Best Weather Radio of 2020
The FosPower Emergency Solar Hand Crank earns the top spot as our favorite all-around weather radio. Right out of the box, our testing team could intuitively figure out how to use this device — there is no need to read the instructions or perform any extra setup steps. There is a switch on the bottom of the FosPower, which can be set to SOS mode that emits a very loud siren noise and a bright flashing red light from the front of the radio. There are a few parts of the design of this model that we love. The antenna is very well protected within the device's body when not in use, rather than just folding and clipping to the outside like many competing models. The lanyard on the FosPower comes with a handy carabiner, and the LED reading lights on the underside of the solar panel are handy when you don't want to use the full power of the main flashlight.
With the simplistic design of the FosPower comes a bit of a lack of bells & whistles. This model doesn't have an auxiliary plug — a feature that allows users to listen to their personal music rather than just AM/FM radio and the NOAA frequencies. Many weather radios have moved on to LCDs with buttons, whereas the FosPower uses analog displays and dials. This means that it is also lacking an alarm clock and other programming capabilities. Some may see this as a drawback, but LCDs use energy, so if the ultimate goal is power conservation or use in an emergency, this model is your best bet.
When it comes to indoor-specific alarm clock-style weather radios, it's hard to beat the Midland WR400. This high-tech weather alert device automatically scans all seven NOAA frequencies until it locks on to the one with the strongest signal. The WR400 is also capable of scanning S.A.M.E. frequencies — Specific Area Message Encoding sifts through the various NOAA signals then only warns you when the specific counties that you set alerts for are threatened. When there is an alert, you have three different options of how you can be notified — There are flashing LED lights, a voice alert, or a siren. We also measured the radio speaker volume on the WR400 to be an impressive 79.5 dBa.
The Midland WR400 is a bit limited. Although it does take batteries, the DC power cord is the primary power source. The batteries are meant to be a backup in case of power outages. This model is also a bit of a pain to program compared to crank models that essentially come ready to go out of the box. Also, the WR400 is relatively expensive. Still, this device is a solid choice for those looking to add a highly programmable weather radio to their home or workplace.
The Eton Hand Turbine offers a high-performance weather radio packed into a remarkably small package. The flashlight on this model is comprised of three LED bulbs rather than the solitary standard bulb that many radios use, so you can rest easy knowing that it's unlikely that you'll be worrying about a flashlight burnout. Surprisingly, the hand crank is longer than many models that are much heavier and bulkier, significantly increasing leverage. The Eton Hand Turbine features a headphone jack so you can listen to the radio or weather channels quietly while also conserving battery. For those that plan on relying primarily on the internal speaker, we measured this device to be exceptionally loud. This Hand Turbine uses a backlit LCD and has glow-in-the-dark accents around the flashlight lens to help you find it in the dark.
The main drawback we found with the Eton Hand Turbine is that you are 100% reliant on the internal battery pack. There is no compartment for extra batteries for instances in which you're away from a power source, out of sunlight for the solar panel, or too tired to hand crank. Despite this shortcoming, the Eton Hand Turbine is the way to go for backpacking or other activities where room is limited and weight is a concern.
If you're shopping for a weather radio on a budget, it's hard to beat the RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank. Despite its low price and small size, this model has many of the features that considerably pricier and substantially larger models possess. It has a USB jack, hand crank, and can be tuned in to AM, FM, or NOAA radio frequencies. RunningSnail also thought to include an iPhone adapter for the Micro USB cable for all of the Apple customers out there.
As with other compact weather radios, the RunningSnail lacks a backup battery compartment. Once this device loses its original charge, you will be relying on the solar panel or the hand crank to listen to the radio or charge your devices. This model lacks a headphone jack as well as an auxiliary audio plug. If you want to listen to your own tunes through the speaker or use your headphones to check the weather, this is not the model for you. Despite its lack of features, the RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank is an excellent choice for those who are looking for an emergency weather radio who don't want to dent their bank account to purchase one.
We think the Eton American Red Cross is an excellent option for anyone who holds sound quality in high regard. Radio signals can often produce scratchy, almost incoherent tones — the high-performance speaker equipped on this model helps mitigate this frustrating problem. As a bonus, you can use the Red Cross as an external speaker for your own devices using the auxiliary plug, but it also has a headphone jack if you'd like to listen to the radio or weather more privately. This device has a backlit LCD, a selector lever set to all seven NOAA weather frequencies, a mute button, and has an alarm clock. The flashlight function features two clear LED bulbs as well as a red bulb for signaling emergencies or keeping your illumination to a more mellow level while navigating the forest or the inside of your vehicle or tent.
You're going to pay the price for all of these great features — the Eton American Red Cross is relatively expensive. We were also a bit disappointed to discover that the Red Cross does not take backup batteries. Although it has a large internal battery, it would be nice to know that you could pop some AAs into the device for instances when the sun is down, or you don't feel like operating the hand crank. Still, the Eton American Red Cross is the way to go if you value sound quality along with some bells & whistles.
