Field Day: It’s all about the audio…

If you listened to the latest Ham Radio Workbench Podcast episode–our Field Day Debrief–you will have heard that my Field Day was a pretty low-key event.

Originally, I had hoped to fly out to Oregon and hang with my friend George (KJ6VU) and his radio club, but there were just too many family activities happening this year for me to travel for a week.

Instead, my wife, daughters, and I met up with my buddy Vlado (N3CZ) and his sister, who was visiting from North Macedonia.

We met at the Zebulon Vance Birthplace (US-6856) and, luckily, had the picnic shelter to ourselves. The weather was gorgeous, and we put together a proper potluck picnic.

Field Day POTA

Vlado and I decided to do some casual Field Day operating, and I brought the radio gear.

Since I’m currently testing the Xiegu X6200, I brought it along to see how it might handle the RF-dense environment of Field Day.

We made a few contacts with the X6200, but the audio and receiver struggled in that RF-congested environment. This isn’t a surprise, in truth. Most portable field radios aren’t designed to have contest-grade performance—they’re designed for portability and functionality in normal field conditions.

The other radio I brought along was the Penntek TR-45L. I can’t remember if I’ve used it during Field Day in the past, but all Vlado and I could say was…

Wow!

The TR-45L sounded phenomenal!

I’ve always believed that the TR-45L (both the original and skinny version) has some of the best audio in the world of field radio. That is a major plus when it comes to Field Day.

The thing is, it also has a stable front end—the TR-45L receiver handled those packed RF conditions with ease. In fact, we were both amazed at how easily we could hear all of those competing signals. There was absolutely no listening fatigue at all, and both of us could hear weak and strong signals all occupying the same space..

It sounded distinctly analog and “pure.”

Vlado and I both tend to operate with filters wide open—using the filter between our ears—so the audio produced had excellent fidelity.

Vlado and I also made short work of Vesna’s Feta cheese bread!

A couple of times, we did narrow the TR-45L’s audio filter when there was a strong competing station, but by and large, the audio was so clear, we really didn’t need to.

Top-Shelf

The takeaway for me is that the TR-45L series radios have proper contest-grade performance even if they lack contest-grade filtering.

I shouldn’t be surprised because even its predecessor, the TR-35, can handle crowded conditions with ease.

I should add here that the supply of new Penntek radios may already be dried up. As I mentioned in a previous announcement, John (WA3RNC), is retiring and selling off all of his existing radio inventory.

According to his website, he might still have some TR-45L Skinny models, but that’s it. In fact, that notice was dated May 28, 2024, so I’m not sure if it’s still correct.

The TR-45L Skinny

I love the Skinny as much as the original TR-45L—they sport the same receiver and audio; the Skinny simply lacks the ability to add an internal battery and Z-Match ATU. What you get, though, is a radio that’s even more portable and provides an excellent operating angle with the bail folded out.

Have you ever operated a Penntek radio during a contest or Field Day? What are your other favorite field radios for this type of environment? Please comment!

Morning POTA with KM4CFT: Back-to-Back activations with the venerable Yaesu FT-818!

As I write this report, I’m on the road with my family–we’ve been spending the week on the coast of North Carolina and are now (at time of publishing) in Raleigh. I’ll keep this field report short and sweet so I can publish it quickly and also fit in an activation before record temps heat up the region!

Blue Ridge Parkway (US-3378)

On the morning of July 4th, 2024, Jonathan (KM4CFT) and I arranged to meet and activate on the Blue Ridge Parkway (US-3378).

Jonathan was in town visiting family over the holiday weekend, and I had a brief window of time that morning to join him. My schedule had been packed since Field Day, making this my first chance for a POTA activation for a couple of weeks.

We knew it would be an interesting activation right from the start: we both arrived at the Folk Art Center at the same time and were greeted by a large black bear strolling down the road in front of the entrance! A bear walking away from your POTA spot is always a good thing.

After a quick catch-up, I grabbed my arborist throw line and deployed the 30/40 meter linked end-fed half-wave antenna I’d built using the KM4CFT antenna kit.

It would have been rude to use another antenna with KM4CFT standing right there! (Note to N5FY: Yes, I know I’ve been rude to you on many previous activations, haha!)

Gear:

Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

On The Air: The Accidental Self-Spot

Jonathan took to the air first. Since neither of us had announced our activation, I opened POTA.app to spot him. Except, I didn’t. In a moment of confusion, I accidentally spotted myself!

It turns out there’s no easy way to delete your own spot once you’ve done that. (If there is, I’d love to know, though I hope to never make that mistake again!)

What followed was rather comical. Jonathan noticed people thought he was me, even though he used his own callsign in each exchange. I guess it’s easy to mishear a callsign when you think you already know it!

I kept spotting myself “QRT,” but many kind operators kept re-spotting me. I even moved to 14,000 kHz (an out-of-band frequency I’d never use) and spotted myself QRT. People were still re-spotting me on Jonathan’s frequency!

It was funny, and the early morning hour on a holiday probably contributed to the confusion.

After Jonathan logged his ten contacts, he handed the radio over to me. I swapped out paddles (his TP-III setup mounted to the FT-818 wasn’t comfortable for me).

I started calling CQ POTA de K4SWL, spotted myself (correctly this time!), and the real activation began.

