Best Emergency Radios of 2019 - Solar, Hand Crank Radio Reviews
To find the best crank radio, we tested three major features – the rechargeable battery, reception and speaker. We tested reception quality both in town near our office in Ogden, Utah, and on a backcountry hiking trail in the Wasatch mountains, outside the range of cellular service. We believe the Eton FRX5-BT is the best crank radio for most people. In addition to having the most efficient hand crank, it has a short charge time and long battery life. It's also one of the few radios with SAME alerts and the only one we reviewed with Bluetooth.
The Eton FRX5-BT is the best crank radio because it has the most efficient hand crank, clearest reception and loudest speaker. It’s also durable and water-resistant.
This isn’t the loudest or clearest-sounding model we tested, but if you want to spend less than $30 on an emergency radio, the RunningSnail MD-090 is your best option.
Eton Scorpion II
The Eton Scorpion II has an exceptionally durable body made of thick, impact-resistant rubber. It also has the highest water-resistance rating of all the radios we tested.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Pricing||Power||Audio||Emergency Features||Charge Time: 2-Minute Crank Test (min)||Charge Time: Wall Socket (hours)||Battery Life (hours)||Disposable Batteries||Audio Quality||Maximum Volume (dB)||Backcountry Reception Quality||Audio Input||Water Resistant Rating||Morse Code Beacon||Siren|
|Eton FRX5BT||View Deal||4.5/5||3||5||5||5||13||5.5||15.5||✓||A||90.3||A-||✓||IPx4||✓||✓|
|RunningSnail MD-090||View Deal||4/5||4.9||4.7||3.4||3.4||5.5||4||11.5||✓||B||83.2||B+||✖||IPx3||✓||✓|
|Eton Scorpion II||View Deal||4/5||4.4||4.8||4.8||1.7||9||4||12.5||✓||A-||82.9||A-||✓||IPx4||✖||✖|
|WeatherX WR-383R||View Deal||4/5||4.9||4.2||4||1.7||4||10.5||5.25||✓||C+||80.5||C||✓||IPx0||✖||✓|
|Sangean MMR-88||View Deal||3.5/5||1.9||1.7||3.7||3.4||6||2.75||5||✖||A||82||B+||✖||IPx3||✓||✓|
|Midland ER 310||View Deal||3.5/5||1.9||2.3||3.4||1.7||3.5||5||9.75||✓||A-||87.6||B+||✖||IPx0||✓||✖|
|Midland ER 210||View Deal||3/5||4.4||3||1.7||1.7||4.5||4.5||8.25||✖||B||84.9||B||✖||IPx0||✓||✖|
|Esky ES-CR01||View Deal||3/5||5||2.8||0.8||0.7||14||14||8.25||✖||C+||93.3||C+||✖||IPx3||✖||✖|
|Kaito Voyager Pro KA600||View Deal||3/5||3||4.4||1.6||0||1.75||1.75||1.5||✓||B+||76.7||B||✖||IPx0||✖||✖|
The Eton FRX5-BT has the best feature set of the radios we tested, and it’s very durable.
To test how efficient its hand crank is, we fully drained the battery and then turned the crank for two minutes at a steady rate of 120 revolutions per minute. The FRX5-BT has the most efficient hand crank of the radios we tested – after those two minutes of cranking, the radio played at full volume for 13 minutes, which is more than double the average for our test group.
This crank radio also had the best audio and reception quality in our tests. We tested AM and FM reception quality by tuning in to all the available stations in the area around our office in Ogden, Utah. The FRX5-BT’s digital dial made it easy to find radio stations, and once we found them, the sound quality was clear and balanced.
It also had the best backcountry reception scores in our tests. We hiked all the radios to a remote location in the Wasatch Mountains that’s outside cellular service coverage. The FRX5-BT received an A- in this test and was the benchmark for quality backcountry reception.
The Eton FRX5-BT also serves as an emergency preparedness tool and includes an LED flashlight that can transmit a Morse code beacon, a siren and glow-in-the-dark rims around the solar charger to help you find it in the dark. It has an IPX4 water-resistance rating, which means it can withstand splashing water and heavy rain.
The RunningSnail MD-090 is a durable radio with an efficient hand crank and quality feature set.
