Oftentimes, emergencies strike with little or no warning. What seems like a regular, uneventful day can instantly turn into a living hell in mere seconds. Mother Nature is full of surprises: earthquakes, avalanches, mudslides and tornados can manifest without warning, leaving massive destruction in their wake. And because certain unsavory elements of humankind can’t allow Mother Nature to hoard all the credit for wanton destruction, manmade havoc is always a possibility too.

If you find yourself caught in a situation where you got sucker punched in the gut by a surprise emergency event, there’s a good chance you’ll be scrambling to find out as much information about it as you can to better understand your predicament and how you can enhance your survivability. Because you had enough foresight to have an emergency radio packed for just this sort of occurrence, you have a means to monitor local news broadcasts as well as the nationally broadcast Emergency Alert System to figure out just what happened, what to do, and where to find the safest places.

Emergency radios differ from traditional radios in that most of them feature multiple functions, can run off different power sources, and are built more robustly. We like emergency radios that feature an alternative to dry cell battery power. Many of these radios can be alternatively powered by hand crank or solar panels — very handy if batteries are or become scarce. Some radios also allow for other devices such as smartphones and small electronics to be charged through their built-in USB ports. Other features to look at are overall size (which affects its portability), speaker quality, and volume capability, as well as extra functions such as a built-in flashlight.

The most important element in an emergency radio is, of course, the radio itself. You want one that has good reception of both AM and FM bands, whether indoors or outdoors, as well as one capable of receiving weather and emergency broadcasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over a service called NOAA Weather Radio. The broadcast station frequencies of this weather-and-emergency-specific radio service are known as weather band (WB). It is broadcast over seven FM frequencies in the 162.4 MHz through 162.55 MHz range, which regular radios typically cannot pick up. In order to hear NOAA’s 24-hours-a-day reports on weather-related warnings, forecasts, hazard information, and alerts of non-weather emergencies (such as threats to national security, environmental and civil safety), you will need a WB-capable radio that is specifically set up to pick up NOAA Weather Radio.

There are many emergency radios on the market; we selected ones of differing sizes, with multiple power sources, and replete with multiple features. Let’s take a look at a few that warrant a closer look.

An Emergency Radio Buyer's Guide

  • ambient weather WR-111B Adventurer Emergency Radio

    Make & Model - ambient weather WR-111B Adventurer Emergency Radio
    Radio Bands - AM/FM/WB
    Power Sources - Hand Crank / Solar / USB Rechargeable Battery
    Dimensions - 5.5 in L x 3.125 in H x 2 in D
    Weight - 10.9 oz
    Colorway - Black/Red
    MSRP - $40
    URL - http://www.ambientweather.com
    Notes - Ambient weather makes quite a few models of emergency radios. We chose the WR-111B for its small overall size, relatively light weight, and useful features. The Adventurer features digital tuning for AM, FM, and WB bands, an illuminated digital display with a clock, and a 15-lumen three-LED flashlight. It can be charged by both AC and DC power sources, its built-in solar panel, and its hand crank. If you're in a pickle, it can also charge devices such as smartphones through its USB port as well. The black portions of its body are rubberized, giving it some impact resistance as well as additional grip.

    The ambient weather WR-111B Adventurer features digital tuning for AM, FM, and WB bands, an illuminated digital display with a clock, and a 15-lumen three-LED flashlight.

  • Eton American Red Cross FRX2

    Make & Model - Eton American Red Cross FRX2
    Radio Bands - AM/FM/WB
    Power Sources - Hand Crank / Solar / USB Rechargeable Battery
    Dimensions - 5.4 in L x 2.4 in H x 2.4 in D
    Weight - 9 oz
    Colorway - Red
    MSRP - $45
    URL - http://www.etoncorp.com/en
    Notes - The American Red Cross FRX2 by Eton is a manually tuned analog radio that covers AM, FM, and WB bands. It houses a rechargeable battery that can be charged through a mini USB port, a hand-cranked turbine, and a built-in solar panel. It also features a full-sized USB port that is capable of "dump charging" devices such as smartphones. Its three-LED flashlight works decently — it isn't super bright, but gets the job done. The flashlight's bezel glows in the dark, a nice touch when you need to find the radio in complete darkness. However, we did find that even at maximum, the radio's volume in AM mode just doesn't get quite loud enough for us. The manual tuning can be tricky, but the seven weather band stations have their own preset positions on the tuning knob, a nice feature that makes tuning to them a snap. That being said, the reception quality for WB stations was seriously lacking. The FRX2 is one of the smaller radios in this guide, which makes it the easiest to pack in tight spaces. Also noteworthy, a portion of the purchase of this radio goes to the American Red Cross.

