Dale Goes “SOTA-Lite” with the Elecraft KH1

Many thanks to Dale (N3HXZ) who shares the following field report:

SOTA-Lite with the KH1

by Dale (N3HXZ)

My KH1 Edgewood Package finally arrived in late February. As an owner of a KX2, I wondered why the heck I was buying the KH1. I am perfectly satisfied with the KX2 for my SOTA operations. However, the idea of shedding a few pounds in my pack got my attention, and the notion that I could set up and be on the air in a minute or so was also intriguing. I like to do several summits a day and this would be a time saver.

I decided to take Elecraft to task by convincing myself that I could do successful activations with just the Edgewood package.

The only exception to the package was to bring along the AXE1 extender so that I could operate 40 M.

I also wanted to prove to myself that I could carry all my gear with just a waist pack (Hence SOTA Lite!). A picture of my gear is shown below. I have an older AXE1 and it does not fit into the whip post of the KH1. I reverted to using the AX1/AXE1/Whip attached to the bnc jack. I include the 33’ counterpoise for 40M, a right angle jack for the ear buds (to not conflict with the log tray), a small first aid kit, deet, a spare keyer, a power bar, and a waist pack. The total equipment weighs in at 2.9lbs (excluding water!).

My traditional SOTA gear includes the KX2, the Chameleon MPAS-Lite Vertical antenna, a small portable pad to set the gear on, and a folding stool. Along with a backpack, the equipment comes in at 17 lbs. Hence the KH1 gear saves me 14 lbs! I decided to jettison the folding stool and operate in true pedestrian style (standing) with the KH1.

Traditional SOTA gear:

KH1 SOTA gear:

Jim (KJ3D) and I have done several activations together and he also purchased the KH1. Our first outing was a day trip on March 4th from our QTH’s in Pittsburgh to Maryland to activate Marsh Hill (W3/WE-001) and Dan’s Rock (W3/WE-002).

Jim operated on 17M and 20M, I operated on 15M and 40M. My favorite band for morning operations is 15M. If you hit it right, you can work both Europe and the West Coast at the same time. 11 AM was such a time and with the KH1 at 5 watts, I was able to reach east as far as Sweden and west as far as California. Not bad for a compact transceiver, 5 watts, and a compromised whip antenna!

I decided to also check out 40M with the AX1/AXE1 on the bnc post. It tuned up nicely and I worked a couple stations (including an S2S!). The QSO map of the contacts is shown below.

The first activation also gave me some real-time experience using the log tray. I was skeptical going in as to how effective this would be, especially in a pile-up. I also like to record RST signal reports so I can report a complete QSO. The log sheets are not set up for that, but you can jot down the signal reports in a lower line. I was recording about 4-5 QSO’s per sheet. With a pile up going on, I found it easier to just stuff the sheets in my pocket after they were used up rather than trying to insert them in the log tray behind the unused sheets.

Still, I applaud Elecraft for the log tray design; doing the best you can with the real estate space available in an all-inclusive compact transceiver unit.

My operating platform switched from a rectangular pad holding the KX2 gear on my lap while sitting in a stool to operating from my left hand while standing. The picture below captures my operating set-up. As a courtesy, I like to include the chaser’s name in my QSO. I have a sheet of ‘Frequent Chasers” in my hand as a quick reference!

Having completed an initial outing to work out the kinks of operating a new rig, we took a two-day trip to the Blue Ridge mountains on March 14th-15th and activated seven summits along Skyline Drive. I wanted to see if the KH1 and my slimmed down gear would meet the challenge. T

he summit hikes along Skyline Drive are not too rigorous; roughly 0.5 to 1 mile each way with elevation gains from 200 ft. to 600 ft. We operated North Marshall (W4V/SH-009), Hogback Mountain (W4V/SH-007), The Pinnacle (W4V/SH-005), Stony Man (W4V/SH-002), Hawksbill (W4V/SH-001), and Hazeltop (W4V/SH-004). Here is a pic of Jim operating atop North Marshall.

The KH1 performed flawlessly. We operated all the bands (40/30/20/17/15). Activations got easier as we got more familiar with operating the rig. I grew very accustomed to activating standing up; Jim preferred to sit on a rock or log. What surprised the both of us was the positive impact on our physical endurance from shedding 14 lbs of gear. This cannot be underestimated for rigorous summit hikes and for me is a key reason to buy the KH1.

Another key factor was eliminating the time needed to set up and tear down a more traditional SOTA set-up (transceiver, antenna, cables, etc.).

Finally, my fears about operating 5 watts with a compromised whip antenna have vanished. From my experience having 5 operating bands is more important than more power, or a larger antenna. Below is a composite of my two-day activation QSO’s which encompassed the 5 bands available with the KH1.

Finally, the article would not be complete without a view atop Dan’s Rock (W3/WE-002) just off I68 near Cumberland MD.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Aside from a beautiful view looking east, you have psychedelic paint covering the rocks! At first you think this is an affront to the natural beauty of the land, but after a while it kind of grows on you. 🙂

Radio Gear:

15 thoughts on “Dale Goes “SOTA-Lite” with the Elecraft KH1”

  1. Hi, Dale,

    What a brilliant field report and thank you for sharing your experience using the KH1 for SOTA.

    It’s funny: I did a SOTA activation last week with the KH1 pedestrian mobile and it really felt like cheating. It was so lightweight, to easy to set up, and so effective! My first contact was SOTA legend F4WBN in France and second was Mike (N7CCD) in Washington state–all from a summit here in Asheville, NC.

