The most durable portable shortwave radios for traveling

A great portable radio is your passport to the world while traveling, even in remote areas.

I receive a lot of emails from readers, quite often from those who about to embark upon international travel–sometimes to remote locations–and who are looking for a durable travel shortave radio.  These travelers are looking for a basic travel radio which, while it might not need to survive being submerged underwater or dropped from a cliff, will hold up in the semi-protected environment of a suitcase or backpack experiencing some rough baggage handling.

I travel a great deal myself, and always carry a shortwave radio with me (actually, I usually take more than one). Here are some considerations I use to determine which radios go in my bag or pack, and thus make good travel companions:

  • Rugged enough to withstand typical suitcase/backpack travel conditions
  • Lightweight and relatively compact size
  • Supplied protective travel case
  • Efficient operation on AA cells, the most common batteries found in the world
  • Useful travel features, like auto-tuning, alarm/clock functions, sleep timer
  • Relatively inexpensive–if you lose your radio or it gets stolen, you don’t want it to ruin your trip
To be clear, none of the radios on the list that follows are marketed as  “ultra-tough radios”–indeed, I know of no capable SW portable that is–but these do represent the most durable I’ve personally tested and used in my travels.

The best shortwave portables for travel

Full-featured portable – The Sony ICF-SW7600GR ($130-150 US)

This Sony shortwave radio is a classic, with solid, time-tested performance, and features to please both the beginner and the seasoned radio enthusiast. It is full-featured, with excellent SSB and exceptional sync detection. I grab the ‘7600GR when I plan to do a little DXing on vacation. It has everything I need.

The Sony ICF-SW7600GR is still made in Japan and the case is metal. It feels like a very high-quality portable when holding it in your hands. The lock button is a sliding switch on the top part of the radio face–easy to turn on and off intentionally, difficult to do so unintentionally. Additionally, it comes with a decent padded case. The ‘7600GR operates on 4 AA cells. The only travel feature the ‘7600GR lacks is an alarm, and that’s okay by me; for the features and durability, I’ll keep the Sony and use my cell phone or watch for an alarm. The instruction manual is comprehensive and easy to read. Read the full review here.

Compact portable – The Grundig G8 Traveller II ($25-50 US)

Actually designed with the traveler in mind, the Grundig G8 will make for an excellent companion on your next venture. I’m quite impressed with this radio:  shortwave reception is good, and FM reception exceptional. The AM broadcast band does suffer from some images (a type of signal interference in which aural “ghosts” of other broadcasts layer over the one you’re trying to hear), though still quite respectable. The G8’s audio is a little tinny out of the built-in speaker, though quite good for a radio this compact. The customary price for the G8 is $49.95, but occasionally retailers place them on sale for nearly half this price. I especially like the fact that there is a front cover on the G8 which protects many of the controls. The body is somewhat rubberized and the zip case that comes with the radio is padded and perfectly designed for suitcase/backpack travel. The G8 is also smaller than a paperback book.

The G8 does not have SSB capability like the Sony does, but it is a good product for casual broadcast listener. The G8 also has a great alarm clock function and a world time selector switch on the front:  simply dial up your time zone as you cross the planet. The G8 uses 3 AA cells.

Pocket portable – CountyComm ETFR ($25 US)

The County Comm Marathon ETFR Emergency Task Force Radio is a very small ultra-portable radio. The ETFR is similar to the earlier County Comm GP-4L, but was produced initially for the Canadian military, thus it features enhanced cold-weather operation. It is very durable–indeed, military-grade durability at least with regards to impact. To my knowledge, it is not waterproof, but it will certainly withstand your airline’s roughest luggage treatment.

The ETFR is no incredible performer, but the price is low and it is quite capable of catching the major international broadcasters–indeed its sensitivity is better than I had anticipated. The tuning is actually analog, though the display is digital, thus you can expect a little receiver drift if you keep this radio on a broadcast for very long. The ETFR operates efficiently on 2 AA cells providing up to 150 hours at 40% volume or 70 hours of illumination from the built-in LED light. The ETFR also has a built-in clock and alarm feature.

In my humble opinion, all frequent travelers should keep a County Comm ETFR in their go-to vehicle and/or travel bag.

Also (I have to admit) this radio looks very cool in the carry case that Universal sells.  Together, these make a great bon voyage gift for any traveler.

The G6 makes for an excellent travelling companion

UPDATE 11 March 2012: Check out our latest post and review of the Grundig G6–a pocket-sized portable ready for the road warrior.

My Tecsun PL-380 and the small Eagle Creek pack that also holds my Zoom H1 recorder, earphones, audio cables, external antenna, spare batteries and Kindle.

UPDATE 23 May 2012: Yes, I’ve also added the incredible PL-380 to the travel list as well.  Read the full post here. Thanks for the comment, Alan!


