There’s no cure for my pack obsession. I’m constantly in a state of assembling and testing the most efficient kits I can conjure up.
Since I rotate a fair amount of radios in my activations, the majority of my kits are modular; meaning, components like antennas, ATU’s, batteries, log/pen, and cables are packed in their own small pouches/pack. Before embarking on an activation, I simply assemble the components in a backpack along with the radio/s I might use that day. Over the years, I’ve developed a certain workflow with this process that ensures I don’t forget components or pack the wrong ones.
But by far, my favorite type of kit are those that are fully self-contained–proper grab-and-go kits that have everything I need inside to, for example, activate a summit.
So when George (KJ6VU) asked if I would be interested in talking about backpacks and gear bags as a guest on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, I agreed without hesitation.
What I love about the HRWB podcast are all of the truly deep-dives into a wide variety of topics. Quite often, topics are well outside my particular interest area, but the more I listen, the more I’m drawn in. The hosts’ enthusiasm is infectious.
It was an honor to join this fine team for a few hours of workbench projects, ham radio, and pack geekery.
If you’ve never listened to the HRWB podcast, I’d encourage you to check it out and subscribe. I think you’ll agree that the hosts–George, Mark, Mike, Rod, and Vince–have an amazing chemistry.
Thanks again, guys, for inviting me on the show. As I said after the recording, it was great “being on the other side of the lawnmower.”
One of the newest products in this kit is my high viz 2mm x 50M Marlow throw line. I learned about this throw line from Mike (W4MAF)–thank you, Mike! It is much less bulky than standard poly throw line and fits in my Tom Bihn small travel tray. We’ll see how well it works tomorrow. First impressions from having used it at the QTH once was very positive.
Again, with any luck I’ll have this kit in the field tomorrow on a summit. If you’ve nothing better to do, look for me on the SOTA Watch spots page!
The problem was I would be on an Amtrak trip on the California Zephyr during the entire California QSO Party (ironically arriving at my destination in Emeryville, CA just after CAQP ended).
So my opportunities to get the two required contacts would be on one of the platforms during one of the Zephyr stops (usually around 5 minutes, but with a few 10-minute stops) so there would be no way to set up an antenna. I was using my Elecraft KX2 and purchased an AX1 for the trip.
My first opportunity was 10 minutes at Glenwood Springs, Colorado Station.
Using the KX2 and AX1 with counterpoise I was able to work three stations in CA on 20 Meter CW: K6XX, W6FRU, and N6TV.
During my next opportunity, now as an in-state station, from the Sacramento platform I worked two stations on 20 Meters:
W0BH in KS on CW, and K2KR in CO on SSB
-Anthony Luscre (K8ZT)
I love this, Anthony! Combining rail travel and radio? It can’t get better than that!
I also love this because it points out the advantage of compact radio setups like the KX2/AX1 pairing: they allow you the flexibility to operate in time frames and conditions other setups might not easily accommodate.
To think that you met your goal of working the State QSO Party from Amtrak platforms in 5 to 10 minute windows of time? Wow!
And it doesn’t even look like you’re breaking a sweat!
Shortly after acquiring a lab599 Discovery TX-500 earlier this year, I did what I always do: invest an insane amount of time in researching and configuring a dedicated field radio kit.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’m a serious pack geek, so this is incredibly fun for me even though the choice is often difficult.
I like to buy packs and cases from manufacturers in the US and Canada when possible, so started searching through all of the options.
I wanted a pack that was compact, versatile, and offered proper padding (even knowing the TX-500 is a rugged little transceiver). I don’t handle my packs with kid gloves, so I expect them to cope with sometimes rough field conditions and still protect the gear inside. I also like a certain level of organization inside the pack.
I wanted the kit to be relatively compact, but large enough to hold the transceiver, all accessories and connections, logging pad and pencil, paddles, a proper arborist throw line, portable ATU, and a 3Ah LiFePo4 battery. A the end of the day, I wanted this TX-500 field kit to be fully self-contained.
In the end, I adopted a pack with which I’m already very familiar…
The Red Oxx Micro Manager
Red Oxx is my favorite pack company and if you’ve been a reader for any length of time, you’ve obviously seen a number of their bags and packs in my field reports.
Back in 2016, when they introduced the first iteration of the Micro Manager EDC bag, they actually reached out to me–as an existing customer–knowing that I had been looking for a good radio pack with proper padding (many packs don’t require side padding and internal padding). They sent me a prototype of the Micro Manager for my feedback and then incorporated some of my suggestions.
I also purchased a Micro Manager for my wife who quickly turned hers into a mobile art studio!
