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.
- Elecraft KX2
- Elecraft AX1 packed in a Maxpedition Fatty Pouch
- Muji A6 Notepad and Koh-I-Noor 2.0 mm Mechanical Pencil (affiliate links)
- Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
Yeah…less is more.
Cheers & 73,