I have been playing with my ham radio stuff for years but I wish I had started
out in high-school with a high frequency (HF) low power (QRP)
radio kit instead of playing with 2 meter handhelds and repeaters. I would
have had a better grasp on circuit and antenna design and gotten into Morse
For about $15 or less a transmitter kit around the size of a silver dollar can be made that can be picked up by a larger station sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Moving up form there are transceivers which are made to fit into an Altoids mints tin and can communicate around the world. Of course more power is useful when you need to get through right away but a 20 meter band (day), 80 meter band (night), or 40 meter band (both day and night), set built into an Altoids mint tin with a battery and some cut to frequency magnet wire for an antenna provides a good survival radio for cases where a survival group is separated across the country like in Jim's novel "Patriots", during the long winter nights.
Expensive kits can work multiple HF bands but are mostly larger or cost much more. Some interesting kits are the $160 range AT-Sprint 3 which is a multi-band 80M, 40M, 20M surface mount kit that can fit in an Altoids mints tin. (BTW, it won't be back into production until late summer, 2007.)
Another larger and easier to build kit is the $55 SW+ series
in 80M, 40M, 30M or 20M from Small
Wilderness Radio makes some good kits like the $90 SST which can be built to cover on of the following 40m, 7.032-7.042; 40m/novice: 7.105 - 7.115; 30m,
10.105-10.120; 20m, 14.046-14.064.
QRP radios as a general rule are Morse code only but some radios get past the old primitive key and use a built in paddle instead which is quicker, smaller, and easier to use after about a day of practice.
Combined with a rechargeable battery and a very small solar panel you can carry a low power station in your shirt pocket at all times.
Many SurvivalBloggers love their [EMP-resistant] tube technology and this is an option with QRP kits but these are larger and hog power.
Readers should know that [in the U.S.] once they pass the easy Technician level test they can operate on the 80, 40, 15 (code) and 10 meter (code and voice) HF bands as well as
higher frequencies all without having to pass a Morse code test.