In the end, I worked 25 stations in 26 minutes. Thanks to all the hunters!

Then it was time to call QRT and continue our day. It was great seeing Jonathan and fitting in a little POTA before the day really started!

QSO Map

Here’s what this five-watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map:

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation.  As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me during this activation! (And thank you, Jonathan, for joining me!)

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo makes it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me! Have a brilliant week ahead and be kind to one another out there!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

Back in the Game for the POTA Babe

by Teri (KO4WFP)

After a five week break from POTA, it was time to get back in the game! I leave for my North Carolina camping/POTA trip Sunday, July 14th and frankly miss being out on an activation. To remedy that situation, Monday, July 8th, I headed to Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area (WMA), POTA park US-1603.

source: Google maps

Tuckahoe WMA consists of 15,000 acres purchased by the State of Georgia in 1990. Hunting for deer, turkey, and coyotes is allowed on the property in season. The property has over 10 small ponds for fishing and three designated camping areas. It is located in Screven county and its eastern border is the Savannah River.

When researching Tuckahoe WMA for this article, I came across information regarding the Battle of Briar Creek which was fought on March 3, 1779. Much of the battle site lies within the boundaries of Tuckahoe WMA.

The attack that day in 1779 by the British was a surprise and 150 Americans lost their lives. The aftermath proved especially bloody because the British were enraged over the death of one of their sergeants – Hugh McAllister – whose body was found hacked to pieces. As a result, the American wounded were hunted down and bayonetted. According to an article in the Athens Banner-Herald, “the British victory was so decisive scholars believe it prolonged the American Revolution by a year, changing the course of U.S. history.”

Back in the present day, Daisy and I left Savannah early under grey and sprinkling skies. The drive to Tuckahoe was pleasant and took us through Sylvania, Georgia again. Along the route, I spied a rainbow with a slight double-bow on its left-hand side. I hoped that was a good omen.

Downtown Sylvania, Georgia

The map on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website showed what looked like several entrances for the property. I opted to take the second entrance I found but that proved to be a mistake as a tree blocked the road. I backtracked to the first entrance (where the battlefield sign is) and found myself on a wide, gravel road.

Access denied!

The woods I encountered on the property were open, mostly pine, and, I think, managed for wildlife and hunting as evidenced by several turkeys I watched crossing the road in front of me. It wasn’t far before I saw the memorial for the Battle of Briar Creek.

Originally, I intended to reach one of the boat ramps on the Savannah River, deep inside the WMA, as my activation site. However, given the limited time I had for an activation and the availability of low branches in an open area, I opted for a place just past the memorial as my QTH. I set up the hitching system for Daisy so she could enjoy the outdoors while I worked with my equipment. I oriented the EFHW antenna toward the north running the coax back underneath it hoping that orientation would push my signal to the north and west. (The orientation worked as per my QSO map below.) It wasn’t long before I was ready to call CQ. I went to spot myself and discovered there was…

Hitch system set up between Kai’s roof rack and large pine tree

NO CELL COVERAGE! (A POTA activators worst nightmare!) Ugh. I couldn’t even text anyone asking them to spot me. Continue reading Back in the Game for the POTA Babe

Guest Post: Combining POTA with an FBLA national competition road trip!

Many thanks to Doug (KO4WDE) for sharing the following guest post:


POTA and FBLA

by Doug (KO4WDE)

I have recently found myself fully immersed in the world of Future Business Leaders of America, as my wife is the chapter leader for the middle school where we teach.  She started the program with just a handful of kids, and they performed so well their first year that six students qualified for national competition in Atlanta, Georgia last year.

To save money, and help provide this experience, we loaded them in our camper and took to the road.  Fast forward to this year and they have continued to grow and develop to the point where they now have more than twenty four members!  Now here’s the cool part: they didn’t just grow, they have developed into a powerhouse of Kentucky’s FBLA. Of the twenty four members, fifteen placed either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd at the state level competitions and qualified for national competition in Orlando Florida this summer.  Of those fifteen, eleven went to Florida.

The costs for this trip were huge.  Fuel alone for the vehicles to get us there was nearly $1000, and lodging, registration fees, and food drove the cost per student to well above $1500 per student.   The students voted that they would not go unless they could all go.  So they hit their computers and applied for grants and scholarships.  They were successful in obtaining a local  grant for $3500 to cover their registration fees, and came up with a battle plan for fundraising as much as possible. They formed a team that would go out into the community and present to local business owners in efforts to gain sponsorships to help lower the cost of the trip.

Goal Achieved

To say that they were successful was an understatement.  The students were able to gain enough financial support to lower the cost of the trip to $300 each.  This includes opportunities for the kids, (some of whom have never been out of Kentucky) to see the ocean, and experience many attractions that Orlando has to offer including Universal Studios and downtown St. Augustine.

That Ocean experience is where POTA plays a part.  Our travel plan had us staying at Anastasia State Park (US-1832) for two nights.  A couple of the FBLA members attending are also members of the School’s radio club (KQ4CWT) and were looking forward to the club’s first POTA activation (although the ocean was far more fun for them).  I had not activated Florida  myself and was greatly looking  forward to the experience.

Traveling with fourteen people total, in two vehicles (a Nissan Armada, and a Honda Pilot) space is extremely limited so I started the process of streamlining several separate systems into one specific mission bag.

