Baofeng UV-5R Review & Guide
Communication during an emergency between yourself and your friends and family is so crucial that it almost goes without saying, yet have you considered what you would do if the phone or internet went down?
It doesn't take a big stretch to imagine it as these kinds of things happen all the time.
Yet very few people we've worked with have any real plan for backup local communications.
That's almost crazy when you consider that for under $30 you can get a device which will allow you to connect to your local community, hear severe weather alerts, get by-the-minute updates on what the emergency responders are doing, and if need be, even call for help.
Enter the Baofeng UV-5R: the entry level radio everyone can afford and that every prepping family should have.
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Do you need a Baofeng UV-5R?
In short, yes. But one thing first:
The radio snob in me wants to start off by saying that there are lots of other radios out there - and many of them are a lot more reliable and perform better than the Baofeng UV-5R does.
For the price, you can't beat the UV-5R. They are so affordable we have purchased 6 of them, and given them to friends and family as gifts.
Icom, Motorola, Kenwood & Yaesu make excellent high-end HT (Handy Talkie) radios, and you might be much better served by having a more substantially reliable radio like one of theirs. You will be in the $150 to $500 price range for these types of radios.
If you are interested in a higher-end radio that can cover the Amateur radio bands, we like the Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld 5W VHF/UHF, which you can pick up for $180.
It should be said that in order to transmit on Amateur Radio frequencies with a Baofeng UV-5R, a License from the FCC is required.
You can only legally use Amateur Radio bands and GMRS with these types of radios, as the output power from this radio for some of the other bands exceeds the allowable limits. See more details below.
In the event of an emergency (injury, life or death) you are allowed to transmit on any band you can to search for assistance. You have to know what channels to call on to find help, see this tutorial: Baofeng UV-5R: Basic Setup & Emergency Frequencies.
Non-License Required Public Frequencies
Family Radio Service (FRS)
You don't need a license to transmit on the FRS frequencies, which are the same frequencies the walkie-takies your kids have from Walmart transmit on.
However: the UV-5Rs transmit between 1 to 4 watts (it's adjustable), and the legal limit for FRS is only 0.5 watts, so it is technically illegal to transmit on FRS with these radios except in an emergency.
If you set the radio power to LOW you are at 1 watt, and will *probably* be OK to operate in your area (Menu Option 2.)
FRS frequencies are listed here.
Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)
They can transmit and receive on the 5 MURS frequencies, but since the UV-5R has the ability to transmit using more that 2 watts of power, it is also technically illegal to use them on MURS channels.
You can dial the power below 2 watts (LOW power Menu option 2) and use MURS to comply with the rules of those frequencies, but do so at your own risk.
MURS does allow you to use an external antenna so simplex transmit and receive ranges of 10 miles is not unobtainable although not the norm.
I've found MURS to work pretty well up to about a mile or so on flat ground with stock Baofengs.
The FCC License Required Frequencies
General Mobile Radio Service
For $70 you can get a 5-year license for you and your family to use GMRS which is legal to do with these radios. Here is a guide on how to do that. No test required, you just have to buy the license.
GMRS allows the use of repeaters and up to 50 watts of power and external antennas.
This is a good option, because there are quite a few GMRS radios out there from the big box stores so it's a big network you can get going for cheap.
Amateur Radio Service
Lastly yet most importantly, you can use the Amateur Radio Service aka Ham Radio Frequencies. You will need to pass an exam given by the FCC to get your Technicians License.
This is really the best option but requires a some time and commitment. There is only a $15 fee to take the exam, and if you pass the license is good for 10 years. We walk you through the licensing process here.
You Don't Need a License to RECEIVE Transmissions
And that is the true beauty of this radio for the average person, and why it's a necessary tool and part of your bug out communications planning.
It gives you a very powerful informational tool, one that's portable, fairly uncomplicated to use, and cheap.
With a little bit of research you can find out what frequencies the ARES and RACES groups transmit on, and listen in.
Those are volunteer emergency associations which assist first responders with boots on the ground information about conditions affecting their area.
If you want to look for local "nets" in your area use this tool from the ARRL. It will show you the frequencies of the "repeaters" that the nets are taking place on.
There are a couple of good frequencies to program into your UV-5R. 146.520 (on 2m) and 446.000 (on 70cm.) Those are the national simplex "calling" frequencies, meaning they are the ones monitored by other local radio operators for simplex operation. (Simplex means "radio-to-radio" ie. not using a repeater.)
A conversation started on a simplex frequency is then typically moved to another up or down the band so that others may call on it.
You need a license for those frequencies to transmit. I've found that the simplex frequencies transmit and receive better than the FRS or MURS bands.
Hint: You might need to change your settings on the Baofeng to make 5k increments when programming frequencies. Hit the "menu" button and look for item 1 STEP. Then adjust it to 5k.
You have additional options for receiving info with the UV-5R: NOAA weather alerts and FM Broadcast stations (it is an FM radio after all.)
Where to Get One
BaoFeng UV-5R+Plus 4W Dual Band Two Way Radio
Typical Price: $27
An upgrade to the fantastic BaoFeng UV-5R.
The Baofeng UV-5R Plus is a compact, economical HT covering 2 meters and 440 MHz. This model adds a metallic rugged shell, which is more durable than previous models.
