Looking for the best CB radios? This article breaks down my top 5 choices for everyone looking to communicate like a long-haul trucker.
I believe that now more than ever is the perfect time to get involved in the world of radio. The Event seems to be only growing nearer, and radio can greatly improve your disaster resiliency.
For those who are concerned about having to apply for a license with the government to get ham radio ‘privileges,’ or for those who are simply looking for something with a simpler learning curve, citizen’s band (CB) radio can be the perfect solution.
With CB you can set up retreat security, communicate within a caravan, or just get important information out to other members of your community.
Now, before we go any further, whenever I mention CB radios people ask, “Does anyone still use those?” Yes.
SHTF Blog and Prepper Press founder Derrick James took this photo on a 2021 trip into the Maine Northwoods:
But what are the best CB radios to choose from?
Well, I thoroughly analyzed the market before buying my own, and here are what I believe, based on my analysis and experience, to be the best of the best.
What to Look For
When it comes to shopping for a CB radio, there are six criteria I look at:
- Brand Name. the first thing I look at is the brand name. If I’ve never heard of the brand, I’m not interested. Major players in the world of CB that are time-tested, quality radios include Cobra, Galaxy, President, and Uniden. Those are the four main names I always look for, and honestly, I’m not much interested in the rest of the guys out there. You can be guaranteed you’re getting quality with these guys.
- Single SideBand. Aside from brand name, the chief thing that I look for is single sideband (SSB) capabilities. CB radios that can do this are not only able to use more power but give you better options when it comes to choosing a channel to operate on as well.
- Standing Wave Ratio Meter. I’m also a fan of a built-in standing wave ratio (SWR) meter. If you don’t have the correct size antenna for your radio, you can end up damaging your equipment when you make a broadcast. SWR meters will help you to better get the SWR to a safe range for your hardware.
- RF Gain. RF Gain is always good, giving you better reception for further distances.
- Price. Price is also a big factor in which radios I think are the best. What’s the point of paying 2X normal market value for something that has the exact same specs as something cheaper?
With those qualities in mind, let’s take a look at what I believe are some of the best CB radios out there.
1) The President McKinley ($170)
In full disclosure, President sent me this CB, but I’m not the only one who believes it’s one of the best. Do a quick DuckDuckGo search and you’ll see that there are plenty of others out there who agree with me.
I really like the President brand of CB radios, and honestly have to say that they’re my favorite out there. Regular talks with my local radio store has convinced me of such. According to employees of the store, President brand CBs are rarely brought in for repair – and if they are, it’s only after they’ve seen years of use.
These CBs are tough as nails, are packed full of features, are easy to use, and come in at a very economical price point.
And while I’m a big fan of all the President radios, I believe the President McKinley is the best they have to offer.
- 40 channels AM/SSB, Channel rotary switch, Volume adjustment and ON/OFF
- Manual squelch and ASC, Multi-functions LCD display, Digital S-meter
Typically, I like to avoid CB radios that don’t offer single-side band (SSB). With SSB, you can effectively turn your 40-channel CB radio into a 120-channel CB. You’re still operating on the same frequencies as everybody else, but you have a bit more privacy with these types of options.
The President McKinley has SSB capabilities, meaning it fits within my criteria for a great CB. All you have to do to cycle through USB, LSB, or full AM is to press this button. Easy peasy.
Another feature of this radio is that it has a built-in standing wave ratio (SWR) tuner. Should your antenna not match up perfectly with your CB, the McKinley will allow you to compensate for such so that you don’t end up damaging your hardware.
Other cool features here include a Noise Blanker/Limiter feature that reduces interference from your vehicle’s ignition system and removes any other annoying exterior noise sources as well.
If you could only get one CB radio, this is the one I would get.
2) Uniden Bearcat 980SSB CB ($146)
To date, the best book on prepper radio that I’ve ever read is Marshall Masters’ Radio Free Earth. It’s got some kooky opinion stuff in it, but the actual radio information is fantastic. He’s a huge fan of the Uniden Bearcat 980SSB CB, it’s still getting solid reviews 4 years after his book was written, and as a result, I feel almost obligated to include this radio within this list.
