All posts by Thomas Witherspoon

Field Day: It’s all about the audio…

If you listened to the latest Ham Radio Workbench Podcast episode–our Field Day Debrief–you will have heard that my Field Day was a pretty low-key event.

Originally, I had hoped to fly out to Oregon and hang with my friend George (KJ6VU) and his radio club, but there were just too many family activities happening this year for me to travel for a week.

Instead, my wife, daughters, and I met up with my buddy Vlado (N3CZ) and his sister, who was visiting from North Macedonia.

We met at the Zebulon Vance Birthplace (US-6856) and, luckily, had the picnic shelter to ourselves. The weather was gorgeous, and we put together a proper potluck picnic.

Field Day POTA

Vlado and I decided to do some casual Field Day operating, and I brought the radio gear.

Since I’m currently testing the Xiegu X6200, I brought it along to see how it might handle the RF-dense environment of Field Day.

We made a few contacts with the X6200, but the audio and receiver struggled in that RF-congested environment. This isn’t a surprise, in truth. Most portable field radios aren’t designed to have contest-grade performance—they’re designed for portability and functionality in normal field conditions.

The other radio I brought along was the Penntek TR-45L. I can’t remember if I’ve used it during Field Day in the past, but all Vlado and I could say was…

Wow!

The TR-45L sounded phenomenal!

I’ve always believed that the TR-45L (both the original and skinny version) has some of the best audio in the world of field radio. That is a major plus when it comes to Field Day.

The thing is, it also has a stable front end—the TR-45L receiver handled those packed RF conditions with ease. In fact, we were both amazed at how easily we could hear all of those competing signals. There was absolutely no listening fatigue at all, and both of us could hear weak and strong signals all occupying the same space..

It sounded distinctly analog and “pure.”

Vlado and I both tend to operate with filters wide open—using the filter between our ears—so the audio produced had excellent fidelity.

Vlado and I also made short work of Vesna’s Feta cheese bread!

A couple of times, we did narrow the TR-45L’s audio filter when there was a strong competing station, but by and large, the audio was so clear, we really didn’t need to.

Top-Shelf

The takeaway for me is that the TR-45L series radios have proper contest-grade performance even if they lack contest-grade filtering.

I shouldn’t be surprised because even its predecessor, the TR-35, can handle crowded conditions with ease.

I should add here that the supply of new Penntek radios may already be dried up. As I mentioned in a previous announcement, John (WA3RNC), is retiring and selling off all of his existing radio inventory.

According to his website, he might still have some TR-45L Skinny models, but that’s it. In fact, that notice was dated May 28, 2024, so I’m not sure if it’s still correct.

The TR-45L Skinny

I love the Skinny as much as the original TR-45L—they sport the same receiver and audio; the Skinny simply lacks the ability to add an internal battery and Z-Match ATU. What you get, though, is a radio that’s even more portable and provides an excellent operating angle with the bail folded out.

Have you ever operated a Penntek radio during a contest or Field Day? What are your other favorite field radios for this type of environment? Please comment!

Morning POTA with KM4CFT: Back-to-Back activations with the venerable Yaesu FT-818!

As I write this report, I’m on the road with my family–we’ve been spending the week on the coast of North Carolina and are now (at time of publishing) in Raleigh. I’ll keep this field report short and sweet so I can publish it quickly and also fit in an activation before record temps heat up the region!

Blue Ridge Parkway (US-3378)

On the morning of July 4th, 2024, Jonathan (KM4CFT) and I arranged to meet and activate on the Blue Ridge Parkway (US-3378).

Jonathan was in town visiting family over the holiday weekend, and I had a brief window of time that morning to join him. My schedule had been packed since Field Day, making this my first chance for a POTA activation for a couple of weeks.

We knew it would be an interesting activation right from the start: we both arrived at the Folk Art Center at the same time and were greeted by a large black bear strolling down the road in front of the entrance! A bear walking away from your POTA spot is always a good thing.

After a quick catch-up, I grabbed my arborist throw line and deployed the 30/40 meter linked end-fed half-wave antenna I’d built using the KM4CFT antenna kit.

It would have been rude to use another antenna with KM4CFT standing right there! (Note to N5FY: Yes, I know I’ve been rude to you on many previous activations, haha!)

Gear:

Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

On The Air: The Accidental Self-Spot

Jonathan took to the air first. Since neither of us had announced our activation, I opened POTA.app to spot him. Except, I didn’t. In a moment of confusion, I accidentally spotted myself!

It turns out there’s no easy way to delete your own spot once you’ve done that. (If there is, I’d love to know, though I hope to never make that mistake again!)

What followed was rather comical. Jonathan noticed people thought he was me, even though he used his own callsign in each exchange. I guess it’s easy to mishear a callsign when you think you already know it!

I kept spotting myself “QRT,” but many kind operators kept re-spotting me. I even moved to 14,000 kHz (an out-of-band frequency I’d never use) and spotted myself QRT. People were still re-spotting me on Jonathan’s frequency!