The Field Kit

The host radio was my Xiegu G90 kit seen here combined with a small folding camp table and a Wolf River Coils vertical antenna to use on the beach.  My G90 kit is designed to be as simple possible for voice and digital modes, but it is completely based on using trees and wire antennas to get on the air, and picnic tables to operate from, so a few changes needed to be planned.

The nature of the beach itself is the most important change to plan for: no trees… no wire antennas.  I don’t own a mast, so the WRC needed to be in the kit.  Secondly, we would be on the beach for our planned activation, so I would need a small portable table to keep the gear out of the sand.  I chose a cheap amazon table [QRPer affiliate link] that is small enough to fold up into my host backpack (a maxpedition Riftcore) and sturdy enough to hold the G90 and my Evolve III laptop.  Preliminary testing on this little table was promising.

Testing the Amazon table

The Bioenno battery can wedge under the table while also supports lowering the center of gravity and freeing up the table top. The radio itself has lost the cooling stand as it was just too big and clunky for my go kit.  It now rests on a small laptop stand [affiliate link] that is suspiciously similar to the radioddity version for a quarter of the price.  I planned on sitting in the sand, under an umbrella using this little table to activate the park.

The Merging of the Bags

The G90 bag consists of the radio, battery, laptop, coax, power cables and adapters, stand, Digirig and backup wire antennas and tree line kit.  The coax has been replaced with RG-316 to save weight but the kit is essentially the same as seen in the article linked.

The Wolf river coil bag is an old camelback hydration pack.  It contains the SB-1000 coil, three legs, three radials, a 25 foot run of RG8X, and the whip.

The Riftcore has two main compartments and two secondary compartments. The front the main compartments consist of a large deep area in the back, and a slightly smaller and thinner area directly in front of that.  The main compartment holds the table top, the table frame, and the WRC system with just enough room to zip up.  The zippered pouch opposite holds the coax.

The main rift core compartment

The second compartment holds the radio, battery, stand, and ground coverings that double as padding and chargers, as well as the evolve III POTApotamus laptop.

The secondary rift core compartment

The front compartments hold the backup wire antenna, tree kit, power cables and Digirig.

The small outer rift core compartment

The kit, as planned, was much larger and heavier than the Redrock outdoors bag I’m used to carrying, but I thought it to be better since I would only have to keep up with one bag.  Especially since I would be carrying other beach gear out to the beach, and would have the kids with me.

Success All-Around

So how did it go? Success, and major FBLA success!

We arrived in St. Augustine around 7:00pm.  The boys and I setup camp, three tents.  A boys tent dubbed “Brozone Zero”, a girls tent “The She Shack”, and “Smalls” a small tent for my youngest daughter, my wife and me. The girls took the Armada into town to get pizza for dinner on the beach.

I usually RV camp, but when I do tent camp it’s in a Kelty.  Our little tent wasn’t a Kelty. We stayed in a Walmart special 3 man tent while the ladies enjoyed the Kelty tent.

When they arrived back, my wife laughed at our little tent and asked if it was like the magic one in Harry Potter.  Bigger on the inside.

It wasn’t.

The boys blowing up floats to use as mattresses in “brozone zero”
Pizza on the beach

The kit worked out better than I had planned. I was able to snag eleven SSB contacts between rain storms on the beach.  I was unable to sit down and really do an activation because of a change in plans. We planned to stay two nights but we canceled one and moved to the local Hilton to avoid tent camping storms the second night, so it was more of a “set up as fast as you can and get ten” type deal.

The table worked perfectly, although the beach wind blew my WRC vertical over.  Propagation was fair on 20 meters and I was able to get my last couple contacts via P2P hunting.  I was excited to add Florida to my list of activated states.

Admittedly, it was a fun challenge to setup and get those contacts as fast as possible and repack. I need to pack some flags for the radials in the future.

The camp table was perfect
Even with the feet of the WRC dug into the compacted sand the wind still managed to knock the system over

Once we left the beach for the hotel, radio time was over and I dedicated myself to the FBLA mission at hand. We spent five days competing and exploring Orlando. Our FBLA chapter performed very well overall and my daughter placed 2nd in the nation for her performance in the learning strategies competition.

My lovely wife was named the middle school chapter advisor of the year!  We had many, many more successes across the event but we will learn final scores in August.

My daughter winning 2nd place
The entire chapter before the closing ceremony party

This adventure was so much fun. It was very tiring, but worth every second of work to make it happen, and of course it’s always okay to sneak a little radio wherever you go.

73!

Doug (KO4WDE)

A QRP Morse Code Exchange with a Monk

How I worked the #19 most wanted CW DXCC as a pedestrian mobile station

by Leo (DL2COM)

A couple of months ago, I started using the app HamAlert to keep track of interesting DXpeditions and rare call signs just to check if I would be able to copy their signal on my home-made WebSDR at a location outside of the city. This helped me a great deal in understanding propagation and pile-up dynamics as I began to develop a strong interest for expedition-like operating from exotic regions.

