POTA Field Report: Tinkering with the MPAS Lite at Lake Norman State Park

After completing a successful activation at Fort Dobbs State Historic Site on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I decided to fit in one more activation that day. I thought about heading out to one of the game lands I hadn’t hit in a while, but frankly, I needed a park a little closer to home due to my time constraints that day, so Lake Norman State Park it was!

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

Lake Norman is such an effortless park to activate. Their main picnic area has numerous tables (including two large covered areas), and tall trees providing support for antennas and much needed shade from the NC summer sun!

One thing I had not decided upon was what antenna I’d use at Lake Norman. Earlier, I used my trusty speaker wire antenna at Fort Dobbs, but I like to shake things up. I checked the trunk of my car and found the Chameleon MPAS Lite. Seeing how propagation plummeted after my previous activation, I decided that I wanted a large wire antenna deployed rather than a vertical.

The MPAS Lite can be configured as a wire antenna, of course: instead of attaching the 17′ whip to the “Hybrid Micro” transformer, you attach the 60′ wire that might normally be used as a counterpoise.

Setting it up was quite easy, in fact. I used my arborist throw line to snag a tree branch about 45′ high, then attached the throw line to the floating dielectric ring on the Chameleon wire spool. I stretched the entire length of wire out, attached the end to a tree, then hoisted up the center, forming an inverted vee shape.

Wire antennas are so low-profile and simply disappear in trees.

Even thought the 50′ coax shield would act as a counterpoise, I really wanted another ground wire attached, so I pulled one of the wires off of my speaker wire antenna and attached it to the grounding post of the MPAS Lite’s stainless spike. I figured a little extra counterpoise wouldn’t hurt.

Gear:

On the air

Although I’d never used the CHA MPAS Lite quite like this, I was pretty confident my Elecraft T1 would find a match. The Chameleon transformer (the Hybrid Micro) brings most any (but not all) lengths of wire within reasonable matching range of an ATU.

I started on 40 meters and found that, without employing the ATU, I had a match that was slightly below 2:1. Not terribly surprising since I had a good 60′ of wire in the tree. Still, I hit the tune button on the T1 and easily achieved a 1:1 match.

I will add here, though, that perfect 1:1 matches are not that important–especially at QRP levels. I’m certain the TX-500 would plug along with a match of 2.5:1 or higher and still radiate perfectly fine. I’ve known hams that truly equate that 1:1 match with an antenna that’s performing efficiently, but that’s not always the case. Keep in mind a dummy load will give you a 1:1 match but is hardly efficient. The ATU’s job isn’t to make the antenna radiate better–it’s to match impedance.

The CHA MPAS Lite will get you within matching range across the HF bands and, many times, it’s close enough that an ATU isn’t really needed.

I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters and within 28 minutes had logged the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation–all with 5 watts, of course. I was very pleased with these results because, as I had suspected, the bands were still pretty darn rough.

I then moved up to the 30 meter band where I worked a couple of stations and then, for fun, found a match on 80 meters and worked one NC station (possibly on ground wave!).

Here’s a screenshot of my logs from the POTA website:

I must say that I do love using the Discovery TX-500. It’s such a brilliant little field radio. I’m just itching to take it on another SOTA activation soon!

I’m also loving the TX-500 field kit that I built around a Red Oxx Micro Manager pack.

I used the same bag (different color) for my KX2 NPOTA field kit in 2016. It’s such a great size and can even easily hold my arborist throw line along with all of the station accessories and rig, of course. I’ve made a short video showing how I pack it and will upload that video when I have a little bandwidth!

Video

I did make a real-time, no-edit video of my entire Lake Norman activation. Feel free to check it out below or via this YouTube link. No need to worry about ads popping up–my videos have no YouTube ads!

A Brief Public Service Announcement…

If I have a little advice for you this week, it’s this: don’t wait to play radio because someone says you don’t have the right gear for the job.

I received an email this morning from a ham that’s new to field operation and just received an antenna he had ordered. He was upset because a YouTuber claimed his antenna was basically a dummy load. To add insult to injury, he also found a blogger or YouTuber was also highly critical of his recently-acquired Yaesu FT-818. [Note that the FT-817ND–the 818’s predecessor–is one of my favorite field rigs.]

Keep in mind that many of these YouTubers are trying to produce “click bait” videos that will stir up a reaction and, thus, increase their readership numbers which will have a direct and positive impact on their ad revenue.  It’s a red flag when someone doesn’t have real-world examples and comparisons proving their points and typically a sign that they’ve never even used the products in question.