It was funny, and the early morning hour on a holiday probably contributed to the confusion.

After Jonathan logged his ten contacts, he handed the radio over to me. I swapped out paddles (his TP-III setup mounted to the FT-818 wasn’t comfortable for me).

I started calling CQ POTA de K4SWL, spotted myself (correctly this time!), and the real activation began.

In the end, I worked 25 stations in 26 minutes. Thanks to all the hunters!

Then it was time to call QRT and continue our day. It was great seeing Jonathan and fitting in a little POTA before the day really started!

QSO Map

Here’s what this five-watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map:

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation.  As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me during this activation! (And thank you, Jonathan, for joining me!)

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo makes it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me! Have a brilliant week ahead and be kind to one another out there!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

Guest Post: Combining POTA with an FBLA national competition road trip!

Many thanks to Doug (KO4WDE) for sharing the following guest post:


POTA and FBLA

by Doug (KO4WDE)

I have recently found myself fully immersed in the world of Future Business Leaders of America, as my wife is the chapter leader for the middle school where we teach.  She started the program with just a handful of kids, and they performed so well their first year that six students qualified for national competition in Atlanta, Georgia last year.

To save money, and help provide this experience, we loaded them in our camper and took to the road.  Fast forward to this year and they have continued to grow and develop to the point where they now have more than twenty four members!  Now here’s the cool part: they didn’t just grow, they have developed into a powerhouse of Kentucky’s FBLA. Of the twenty four members, fifteen placed either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd at the state level competitions and qualified for national competition in Orlando Florida this summer.  Of those fifteen, eleven went to Florida.

The costs for this trip were huge.  Fuel alone for the vehicles to get us there was nearly $1000, and lodging, registration fees, and food drove the cost per student to well above $1500 per student.   The students voted that they would not go unless they could all go.  So they hit their computers and applied for grants and scholarships.  They were successful in obtaining a local  grant for $3500 to cover their registration fees, and came up with a battle plan for fundraising as much as possible. They formed a team that would go out into the community and present to local business owners in efforts to gain sponsorships to help lower the cost of the trip.

Goal Achieved

To say that they were successful was an understatement.  The students were able to gain enough financial support to lower the cost of the trip to $300 each.  This includes opportunities for the kids, (some of whom have never been out of Kentucky) to see the ocean, and experience many attractions that Orlando has to offer including Universal Studios and downtown St. Augustine.

That Ocean experience is where POTA plays a part.  Our travel plan had us staying at Anastasia State Park (US-1832) for two nights.  A couple of the FBLA members attending are also members of the School’s radio club (KQ4CWT) and were looking forward to the club’s first POTA activation (although the ocean was far more fun for them).  I had not activated Florida  myself and was greatly looking  forward to the experience.

Traveling with fourteen people total, in two vehicles (a Nissan Armada, and a Honda Pilot) space is extremely limited so I started the process of streamlining several separate systems into one specific mission bag.

The Field Kit

The host radio was my Xiegu G90 kit seen here combined with a small folding camp table and a Wolf River Coils vertical antenna to use on the beach.  My G90 kit is designed to be as simple possible for voice and digital modes, but it is completely based on using trees and wire antennas to get on the air, and picnic tables to operate from, so a few changes needed to be planned.

The nature of the beach itself is the most important change to plan for: no trees… no wire antennas.  I don’t own a mast, so the WRC needed to be in the kit.  Secondly, we would be on the beach for our planned activation, so I would need a small portable table to keep the gear out of the sand.  I chose a cheap amazon table [QRPer affiliate link] that is small enough to fold up into my host backpack (a maxpedition Riftcore) and sturdy enough to hold the G90 and my Evolve III laptop.  Preliminary testing on this little table was promising.

Testing the Amazon table

The Bioenno battery can wedge under the table while also supports lowering the center of gravity and freeing up the table top. The radio itself has lost the cooling stand as it was just too big and clunky for my go kit.  It now rests on a small laptop stand [affiliate link] that is suspiciously similar to the radioddity version for a quarter of the price.  I planned on sitting in the sand, under an umbrella using this little table to activate the park.

The Merging of the Bags

The G90 bag consists of the radio, battery, laptop, coax, power cables and adapters, stand, Digirig and backup wire antennas and tree line kit.  The coax has been replaced with RG-316 to save weight but the kit is essentially the same as seen in the article linked.

The Wolf river coil bag is an old camelback hydration pack.  It contains the SB-1000 coil, three legs, three radials, a 25 foot run of RG8X, and the whip.

The Riftcore has two main compartments and two secondary compartments. The front the main compartments consist of a large deep area in the back, and a slightly smaller and thinner area directly in front of that.  The main compartment holds the table top, the table frame, and the WRC system with just enough room to zip up.  The zippered pouch opposite holds the coax.