Mount Athos and monastery
Mount Athos (2027m abt. 6650 feet high) and one of the monasteries (courtesy of Dave Proffer, CC-BY 2.0)

One of the stations I had tracked for a while is Monk Iakovos Kutlumusian SV2RSG/A – the only licensed operator in Mount Athos which is currently #19 most wanted CW DXCC according to Clublog. Mount Athos is an autonomous orthodox monk republic under Greek sovereignty and located on a peninsula in the North-East of Greece (locator KN20CG). More info on Mount Athos can be found here (Wikipedia) and a trailer for an upcoming documentary here (Youtube).

Koutloumousiou Holy Monastery (courtesy of  Στάθης Κουτσιαύτης , CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia commons)

The priorities of the community in Mount Athos understandably lie on their theological work. So I think it is a big commitment that Monk Iakovos (QTH: Koutloumousiou Monastery one of 20 monasteries in Mount Athos) is able to make some contacts in his free time outside his monastic duties as he writes on his QRZ page.

Very experienced DXers from Berlin once told me how they worked Mount Athos many moons ago on 80m in the middle of the night only by chance and that it is almost impossible to log this super rare DXCC.

Impossible? Hold my beer.

I had noticed that during May and June 2024 Monk Iakovos was on the air more frequently but each time only working 4-5 stations in a couple of minutes before disappearing again for days. The only two consistencies I found was that he was active on 20m CW and most of the time during local evening hours.

Garmin Instinct 2 Tactical Watch
Whoops there he is again – Hamalert notification on the Garmin Instinct 2 watch

I took the photo above a couple of days before to inform a friend that SV2RSG/A was active again (btw the HamAlert notification feature on my watch comes in very handy).

Then on Sunday, June 16th 2024, I was sitting on the couch reading when my watch vibrated and showed his call sign again on RBN at about 20:56 UTC (22:56 local time, 23:56 DX time).

I was in absolutely no position to make a QSO as I live in a very urban neighborhood in central Berlin City and I cannot have antennas at my QTH. Also the location brings along a high degree of man-made QRM and all the tall townhouses act as blockers for any kind of RF. Far from ideal for HF operation which is the reason 100% of me operating is portable or from the car.

In addition, we had just returned from a weekend trip to the countryside and I was enjoying the fact that our kids were sound asleep. So I only took out my phone and checked if I could hear this station again online.

To my surprise, this time it wasn’t the immediate and very intense “red ocean” simplex pile-up that I had witnessed multiple times during the weeks before. Maybe it was due to the fact that a big DX contest was coming to an end or most tired OPs were just off the air already on a late Sunday evening. Who knows? Or maybe it was just plain luck…..

Should I? Or should I not? I knew that I needed to be outside if I wanted to have the slightest chance to work this station. There is also a tiny park about 200 meters from our house which would improve my situation a little due to better “sky access” and takeoff angels towards Greece. But I thought by the time I could be set up the pile-up would already be too big for my QRP signal or the station would already be gone as it was the case each time before.

Still I ran over to our utility room, ripped open my backpack and got the KX-2 pouch out. I took the transceiver, slapped the AX-1 whip on, grabbed a key and dumped the counterpoise wire in my pocket.

Don’t let the shoe situation mess up your TTQ stats (time-to-QRV)

Have you ever wanted to take out the trash and then ran into a “shoe situation” at the front door with your hands full?

With my wife’s sneakers slipped half on I staggered out on the street all while trying to secure the end of the counterpoise to one of the bottom screws on the KX-2’s case and nearly falling down the stairs. Time-to-QRV (TTQ is that an official metric? if not it should be imho) maybe 80-100 seconds….no kidding.

Outside I dialed in 14.004 and immediately heard SV2RSG/A still calling CQ at a relaxed pace and then working a station. The signal in my “street canyon” was weak but a 100% copy.

Elecraft KX-2 and AX-1 whip antenna
Elecraft KX-2 and AX-1 whip antenna got me on the air in no time (I need to set the internal clock again)

I quickly send my call sign only to get a “QRZ?” back. OMG did he really just hear my signal? Apparently my field strength was too weak on his end because he started calling CQ again.

So I sprinted towards the park (dragging along the counterpoise behind me) and I noticed that his signal was coming on stronger and stronger. After about 100 meters I stopped and again called “DL2COM”. This time I heard “DL2?” but then a very loud OP blasting his signal right on top of me.

I repeated my call another two times and couldn’t believe my ears when SV2RSG/A came back with my true full call and a 599 report. With shaking hands I somehow managed to reply R 599 TU and then we exchanged 73s. I simply couldn’t believe what had just happened.

When I walked back to the front door one of my neighbors was standing there looking somewhat irritated. He paused his phone call for a second and asked “ARE WE SAFE?”.

Oh yes! For now, very safe!” I told him that I had just communicated with a monk in Greece in morse code (“you know the stuff they used on ships back in the day”) and that this story probably needed more context over a beer.

I then noticed that I had pulled the counterpoise wire through a pile of dog droppings with everything happening so quickly. Of course I did! How can this not happen on the streets of Berlin. A sacrifice I was happy to make for this very special contact and btw cleaned easily in under 2 minutes.

Beer bottle and glass

Gear used:

Thanks to QSL manager SV1GRM I did not have to wait long for this card

How did this work? Being on the air so quickly and the fact that 20m was on fire that night certainly helped. But then again is it also the idea to just dare and get out there operating. If you don’t cast a line there won’t be any fish…right?

You never know which exciting DX station might be just around the corner during a special band opening.