Much like my buddy Steve (AC5F)–whose XYL creates some amazing water color art in the field–my wife (K4MOI) is also an artist and loves to paint/draw during park and summit activations. Her art kit is always at the ready and she’s traveled with it extensively over the past five years.
The Micro Manager is a pack carried over the shoulder, much like a messenger or laptop bag. Those times when my field activations require a lengthy hike, I’ve simply pulled all of the items out of the Micro Manager (since I do modular packing, this is super easy), else I’ve even been known to stick the entire Micro Manager pack into a backpack!
Over the years, Red Oxx has made iterative upgrades to the Micro Manager including a pleated front pocket, slip-in external pocket, and they started lining the internal pocket with a more flexible and thinner dense foam padding. The new padding not only fits the TX-500 better than the first Micro Manager version did, but I believe it will have enough dimension to accommodate the TX-500 battery pack when that’s available next year.
Inside the Micro Manager I also use a Tom Bihn Large Travel Tray to hold all of the TX-500 accessories: key, microphone, ATU, battery, and cables.
I own a number of these large travel trays and highly recommend them. I especially like the ballistic nylon versions for radio kits as they open and close so smoothly.
I made a short video tour of the TX-500 Micro Manager kit before a recent activation at Table Rock:
I’ve used this pack for a number of field activations and couldn’t be more pleased. Looking back at the contents, it’s funny: the pack and almost every single item inside (save the notepad and pencil) are made in the USA while the radio is made in Russia! A bit of international harmony going on here!
If you have a field pack for the TX-500 (or any radio), I’d love to know more about it. Please consider commenting with details or even submitting a guest post with photos!
This month, we’ll take a deeper dive into the types of radio kit you might choose to assemble based upon your activity goals. And finally, we’ll look at my “golden rules” of field kits, which I hope you’ll find useful.
Types of field radio kits
I configure and outfit my radio kits based on the environment in which I plan to deploy and operate, and which determines in no small way just what I need to pack besides the basics.
I roughly divide my field kit types as follows…
The Field Day or “Picnic Table” Kit
This is probably the most popular type of field kit in the world of amateur radio. Picnic table kits are designed with portability in mind, but not designed with distance hiking in mind. This is a very popular type of kit for Field Day or park activations through POTA or WWFF.
These kits are typically packed in a backpack, a Pelican-type utility case, or a self-contained and field-ready box.
My picnic table kit is packed in a large Red Oxx C-Ruck rucksack. If I haven’t already made it clear, I’m a self-professed pack geek and I love this Red Oxx Pack because it has large zippered pockets on the outside, a rain flap with storage on top, and one large compartment on the inside.
Many thanks to Carolanne (N0RNM) who shares the following guest post:
A Booty Boss Micro Radio Kit
by Carolanne Fisher N0RNM
I am a bit of a tinkerer and an aspiring POTA activator, so when I received my Elecraft KX2 a couple of weeks ago with its way-too-big carry bag, I immediately started to think about ways I could keep the KX2 protected on the trail in a much lower-profile, light-weight, and easy-to-carry kit that would always be ready to go. The trick was to find a case of just the right size, with plenty of built-in organization and flexibility to build the kit around. I found what I hoped would be exactly what I was looking for from the excellent Red Oxx Manufacturing company (redoxx.com) — a soft-sided compact bag they call the Booty Boss Waist Pack. At least the specs looked good…
I am certain that whoever designed this bag did it specifically with the KX2 in mind. It is small enough to take anywhere, yet it fits my entire setup, including the radio, an extra battery pack, an AX1 antenna, complete with its 40 meter extension coil, 2 counterpoises, along with other necessities perfectly. I printed and spiral-bound a small note pad, shoved in a few accessories, and I was ready to rock and roll. The bag is even lightly padded for a bit of peace of mind. I am a CW-only kind of op so a mic is not a concern, especially since if I absolutely needed to use phone, the KX2’s built in mic would serve perfectly fine.
I tested the bag during several “back-porch activations” and everything seemed to work great. That is until I tried to use it under more realistic conditions — without the shaded picnic table to deploy on and the comfortable chair to sit on. Sitting on a rock while balancing the radio on my knee with its floppy AX1 antenna, and note pad while actually tying to send code proved to be a bit more than I could handle. It was clear that something like a clipboard was necessary to complete the micro radio kit, but a normal-sized clipboard would completely break the one-tiny-bag ethos.
A couple of years ago I designed and 3D printed a portable folding easel to support my sketchbook, watercolors, water etc. when out and about nature journaling or urban sketching. It worked great for that so I made a smaller version, added a recess for the radio and made sure it had room for the notepad. In order to fit in the bag, the size, even when opened to its full 8” x 9.5” size is a bit cramped, but with the addition of a leg strap, like a pilot’s lap desk, it it does the trick.
