Guest Post: “Why I Quit QRP (and maybe shouldn’t have)”

Many thanks to John (VA3KOT) who shares the following guest post which was originally published on his Ham Radio Outside the Box blog:

Why I Quit QRP (and maybe shouldn’t have)

by John (VA3KOT)

For many years I was a dedicated QRP operator. I even took my “Portable QRP Operation” show-and-tell out on the road for presentation at ham clubs in my area. Then along came the dark, gloomy depths of the solar cycle minimum. My forays out into the Big Blue Sky Shack became a series of disappointments. Maybe the odd QSO here and there, but most often I came home with nothing but a few RBN spots after multiple CQ calls. Something had to change.

Why QRP?

I began to ask myself “why QRP?”. It’s a valid enough question. Just what is so magical about an output power of 5 watts? Why not 1 watt, 3 watts, or 20 watts? It has often been said that 5 watts of CW is equivalent to 100 watts of SSB. There is a mathematical proof but I won’t repeat it here. So shouldn’t 100 watts of SSB be considered QRP?

QRP has a cult-like following. There are several online organizations dedicated to it. I am a member of some of them. QRP certainly has an appeal for those of us who like to operate in the great outdoors. Perhaps the greatest advantage is that an entire station can be stuffed into a couple of pockets – antenna and all. And a QRP rig sips battery power so slowly that some can be powered all day on a 9-volt alkaline battery.

I laid the blame for my lack of portable QRP QSOs on poor propagation. Maybe my signal just wasn’t making the trip. The propagation demons in the sky were swallowing my signals, burping and grinning down at me with a smug, malicious gleam in their eyes. QRP-’til-I-die operators shrug that off as “the fun of QRP”. Not getting any QSOs is fun?

In hindsight, there could have been another explanation. The Reverse Beacon Network was constantly reaffirming that my puny emissions were making it up to the ionosphere and being refracted back down to the Earth. So why were so very few people responding to my CQs? I have a theory about that. Maybe, back then, random CQs only appealed to a small number of people. I asked myself how often I responded to random CQs. Hmmm, not too often!

Anyway, images of QRO rigs were dancing around my head whispering sweet messages of temptation in my ear. “Yes” I said to myself; “that’s the answer. Maybe I just need to blow more watts into the air and I will fill up my logbook!” But first a roadblock. I had to persuade “senior management” that I should invest in a new radio.

The Impenetrable Wall!

Many hams have probably experienced the same situation. “You already have several radios, why do you need another one? No!” But Christmas was approaching and the infinitely high, infinitely thick, impenetrable wall of resistance began to crumble. I received the go-ahead just in time to put a shiny new Yaesu under the tree and my switch from QRP to QRO was underway.

At about the same time I began to take an interest in something called “Parks On The Air”. I had looked into it but decided not to get involved because, based on my experience of outdoor operating I thought to myself “how am I ever going to make the 10 contacts required for an activation?” I signed up anyway and focused on being a “hunter”. Hunters can respond to activators’ CQs from anywhere and there is no minimum number of QSOs to meet.

My confidence grew as I saw just how many people were having fun activating parks … and how busy they were! I decided to try activating. That was a momentous decision. Within 2 minutes of starting my very first POTA activation I was working a pile-up. Wow!

My wife and I enjoy camping in our trailer. Every time we went on a camping trip I would activate the park in which we stayed. Always 100 watts. Crank that baby up as far as she goes and get those contacts a-rolling in, I thought. After the first season was over, the little box under the Christmas tree contained a Bioenno Lithium Iron Phosphate battery. The next season I tried dropping my operating power to 35 watts to see if saving battery power affected my results. It didn’t; I was still consistently getting the required 10 contacts for a valid activation in only 10-15 minutes.

Then I had another revelation. Immediately prior to a recent camping trip I was tuning my wire camping antenna in my back yard with the power turned down to the minimum 5 watts. All was good and I hurriedly packed away the radio and antenna to get ready for the trip.

On the first full day of that trip I set up my portable station and proceeded with activating the park. This activation was taking a little longer than usual. It took 27 minutes to get the first 10 QSOs, but I went on to make 18 QSOs including a DX contact in France. The next day I had moved to another nearby park for another activation and, once again, it was a bit of a slow start. I checked my RBN spots and saw I was only getting a 2dB report. “That’s not right” I thought and instinctively checked my radio’s power setting. My rig was still set at 5 watts; I had accidentally done a QRP activation!