The main rift core compartment

The second compartment holds the radio, battery, stand, and ground coverings that double as padding and chargers, as well as the evolve III POTApotamus laptop.

The secondary rift core compartment

The front compartments hold the backup wire antenna, tree kit, power cables and Digirig.

The small outer rift core compartment

The kit, as planned, was much larger and heavier than the Redrock outdoors bag I’m used to carrying, but I thought it to be better since I would only have to keep up with one bag.  Especially since I would be carrying other beach gear out to the beach, and would have the kids with me.

Success All-Around

So how did it go? Success, and major FBLA success!

We arrived in St. Augustine around 7:00pm.  The boys and I setup camp, three tents.  A boys tent dubbed “Brozone Zero”, a girls tent “The She Shack”, and “Smalls” a small tent for my youngest daughter, my wife and me. The girls took the Armada into town to get pizza for dinner on the beach.

I usually RV camp, but when I do tent camp it’s in a Kelty.  Our little tent wasn’t a Kelty. We stayed in a Walmart special 3 man tent while the ladies enjoyed the Kelty tent.

When they arrived back, my wife laughed at our little tent and asked if it was like the magic one in Harry Potter.  Bigger on the inside.

It wasn’t.

The boys blowing up floats to use as mattresses in “brozone zero”
Pizza on the beach

The kit worked out better than I had planned. I was able to snag eleven SSB contacts between rain storms on the beach.  I was unable to sit down and really do an activation because of a change in plans. We planned to stay two nights but we canceled one and moved to the local Hilton to avoid tent camping storms the second night, so it was more of a “set up as fast as you can and get ten” type deal.

The table worked perfectly, although the beach wind blew my WRC vertical over.  Propagation was fair on 20 meters and I was able to get my last couple contacts via P2P hunting.  I was excited to add Florida to my list of activated states.

Admittedly, it was a fun challenge to setup and get those contacts as fast as possible and repack. I need to pack some flags for the radials in the future.

The camp table was perfect
Even with the feet of the WRC dug into the compacted sand the wind still managed to knock the system over

Once we left the beach for the hotel, radio time was over and I dedicated myself to the FBLA mission at hand. We spent five days competing and exploring Orlando. Our FBLA chapter performed very well overall and my daughter placed 2nd in the nation for her performance in the learning strategies competition.

My lovely wife was named the middle school chapter advisor of the year!  We had many, many more successes across the event but we will learn final scores in August.

My daughter winning 2nd place
The entire chapter before the closing ceremony party

This adventure was so much fun. It was very tiring, but worth every second of work to make it happen, and of course it’s always okay to sneak a little radio wherever you go.

73!

Doug (KO4WDE)

W2AEW’s Trapped EFHW Antenna Tutorial: Building a Smaller, More Versatile Solution for Portable Operations

Many thanks to Alan (W2AEW) for the following guest post:


Trapped EFHW antenna story (it’s all Vince’s fault)

by Alan (W2AEW)

One of my favorite antennas to use for POTA activations is a 40m EFHW wire.  When properly tuned and deployed, it can be used on 40, 20, 15 and 10m without the use of a tuner (although, I really don’t mind using a tuner when I need to).  Most of my activations are on 40 and 20m, so those bands are covered easily.  It can be used successfully as a sloper, an inverted vee, or a combination of these (whatever the trees or support structures allow).  It is efficient, inexpensive to build, lightweight and effective.

There are a few downsides to this antenna.  The first is that it is approximately 68 feet (almost 21 meters) long.  That’s a lot of wire to get in the air.  Some POTA sites just don’t have that much room or support structures to effectively use this antenna.  Another downside is that it doesn’t naturally support operation on the 30m band, another favorite of mine.

A few weeks ago, I watched a video from my friend Vince VE6LK entitled: “Discover the secret ingredients to build a trapped EFHW antenna”. This piqued my interest…

The video introduces a design for a 40/30/20m trapped EFHW.  The fact that it covers the three bands I use the most, and would be shorter than my trusty full-sized 40m, and give me 30m to boot, got me excited to learn more.

Vince used a pair of traps (30m and 20m) that are offered in kit form by Tim Sherry, N7KOM.  Here is a link to kit on Etsy.

Image Source: Tim Sherry, N7KOM

These are exclusively for use at QRP power levels – perfect for my application.  I placed my order immediately after watching the video.  The build instructions are very detailed, including how to tune the traps, which is critical in getting the antenna to work.

Image source: SparkPlugGear

He also used a 49:1 UNUN from SparkPlugGear.  I’ve had one of these in my POTA kit for a while, but only used it occasionally.  This was another good reason to proceed with this antenna build.

Of course, you could also use the QRP UNUN kit from KM4CFT that I made a video about earlier this year.

I created a video that showed how to assemble and tune the traps.  Tuning can be a little tricky, and then stabilizing the turns/spacing to preserve the tuning is critical – not hard, just takes a bit of patience.

