The Best Emergency Radios for Use When the Power Goes Out

Stay plugged into emergency broadcasts with the right radio for your needs and budget.

BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Choosing the Best Emergency Radio for Your Disaster Preparedness Kit

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’ve ever lost power during a storm or lost cellphone reception while on a hike, you’ve likely felt the frustration of not being able to get news or information when you need it. Emergency radios are designed to eliminate situations like these. By picking up emergency broadcasts and alerting you to severe weather or human-made disasters, they ensure that you are never without critical knowledge.

Unlike standard radios, emergency radios can receive warnings and notifications from very high frequency (VHF) public service band stations. Users of emergency radios may listen to dedicated weather channels or set the radio to alert when a weather or disaster warning is issued. Plus, basic AM/FM stations can be accessed on an emergency radio, too.

So whether you’re planning a camping trip or putting together a “just in case” kit for your home, consider including an emergency radio. This guide explains the features to consider and shares some of the best emergency radio options available.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Midland NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio
  2. RUNNER UP: Kaito Emergency Weather Alert Radio
  3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Dingmi Emergency Hand Crank Radio
  4. BEST HAND CRANK: RunningSnail Emergency Crank Radio
  5. BEST COMPACT: Eton Hand Turbine AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio
  6. BEST SOLAR: RegeMoudal Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio
  7. ALSO CONSIDER: ROCAM Emergency Hand Crank Portable Radio
  8. ALSO CONSIDER: Eton American Red Cross Emergency NOAA Weather Radio
The Best Emergency Radio Options

Photo: depositphotos.com

Types of Emergency Radios

When it comes to emergency radios, there are two main types to consider.

Weather Alert Radio

Usually using a loud beep or tone, a weather alert radio notifies the user of the presence of imminent bad weather, such as a tornado, hurricane, or impending winter storm. Weather radios broadcast alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). However, users can zero in on a geographical region of interest, depending on whether it has Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME).

  • Weather alert radios with SAME: Many of today’s emergency weather radios come with SAME, allowing radio users to block alerts meant for other geographic areas. When the SAME feature is activated, users will only receive alerts concerning their county or nearby counties.
  • Weather alert radios without SAME: Users will receive all weather alerts from stations broadcasting within the user’s reception area, including alerts for regions that do not affect the listeners.

AM/FM Radio

The ability to pick up both AM (amplitude modulation) and FM (frequency modulation) radio frequencies allows up-to-the-minute information on developing situations from both local stations and stations that are farther away. They also can be used to listen to music.

What to Look for When Choosing the Best Emergency Radio

There are many features to consider when shopping for an emergency radio. Some of the most important include the types of alerts you can receive, charging options, and whether it can serve other useful functions.

Labels

The first thing many shoppers discover when researching emergency radios is the plethora of labels with acronyms. They can seem overwhelming and downright confusing. However, knowing what each acronym means makes it much easier to select the radio that’s right for you. Here’s a rundown of the various letters, logos, and labels you’re likely to encounter when shopping for an emergency radio.

  • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): The NOAA broadcasts on seven dedicated frequencies in the United States and Canada. Emergency radios with the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards logo are certified to receive alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and from authorized regional Emergency Operation Centers. Look for this logo to ensure the radio will receive the highest number of alerts.
  • IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System): The IPAWS system, maintained by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), broadcasts three major types of alerts: imminent threats, presidential pronouncements, and AMBER (missing person) Alerts.
  • NWR (National Weather Radio): NWR indicates that the radio can pick up regional stations that broadcast weather-related news 24/7.
  • EAS (Emergency Alert System): A radio with EAS receives broadcasts concerning national emergencies and regional warnings, including AMBER Alerts.
  • Public Alert: The label “Public Alert” signifies that the radio was developed by the Consumer Electronics Association in conjunction with the National Weather Service.

While governmental agencies do not endorse any specific manufacturer or brand, they do advise buyers to look for a radio that features both the NOAA All Hazards logo and the Public Alert label.

Charging Options

An emergency radio works when the power goes out. Many emergency radios are multipowered, meaning they feature two or more of the following charging options.

  • Battery: This is one of the most common power options for emergency radios, but if your radio is battery-powered only, be sure to keep extra batteries on hand. Battery-powered radios may be compact, such as pocket radios, making them well suited to traveling.
  • Solar: These radios feature solar panels that draw power from the sun’s rays.
  • Hand crank: Because batteries eventually discharge and solar power may not be available during storms, a hand crank is a wise backup power source.
  • Car charger: Some radios come with an additional charger that plugs into a vehicle so the device can charge while on the road.
  • Standard electrical power: The ability to plug the radio into a standard outlet allows an AC adapter to run the radio when there is power, conserving battery life.