While Greece isn’t particularly hard to reach from Germany it was more the overall circumstances (very rare, short and erratic operating times of this station, usage of callsign by pirates, urban QTH, compromised antenna, simplex pile-up with QRP signal) that made this contact highly unlikely but as I now know also totally possible. Blessings to Mt. Athos and their ongoing work for the DX-community! I am very grateful that I got the chance to log them.

– vy 73 de Leo DL2COM

p.s. as of the day of publishing this article, Monk Iakovos has not been active since I worked him on June 16th (according to RBN).

W2AEW’s Trapped EFHW Antenna Tutorial: Building a Smaller, More Versatile Solution for Portable Operations

Many thanks to Alan (W2AEW) for the following guest post:


Trapped EFHW antenna story (it’s all Vince’s fault)

by Alan (W2AEW)

One of my favorite antennas to use for POTA activations is a 40m EFHW wire.  When properly tuned and deployed, it can be used on 40, 20, 15 and 10m without the use of a tuner (although, I really don’t mind using a tuner when I need to).  Most of my activations are on 40 and 20m, so those bands are covered easily.  It can be used successfully as a sloper, an inverted vee, or a combination of these (whatever the trees or support structures allow).  It is efficient, inexpensive to build, lightweight and effective.

There are a few downsides to this antenna.  The first is that it is approximately 68 feet (almost 21 meters) long.  That’s a lot of wire to get in the air.  Some POTA sites just don’t have that much room or support structures to effectively use this antenna.  Another downside is that it doesn’t naturally support operation on the 30m band, another favorite of mine.

A few weeks ago, I watched a video from my friend Vince VE6LK entitled: “Discover the secret ingredients to build a trapped EFHW antenna”. This piqued my interest…

The video introduces a design for a 40/30/20m trapped EFHW.  The fact that it covers the three bands I use the most, and would be shorter than my trusty full-sized 40m, and give me 30m to boot, got me excited to learn more.

Vince used a pair of traps (30m and 20m) that are offered in kit form by Tim Sherry, N7KOM.  Here is a link to kit on Etsy.

Image Source: Tim Sherry, N7KOM

These are exclusively for use at QRP power levels – perfect for my application.  I placed my order immediately after watching the video.  The build instructions are very detailed, including how to tune the traps, which is critical in getting the antenna to work.

Image source: SparkPlugGear

He also used a 49:1 UNUN from SparkPlugGear.  I’ve had one of these in my POTA kit for a while, but only used it occasionally.  This was another good reason to proceed with this antenna build.

Of course, you could also use the QRP UNUN kit from KM4CFT that I made a video about earlier this year.

I created a video that showed how to assemble and tune the traps.  Tuning can be a little tricky, and then stabilizing the turns/spacing to preserve the tuning is critical – not hard, just takes a bit of patience.

With the traps built and tuned, the next step would be to build and tune the antenna itself.

I was able to find the time this weekend to do just that, and make a video of the process.

Details of the resulting wire segment lengths are in the video.  It is important to note that if you decide to build this antenna, your wire lengths will likely vary from mine.  Several factors will effect the resulting lengths (details of the UNUN used, the trap construction, etc.).  My video goes through the process I used to build, tune and test the antenna.

“The proof is in the pudding” as they say.  It was time to actually run a POTA activation with this antenna.  The overall length of the antenna was about 43 feet (about 13.1 meters), which is about 2/3rds the length of the 40m EFHW.  This opens the possibility of using my 12 meter Spiderbeam mast (video review) as a support rather than just relying on a tree branch.

The weather here in NJ has been oppressively hot and humid with heat indexes over 100F, so I opted for a morning activation, before the heat really built up.  The intent was to get some contacts on all three bands, even though 20m probably wouldn’t be very active.

I setup at my “home” park – Washington Rock State Park, US-1635.  I decided to setup the Spiderbeam mast as the support for the new antenna:

The rig was my trusty KX2 with the BamaTech TP-III paddles:

I only had about an hour to dedicate to operating before the family activities for the day, so I figured I’d start on 40m and get most of the “ten” there first, then move on to pick up a few on 30m and 20m.

I was able to put 14 contacts in the log, under “so-so” band conditions, which at least a few on each band, several of which were park-to-park contacts.

Here’s the map of the “reach” that the new antenna had during this short activation:

Overall I am quite pleased with the antenna’s performance.  The near ideal band coverage for my typical activations, and the ease of deployment compared to the full-sized 40m EFHW make this antenna a great addition to my POTA kit.  I suspect it will get a lot of use!


Resources:

The Write Stuff: My pencil/paper weatherproof logging combo!

If you’ve followed my field reports in the past couple of years, you’ll know that I predominantly use Rite In The Rain notepads and mechanical pencils.

When I first started my POTA journey in 2019, I would print out log sheets for each activation just like I did during the National Parks On The Air program in 2016. It was a very inexpensive and organized way to manage all of my written logs.

Over time, though, I made a shift to small pocket-sized notepads (Moleskine, Moji, Mead…) basically any pad that took up less space and could remain in my QRP field kits.

Rite In The Rain

After a couple of moisture mishaps with Moleskine pads (which, by the way, I otherwise love) I decided to completely shift to using Rite In The Rain spiral-bound notepads.

