POTA Field Report: Activating South Mountains with the new N6ARA TinyPaddle!

On Sunday, November 28, 2021, my family needed a little time outdoors after a Saturday full of home projects.

I packed my field radio kit in the GoRuck Bullet Ruck, then we jumped in the car and drove to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (the same site in my previous POTA field report).

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

It was a gorgeous day and we had the park to ourselves. First thing we did was hike the short Lakeview Trail loop.

This trail is only 1.3 miles long, but offers up some beautiful views.

Hazel also came along and enjoyed the sights, smells, and even got her feet wet in a stream!

Fortunately, no one was using the one solitary picnic table at the Clear Creek access, so we claimed it!

First thing I did was launch a line and deploy my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

I knew it would pair perfectly with the Elecraft KX2!

I love this compact Weaver throw line bag!

The new N6ARA TinyPaddle

This activation also gave me an excuse to check out a paddle my buddy Ara (N6ARA) recently designed.

He calls it the TinyPaddle:

An appropriate name, because this key is wee! Ara notes:

As someone who likes bring experimental gear to summits, I have had paddles break on me multiple times. […] I don’t like carrying the extra weight/volume of a second set of paddles, so I designed my own “TinyPaddle” for backup as a middle ground option. It weighs roughly 3.7g and is 1.2cm x 1.2cm x 5.0cm in size.

He’s right, the TinyPaddle could tuck away even in the most compact of field kits. You’d never know it was there.

Here’s the TinyPaddle connected to the side of my Elecraft KX2:

Ara sent this key to me for frank feedback (prior to doing a small production run of them) knowing I’d not only check it out in the shack, but (of course!) take it to the field.

I decided to do my activation at South Mountains State Park using only the TinyPaddle.

Gear:

Before taking it to the field, I had some concerns that the TinyPaddle might turn in the 3.5mm key port on the side of the KX2 as I used it. Once plugging it in, though, I could tell that it would not be a problem at all. The paddle is so lightweight and so sensitive, it’s simply not an issue. In fact, it would be rather difficult to use it in such a way that it would shift in the 3.5mm port.

On The Air

Knowing in advance that it was a contest weekend (the CQWW), I decided I would stick with the WARC bands during this activation.

I tuned the speaker wire antenna to 10.112 MHz on the 30 meter band.

Hazel asks, “Got any doggy treats in that pack, daddy?”

The 30 meter band was more crowded than usual as many other POTA/SOTA/WWFF and casual operators sought refuge from the signal density on 40 and 20 meters.

Since I had the family with me and since we’d spent most of our time at the park eating a late picnic lunch and doing a casual hike, I allotted only 20 minutes of air time for this activation. I was hoping I could validate the activation with 10 contacts in that amount of time.

I started calling CQ with the N6ARA paddles. First thing I noticed was how sensitive and precise they were. Although the TinyPaddle is a mechanical paddle (with spaced contacts), they feel more like a capacitive touch paddle they’re so sensitive.

I started calling CQ POTA and soon logged KE4Q.

A few minutes later, I worked AI8Z, followed by W5WIL, WO0S,  WA2JMG, AA0Z, WA2FBN, N0VRP, KA3OMQ, W9SAU, and K1MZM.

With a total of 12 stations logged in 21 minutes, I went QRT.

QSO Map

Here’s what 5 watts into a 28.5′ speaker wire did on 30 meters that fine day (click map to enlarge):

Video

Here’s a video of my full activation. Hazel was being very camera shy; for some reason, she doesn’t like the OSMO Action camera. My wife and I think it must resemble something she’s seen at the vet’s office? We may never know!

Click here to view on YouTube.

And the TinyPaddle?

In short? I love the TinyPaddle!

Ara is obviously a talented engineer. I’m always impressed with devices like this that are so simple, yet so effective.

The TinyPaddle is going to live in my KX2 field pack as a backup to the KXPD2 paddles which have actually failed me in the field before.

That time the KXPD2 failed me…

I mention in the video that I once needed to use my Elecraft KXPD2 paddles to communicate with my buddy Mike (K8RAT) to share my SSB frequency for a very rare park activation I activated in the spring of 2020. After plugging the KXPD2 paddles into the KX2, I found that I could only send “dits.” I couldn’t even set it up to send as a straight key from one side of the paddle.

This forced me to drive 25 minutes to a spot where I had cell phone reception to contact Mike with info for a spot, then drive back to the site. That effectively shortened my activation of this ATNO park by 50 minutes!

KXPD2 missing one of the two center posts.

I sent Elecraft the photo above and they quickly identified the problem: turns out, one of the center posts had loosened and fallen out.  They immediately sent me a replacement post free of charge (typical Elecraft customer service).

I use the KXPD2 paddles quite a lot because they mount directly to the front of the KX2 making it possible to use my kneeboard during SOTA activations.
Since that mishap in the field, I tighten the KXPD2 posts at least once a month and also carry a precision screwdriver with me in my field kit.

A proper backup!

But having the TinyPaddle now is even extra insurance that a paddle failure won’t stop me from completing my activation!

When I made the video, I wasn’t certain if Ara was planning to do a production run of these or not. I’m very pleased to see that he has!

He’s made a storefront on his website N6ARA.com and is now selling the TinyPaddle as a kit for $15 or fully assembled for $20 US.

I’m certain he could actually fetch much more for these paddles, but he wants them to be an affordable, accessible backup paddle for anyone doing CW field activations.

He even includes a link to his Thingiverse page where you can download and 3D print accessories (including a TinyPaddle holder) and replacement parts at home free of charge.

Ara, thanks for making your project so available and accessible to everyone!

Click here to check out the TinyPaddle at N6ARA.com. Note that he’s doing these production runs in batches, but you can pre-order them.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this field report and activation.

I’d like to send 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.

Thank you!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Bonus photos!

My daughter Geneva (K4TLI) took a few extra photos at the park that day. Enjoy!

She took this candid photo of me as I packed up the KX2. Check out my KSKO (McGrath, AK) tee shirt! Thanks for that, Paul Walker!

12 thoughts on “POTA Field Report: Activating South Mountains with the new N6ARA TinyPaddle!”

    1. Thank you, Max. I think she’s quite a talented photographer, too. 🙂 I’ll share your comment with her.

  1. It seems like the tiny paddles might stress the port over time, potentially leading to failure. Do you think that might be an issue?

    Still, they’re a very clever, minimalist design and seem a great backup.

    1. Hi, Bob,

      I don’t think that would be an issue with a rig like an elecraft where they tend to beef up and secure ports. The TinyPaddle takes such a light touch, I think even ports directly affixed to a board would probably be fine if they’re soldered properly. As I mentioned in the report, the action almost feels like a capacitive touch and takes little effort. With that said, if you were really slapping it around and using it as your only paddle, it might cause stress on rigs that only have ports surface mounted to a board with no stress relief.

      In my mind, this is a paddle to be used in a pinch (pun intended!) and not likely as an everyday paddle. (Though it might pair well with the MTR3B!). 🙂

      Great question!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

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