It has special VHF receive band from 65 - 108 MHz which includes the regular FM broadcast band.
Dual watch and dual reception is supported. Up to 128 memory channels.
Baofeng UV-5R Review & Guide
Using a two-way radio speaker, plus an external antenna turns the UV-5R into a base-station.
Lets set your expectations. This is not a top-of-the line radio. It's not supposed to be. It's cheap, so you can rest assured that problems with these radios can arise from time to time.
We've had one that cannot receive or transmit if the channel is changed unless you turn the unit on/off.
Scanning channels on these things is slooooow if you are trying to check every frequency in existence. My suggestion is to program in a few dozen local repeaters, the NOAA channels. FRS, MURS and maybe GMRS and call it a day.
There are several known variants of this radio. All of them are the same hardware, the only difference is the firmware (software) they ship with.
If you buy on Amazon you are probably getting the latest firmware, but there's no guarantee. It's not a game changer, they all pretty much run the same from what I can tell.
Don't drop these too much. They aren't cream-puffs but they are not meant to be roughed up like some other radios are. But the build feels solid enough for what it's meant to do.
Our suggestion is to get a good HT from Icom or Yaesu if you can spring the +$150, and get a few Baofengs as beaters and backups. Strength in numbers.
But if you want something today buy the Baofeng UV-5R and you rest easy that at least you covered it.
Not horrible, but only if done on a computer. If all you care about is 4-5 frequencies then you can do it on the unit. You need the computer program CHIRP to program the HT.
You also need a special USB cable. Avoid the cheap knockoffs. Been there done that and they don't work.
USB Programming Cable
Typical Price: $20
Beware of cheap Chinese clones. This is the cable you want. It's how you connect your radio to your computer to program in the frequencies for local repeaters, MURS, NOAA, FRS, etc.
You can monitor 2 frequencies at a time using the Dual Watch feature. Menu item 7 TDR.
TDR Allows monitoring of 2 channels, by toggling between Freq A and Freq B.
If a signal is received, the Receive remains on that channel until the signal is gone.
Receive & Transmit Distance
The stock antenna on the UV-5R works OK. For radio-to-radio simplex, you're lucky to get a mile depending on the terrain.
You can replace the antenna on these. Small or big ones are available, with varying performance.
The power outputs only 5'ish watts on these radios so don't expect miracles.
The best thing you can do is increase line of sight of the antenna to remove obstacles. Get up high and clear.
N9TAX VHF/UHF Slim Jim J-Pole
Typical Price: $24
The N9TAX Slim Jim antenna is the highest quality roll up antenna available. Get one up high, maybe in a tree and increase the transmit and receive range of your radio.
UHF Female (so-239) is the default connector, which we think is the one your should get use an adapter cable and along with 25/50' of LMR -240 low loss cable.
This will help get your signal out there and catch better signals to you.
If you want a different one you can request at the time of checkout. (The input on the Baofeng is SMA male, so you would want an SMA Female connector.)
- Dual Band 2m/70cm (144-148 / 440-450)
- Antenna body approx 5' in length.
- Feedline 1' in length
- Will handle 100+ watts with 6db of gain
- Low radiation takeoff angle (peak <4 degrees)
- 5 oz total weight.
ExpertPower 14.5" 144/430Mhz Antenna
Typical Price: $14
Increase the receive and transmit clarity on a hand-held Baofeng UV-5R with this antenna vs. the stock "rubber-ducky".
Makes it a little less portable but is worth the extra throw if you can deal with it. Three sizes available.
Tram 1185 Dual-Band Magnet Antenna
Typical Price: $22
You can't really use a handheld radio inside a car, it acts like a faraday cage and cuts the effective range by 80%.
The way around this is to get an antenna on the outside of the vehicle.
This is a car mount antenna which transmits 2 M VHF & 70cm UHF. It has a 3" magnet mount which is nice, it ain't going anywhere once you stick it on.
It comes with a 12' RG-58 Coaxial Cable & PL-259 connector - if you want to use it with the BaoFeng you need to get a Reverse SMA to "PL-259" Adapter Cable - Female/Female.
Must Have UV-5RA Accessories:
BaoFeng Two-Way Radio Speaker
Typical Price: $7
Speaker / Microphone. These are inexpensive, and they give you the option of being able to talk and listen to your radio without having to hold it or take if off your belt clip.
You can attach the mic to your shirt, etc with the built-in clip on the back.
A must-have item for in vehicle use, helps keep your eyes on the road and easier to hold than a radio.
Typical Price: $10
You can use the belt clip that comes with your HT Radio, or you can use a small pouch to hold it and keep it protected.
This one is inexpensive and works great for Yaesu, Icom, Baofeng, and Wouxon.
MOLLE attachments on the back side.
Baofeng BL-5L 3800mAh Extended Battery
Typical Price: $17
The battery on the UV-5R is pretty darn good, but you can make it even better by adding one of these fantastic battery packs.
Get all day transmit and receive with a pack like this.
Miklor.com has extensive documentation on these radios, and is your best source for digging into them if you want to. Probably too much info for your average consumer, but it's good to see someone collected it all in one place.
Want to know how to get your Ham License? We show you how to get started in this article.