Many thanks to Dale (N3HXZ) who shares the following guest post:
by Dale (N3HXZ)
About a year ago I started getting active in Parks On The Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA). I had always been an avid hiker and backpacker, and though I am getting up there in years (recently retired!) these amateur radio opportunities were just the medicine I needed to rekindle my passion for the outdoors and amateur radio.
Thanks to Thomas (K4SWL) and his blog post and videos I was able to quickly come up to speed on the basics and get out into the field for CW activations. I quickly discovered that operating CW in the field is quite different from operating at home. The creature comforts of a good chair, a level and spacious operating table, and isolation from the weather makes for a great experience in the shack, but is not available in the field, especially if you are backpacking to your destination. My early activations were sitting on a rock, or the ground, and using only a clip board to mount my rig (Elecraft KX2), locate my CW paddle, and place a notepad to record QSO’s.
While simple, this operating setup poses problems. Attaining and maintaining a flat workspace is tough in the field in order to keep things from shifting or falling off the clipboard, especially if you are not firmly seated. There is not enough space to set your wrist in order to steady your CW operating, and the notebook pages can flap in the wind, or the wind can blow your logbook clear off the table while operating. I realized I needed to upgrade my mobile station!
I established some basic criteria for a mobile station that looks to optimize operating ergonomics;
- The station must fit into a backpack
- The station equipment must be lightweight
- A stool or seat should be high enough to provide a level lap as a base for a flat workspace
- The flat workspace should be skid proof so items don’t move and large enough to optimize CW operating (wrist on the workspace) and fit the rig and accessories.
- The operating hand should only be needed for CW and recording in the log book
- The non-operating hand should be free to steady the paddle, swat away bugs and other creatures, wave to passers-by, and grab the water bottle!
- The logbook should be secured
After a lot of trial and error, I settled on the following simple equipment
The Portal stool is tall by stool standards, measuring 20 inches from the ground to the seat. This enable your lap to be horizontal to the ground and thus provides a level environment for the workspace (I’m 5’-10” tall). The stool is sturdy, and it has a side netting to store food, mobile phone, etc. while you are operating. Also, it folds up and can be inverted and placed in an outside pocket of a backpack, secured by straps typically on the backpack. The stool weighs 4.5 lbs and can hold a weight of 225 lbs.
The workspace is the AboveTEK Portable Laptop Lap Desk. It fits comfortably on your lap. The top has a non-slip surface with a heat resistant layer that can draw heat away from your rig. The unit has a retractable left/right pad tray which is ideal to locate your logbook (up to 5” by 7”). The unit weighs 2 lbs and it can easily slip into the laptop slot found in most backpacks. There is enough room for a rig, portable tuner, or other equipment.
I was on a recent SOTA expedition to Seven Springs in western Pennsylvania (W3/PT-003). The pictures below show the mobile station in action. With the stool, my lap is level and hence the workspace is level. The rig easily fits on the surface along with the paddle leaving plenty of room to properly align your arm and wrist for optimal CW. I also have plenty of room for my mobile phone, which comes in handy for spotting when in range of a cell tower. The logbook is on the retractable tray to the right. I use a rubber band to secure the right edge of the logbook to the surface and to prevent wind from lifting the pages.
While you can never create the optimal workspace that you have in your shack, I have found that this simple arrangement approaches the ideal ergonomics required for field work. At a total of 6 lbs, the stool and lap desk are well worth the weight in my backpack!