With the traps built and tuned, the next step would be to build and tune the antenna itself.

I was able to find the time this weekend to do just that, and make a video of the process.

Details of the resulting wire segment lengths are in the video.  It is important to note that if you decide to build this antenna, your wire lengths will likely vary from mine.  Several factors will effect the resulting lengths (details of the UNUN used, the trap construction, etc.).  My video goes through the process I used to build, tune and test the antenna.

“The proof is in the pudding” as they say.  It was time to actually run a POTA activation with this antenna.  The overall length of the antenna was about 43 feet (about 13.1 meters), which is about 2/3rds the length of the 40m EFHW.  This opens the possibility of using my 12 meter Spiderbeam mast (video review) as a support rather than just relying on a tree branch.

The weather here in NJ has been oppressively hot and humid with heat indexes over 100F, so I opted for a morning activation, before the heat really built up.  The intent was to get some contacts on all three bands, even though 20m probably wouldn’t be very active.

I setup at my “home” park – Washington Rock State Park, US-1635.  I decided to setup the Spiderbeam mast as the support for the new antenna:

The rig was my trusty KX2 with the BamaTech TP-III paddles:

I only had about an hour to dedicate to operating before the family activities for the day, so I figured I’d start on 40m and get most of the “ten” there first, then move on to pick up a few on 30m and 20m.

I was able to put 14 contacts in the log, under “so-so” band conditions, which at least a few on each band, several of which were park-to-park contacts.

Here’s the map of the “reach” that the new antenna had during this short activation:

Overall I am quite pleased with the antenna’s performance.  The near ideal band coverage for my typical activations, and the ease of deployment compared to the full-sized 40m EFHW make this antenna a great addition to my POTA kit.  I suspect it will get a lot of use!


Resources:

The Write Stuff: My pencil/paper weatherproof logging combo!

If you’ve followed my field reports in the past couple of years, you’ll know that I predominantly use Rite In The Rain notepads and mechanical pencils.

When I first started my POTA journey in 2019, I would print out log sheets for each activation just like I did during the National Parks On The Air program in 2016. It was a very inexpensive and organized way to manage all of my written logs.

Over time, though, I made a shift to small pocket-sized notepads (Moleskine, Moji, Mead…) basically any pad that took up less space and could remain in my QRP field kits.

Rite In The Rain

After a couple of moisture mishaps with Moleskine pads (which, by the way, I otherwise love) I decided to completely shift to using Rite In The Rain spiral-bound notepads.

I resisted doing this for a long time because Rite In The Rain pads aren’t cheap; they typically cost about $6-$7 US each, but they are made in the US and are very high quality. They don’t smudge or smear.

My father-in-law is a retired professor of Botany and the bulk of his research time was (literally) in the field–in the mountains of western North Carolina. He’s always been a huge fan of Rite In The Rain and we often purchased these for him as gifts.

I switched to Rite In The Rain and haven’t regretted it. Yes, they’re pricier than all of the previous options I’d used, but they are insanely durable, can survive getting wet, and they hold quite a lot of my 45-60 minute POTA and SOTA activations! One pad will typically last me several months.

There are two sizes of pads I use:

(Left) 3×5″ and (Right) 4×6″ Notepad

Please note that all of the Amazon.com links on this page are affiliate links that support QRPer.com.

The 3×5″ sixe easily fits in my Pelican 1060 case

I find that both sizes work well. I tend to use the larger 4×6 size most of the time, but I love the 3×5 size because it fits in some of my smallest field kits including the MTR-3B SOTA kit I highlighted last week.

When you use a Rite in the Rain pad, it will hold up in the rain if you are using any pencil, or one of their pens which has a special ink that bonds to the paper permanently.

I use mechanical pencils when I log, although I plan to start using pens more often only because it makes it easier for my YouTube video subscribers to read my logbook as I write (pencil can be more difficult to read from the camera angle, depending on reflection, etc.).

Mechanical Pencils

This is an area where (being fully transparent here) I can geek out a bit (understatement alert).

I’ve always had a place in my heart for mechanical pencils. It dates back to my high school years when I took drafting classes. These were the days when drafting desks, pencils, T-Squares, triangles, and templates were tools of the trade (CAD was just becoming accessible to students).

I found mechanical pencils to be an amazing piece of engineering and, while I couldn’t afford a lot of them, I would spend my hard-earned money to buy them. To me, visiting our local drafting store was like a trip to the toy store.

But I digress…

In the field, performing a POTA or SOTA activation, I don’t look for the same precision I needed in drafting class. Quite the opposite–I’m looking for durability and reliability.

Wooden pencils, to be clear, are both of those things and will serve you well in the field. What I love about mechanical pencils is that their leads are consistent when writing and there’s no need to pause and activation to sharpen them. Just click and keep going.

There are currently three mechanical pencil models I use.