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23 thoughts on “The most durable portable shortwave radios for traveling

  1. Ellie Mishima

    My son will be in Malawi Africa and I would like to get him a good SW radio. When I looked at some different models, some say Long range too. Does he need both long and short range? What would you recommend for him.

  2. OJ

    Hi Thomas, I’m in the market for a new SW radio to carry around whilst travelling and I wanted to pick your brain on a piece of hardware. I remember my brother-in-law having a Grundig G-2000A back in 99/00. It was designed in collaboration with F A Porsche. It was a beautiful looking thing, silver casing with a brown leather cover. Anyway, I recently found one listed on eBay in excellent condition for a pretty fair price. Are you familiar with this model? Could it be a worthwhile alternative for the Tecsun PL-380 or the Sony ‘7600GR? Bare in mind its early 2000’s tech but it does look mighty cool! Thanks…..OJ

    1. Tomas

      I’m not Thomas but from reading the Amazon reviews it has the looks but not the performance: “Reception on any short-wave band is non-existent and the lo-fi FM sound was an even greater disappointment. ”

      If you only need SW and FM then PL-310ET is probably your best bet. MW isn’t bad either. I would prefer it over PL-380 because of ETM, a proper tuning wheel and a socket for an external SW/FM antenna.

  3. Shafi

    PL310ET seems great on features. I am not sure how durable it would be. I use Sony SW7600GR and CCrane SW Pocket depending on how heavy my travel is but I badly miss on USB on both the above. This would solve my problem of carrying a battery charger..

    1. Albert

      I had the original (first version) SW7600 and a working SW77. Sony products are physically more durable and cosmetically better compared to these small Tecsun radios. Something’s gotta give for such price tag. The PL-660 quality is probably closer to the SW7600GR.

      1. Shafi

        What do we say about Grundig G6 Aviator. Would it be true to call it the most portable radio with maximum frequency span ?

        1. Thomas Post author

          It is a great portable radio–I would say it’s one of the smallest that has SSB mode and probably the smallest that includes SW, AM, FM and AIR band.

          It’s getting difficult to find the G6 new in box as the remaining stock is dwindling.


  4. Albert

    I think that the revised 2013 PL-310ET is a better travel radio than PL-380. It has that same useful ETM function as temporary memory for your travel destination. But the 2 physical feature that top PL-380 are external antenna input and rotary tuner dial.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Hi, Albert,

      Yes, both very good points about the PL-310ET. I will have to try one out. Could you comment on the AGC? Is it better than the original PL-310 with regards to handling weak DX? This was the biggest deciding factor for me choosing the PL-380 over the original PL-310.


      1. Albert

        My PL-380 died a month ago from using a portable cellphone Li-ion USB stick on its USB port. The PL-310ET was a replacement for it. I don’t have the original PL-310. But based on “memory” experience, the AGC or soft-mute behavior is close to PL-380, but the PL-380 is better at handling weak distance signals.

        Compared to what I see on YouTube, PL-310ET is a big improvement over PL-310 with the AGC problem. Treble on the PL-310ET is a notch higher than PL-380.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Shafi, you’re right. The CCRane SWP is an excellent little travel radio. Its buttons a firm and are not easily pressed while in your travel bag. Nice receiver as well. Thanks!

  5. Alan

    You should include the Tecsun PL-380 as part of the list. It is an excellent tuner with good selectivity. The ETM feature was made for a traveller. The radio is cheap enough that it won’t bother you if you lose it or break it.

  6. But where is DRM

    I am not buying a travel radio at the moment, because I want to save my money, in order to buy one when DRM is available on some receivers. I can’t believe that there are already several DRM radio transmitters in Europe, but no practical solution for receiving them.

  7. Thomas Post author

    My ‘7600GR is made in Japan, but now I’m questioning if I overlooked the alarm feature. If memory serves, I didn’t have the Sony in front of me when I did this review. I’ll have to check it after my travels. I do know this: one retailer recently told me that they never know when Sony will say “discontinued” when they order batches of ‘7600GR’s for inventory.

  8. Colonel Yurin

    First off : I’m a great fan of the Sony 7600GR. But every now and then I get the feeling that my radio is bizarrely different from others of this model number, because the opinions and “facts” reported by others with this model make no sense to me. Two cases in point here:

    “The Sony ICF-SW7600GR is still made in Japan and the case is metal.”

    You must have a special edition. On mine, there is a thin metal plate covering only the speaker (and only on the front). The rest of the case is the rgeular old plastic one would expect. Maybe I got a cheap version? Or maybe the newer models are now metal?

    “The only travel feature the ’7600GR lacks is an alarm, and that’s okay by me; for the features and durability, I’ll keep the Sony and use my cell phone or watch for an alarm. ”

    Ah ha! Now YOU have the cheap version. My old 7600 includes both a buzzer alarm and a radio alarm, each of which can be set to a different time. Indeed, this radio’s “nonexistent” alarm has wakened me hundreds of time over the last decade.


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