I’ve been told antennas I use don’t work, yet I’ve snagged some incredible QRP DX with them. I’ve been told that some radios I use are junk, yet I’ve hundreds of successful field activations with them. And funniest of all are those who tell me that QRP is ineffective and–quoting from an actual message recently–“a complete waste of time.

My advice is to simply ignore these folks. The proof is in the pudding! Get out there and play radio!  In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” 🙂

Thank you!

As always, thank you for reading this field report and a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 2: Kit Types, Preparedness, and the Golden Rules

The following review was first published in the July 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Read Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 1 here.


Part 2: Anatomy of a field radio kit

Last month, I took us down the rabbit hole of field radio kits by discussing some of the most basic components of a field radio kit in Part 1.

This month, we’ll take a deeper dive into the types of radio kit you might choose to assemble based upon your activity goals.  And finally, we’ll look at my “golden rules” of field kits, which I hope you’ll find useful.

Types of field radio kits

I configure and outfit my radio kits based on the environment in which I plan to deploy and operate, and which determines in no small way just what I need to pack besides the basics.

I roughly divide my field kit types as follows…

The Field Day or “Picnic Table” Kit

This is probably the most popular type of field kit in the world of amateur radio. Picnic table kits are designed with portability in mind, but not designed with distance hiking in mind. This is a very popular type of kit for Field Day or park activations through POTA or WWFF.

These kits are typically packed in a backpack, a Pelican-type utility case, or a self-contained and field-ready box.

My picnic table kit is packed in a large Red Oxx C-Ruck rucksack. If I haven’t already made it clear, I’m a self-professed pack geek and I love this Red Oxx Pack because it has large zippered pockets on the outside, a rain flap with storage on top, and one large compartment on the inside.

Continue reading Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit Part 2: Kit Types, Preparedness, and the Golden Rules

Susan seeks feedback about the HAMRS logging application

Many thanks to Susan W(B2UQP), who writes:

Hi. I just had HAMRS recommended to me and wondered if anyone had used it extensively and reviewed it. I think I only saw one article (parenthetically mentioned by Scott, KN3A in August).

Thanks. QRPer just seemed like the perfect place to vent and/or explore this!

Avid QRPer Reader and 73,
Susan, WB2UQP

Thanks for your question, Susan–my hope is that others will comment as well.

I can say that I’ve been using HAMRS now for perhaps 3 weeks and have been very pleased. The great thing about HAMRS is that it works on any platform and OS you would take to the field: iOS, MacOS, Android, Linux, and Windows.

I have only used it on iOS (on my iPhone) and find that it’s overall, quite intuitive. I love the fact that it can pre-format the logs to be accepted in some of the most popular field activities like POTA and SOTA. If you have an internet connection, it can show live spots and even a QSO map with polylines. Great feedback when you’re in the field.

I’ve also used it while offline and it worked beautifully.

As with any electronic logger, though, I would also keep a paper copy of my logs as a backup.

You’ll be seeing me use HAMRS more in my field activations. It’s all but replaced N3FJP ACLog as my field logger.

My hope is that others with even more experience can comment. Very curious what experience is like on other operating systems!

POTA Field Report: Fort Dobbs, 5 watts, and speaker wire

After making my first activation of Fort Dobbs State Historic Site, I knew I’d be back in short order. It had all of the things I love about a great POTA site: it’s accessible in my weekly travels, has tall trees, a huge shelter, and friendly park rangers. Plus, it’s chock-full of history.

Does it get any better?

Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)

On Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I stopped by Fort Dobbs for a quick activation.

Even though I arrived only shortly after the park opened and I was obviously the only guest there, I checked in at the visitor’s center to get permission to do the activation.

Not only did they grant me permission, but they also allowed me to set up in their main covered picnic area.As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe you should always ask permission at small historic sites like Fort Dobbs.  For one thing, I want the staff to know where I am and what I’m doing. Unlike vast state and national parks, their spaces to set up may be more limited and the last thing you’d want to do is set up shop in a space where they plan to do a scheduled outdoor presentation in period costume.

 

In addition, some historic and archaeological sites  may have restrictions on the types of antennas you employ. I’ve known of some, for example, that require fully self-supporting antennas that need no trees nor no stakes in the ground.

The folks at Fort Dobbs couldn’t be more friendly.

On the air

I decided I’d pull out the trusty 28.5′ speaker wire antenna and see how well it might perform while paired with the mAT-705 Plus and Icom IC-705.

Set up took all of three minutes.

With super lightweight antennas like the speaker wire antenna, there is rarely a need to tie off the end of the throw line to hold the antenna in a tree and in position. Unless there are strong winds, the weight of the throw line itself will hold it in place. Deploying the antenna and connecting it to the ATU and transceiver may have taken me two minutes.

