When I take a new radio to the field, I often don’t know what to expect until I arrive at the site and put it on the air. It’s one thing to use a radio in the shack, and quite another to use it in the field.
Earlier this year, I purchased a Venus SW-3B, three band QRP transceiver after much poking and prodding from readers and subscribers. I actually contacted Dale (BA4TB) at Venus and asked for a loaner to do a review, but he had no units set aside for loans, so instead offered me a coupon code. I was hesitant to purchase yet another QRP radio–which is why I asked for a loaner–but his coupon discounted the radio enough I could even afford to splurge for expedited shipping. He made money and I didn’t have to worry about loan periods, etc. It turned out to be a win/win.
I knew I wanted the SW-3B’s maiden voyage to be a SOTA summit, but I had to wait for a good weather window.
On Thursday, February 10, 2022, I got that opportunity!
Dogback Mountain (W4C/EM-066)
Back on January 26, 2022–during my POTA RaDAR run–I tried to activate Dogback Mountain, but the forest service road was too icy in all of the wrong places. I made it to within three miles of the summit but stopped and performed an activation of Pisgah Game Land and Pisgah Forest instead.
The road had no ice on it February 10, although it was very muddy and slippery in spots. Made for a very enjoyable drive in the Subaru, although post-activation you would have never guessed I’d washed the car the day before!
I arrived on site and parked the car at a pull-off that was well within the activation zone of the summit. Dave was right: this summit was very accessible (well, as long as your vehicle has a bit of clearance–this isn’t a road for sports cars or low sedans).
I walked up the short path to the true summit and was absolutely gobsmacked by the views of Linville Gorge, Table Rock, and Hawksbill Mountain.
Speaking of the activation video, I added a lot of extra dialog both before and after the activation. I won’t repeat all of it here in the field report, but would encourage you to check out the summit and a nearby overlook that I include in the video.
Not only was I testing a new radio on this summit, but I was also testing a new compact field kit I built for the SW-3B.
This completely self-contained kit is based on another Tom Bihn HLT2 EDC pouch–the same pouch I used for my MTR-3B kit.
SW-3B Ultra-Compact Field Kit:
- Tom Bihn Handy Little Thing (HLT) Size 2
- Venus SW-3B
- A 3′ DC power cord.
- Sony earbuds (affiliate link)
- A PackTenna Mini 20M EFHW antenna (in kit, but not used for this activation)
- Koh-I-Noor .9 mm Mechanical Pencil
- Moleskine Cahier Journal (affiliate link)
- N0SA SOTA paddles
- 20′ BNC to BNC RG-316 from PackTenna.
- 25 meters of Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline, and an 8 oz Weaver throw weight.
- A Bioenno 3 aH 12V LiFePo Battery (Model BLF-1203AB)
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- N0RNM’s homemade 3D-printed knee board
- REI Co-op Trail Stool
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera
New-to-me digital recorder
Like most super compact CW only QRP transceivers, the SW-3B has no built-in speaker. In the past, so that the radio audio can be heard in my activation videos, I’ve paired these radios with an external speaker. I’ve avoided recording the audio separately believing it would be a pain to combine in post-production (if you know me, I don’t like doing anything in post other than adding titles).
But there is real appeal using an external digital recorder. For one thing, on radios like the MTR-3B, it gives me a volume control. Secondly, the audio recorder is much smaller than a good external speaker.
Also, I had a hunch the audio would sound better being directly tied to the radio; especially on summits where there’s often a lot of wind noise. I’ve found that the SW-3B has a bit of “thump” in the sidetone audio which doesn’t translate well via my amplified speaker. I feel like it sounds better–exactly how it would sound with earphones–via the digital recorder.
You can listen for yourself in the activation video!
On the air
I should note here that this summit is also a POTA site–not only that, but a two-fer POTA site (!!!) as both Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land overlap here.
I hopped on 20 meters, started calling CQ SOTA, and…wow.
I worked my first four contacts for a valid SOTA activation in 4 minutes.
I then passed the ten contact mark for a valid POTA activation in about 10 minutes.
That PackTenna EFHW was on fire!
In the end, I worked a total of 43 contacts in 44 minutes!
It was insane. And fun. Insanely fun!
Here’s a QSO map showing what the SW-3B’s 5 watts could do with the PackTenna 20M EFHW (I left labels off this map due to the density):
This video is quite long, but mainly because of some extra commentary and content I added. At the very end of the video, I go to one of my all-time favorite overlooks in North Carolina. Again, it’s hard for a camera to do it justice, but I tried:
The only thing I felt was missing from this activation was a nice hike, so I fit in one later that day.
The site, the views, even the drive up were all incredibly fun.
Post-activation, I’m glad I took the time to drive further up the road to Wisemans’ View. It’s an amazing vantage point to take in the beauty that is the Linville Gorge. (Again, check out the photos below.)
I must say: I’m smitten with the SW-3B.
Shortly after this activation (knowing it would be weeks before the field report and video would be published) I wrote a short re-cap and initial review of the Venus SW-3B; click here to check it out.
If you’re a CW operator who’s been looking for an affordable, super compact transceiver for field activations, I can wholeheartedly recommend the SW-3B.
Since the brilliant Mountain Topper MTR-3B is no longer produced by LnR Precision, I feel like the SW-3B is a great alternative.
I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been 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.
Because of your support, I was able to purchase this SW-3B and I’m very glad I did. Had I gotten a loaner unit, I would have ended up purchasing one anyway. No doubt, you’ll be seeing the SW-3B in many more of my activations!
The world out there is crazy these days, so let’s do our bit by being kind to one another and also welcome newcomers into our radio activities. My heart is with my Ukrainian friends.
Have a wonderful week, friends!
Bonus photos of Wisemans’ View
Wisemans’ View is accessible via the same forest service road as Dogback Mountain. As I mention in the activation video the site is quite accessible as long as your vehicle has some ground clearance. I found the drive from Dogback Mountain to be easier than the drive from the Linville access which is often much rougher and more congested in season. This forest service road can get quite rough especially after weather events.
Table Rock (above and below) is an iconic mountain in western NC. This is what the “back” side of it looks like. I believe this is Hawksbill Mountain (above/below). I plan to activate it and Table Rock later this season and look forward to those hikes!