AX1, AX2, DS-1, HFJ-350M, MFJ-1899T: Compromised portable antenna strategies vary by location

Many thanks to Terry (N7TB) who sent the following question by email and has kindly agreed to allow me to share it here along with my response on QRPer:

Hi Thomas,

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your POTA videos and all the suggestions you have made that I have adopted. I look forward to every activation you put on video. […]

[…]I have a question for you about using your AX1, and would really like your advice. I marvel at how quickly you can activate a park even with an AX1 antenna on 5 watts. I also have an AX1 antenna, counterpoise and KX2[…].

Anyway, I was out today activating K-0213, Maude Williamson State Park, about 20 minutes from my QTH in West Salem, OR. I operated 12W into a 33ft. EFHW antenna suspended vertically from a 31 ft. Jackite mast. All my activations are CW; I usually activate 20 meters.[…]

I was able to finally work 22 stations in an hour and a half, mostly in CA, UT, MT, and one in AZ. I did get a contact in KY, AZ NM, and MB, but it was a tough go for them to hear me. Most of my activations take me a bit over an hour to get 20 contacts.

As I thought about how much easier it seems that you are able to activate, I started to think about geography and population density differences between the East and West coasts. I used Google Earth and measured almost all points east of the Mississippi from Asheville and most were within 1200 miles. I would guess 2/3 of the US population live in this area. I drew the same range from my QTH and I get about half way into MT, barely into WY, most but not all UT, just touch the NW corner of AZ, and all of CA. In all but CA, I would guess the population total in this vast area is less than Illinois. That is my dilemma. I would love to be able to go out, setup my AX1 with my KX2 on even 10 watts, and make quick activations, but I would be surprised if I would get many contacts because the distances are so vast in the West and population density so low. I will actually try using the AX1 when the WX gets better and I can sit at a picnic table. So far, I have had little success with it, even deployed with the correct counterpoise. Do you have any thoughts on how to be successful with the AX1 from the West coast for POTA, or should I just concentrate on other antennas?

[…]Thanks again, Thomas, for the emails you have sent me with suggestions about equipment, and for all your great videos.

Very 73,



Hi, Terry,

First of all, thank you so much for the kind words. I really appreciate that!

Regarding your message:

Keep in mind that the day you were operating was a very strange day in terms of propagation. There were times when we were having radio blackouts (especially in the western half of the US) and there were times propagation was amazing, yet very unstable. We were hit by so many heavy CMEs this weekend–one seemingly on top of another.

I think you do have a valid point, though, about the geography–one I try to mention when talking about compromised antennas like the AX1.

QSO Map from my latest AX1 activation.

I realize that I enjoy a lot of success with the AX1 because of where I live. I guarantee that the bulk of the US ham radio population is within easy reach of my AX1 antenna, no matter what band.

For you? There are no hams to your west (within easy reach), extremely few to your north (save WA and BC), and the best ham density is to your south in California.

In your shoes, here’s how/when I’d try using the AX1 (keeping in mind I’ve never operated POTA in the western states):

First, I would focus on using 40 meters when the band is healthy and/or for early morning, late afternoon/evening sessions. That should snag contacts across WA, OR, and CA with the AX1. Might be a stretch for southern CA, but I think you could make that work. The only caveat is that flaring has been wiping out daytime 40 meters a lot lately. You might check band conditions in advance.

I would also consider spending time on 17 meters, and possibly 15 meters with your AX1. This might throw your signal across to the midwest, Ohio Valley, and beyond. 17 and 15 meters isn’t typically as productive as 20 meters (at least, for me) but I routinely log west coast stations on 17 meters with the AX1. 15 meters is also getting a lot of attention in the POTA spots!

A wire antenna is almost always a better option than the AX1 if you have the time and space to put it up, but the AX1 is just so darn convenient.


More suggestions?

The reason I asked Terry for permission to post his question and my reply here on the blog is because I suspect there are west-coasters (and those in similar geographic situations) who may be able to share some helpful strategies.

There are so many factors involved beyond what I mentioned in my reply. In fact, I imagine if the goal is to work parts further east, then adjusting the activation schedule for Central and Eastern time zones might also help (for example, not activating during dinner hours when I always see a bit of a lull in hunter activity).

If you have some experience, please feel free to comment!

