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Best Emergency Radios 2020

Best Emergency Radios 2020
(Image credit: Eton)

The best emergency radio could be the difference between you being left out alone in the wild and you having a connection to civilization that may save your life. From tuning into NOAA weather band frequencies to charging a device from your hand crank radio, this is the emergency device of choice.

Many hand crank radios don't just rely on your manual movement to power them, rather offering alternative means like solar, USB and wall outlet power options too. It's only when you find yourself without those options that you'll appreciate that hand crank power option too. And with many modern emergency radios offering hours of use on a charge, they're worthy tools to keep with you.

From preparing for an emergency like a storm, hurricane or power out crisis, to going on a camping trip, emergency radios work well in many situations. Lots of new emergency radios offer plenty of features you might want to look out for including AM, FM and NOAA weather band frequencies, built-in flashlight, and a USB output port to charge portable devices like your smartphone or GPS unit, to name just a few. Here are the best emergency radios you can buy right now, and if you need it, we have a guide to the best emergency food storage too.


1. Eton Ultimate Camping Radio: Best emergency radio overall

Eton Ultimate Camping Radio

(Image credit: Eton)

1. Eton Ultimate Camping Radio

The Eton UC is the best emergency radio you can buy right now

Charging modes: Hand crank, solar | Internal battery: 2,000 mAh | Radio frequencies: AM/FM/NOAA Weather band | USB Output: Yes | Features: LED flashlight, siren, Bluetooth | Weight: 1.6 lbs

Efficient hand crank
Great audio quality
Long battery life
No compass or thermometer

The Eton Ultimate Camping Radio is one of the best hand crank radios you can get. It's crammed full of useful features beyond that easy to use crank charging system, which gets you an impressive 10-15 minutes of radio from just four minutes of charging. If you have access to sunlight, the solar panel will fully charge the radio in five hours.

The radio offers AM and FM bands with great sound quality that's both clear and balanced, even when in more remote locations outside of cellular coverage. It also picks up seven NOAA weather stations and SAME alerts. This is built to a high standard with IPX4 water and knock resistance and comes with a full year's warranty. It packs in a powerful LED flashlight which doubles as a morse code beacon, USB port for charging other devices like a smartphone, and even has Bluetooth so you can use it as a 90.3 dB speaker for your connected phone. That loudness is useful as this can also act as a siren.

This packs in a battery that's good for 15.5 hours on a charge and can be charged by – deep breath – hand crank, solar panels and car, mains or mobile battery USB. This great balance of performance, features and price make the Eton Ultimate Camping our pick for the best emergency radio you can buy.


2. RunningSnail MD-090: Best value emergency radio

RunningSnail MD-090: Best value emergency radio

(Image credit: RunningSnail)

2. RunningSnail MD-090 Solar Crank Radio

This is a great value emergency radio, for anyone on a budget

Charging modes: Hand crank, solar, micro USB, AAA batteries | Internal battery: 2000mAh | Radio frequencies: AM/FM/NOAA Weather band | USB Output: Yes | Features: LED flashlight, SOS alarm, reading lamp | Weight: 0.68 lbs

Affordable
Efficient hand crank
Poor reception quality
Speaker sounds bad

The RunningSnail MD-090 hand crank radio is a great option if you want an emergency radio without spending a whole bunch. This gets you that hand crank power but also features solar and can charge using micro USB – plus it'll run off disposable batteries. That all comes in an IPX3 water resistant body that's compact but crams in a flashlight as well as a siren and morse code beacon.

Yup, this is one feature rich radio for the price. But that's because of a few downsides. Sound quality isn't great, battery life tops out at 11.5 hours and finding some AM and FM stations was difficult. This is a great emergency radio, just not one we'd recommend for pleasure listening. With five and a half minutes of radio from two minutes of cranking this isn't a bad offering at all. For the price, the RunningSnail MD-090 hand crank radio is a very good budget choice.


3. Eton Scorpion II: Most durable emergency radio

Eton Scorpion II

(Image credit: Eton)

3. Eton Scorpion II

This is a hardy emergency radio for tough environments

Charging modes: Hand crank, solar | Internal battery: 800mAh | Radio frequencies: AM/FM/NOAA weather band | USB Output: Yes | Features: LED flashlight, IPX4 splash proof | Weight: 0.66 lbs

Good hand crank
Durable design
Great reception quality
No siren or SAME alerts

The Eton Scorpion II is one of the most durable emergency radio options out there bar none. Its compact, rubber exterior has an IPX4 water-resistance rating, which means it's good for heavy rain, accidental drops in a river or lake, and any extreme outdoor conditions. It also has a carabiner handle that you can use to securely attach it to the outside of your backpack.

The hand crank can produce nine minutes of battery life during the two minutes of spinning and should only take four hours to fully recharge a dead battery when plugged it into a wall socket. You've also got solar as a charging option too. That's then good for 12.5 hours at maximum volume.

Reception is great across the AM, FM and NOAA bands. But you also get 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. This thing even has a bottle opener.


4. Esky ES-CR01: Most compact emergency radio

Esky ES-CR01

(Image credit: Esky)

4. Esky ES-CR01

A super-compact emergency radio for ease of storage

Charging modes: Hand crank, solar | Internal battery: 1,000mAh | Radio frequencies: AM/FM/NOAA weather band | USB Output: Yes | Features: LED flashlight, solar panel | Weight: 0.649 lbs

Compact
Affordable
Can't run on batteries
Reception could be better

The Esky ES-CR01 certainly is a compact and durable emergency radio and its hand crank is plenty efficient. Beyond that crank option you can charge the internal battery three more ways: using the solar panel, an AC wall plug or a car charger. Unfortunately, unlike some other crank radios this one can’t run on disposable batteries.

A two minute crank should get you four minutes of radio - not the best in our tests by a long way. Plug it into the wall and you're looking at a 14 hour wait to get to full charge. Despite these gripes, this is a super affordable option and still delivers AM, FM, NOAA bands as well as an LED flashlight and IPX3 water resistance.


5. Kaito Voyager Pro KA600: Best for environmental info

Kaito Voyager Pro KA600

(Image credit: Kaito)

5. Kaito Voyager Pro KA600

This emergency radio has specialized environmental information

Charging modes: Hand crank, solar | Internal battery: 600mAh | Radio frequencies: AM/FM/NOAA weather band | USB Output: Yes | Features: LED flashlight, solar panel | Weight: 1.25 lbs

Excellent FM quality
Powerful LED light
Digital thermometer and humidity meter
Poor battery life
Expensive

The Kaito Voyager Pro KA600 is a premium example of an emergency radio both in price and quality. While you get all the features of the others on this list you can also enjoy extra environmental sensors including a digital thermometer, and a humidity meter. The 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 – which this also offers alongside the AM and FM bands.

The KA600's battery gets to full charge in just 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. Thankfully, this 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. This is bulkier than some but with digital tuning, a powerful LED flashlight and great carry handle it's a really compelling option if you can afford it.


Are emergency radios that important?

We 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 us 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. The Red Cross has a list of expert tips about what to do before, during and after emergencies or disasters.

What should you look for in an emergency radio?

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.

SAME Alerts
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.

Emergency Preparedness
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.