Just because a hurricane’s knocked out your power doesn’t mean you can’t stay abreast of further, developing bad news with an emergency radio. That’s precisely why I’ve slapped together this short list of three well-received receivers.
For the youngsters: Not all radios are emergency radios. See, back in the ’90s, people used radios to listen to music (and baseball). We all had radios, and not just in our cars. Now, portable radios are a bit fewer and farther between, but they’re just as useful during a natural or man-made disaster as they always were, as radio waves can keep broadcasting while more complex media and utilities are drowned by the fog of uncertainty (or even literal fog—which makes it tricky for repair crews to drive around).
These radios are specialized for that, and they all have one thing in common: a liberal array of charging capabilities. You can charge these radios via USB if you’re able. If not, they’ve got solar power. Uh oh—the sun exploded; now what? Good thing these radios also have cranks. Other helpful odds and ends include emergency flashlights, distress beacons, and ports to charge your phone. Enticing extras, to be sure, though I’m not quite sold on how easy it is to charge a smartphone with a hand crank. Then again, if cranking a phone battery for 45 minutes gives you enough juice to make a 911 call, give an address, then drop the call, that could well be worth it. Just don’t expect to play Fortnite mobile through the end-times.
Best Overall: Kaito KA500
When it comes to recharging my frail human form, there are precious few options: food and water, sleep, maybe an EpiPen, if I can get my hands on one. The Kaito KA500, however, is not a frail human, but rather quite the opposite: an emergency radio that can get its energy from five different sources.
The usual suspects—hand crank, solar panel, and USB—are all there. But they’re joined by some new meat: 5V AC/DC input with power adapter (you need to buy that yourself, though), and a built-in NiMH rechargeable/replaceable battery pack.
This old girl also works as a mobile battery charger, with a built-in standard DC 5V USB output. It’s also got lighting options: LED flashlight, red LED SOS beacon, and a 5-LED reading lamp, in case you want to try reading a book while waiting for the power to come back.
The casing is impact- and water-resistant ABS, which is cool, and the telescoping antenna opens up to 14.5″, for increased sensitivity. We could all use a little more sensitivity.
Kaito KA500 5-way Powered Solar Power,Dynamo Crank, Wind Up Emergency AM/FM/SW/NOAA Weather Alert Radio with Flashlight,Reading Lamp and Cellphone Charger, Yellow
The Kaito KA500 offers more options than the others, and costs less than the "premium" pick. It's slightly less portable than some of the smaller radios, but it's probably the most "prepper" oriented radio on this list, given its features.
Best Premium: Midland ER310
If you’ve read any other lists I’ve written, then you know a little secret: The “Best Premium” item is always the most expensive. The Midland ER310 fits that bill for this list (check the link for pricing). That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better than the others, and let’s face it: These are all plastic radios, none of which are terribly expensive.
That said, Midland has been in the radio-technology business for over 50 years, they’re based in Missouri, and they have a phone number, so you can talk to someone if there’s a problem (or at least a call-center voicebot). Not during a natural disaster, of course, which is when you’ll need the radio, so maybe take it (and any other emergency electronics) on a dry run before using it in a life-or-death bind.
As for particulars, the ER310 shamelessly boasts a rechargeable 2600 mAh battery, solar panel, hand crank, and up to 32 hours of hearing air noises (i.e., listening to the radio) at full charge. Even if that’s a perfect scenario number and you only get, say, 28 hours, that ought to be enough to catch up on the weather report. Or listen to two baseball games.
For extras, this baby has an emergency flashlight with an SOS beacon, which is a nice option in case you want to see what you’re listening to in the dark. I’d still keep another, dedicated flashlight handy in your hurricane (or whatever) kit, but it’s nice to have a backup.
Midland - ER310, Emergency Crank Weather AM/FM Radio - Multiple Power Sources, SOS Emergency Flashlight, Ultrasonic Dog Whistle, NOAA Weather Scan + Alert (Red/Black)
The Midland ER310 has multiple power sources, a built-in light, automatic weather-alert scan, and even an ultrasonic dog whistle to alert the hounds—preferably rescue hounds, and not the guard hounds that shoot bees out of their mouths.
Best Budget: RunningSnail MD-088s
“Look, pal: I don’t have roughly 40 extra dollars to blow on a potentially life-saving emergency radio.” I hear ya. I don’t have any numbers in front of me, but it sure feels like life is getting cheaper as time moves on. Given that, I certainly can’t fault you for wanting to spend less on your own survival. The market dictates, etc.
Anyway, you might want the RunningSnail MD-088s, then. It’s got similar features for power sourcing: a hand crank, micro USB charger, and solar panels, and may or may not charge your phone as well (I can’t stress enough how much this might depend on your phone’s make and model, and how much patience you have). Plus, this little guy comes with a 12-month warranty, in case you hate him.
[Upgraded Version] RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank Self Powered AM/FM NOAA Solar Weather Radio with LED Flashlight, 1000mAh Power Bank for iPhone/Smart Phone
The RunningSnail MD-088s has three power sources (crank, solar, and micro USB), a flashlight, AM/FM (of course), as well as a couple other bullet points, but you get the idea. It's cheaper than the others.