31 thoughts on “AX1, AX2, DS-1, HFJ-350M, MFJ-1899T: Compromised portable antenna strategies vary by location”

  1. I would add one more suggestion: Put the counterpoise in the direction where you expect largest population of POTA hunters to be. I did some 4NEC2 models of similar antennas, and the direction of the counterpoise adds a little bit of directionality to your antenna. It is not much, but it may just make the difference between a few easy contacts and having to spend an hour of calling CQ without many takers.

    de K5KHK

  2. Terry,

    SW Idahoan hear and I feel your pain. I have an Elecraft KX2 and I can send a CQ for hours on SSB (10W) and never get a reply. I have had a little better luck with CW but only if I use a resonant dipole and best if I “aim it ” at California.


  3. Hi Thomas – I have no relevant experience with AX1 or western operations. But, I was wondering if your experiences from operating as VY2SW in Quebec might have similarities to Terry’s situation (amateur population to the south, etc.).

  4. This is where it is important to know the normal propagation range of the different bands and how the current condictions are affecting that. It also helps to know the propagation pattern of your antenna as well as its takeoff angle. Hearing that a dipole is a good antenna then ignoring the 1/2 wavelength height requirements will change how well you get out and how many contacts you make.

    Using NVIS in the middle of Arizona will get you different results than using the same antenna in the middle of the eastern seaboard.

    I don’t want to get on a bandwagon here but too many hams have studied or memorized their exams and have no practical knowledge or application. It is like comparing book knowledge with practical experience or common sense.

    Read the material from the ARRL and ask questions. No offense to Thomas ( he is one of the good ones) but don’t get your knowledge from YouTubers. Most of them are more influenced than knowledgeable. Even some of the most popular ones.


  5. Did anyone consider a different antenna ? I mean, a decent (say 33ft or so) fiberglass fishing rod could be packed to a manageable size, add a stake or some support to keep it up, then use it to raise a piece of wire from the bottom to the top of the rod and then, using a piece of rope (or arborist line) to lay the remainder and form and inverted L, such an antenna, along with a decent ATU would give you band agility and quite good radiation pattern, so in my opinion, it may be worth a try

  6. CA ham here. In fact, I hunted OM N7TB on the activation he mentions. I have no experience with the AX-1 or similar type of antenna. I typically use a 20M efhw held aloft on a 7 meter telescoping mast or by a tree branch, depending on what’s available.

    I’ve had good success with coast-to-coast contacts with the efhw sloping down toward the east. Both close proximity to water and elevation seem to be multipliers, and given a choice, I would pick elevation.

    I’m interested in a compromise “self-supporting” vertical like the AX-1 for situations where neither tree limb or mast mounting the wire is practical or when don’t want to deal with the extra kit and setup time.


  7. We tend to overlook the “in between” antennas such as Super Antenna or Buddy Pole. I really like the (discontinued) HFp antenna. Antennas in this size range can work a bit better than tiny antennas while being more convenient than hanging a wire in a non-existent tree.

    1. I agree but the only issue is that these are not as convenient to carry.

      I have an 11’ a 24’ and a 31’ telescoping mast. The smallest condenses down to 17” and the longest down to about 45”.

      I also have a 17’ MFJ whip.

      This whole hobby is about compromises and choices.

  8. Also, keep in mind that Thomas is something of an Amateur Radio “celebrity” and working him may just get your QSO in a video! So, I think more casual SOTA/POTA guys might make more of an effort to get into the K4SWL log. Same thing happens in contests, the “famous” guys get more calls from casual operators because they are well known calls. Nothing wrong with this, it’s an earned advantage due to Thomas’ consistent activity and advocacy.

    73, Kevin K3OX

  9. Hi Terry,

    I live in WA just north of Spokane so am in a similar activation footprint as you. What’s funny is most of my activations have been during work travel everywhere from the Midwest, NE, Eastern and Southern states.

    I have noticed a difference in the ease of activations from my WA, OR, ID and MT activations compared to my work travel activations in the much more densely populated areas. I get more of a pileup when traveling east of the Rocky Mountains.

    What I’ve noticed has already been touched on by Thomas and others in the comments. Work the bands that are alive and active based on conditions and time of day for your geography.

