The Best Geiger Counter for Prepping and Survival

A Geiger counter can be a niche tool for preparedness, but it is one of those tools that is irreplaceable when you actually need it. There are many types of Geiger counters available and they are not just used during radiological emergencies.

Demand in the industrial sector drives down the costs of Geiger counters for everyone. This is good news for emergency responders, preppers, and survivalists, since it keeps the specialty tool from breaking our budget.

We have researched, tested, and identified the best overall Geiger counter, as well as options for EDC and those on a budget. We will show you how we got to our conclusions and share some info on Geiger counters along the way.


The Research and Results


The Best Geiger Counter

Radex RD1503+ Geiger Counter

Portable, high accuracy radiation detector gets the job done.

A laboratory grade tool that is durable enough to use for prepping and survival.

$168 from Amazon*

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Radex RD1503+ Geiger Counter

The RADEX RD1503+ is the upgraded version of the tried and true RD1503. The RD1503+ has been on the market for over 10 years, so it is tried and true itself while being more advanced with stronger detection than the original model.

Set and save background dose rates so you can quickly detect changes. Audio and vibration alarms let you choose how you are notified. It quickly detects Beta, Gamma, and X-Ray radiation with laboratory level accuracy. At 5.8 ounces and a profile that is smaller than your wallet, it can be the cornerstone of portable detection kits.


EDC Geiger Counter

NUKAlert Keychain Radiation Detector

Radiation detection for Every Day Carry (EDC).

More clicks = bad times ahead.

$136 from Amazon*

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

NUKAlert Radiation Monitor

The NUKAlert is a small keychain device that detects radiation. It does not have the strengths of a laboratory Geiger counter, since it does not display anything or discern radiation types. Instead, it gives an audible tick and acts as a dosimeter. The faster and more frequent the ticks, the higher the current radiation exposure.

Some owners are weary of the ticks they hear from the device constantly, but they are barely audible up close and it shows the device is simply picking up background radiation. Once the NUKAlert is close to a radiation source, the clicks become much louder and faster. This usually means that you should get out of dodge! This tiny keychain provides one of the only ways you can monitor radiation levels on the go.


Budget Geiger Counter

GQ GMC-320 Plus Geiger Counter

A solid cost-effective radiation detector.

The cheapest counter you can actually trust.

$90 from Amazon*

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

GQ GMC320 Plus Geiger Counter

The GQ GMC-320 Plus is not going to surprise anyone with its price tag, but it is the cheapest Geiger counter on the market that you can trust. There are a few counters that hook to smart phone that run slightly cheaper, but their accuracy is unverified and reports on their quality are not promising.

The GMC-320 Plus is not sleek and it won’t wow your buddies, but it gets the job done. It detects Beta, Gamma, and X-Ray radiation. It is a lightweight 4 ounces and runs on a rechargeable battery. This thing will detect and quantify anything from background radiation all the way to Fukushima level disasters.

Best Geiger Counter for Food

Soeks EcoTester Radiation Tester

Ensure the safety of your food.

Small, convenient, and provides peace-of-mind.

$199 from Amazon*

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Soeks Ecotester Geiger Counter

Radiation can contaminate the food that you eat without visual cues or any other sign that the food could be harmful. Localized disasters and radioactive events can have far-reaching consequences when it comes to food. Having a device that can measure the radiation levels in your food can give your entire family peace-of-mind.

The Soeks EcoTester does this and more. It has a high level of accuracy so you can easily identify contaminated food with laboratory precision. Not only does it measure beta, gamma, and x-ray radiation, but it also screens for harmful levels of nitrates. It weighs only 3 ounces and uses two AAA batteries.  Do not forget to screen your food for radiation after a disaster event.


What is a Geiger Counter?

A Geiger counter is a device that detects and measures ionizing radiation. They used to use a  Geiger-Mueller tube, which can be another name for the device. As you might expect, Hans Geiger and Walther Mueller invented the original tube in 1928. The detector they invented is relatively low cost and has very little drawbacks for radiation detection. Since the 1950s, Geiger counters have adopted halogen tubes since they have a longer life and lower operating voltage.

Geiger counters are used for a variety of radiation detecting applications. I used them extensively in the military. Applications they can be used for include:

  • Radiation dosimetry
  • Nuclear industry monitoring
  • Radiological protection
  • Military mitigation
  • Experimental physics

Geiger counters are also extremely useful for preppers looking to be prepared in the event of a nuclear attack, EMP, nuclear accident, or space ionization event. The counters are often not electromagnetic shielded, so it is a good idea to store them in a Faraday cage so they can be operational after an EMP event.


What Can a Geiger Counter Detect?

A Geiger counter looks for ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is what you typically think of when talking about radiation – radiation that detaches electrons from atoms and molecules. Detached electrons are referred to as ions, hence ‘ionizing radiation’.

Subatomic particles emitted as ionizing radiation travel extremely fast and can generate electromagnetic waves of high energy. X-rays, gamma rays, and some UV rays are ionizing forms of electromagnetic waves. Infrared, microwaves, and radio are non-ionizing and are not intentionally detected by a Geiger counter.

The subatomic particles that are usually part of radioactive decay include alpha and beta particles as well as neutrons. Geiger counters typically look for:

  • Beta emissions – Beta particles are the second largest emission , behind Alpha particles. They are problematic in that they are still small enough to pierce most materials, including clothing. Although they are not as damaging as Alpha particles, dosage can be higher since it is harder to shield.
  • Gamma emissions – gamma rays can pierce through several feet of radiation shielding and are absorbed into the body. It is hard to mitigate gamma radiation except by escaping the source.
  • X-Ray emissions – X rays can also show the presence of Alpha particles. Alpha particles are the largest particles ionized and can be extremely damaging through skin contact, ingestion, and inhalation. Luckily, membranes as thin as a sheet of paper can stop them.

