Two of the toughest QRP transceivers on the market

The Yaesu FT-817/818 (left) and lab599 Discovery TX-500 (right)

A reader asked this morning:

“[W]hat’s the toughest HF QRP transceiver on the market? I want a rig with good field performance and features, but I what I really want is something rugged…something that might survive falling off a rock or log while I’m doing a little SOTA.”

It was a no-brainer to me: either the lab599 Discovery TX-500 or Yaesu FT-818/817.

I feel lucky in that I’ve acquired a number of excellent QRP transceivers over the years. Most of my field-worthy radios are acceptably rugged, but the TX-500 and the FT-818/817 really stand out.

The Discovery TX-500

The Discovery TX-500 was designed from the ground up to be a rugged, weather-resistant portable radio that could operate in challenging environments (think the extremes of Russia where it’s manufactured).

If I’m heading outdoors and it could rain or snow? I’ll be grabbing the TX-500 for sure. It’s a brilliant portable radio

Yaesu FT-818 or FT-817

My Yaesu FT-817ND paired with the Elecraft T1 ATU

While the Yaesu FT-818/817 has no serious weather-proofing, it does have an incredible study chassis like the TX-500 and was obviously designed for outdoor use. Both of my FT-817NDs have side rails and with those in place, I really feel like it would easily survive falling off a rock or log. In addition, I’ve heard stories of the FT-817 surviving some hard falls–that goes a long way for me. No doubt, it’s a study little rig!

The X5105: A close runner up?

I’ll admit that the Xiegu X5105 feels like a very study radio as well. The chassis is made of an aluminum alloy and feels rigid. Mine has a polycarbonate screen protector.  I also like the fact that its buttons and the main encoder are all low-profile. It’s still pretty new to me, but it’s obvious Xiegu designed the X5105 to be rugged. If it fell off a rock during a SOTA activation, I wouldn’t worry too much.

Admittedly, I feel like the X5105 wouldn’t be terribly weather-resistant–the buttons are somewhat recessed and the button openings are quite large, likely allowing water intrusion. Of course, I haven’t cracked mine open yet (it’s still under warranty and is sealed), so I’m assuming there’s no effort to stop water intrusion internally.

Do you need a “rugged” transceiver?

That’s up to you.

One of my favorite portable transceivers is the Elecraft KX2. I’ve taken it everywhere. I’ve dropped it, it’s rolled off my clipboard, I’ve got caught in the rain with it, and I’ve even slid and fallen on my backpack when it was stored inside. I wouldn’t classify the KX2 as a “rugged” transceiver, yet it’s survived all of this without even sporting side rails (like its bigger brother, the KX3).

You can add after-market side rails to the Elecraft KX3–and to most field radios–which will protect the encoder and front panel buttons/knobs.

At the end of the day, if you like to operate in extreme conditions, put ruggedness at the top of your priority list. Otherwise, simply protect your transceiver in transport with a good waterproof case or padded/waterproof pack. If you’re worried about rain or water, bring a rain jacket or portable fly/canopy to protect you and your rig during operation.

Did I miss something?

What radios do you consider to be some of the most rugged on the market? I’m certain I’m overlooking some. First hand experience would be most welcome! Please comment!

12 thoughts on “Two of the toughest QRP transceivers on the market”

    1. There are a load of rugged military HF transceivers out there. I’d love to find a Clansman someday! It’s on my wish list.

      I suppose I was referring to radios currently on the amateur radio market.

  1. It’s not an HF rig (and I don’t own one), but I know the Yaesu FT-60 is up there as far as rugged HTs go.

    1. It is. I’m planning to buy myself one. I bought two last year for my daughters when they passed their Tech exam.

  2. Nice post Thomas.

    I do like the ruggedness of my 817 and it’s proving good value with the Windcamp 3aH battery for SOTA.

    I have ‘concerns’ about the wisdom of having radios with large screens – surely the screen, while highly desirable for many reasons, becomes the weakest point in the chain from a ruggedness perspective?

    On that basis alone, for me, the tiny screen of the 817 is a huge plus out of all those you have mentioned in this post.

    1. Those big screens can be an issue in terms of ruggedness. There are ways to protect them and I’d certainly do that for ones like the IC-705. I’ve seen some pretty clever 3D printed side rails and screen cover. (Need to find the link!)

  3. I have to agree with the comment about big LCD screens being a weak point/liability from a ruggedness standpoint. I say this having one ruined a shiny new H-P 32SI calculator when I dropped a screwdriver and of course, the tip hit square in the middle of the display!

  4. Just received a 817nd I bought off of that QTH classified site you mentioned in a prior QRP’r. It has the 500 cw filter in it. The portable zero side rails arrive Saturday.

    de AD8EV

    1. You will have an excellent little rig there! It really sings with the 500 Hz filter.


  5. Hello,

    I agree 100% with G7DDN, about the tiny screen , which is a huge plus out, just the way it is built.

    Speaking of ruggedness, just check the numerous You tube Channel of Peter VK3YE. I like all his very instructive videos.

    Peter did many antenna test on the beach with is FT-817, and all kind of home made antennas.
    Sometime in these videos, you can see many close-up of his 817, You’ll understand the ruggeness of this transceiver.

    I love so much this one , in 20 years now, my third one is the new FT-818ND, and this time I put the 300Hz cw filter which made cw copy more confortable.

    73 Michel,

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