A little off-grid radio and offline camping!

If you were hunting POTA contacts last week, you might have seen my callsign pop up in the spots quite a few times at New River State Park (K-2748).

Morning reading along with a proper brew in my C.R.A.Q. coffee mug!

Our family decided to take a little break from everything–including the internet–and simply enjoy the great outdoors and a little camping in our small travel trailer (caravan).

Our ferocious guard dog protecting the camp site from hostile invaders. Note that she’s actually awake and alert. A rarity indeed!

It was amazing fun.

In terms of radios, I limited myself to two. While we had room for more, I decided in advance I wanted to spend some proper bonding time with my Yaesu FT-817ND.

I’m so glad I did.

I also brought the Elecraft KX2 but primarily planned to use it when operating off-site. This way, I could keep the FT-817ND system hooked up and ready for action at our camp site.

In fact, the KX2 remained in my SOTA pack for the duration of the trip as a grab-and-go. I had an absolute blast with it activating the summit of Mount Jefferson.

Solar power

This camping trip gave me an excuse to use a station accessory I purchased last year: my Buddipole Powermini 2.

The Powermini 2 is a very compact and capable charge controller with an input for solar panels, a battery, two DC outputs, and even a USB power output. A genius little device.

I’ve been asked a number of times why I don’t do solar charging in the field during my activations. There are a few reasons, actually:

  • First of all, my activations tend to be short in duration–perhaps 45 to 75 minutes. I could easily operate for a few hours on one battery charge with most of my QRP radios. In other words, I rarely need to recharge in the field.
  • Often, my field activation sites are shaded by choice. Since I like to hang wires in trees, those same trees would block sunlight from ever hitting my panels.
  • Finally, unless I’m testing a new radio, I tend to take the least amount of accessories necessary to complete the activation. This is especially the case with SOTA activations. Since I’m unlikely to use solar panels, I leave them in the car or at the QTH. I do, however, keep them packed and at-the-ready should the need arise.

I paired the Powermini 2 with PowerFilm Solar folding panels I purchased many moons ago at Hamvention (I’m guessing in 2012 or so–?). These were blemished units and I snagged them for a brilliant price. Looking back, I wish I would have purchased a few more.

They’re only 5 watts each, but I run them in parallel to feed the charge controller with the equivalent of 10 watts.

QRP gear is so efficient, these modest panels actually do a respectable job keeping the battery topped off. At New River State Park it helped that our picnic table was in full sunlight most of the day.

Sure, we had shore power at the site, but where’s the fun in that?

QRM

During the week, the site had low levels of RFI/QRM. That all changed during the weekend when new campers moved in along with their leaky switching power supplies and noisy inverters.

On Saturday, I found it too frustrating to try making contacts from the campsite–the noise floor was a steady S7 with peaks around S9 simply washing over all but the strongest signals. I regretted not packing my Chameleon loop antenna.

Instead of fighting the QRM, I abandoned it. I drove to a large isolated picnic shelter at New River and set up the KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite antenna.

The site was noise-free and I had amazing fun.

Videos

I made quite a few activation videos, so I’ll eventually post them with abbreviated field reports.

Frankly, I am still catching up from having been offline so long.

Thank you

Massive thanks to my good friend Eric (WD8RIF) who took care of QRPer.com while I was gone. He’s been moderating comments and making sure scheduled posts published properly. In fact, my friend Robert Gulley (K4PKM) was holding down the fort over on the SWLing Post too. I’m so thankful to both of them.

Also, many thanks to all of the hunters who worked me on multiple bands and in multiple modes. A special shot out to NE4TN who was a life saver and spotted me on several occasions when the connection between the POTA site and Reverse Beacon Network were down. Many thanks, OM!

Of course, I’d also 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. Your support actually helps to make radio fun like this possible.

Here’s wishing everyone an amazing weekend!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

16 thoughts on “A little off-grid radio and offline camping!”

  1. Hello Thomas. I tried to work you, but once again we were too close to each other. This weekend is the GA POTA meetup in Gainesville, GA. I hope to be QRV from my campsite from time to time. I am also bringing 2 radios with me. My IC-705 and X6100.

    1. No–none that I noticed. I used it the entire time and had it quite close to the radio. I’m sure it might generate some noise, but not in the ham bands.

      1. Same result here, I have the same charge controller and have yet to noice any noise.

        I was able get you in the log while you were at K-2748. Looks like you had a nice little escape.

        1. Thank you for the contact while I was at K-2748! So far, I’m loving the PowerMini 2.

  2. What size of load will the powermini2 allow through the power outputs? I have a controller from Renogy that is very quiet and will allow 3A, enough to run my 817ND. VA7SGY

    1. It can take a solar panel with up to 11A of current to charge the battery. Output can be up to 32Ah if using both outputs.

  3. Hi Thomas,

    I was VP of Operations at PowerFilm from 2009 to 2019 and begged the sales team and management team to enter the ham market. That led to a few of us taking products (including this one) to Hamvention to see if we could drum up some sales. It was a lot of work, but I firmly believed that hams would buy those products.

    I really enjoy your videos… they’ve inspired me to do some CW POTA of my own.

    73, Pat
    n0hr

    1. I love PowerFilm. Back when I ran the non-profit Ears To Our World, PowerFilm worked with me to make a lot of solar panels affordable for our use in rural and remote parts of the world.

      I would love one of their large folding panels, but they are quite pricey for the amount relatively low usage I would give it. Still, I might splurge and do it one day. 🙂

      I always visited their booth when they were at Hamvention.

      Oh yes! I hope to work you P2P someday in CW! You can do it!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

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