    Two weekends ago I took the family on a road trip to Kalispell, MT just to get away (and to allow me to activate the state 😉 It was cold at 10F when I got to the park so kept it a car activation with a 40M EFHW running out the back window up into a tree while I sat in the driver seat. I usually make most of my activation contacts on 40M while traveling east, but out here, I find the higher bands more productive. I only made one contact on 40M that day (he was less than 2 hours from me) after quite a bit of calling. 15M was the band that got it done (outperforming 20M) and I was working stations all across the country into the more populated areas. With the higher bands, I was able to log 34 contacts in just about an hour, all at 5W CW.

    My recommendation would be to have an antenna that doesn’t limit you to one band, or only higher or lower bands, and don’t be afraid to QSY to a different band if the one you’re on isn’t getting much activity. That and being spotted! 😉

    I just picked up the AX2 antenna and like you, am curious to try it out out here in the NW once it warms up a bit. Until then, it’s coming with me on my work travels when I head east of the Rockies.

  10. Hello all,
    I also have suffered with the trial and error of living on the west coast, Arizona, and making the necessary contacts with only SSB. I am an amateur radio novice even though I completed the general qualification and new to this game. I built a DIY DS-1 for my HOA backyard use, easy up and easy down so I can listen for CW, it works ok. I will try multiple lightweight antennas on a summit or in a park. I agree the AX1, AX2, DS-1 antennas are easy up and down yet keep returning to my homemade end fed resonant antenna there is a tree I can throw my line through.

    Even though I am not a “celebrity” YouTuber, when I am working a peak, even in southern Arizona, I have a few contacts I can count on to chase me after I set a SOTA or POTA spot.

    I would give spotting to either site a try and maybe add in Twitter to add a little more advantage to your activations.

  11. “…I can send a CQ for hours on SSB (10W) and never get a reply. ” I’ve been doing QRP for about 40 years and I can certainly understand that! My strategy for QRP and especially QRP with a compromise antenna is to spend most of my time searching for and responding to other stations calling CQ. I find this a LOT more productive than calling CQ. Note that I am in the Midwest, but it’s not uncommon for me to spend an hour doing a POTA activation, getting 15 or 20 contacts, and covering the country from the east coast to the west coast and the intermountain west, and from FL and TX in the south to MI and WI in the north. I typically start out on CW but once I’ve worked everyone that I can hear I’ll switch to SSB, and unless there’s a big pileup I can usually work everyone I can hear on that mode, too. I often stay on 20 meters, but will go up to 17 and 15 meters sometimes. Although I do sometimes us a Spiderbeam mast or a tree and an EFHW wire, I’ve found that the AX1 will usually get me plenty of contacts.
    So, I would have to say that my strategy for success with low power and small antennas is to tune through the band; listen, listen, listen; and answer CQs. And don’t just tune through once — stations come and go and propagation can change quickly. I will tune from 14.00 to 14.74 two or three times, then go up and tune from 14.350 to 14.150 at least a couple of times.

  12. In addition to the great comments above you may want to seek better elevation points, especially using the AX1. The West sure has some nice mountains.

  13. While not exactly a dummy load, the AX1 is certainly no dipole or end fed half-wave. I do a lot of SOTA chasing and some POTA chasing and can very often predict when someone is using the AX1… NVIS is virtually non-existent, signals are often at or below the noise floor (even using a web SDR), and even if band conditions are good getting a QSO can be hit or miss when I would normally expect a contact if they were using a wire antenna. I’m sure that mightier stations can pick up the AX1 out of the noise, but alas I currently use my humble end fed wire at the home QTH for chasing. That being said, I appreciate the rapid deployment capabilities of the AX1 and am looking into the AX1 or DS1 as options for rapid deployment on harsh summits during the extreme winter and summer months. But given my experiences as a chaser, I would only deploy a vertical compromise antenna if circumstances _absolutely_ demanded it.

  14. I just finished building the QRPguys DS-1. Had it on my desk here inside the house. I was able to contact hams in San Jose, and Calgary AB, on 20m. The RBN also showed that I was into SoCal. on both 20 and 40m. So it does get out.
    I did notice that the final build was resonant on the Higher side of 20m, and just below the band on 40m. I used a BLT (Hendricks Kit). It was able to tune it with not much trouble at all. I can’t wait to get it outside and try it for real.
    The real advantage to this antenna is the quick deployment. I don’t expect to get any real DX with it. But it might surprise me.
    I agree with Thomas, If you have the space, time and supports for an EFHW, I would use that instead. But for a quick lunch time QSO, or a Quick POTA/SOTA, it does work.
    I’m also here in Oregon. I live in a very populated area, and I’m 350 yards from high tension power lines. If I get below an S5 with noise, I’m happy. I use a flat top Doublet here at home. I’ve found that it really helps with the QRN.
    Good Luck on your journey, I will look for you on the Bands.

