Brian puts a new antenna to the test during Winter Field Day!

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:

A shelter for Winter Field Day operations in a field

Field Report:  Winter Field Day with a New Antenna

Winter Field Day (WFD) 2022 found me operating indoors, despite my best intentions to get out in the field.  I was recovering from a bad cold, and did not want to risk having complications arise from sitting out in the cold and damp.  So for WFD 2023, outdoor time with my radio was a must.  I wanted to operate a 1-Oscar station, and to do that I had to set up more than 500 feet from my home QTH.  So a site next to the pond in our back field, about 800 feet from the house, became my WFD shack.

I started planning and collecting kit for the operation in mid-January, with the long term forecast hinting at near-freezing temperatures with the potential for rain or snow.  Let me introduce you to my WFD station.


A shelter was needed to keep out rain and snow, and to provide a barrier against the winds whipping across the adjacent field.  A few poles lashed together, and steadied by stakes, provided the frame to support the shelter.  With a poly tarp secured to this frame, the resulting a-frame shelter, while not completely enclosed, did provide effective weather protection for both operator and equipment.  There was about 3 inches of snow on the ground when I set up the shelter, and I was able to pile some of it along the bottom edge of the tarp to keep the wind from getting under it.

A-frame shelter constructed of a poly tarp stretched over a frame of poles


I know that when setting up a station, the antenna is not generally the first thought, but I had recently finished building a homebrew 9:1 random wire antenna with a 144 ft radiating wire, and I wanted to test it out.  There are better ways to put a new antenna on the air, but the opportunity was a good one.  Besides, I had backup antennas that could be quickly substituted if the need arose.  In the event, things worked well, and the antenna proved agile and capable on all activated bands.  I particularly wanted to see if it would tune on the 160m band.  More on that later.

The feedpoint of the 9:1 random wire antenna is built into a wire winder to support transport, deployment, and recovery for field use.  The RF functional components include a female BNC connector, a 9:1 unun, and miniature banana jacks for connecting the radiator and counterpoise wires.  There is no wire on the winder, because a corner was broken off during WFD deployment, and a mechanical repair is needed. (Click to enlarge)
The 9:1 unun is mounted near the BNC connector, and is electrically connected to a one miniature banana jack for the radiator and another for the counterpoise.  The unun and wiring are covered with hot melt glue to provide mechanical integrity and protection from the weather.


The goal of trying the antenna on 160m left me with only one choice for a radio.  I would use the Lab599 TX-500 Discovery, because it is the only transceiver among my field rigs that is capable of operating on the 160m band.  Since a tuner is required, I paired it with an LDG Z-11Pro II, a wide-range autotuner.  I also included a Monitor Sensors Power and SWR Meter in the feed line to help assure that I was legitimately running less than 5 watts to qualify for the QRP power multiplier.

The Lab599 TX-500 Discovery transceiver, which supports all amateur bands from 160m to 6m.
The LDG Z-11ProII wide-range autotuner (right) and the Power and SWR Meter manufactured by Monitor Sensors (left) set up for WFD operation.


Expecting it to be more than sufficient, I planned to power the radio, tuner, and power meter with a 12 amp-hour LiFePO4 battery.  I brought along a 6 amp-hour LiFePO4 battery as a spare, just in case.  I also wanted to protect against battery failure due to cold operating temparatures, so I placed them in a small cooler and dropped in a couple of hand warmer packs for good measure.  The battery system met the requirements for the Alternative Power bonus, and was completely independent of commercial power for the duration of the operation.

Two Bioenno 12V LiFePO4 batteries (the 12 Ah proved sufficient for WFD operations, but the 6 Ah was brought along as a spare) were contained in a small cooler, along with some air-activated hand warmers to prevent degradation due to cold temperatures.  Also in the view is a 4-way PowerPole power distribution block that enabled one battery to power the transceiver, the antenna tuner, and the power meter.