Its analog tuning knob made it hard to find some of the FM and AM stations in our reception quality tests, and once we found them, the radio’s audio quality didn’t compare well against that of the best models we tested. However, because of its efficient hand crank and good battery life, we recommend the MD-090 if you want a radio solely for emergency preparedness – it’s not a good option if you want to listen to music while camping.
To see how efficient the MD-090’s hand crank is, we drained its battery, spun the crank for two minutes and then played the radio at its maximum volume until it died again. This RunningSnail model generated five and a half minutes of battery life during those two minutes of cranking, which is above average for our test group. Starting with a full battery, the radio can play at maximum volume for 11.5 hours, which is also well above average. In addition, you can use disposable batteries as a backup for the internal battery.
This crank radio has one of the most durable cases. It has an IPX3 water-resistance rating, which means it can handle spraying water and light rainfall. It also has a siren and Morse code beacon to alert passersby to your location if you are lost or injured.
The Eton Scorpion II is the most durable crank radio we tested. Its durable rubber exterior has an IPX4 water-resistance rating, which means it can withstand heavy rain and accidental drops in a river or lake.
Also, it has a carabiner handle you can securely attach to the outside of your backpack to keep it from falling in the first place.
This radio has the second most efficient hand crank in our test group. It produced nine minutes of battery life during the two minutes we spun the hand crank, which is double the average for our test group. We also tested its total battery life and charge time, and it only took four hours to fully recharge the radio’s dead battery when we plugged it into a wall socket. In addition, the Scorpion II played at maximum volume for 12.5 hours on that full charge.
The best radio we reviewed only slightly outperformed the Scorpion II in our reception tests. The Scorpion scored an A- in AM and FM reception quality and an A- in our backcountry reception test. All in all, its audio quality is good enough you can use it to listen to music on a camping trip or by the pool, instead of just packing it away in your emergency preparedness bag. It also has a 3.5mm audio input, so you can plug in and play music from your phone or music player if you don’t want to listen to the radio.
The Esky ES-CR01 is a compact and durable emergency radio with an efficient hand crank.
You can charge the internal battery four ways: with the hand crank, the solar panel and an AC wall plug or a car charger. However, it can’t run on disposable batteries. This exclusion is noteworthy because disposable batteries allow you to continue using the radio, even when the rechargeable battery is old enough that it stops holding a charge.
In our hand crank efficiency test, the Esky produced an average of four minutes of battery life after two minutes of using the crank, which was average for our test group. For comparison, the best crank radio we tested generated over 13 minutes of power in the same test. This crank radio has a particularly awkward crank, because the radio is so small and the crank is so big, our reviewers often struggled to keep their grip while they spun it. When plugged into a wall, the battery reached a full charge in 14 hours.
Best Environmental Information
The Kaito Voyager Pro KA600 has lights so you can see in the dark during a power outage, a digital thermometer, and a humidity meter. This is the only radio we tested that displays specialized environmental information.
Access to temperature and barometric pressure alerts you to incoming storms if you are stuck somewhere with poor radio reception and can’t get NOAA or SAME alerts.
The KA600's battery reached a full charge in one hour and 45 minutes, making it the fastest-charging radio we reviewed. However, the battery only lasted one and a half hours when we played it at full volume. The biggest downside to its subpar battery life is that you must charge it frequently. Fortunately, it also runs on disposable batteries, so you can use the rechargeable battery as a secondary power source.
This emergency radio also charges with its AC adapter, built-in rechargeable battery pack, USB port or solar panel. It's one of the few radios we tested that has an adjustable solar panel for finding the optimal position to capture the sun's energy. It takes longer to charge the radio with the solar panel than using the other charging methods, but it's the easiest way, especially while you're camping.
Why Trust Us?
When we updated our crank radio reviews, we spent 16 hours researching the newest technology to keep you in the know about innovations in the industry. Once we identified the best models, we fashioned our testing as if we were customers looking for a crank radio, just like you. That means we got the products from the same retailers you would, instead of directly from manufacturers that might hand-pick and examine a radio for flaws before sending it to us to review.
I talked to Steve Glockenmeier, VP of Preparedness and Health and Safety for the American Red Cross about the role of a crank radio in an emergency preparedness kit. He shared with me the most important features of a crank radio to consider before adding one to your preparedness kit. Those features include battery operation, an efficient hand crank, solar panel and a USB port for charging mobile devices. He also emphasized the need for an emergency radio to receive weather alerts from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is included with every radio we tested.