  15. Excellent comments in here!

    Regarding my success with the AX1 because I’m “popular” I’m not completely convinced of this, flattering though it is. 🙂 It’s true that a lot of folks have me in their Ham Alerts, etc. and I’m sure many like hearing their signal in my videos, but I don’t think that explains the AX1 success.

    When I went to Canada last summer, I passed my Canadian license exam and was assigned the callsign VY2SW. Only a very small handful of POTA hunters put this new call in their Ham Alert systems. I used the AX1 on two or three occasions in/around Quebec City and it worked amazingly well. In fact, it worked as effectively as it did back in North Carolina even though–geographically-speaking–Québec isn’t as well positioned for maximum access to hunter populations.

    That said, I do think success with portable antennas like the AX1 has more to do with your location and the amount of ham radio ops within your propagation footprint (hence, the reason for this post). I can see where those living on the west coast of the US might have much more of a challenge. I often forget just how vast a distance it is across the US.

    As I mention in the post, I think if you really need to make your signal available to the widest group of people, go with a proper wire antenna (an EFHW or dipole, for example).

    The reason I choose an AX1 over a wide aperture wire antennas during some activations has everything to do with speed of deployment, portability and convenience.

    Plus, it just works.

    A compromised antenna probably shouldn’t be the *only* antenna a field operator uses, but golly it’s fun to use when the need arises. Plus, it’s so darn portable! 🙂


    1. I’m sure the name recognition plays some role but it is hard to quantify it.

      Name recognition doesn’t do you any good if the antenna doesn’t radiate well enough for us to work you.

      Since I don’t do CW I rarely get an opportunity to work you regardless of the antenna you are using.

      In the field radio game it is all about having antenna options.


      1. I am trying to implement more SSB in my activations. Truth is, I have to remember to bring a radio with SSB mode (many of mine are CW only) and I have to start the activation with SSB. These days, CW is so active, I’ll stay busy on one band working CW contacts and run out of time to switch bands/modes.

        One problem we’ll have is that we’re so close together, it’ll be a challenge (though not impossible) to work each other on HF during the day. I’m planning to activate Bearwallow Mountain in the next couple of weeks. I’ll try to remember to bring my HT and we can work each other VHF simplex!

        1. Let me know when you come this way and maybe I can meet you up there. I have never been there before so it would be nice to see our repeater. But it all depends on how Chris is feeling that day.

          FYI: this was in a club email I received this morning. Not sure if it affects your activation plans or not-

          A couple of folks will be going up to Bearwallow Mountain this Sunday, March 12th to straighten out some antennas which were damaged in recent storms. Contact Danny [NA4X]…

          [email protected]

          1. I did see this in the club newsletter. Sadly, I have other obligations today which also prevented my attending the CLT hamfest!
            It’s a great site. Doesn’t hurt to have an AWD or 4WD vehicle if you wish to drive to the summit. Sometimes the road gets a bit rough. It’s actually an easy hike to the summit if you take the road. Gentle incline. I usually take the path with is also nicely maintained.


  16. I would like to add that in terms of ease of setup and teardown, the Chelegance MC-750 antenna is a wonder. I can have it deployed in under 3 minutes, and packed away in the same time. A few weekends ago I worked Spain and the Azores using 6W SSB and got 5×7 reports. Granted, it is a bit larger than the AX-1/AX-2, but the case is only about 18″ long and it doesn’t weigh much at all. I blame Thomas for my spending the $250 after he posted his review, but it has been the best $250 I’ve spent in this hobby. This antenna just ROCKS. Sorry if this was a bit off topic — we’re talking portable antennas so I took a bit of license. 72, WD4EWZ.