My wife recently gave me a uni Core Keeps Sharp Mechanical Pencil as a gift. She did so after reading a comment from one of my readers (I had no idea she even read QRPer–I’ve got to be careful what I say around here!). 🙂

What makes this particular pencil unique is that it rotates the lead as you use it. This keeps the line looking sharp since the lead doesn’t wear to one side.

So far, I love it. This one has a .5mm lead, which is small–I tend to prefer .7 or .9mm because they’re more durable. Expect to see this in activation videos soon.

Next is the Zebra Mechanical Pencil, Del Guard, 0.7mm. This particular pencil lives in my MTR-3B SOTA field kit. The Del Guard has a double spring mechanism that acts as a shock absorber when you write.  If you apply a little too much vertical or angled pressure, it absorbs the energy thus saving your lead from breaking.

I find it works really well, in fact. I tend to have a heavy hand when I write in my log books and I find I have less lead breakage in the field.

Finally, the mechanical pencil I’ve adopted as my primary SOTA and POTA pencil is the amazing GraphGear 0.9mm 1000.

This pencil is the most durable mechanical pencil I’ve ever used.

Bruce (KO4ZRN) introduced this to me when he joined me on a SOTA activation of Craggy Dome a couple years ago. This pencil is incredibly strong. In fact, I’ve even used it in woodworking and carpentry projects to mark cuts on wood.

At this point, I think I probably own about six of these GraphGear pencils and I couldn’t be happier.

Video

I actually made a short (for me) video about my notepads and pencils:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Again, you don’t need anything fancy…

If you’re not into waterproof paper and mechanical pencils, just use what you have to log.

I remember once using the back side of an envelop and a pen I found in my car to log a NPOTA activation–it worked perfectly! I even remember another NPOTA activation using a pen to log and running out of ink, so I used the pen to log in the dirt on the ground. I only copied three or so more contacts then took a photo of the ground. (I can’t recommend this, but point is, practically anything can be used for logging!)

I just find that when I do something on a regular basis, I’m willing to invest in tools I love using. I feel they serve me well in the end.

How do you log?

I’m curious how you log. I know that a large percentage of POTA activations never write a thing on paper logs–they simple log directly to an app on their phone, tablet, or laptop.

I prefer making a paper copy of my logs, then taking a photo of them when the activation is complete. I worry less about my app crashing, phone running out of power, and, frankly, I just find the process of logging more fun on paper. Furthermore, rain can disrupt touch accuracy on capacitive touchscreen devices, making logging difficult in wet conditions.

I’m curious how you log in the field. Please comment!

Thank you

Thank you for reading this post!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

Have a brilliant week and I hope you run out of paper due to the number of contacts you must log!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

Deep Dive: My Mountain Topper MTR-3B Watertight SOTA Field Kit

Last week, in response to a reader’s question here on QRPer.com, I was reminded that I hadn’t yet made a video specifically about my Mountain Topper MTR-3B SOTA field kit.

Yesterday, I made a short video (see below) where I show what I pack in my MTR-3B field kit and why I choose to house it in a Pelican 1060 case.

First, let’s look at a list of the gear, then I’ll talk about what went into my choices, and I’ll link to the video.

Gear:

Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

Self-Contained Watertight Field Kit:

Optional Gear for SOTA/POTA:

Design Choices

Here’s the philosophy behind my design choices in this kit:

Pelican 1060 Case

I chose to house this field kit in a Pelican 1060 Micro Case even though, at one pound, it weighs more than the typical pouch I also use for small field radios. The Pelican, however, protects the entire radio kit as it’s fully watertight and crush-proof. If I trip while fording a creek or fall and land on my pack, the Mountain Topper will be safe. Yes, there’s a mass/weight cost, but I feel it’s very minimal for the protection it offers.

Counterpoise-less End-Fed Half-Wave

When I build the K6ARK EFHW antenna kit for my MTR-3B, I chose to make it without a counterpoise. Even though the antenna would be more efficient with a dedicated counterpoise and less prone to the effects of body capacitance, I feel like the benefits of this design outweigh the compromises. For one thing, leaving off the counterpoise saves space inside the Pelican case. In addition, by designing the antenna to attach directly to the MTR-3B’s BNC port, there’s no need to include a feedline, thus saving quite a bit of space.

So far, I’ve been very impressed with how forgiving this antenna has been and, most importantly, with how well it has performed.

N6ARA SWR Meter

I include the N6ARA MiniSWR  in my field kit to give me some peace of mind if my antenna deployment is compromised (for example, if the trees on a summit are too small, etc.). Since my MTR-3B version has no built-in SWR metering, I feel this is a meaningful addition tot he kit.

Throw Line and Weight

At least 90% of the summits and parks I activate here in western North Carolina have trees. To me, no field kit is truly sufficient unless I include a throw line and weight. I find that the Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline is small, lightweight, and effective—-25 meters is enough to deploy any wire antenna I’d carry on a SOTA activation.

