product.
It is very easy to use, too. The menus are much easier to navigate than on many competitive models. The device can be charged using the included USB cable, which can also be used to program the unit. With the included software, you can compose a list of favorites or commonly used frequencies for quick access. This touch makes an already intuitive device even better.
Finally, the “Close Call” technology in this radio vastly improves its function as a safety device. This feature allows the radio to receive any broadcast that is nearby, regardless of which frequency is being used. Rather than being forced to scan channels, the radio does the work for you and gets you the most pertinent broadcasts. If you are looking for a scanner to add to your survivalist arsenal, this is one of the best.
- “Close Call” feature
- Beautifully made
- Very versatile
- Cannot transmit
- Only water resistant
Midland has a history of building straight-forward, efficient, and easy to use radios. The 75-822 is no exception. The highlight of this Midland model is its versatility, both in terms of functionality and form factor. In most CB radios, you have to choose between a car-mounted “handset” style unit and a portable battery-powered model. The beauty of this model’s arrangement is that you aren’t required to make that choice. This unit comes with two clip-on power packs that affix to the bottom of the unit. One powers it through a 12v cigarette lighter, mimicking a traditional dash-mounted radio. The other contains six AA batteries, allowing mobile use. Thus, for the price of one radio, you have the functionality of two units.
Beyond the form factor, this unit is not lacking in features. This is a 40-channel CB radio that broadcasts at 4-watts, making it as powerful as legally allowed. Beyond the CB functionality, Midland was thoughtful in including ten NOAA channels. Thus, this radio can be used for knowing the weather as well as communicating.
One of the features I appreciate most about the 75-822 is that it strikes an excellent balance between features and ease of use. Many radios have a lot of tricks up their sleeves, but operational efficiency suffers. In contrast, the controls of this model are straightforward, intuitive, and easy to see. The buttons have a beautifully tactile response and the LCD is clear and bright. You won’t have to fumble when you need this radio the most.
Finally, the inclusion of ANL (automatic noise limiter) and squelch control, features that combine to improve reception and eliminate noise, is much appreciated. Both of these features automatically filter out errant noise and unwanted interference, allowing you to hear and be heard as clearly as possible. For anyone that has ever struggled to hear through a crackly headset, you will know how key these features can be. Overall, the Midland 75-822 is an efficient design with powerful features at a great price.
- Adaptable mounts and power
- Auto noise cancelling
- NOAA Channels
- Speaker could be louder
Some CB radios are designed to encompass as many features as possible, while others make the conscious decision to err on the side of simplicity. The Midland 75-785 is firmly in the latter camp. While it lacks some of the flashy inclusions of other models, this is a fantastic option for many uses.
The 75-785 is simplicity defined. It has a volume knob, a channel selection knob, a small screen, and a push-to-talk button. If you need a CB radio for communication, there is not a more efficient unit on the market. At 4-watts output, and 7-watts of reception strength, this is a powerful long-range radio. Our testing revealed that the sound quality was beautifully clear whether transmitting or receiving. And there’s no risk of being bogged down by unneeded features.
The simplicity of this model has several advantages. First, there is not a simpler to use radio available. Simply select your channel and start talking. You won’t need to read the manual or spend time fumbling with tiny dials. Further, the lack of extraneous inclusions means that this unit has stunning battery life. With its nine AA batteries, this unit can run for almost two weeks on standby. They even included an external charging port if you wish to use rechargeable batteries without removing them from the unit.
Lastly, this unit is compact and durable. Its smaller screen is much less likely to sustain damage from drops or moisture. If you are looking for a radio that is full of party tricks, this isn’t it. But if you need to get the job done quickly and efficiently, this is a great option.
- Simple to use
- Good sound quality
- Long battery life
- No NOAA support
The Midland 75-785 reviewed above is our recommendation for anyone looking for a straightforward and effective unit. But what if you want a toy with all the gadgets? Enter the Cobra HH50WXST. Cobra has always been a brand that goes the extra mile, and this CB has an impressive list of attributes.
The key benefit of this model is that it allows you to stay informed without requiring additional work. Cobra’s “Sound Tracker System” automatically adjusts the level and filtering of audio, allowing you to hear incoming signals more easily. This is similar to Midland’s ANL system. Truthfully, our testing showed that Midland’s approach may be slightly superior, but Cobra’s efforts were still very effective. This radio also features a “channel scan” function, allowing the radio to automatically tune to the best signal. Depending on the environment and local interference, it can be tricky to know which is the ideal channel, and Cobra does the work for you.