I resisted doing this for a long time because Rite In The Rain pads aren’t cheap; they typically cost about $6-$7 US each, but they are made in the US and are very high quality. They don’t smudge or smear.

My father-in-law is a retired professor of Botany and the bulk of his research time was (literally) in the field–in the mountains of western North Carolina. He’s always been a huge fan of Rite In The Rain and we often purchased these for him as gifts.

I switched to Rite In The Rain and haven’t regretted it. Yes, they’re pricier than all of the previous options I’d used, but they are insanely durable, can survive getting wet, and they hold quite a lot of my 45-60 minute POTA and SOTA activations! One pad will typically last me several months.

There are two sizes of pads I use:

(Left) 3×5″ and (Right) 4×6″ Notepad

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The 3×5″ sixe easily fits in my Pelican 1060 case

I find that both sizes work well. I tend to use the larger 4×6 size most of the time, but I love the 3×5 size because it fits in some of my smallest field kits including the MTR-3B SOTA kit I highlighted last week.

When you use a Rite in the Rain pad, it will hold up in the rain if you are using any pencil, or one of their pens which has a special ink that bonds to the paper permanently.

I use mechanical pencils when I log, although I plan to start using pens more often only because it makes it easier for my YouTube video subscribers to read my logbook as I write (pencil can be more difficult to read from the camera angle, depending on reflection, etc.).

Mechanical Pencils

This is an area where (being fully transparent here) I can geek out a bit (understatement alert).

I’ve always had a place in my heart for mechanical pencils. It dates back to my high school years when I took drafting classes. These were the days when drafting desks, pencils, T-Squares, triangles, and templates were tools of the trade (CAD was just becoming accessible to students).

I found mechanical pencils to be an amazing piece of engineering and, while I couldn’t afford a lot of them, I would spend my hard-earned money to buy them. To me, visiting our local drafting store was like a trip to the toy store.

But I digress…

In the field, performing a POTA or SOTA activation, I don’t look for the same precision I needed in drafting class. Quite the opposite–I’m looking for durability and reliability.

Wooden pencils, to be clear, are both of those things and will serve you well in the field. What I love about mechanical pencils is that their leads are consistent when writing and there’s no need to pause and activation to sharpen them. Just click and keep going.

There are currently three mechanical pencil models I use.

My wife recently gave me a uni Core Keeps Sharp Mechanical Pencil as a gift. She did so after reading a comment from one of my readers (I had no idea she even read QRPer–I’ve got to be careful what I say around here!). 🙂

What makes this particular pencil unique is that it rotates the lead as you use it. This keeps the line looking sharp since the lead doesn’t wear to one side.

So far, I love it. This one has a .5mm lead, which is small–I tend to prefer .7 or .9mm because they’re more durable. Expect to see this in activation videos soon.

Next is the Zebra Mechanical Pencil, Del Guard, 0.7mm. This particular pencil lives in my MTR-3B SOTA field kit. The Del Guard has a double spring mechanism that acts as a shock absorber when you write.  If you apply a little too much vertical or angled pressure, it absorbs the energy thus saving your lead from breaking.

I find it works really well, in fact. I tend to have a heavy hand when I write in my log books and I find I have less lead breakage in the field.

Finally, the mechanical pencil I’ve adopted as my primary SOTA and POTA pencil is the amazing GraphGear 0.9mm 1000.

This pencil is the most durable mechanical pencil I’ve ever used.

Bruce (KO4ZRN) introduced this to me when he joined me on a SOTA activation of Craggy Dome a couple years ago. This pencil is incredibly strong. In fact, I’ve even used it in woodworking and carpentry projects to mark cuts on wood.

At this point, I think I probably own about six of these GraphGear pencils and I couldn’t be happier.

Video

I actually made a short (for me) video about my notepads and pencils:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Again, you don’t need anything fancy…

If you’re not into waterproof paper and mechanical pencils, just use what you have to log.

I remember once using the back side of an envelop and a pen I found in my car to log a NPOTA activation–it worked perfectly! I even remember another NPOTA activation using a pen to log and running out of ink, so I used the pen to log in the dirt on the ground. I only copied three or so more contacts then took a photo of the ground. (I can’t recommend this, but point is, practically anything can be used for logging!)

I just find that when I do something on a regular basis, I’m willing to invest in tools I love using. I feel they serve me well in the end.

How do you log?

I’m curious how you log. I know that a large percentage of POTA activations never write a thing on paper logs–they simple log directly to an app on their phone, tablet, or laptop.

I prefer making a paper copy of my logs, then taking a photo of them when the activation is complete. I worry less about my app crashing, phone running out of power, and, frankly, I just find the process of logging more fun on paper. Furthermore, rain can disrupt touch accuracy on capacitive touchscreen devices, making logging difficult in wet conditions.

I’m curious how you log in the field. Please comment!

Thank you

Thank you for reading this post!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

Have a brilliant week and I hope you run out of paper due to the number of contacts you must log!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

Where the Heck is the POTA Babe?

by Teri (KO4WFP)

Okay. Y’all haven’t heard much from me lately and may be wondering, “What the heck is the POTA Babe up to?” Actually, a lot!

