Can you activate a park with the Elecraft AX1 portable vertical antenna–?

In my head, this was going to be a post talking about antenna compromise vs. convenience vs. performance. I set out to make a point and will do just that. But it’s not the point I intended to make.

The Elecraft AX1 Antenna

My Maxpedition Fatty Pouch has more than enough room for the AX1, tripod adapter, bipod, antenna, 40M section, and two counterpoises.

For those of you not familiar, Elecraft designed a super compact portable antenna for the KX3 and KX2 called the AX1 a couple years ago. It’s, by far, the most compact HF antenna I’ve ever owned or operated.

What makes it so unique is that no one section of it is longer than 6″, which means when disassembled, it’ll fit in a very small pouch or pocket.

I purchased the AX1 a couple months ago. I bought the antenna, (which handles 20/17 and 15 meters), the 40 meter extension, bipod, tripod mount, and both counterpoises were included.

It’s a cool piece of antenna kit for sure! And so compact!

But let’s face it: it’s a compromised antenna!

An antenna this small and compact is not as efficient as a longer resonant wire antenna. Not even close.

The AX1 wasn’t built for performance per se–although it’s as efficient as it can be for the size–it was built for convenience!

You can set the AX1 up anywhere, anytime.

A POTA Experiment

The AX1 is in the Maxpedition pack on the left, my KX2 in the Lowe pack on the right.

A few months ago, a reader who owns a KX3 asked me if I thought he could successfully activate a (Parks On The Air) park with the AX1.

My reply:

“Sure! Especially if you’re using CW and you have a whole lot of patience.”

Yesterday morning, I decided to test my theory.

I drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378) and parked at the Folk Arts Center. I found a picnic table (wasn’t hard at all considering it was hovering around freezing and incredibly breezy!) and set up my station.

It takes me maybe 3 minutes to set up the entire station.

The antenna fits together quickly (I was operating 40 meters, so used the optional extension and 31′ counterpoise).

Three minutes later, I’m ready to rock and roll!

On The Air

I had errands to run in town so didn’t want to spend all day doing this experiment, but I was determined to complete a valid POTA activation which requires 10 total contacts.

Before leaving the house, I scheduled my activation on the POTA site, so it would know to scrape my spot on the Reverse Beacon Network.

Keep in mind, this was taking place on a Monday morning around 10:15 AM and I was activating a park almost every POTA hunter has logged numerous times. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most activated parks in the POTA network, so not exactly super desirable.

In addition, propagation number were pretty dismal.

I fired up the KX2, pressed the ATU button, and achieved a 1:1.1 match.

I called CQ POTA three times in CW.

Evidently, the RBN picked me up quickly, because I received a call.

Then another call.

Then a small pile-up of calls.

Next thing I know, I’ve logged five stations in five minutes.

I called CW again, and had another small pileup.

Short story short, I had achieve a valid activation in all of 12 minutes.

12 freaking minutes!

Seriously? My point was to prove it takes patience when using extremely compromised antennas.

After logging 12 stations, a received a phone call on my mobile and left the air (no other stations were calling me at that point and, again, this wasn’t a highly desirable or rare park). After my phone call, I decided to pack up and finish my errands in town.

After I returned home, I realized: this was easily my quickest field radio deployment and park activation.

The activation took me a total of 20 minutes: 3 minutes to deploy, 12 minutes on the air, and (generously) four minutes to pack up.

Let’s face it…

The stars were aligned Monday morning.

The AX1 is a compromised antenna but it’s obviously also quite effective.

The irony was en route to the activation, I was listening to the latest episode of Ham Radio Workbench. They were discussing wire antennas and how incredibly compromised shortened verticals are.

I was in complete agreement about compact antennas: sometimes, the compromise is worth it for the convenience.

Now, I would add: sometimes, it’s all convenience, performance, and no compromise whatsoever!

Next, I plan to attempt an SSB activation with the AX1. I do believe it’ll take quite a while to gather 10 stations for a valid activation. But who knows?

Stay tuned!

12 thoughts on “Can you activate a park with the Elecraft AX1 portable vertical antenna–?”

  1. They say in photography that the best camera…is the one you’re carrying at the time. In other words, your kit doesn’t matter if you can deploy it.

    Same is true for radio. I’m not sold on any one antenna, but I do try to avoid something that requires me to get something up into a high tree. I must look like such a moron trying to throw a line up there.

    I’ve been experimenting with a vertical this past summer. Yes, a compromise. But so much faster for me to deploy. And when time is of the essence, it can’t be beat.


  2. That’s what it’s about, experimentation. If it continues to perform well, then it’s a good little antenna to use when you don’t want to drag along a bunch of equipment. Thanks for the post. Mat – K4OCY

  3. Man, that’s the spirit! While I sit @home, pondering over (TX-) antenna options and weight vs.-size vs. performance vs. convenience considerations for hours, you run errands, do a drive-by-style POTA activation on the way, make 12 contacts, drive back home, write an article about it and eat up what you’ve bought at the groceries! 🙂

    Yes let’s face it: Compromise antennas are what they are, they cost you some dBs but then there’s the ionosphere and a lot of random practically unpredictable things giving and taking a lot more dBs all the time and at the end of the day these things decide about your outcome much more than anything else. Of course they won’t make you a DX god in a solar minimum but they’re way more fun than any antenna that doesn’t radiate at all because it doesn’t exist yet or that’s too much hassle to put up.

    Your point was valid and of course a few dBs more or less headroom do make a difference but what really counts is that there is a signal to pick up.

    1. Like you, I love playing with antennas and, frankly, various transceiver, power, tuner, antenna combos.

      POTA is a great excuse to do it as well because it’s very rare anyone wants to rag chew. I like rag chewing from time-to-time, but it’s also fun to have a short exchange and just hear a voice or CW from across the ether.

      Antennas like the AX1 and small wire antennas reminds me that there’s so much magic in all things wireless! 🙂

  4. I never listen to the experts, although many many times they are right. I am a firm believer in “try it and see for yourself”. I run POTA with QRP CW (K2) and a 33 foot vertical I mount to my SUV trailer hitch. Just finished my 9th activation…I have yet to fail an activation with this setup. Keep at it!!

  5. Consider this: there are times in operating mobile–POTA included–that require steal. I’ve had park staff come up to me multiple times and tell me the QRT my ops because they though activating a park was not appropriate. Of course, I didn’t argue. We’re not here to make adversaries. But setting up an AX1 would’ve been completely unnoticed….

    1. This is true. There’s really no way one can object to an antenna as compact as the AX1. This is just the type of antenna that can be used to activate difficult parks like historic sites.

  6. This just came up in my feed and I was just up in Amelia Island last week and ran my KX2 for the first time, with the AX1, and doing FT8.
    I figured since it’s a QRP rig, I would try to call CQ instead of trying to respond to someone. It took some effort to try to dodge the stronger signals, but on at least two of the days I was averaging a contact every 5-10 minutes.
    I kid you not, the second response I got was from W1AW. And I also somehow managed to get Germany.
    Agreed that isn’t not the best antenna and 5W is hardly anything, but I could go from computer (Surface Go) and radio in bags to being on the air in five minutes flat.

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