Many thanks to Tom (VA2NW) 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.
VA2NW’s Icom IC-705 Field Kit
by Tom (VA2NW)
I got my start in field radio with Summits on the Air (SOTA) a little over 12 years ago. With SOTA, size and weight are the main considerations when building out a field kit; you have to haul everything up a mountain after all.
These days, my focus has shifted to Parks on the Air (POTA). With POTA, activations I don’t need to include any hiking at all. With that in mind, I decided to build a field kit that focused on high quality gear to maximize performance and enjoyment while minimizing my impact on nature (i.e. no wires in trees, no spikes in the ground, etc).
The ideal use case for this kit is a rural POTA park or a low difficulty SOTA summit that involves zero to twenty minutes of hiking or walking for a medium length activation of one to three hours with a maximum setup and teardown time of ten minutes. This article showcases the various items in the field kit and provides some context on the decisions that were made about what I’ve included.
After buying and trying many QRP radios, I decided that I wanted an all band all mode QRP radio with a waterfall display, SWR sweep, tuning knob (Sorry KD1JV), CW filters, optional battery pack which can be removed or replaced easily in the field, full 5W output, reasonable power consumption, plenty of options for accessories, a large community, well written manuals, availability for purchase without a long backorder, and easy configuration with touch screen and/or intuitive menus.
The Icom IC-705 fit the bill.
Several of the Xiegu brand radios come close to meeting these requirements and are much more budget-friendly. However, I have encountered some issues with my Xiegu X6100 becoming too hot to touch in the first half hour of a normal CW activation, and that was concerning enough to me to take it out of contention for being my main portable transceiver.
For the key, I chose the CW Morse double lever paddles with steel base. The base does add weight to the kit, but this key fits my operating style perfectly. I key with my left hand and write with my right hand, so having a solid base that keeps the key from moving when in use helps me avoid having to hold the key with my non-keying hand. The paddles are good quality and won’t break the bank. I really like the feel of the hard stop when the paddles hit the contacts.
The paddles are easy to use with or without gloves which is a huge plus where I operate in Canada.
Antenna and feedline
Throughout the years, I’ve experimented with many different types of antennas from simple wire antennas to magnetic loops to yagis to verticals and more. I’ve gone on many group outings and have gotten to see a lot of options. I live in Canada, and I wanted something I can use all year round. As I realized in the field last November with my JPC-12 ground spike vertical, you can’t drive a ground spike into the ground when the ground is frozen. I’m a big fan of wire antennas; however, I’ve never found a support system that I liked. Tree branches can break easily, especially in the winter, damaging the trees. Additionally, not all locations have suitable trees.
Telescoping poles are an alternative but need some sort of support, usually with something in the ground. Magnetic loops don’t require anything in trees or in the ground, but dealing with the narrow bandwidth and constant re-tuning makes searching and pouncing quite a chore. An antenna that can cover the most activte POTA bands, 20m and 40m, is also important to me. My last requirement for an antenna is one that doesn’t require an external tuner; manual tuners require some fiddling and auto-tuners generally require some sort of power supply and coax jumper. In both cases, external tuners generally have some amount of insertion loss.
Those requirements led me to focus in on a tripod mounted vertical antenna. There are several options in this space including the SuperAntenna, Slidewinder, Wolf River Coils, JPC-12 with tripod, REZ Ranger 80, and others. I ultimately picked the REZ Ranger 80. The key features that led me to choosing the REZ Ranger 80 were the quality, the bands supported, the online reviews, and the availability to ship to Canada without backorder nor complicated ordering process. It’s built like a tank, can go all the way down to 80m, has glowing online reviews, was in-stock, and I could take care of the customs and import fees at time of purchase with DX Engineering.
I’ve experimented with different types of coax. For one activation, I even hauled out a 50 foot run of RG-213. At this point, I’ve settled on a 25 foot run of RG-8X. It seems like the best balance between weight, cost, and loss at HF frequencies. Since the antenna has UHF connectors and the radio has BNC connectors and most coax you can buy commercially has the same connector on each end, I had to buy a coax cable and an adapter. I chose a coax cable with BNC connectors and a BNC to UHF adaptor at the antenna feedpoint.
Safety is very important to me when it comes to batteries and electricity. I wanted something foolproof that wouldn’t allow me to easily create a short or mix up the polarities like the Bioenno batteries with two exposed terminals. Instead, I wanted something with a proper socket.
I went with the GoLabs i200 Portable Power Station. It’s got enough juice to last days at QRP power levels with a capacity of 256 Wh. It’s got 9 different outputs and can handle 10A at 12V which is more than enough for me. The USB ports can re-charge my cellphone and antenna analyzer. Additionally, it has a built-in flashlight which came in handy during my first POTA activation which ran a bit past sundown. It’s built to last 10 years or 2000 cycles. I use a 4.9 foot DC 5.5mm x 2.5mm to Car Cigarette Lighter cable to connect the battery to the radio. I chose this cable because it will also allow me to plug my radio into my vehicle if I decide to operate from my van.
