Field Kit Gallery: NL5E’s Lightweight KX2 SOTA/POTA Alaska Backpacking Radio Kit

Many thanks to Eric (NL5E) who shares the following article about his portable field radio kit which will be featured on our Field Kit Gallery page. If you would like to share your field kit with the QRPer community, read this post. Check out Eric’s field kit:

NL5E SOTA/POTA Backpacking Kit


Hello! NL5E here.

I’m one of the rare SOTA activators in Alaska (I also use this same kit for POTA). Anyone that has looked at a map of this state will know that we have some interesting difficult topography. Many of our summit hikes start out near sea level, but are 3000-6000 vertical feet of climbing to get to the summit. So I built my kit with compactness, versatility, and weight in mind. Everything weighs approximately 2lbs (not including the battery, I don’t always take it).

My primary operating modes are CW, FT8, and SSB.

To facilitate those modes I tried to keep everything as small as possible while still being usable. For example, I debated using N6ARA’s tiny paddle, but I found I made too many sending errors. The N0SA paddle is a perfect medium between portability and sending ability. For FT8 the FT8CN app has been a good alternative to carrying a Raspberry Pi or small laptop and the well loved Digirig is probably the best audio/cat interface on the market today. I don’t do a lot of SSB (especially at QRP levels), but the K6ARK mini microphone is a wonderful improvement over Elecraft’s comically massive microphone for the KX2. I added headphones so I don’t disturb anyone on popular summits and so I can hear CW a bit better.

My antennas of choice tend to be random wires and End Fed Halfwaves.

With the KX2 I chose to use K6ARK’s 20w antenna kits and built both a 9:1 and 49:1 version. I usually carry the 9:1 just to have the band flexibility as it will work from 40m-10m. If the ground is wet enough I’ve had it tune up to 80m.

For the 49:1 I chose 20m because bands lower than that have mediocre performance from the latitude. Because of how short both these antennas are, they pair very well with the SOTAbeams Carbon 6 mast. From a summit a 19’ mast is usually tall enough to work most of the US and lots of Asia from here. The only modification I made is gluing the top 2 sections together for durability. To attach the antenna wire I use a small Niteize carabiner and a prussik loop.

I also wanted to ensure that I could power many different devices while out hiking. I settled on an Anker battery because it is easy to power phones and the radio without having to bring a bunch of different adapters like I would with a dedicated 12V battery.

I know someone will mention protection and the bag I chose. Yep, a silnylon stuff sack offers zero protection from bumps and impacts. I firmly believe that hams “over baby” their equipment and think that their radios will hilariously explode if sneezed on wrong. I settled on the Gems Products cover and rails as a good solution to keep the radio from getting destroyed in a backpack. So far so good. I added the dry bag to my list for rainy days.

I didn’t include one in the images, but I also usually have an HT with me, but most summits don’t have good line of sight to our population centers. I usually run a Yaesu VX-6R with Diamond RH77CA or MFJ Longranger. I will usually run 2m FM when I am close to Anchorage or Palmer. I also didn’t include my logging solution, but that is usually HAMRS on my iPhone or a Rite in the Rain book and pencil. I find CW is easier to log on paper for some reason.

Thanks for looking and perhaps I’ll hear some of you on the air.

Component List

Radio: Elecraft KX2 with Side KX Heatsink and Cover

Antenna: K6ARK Random Wire with 29’ of polystealth wire and antenna winder

Note: I also run a 49:1 EFHW cut for 20m (not pictured, looks the same).

Dog: Luna. Standard issue Alaska Husky. Smol in size. Adds 5 dB gain to all antennas. Adds 45 lbs, but is self transporting.

Support: SOTAbeams Carbon 6

CW Paddles: CW Morse N0SA SP4 Paddle

Microphone: K6ARK mini microphone with printed case. Built from Digikey Parts.

Headphones: Sony Earbuds – could be any old ear buds. These work fine.

Digirig Mobile with Cables: Lets face it. Sometimes FT8 is all that works. I’m in Alaska.

Android Phone: Galaxy S10. Dealers choice for a phone. It exists only to run FT8CN instead of carrying a laptop for FT8.


JacobsParts 15V 5A USB C PD cable 5.5×2.5mm DC (Ferrite Added)

Note: Outputs approx. 14.5V when measured using my multimeter. Radio shows the same/

Anker 747 25600mAh battery

Miscellaneous Items:

5.5×2.5mm to 4.0×1.7mm DC Adapter: Allows charging of various HT radios using the Anker battery with JacobsParts USB C cable

-Shower Cap: The all important rain cover for the KX2. Just in case. Just make sure it is transparent.

Storage: Sea to Summit 3L UltraSil Stuff Sack or Sea to Summit 3L Dry Bag

9 thoughts on “Field Kit Gallery: NL5E’s Lightweight KX2 SOTA/POTA Alaska Backpacking Radio Kit”

  1. Very nice write up. Thanks for all the links to what you use. I have only done one SOTA summit, due to my location, but look forward to doing more in the future.

  2. Eric,

    Thanks for the report! Your field kit is amazing. I especially like that you’re using FT8CN and an android phone for your digital comms. I’ve found it a very stable and reliable program. I have a DigiRig for my KX2, but have yet to use it.

    Adam (K6ARK) has some great kits. His End-Fed kits make for a tiny & lite alternative. The K6ARK mic may be my next iteration to my KX2.

    I still like the padded case it came with. I have everything crammed in it…

    Thanks again Erik, I hope to see you down the log!

    72 de W7UDT (dit dit)

    1. Thanks for looking!

      If you’re ambitious you can buy the components and built his antennas. You just won’t get the fancy circuit board. My first 2 antennas of his design were built that way and worked super well (albeit very ugly). Additionally he has the 3d printed stuff freely available online. All that purple 3D printed stuff I had printed.

  3. I like the SOTAbeams Carbon 6 and ordered one with the stake. I now use a 20 ft portable flag pole, but it comes down to around 4 ft. The SOTAbeams Carbon 6 is much shorter clasped and easier to transport.

    Your SOTA is unusual, all that way and the environment, not the typical Sunday event, hi.

    73, ron, n9ee

  4. I certainly don’t have any independent confirmation, of course, but I know that Wayne at Elecraft once said that the military special ops folks were throwing KX2s into their rucksacks on deployment for a spare HF rig if needed. Sounds like they didn’t baby them very much jumping out of airplanes and such.!

    Great write-up.

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