    Again thanks for the brilliant report. I think I need to get out my Red Oxx Waist pack (the Booty Boss) for the KH1. That makes a lot of sense and it had not crossed my mind!

    Cheers & 72,

    1. Thanks Thomas for the comments. The belt loops on the KH1 case make it perfect in combo with a Waist Pack! I found I had room to spare in the pack, could easily throw in a random wire. But honestly for SOTA, the whip is all you need.

  2. Dale…wonderful report!  I especially liked the light-weight solution.  That is my dream station!! 
    I too get amazed more and more on how effective compromised operations can still be…at least on SOTA.  Being the “DX” as the activator helps for sure….but still I find signal reports are usually in the 53-58 range…and often 59….and I am still SSB!  This includes the EU and all across the USA.  If you see my QRZ page you’ll see my 2-pole “sky-hook” solution for a 58′ Random wire.  I love it…but it all adds to the weight.  One picture is from March Hill….
    Of course, Thomas has shown us multiple times how the AX1 and 5-watts (or even QRPp) can work as a CW op….But as a 100% SOTA guy, I am more and more wanting to shed 14-lbs from my hike (BTW – just last week I completed Schaefer Head (W3/SV-003) using the trails we’ve discussed…and the 17-lb pack I’ve been carrying was a definite factor I’d like to change)…

    Your post solidified my final push for becoming a CW ops…still something that has eluded me for a long time…..

    Cheers,  73 / AC3Bhttps://www.qrz.com/db/AC3B

    1. Thanks Jim for the note! I think the KH1 has introduced a new paradigm shift in SOTA portable operation. Less is more! I’m pulling for you to get on CW. My SOTA companion Jim (KJ3D) didn’t know a lick of CW last year and after two courses with CW academy has already activated 25 summits. Heading to Schaefers Head next month, the KH1 will make that trek much easier!

  3. Lovely report and results Dale. Well thought out kit. Looks like a perfect day out.
    I would add a K6ARK EFHW in the pouch too. Wind by hand with a cable wrap, no winder, K4SWL style!

    Heck I need to get one of those pouches now! Darn.

  4. Jim,

    You pushed me over the edge. Just ordered the KH1 Edgewood package. Hope it arrives before FDIM and Xenia HamVention. It will stay in my car much of the time for the few minutes I have when near local parks and trails.

    I really wasn’t on the edge. I was just waiting for things to settle down in the manufacturing and ordering. Knowing how much stuff I have hidden in my car with the KX2, antennas, and support equipment your comments made sense. Also finally seeing how well they perform with a AX1 antenna fastened to the condo railing here in Florida I am now hooked. Who needs all that stuff with the sun spot cycle not at its peak yet.

  5. Great report, Dale. I am waiting to see what happens to propagation and ease of making QSOs when the sunspot cycle goes into decline. KH1 has come out at the right time. Maybe I can do a S2S QSO soon, from the Los Angeles/Malibu coast.
    John, NS6X

    1. Hi John, Yes, we are at an advantageous point now in the sunspot cycle and the jury is out on how the KH1 responds in poor band conditions. The ability to connect external antennas will help. As an FYI, I did complete two S2S’s to the state of Washington on 15M from my location on the Blue Ridge Mountains (N7NWT on W7W/CW-105 and WW7D on W7W/SN-183.)

  6. Great report and an inspiration to really think about what you must bring along for SOTA/POTA activations.

  7. Excellent report, Dale! I confess I’m kinda old school “I prefer to have it and not need it than need it and not have it ” …after spending 15-yrs in SAR my pack weight is now lighter thanks to KH1. For a SOTA day adventure that may take me only 10-miles R/T from the trailhead/vehicle and knowing the WX here in CO can change rapidly, or I may become immobilized by minor stupid injury …I carry items to make my night out bearable as opposed to unbearable. Like a lightweight poncho that doubles as a shelter when staked out w/trekking poles, 20-oz sleeping bag, extra water/food/snacks, ultralight stove not to mention layers of extra clothing. Keeping this under 10-lbs in 3-seasons is possible but in winter it grows to 15-lbs fast! What so amazing about the KH1 is it’s got 5-bands, 5W + ATU/4’whip with built in logging tray & CW paddle all in a hand-held 13-oz package! Just yesterday I hike 900′ vertical in knee deep snow on micro-spikes in 1.3 mi taking 2-hrs to reach my 9K’ summit. Then spent 40-min on top making 36-QSOs in NA&EU w/temps in 20s my fist started to QLF I knew it was time to QRT I was packed in less than minute and moving down the trail. Try doing that with another QRP xcvr on the market today!
    73, Steve/wGØAT

    1. Steve, glad to hear the KH1 surviving and performing well in a much harsher environment than I’ve encountered to date! Best of luck in your mountain ranges!

  8. I really am looking forward to the KH1 eventually becoming available to EU/UK customers, although Wayne is rather tight-lipped on anything to do with CE or UK certification.

    I did a POTA activation today, I had 75 mins and with the walk to the operating position, getting the EFRW up into a tree, tidying up and walk back, I had 30 mins on the air. The KH1 would change that markedly, and reduce stuff to carry too.

    We’ll keep dreaming here for now 🙂
    Stefan MI0PYN

  9. For all you ops on the fence, keep in mind that a fully equipped KH1 is only a few once’s lighter than a fully equipped KX2. Your significant weight will come with what you choose to carry in addition to the rig. A SOTA like wire antenna weighs less than 6 oz. But don’t think you can save 14lbs by buying the KH1 😉

  10. Dale


    What a great read on your out and about and honest to goodness comments on the good and bad

    An awesome plug for SOTA ops

    John VE3IPS

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