I’ve gone through many pairs of headphones in my life. The over the ear headphones don’t last long in a backpack; the headband inevitably breaks. Earbuds are often cheaply made and don’t last long. I prefer not to use an external speaker as it just draws more attention to me, can create an annoyance for people nearby, and generally requires a power source or battery.
The only headphones I’ve found that last are Apple EarPods, the classic wired earbuds from Apple. The one drawback to Apple EarPods is that they have a built-in microphone and the 3.5mm jack has four poles (tip, ring, ring, sleeve). Most radios expect three poles (tip, ring, sleeve). With several of my QRP transceivers, I only get audio in one ear using Apple EarPods. To overcome this, I use an adaptor which accepts a four pole male input and splits it into two 3 pole outputs, one for speaker and one for microphone. When operating, I generally only use one earbud so that I can maintain some situational awareness and hear my surroundings.
Logging and Timekeeping
I prefer to log contacts on paper while I’m in the field. I’ve tried small note pads and found that they require a lot of page turning and are cumbersome to handle. US Letter sized paper logs take up too much valuable real estate.
A good middle ground I’ve found is a 9″ by 6″ Steno Pad. It’s wide enough to handle standard POTA contact logs (Call, RST Sent/Recv, QTH, and Time). There is no predefined format as it’s just lined paper, so I usually put the details of the activation at the top and note the frequency changes in between contacts. I bring several pens with me. I’ve found that the BIC Round Stic is the perfect balance between price and quality. In winter, I carry number two pencils as sometimes pens stop working in cold temperatures.
Keeping track of the time when paper logging has always been a bit of a challenge for me. I want to log everything in UTC time, so the solution I came up with was to use a dedicated wristwatch that I set to the current time in UTC. That way I don’t need my phone out nor do I need to find a place to put a travel alarm clock. The IC-705 does have a clock synced with GPS, but it’s difficult to read sometimes. So I bought the Casio F-91W, which is the best wristwatch I could find at a reasonable price. The battery lasts a long time, the clock is highly accurate, it’s easy to use, and I’ve never had a problem with it.
Table and Chair
Sitting for several hours outside can put a damper on the fun, especially when it’s cold outside. I’ve tried various stools and inflatable cushions. However, a chair with a back is what I prefer. It keeps me off the ground, out of direct contact with the ground, and supports my body for long periods of time. The best foldable camping chair I could find which was lightweight and affordable is the TREKOLOGY camping chair. It’s sturdy, folds down compactly, and most importantly it’s comfortable.
The Icom IC-705 is a bit too bulky for placing on my lap, so I use a camping table. The medium Nice C camp table is perfect for this job as it’s lightweight and folds down compactly. I use a 20 year old Acer laptop tray on my lap to provide a flat surface to hold the log book and straight key. It is made from lightweight plastic and folds in half to pack nicely in my backpack. I can’t find anything similar on the market today.
Unless I’m going to an urban park, I usually pack the following safety items in my field kit: a flashlight, a whistle, a multi-tool, bear bells, my charged cell phone with charging cable and offline maps of the area I’ll be in, hand warmers in winter, water, and a 2m FM HT with charged battery and local repeaters programmed.
I always pack a few automotive microfibre towels. In the winter, these are great if there’s light snow and you want to have your radio covered. In the summer, you can drape one over your radio to keep it cool. They’ve got a lot of uses.
- Icom IC-705
- REZ Ranger 80 package with tripod, whip, radials, tripod, and backpack
- 25′ of RG-8X with BNC connectors
- UHF/BNC Adaptors
- RigExpert Antenna Analyzers STICK-230
- CW Morse Paddles with Steel Base
- GoLabs i200 Portable Power Station
- 4.9′ DC 5.5mm x 2.5mm to Car Cigarette Lighter cable
- Apple EarPods (3.5mm plug)
- Headphone Y Splitter
- Steno Pad 9″ x 6″
- Casio F91W-1 Wristwatch
- TREKOLOGY Camping Chair
- Nice C Camp Table
- Kirkland Signature Ultra-plush Microfibre Towels
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The entire station with all of the gear except for the battery fits into the backpack that came with the REZ Ranger 80 antenna system. The pack weighs in at just over 23 lbs (10.5 kg). It has worked well for me for several activations which involve short hikes. It isn’t the lightest, smallest, or most affordable field kit that can be made, but it fits my specific needs and provides a lot of enjoyment which is the most important part of field radio.