Detected radiation is displayed as a count or a dose with Geiger counters. Devices that only show dosage are referred to as dosimeters. Devices that only show counts are referred to radiation detectors. Both counts and dose measure adiation over a period, most commonly as Sieverts per hour (Sv/hr).

Some Geiger counters use audible clicks to give the number of ionization events detected. This allows the user to concentrate on things other than the radiation detector while still knowing the amount of radiation in an area.


How Accurate is a Geiger Counter?

Geiger counters have varying ability to detect and measure radiation. Many Geiger counters use peripheral wands that attach to the main device to measure specific types of radiation. Geiger-Mueller tubes are unable to tell the difference between radiation events, so attachments or different mode settings are often used to isolate radiation types.

Counting or dosing radiation is less helpful if you don’t know the type of radiation. Learning the type of radiation can also help you identify the radiating isotope. This helps HAZMAT (Hazardous Material) responders track down the source of the radiation and even neutralize or contain it if possible.   

Pancake probes, wands with a small circular ‘pancake’ on the end with a specialized mesh, are typically used to detect large areas.

Windows are used on probes to reduce radiation detected by simply shielding out radiation you don’t wish to detect. A small thin mica sheet can slide over a probe to eliminate Alpha particle detection. A thick steel door is used to swing over some probes to eliminate beta particle detection, leaving just gamma detection capabilities.

Most probes are used in military and laboratory settings when you are trying to understand the radiation. General radiation reading can be better for prepping and survival use, since they more simply provide counts and dosage of combined radiation. Accuracy is still important for these, although they are not in a laboratory setting. When you sacrifice accuracy, you are usually hurting your ability to measure background dose- which is typically on the lower end of the scale.

The detection ranges for the Geiger counters we suggest are:

  • Radex RD1503+ – 0.05 to 9.99 µSv/h @ 40 second cycles
  • NUKAlert – Detection: 20 keV to 2.0 MeV, 100 mR/hr to 5,000 R/hr
  • GQ GMC-320+ – 0.1 to 3.0 MeV
  • Soeks EcoTester –  0.03 to 1000 mcSv/h

How to Use a Geiger Counter

Radiation is all around us. It comes from the Earth and comes from space- there is no escaping it and impossible to prevent. Luckily, most radiation is harmless and just a part of life. Harmful radiation is absorbed in small enough doses that it rarely has any effects. If you are exposed to too much, it can be problematic. This is why people are limited to the number of X-Rays they can be exposed to.

How do you detect something that is already surrounding you? You set a baseline and measure the difference. Baseline measurements of radiation are called ‘background radiation’ levels. When you first turn on your Geiger counter, you will probably have a reading. Don’t panic- that is probably the background radiation level for where you are.

Anyone that owns a Geiger counter should map background radiation levels for areas your home if they have time. This way, you can tell when there is a significant increase in exposure that puts you and your family at risk. It also lets you become familiar with the equipment and learn how to operate your specific model.

This amazing chart shows how radiation dose compares for the Sieverts we are naturally (and unnaturally) exposed to:

Radiation Dose Chart

Who Needs a Geiger Counter?

Ionizing radiation has the ability to damage living tissue quickly and over long sustained periods. High exposure rate can cause radiation burns on the skin and bodily membranes, cell damage, and death. High dosage accumulation can cause those same effects but also radiation sickness and cancer. There is no way to build a tolerance or immunity to radiation since it directly affects your cells.

Radiation events are improbable but not uncommon. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima have all demonstrated the raw power and lasting effects radiation can have on huge areas.

Despite the lower chance of a radiation disaster, the impact of one of these disasters can be devastating. There is no substitute for the equipment needed to detect and protect. A small investment in a Geiger counter detector combined with protective masks can help you survive a radioactive event.

A Geiger counter is one of the foundation pieces of a radiation detection kit. These are usually a specialized kit to be considered based on your proximity to high-threat areas:

Luckily, advancements have reduced the bulk and increased the durability and ease of use for Geiger counters. This means that they can be included in many types of portable kits, including:

This last bullet point has some exciting options, as we pointed out earlier with our portable EDC pick.


How We Review Products

We research products thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We conduct thorough research, where we consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in practical conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item.

You can support us through our independently chosen links, which earns us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways, so be sure to check back often.


Sources and References

An objective look at the best equipment is useless without sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our practical military experience.

Couch, Dick. (2008). The US Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Survival Manual. Basic Books. Available from (Source).

Hare, Johnathan. (2007). The Geiger Counter. Instructional Science and Engineering Videos. The Vega Science Trust. Retrieved from (Source).

Hine, Gerald & Brownell, Gordon. (2013). Radiation Dosimetry. Elsevier. Retrieved from (Source).


The Final Word

Geiger counters been around for over 90 years at this point, and survivalists and preppers are thankful to Hans, and his PhD student Walther for taking the time to discover it. A Geiger counter is an irreplaceable piece of specialized equipment for radiation detection. During a radiation attack, accident, or disaster it becomes invaluable for survival.

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any more questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing settled on the Radex RD1503+ Geiger Counter as the best option given the functionality, durability, versatility, and value. We also gave a shout out to a few others as potential portable, budget, or food-specific options.

Your specific situation may call for a different solution.

Take care of your gear and it will take care of you. Don’t stash it away, but get it out to get familiar with it if you are not using it every day.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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Best Geiger Counter for Prepping and Survival

Rusty

I am an engineer by day, but a prepper 24/7. I am an Air Force veteran that developed emergency and disaster plans as an emergency manager and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters worldwide. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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