Cobra did not skimp on the channels, either. In addition to the 40 official CB channels, this radio can also tune to a wide array of NOAA and emergency alerts. You can even monitor two channels at once by enabling “dual watch.” If your goal is to have the most channels of communication possible in one system, this radio is an excellent long range handheld CB radio.
- Many novel features
- Well made
- Sleek design
- Battery life was slightly worse than the competition
Many survivalists, campers, and preparers like the convenience and versatility of a handheld CB radio. However, there are many advantages to a permanently mounted unit, and they remain popular. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find a modern and capable CB unit to mount in your vehicle or home. Many of the units I review are still bulky and decked in chrome, straight from the ’70s. With this backdrop in mind, the elegant efficiency of the Uniden PRO505XL is refreshing.
One of the primary advantages of a mounted radio is the ability to use a larger antenna and thus gain longer-range reception. While no specific antenna is included, this radio has a standard jack allowing the use of almost any third-party antenna. The controls of this radio are simple and easy to use, and the inclusion of a dedicated emergency button was a welcome touch. Further, the compact size of this unit makes it much less obtrusive. You can easily mount this radio in a discrete location and forget about it until you need it.
Overall, this is a basic but highly functional unit. It’s extremely affordable and does everything it is called to do. If you are looking for a cost-effective and discrete mountable radio, this should be at the top of your list.
- Able to use larger antenna
- Modern design
- Not portable
What to Look For in a CB Radio
Handheld CB radio reviews can become densely packed with technical jargon, making it hard to find the best portable CB radio. With a few key pieces of information, it is easy to cut through the fluff and find a radio that is right for you. Here is what you need to know.
Look for the Maximum Power
The maximum broadcasting power of CB radios is federally capped at 4-watts, which can give anywhere from one to twelve miles of range depending on the antenna and topography. While the majority of radios choose to take advantage of the full legal broadcast strength, not all do.
There is essentially no downside to having more transmitting and receiving power, so for the best handheld CB radio range always look for a radio rated for 4-watts.
Is Battery Life Important?
Although having a myriad of features and options may seem appealing, these additions can also take a toll on the battery life of a radio. For many survival situations, having a radio with endurance outweighs having the most powerful handheld CB. Therefore, choosing handheld CB radios requires setting certain priorities.
If you need a radio to have the longest possible battery life, your best bet is searching for a comparatively basic model with a small screen and limited additional features. The Midland 75-785 is a beautiful example of a radio that puts battery life first.
What Broadcasts Matter to You?
In addition to the 40 frequencies that are allocated to citizen band communications, many radios can transmit or receive many other stations. NOAA channels are popular inclusions for receiving weather broadcasts, but police scanners and other broadcast capabilities can be found as well. Further, may CB radios double as VHF radios, making them serve double duty as marine communication.
Although having more flexibility is not a bad idea, there is a cost associated. Multi-band radios typically have shorter battery lives and more expensive price tags than their single-focus counterparts. Thus, make sure you choose a radio that has the features you need without paying for those you don’t.
Auto Noise Cancellation Can Make a Difference
One feature you should not overlook or forego is active noise cancellation. This feature goes by different names depending on the manufacturer. However, regardless of the name, the effect is to filter out static or unwanted interference from the signal. The frequencies reserved for CB can have a significant amount of static, so having an automatic filter is a must-have.
Finding the best portable CB radios can be a tricky process given the wealth of sub-par models on the market. With this roundup, we focused on trying to find the best options for each category and price point. Thus, each of the products reviewed today was specifically selected because it represented a good option for certain people. However, there must always be a single winner.
The best handheld CB we reviewed is the Midland 75-822 40 Channel CB-Way Radio. It’s adaptable base and efficient layout made it the best all-around choice for most users.
- Portable CB radio with 40 CB channels, 10 NOAA channels, and 4 Watts of output power
- Power with six AA batteries or included cigarette lighter adapter for mobile use
- Instant access to NOAA Radio, channels 9 and 19; Dual Watch monitors channel 9 and additional channel
- ANL (automatic noise limiter) and squelch control for improving reception and eliminating noise
- One-year manufacturer's warranty
Last update on 2020-06-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API