Shack Equipment

To complete my shack away from home, I brought a few other pieces of equipment for operation, and for creature comforts.  I sat in a folding chair to stay off the ground.  A piece of scrap plywood provided a luxurious operating desk.  A 5-gallon bucket that I had used to transport materials and equipment to the field location did extra duty as a table to support the Z-11Pro II and the Power and SWR Meter.  While I normally do field logging strictly on paper, I decided to try electronic logging this time with HAMRS software running on a Samsung tablet.  I did have paper and pencil close at hand as a backup, if needed.  Completing the station were a BaMaTech TP-III CW paddle, and a set of generic earbuds.  To continue operation after sunset, I had a battery operated head lamp provided illumination in the shack and on the walk back to the house.  Final creature comforts included an old moving blanket for extra insulation, and a thermos full of hot tea for operator revival, both of which proved quite beneficial.

The operating station inside the shelter included a folding chair, a scrap plywood work surface, and a 5 gallon bucket used as a table.
The work station is ready for operation, with the plywood resting on my lap.  Transceiver, logging equipment, and CW key are at the ready.
A closeup picture of the excellent BaMaTech TP-III CW paddles.

Equipment List

  • Transceiver:  Lab599 TX-500 Discovery
  • Antenna:  Homebrew 9:1 unun with 144 ft (43.9m) radiator and three 17 ft (5.2m) counterpoise wires
  • Tuner:  LDG Z-11Pro II
  • Power Meter:  Monitor Sensors Power and SWR Meter
  • Feedline and Jumpers:  RG316 coax with male BNC end connectors
  • Key:  BaMaTech TP-III
  • Earphones:  generic ear buds with 3.5mm mono male to 3.5mm stereo female adapter
  • Power:  Bioenno 12V LiFePO4 batteries (one each 12 Ah and 6 Ah)
  • Battery Protection:  Igloo Little Playmate cooler and HotHands air activated warmers
  • Arborist Throw Line:  8.8 ounce Petzel throw bag with Marlow Excel 2mm line
  • Shelter:  15 ft x 19 ft poly tarp stretched over a lashed frame of poles
  • Cordage:  3/16 (5mm) inch polypropylene rope and 550 cord
  • Working surface:  18 in (45 cm) x 36 in (90 cm) scrap of 5/32 in (4mm) plywood
  • Logging:  HAMRS on a Samsung tablet, backed up by a Rite in the Rain No 946 tablet and a Pentel Twist-Erase 0.9 pencil
  • Lighting:  Battery operated head lamp
  • Other:  Full size folding camp chair, a 5 gallon plastic bucket, and a plastic utility sled

WFD Operation

I focused my operation on CW mode at QRP power levels.  Knowing that my schedule only permitted me to operate on Saturday afternoon and evening, I decided to start on 10m, then to work my way down the bands as time marched toward sunset.  I wanted at least one contact on each band, but planned to move successively to lower bands as contacts became difficult to find.  I had the option to move to SSB to improve my multiplier, but honestly had so much fun with CW that I stayed with that mode throughout.  Most of my contacts came from search and pounce operation, but I did spend some time running a frequency when band conditions left space for success at QRP power levels.  One final goal for the day was to make a contact on 160m to prove that capability with the new antenna.  More on that later.

A perfect view from the shack during WFD operation.

WFD Results

Altogether I was able to log 44 WFD contacts on 5 bands in 4-1/2 hours of operating time.  Table 1 shows contacts by band, and Figure 12 provides the associated contact map.

Band Number of QSOs
10m 2
15m 10
20m 14
40m 14
80m 5

Table 1:  A summary of QSOs by Band from Winter Field Day operations.

Map of WFD QSOs.

A Contact on 160m

As sunset came and went, I knew that the time was right to try the 160m band.  I found what I hoped was an an open frequency on the band, engaged the Tone function on the TX-500, and punched the tune button on the antenna tuner.  The Z-11Pro II clicked and whirred with its SWR status LEDs reflecting progress, then it ultimately settled on a match yielding 1.4:1 SWR.  Awesome!  Then came the problem.