If your portable weather radio's flashlight function is the most critical feature for you, we highly recommend the Givoust Emergency Weather Crank Radio. The LED bulb on this model easily outshined the rest during our assessment. The display on this device is exceptionally easy to read thanks to its extra-large LCD. The Givoust has the industry-standard USB in and out jacks, but it also has an auxiliary input as well as an included double-male auxiliary cord. In the case of a real emergency, this device has an easily accessed SOS button that activates a very loud siren and flashes the LCD light to let others know that you require help.
As much as we love the Givoust, we did find a few fundamental shortcomings. This model is very bulky — it's probably not the best choice for backpacking or keeping in a car with limited cargo space. During our sound pressure level meter measurements, we found the radio speaker can only produce 64.5 decibels. If the volume is a purchasing factor for you, we'd advise that you go with a louder weather radio. Flaws aside, we're big fans of the Givoust design, and it'd be hard to beat the brightness of the flashlight feature.
The Midland WR120EZ is another good option if you'd like an alarm clock-style weather radio. This model has three LED color indicators that let you know if the NOAA alert level is a watch, an advisory, or a warning. The LCD will also tell you what type of alert has been issued, whether it's a flood, tornado, thunderstorm, or whatever else nature decides to cook up. The WR120EZ has S.A.M.E. capabilities meaning that you can program the radio to only alert you for your local area rather than the whole state or region.
When we broke out the sound meter, we were disappointed to discover that the Midland WR120EZ maxes out at a volume level of 58.6 decibels. If you want a radio that will get your attention no matter where you are in the home or workplace, it'd be wise to go with a louder model. Despite its relative quietness, we think the WR120EZ is a good choice for those looking for an alarm clock with weather frequency capabilities.
For those that want an especially loud portable weather radio, we recommend the Midland ER310. When we conducted our sound pressure level analysis, this model produced an impressive 79.8 decibels. The ER310 uses a digital LCD, and it automatically scans to the strongest weather channel frequency when you hold the tune button down. The flashlight has four settings — low, high, strobe, and an SOS setting that emits an ultrasonic dog whistle to aid rescue teams in locating you in the case of an emergency.
We were unimpressed to see the price of the ER310. There are weather radios with most of the same functions as this model that are a fraction of the cost. Although we liked the antenna's storage location on this device, we found it difficult to extend or collapse when not in use. Despite the ER310's short list of flaws, we still think it's the perfect choice for someone who desires as much volume as possible from their portable weather radio.
Our favorite feature on the Kaito KA500 is the carrying strap. This comes in handy if you'd like to hang the radio from something, and it's more comfortable to carry than models with rigid handles or those that don't have a handle at all. The KA500 has a headphone jack — this is great for instances in which you'd like to listen to the radio or the weather in a private fashion.
Sadly, we found many more flaws with the Kaito KA500 than features that we liked. Although the designers thought to include a DC power jack for charging the internal battery, the package does not include a cord. Unlike nearly every model that we've seen, the KA500 does not have an elbow to help adjust its position for better reception. This model has most of the functions that we'd expect from a weather radio, but the controls are outright silly. There are a total of seven switches and dials all over the device — some weather radios with the same or even more functions use only three buttons or dials. Lastly, the Kaito KA500 is very expensive considering the functionality, looks, and performance of the product. Unless the carrying strap is a must-have for you, we'd recommend going with a more affordable model.
Why You Should Trust Us
To spearhead our weather radio review, we used our in-house review editor Ross Patton. With a formal education in environmental science and more than a decade of product testing experience under his belt, Ross has developed a keen eye for spotting the subtle nuances that separate quality products from those that are best left on the shelf. He has reviewed outdoor products ranging from rooftop tents to bicycle frame pumps as well as tech products such as WiFi extenders and Bluetooth trackers — in other words, weather radios are right up his alley.
Here at GearLab, we take pride in purchasing the products that we test at full price from the same retailers as our readers. We believe that conducting zero bias and hands-on testing puts us a notch above other review websites. To test weather radios, we began by carefully inspecting them for features, strengths, or weaknesses that might set them apart from the rest. We took careful measurements of size and noise levels, and finally, we took the portable models camping to give them a proper field test.
Analysis and Test Results
To score each model, we used our professional product testers team to laboriously examine each device for settings, features, and elements that we liked or disliked. We measured each model to double-check the manufacturer's claims and used an SPL meter to measure sounds. We broke our score down into three particular facets — features, user-friendliness, and noise.
The features you need out of a weather radio will be the main determining factor behind your purchasing decision. These devices range from alarm clock style versions that plug into your wall in your home or office to portable versions meant to be stowed in a vehicle to tiny models that would be perfect for backpacking. The features, settings, and functions are all across the board.
If you're in the market for a weather radio that will permanently live indoors, it'd be hard to beat the Midland WR400. This device features all of the functions you'd expect out of an alarm clock, including AM/FM radio, a standard buzz, but also the option to wake up to your local weather. This highly programmable model can automatically scan for the strongest NOAA frequency in your area so that your signal will always come through as clear as possible. The WR400 also features Specific Area Message Encoding, which narrows the alerts down to your local county rather than a broader region. Add that to several options for weather warnings, including LED lights, voice alert, or a siren plus a USB charging port for your devices, and you've got the ultimate indoor weather radio.