Earlier this year, I asked QRPer readers for suggestions as to parks to visit for a summer POTA trip to either North Carolina and/or Virginia. I appreciate all the suggestions I received. In evaluating the time I have and that I’ll be driving by myself, I have opted to visit North Carolina. I’ll be on the road for eight days mid-July camping with Daisy. I hope to activate ten to eleven parks as well as successfully complete four SOTA activations. It is a lot to bite off but then I enjoy being challenged.

I originally planned for a twelve-day trip but decided to nix the second week near the Charlotte area due to obligations at home. I am bummed at missing out on those parks. (Thank you Bob K4RLC for the recommendations in that area.) However, now I’ll have those parks to activate on a future trip.

Preparing for this trip is no slap-dash endeavor. At least not for this POTA Babe. As I mentioned in the articles of my last trip to southwest Georgia, I am tweaking my camping equipment as well as how I organize and access those items.

An item I’ve added is a fan because camping in July might be a bit toasty, even in western North Carolina. My partner Glenn W4YES came across a helpful video on the CheapRVLiving Youtube Channel discussing USB-charged devices. The Koonie 8” rechargeable fan was mentioned. As it received favorable reviews on Amazon and I can charge it using my Jackery, it is now in my arsenal for summer camping.

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Koonie USB-charged 8″ fan

I also added an ultralight shelter I may use on a summit or for POTA in general. While researching summits to activate, I came across a picture on the SOTlas website and reached out to that op as to information about the tarp he was using for shade. Patrick WW4D introduced me to Mountain Laurel Designs, a company that makes ultralight shelters (tarps and tents). They aren’t inexpensive, but then I’ve learned to purchase good quality where I can. In a shelter, good quality counts.

I purchased the Trailstar. It can be used as a tent or a shelter. Before the trip, I need to seal the seams. What I didn’t realize until the other day is that I will also need to cut the guylines as well as figure out what knots to use in securing the guylines to the stakes included. Then I have to learn how to set it up using my hiking poles. The learning never ends, does it?

I couldn’t believe how light the Trailstar is having never experienced a shelter like it. It will be a welcome addition to my SOTA backpack since it weighs hardly anything.

The Trailstar by Mountain Laurel Designs. source: Outdoor Gear Lab

I’ve also undertaken re-waterproofing my tent. Sierra Designs sent me instructions and information about the products they recommend which I ordered. I thought to myself “how hard could it be to re-waterproof a tent?” Those of you who have done this know it is a time-consuming process! You have to remove the old waterproofing substances before applying the new ones. The substances used for waterproofing fabric are meant to not come off easily, especially after being on there for 30 years (the age of my tent). I’ve spent more time in the bathtub scrubbing and smelling rubbing alcohol than I care to admit. However, when this process is finished, my tent and its rainfly will be clean and good to go for another eight years or so.

waterproofing products for tent and rainfly
Washing tent with unscented detergent and ammonia
old waterproof coating to be scrubbed off
section of tent floor with new coat of waterproofing barrier

I am also researching how to do a SOTA activation. I’ve found quite a few helpful videos on Youtube and plan to reference them in a future article. For my pack, I am using a Six Moons Designs ultralight pack (the Flight 30 Ultra) I purchased about four years ago. As it was not being used, I’ve been employing it as my POTA pack for several months now.  Given I’ll be hiking to activate summits, I need to rethink what I’ll take in the pack since, in addition to ham gear, I’ll need emergency supplies one should take when hiking.

While preparing for this trip, I’ve had a new addition to my shack that is sharing my focus as of late. Nearly two years ago, I ordered a Frattini Magnetic Evolution bug. I didn’t hear anything further for the longest time and figured it wouldn’t ever arrive. Then, about four weeks ago, Alberto Frattini sent me an email the key was ready and, oh by the way, was I still interested in it? You bet I was! “The Frattini” (as I call it) is now in my shack and I am resuming my pursuit of the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Triple Key Award. (When I’m not scrubbing the tent, mind you.) My fist is a work in progress but what a great challenge!

my Frattini Magnetic Evolution bug
Hummer on the Frattini plate – a nice touch given my POTA Babe logo also has a hummingbird on it

My goal is to run at three speeds eventually – 16, 20, and 25 wpm. Right now I am concentrating on 16 wpm as that is a good speed for SKCC QSOs. At that speed, I am more relaxed and the more relaxed I am, the better I can focus on making my characters correctly with good spacing. My goal with the Frattini is that the dits and dahs be proportional and timed well enough it doesn’t sound like I am using a bug. With continued practice off and on the air, I will eventually get there.

One thing I’ve found that helps is having either Word List Trainer up and running or my Morserino in the shack. Just like a choir conductor will play a note on a pitch pipe for a choir, I’ll play the letter “o” at 16 wpm to get that dah cadence in my head before I get on the air. Eventually, I’ll fall into that rhythm naturally at that speed but in the meantime, I find that trick extremely helpful with my timing of the dahs.

If you’d like to hear my bug fist (a work in progress, mind you), click on the video link here to access it on Youtube.  Also, if you’d like to follow my progress on earning bug QSOs for the Triple Key award, check out the goals section on my QRZ page.

Well, there you have it – my ham radio related doings since my southwest Georgia POTA trip. For those interested in hunting me while I’m in North Carolina, I will not release my itinerary in advance for safety reasons. However, Glenn or I will schedule my activations each morning so keep an eye out on the POTA and SOTA Watch pages beginning July 14 if you are keen to work me and support the trip.