- STAY CONNECTED: The BEARCAT 980 SSB CB Radio allows you to stay connected while out on the road and is great for people with a long drive ahead of them
- LARGE EASY-TO-READ DISPLAY & CHANNEL: Illuminated control panel with 7 color personalized display options for easy use in all lighting conditions. Also features easy-to-read laser etched keys
This is a single side band radio, giving you greater options, an SWR meter is present to assist with antenna tuning, and this can accept a wireless microphone, which is a pretty big deal. If you regularly get tired of your CB mic cord getting all wrapped up around everything, then check out this radio with a Uniden BC906W wireless microphone.
Uniden had to get FCC permission to create this innovative CB mic, and it can serve as a very convenient way to keep your vehicle organized as you go out and about.
Other cool features of this radio are its noise cancelling handset mic, it’s great scanning capabilities, and you can change the background color of the LCD, which is kind of fun.
3) Galaxy DX-959 ($200)
This radio has an old school vibe to it, but it’s a workhorse. It’s SSB, of course, has a built in SWR meter, and has all the controls clearly listed out on the face of the radio. For those who find it often frustrating to have to press a collection of 3 buttons repeatedly in the correct sequence to get to the right menu selection on a digital screen, this design is a windfall.
- Large, easy-to-read meter with scales for power output, modulation, SWR and incoming signal
- Five-digit frequency counter with large yellow digits , two-digit channel display with larger yellow digits, variable power output control, variable talkback circuit with on/off switch
Zero guesswork. Just turn the titled knob exactly to where you want it. Galaxy makes what they call a Galaxy Noise Filter (GNF) as well, which serves as a cool way to better adjust the radio to pick up on weak SSB signals as well.
You get a lot of bang for your buck with this easy-to-use radio.
4) Cobra 20LX BT ($200)
If you’re a fan of utilizing Bluetooth, then look no further. This radio accommodates such with some cool features as a result. The Cobra 20LXBT will connect to Bluetooth with your phone, allowing you to not only make and receive calls, but also hear texts, and “read” emails all while looking at the road ahead of you.
- Emergency Radio - CB Radios provide reliable communication which is not dependent on satellites and cellular networks that can be the difference between getting experienced help in an emergency and being left on your own when you need assistance.
- NOAA Weather Channels - Be the first to know of incoming hazards or changing weather with instant access to NOAA weather channels 24 hours a day.
Caller ID announcements can be made through the radio when it’s set up with Bluetooth, you have an internal SWR tuner, noise cancelling technology has been inserted into the handset, and you get access to 10 NOAA weather channels here as well.
With radio, the more information you can get, the better, so this is a cool feature. If you’re on the road and concerned about the dark clouds you’re seeing up ahead of you, the NOAA channels will let you know whether it’s simply rain that you’re driving into or if there’s a tornado watch ahead.
Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of driving through tornadoes – they’re terrible for my gas mileage – so I’m a fan of NOAA channels.
5) President Adams ($60)
I’m including this one within the list due to the price alone. Getting on the air with $60 into a radio is fantastic. If you’re putting together a neighborhood prepper group, and want some form of radio communications ability, this is a very economical way of doing so.
- 40 channels AM, Up/down Channel Selector
- Volume Adjustment and ON/OFF, Manual Squelch and ASC
Is there SSB capabilities here? Nope.
Do you have as many features as many other radios out there? Nope again.
But for $60, you can ensure you have a means of off-grid communications with nearby people you care about, you don’t need extensive training on how to use these, and they’re very easy to setup.
That’s hard to beat!
Before Signing Off
Radio communications are likely to be one of your only forms of long-distance comms after The Event happens. I know of no better way of getting large groups of people – many who have neither the time, energy, nor desire to get ham licensure – equipped with radio comms ability than CB radio.
They’re cheap, they’re plentiful, and they’re about as easy to use as it gets. While one could easily pick up a grouping of FRS/GMRS handheld units – they’re even easier to use – you’re not going to get anywhere near the range that you can get with a quality CB.
Another note for newcomers: CB radio operators have their own language, “10” codes that you should become familiar with. You may also want to explore coupling your radio with a police scanner for enhanced communication channels and strategies.
I bought a bunch of old brand name highway cbs from goodwill’s online store. These ate complete kits with mag mount antennas that were intended for emergency use before there were cell phones. At 20 bucks or less each l got a bunch of handouts to create a local communication net with a five mile at best range. These are not the only cbs my group has. Just cheap extras.