Category Archives: Accessories

Taking the Mountain Topper MTR-4B on a quickie activation at South Mountains State Park!

The entire time I was in Canada this summer–about two months–I  used two field transceivers: the Elecraft KX2 and the Discovery TX-500.

I did sneak in two extra radios under the floor of my trunk/boot space, but they both were limited to three watts and conditions were so rough during many of my activations, I wanted the option of a QRP “Full Gallon” (5 watts). Thus, I stuck with the TX-500 and KX2 (which are both actually capable of 10 watts output).

When I got back to the States, I was eager to do a POTA activations with my other radios–many of you know I like to rotate them–but there was one, in particular, I was eager to put back on the air…

The Mountain Topper MTR-4B.

This MTR-4B V2 is on loan to me from a very generous reader/subscriber. In fact, get this: he ordered the MTR-4B early this year and had it drop-shipped to me directly from LnR Precision. He knew I’d be in Canada for the summer, so has been incredibly flexible with the loan period (basically leaving it open ended).

My review of the MTR-4B will be published in the November or December (2022) issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Then I’ll be sending the MTR-4B to its rightful owner!

In the meantime, I built an ultra- compact field radio kit around the MTR-4B and in my Tom Bihn HLT2 EDC pouch.

This kit is nearly identical to the one I made for my MTR-3B (just a different color, really).

It contains the radio, a battery, an antenna (although I used a different one during this activation), fused power cord, paddles, earphones, RF choke, RG-316, logbook, pencil, and even a full throw line and weight. I’ve listed all of the components with links below.

It’s hard to believe it all fits in such a compact kit and it works so well. It’s nice to know that with the kit it in my backpack, I’ve got everything I need to play SOTA or POTA at the drop of a hat.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

On August 8, 2022, I drove to my hometown to check in on my parents. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to fit in a quick activation with the MTR-4B along the way.

One of the easiest parks for me to hit en route is the South Mountains State Park Clear Creek Access–it’s maybe a 10-15 minute detour off of Interstate 40.

The weather was amazing that day, although I’ll admit I had to get used to the heat and humidity after spending so much time in Canada this summer!

This access point of South Mountains only has one picnic table. I’m always prepared with a folding chair if that table is occupied, but so far it’s always been available. I’m sure the reason is because this particular South Mountains access point is way less popular than the main entrances. Most of the visitors here come to fish at the reservoir.

Setting up

The great thing about having your whole station in a pouch is that setup is quick and easy.

Continue reading Taking the Mountain Topper MTR-4B on a quickie activation at South Mountains State Park!

Fold-out feet for the Penntek TR-35

I must thank my buddy John (AE5X) for this excellent tip.

I was watching one of his YouTube videos some time ago and noticed that he added fold-out feet to his Penntek TR-35.

Like John, I appreciate my radios sitting at a bit of an angle as I operate and these fold-out feet looked like the perfect addition to my TR-35.

These feet are designed for laptops which are much heavier than the TR-35 or pretty much any similar field radio.

They arrive in a small package with an alcohol wipe to clean the bottom of the radio. The adhesive pads on the feet are made by 3M and high quality. I doubt they’ll ever fail. Since they’re designed to allow airflow under a hot laptop, I believe the adhesive should withstand hot summer days in the field as well.

Continue reading Fold-out feet for the Penntek TR-35

How to assemble a narrow CW filter for your Yaesu FT-817/FT-818/FT-857/FT-897 (an affordable YF-122C equivalent)

QRPer.com readers know that I’m a big fan of the venerable Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceiver.  So much so, I own two FT-817NDs–I purchased a second unit last year primarily for full duplex satellite work.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the one gotcha with the FT-817 and FT-818 is narrow CW filter availability. The YF-122C 500 Hz and YF-122CF 300 Hz Collins filter boards are no longer produced. Neither are the Inrad equivalents.

With the renaissance of CW we’re experiencing along with the growth of POTA, WWFF and SOTA, narrow CW filters for the FT-817/818 are very difficult to find and come at a premium when you do find them. I saw one sell recently for $250 US–over double what I paid two years ago.