I am a little nervous about the trip.  I’m going to be out of my comfort zone and sure to make mistakes. However, this is how we learn – making mistakes. This is a part of ham radio and such a trip – the unknown! Who knows what I’ll learn and discover along the way. I hope to work many of you that week and look forward to sharing with you those adventures on QRPer.com after my return. But before I leave next Sunday, I plan a POTA activation Monday, July 8 to get my head back in the game. What park will I pick? Stay tuned…

Deep Dive: My Mountain Topper MTR-3B Watertight SOTA Field Kit

Last week, in response to a reader’s question here on QRPer.com, I was reminded that I hadn’t yet made a video specifically about my Mountain Topper MTR-3B SOTA field kit.

Yesterday, I made a short video (see below) where I show what I pack in my MTR-3B field kit and why I choose to house it in a Pelican 1060 case.

First, let’s look at a list of the gear, then I’ll talk about what went into my choices, and I’ll link to the video.

Gear:

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Self-Contained Watertight Field Kit:

Optional Gear for SOTA/POTA:

Design Choices

Here’s the philosophy behind my design choices in this kit:

Pelican 1060 Case

I chose to house this field kit in a Pelican 1060 Micro Case even though, at one pound, it weighs more than the typical pouch I also use for small field radios. The Pelican, however, protects the entire radio kit as it’s fully watertight and crush-proof. If I trip while fording a creek or fall and land on my pack, the Mountain Topper will be safe. Yes, there’s a mass/weight cost, but I feel it’s very minimal for the protection it offers.

Counterpoise-less End-Fed Half-Wave

When I build the K6ARK EFHW antenna kit for my MTR-3B, I chose to make it without a counterpoise. Even though the antenna would be more efficient with a dedicated counterpoise and less prone to the effects of body capacitance, I feel like the benefits of this design outweigh the compromises. For one thing, leaving off the counterpoise saves space inside the Pelican case. In addition, by designing the antenna to attach directly to the MTR-3B’s BNC port, there’s no need to include a feedline, thus saving quite a bit of space.

So far, I’ve been very impressed with how forgiving this antenna has been and, most importantly, with how well it has performed.

N6ARA SWR Meter

I include the N6ARA MiniSWR  in my field kit to give me some peace of mind if my antenna deployment is compromised (for example, if the trees on a summit are too small, etc.). Since my MTR-3B version has no built-in SWR metering, I feel this is a meaningful addition tot he kit.

Throw Line and Weight

At least 90% of the summits and parks I activate here in western North Carolina have trees. To me, no field kit is truly sufficient unless I include a throw line and weight. I find that the Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline is small, lightweight, and effective—-25 meters is enough to deploy any wire antenna I’d carry on a SOTA activation.

Many SOTA ops use a small sack that they place stones in to act as a throw weight for their line. This is very clever because you don’t have to pack in that extra 8 ounces on the roundtrip hike. Still, I like the convenience of a throw weight that’s designed to glide through tree branches with ease–especially if the tree is dense. If I were to do a multi-day SOTA backpacking trip, I’d probably use an empty throw sack instead of a dedicated weight.

Rechargeable 9 Volt Battery Packs

I love these 9V rechargeable batteries. It’s hard to believe that the MTR-3B can complete 2-3 typically SOTA activations on one charge! Then again, the MTR-3B uses something like 18ma in receive? That’s crazy low current consumption. These batteries are super lightweight and the particular brand I use has never produced any RFI (I’ve read that some others can). What’s best is that I can recharge these easy via a USB-C cable.

The MTR-3B will operate on nine volts, which yields three watts of output power.

Helinox Chair and Kneeboard

Yes, these are luxury items. I know many SOTA ops who are quite happy to sit on the ground and balance their radio on their leg. Perhaps it’s my age, but I don’t like doing this anymore because my legs tend to fall asleep and I lose feeling in them if not careful.

My Helinox Zero chair weighs 1 lbs 2 oz (509 g). I feel like it’s weight and mass well-spent. Since I record activation videos, the chair also gives me a much better position for my camera angle (bonus!).

My Tufteln/N0RNM kneeboard is an essential part of my SOTA kit. I never leave without it. The chair and kneeboard combo gives me the flexibility to set up anywhere, anytime. I love it.

Video

Here’s a video showing the breakdown of my Mountain Topper MTR-3B SOTA field kit:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you!

 

Thank you for reading my field kit post and watching the video! I hope you enjoyed it.

As always, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

If you’d like to see loads more field kits, check out our field radio kit gallery!

Thanks for spending part of your day with me!
Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

New 3D-Printed Paddle Kit from KM4CFT

Yesterday, I met up with Jonathan (KM4CFT) who happens to be in town visiting family over the holiday weekend. Before our POTA activation, he mentioned that he is now selling a 3D-printed paddle kit for $34.95 on eBay:

https://ebay.us/GhLOYz
(note: this is an eBay partnership link)

Jonathan told me that he’s using the kit as a bit of a fund-raiser for a much more ambitious project he has in the works.

Jonathan gave me an early prototype of this key many months ago (see photo above) and I’ve used it in the shack and in the field. It’s a good one.

This kit version has either red or blue finger pieces.

As with all of Jonathan’s kits, he’s selling this kit via the eBay shop of Dan (W7RF). Go check it out!

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