So would I like to switch back to QRP? Yes, I think I would. But I probably won’t. Why? Well, my Yaesu FT-891 has some superb features that I find absolutely essential – especially the extremely versatile IF filtering. There is a choice of QRP radios that offer the same level of performance as my FT-891 but at more than twice the price!


I will still keep the power down on my POTA activations. The FT-891 draws a lot of current, even at low power levels. The difference in current draw between 5 watts and 25 watts is quite small. Maybe I’ll drop to 20 or 25 watts. I apologize to all my dedicated QRP friends; I can’t justify investing vast sums of money to rejoin the legions of low power aficionados but I am with you in spirit.

16 thoughts on “Guest Post: “Why I Quit QRP (and maybe shouldn’t have)””

  1. Good article. I run what I call QRPish. In the field I mostly run between 5-35 watts. That’s a little over 1 dB gain and mainly helps with FT8. My main mode is CW and it is usually fine at the lower end. If I have shore power I bring my QRO radio and turn down the power. The big radios have better filtering and ergonomics. If I’m just going for the day in a park, I will bring one of my QRP radios to maximize the battery. I guess the main point is to go and have fun. Tnx John

  2. Sounds like John is happy with his 100 watts, which is perfectly fine. It’s hardly excessive power and he’s not knocking those that choose to use less. Good on him. There are so many different ways to operate and that’s the great thing about this hobby.

    I do get tired of the “life’s too short…” brigade. I like to respond that it’s like the difference between fly fishing and throwing a grenade in the pond. Both will bag you fish but fly fishing requires patience and a bit more finesse….. I know which I prefer.

  3. QRP is tough, not just for the activators but also the chasers! I only operate SSB and mostly do SOTA activations. I have an 891 and a KX2. If a hike 2 miles or less, I take the 891. Over 2 miles the KX2. On a normal activation, contacts on the 891 are double vs the 10w on the KX2. It comes down to how big of a logbook you want and how much weight you want to carry. There is no perfect solution. Just to have fun!

  4. John, to each his own… I completely understand.

    My thoughts… when operating, offer a relay, or ask if that was a QRP station calling… practice good QRO radio… QRL, and listen, prior to tuning up. My 9v battery humming a 1w signal will thank you!

    You know the challenges we all face. Too often we’ll have some mega station, stomping us into the noise floor. Especially when it come to Dx. Help champion our cause,

    Hunt the weak distant parks… we’d love to get that final QSO to make an activation. Without QRO stations, we’d be scratchin’ pretty hard to make all the QSO’s we need.

    72 John! Hope to hear you on the air! de W7UDT (dit dit)

  5. The neat thing about POTA as a microcosm, that applies just as well to the entirety of amateur radio, is: each operator gets to choose what they will do and how they will do it. There is not a right and wrong. There’s a “right for me… today”, and the beauty is that “right for me… tomorrow” might be totally different. And that’s OK.

    Personally, I have a blast hunting POTA activators, whether I’m running QRP or QRO. And I set myself the challenge of activating mostly CW QRP. Thanks to the exploding number of participants and the improving solar cycle, QRP activation is working consistently. And I occasionally get to be amazed by DX showing just how far 5 watts will get me!

    Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  6. The “fly fishing vs. grenade in the pond” analogy disregards the fact that the fish want to be caught. Many hunters (fish) nowadays have to contend with higher noise levels than they might prefer. With 100 watts, we’re able to overcome 13dB of noise that would render a 5W signal undetectable.

    That said, I do POTA activations at both 100 watts and at QRP levels.

    1. True enough for SOTA or POTA, etc. although I only ever run QRP, both at home and when doing SOTA activations and have only once failed to activate. Well, twice if you include my first ever attempt which was a bit of a shambles.

      It kind of boils down to the style of operation you want to run. If you’re after maximum contacts and extended reach, then of course more power will benefit the cause. That doesn’t really interest me, however. I much prefer to see what can be done with a few watts and a bit of wire in the short time I’m on the hill… fly fishing… ?.

