4watt vs 5watt vs 8watt Radios

Here is one of those touchy “tech” questions…filled with landmines. But what the heck…let me take a shot at it!

The premise of this article is the debate on handheld radios and how much power should I buy.

And there is no simple answer…but there is an answer…and I will make it as simple as possible. Let’s get going…


Background –

Generally speaking the more power, in terms of watts, that your radio generates, the more distance your signal will go. Antennas also make a big difference in actual transmitting capability than just power alone.

Here is a chart that shows the same radio(s) with different antennas. Notice the differences in “gain” just changing the antenna being used in conjunction with a frequency.

baofeng UV-5RMHP vs UV-5RA antenna resultsBottom line…maybe using a “matched” frequency with the right sized antenna can give you similar power capabilities of a 4w and 8w radios.

Reasonable Options –

For handheld radios you have essentially 3 power settings available to be used…1watt, 4watt, and 8watt.

Very generally speaking an 8watt radio will generate a more powerful transmitting signal. That generally means a transmission that will go further on a 8watt radio vs. a 1watt or 4watt. But, don’t be confused…it won’t be 2times or 8times longer distance signal respectively.

So is more powerful always better?

Yes, No…depends. Don’t you just hate me 🙂

OK, I gotta touch on a critical issue that is the determining factor in handheld power…safety. Yeah, kinda of weird, eh?

In this case I am not going to be referring to daily use, or usage during emergencies or disasters. I am going to specifically speak about “grid-down” and operations during that eventuality. I should probably have mentioned OpSec or ComSec rather than safety.

OpSec = Operational Security. Keeping your operations safe and secure from outside interference. That interference could cover a wide range of options…discovering your location or ambushing you. Having good good OpSec means non-need-to-know people don’t find out what you are doing before or during an operation.

ComSec – Communications Security. Keeping your communications secure from outside interception and/or keeping them from understanding what you are communicating. Having good ComSec mean non-need-to-know people can’t somehow listen in to your communications. Or, if they do, they can’t understand what you are communicating.

Now that I covered that…what does it have to do with the power of your radio?

Let’s say you have a great BugOut location and you have 5 families located there. Your area of operations (AO) covers the immediate 40acres of property that you own and the forest about mile in any direction. You want to be able to communicate with handheld radios within the AO.

You set your radios to 8watts to ensure that you can easily talk to each other. It works great! And one day a group of bad guys is traveling on a highway about 6 miles away. They are scanning the basic UHF/VHF frequencies as well as GMRS and FRS frequencies. They pick up your radio transmissions and hear you talking about the teenage girls are out harvesting apples. Oh, yeah…you are about to get visitors.

Point? Using a much lower transmission power reduces the distance your signal can travel. Hence, the signal may not have reached the badguys had you been using a 1w or 4w radio.

So just use the low or medium power setting on an 8w radio!?!?! Right?

How often so people use the power they have? Albeit, car, truck, radio, tractor, anything? Someone at some point will turn the power to 8watts and jeopardize your ComSec and OpSec.

Now, if you have 100% control over ComSec and people’s actions…feel free to go to an 8watt radio platform.

Summary –

There is one more influencing issue…cost. The 8watt radio that we are talking about is the Baofeng BF-F8HP. FYI, I reviewed it yesterday. It is well more than double the price of the Baofeng UV-5RA. So I would rather spend the money on buying more radios and better accessories than a radio with more wattage that may or may not be more useful to our situation.

If I had no money restrictions and I had confidence in my ComSec (or didn’t care about ComSec) I would buy the Baofeng BF-F8HP..

If I had a specific need for longer distance transmission I would buy the Baofeng BF-F8HP. Or, look at buying a mobile radio with even more wattage. An example of this kind of need would be a repeater. Yes, there might be a repeater located in my AO that I need to reach and only an 8watt handheld could do it.

So, now it is your job to figure out what you need/mission is, what your budget is, what your ComSec is, and then chose which radio is best for you. And I wouold wait until I read my next article i this series coming out tomorrow 🙂



2009 - 2019 Copyright © AHTrimble.com ~ All rights reserved
No reproduction or other use of this content 
without expressed written permission from AHTrimble.com
See Content Use Policy for more information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s