The portable versions in our review have many features in common. Each one has a radio that can be switched between AM, FM, and NOAA frequencies. They have a flashlight, although they greatly vary in brightnesses. They all possess an internal battery and have a minimum of three ways that they can charge — via USB either in your car or home, a solar panel, and, our personal favorite, a hand crank. They are also all capable of charging a USB powered device. There are, however, many ways that they differ.
In general, digital models tend to have more features than those that use analog controls. The Eton models are the only portable versions we reviewed that have an alarm clock — a feature that could be especially useful if you're out camping and you need to get up early to sink some worms, climb a mountain, or complete that long bike ride. We love that the Eton American Red Cross has an auxiliary input jack that allows you to play your own music through the speaker.
Another digital version, the Givoust Emergency Weather Crank, has all of the standard features we see from every weather radio in our review as well as an auxiliary jack with an included cord. We love that it has an oversized digital display for finding the right frequency and that it has a backup battery compartment that gives it a fourth power source.
The element that truly sets the Givoust aside from the rest is its remarkably bright flashlight — a feature we consider to be truly important in a real-life emergency.
The Fospower has a flashlight lens that spins, allowing you to spread the light wider or focus the beam to be narrower and brighter. This model also has a wrist lanyard with an adjustable strap and a carabiner. One cool feature we particularly liked on this model was a hidden set of LED reading lights hidden below the solar panel.
Predictably, the smallest weather radios have the least amount of features. The main thing that sets the Eton Hand Turbine and RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank apart from each other is that the Eton is digital and features an alarm clock while the RunningSnail uses analog controls. Also, the Eton has a headphone jack if you'd like to listen to the radio in a more private manner than by using the main speaker.
Next, we subjectively judged how intuitive the weather radios are to use. Do they require a setup? Are the controls complicated? Are they ergonomic and comfortable to hold? Are the charging ports and battery compartments easy to access?
We found that the most straightforward models to use are the ones with the most uncomplicated design. The model with the least amount of switches, buttons, and dials is the RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank. This device has a dial for tuning, a dial for volume, a selector switch for changing between WB, AM, and FM, and a flashlight button. The tuning is analog, and there are no instructions or programming necessary to operate this radio. The RunningSnail fits comfortably in your hand and easily slides into a pack or pouch.
Only slightly more challenging to use, the ForPower Emergency Hand Crank has virtually the same controls and dials as the RunningSnail except that there are two additional selector switches — one for changing between the AAA batteries or the internal lithium-ion battery, and another for switching between standard, USB charging, and SOS mode.
Although it is a digital version, the Givoust is very easy to use. Except for the flashlight button located on top of the device, the rest of the buttons are all on one side of the radio body. This model is a no-brainer to use thanks to the easy to read buttons, the lack of programmable features, and the large display. The crank arm on this device is one of the longest that we've seen, which significantly helps get the RPMs on the charging motor going.
Both of the Eton models are a bit more difficult to operate than many others because of their alarm clock functions. However, the Hand Turbine is a bit more intuitive because it only has one button and a dial for programming. The Eton American Red Cross isn't the easiest to use. This device is covered in buttons, dials, and switches — it takes a few minutes to get it all figured out. That said, the Red Cross gets bonus points for its comfortable cranking position and we love the long crank on the Hand Turbine.
Finally, the Midland WR400 is a bit of a pain to use. Along with its long list of customizable features and functions comes a lengthy setup time. If you're going to purchase this model, be prepared to settle in with the instruction booklet or a video tutorial to get it all figured out.
Some people may place a large degree of importance on how loud each of these devices can be. For models that can be set to alert mode, it's not going to do much good if you can't even hear the emergency warning. Also, if you plan on using the radio function to play tunes while out camping or backpacking, it'd be a good idea to get a louder device. To measure noise, we used a sound pressure level meter for each model at a distance of 3 feet. Then, we used our panel of sound experts to judge the quality each radio speaker produced.
As far as sound quality, our favorite indoor version is the Midland WR400, which also happens to be the loudest version, which we measured to produce 79.5 dBa at full volume. The best sounding portable weather radio is the Eton American Red Cross. This model is substantially quieter than the WR400 — it only produces 65.3 dBa.
Considering its tiny package, we were shocked to see a measurement of 78.9 dBa out of the RunningSnail Hand Crank. Our judges also found the sound quality to be pretty decent, especially for its size.
The Eton Hand Turbine produced 70.7 dBa during our analysis, and just behind was the FosPower putting up a decibel level of 70.3. The judges liked the sound emitted from the FosPower but weren't too impressed with that of the Hand Turbine.
Finally, the Givoust can put out 64.5 decibels of noise, which is pretty quiet, but we thought the quality was excellent.
At GearLab, we see it as our duty to provide you with the world's best product reviews. That's why we purchase every model for side-by-side analysis. We enjoy what we do, and we hope that having read this review, you now have the knowledge necessary to purchase the perfect weather radio for your needs.
— Ross Patton