In addition, this same filter not only fits the FT-817/818, but I believe it also fits the popular FT-857 and FT-897 series transceivers (please correct me if I’m wrong about this).

The Problem: I wanted another narrow CW filter

One of my FT-817NDs is loaded with a Collins 500 Hz mechanical filter that I purchased from my buddy Steve (WG0AT) nearly two years ago.

The second FT-817ND had a narrow Inrad 2 kHz SSB filter that came with the radio when I purchased it used (see image above).  Initially, I had no intention of buying yet another narrow CW filter because I’d only planned to use the second unit for FM and SSB satellite work.

Then, during field day this year, I decided it might be fun to build a quick-to-deploy portable HF station with something like an Armoloq TPA-817 pack frame. That thought experiment made me realize that I should simply bite the bullet and get a narrow CW filter for the second FT-817ND.

I started searching in late June and was simply not willing to pay the price for the very few filters that have shown up on the the used market.

The Solution? Assemble one!

I owe QRPer reader, Petr (OK1RP), for this tip.  Thank you, Petr!

The process of assembling your own narrow filter is actually quite simple and affordable. If you have even the most basic soldering skills, you’ll be able to manage this easy project. If interested, keep reading and I’ll show you how you can assemble your own…

Continue reading How to assemble a narrow CW filter for your Yaesu FT-817/FT-818/FT-857/FT-897 (an affordable YF-122C equivalent)

Joshua’s ATU-10 review update after new firmware upgrades

Many thanks to Joshua (KO4AWH) who shares the following update to his previous guest review of the ATU-10 automatic antenna tuner:


Update on the ATU-10: new firmware released

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

The short story is that David N7DDC has a Firmware update with a new tuning algorithm that seems to fix the previously seen failure to find a decent match. As noted earlier in comparison with the Elecraft T1, the ATU-10 still does not necessarily get as close a match to 1:1 SWR but it now does indeed find a good match making this tuner my go to for use with my IC-705.

Not previously mentioned, the ATU-10 is also designed to work with the IC-705 for tuning commands when connected with a TRS 3.5mm cable, not just as an auto tuner when given a signal. And, in practice it works just as it should. I actually took the IC-705 and the ATU-10 and worked a SOTA/POTA with the beta version of this new firmware. I ran a 35’ wire and it worked great allowing me to work 40m, 20m, 15m and 6m for a total of 26 contacts. As a followup to my previous testing with the prior firmware 1.4, below are my results with the current new 1.5 firmware.

Testing on August 20th, 2022

The only difference from the original testing is the 31.5’ radiator was replaced with a 35’ and I did not tune and record results with the T1.

Conclusion on the ATU-10

I now feel very comfortable recommending this ATU. newdiytech.com has a great price and the build quality seems just fine. With the new algorithm update, a good match is found. The ATU-10 works great stand alone and also works fully automatically when used with a IC-705. This configuration means you can put the ATU at the antenna feed point and run a control cable back to the IC-705 and have a 50 ohm across the coax to help minimize loss, making for a nice portable setup with great band hopping flexibility.

Of course, if interested, I sell a protection cover for the ATU-10 just as I do for the T1.

If your curiosity is strong, here is some testing I did for David as he was updating the Algorithm now used in firmware 1.5.

UPDATE August 3rd 2022:

David Fainitski N7DDC has released a test firmware with a new tuning Algorithm with some promising initial results. A quick test on each band in the table has been added to reflect the new algorithm. This is not a firmware update yet but I suspect it will be soon. Results are great as tested. I hope to see this in a new FW soon.

August 6th, 2022

A second test firmware from David Fainitski N7DDC with the ability to increase or decrease the L and C manually allowed me to verify if a better match could be made. Turns out in a few cases it could. After testing again with a Tufteln 9:1 T80-2X2 on a 41ft sloping radiator I was able to achieve much better results than with the current version 1.4. In two cases I was able to find a better match manually. I realized later that if I were to tune a second time the ATU-10 would find the same, better match, on its own. Again, not a full firmware update, i.e. you have to flash back to 1.4 if you want to be able to turn off the turner.