Relying on trees can be a little unpredictable; some sites may have trees that are too short, some with branches that are too high, some that are too dense with branches, and/or trees may not be ideally situated for a field activation.  When things aren’t ideal, it might take much longer to deploy a wire antenna in a tree. This is one reason why so many POTA and SOTA ops choose to bring their own collapsible support–it gives them a degree of predictability when setting up at a new site.

Fortunately, at Fort Dobbs, there are numerous trees that are ideally situated for effortless field deployments.

Gear:

I hopped on the 40 meter band and started calling CQ.

Fortunately, propagation was in pretty good shape, and I worked a string of contacts.

It was nice to experience a more “normal” activation where propagation wasn’t completely in the dumps.

I eventually moved up to the 20M band and did a little hunting before finally packing up.

All in all, I made eleven contacts–just one more than the 10 required for a valid POTA activation.

I could have stayed and played radio for a much longer period of time–and I was tempted for sure–but I chose to fit in one more activation that morning at nearby Lake Norman State Park. So I packed up and moved on.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO map of my contacts at Fort Dobbs:

Video

I made another real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation as well. You can view it via the embedded player below, or on YouTube:

I didn’t work any DX at Fort Dobbs, but I was super pleased with the speaker wire’s performance using only 5 watts of output power. I imagine if I would have stayed on the air for another hour or two, I could have worked a couple stations in Europe. It was a tad early for much activity on 20 meters.

Thank you!

Thank you for reading this field report and a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

If you can, find some time to chase or activate a park or summit near you! Or, if you have an opportunity, just take your radio outdoors, hop on the air, and have some fun. It’s good for your soul!

And a friendly reminder: you don’t need a fancy radio or fancy antenna. Use what you’ve got. Pretty much any transceiver you’re willing to lug to the field will work. And antennas? As you can see, even $4 of speaker wire conjures up some serious QRP magic!

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

New Discovery TX-500 firmware adds audio modes and SWR monitor

Lab599 has just announced that firmware v1.10.04 has been published for the Discovery TX-500 and is available for download on their website.

New: Audio modes

The new firmware adds two switchable audio modes: 1W “Normal” mode and 3W “Outdoor” mode. Although I’ve always felt the audio gain on the TX-500 was excellent, this will give even more granular control of volume levels.

New: Antenna SWR Monitor


Lab599 has also added an SWR monitor and display. They describe it on Twitter:

“This new function will provide you a graph to determine characteristics of the antenna (SWR) in the range of the selected band.” 

They shared the image above of the TX-500 display and have already added this along with details in their downloadable user manual.

Click here to download the firmware and operator’s manual on the lab599 website.

Pairing the CHA Tactical Delta Loop, LDG Z-100 Plus, and IC-705 at Tuttle Educational State Forest

I carved out a little time on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, to play POTA and take a hike at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).

Being August in the Piedmont of North Carolina, it was a very humid and warm day. That wasn’t really a problem, though, because Tuttle has so many well-shaded picnic tables.

Once I arrived on-site, I decided to deploy the Chameleon CHA Tactical Delta Loop (TDL) antenna for a few reasons: I thought it might make for some good daytime NVIS action, perhaps even a little fun on the 20M band, and it’s so darn quick to deploy.

With the state of propagation the way it is these days, though, I never know what to expect on the air despite the antenna or my wishes!

I found a picnic table and set up the CHA TDL about 50′ away in an open field. Continue reading Pairing the CHA Tactical Delta Loop, LDG Z-100 Plus, and IC-705 at Tuttle Educational State Forest

Guest Post: A Booty Boss Micro Radio Kit

Many thanks to Carolanne (N0RNM) who shares the following guest post:


A Booty Boss Micro Radio Kit

by Carolanne Fisher N0RNM

I am a bit of a tinkerer and an aspiring POTA activator, so when I received my Elecraft KX2 a couple of weeks ago with its way-too-big carry bag, I immediately started to think about ways I could keep the KX2 protected on the trail in a much lower-profile, light-weight, and easy-to-carry kit that would always be ready to go. The trick was to find a case of just the right size, with plenty of built-in organization and flexibility to build the kit around. I found what I hoped would be exactly what I was looking for from the excellent Red Oxx Manufacturing company (redoxx.com) — a soft-sided compact bag they call the Booty Boss Waist Pack. At least the specs looked good…

My Booty Boss Micro Radio Kit, packed up and ready to roll. The color isn’t exactly “low-profile,” but I figure there is more than enough black and gray in the world.