    The American Red Cross FRX2 by Eton is a manually tuned analog radio that covers AM, FM, and WB bands, and has a rechargeable battery that can be charged through a mini USB port, a hand-crank, and a built-in solar panel

  • Kaito Voyager Pro KA600

    Make & Model - Kaito Voyager Pro KA600
    Radio Bands - AM/FM/WB/LW/SW
    Power Sources - Hand Crank / Solar / USB Rechargeable Battery / AA Battery (3)
    Dimensions - 9.5 in L x 6 in H x 2.5 in D
    Weight - 1 lb, 4.6 oz
    Colorway - Black (shown), Silver, Green
    MSRP - $100
    URL - http://www.kaitousa.com
    Notes - Who says that an emergency radio needs to be stripped down to its bare bones and left with room for essential functions only? Kaito, makers of the Voyager Pro KA600, sure doesn't. It's packed full of features that feel downright luxurious compared to other radios in this category. Like many of the others, this radio runs on rechargeable batteries that can be charged through a USB port, hand crank, and a solar panel. It also can accept three AA batteries. The KA600 sports a three-LED flashlight and the ability to charge other gadgets via a USB port. Unlike other radios, however, the Voyager Pro's solar panel is positional for optimum performance and includes a low power five-LED reading light on its backside. Like other radios, it can receive AM, FM, and WB bands, as well as both Short Wave (SW) and Long Wave (LW) frequencies. Its back-lit digital display lights up and displays not only the time, but also date, temperature, and humidity. Frequencies on all bands can be stored in its memory for quick tuning. The Voyager Pro even includes a dual alarm clock, sleep, and snooze modes … talk about full-featured!

    The Kaito Voyager Pro KA600 is packed full of features that feel downright luxurious compared to other emergency radios.

  • La Crosse NOAA Weather Radio [810-106]

    Make & Model - La Crosse NOAA Weather Radio [810-106]
    Radio Bands - AM/FM/WB
    Power Sources - Hand Crank / Solar / Rechargeable Battery
    Dimensions - 5.5 in L x 2.375 in H x 2.5 in D
    Weight - 10.7 oz
    Colorway - Silver/Black
    MSRP - $60
    URL - http://www.lacrosseclock.com
    Notes - Right off the bat, La Crosse's NOAA Weather Radio impressed us with its clear reception on AM, FM, and WB bands. It features digital tuning and a backlit display with clock. This radio is powered by hand crank, solar power, and rechargeable battery. Only about a minute of hand cranking netted us almost half an hour of radio time. It can recharge your other devices via hand cranking through its mini-USB port. Its three-LED light isn't extremely bright, but is enough to get the job done. The 810-106 has a rubberized exterior, making it easy to grip, and a small overall size, which makes it a cinch to pack.

    Right off the bat, La Crosse's NOAA Weather Radio impressed us with its clear reception on AM, FM, and WB bands. It features digital tuning and a backlit display with clock.

  • Midland ER300 Emergency Crank Weather Alert Radio

    Make & Model - Midland ER300 Emergency Crank Weather Alert Radio
    Radio Bands - AM/FM/WB
    Power Sources - Hand Crank / Solar / USB Rechargeable Battery / AA Battery (6)
    Dimensions - 7.9 in L x 3.25 in H x 2.4 in D
    Weight - 1 lb, 0.3 oz
    Colorway - Black/Red
    MSRP - $70
    URL - http://www.midlandusa.com
    Notes - Midland's ER300 can rely on multiple power sources, including solar, hand crank, rechargeable Li-Ion battery, and even six AA batteries. The radio is digitally tuned and has a large, easily read backlit display with a clock function. Its bright, built-in flashlight is equipped with a Cree LED that can project light in three modes — low, high, and as a Morse code SOS beacon. Interestingly, the ER300 also includes a unique ultrasonic dog whistle, which Midland says may assist search-and-rescue teams in locating individuals during an emergency situation. Its body incorporates a solid carry handle and feels robust, as does the rest of its body. Like other radios in this guide, it also has the capability of charging devices through its USB port.

    Midland's ER300 Emergency Radio can rely on multiple power sources - including solar - and is digitally tuned with a large, easily read backlit display with a clock function.

  • Oregon Scientific WR201 Multi-Powered Emergency Radio

    Make & Model - Oregon Scientific WR201 Multi-Powered Emergency Radio
    Radio Bands - AM/FM/WB
    Power Sources - Hand Crank / Solar / Rechargeable Battery
    Dimensions - 6.5 in L x 3 in H x 1.875 in D
    Weight - 10.2 oz
    Colorway - Yellow/Black
    MSRP - $50
    URL - http://www.oregonscientific.com
    Notes - If you don't need all the bells and whistles and are looking for a good basic emergency radio, this unit might have your name on it. The WR201 by Oregon Scientific has everything we want in a radio and then some, all arranged in a compact package. It is powered three ways, including solar, hand crank, and rechargeable battery. It includes a bright, three-LED flashlight and features a manually tuned radio that picks up AM, FM, and all seven WB frequencies. The best thing is that, for us, it picked up all bands clearly and loudly. Its retractable antenna can be pointed in all directions. It includes a USB outlet so that it can charge your other gadgets. A bonus feature unique to this radio in our guide is a 77-decibel emergency siren with red flashing LED light that can be turned on with the flick of a switch.

    The WR201 by Oregon Scientific has everything we want in a radio and then some, all arranged in a compact package and can be powered by solar power, a hand crank, or a rechargeable battery.

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