(Click to enlarge.)

August 7th, 2022

Another test firmware David asked me to check. This version seemed more likely to find the best match. I did have the ATU go to L0, C0 twice but then find a match on a second try. This happened once on 40m and once on 10m. Almost like it faulted but there was some switching/clicking involved before stopping, it just landed at a 3:1 or higher with 0 for L and C. A second tune however straightened it out. I did not record those two cases. Below are the results. I was able to find a slightly better match twice but I am sure one would never notice the difference during normal use. The improvement both times was within the error of SWR across the three device measurements.

(Click to enlarge.)

Arborist throw lines: Ideal lengths, weights, and packs for field radio

Many thanks to Barry (WD4MSM) who writes:

Thomas,

I thoroughly enjoy the website and movies!

Could you answer one question?

How much arborist throw line do you take into the field? 150’ – 100’ – less?

Thanks for taking the time to answer.

Barry WD4MSM

Great question, Barry!

I basically have four variations of throw line kits.

You’ve asked about line lengths, but I’m also asked frequently about the throw weight sizes and throw line bags as well.

First, let’s take a look at my kit variations, then I’ll share my thoughts on throw line lengths, weights, and bags. Note that many of these products are Amazon so there are affiliate links:

Throw Line with folding cube

One is my original Weaver throw line kit made up of two parts:

The line length is 150 feet (45.72 meters).

I tend to use this throw line when I’m doing a POTA activation very close to my vehicle. It’s lightweight, but a bit bulky to take on a long hike.

Compact Arborist Throw Line Kit

This kit is identical to my large folding cube kit above, but the throw weight is 12 oz and I store it in a small Weaver stuff sack.

Continue reading Arborist throw lines: Ideal lengths, weights, and packs for field radio

Joshua tests the ATU-10 portable automatic antenna tuner

ATU-10 with TufteIn protection case

Many thanks to Joshua (KO4AWH) who shares the following guest post:


UPDATE: Please check out Joshua’s most recent review after updating the ATU-10 with new firmware. The results have improved dramatically.

ATU-10 Random Wire Testing

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

I had a bit of time to do some field tests and I recently acquired an ATU-10. So I jumped right in and did some ATU-10 Random Wire Testing. The testing was completed with a Tufteln 9:1 QRP Antenna configured with an elevated feed point sloper and a counterpoise hanging straight down. The coax feed was RG316 17′ with the ATU at the radio with a short jumper. Several different radiator lengths are used as mentioned below. The ATU-10 was sourced from newdiytech.com, price was $120.24 shipped to me in GA USA, Ordered June 25, delivered July 8th.

A quick list of ATU-10 Features:

  • 0.91″ OLED Display that shows Power, SWR and internal battery remaining.
  • USB-C Rechargeable LiPo 1.7Ah
  • Grounding Lug
  • Bypass Mode (When I set to this mode however it would tune anyways)
  • Latching Relays (No power needed to keep in position. Hold tune with ATU off)
  • Input port for communication with IC705 (and potentially others)
  • 7 Inductors, 7 capacitors
    • (Elecraft QRP)
      • C array, pF 10, 20, 39, 82, 160, 330, 660
      • L array, uH 0.05, 0.11, 0.22, 0.45, 0.95, 1.9, 3.8
    • ATU-10
      • C array, pF 22, 47, 100, 220, 470, 1000, 2220
      • L array, uH 0.1, 0.22, 0.45, 1.0, 2.2, 4.5, 10.0
  • USB-C firmware update (ATU shows up as a drive, simply copy the new firmware file to the device and it will automatically update)
  • Weight 232g (8.1oz)
    • Tufteln Case adds 23g (.8oz) for a Total of 255g (8.9oz)
    • Compared to the T1 with cover for a total weight of 187g (6.5oz)

SWR measured with a RigExpert RigStick 320, Lab599 Discovery TX-500 and the ATU-10

The test process was to first check the SWR on the antenna with no tuner. SWR values recorded from the TX500 and RigExpert Stick 320. Values recorded in the 2 columns under the “No Tuner” section. This was completed for each of the Bands listed in the table rows (see below). SWR values were the lowest in the band range for all recorded numbers. Continue reading Joshua tests the ATU-10 portable automatic antenna tuner

The arborist throw line is an invaluable field radio kit tool

Two days ago, I activated Parc national des Grands-Jardins (VE-0499)–a stunning national park here in the Charlevoix region of Québec, Canada.