I am certain that whoever designed this bag did it specifically with the KX2 in mind. It is small enough to take anywhere, yet it fits my entire setup, including the radio, an extra battery pack, an AX1 antenna, complete with its 40 meter extension coil, 2 counterpoises, along with other necessities perfectly. I printed and spiral-bound a small note pad, shoved in a few accessories, and I was ready to rock and roll. The bag is even lightly padded for a bit of peace of mind. I am a CW-only kind of op so a mic is not a concern, especially since if I absolutely needed to use phone, the KX2’s built in mic would serve perfectly fine.

A peek into the top of the fully packed bag. I replaced the carrying strap that came with the bag with a Red Oxx Claw Non-Slip strap to make a more secure carry.

I tested the bag during several “back-porch activations” and everything seemed to work great. That is until I tried to use it under more realistic conditions — without the shaded picnic table to deploy on and the comfortable chair to sit on. Sitting on a rock while balancing the radio on my knee with its floppy AX1 antenna, and note pad while actually tying to send code proved to be a bit more than I could handle. It was clear that something like a clipboard was necessary to complete the micro radio kit, but a normal-sized clipboard would completely break the one-tiny-bag ethos.

A couple of years ago I designed and 3D printed a portable folding easel to support my sketchbook, watercolors, water etc. when out and about nature journaling or urban sketching. It worked great for that so I made a smaller version, added a recess for the radio and made sure it had room for the notepad. [Click here to download the SketchUp file of the radio desk.] In order to fit in the bag, the size, even when opened to its full 8” x 9.5” size is a bit cramped, but with the addition of a leg strap, like a pilot’s lap desk, it it does the trick.

The complete current contents of my micro radio kit. Total weight: 4.3 Pounds

Here is everything currently in the bag and how it all gets stowed:

Front zip pocket

  • 13’ and 33’ counterpoises for use with the AX1
  • An extra 28.5’ random wire antenna with 50’ of mini throw line attached (fly fishing backer line with two 1 oz. fishing weights) along with a 17’ counterpoise

Front main compartment

  • Folded radio desk
  • Note pad
  • Pencil

Two small interior pockets

  • Binder post
  • Spare KX2 Battery

Interior zip pocket

  • Spare set of paddles w/ KX2 attachment and cord (by Peter GM0EUL)
  • Spare pencil
  • Copy of my radio license

Rear main compartment

  • Ax1 antenna (whip, 20 and 40 meter coils) lying the bottom
  • KX2 (fits in the bag with the KXPD2 paddle attached)

Large slip pocket

  • Ear phones
Kit fully deployed with the KX2 on the custom radio desk.

The KX2 fits flat on its back or up on its kick stand in its custom sized recess. A sticky gel pad (from Amazon) placed in the recess pretty much “glues” the rig to the desk until you want to remove it.

Although I don’t use it all that often, the AX1 is my all-purpose, quick-to-set-up and a snap-to-put-away antenna. I mount the bipod inboard to the radio (over the BNC connection) so it fits on the desk to provide support. I wedge the bipod out from the rig with a spare pencil or a stick from the trail placed between the rig and the front leg to take some of the twist pressure off the BNC connector.

Although the micro radio kit holds everything I need to make contacts, there are plenty of times that I like to have a more luxurious set up — a folding chair and table, my Alex Loop antenna, tripod, lunch, iPad, etc. Or perhaps I’m off for a multi-day and need an external battery, a solar charging system, food, shelter, etc. This scenario is precisely where the micro radio kit really comes into its own. It is tiny enough to slip into just about any bigger bag or placed on the waist belt of a backpack. No more wondering if you remembered this or that bit of radio kit or loosing track of things you borrowed from another kit. If you actually did forget something extra you thought you packed, not to worry, the micro radio kit has everything you need right inside to make contacts.

As a tiny everything necessary, nothing extra radio bag, the Booty Boss micro radio kit is, well, the BOSS!

– Carolanne (N0RNM)


Thank you so much for sharing this, Carolanne! As you know, I’m a massive fan of Red Oxx gear and also own the Booty Boss. It’s simply brilliant that you can even pack a folding radio desk inside! Thank you so much for sharing your field radio kit with us.

How I pack out my GoRuck GR1 for POTA and Overnight Travel

As I’ve mentioned a number of times on QRPer and on the SWLing Post, I’m a pack geek.  I enjoy organizing and packing my gear for field radio activities and travel.