Many SOTA ops use a small sack that they place stones in to act as a throw weight for their line. This is very clever because you don’t have to pack in that extra 8 ounces on the roundtrip hike. Still, I like the convenience of a throw weight that’s designed to glide through tree branches with ease–especially if the tree is dense. If I were to do a multi-day SOTA backpacking trip, I’d probably use an empty throw sack instead of a dedicated weight.

Rechargeable 9 Volt Battery Packs

I love these 9V rechargeable batteries. It’s hard to believe that the MTR-3B can complete 2-3 typically SOTA activations on one charge! Then again, the MTR-3B uses something like 18ma in receive? That’s crazy low current consumption. These batteries are super lightweight and the particular brand I use has never produced any RFI (I’ve read that some others can). What’s best is that I can recharge these easy via a USB-C cable.

The MTR-3B will operate on nine volts, which yields three watts of output power.

Helinox Chair and Kneeboard

Yes, these are luxury items. I know many SOTA ops who are quite happy to sit on the ground and balance their radio on their leg. Perhaps it’s my age, but I don’t like doing this anymore because my legs tend to fall asleep and I lose feeling in them if not careful.

My Helinox Zero chair weighs 1 lbs 2 oz (509 g). I feel like it’s weight and mass well-spent. Since I record activation videos, the chair also gives me a much better position for my camera angle (bonus!).

My Tufteln/N0RNM kneeboard is an essential part of my SOTA kit. I never leave without it. The chair and kneeboard combo gives me the flexibility to set up anywhere, anytime. I love it.

Video

Here’s a video showing the breakdown of my Mountain Topper MTR-3B SOTA field kit:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you!

 

Thank you for reading my field kit post and watching the video! I hope you enjoyed it.

As always, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

If you’d like to see loads more field kits, check out our field radio kit gallery!

Thanks for spending part of your day with me!
Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

New 3D-Printed Paddle Kit from KM4CFT

Yesterday, I met up with Jonathan (KM4CFT) who happens to be in town visiting family over the holiday weekend. Before our POTA activation, he mentioned that he is now selling a 3D-printed paddle kit for $34.95 on eBay:

https://ebay.us/GhLOYz
(note: this is an eBay partnership link)

Jonathan told me that he’s using the kit as a bit of a fund-raiser for a much more ambitious project he has in the works.

Jonathan gave me an early prototype of this key many months ago (see photo above) and I’ve used it in the shack and in the field. It’s a good one.

This kit version has either red or blue finger pieces.

As with all of Jonathan’s kits, he’s selling this kit via the eBay shop of Dan (W7RF). Go check it out!

Friedrichshafen: Christian and Andrea’s Multi-Country POTA Rove

Many thanks to Christian (IX1CKN) who shares the following field report:


Friedrichshafen: POTA Across Borders

by Christian (IX1CKN)

The Friedricshafen fair is one of the most interesting events for its social aspects, where you can finally put a face to colleagues whose voices you’ve only ever heard. Among the various OM (radio amateurs) I met this year was Gabriele IT9RGY, a flagbearer of the Italian Contest Club. When he recognized Andrea IW0HK and me, he said, referring to our respective SOTA/POTA activities: “You two are the real deal.”

I found that to be a very powerful statement, and I am grateful to him for it. Personally, I try to document each outing to capture the sensations it gave me, but also in the hope of inspiring someone. Andrea is more succinct than I am (if we were all the same, the world would be boring), but his spirit is identical. Parks on the Air (POTA) is a state of mind. It was no coincidence that, being in Germany for the Hamradio Messe, we had planned a series of activations.

Our schedule was tight and ambitious, and just completing it was a source of happiness, but there’s more to tell. In Germany, dinner time isn’t synchronized with Roman schedules. So, on Friday evening, after leaving the restaurant (for dinner with the Summits On The Air group) at 20:23, I looked at Hotel-Kilo and said, “If I go to bed now, I’ll digest in a week; let’s go activate a reserve!”

The easiest option in the area (after a disastrous experience last year in DE-0156, the park in the town center hosting the fair) was DE-0766, the Seewald Landscape Reserve. It’s near the FRN airport (and thus not far from the fairgrounds), in a fully bucolic setting. A narrow road cuts through meadows, with footpaths and bike paths leading into a wooded area.

We parked the car in one of these spots. It took only a moment to set up the vertical antenna in the field, but the presence of a swarm of mosquitoes as big as F-18 Hornets advised us to operate from inside the car to save our skin (literally).

Andrea turned on the KX-3 (10 watts would be our fixed power for this trip), and the 14 MHz calls began. Right away, a very strong IZ3QFG Dario (just 380 km from us) answered, highlighting an unusually short skip.