As soon as we drove up to the activation site I had researched in advance, I surveyed the picnic area and mentally noted the best spot to deploy an end-fed half-wave using my trusty arborist throw line.

With the throw line’s assistance, I had an antenna deployed within a couple of minutes max.

It hit me then just how invaluable a tool the arborist throw line has become for the types of park and summit activations I do.

Pre-Throw Line Activations

During NPOTA (National Parks On The Air) in 2016, I wasn’t aware of arborist throw lines and had been using some high test monofilament fishing line attached to a weight.

The fishing line was strong enough to support my QRP antennas and I could typically reuse the same length of line for 2-3 activations. Eventually, the line stretches and weakens thus it must be cut off and discarded.

Never again

I’m a big Leave No Trace kind of guy, so am embarrassed to admit that during one activation, my fishing line snagged high up in a tree and left a bundle of broken monofilament in a spot where I could not retrieve it. This was deep in a forest and although I doubt anyone will ever see it, I know it’s there. It bugs me to this day and if I ever sort out a way to remove it, I certainly will.

This occurrence was one of the catalysts for purchasing my first arborist throw line kit.

That throw line kit absolutely revolutionized my antenna deployments by:

  • increasing the speed deployment,
  • increasing accuracy,
  • allowing me to re-use the same line hundreds of times,
  • and being orders of magnitude more reliable and stronger than fishing line.

It changed everything and I’ve never looked back.

Since that first throw line kit (which I’ve lent to a newly-minted active ham), I’ve built four more throw line kits.

Compact Weaver Throw Bag

In early 2021, I purchased a second throw line and 12oz weight (identical to my first) for backpacking along with this compact Weaver Leather throw line storage bag (affiliate links).

I was searching for a more SOTA-friendly/backpack-able solution than the arborist throw line cube.

I was very skeptical about how easily this bag would work in the field. One of the reasons my throw line storage cube works so well is because the opening is large allowing the line to deploy without tangling. Packing up is fast because the line can be flaked back into the cube in a matter of seconds. Continue reading The arborist throw line is an invaluable field radio kit tool

The Elecraft T1 Protection Case by Tufteln

Long-time QRPer.com reader and supporter, Joshua (KO4AWH), runs an Etsy store with a wide range of products primarily designed for field operators. Over the past few months, Joshua has sent me various prototypes for feedback and also to test in the field. You’ll see some of his antennas in upcoming field reports and activation videos. I’m very impressed with his designs.

If you’re an Elecraft T1 owner, you should be especially interested in his T1 Protection Case.

Joshua sent me an early version of this clip-on case several months ago and it immediately replaced the simple cover I printed from a Thingiverse file. (To be clear, the Thingiverse case served me well for a couple years, but I prefer this one since it doesn’t require a rubber band to hold it on the T1.)

The Elecraft T1 is a hearty little ATU and I don’t worry about damaging it while tucked away in my SOTA pack, but the little buttons on the front are prone to be pushed with any amount of applied pressure. This can result in unintentional operation which can accidentally place it in bypass mode or at least shorten the life of your 9V cell.

The Elecraft T1 is not an inexpensive station accessory and, at the moment, they’re about as rare as hen’s teeth. The lead time on new T1s is counted in months rather than weeks (at time of posting, this is due to vendor board issues).

The Tufteln Protection Case simply snaps on the Elecraft T1 and protects the BNC connectors, ground point, and the front panel buttons.

The case material is durable and adds very little to the bulk of the T1.