Last week, I made a very quick overnight trip to visit my parents. My time during this trip was very limited and I did not plan to fit in an activation, but Monday morning, I was able to knock out an errand very early and that freed up a couple of hours in the early afternoon. Fortunately, prior to leaving my QTH, I decided to pack a few travel items in my GoRuck GR1 pack along with a field radio kit built around my Elecraft KX2.

I never leave home without a field radio kit because I never know when an opportunity to play radio might happen.

On the way home Tuesday, I popped Lake Jame State Park and fit in a quick, last minute activation.  Moments before arriving at the lake, I received a request from one of my YouTube subscribers asking if I would make the occasional video showing what’s in my radio packs and field kits.

I’ve been meaning to make these videos but, frankly, often forget when I arrive at a park or summit because I’m just a little too focused on starting my activation.

Since I had some overnight items in my pack, it wasn’t a typical SOTA or POTA field kit, but I decided to make the video anyway. After all, I love watching videos about how others pack and organize their radio and travel kits. But then again, I’m a pack geek. I did mention this right–?

Although I’m not always the neatest person (my wife is probably chuckling at this gross understatement), I’m a meticulous and very organized pack geek. What you see in the video is exactly how I pack when no one is looking. 🙂

I’ll add here that if you’re interested in field radio kits and packs, I’d encourage you to check out my Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit series; Part 1 has already been published and Part 2 will be posted later this week.  In Part 2, I take a much deeper dive into safety gear I take on SOTA activations.

Gear

In the video, I mention that I would attempt to link to all of the items in my pack. I spent time sorting out links this morning; many links go straight to the pack manufacturer because the packs I use typically have no distributors other than the manufacturer, I have also purchased a lot of the smaller items on Amazon, but many can be found in big box stores like Walmart, Target, Canadian Tire, etc.

Activation items

Extra Travel Items in the GR1

Health & Safety Items

US Pack Companies I love…

  • Red Oxx (my favorite overall)
  • Tom Bihn (brilliant tailored/urban travel bags)
  • GoRuck (note that not all are made in the USA these days)
  • Spec Ops Brand (incredible value for tactical packs)

If I missed something, let me know in the comments.

Video

Like all my videos, this one us unscripted, made in one take (unedited), and also has no ads:

Out of order…

So this video was made prior to an activation at Lake James last week. I’ve mentioned before that my Internet speeds at the QTH are worse than dismal, but since this pack video was relatively short, I was able to upload it ahead of the activation video (it took 1.5 days to upload this 2GB file).

The activation video will be published in another week or so depending on my access to some proper broadband service.

Any other pack geeks out there?

I would love to share photos, descriptions, and/or a video of how and what you pack for field activations.  If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, please do so!

Also, I’d love to hear about your favorite packs and how well they’ve held up with time.

Feel free to comment and thank you once again for hanging out here at QRPer.com!

New stock of Inkits Easy Bitx SSB TCVR Kits

Many thanks to Pete (WB9FLW) who shares the following announcement from Sunil Lakhan (VU3SUA):

We have a new stock for easy bitx kits.
This kit is much improved and has no wiring.
The kit is very compact and portable too.

Check out in our store ..
Colors available . Black . Black with white panels . Blue with white panels .
Add a note for preferred color:
https://amateurradiokits.in

Thank you for the tip, Pete!

A review of the Xiegu X5105 QRP “shack-in-a-box” field transceiver

The following review was first published in the August 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


Recently, I found myself in an embarrassing situation: I was being interviewed on the Ham Radio YouTube channel Red Summit RF, when someone in the chatroom asked how many HF QRP radios I currently own?

How many…?  It dawned on me suddenly that I didn’t know the answer.

Throughout my life as a radio hobbyist, I’ve owned a number of transceivers, but I’ve never owned so many at once as I do currently. Since I was licensed in 1997, I’ve owned up to two or three transceivers at once.  But things really started changing for me in 2020. And I blame the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our family loves to travel––but during the pandemic, we were essentially grounded. I keenly missed the travel.  So, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I turned my attention to more regional destinations––and often took the family along––by activating local parks through the Parks On The Air (POTA) program and local summits through the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.

As a result of this activity, I also began reviewing and evaluating more and more QRP transceivers––and, if I liked them (as I all too often do) purchased them following the review period.

Fact is, I thoroughly enjoy trying out radios, putting them through their paces and engaging all their bells and whistles; I enjoy shaking up my field activations by employing different radios with different antennas and accessories on each outing . I also enjoy writing up field reports and including activation videos on my blog, QRPer.com. Altogether, radio activation gives me a great deal of satisfaction, as does encouraging others to give it a go.

Continue reading A review of the Xiegu X5105 QRP “shack-in-a-box” field transceiver