The 160m band was packed wall-to-wall with CW signals, and none that I could find were calling CQ WFD.  The CQ 160m CW contest was going full swing, and if there was a WFD station operating, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.  So, with temperatures falling, and hot tea failing to keep the chill off, I settled for the next best thing.  I found a strong station calling CQ Test for the 160m contest and sent my call.  The VE3 operator came back with “599 ON”, I sent back “TU 599 PA”, and called it good.

My antenna design worked.  I was happy with the results of my afternoon and evening on the air.  So I packed up my station and headed back toward central heating.

An Unexpected Bonus

I do have to confess that I lost focus on WFD for about 10 minutes in the middle of the afternoon.  While tuning across the 20m band, I heard a VK station calling CQ.  Knowing that there had to be magnificent propagation, but not really expecting to be heard,  I sent back my callsign…  I got an immediate response containing part of my callsign.  It took a dozen or more repeats before my full call came back to me (it turns out that the single QRP dit signifying the Echo portion of my callsign can easily be lost in the noise, but we managed to work through it).  I received a 449 signal report and sent back 559.  With thanks and 73 from both ends, I had a completed QSO in my log, though not for WFD.  Oh, and while transmitting during the exchange, I happened to glance at the Monitor Sensors Power and SWR Meter.  It read 3.67 watts!

After returning to the house, I sent a quick e-mail to VK2GR thanking him for the QSO and expressing my gratitude for his patience.  I also gave him details for my station, including the  power level.  The next morning I received Allan’s very gracious reply.  He was running 400 watts to a 4-element Yagi (he definitely was doing the heavy lifting for the QSO).  But there was more.  He had his antenna directed long-path.  With propagation via long-path, 3.67 watts carried my signal more than 15,000 miles.  Incredible!

Final Analysis

I had a few lessons worth sharing from my Winter Field Day experience.  The tarp shelter was probably my greatest vulnerability.  It worked, but higher winds could have caused real problems.  There were some concerning wind gusts while I was erecting the shelter, but the winds calmed before WFD started, and the shelter survived.  The snow I piled on the ends of the tarp did work to keep the wind from getting under it, which likely kept it from being blown over before WFD even started.

Speaking of snow, having a few inches of it on the ground was a real help.  I ran a heavier than normal station (I like to keep my gear in a small pack for POTA activations) including extra gear for antenna tuning and station monitoring, as well as the shelter and furniture.  As I was assembling gear for the effort, I found a sled that proved perfect for transporting needed materials across the ½ mile of broken, snowy ground between house and station.  Three trips out and two trips back proved sufficient for moving all of the equipment and supplies.

This sled provided an excellent method for transporting supplies and equipment to the WFD site.  Here it is loaded with tools and equipment that helped in constructing the shelter.

I tried my hand at direct logging to HAMRS on my tablet.  I have been reluctant to take this step.  My real fear was that error correction during a QSO would be difficult.  It was.  While I touch-type competently, I make more mistakes and take longer to correct them when using a touch screen.  Don’t get me wrong, it worked, and my log is complete, but I’m not ready to give up my pencil and paper for field logging.  Just call me a dinosaur.

Finally, I have a winner with the new antenna.  I am really pleased that it tuned well on all bands, including 160m.  I am blown away to have completed a contact with Allan in Australia.  I do need to make structural repair to the feed-point end, but the mechanical damage that occurred had no impact on operation, and the fix should simple.  I hope to provide details of the antenna:  objectives, design, construction, and testing in a future QRPer Field Report.  As a final note, I have officially christened the antenna:  I give you the VK160.

A look back at Winter Field Day, or at least a look back at the shelter from the top of the dam.

Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

10 thoughts on “Brian puts a new antenna to the test during Winter Field Day!”

