When you want to communicate with friends on the other side of the lake this spring, two-way radios are great for staying in touch and getting home safely. But with so many models on the market, it can be mind-boggling trying to choose the right one.

First off, forget about claims these radios can travel 35-miles. Either those ratings were taken on another planet or they are under absolute ideal conditions with an operator on a nearby mountain. Most likely any recreational radio on the market will have a range of about two miles.   

So what really matters when choosing a two-way? Roy Reese, a chief product engineer at Giant International told REI in their expert advice column that it comes down to the antenna’s effectiveness and ultimately its size. He calls it the radio’s “effective radiated power.” 

“It doesn’t matter how big the amplifier is,” he says. “What’s important is how effectively an antenna is radiating its power level.”  His advice is to look for radios with an equal-sized body and antenna. “Think balance,” he says.

With that in mind, here are three trusted options: