Elecraft KX2 and AX1: Seriously…how effectively can such a compact field kit work?

On September 20, 2021, I had a full day planned in town. It was one of those days where my few errands and appointments were spread out across the day in such a way that driving back home between appointments made no sense. I knew I might have a bit of time to kill.

The big appointment holding me in town was recall service work on my Subaru that would take most of the day. The dealership reserved a loaner car for me.

That morning, I cleaned out my car (removing a couple of radios and antennas) and I packed a backpack with the supplies I’d need for the day; water, sandwich, laptop, and (fortunately) my Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna.

I would take this pack with me in the loaner car as I ran my other errands.  I remember thinking that there was  likely no possibility of doing an activation–it was rainy and I knew even getting set up at the service center might take an hour. I packed the Elecraft gear nonetheless. (Never leave home without a radio, I say!)

That morning, I drove to the Subaru dealership and–long story short–the service work had to be cancelled. While I wasn’t happy that I’d made the early morning trip to the dealership for nothing, this did essentially free up a good portion of my morning to play radio. Even though I had my own car for the day, I had completely emptied it of radio gear, so the KX2 and AX1 were truly all I had.

The weather was fickle that Monday with sporadic rain showers, so I made my way to the Zebulon Vance Historic Birthplace since that particular park has such a nice covered picnic shelter. In addition, the site was also very close to my next appointment.

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

Vance is actually closed on Sundays and Mondays, but they allow visitors to roam the grounds nonetheless. Being a rainy Monday morning, I had the site to myself.

Typically, at this site, I like to deploy some of my longer wire antennas (slopers, EFHWs, and long random wires). It almost feels strange to deploy the diminutive AX1.

Gear:

By sheer luck, I discovered my action camera was in the backpack as well. This wasn’t a conscious decision, it had been left in the pack from travels a few days prior. The battery seemed to have ample charge, so I also recorded one of my real-time, real-life, no edit videos.

Let’s be frank here: the AX1 is the definition of a compromised antenna.

It’s efficient for its size, but keep in mind the height of a 40 meter 1/4 wave vertical is 33 feet (10 meters) or so. The AX1, when configured for 40 meters is…what…maybe 5 feet tall? I only use one counterpoise for 40 meters that is 33 feet in length, so there’s not even a large radial field.

This antenna is so compact, it feels like a toy–something that couldn’t possibly work.

With propagation the way it is these days, the fact that I was set up in the middle of a covered picnic shelter, in a valley, and only operating 5 watts into the AX1? My expectations were very low. I’ve had some serious luck with the AX1 in the past, but I was fully prepared to walk away without validating the park activation with 10 confirmed contacts.

On the Air

I had scheduled the activation on the POTA website prior to arriving on site so that I could take advantage of Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) auto-spotting.

I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters.

After two calls, I checked the POTA spots page and I already had a spot!

I called CQ for maybe two minutes with no call backs, then K9IS came back to me with a strong signal. That QSO was quickly followed by KE8PX, WC0Y, N0SA, WZ9B, N3AZZ, N3MM, AD8EV, WD4CFN, and AA8CL.

And like that, in a total of nine minutes from my first contact, I had validated my activation.

Nine minutes

At this point, the AX1 had once again busted my point of showing that compromised antennas are a lot of fun, but portability comes with a performance price.

My AX1 is obviously a show-off.

I continued my activation because I still had the better part of an hour to play radio.

In that time, I logged a total of 19 stations with relative ease.

AX1 SSB QRP

Last time I posted an AX1 activation video I received an email from a subscriber asking me to attempt making SSB contacts next time. If memory serves, he said, “Sure, it’ll work with CW, but not very effectively with SSB…if at all.

So I moved over to the phone portion of the 40 meter band, tuned up, and started calling CQ.

I worked five more stations in nine minutes: NC4XL, KN4OK, KE8PHJ, K9ICP, and K3EFS.

For fun, before packing up, I moved up to the 20 meter band and worked one more station (W1VKE). Twenty meters was in much rougher shape than 40 meters that day. Lately, it seems when 40 is doing well, 20 is not, and vice-versa.

QSO Map

Here’s what pumping 5 watts into the AX1 can do when you’re attempting to prove that it’s not as effective as larger field antennas:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation including set up and take-down. If you’e looking for an insomnia cure, this is surely it:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Why do I keep hanging wires in trees?

Activations like this leave me scratching my head…

If a wee antenna like the AX1 yields results like this, why do I even bother using other antennas–? No doubt, the AX1 is about the quickest to set up/take-down, requires no throw lines, is insanely compact, and is totally self-supporting.

Truth is, larger wire antennas and verticals do perform better in almost every circumstance. And, frankly, I absolutely LOVE deploying a wide variety of antennas. I’m just not a “one antenna” kind of ham.

But for field activities like POTA, WWFF, IOTA, and SOTA? The AX1 can serve you very well depending on where you live on this planet. I’m not sure it would be the best choice for, say, Tristan Da Cunha (Earth’s most remote inhabited island) but on continents with a decent ham radio population density? Sure! It’ll work.

I may have to take the AX1 out again soon. This was serious fun and truly reminds me of the magic that is QRP.

Thank you

Again, 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 as my content will always be free–I really appreciate the support. This site is a labor of love and, frankly, I enjoy putting together these field reports and re-living each activation.

Here’s hoping you get a chance to play radio outdoors. If you take anything away from this post and video, it should be that you don’t need a Log Periodic antenna and 500 watts of power to activate parks and summits.

Just use what you’ve got.

And sometimes?

Yeah…less is more.

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

18 thoughts on “Elecraft KX2 and AX1: Seriously…how effectively can such a compact field kit work?”

  1. Thanks for the update. I just ordered my AX1 and still waiting for my KX2 to be delivered. Your videos and reviews have helped me tremendously. Keep up these videos and reviews I absolutely love them!

  2. Very good video. Enjoyed and always learned something.
    I have the AX1 and opted for a small tripod (very small) weighted to make it more stable . When attached to my KX2 I always end up moving it and tipping things over. (Insert smile)
    Did you attach the 33ft ground wire to the AX1 or the KX2?
    Does it make a difference?
    I think not editing your videos is a plus. Of course I also liked Live TV cause you never know what will happen.

    73
    Tom, KT3P

    1. Hi, Tom!

      I see you found the spot in the video where I connected it to the KX2 body. This is what I do when not using a tripod (which I very rarely do). When using the tripod, the ground attaches at the antenna.

      I’m glad you like the Live TV approach! 🙂 Maybe even a little “Slow TV.”

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  3. I too have an AX1 with a KX3.
    I use 160-6 @ 100W with an 80m EFHW occasionally, hence the KX3/KXPA100, but sometimes, the KX3/AX1 is just the combo for 17,20,40m only but quick in n out.

    I enjoy your style even though it’s different. keep up the good work.

    I found the HAMRS usage being shown VERY useful! Thank you for helping me figure out how to do POTA.

    Michael

    1. The pleasure is all mine, buddy! The KX3 is a marvelous rig and I’m getting more and more used to HAMRS!

  4. Thanks for the report, Thomas; I always enjoy reading about how the AX-1 performs. I understand that Elecraft hope to have the AX-2 (even smaller than the AX-1) ready for Pacificon (next weekend). I hope that they send you one to test or that you can snag one somewhere/somehow so we can all learn about it. 73, Ernest

    1. I’m looking forward to checking out the AX2! I think it may only be 20M and above, but it looks to be very compact and sturdy.
      I’ll definitely check it out!
      Thank you, OM!
      Thomas
      K4SWL

  5. Back in July I contacted UA3FQ with my KX2 and the AX1 clamped to the swing I was sitting in. I was so shocked I doubted it even happened until I received confirmation via eqsl! Love that little antenna but I do have problems connecting it directly to the radio… seems to cut out a lot. I’ve even tried new right angle connectors but still having issues. NG8S

    1. That’s so funny, Robin. I’ve done the same: a DX contact seemed so unlikely for my setup, that I was afraid to even celebrate it until full confirmation was received! That’s a great story!

      Regarding your issues with cut out, I would contact Elecraft support. I’ve never had this happen before. The only thing I’v done is accidentally loosen the top/bottom of the coil sections when unscrewing the antenna. I know where to grab now so that doesn’t happen.

      Cheers, Thomas K4SWL

  6. Hello, I made a ssb contact from Geneva to Brasil with this nice antenna and my KX3. not bad.. 73 qro HB9GUR

  7. You’re an inspiration, Thomas. Enjoyed this! I’m guessing a decent antenna tuner, which you have in that rig, is a must. Mike, W6KIC

  8. Hi. I finally got around to viewing this perfect video. I have both the KX2 and the AX1. You’re right, there are nuances that are often edited out that I appreciated seeing in this long video. For example, you never did stretch out that 33’ counterpoise, did you??

    I will give the AX1 with a 33’ counterpoise a whirl the next time I try 20m. I got 40m down pretty nicely with a 35’ radiator on a collapsible mast and 17’ counterpoise on the beach.

    Thanks so much for this trifecta video for me: KX2, AX1 and HamRS!!

    73,
    Susan, WB2UQP

    1. You’re most welcome and thank you for the kind comment!

      Yes, I really needed to stretch out that counterpoise a bit more, but hey! The results were quite good anyway.

      Have fun with your trifecta and please report back!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  9. I have the MFJ 1820t (20m) mono version of a ax1 style antenna and done a few sota trips with it, works well!

    Looking forward to the Ax2 coming soon

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