  7. One of the great things about ham radio is that there are options for every taste. My brother loves contests and I really don’t like them. I resonate to POTA activity but may never participate simply because I most highly value getting on the air and making contacts with NO aid from computers. This includes finding my contacts the old fashioned way (turning the dial and looking).

    I love meeting people on the air and ragchews. Additionally, I get the greatest thrill, doing this with the simplest of equipment. Probably my favorite QSO in recent days was made one evening using my NorCal 40A on a dipole (2.5 watts). With that rig I don’t even see my exact frequency, as it has no display. I got on the air and connected with a fellow a few states away. We had a great visit. He was using 100 watts and I was using 2 and a half.

    Sometimes going QRP means I get skunked, especially when my radio time is limited due to other commitments. Still, I consider it worth while.

    When I first became interested in QRP conditions were considered terrible but 40 meters did alright and frankly, I kind of like to see how close of a contact I can make, not necessarily how far away.

  8. I no longer encourage new hams to start in QRP, but encourage them to start with 100 watts and work down when the bands are hot. The only advantage of QRP is that we can utilize smaller and lighter go boxes. Both fulfill the need to communicate. And my stable of radios includes five QRP radios to each QRO rig. They all get used. I am having fun and have been a ham since 1960.

  9. Its strange that another rig is hard to justify but new outfits to replace last years fashion is essential for many XYL’s?
    How extensive is her wardrobe, often to be worn only once or few occasions? 😉

  10. Admittedly, QRP is not for everyone. I started in amateur radio as a novice and could only operate CW. My first rig was a Heathkit HW-8, which I built in a few evenings. Power output was between 1 and 3 Watts, so success was attained by learning and adopting good operating techniques. Patience was a necessary personal attribute,

    I had a good deal of success operating with just a handful of Watts, but I know part of that success was dependent on the excellent state of the bands back in 1978. After 5 months as a novice, I upgraded to a general class license and bought a 100 Watt transceiver and a microphone. The move from 3 Watts CW to 100 on phone was not as significant as one might expect. Forty years later, I still enjoy the thrill of QRP.

    I did learn one of the secrets of effective QRP operation was calling CQ rather than always trying to call a station you copied. You won’t have to compete with QRO operators also calling on frequency, which saves time and battery power. And, if you call CQ, you will only get responses from stations who can actually copy your signal. It helps to keep the frustration level under control.

    To the “life is too short to operate QRP crowd,” they will never understand the joy of “less is more” ethos. QRP is challenging at times and that’s part of the thrill. As with most achievements in life, a goal attained with ease is not as satisfying as one attained through greater effort.

    1. Most people don’t understand that the difference between 5 watts and 100 watts is only a little over 2 S-units. For the math see my blog post-

      1. Scott,

        You are so correct. Your blog post was informative and it’s a shame most operators don’t realize the actual difference between power levels and signal levels. Rather than putting so much emphasis on high power amplifiers, most ops would do much better to focus on the antenna side of their station.

        Thanks for your blog post and running the numbers.


  11. Like so many things in life, it’s a matter of taste. Do you want to walk somewhere or take the car? Cook a meal or dine out? Like a challenge or not like to be frustrated? Don’t bother to argue which is superior. I like the challenge of QRP but will run higher power (up to 100 watts) if the mood suits me. You don’t have to convince me that QRP is fun, challenging and frustrating at times.

  12. I have been a QRPer since 1978 and my only comment is QRP is only as good as your antenna, if you use a mediocre antenna expect mediocre results and if you use a good antenna you can expect good results. My next comment don’t let them know you’re qrp untill after the contact then sometimes you can hear their jaws hitting the table hihi 73 from ki0ad

  13. Traitor! Not really but I had to throw it out there. Great explanation of your decision making process.

    I’ve made very few non-QRP QSO’s in my life. I grew up with a Homebrew/Ten Tec/QRP nut for a father and it stuck to me like a dryer sheet.

    I have one son moving out of the nest and that frees up a small bedroom for a proper shack. Without consulting the “War Department” and after a long deliberation, I decided to buy an IC-7300 for the build out. I teach the radio merit badge and do demos for scouts and others. Having a larger rig and 100 watts will be handy for that purpose.

    I have other QRP radios that will remain in use and sitting beside it and taken along on POTA/SOTA adventures.

    Enjoy the hobby your way

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