We logged 20 QSOs in 30 minutes… Many were from Italy (Spartaco from Grosseto at full scale, Mauro I1JQJ always active, and Beppe I1WKN a constant), with two “park to park” contacts. A classic for many OMs in the area, but also a great mood booster and a tasty appetizer for the next day… Continue reading Friedrichshafen: Christian and Andrea’s Multi-Country POTA Rove

Construction Notes: VO1DR Monopod Antenna Mount

Many thanks to Scott (VO1DR) who shares the following guest post:


Construction Notes – VO1DR Antenna Mount for Camera Monopod

by Scott Schillereff,  VO1DR

Further to my article about radio during trip to Portugal, a number of readers asked for details on how I mounted my whip antenna system to my camera monopod for /P use.  Here are some photos and notes on this.

General notes:

  • This is a “straight-through” design.  Just direct connections from the BNC center pin to whip (via brass nut), and BNC housing to radial connector.
  • This is not a cook-book construction article, rather just a show-and-tell of how I built mine.  You can use what you have on hand to build something similar.
  • I suggest you start with your telescoping whip, so you know the size and threads for mounting bolt.
  • You could use any type of connector for the radial (wingnut, knurled nut, spade lug, alligator clip, whatever you like).  I prefer banana jacks since a) I can push in the radial banana plug fast, b) the plug is a weak release point (pulls apart if someone walks into the radial), and c) I can easily attach additional radial wires, if desired.
  • Use a strong case (metal clamshell or cast aluminum work well).  With the whip extended, there can be substantial forces (bending moment) from wind or handling. A tiny plastic case would be fractionally lighter but might fail.
  • For size, the one I used (25 x 25 x 50 mm; 1” x 1” x 2”) is about as small as I would go.  It needs to have a big enough footprint to sit firmly on a camera mount fitting.
  • Use high heat (e.g., Weller 100-140 W solder gun) when soldering the center pin wire to the brass whip mounting nut.  Solder the wire to the brass nut before you epoxy the nut.
  • I custom made the white plastic insulating bushing (where whip screws in). This was from a nearly-right bit from my junk box.  You can be creative here.  You could also epoxy on short piece of close-fitting, thick-walled PVC pipe around the outside of the whip mounting hole as a supporting sleeve to give some lateral support to whip when it is screwed in.
  • Dry-fit everything (before epoxying) to make sure nothing touches that shouldn’t and you can screw in the camera nut and whip fine.  Test proper continuity of center pin and radial connections to BNC fitting.  Once glued, there’s no going back!
  • For surfaces to be epoxied (metal nut sides and bottom, insides of mounting case), slightly roughen with sandpaper or jewellers file, then clean with isopropyl alcohol and Q-tip.  This will increase adhesion and strength.
  • Use good-quality, high-strength, long-cure epoxy (e.g., JB Weld), not el-cheapo 5-minute epoxy from the Dollar Store.  LET THE EPOXY COMPLETELY CURE BEFORE MESSING WITH IT!  Just walk away from it for a day… (your patience will be rewarded).

Figure 1 – VO1DR Antenna Mount, clamped onto top of monopod.  Coax goes to BNC on left; whip screws into top; raised radial connects by banana plug on right

Figure 2 – Antenna mount unclamped from top of monopod.  The black plastic fitting (at right, with wedge-shape) fits into slot on platform at top of monopod (at left) and clamps in with cam arm.  Large steel screw attaches wedge fitting to antenna mount case. Ruler shows scale of things.

Figure 3 – Antenna mount case (right) unscrewed from camera mount fitting.  Steel screw is standard camera mount size (1/4-20 thread size).  Black silicone cap keeps dust out of BNC connector.  If your camera mount does not have a detachable wedge fitting (like the one on the left), you would simply screw the camera mount screw directly into the bottom of the antenna mount case.

Figure 4 – Top of monopod dissembled to show (clockwise from top): black monopod tube with telescoping whip stored inside (stainless steel with 10 mm brass mounting bolt), antenna mount case, detachable camera mount fitting, and round top plate of monopod.  For my monopod, I had to remove one tiny screw and apply gentle torque to break a weak glue joint of this round piece on top of the monopod leg.  It remains a snug hand fit (no screw needed).

Figure 5 – Fully assembled whip antenna mount with wiring.  Radial (blue wire) with tie-off cord (yellow) at left; RG174 coax (5 m) at right.  Whip is only ever screwed in hand-tight.  Deploying in the field, I first tie off the monopod to something (park bench, picnic table, fence, tree), then screw the collapsed whip into the antenna mount and clamp mount on top of monopod, then plug in radial and tie the yellow cord off to something (straight out at 2 m height or slope down to ground anchor), and finally connect the coax to the rig.  When all in place, I carefully raise the whip (slowly, with two hands to reduce bending forces).  Take-down is all in reverse.

Figure 6 – Detail of antenna mount case.  Case is 50 mm x 25 mm x 25 mm aluminum clam shell box with square metal end plates.  These end plates are screwed in to hold the two halves together.  White plastic bushing provides additional lateral support for the whip when it is screwed in.  The bushing is glued to outside of case with CA (Krazy) glue.