  17. I too truly enjoy your blog and all the stories of POTA activations and the equipment you use! I check your page almost daily. I also share some of Terry’s sentiments. When I read your accounts of a “quick POTA activation” since you have 30 extra minutes in your schedule, it’s like a fairy tale. For me in East Texas, it’s kind of like watching House Hunters with Cory and Meg, newly-wed 20-somethings fretting over a studio near public transportation and an amazing backyard because it’s just slightly over their $1.2 mil budget. hihi! There only three POTA locations within an hour drive of my QTH, none are free. 🙁 It’s a major commitment to head out to anyone of them. But that’s why I enjoy your stuff! I live vicariously through your adventures and the amazing array of rigs and antennas. Keep it up!

  18. Great discussion on the AX1….I got mine with my KX2 a couple of years ago at Christmas…The first deployment of my ‘shack in a a box’ KX2 style was the wooden bench in my back yard …HI HI…I worked a station in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with 10 watts on 20 meters…Nice introduction for the AX1 / KX2 combo…I got a 56 signal report as I recall…Not bad for a distance of almost 1,000 miles with this ‘compromised’ antenna!

    Did a back yard FD the following June and got good results then as well, although I can’t remember how far I was able to reach…

    BTW, I completely agree with the gentleman’s assessment of the Chelegance MC-750…I am waiting for the California WX to dry out a bit before I give it a serious try…Another atmospheric river is here this week..HI HI..

  19. “As I thought about how much easier it seems that you are able to activate, I started to think about geography and population density differences between the East and West coasts.”

    Nay, nay, nay. Your callsign is not K 4 S W L … *that’s* the problem! 😀

  20. Hello all, I really appreciate all the posts in response to my original email to Tom.

    I have found the best results this very wet winter has been with my soirt 33 ft. EFHW when it is pouring outside and I use my Jackite pole attached to my Expeditions receiver for towing or my 66 ft. EFHW that gives me 40, 20, 15, and 10.

    I have also had good results with a vertical with 8 radials. All my activations have been from my Expedition this year. We have only had 5 sunny days since Jan 1 and 10-15 degree below normal temps.

    When the WX returns to normal, I look forward to outdoor activations.

    Thanks again for all the suggestions.

    Terry, N7TB

  21. Boy this is a timely post Terry! I’m also in Oregon (live in Portland) and am currently vacationing in Newport,and just did a couple of POTA activations yesterday at some of the parks south of Newport. I’m somewhat new POTA specifically but have done a lot of SOTA activations over the past few years. I’m a huge fan of the AX1 and 2 and have had pretty good results considering that it’s a compromise antenna. Yesterday w used my KX2 and the AX1 on 20, using an antenna mount I learned about from the blog here. It’s a simple car window BNC mount. I attached the AX1 and tossed a couple of 13’ counterpoises over the hood and roof of the car. Quick tune to 1:1 and I worked about 30 contacts on 20 CW between the two parks (South Beach and Yaquina lighthouse park) in short order. This was between 3 and 5 PM local time. Best DX was 559 from NC. I usually set up outside but because of the usual spring‘liquid sunshine’ in OR I stayed in the car. When I’m outside I use a 6’ tripod and mount the AX1 with 3 13’ radials sloping at about 45 degrees. I’ve had surprisingly good results on 20 and 15 and decent on 40 ((with the extra coil). Of course propagation and spotting really helps but I can set the whole system up in about 5 minutes. A wire will always be better but sometimes local situations and low profile make the AX1 and 2 a very usable option. I was running 5W. Since you’re in Salem perhaps we can figure out a time to meet up and maybe do a joint activation so you can see what I’m doing-especially as (we hope!) the weather improves. I might be on again this afternoon depending on the schedule. Feel free to contact me anytime at N7CQR or text at 503-701-3871.
    Dan Presley PARC (Portland amateur Radio Club).

    1. Hello Dan,

      Thanks for the great report on the AX1! I will have to try it from South Beach, State Park. We own a condo just across the fence south of the park in Southshore. I can easily activate South Beach. I will email you directly.

      Thanks for the comments.


      Terry, N7TB

  22. I received my AX2 on Wednesday. It’s pretty chilly this week, but I’ve been out for a brief pedestrian mobile stroll around the yard with it most every day since. Typically within a few minutes I’ve made a phone contact, usually by just tuning around and finding a POTA station. On Sunday I worked a few VAQP stations.
    Only issue so far is that the nut on the BNC connector (inside the coil housing) was loose. I tightened it as best I could, but each time it quickly worked loose. Sunday evening I put some Loctite on it and after today’s walk it seemed to be holding.

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