Of course, you can’t operate the T1 with the case around it because the BNC connectors are covered, but I have propped up my T1 on the case while using it on rough concrete picnic tables. I’d rather the case be scratched than my T1!

If you own an Elecraft T1 and don’t have a protective cover, I’d encourage you to either print one, or buy Joshua’s T1 case. For years, I simply removed or reversed the 9V battery to keep the T1 from engaging while packed, but that doesn’t protect the buttons and (frankly) it’s a pain to pop the battery out and flip it for each use (then to remember to flip it back when packing away).

The Tufteln case is a simple and affordable ($16.50) solution!

Thanks for sending this to me, Joshua. I dropped my T1 while setting up my TX-500 for Field Day and it protected my favorite little ATU!

Click here to check out the Elecraft T1 Protective Case on Etsy.

Xiegu X6100: N2HTT’s 3D printed frame and side rails

A few weeks ago, Mike (N2HTT), reached out and asked if I could test his prototype Xiegu X6100 3D-printed frame/cage. Mike is the same fellow who sent my daughter (K4TLI) side rails for her LnR Precision LD-11.

When his package arrived, I was very pleased to find out that the frame fits around the X6100 chassis. There’s no need to replace any of the X6100’s chassis screws; the side rails snap snuggly on the sides of the radio and when the components are screwed together, it holds them tightly.

The build quality is excellent and the PLA2 material feels very strong. The package came with all hardware (click here to download the PDF assembly manual). It might have taken me 10 minutes to assemble it.

I think it’s brilliant.

As with many rig frames, the side rails can make access to the encoder and knobs slightly more difficult. It doesn’t bother me, however especially since my X6100 encoder has a fair amount of brake by default (I mention this in my X6100 review).

The frame fully protects all sides of the radio and (especially) the protruding encoder and knobs which I believe are the most vulnerable parts of the radio.

I also love the flip-down screen protector which can serve as both a sun shade or as a tray to hold your phone in the field.

If you’re looking for a frame for your X6100, I believe this is a great option.

Mike is selling the complete frame kit for $65 US. He will customize the screen cover with your callsign and he has a number of color options available.

Photos:

Click here to check out the X6100 frame at N2HTT’s Etsy Shop.

Solar POTA: Pairing the Buddipole PowerMini 2 with folding panels and the FT-817ND at New River State Park

Photo by K4TLI

I’m often asked if I ever charge my LiFePo4 batteries in the field via solar energy.

Truth is, I’m a big fan of solar, but I’m rarely in the field long enough to need to recharge my batteries via solar when performing SOTA and POTA field activations. It’s easier to charge them at home in advance (often via the solar system at our QTH).

In fact, one of my 3 Ah LiFePo4 Bioenno batteries can easily take me though 3-5 activations or possibly more, depending on the length of the activation and the rig I’m using.

Photo by K4TLI

For longer forays into the field, however, I love going solar.

Indeed, every few years, my family will stay in an off-grid cabin on Prince Edward Island (Canada) for up to 6 weeks at a time. Solar is the only practical way to stay on the air that length of time.

Of course, I also like having a solar option, when doing proper primitive/off-grid tent camping.

In the past, I’ve used a very simple portable solar charging system based on a variety of rigid and folding panels, a Micro M+ charge controller, and sealed lead acid batteries. The batteries are of course heavy, but they work brilliantly for fixed operations.

These days, I’m fully invested in LiFePo4 batteries and my Micro M+ charge controller is not really designed to pair with the BMS (battery management system) in my Bioenno packs.

Bioenno sells a number of affordable solar charge controllers, but most resemble units that are used in permanent installations.  I wanted something more portable and, ideally, something with Anderson PowerPole connections.

Late last year, I discovered the Buddipole PowerMini 2:

Photo by Buddipole

I contacted Buddipole with a few questions about the unit and to find out when they would be in stock again (at the time, they were on back-order and indeed they are at time posting this report).

Turns out, they were to be restocked the next day, so as soon as inventory was showing on the site, I ordered one. Continue reading Solar POTA: Pairing the Buddipole PowerMini 2 with folding panels and the FT-817ND at New River State Park