Figure 7 – Inside of antenna mount case.  On left, a ¼-20 steel nut is epoxied to inside of case with strong JB Weld epoxy.  In main case, a 10 mm brass nut is epoxied to inside of case with an insulating washer beneath.  This brass nut connects to the whip and is “hot”, so must be insulated from the black aluminum case.  Yellow wire connects center of BNC to brass nut (soldered).  Black wire connects ground side of BNC to radial banana jack.  Use plenty of epoxy; there is a lot of force exerted on the steel and brass nuts.

Figure 8 – Detail of inside of case.  Note separation of banana jack solder post and edge of 10 mm brass nut.  Solder yellow wire to nut before epoxying in nut.

Hope you find this useful.  Just use what you have on hand and some ingenuity to make yours!

Best 72, Scott  VO1DR

QRP SOTA: Lee pairs the KH1 and MPAS 2.0 to activate High Willhayes (G/DC-001)

Many thanks to Lee (M0VKR) who shares the following field report and video:


SOTA CW Activation on High Willhayes Dartmoor

by Lee (M0VKR)

It was an overcast and breezy morning when wife Joanne and myself Lee, M0VKR set out on our latest SOTA (Summits on the Air) activation adventure. Our destination was High Willhays, the highest point in Devon UK – SOTA G/DC001, Dartmoor is well known for its rugged beauty and challenging terrain.

We parked the car a short distance up the road from the army camp, slung our packs over our backs and set off. The gravel tracks leading to the summit stretched out before us and took a winding path through the moorland.

A few sheep and cattle grazed in the rough grass as we made our way upwards on the gentle slope. It was a breezy morning and we had had rain a short while earlier. Despite the weather our spirits were high, and we were eager to reach the top and get on the air with the Elecraft KH1.

In my pack was my now trusty Elecraft KH1 and an MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna, with the KX3 as backup, a reliable setup for such expeditions. I’m pretty sure I could halve the weight in my pack, but as it’s not a huge walk to the summit I don’t mind ferrying the extra gear to the top. The weather, though overcast, was adding a touch of drama to the landscape, and the breeze kept us cool as we trekked upward.

Joanne, ever the supportive partner, helped carry some of the cooking equipment and victuals and she kept the mood light with her cheerful conversation.

After a brisk hike, we reached the summit of High Willhays. The view, even under the Grey sky, was breathtaking. Rolling green hills and expansive moorland stretched out as far as the eye could see.

I set about preparing the station, using the MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna, which is quick to deploy and ideal for the variable conditions we faced. Despite the less-than-ideal propagation conditions, I was determined to make the activation a success.

Although the MPAS in vertical form isn’t very efficient on 40, I prefer to take advantage of the quick setup that it offers, one of these days I will look at adding a top section to make 40 more efficient, perhaps as a sloping inverted L or something similar, more reading of the manual required!

With everything set up, I made the first call on the 40m band. My Friend Matt MW0KAX answered, he was essentially line of sight from Wales, so his signal was strong. That was the first and last contact on 40m. I changed to 20 meters, where the MPAS was more efficient for the little KH1 and it was able to breathe a bit easier. The tuner in the KH1 is nothing short of amazing, and quite happily tuned 40 meters in a few seconds.

The static crackled, and for a moment, there was silence. Then, a faint reply came through. The thrill of making that first contact was palpable. It still amazes me every time I make those first few contacts that QRP does work, even with a compromised antenna system. Despite the challenging conditions, My limited skill, Plenty of luck and the reliability of the equipment began to shine. All the equipment I was using was off the shelf, I hadn’t made a single thing myself, maybe one day.

One by one, contacts started to come in. Each short QSO contact was a small victory, a testament to perseverance and the joy of ham radio. It is necessary to persevere as a newer CW operator and use QRP power levels and poor propagation conditions. It’s non-negotiable after driving for 2 hours, and a 4km hike that we go home empty handed. I logged each contact meticulously, my excitement growing with every successful connection. Joanne watched on slightly bemused but very supportive of the hobby, sharing in the triumphs that each contact brings and providing much-needed encouragement.

By the end of the activation, We had made several QSOs. While the propagation conditions had been far from ideal, the activation was undeniably a success. We had achieved what we set out to do: connect with fellow hams across the airwaves from the summit of High Willhays for a SOTA activation.

As we packed up our gear, the breeze picked up, and the clouds began to clear slightly, offering a glimpse of blue sky. The trek back down was filled with reflections on the day’s achievements and plans for future activations. We both felt a deep sense of accomplishment. We had braved the elements, navigated the challenging RF conditions, and emerged victorious.

This activation, like many before it, was a reminder of the joys of ham radio, CW and QRP operation and the adventure it can bring. For me and my wife Joanne, High Willhays would always hold a special place in our memories, not just for its height, but for the heights that we reached together on the airwaves.

Activation Video:

Take care and Speak soon, 72,

Lee M0VKR