Steve told me the Red Cross recently sent a carton of crank radios to Puerto Rico nearly a year after Hurricane Irma ravaged the island because the infrastructure is still in need of remote weather reports and alternative sources of energy. The Red Cross has a list of expert tips about what to do before, during and after emergencies or disasters.
How We Tested
We tested each radio’s maximum volume, charge time, battery life and hand crank efficiency in our lab. To measure maximum volume, we placed a decibel meter 1 meter from the speaker and turned the radio up full blast.
Our battery life and charge time tests were done in tandem. We drained each radio, plugged it into a wall socket and timed how long it took its battery to reach a full charge. We then emptied the battery again by playing the radio at full volume, timing from the moment we turned it on until it died.
For the hand crank efficiency test, we started with a dead battery and cranked the handle for two minutes at a steady rate of 120 revolutions per minute – the industry-recommended speed. As with the other battery tests, we timed how long it took for the radio to die again when we played it at its maximum volume.
We tested each crank radio’s reception in the city and in the backcountry. In both spots, we evaluated how well it picked up AM daytime, AM nighttime and general FM radio transmissions and assigned a grade based on clarity. While in a remote area of the Wasatch Mountains, outside the range of cellular service, we also tuned into the NOAA weather bands and graded each radio’s ability to transmit important weather information clearly.
How Much Does a Crank Radio Cost?
Crank radio pricing depends heavily on the included feature set. Radios with flashlights, sirens and Bluetooth connectivity are more expensive, but eliminate the need for multiple devices in your backcountry or emergency preparedness kit. The best crank radios we tested cost around $85. If you add the cost of a $10 flashlight, $20 battery pack and a $15 solar charger, a more feature-packed crank radio saves money and space in your kit.
Crank Radio: What Else to Look For
In its most basic form, a crank radio is a simple handheld device that receives AM and FM signals and can be powered by a hand crank. However, the best models are more than that – they are survival tools. You should look for a crank radio that has as many survival features as possible, is built to be durable and comes from a manufacturer with great support.
Every crank radio can pick up all seven NOAA weather alert stations. However, each station is geographically dependent, so you can only pick up one at a time, depending on where you are. The stations provide warnings for severe weather like tornados, hurricanes and flash floods, but they cover large enough areas that you can receive an alert for conditions several states away.
As such, you should consider an emergency radio with SAME technology. With SAME, you enter your zip code and the radio alerts you to weather and environmental conditions in your county.
You should look for a radio with survival features like a flashlight, siren, compass, dog whistle and a mobile device charger. Every tool you have available in a survival situation is important, and these features can help you find your way and get your bearings if you're lost. They also attract attention if you need help and keep you connected to your phone.
Since these radios are designed to help you survive an emergency, they need to be able to withstand rough conditions. The best models are water-resistant and can survive bumps, drops and jostles. Your radio needs to be able to handle the weather, especially while you're camping.
Help & Support
When we evaluate any electronic device, we like to look in to the kinds of help and support the manufacturer offers. After you purchase your radio, it’s important to have access to help if something goes amiss. The manufacturers we tested have a combination of email and phone support, FAQs pages, and user forums.
Portable Battery Banks
The best crank radios we tested have solar cells and hand cranks to charge the internal battery and allow you to hear weather alerts. However, the fastest way to charge a battery in a crank radio is to plug it into a wall socket or power bank with a USB port. Here are some of our favorite mobile power banks to add to your emergency-preparedness kit.
This portable power bank is about the size of a smartphone and has a 20,100-mAh battery that can fully charge a crank radio or other mobile devices more than six times. It has two USB outputs that let you quickly charge a pair of devices simultaneously, as well as a micro-USB port for recharging. The Anker PowerCore weighs just over 12 ounces, which is a bit heavy for a backpacking trip but light enough for most emergency-preparedness situations. It takes about 10 hours to fully charge the Anker PowerCore using a wall socket, and there are four indicator lights on the front panel that tell you how much charge is left.
RAVPower Portable Power Bank
If you want a more portable device, this battery bank is a good choice. The RAVPower Portable Power Bank is about the size of a credit card and can fully charge a phone almost three times on a single charge. The 6,700-mAh battery has a voltage control chip that automatically adjusts for the connected device, as well as iSmart technology that detects the optimal current for the devices and maximizes the charging speed. This battery bank has only one USB outlet, but the device reaches a full charge in less than 4 hours when plugged into a wall socket.
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