Key Features

Today’s emergency radios are often designed to serve multiple purposes. Use these options judiciously; the features that draw power will shorten battery life.

  • Flashlight: Great for those times when a little light is needed during a power outage and there isn’t a regular flashlight.
  • Flashing light: Useful for attracting attention when you need assistance, like when a car breaks down alongside the road.
  • Cellphone charger: Includes an auxiliary port for recharging cellphones and tablets.
  • Speaker options: Most emergency radios have external speakers that permit anyone in the vicinity to listen, but a unit that allows headphones or earbuds can be helpful in certain situations (such as when children are sleeping nearby).
  • Listener language options: Allows for listening to emergency broadcasts in languages other than English.
  • Shortwave capability: Some models are capable of receiving shortwave (SW) broadcasts. Shortwave stations do not broadcast emergency information and alerts, but users can listen to broadcasts from all over the world.
  • Digital clock: Handy for keeping track of time. Some radios also come with alarm clocks.
  • Waterproof case: Protects the radio in rainy conditions.
  • Impact-resistant case: Lets the radio really take a beating. It’s advisable for anyone who’s butterfingered or tough on gadgets.

Our Top Picks

These top picks are emergency radios that are able to pick up NOAA broadcasts in addition to offering AM/FM listening ability. The best emergency radios also feature more than one power source, such as battery-powered, solar-powered, or hand-crank power, and have clear listening reception. It’s a bonus if the radio comes with weather-resistant properties and other features. Check out some of the best emergency radios for use when the power goes out.

Best Overall

The Best Emergency Radio Option: Midland NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio
Photo: amazon.com

In addition to its functionality and ease of use, the Midland NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio stands out for being configurable into multiple languages—English, French, and Spanish. It also features 25 programmable locations, so you can check out conditions in other parts of the country if needed or wanted. The built-in SAME technology helps ensure that users are always able to receive alerts specifically pertaining to the home region. There is an option to select a preferred type of alert: siren alarm, voice alert, or flashing LED light. Plug the Midland radio into any standard outlet, or power it with two AA batteries.

Runner Up

The Best Emergency Radio Option: Kaito Weather Alert Radio
Photo: amazon.com

This multifunction Kaito receives the seven NOAA bands and two shortwave bands; this means it offers broadcasts from other countries. Reception quality is high, and the radio can be powered in five ways: by hand crank, flip-up solar panel, AC adapter, battery (three NiMH AA rechargeable batteries), or USB. The Kaito does not disappoint in terms of added features, as it includes a built-in charger for mobile devices, a reading light, a flashlight, and an SOS beacon.

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Emergency Radio Options: Dingmi Emergency Self Powered Weather Radio
Photo: amazon.com

Purchasing an emergency radio for up-to-the-minute information doesn’t have to cost a lot. The Dingmi receives AM/FM/NOAA broadcasts and comes with a built-in flashlight to get around in low-light situations. The Dingmi also features a USB port for charging a cellphone, tablet, or another digital device. The radio operates via three energy sources—a rechargeable built-in lithium-ion battery, an integrated solar panel on the top of the radio, and a manual hand crank, so it’s always ready in the event of an emergency. At just 5 inches long and 2.4 inches tall, this emergency radio is compact enough to fit in a backpack, making it well suited for camping and hiking outings.

Best Hand Crank

The Best Emergency Radio Options: RunningSnail Emergency Motion Sensor Hand Crank Radio
Photo: amazon.com

This radio’s hand crank will generate all the energy necessary to listen to weather and news reports and operate the unit’s super-bright flashlight. The radio receives AM/FM and NOAA broadcasts, and it comes with a USB port for charging a cellphone or tablet.

It can receive audible emergency alerts, and the RunningSnail radio features crystal clear sound, making it easy to hear and understand essential broadcasts. The radio also comes with a motion-sensing night-light that automatically illuminates when movement is nearby, offering welcoming illumination for campers or others who need to get up at night. Users can also charge the radio’s battery with its built-in flip-up solar panel on sunny days.

Best Compact

The Best Emergency Radio Options: Eton Hand Turbine AM FM NOAA Weather Radio
Photo: amazon.com

Slip the Eton radio into a backpack or duffle bag for easy carrying and retrieval. The radio measures just 5.7 inches by 4.7 inches by 2.8 inches and weighs less than 1 pound, making it well suited to carrying, slipping into a drawer or glove compartment, or packing in a suitcase. While small in stature, the Eton radio offers a full spectrum of emergency functions, including the ability to receive AM/FM and NOAA broadcasts, so the user will never be far from important information about the weather or other emergencies.

