Radios are listed by manufacturers alphabetically, within categories (Not preference).
Multi-band (dual-band, tri-band, etc.) – the more bands you have, the more ‘places’ you can go. There are popular repeaters on 2m and others on 70cm, but most open repeaters are on 2m. The 1.25m band is free from radar interference. The 6m band might get through in canyons where 2m and 70cm do not. So you get more flexibility with muti-band radios, but they’re also more expensive than mono-band radios.
Power – most of these radios put out 4 to 5 watts, which is pretty much standard for hand-helds. You can’t get more power without running down your battery, and you wouldn’t want to run more power right next to your head. Some of these radios put out only ˝ to 1 watt; they’re fine if you can look up and see the repeater, but not very good for use indoors or in the mountains.
Dual Receive – these radios actually have two receivers in them, so you can receive on two bands at once. This is useful for emergency communications, when you might want to monitor public service (fire) while you listen for ham radio calls. You can disable the feature if it’s confusing, but it’s available when you need it.
Digital – you might recall analog cell phones, where weak signals got noisy. Then came digital, with clearer voice and no noise. We have digital radios too. The ones we mention below work with analog and digital.
Rugged/Waterproof – Some of these radios are more robust than others. However, waterproof means special connectors for the microphone, or having to use an adaptor to maintain the integrity of the case. Some of these will easily survive a drop to concrete, some will burst apart.
The DJ-V5 is a great 2m / 70cm (dual band) radio. This radio is easy to program by hand and use. It is a great performer and an exceptional value. It has Alpha tagging so you can name the channels. The DJ-V5 is inexpensive to get into and works well, making it a great starter radio.
The DJ-596TMKII is a 2m / 70cm (dual band) handheld transceiver with 5 Watts output on both bands. It supports alphanumeric channel labels and 100 memory channels that can each store up to 15 operating parameters.
This is a great handheld. It is a Tri-band, and covers the 6 meter band as well as 2 meter and 440. A durable HT and a good performer. It does not support the D-Star Digital format but then it only costs a little over half what a dual band D-Star capable HT costs.
Icom 91AD, 92AD, V81, V82 and 80D (digital, dual receive)
Icom makes some radios that include Analog and Digital (D-Star) operation, like the Icom 91AD, and it's a bit pricey at $400. Still, it would get you into the 'digital revolution' that's just starting up.
Kenwood TH-F6A (dual receive)
The most popular radio has been the 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm (tri-band) Kenwood TH-F6A. You'll find lots of people to help you with this radio. It has full power (5 watts) on all bands. I've never met anyone who owns one who's willing to sell it or has anything bad to say about it. Makes me wonder why I don't have one.
Wouxun KG-UVD1P VHF/UHF Dualband
Much lower price for a dual-band handheld than Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom or Alinco. It took me a day working with new ham, Terii KJ6JWR, to figure out how to operate this one, but everyone I know who has one likes it. Terii got hers at an ARRL Convention for $100. The accessories are very inexpensive, about a third of the cost of the major brands. You can shop around and get this for around $120, including shipping (perhaps less than the cost of driving to a convention).
I found it easiest to program this one with the cable - the software is downloadable for free. There's a new version, the KG-UVD2P, with better shielding on the case and some software changes.
For under $200, this is a solid dual-band 5 watt radio, but doesn't have things like AM broadcast radio and SSB reception on low bands (like the Kenwood does). This is the radio we use for our loan program - we have 13 of them now, and so far they've stood up well. They're rated as waterproof at 3m for 30 minutes.
Yaesu VX-3R (light-weight – will bounce)
I always carry a tiny Yaesu VX-3R; it's only 1.5 watts, but it gets into the local PAPA repeaters very well and usually that's all I need. The cost is low too. It fits in a pocket and uses cheap ($8) rechargeable camera batteries. It receives AM broadcast without an external antenna, and does an okay job on FM broadcast too – interrupts broadcast when a ham signal is received.
Yaesu VX-6R (waterproof/rugged)
I have a Yaesu VX-6, which is very rugged.
Yaesu VX-7R (dual receive, waterproof/rugged)
More bands and popular with the Topanga group - waterproof, rugged, low power on 220MHz
I think of this one as a VX-3 on steroids. There are two GPS models, depending on the GPS features you're looking for.
Shopping Universal $419.95