  1. You are a better ham than I. I am a “lightweight” in that if I am not near 100%, I don’t play radio. Congrats on your successful operation and I hope you are feeling better!

  2. Great report Brian! Getting that VK station 15k away, Wow!

    I also liked how you kept the batteries comfortable & warm. Sitting under a tarp, on a cold winter’s day merits some contest points as well! My field adventures will wait til Spring.

    Curious about your take on the TP-III… I own one like yours. I find it ‘mini precision’, but my speed still only hovers around 15 wpm or less. I think someone faster might appreciate it more.

    72 de W7UDT (dit dit)

    1. Thanks Rand. The TP-III is a favorite among my portable paddles. Normal sending speed for me runs from 18 to 25 wpm (I’m definitely limited by my copy speed, hi hi). I think the TP-III will serve you well at any speed, and I am certainly not able to test its upper limits,

      73 de Brian – K3ES

  3. Well done Brian! A great report. Lots of great info in there from which others can learn. I used an ice hut for my WFD which may be an option to consider for future WFD activations especially if it’s colder and windier. With addition of a portable heater it would be a good option. The VK contact has to be a thrilling one, especially when you discovered it was long path. I have had VK stations show up in FT8 and always take a shot at getting a QSO. No success so far with my QRP radio. For NE North America, most VK stations are as far away as is possible on the surface of the earth, the earth being about 40,000 km circumference and many places in Oz almost 20,000 km away. Fantastic contact and as they say in Oz, “good on ya!”

  4. Congrats Brian on a successful WFD looks just like my old farm in NW IL in which I used to do winter deer hunting until my blood got thin as a snowbird full-time RVer! I made one 160M QSO as a teenager at a friends farmhouse that put up a full-size 160 M dipole on his Drake TR-7, LOL. I did lots of 10 M mobile in 1980 with my Kenwood TS-520 running around 20 watts plugged into the lighter of my 1973 AMC Gremlin with a 1/4~ converted Radio Shack mag mount while talking to Russia on SSB on the way to community college every morning. Those were the days and you will remember WFD 2023 for a long time as well! Cheers & 72, Davey – KU9L

  5. Nice work and good for you for sitting out in the cold! Been looking around a little for a portable ice house to set up in when its below zero here.

    I love my TPIII as well.

    72, NJ0Q

    1. OMG, what a great idea. Yeah, I spent a lot of very cold ice-fishing days of my youth to appreciate what you are talking about. As a full-time RVer, I have mobile luxury compared to those frigid days of yesteryear ice fishing or January deer hunting. I do not consider my truck a good HF mobile station as it gets too complicated with pulling the RV around. If RVers can bring inflatable kyaks with them, then why cannot I bring a portable Bivy structure with a wheeled-portable-trailer as I normally have to get away from the RV campgrounds even at state parks to be away from the PWM/MPPT converter chargers and LED lights that sign a lot of RF trash locally. Hmmm, food for thought. Thanks, Davey – KU9L

  6. Brian, here are a couple ideas for you

    First of all, a padded pouch 🙂 no, I’m not kidding, place an elastic band at the opening and practice a small hole at the bottom, slip the CW paddle wire through the hole so that the paddle will sit inside the pouch, now just insert your hand inside the pouch and you’ll be able to use the paddle w/o freezing your hand (optionally you may place a hand warmer inside the pouch)

    You may say “but then, how do I write contacts on the logbook ?” well, the answer is simple, you don’t 😀 a second accessory will help you, it’s a voice activated recorder, just switch it on and when making a contact, just say the callsign the report and whatever detail, then, later on (possibly in a warm place) you’ll just need to listen to the recording and write the contacts on paper (or at your computer keyboard)


  7. Fantastic! Congrats on a superb operation and a great write-up. Your VK contact is one for the record books and should put you in the QRP hall of fame! 140 feet seems to be a good size for a “compact” 160 meter antenna. That’s what I used last winter, partially supported by a 40 foot mast, fed through a tuner.

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