The Eton radio comes with a built-in lithium-ion battery charged with a USB charger, integrated solar panel, and manual hand crank. The radio also has a headphone jack, a bright LED flashlight, a cellphone charger, and a glow-in-the-dark indicator to make locating the radio easier in the dark.

Best Solar

The Best Emergency Radio Options: RegeMoudal Emergency Solar Hand Crank Weather Radio
Photo: amazon.com

On a sunny day, the integrated solar panel on the RegeMoudal charges the entire radio and all its functions, including its flashlight and SOS alarm. In addition to solar charging, the radio also operates via a manual hand crank, three AAA batteries, or by plugging it into a USB charger.

The RegeMoudal radio picks up AM/FM and NOAA broadcasts to keep the user updated on current weather conditions and other emergencies. This emergency radio also features a reading lamp and a cellphone charger, and it comes with a headphone jack for private listening. Its telescoping antenna helps pick up stations that otherwise might not come in clearly. The radio will withstand light rain or occasional splashes.

Also Consider

The Best Emergency Radio Options: ROCAM AM FM SW NOAA Hand Crank Solar Radio
Photo: amazon.com

With its telescoping antenna, the ROCAM is at the top of its class for picking up a variety of broadcast frequencies, including AM/FM, shortwave (SW), and NOAA broadcasts. The antenna boosts the radio’s range to receive stations at a greater distance than other radios.

The ROCAM offers a wide range of additional functions, including an earsplitting SOS signal that will attract attention if the user is in danger, a super-bright LED flashlight, an LED reading lamp, a directional compass, and a cellphone charger. The radio comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery but also accepts three AAA batteries, has an integrated solar panel, and has a hand crank. It comes with a detachable carry strap, and the case will resist damage from light rain and high humidity.

Also Consider

The Best Emergency Radio Option: The American Red Cross Hand Crank Weather Alert Radio
Photo: amazon.com

This emergency radio gets great reception on all seven NOAA broadcast bands and is versatile and durable enough for use at home or in remote locations. With its multiple power options—hand crank, batteries (three NiMH AAA rechargeable batteries), solar panel, or AC adapter—vital news is available in virtually any situation. The Red Cross radio includes a port for charging mobile devices, a headphone jack for private listening, a digital clock, and a glow-in-the-dark locator that makes the radio easy to grab during an emergency.

Tips for Using an Emergency Radio

Purchasing an emergency radio is a step toward protecting loved ones if an emergency occurs. While the hope is that an emergency radio will never be necessary, it can make good sense to plan ahead and be prepared. The following tips will help ensure the radio is ready to go in any situation.

  • Store the emergency radio in an airtight, waterproof case, and if it requires batteries, store an ample supply.
  • Check the emergency radio to ensure it’s working correctly before taking it on a camping or hiking trip.
  • Familiarize yourself with the radio’s functions so you won’t have to take time to read directions if an emergency occurs.

The Advantages of Owning an Emergency Radio

A vital addition to any disaster plan, an emergency radio keeps users informed and aware of dangerous situations as they occur. They’re also an essential tool for receiving weather and other information to help keep loved ones and pets safe.

  • An emergency radio that picks up NOAA broadcasts will keep users abreast of changing weather situations.
  • Most emergency radios will sound an audible tone to alert users to the possibility of a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Many of today’s emergency radios come with added features, such as a flashlight or the ability to charge a cellphone.

FAQs About Emergency Radios

After reading about some of the features offered by many emergency radios, there may be some lingering questions. Below are answers to some of the most popular questions about these radios.

Q. What kind of radio is used for emergencies?

One of the most critical functions of an emergency radio is the ability to receive NOAA alerts and broadcasts. Even more important is the ability to operate the radio without electrical power. This means the radio must have another power source, which may be by battery, solar, or hand crank.

Q. When would I need an emergency radio?

An emergency radio is helpful at home if the power goes out so you are able to receive vital information. They also are needed when camping or hiking to stay abreast of local weather conditions.

Q. What is a crank radio?

A hand-crank emergency radio derives power from manually cranking a handle. This type of radio will never run out of power as long as someone is there to turn the handle.

Q. How long do emergency radios last?

An emergency radio can last from five to 10 years or longer if it’s kept clean, dry, and not dropped or otherwise abused.