Here is everything currently in the bag and how it all gets stowed:
Front zip pocket
13’ and 33’ counterpoises for use with the AX1
An extra 28.5’ random wire antenna with 50’ of mini throw line attached (fly fishing backer line with two 1 oz. fishing weights) along with a 17’ counterpoise
Front main compartment
Folded radio desk
Two small interior pockets
Spare KX2 Battery
Interior zip pocket
Spare set of paddles w/ KX2 attachment and cord (by Peter GM0EUL)
Copy of my radio license
Rear main compartment
Ax1 antenna (whip, 20 and 40 meter coils) lying the bottom
KX2 (fits in the bag with the KXPD2 paddle attached)
Large slip pocket
The KX2 fits flat on its back or up on its kick stand in its custom sized recess. A sticky gel pad (from Amazon) placed in the recess pretty much “glues” the rig to the desk until you want to remove it.
Although I don’t use it all that often, the AX1 is my all-purpose, quick-to-set-up and a snap-to-put-away antenna. I mount the bipod inboard to the radio (over the BNC connection) so it fits on the desk to provide support. I wedge the bipod out from the rig with a spare pencil or a stick from the trail placed between the rig and the front leg to take some of the twist pressure off the BNC connector.
Although the micro radio kit holds everything I need to make contacts, there are plenty of times that I like to have a more luxurious set up — a folding chair and table, my Alex Loop antenna, tripod, lunch, iPad, etc. Or perhaps I’m off for a multi-day and need an external battery, a solar charging system, food, shelter, etc. This scenario is precisely where the micro radio kit really comes into its own. It is tiny enough to slip into just about any bigger bag or placed on the waist belt of a backpack. No more wondering if you remembered this or that bit of radio kit or loosing track of things you borrowed from another kit. If you actually did forget something extra you thought you packed, not to worry, the micro radio kit has everything you need right inside to make contacts.
As a tiny everything necessary, nothing extra radio bag, the Booty Boss micro radio kit is, well, the BOSS!
– Carolanne (N0RNM)
Thank you so much for sharing this, Carolanne! As you know, I’m a massive fan of Red Oxx gear and also own the Booty Boss. It’s simply brilliant that you can even pack a folding radio desk inside! Thank you so much for sharing your field radio kit with us.
As I’ve mentioned a number of times on QRPer and on the SWLing Post, I’m a pack geek. I enjoy organizing and packing my gear for field radio activities and travel.
Last week, I made a very quick overnight trip to visit my parents. My time during this trip was very limited and I did not plan to fit in an activation, but Monday morning, I was able to knock out an errand very early and that freed up a couple of hours in the early afternoon. Fortunately, prior to leaving my QTH, I decided to pack a few travel items in my GoRuck GR1 pack along with a field radio kit built around my Elecraft KX2.
I never leave home without a field radio kit because I never know when an opportunity to play radio might happen.
On the way home Tuesday, I popped Lake Jame State Park and fit in a quick, last minute activation. Moments before arriving at the lake, I received a request from one of my YouTube subscribers asking if I would make the occasional video showing what’s in my radio packs and field kits.
I’ve been meaning to make these videos but, frankly, often forget when I arrive at a park or summit because I’m just a little too focused on starting my activation.
Since I had some overnight items in my pack, it wasn’t a typical SOTA or POTA field kit, but I decided to make the video anyway. After all, I love watching videos about how others pack and organize their radio and travel kits. But then again, I’m a pack geek. I did mention this right–?
Although I’m not always the neatest person (my wife is probably chuckling at this gross understatement), I’m a meticulous and very organized pack geek. What you see in the video is exactly how I pack when no one is looking. 🙂
I’ll add here that if you’re interested in field radio kits and packs, I’d encourage you to check out my Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit series; Part 1 has already been published and Part 2 will be posted later this week. In Part 2, I take a much deeper dive into safety gear I take on SOTA activations.
In the video, I mention that I would attempt to link to all of the items in my pack. I spent time sorting out links this morning; many links go straight to the pack manufacturer because the packs I use typically have no distributors other than the manufacturer, I have also purchased a lot of the smaller items on Amazon, but many can be found in big box stores like Walmart, Target, Canadian Tire, etc.
If I missed something, let me know in the comments.
Like all my videos, this one us unscripted, made in one take (unedited), and also has no ads:
Out of order…
So this video was made prior to an activation at Lake James last week. I’ve mentioned before that my Internet speeds at the QTH are worse than dismal, but since this pack video was relatively short, I was able to upload it ahead of the activation video (it took 1.5 days to upload this 2GB file).
The activation video will be published in another week or so depending on my access to some proper broadband service.
Any other pack geeks out there?
I would love to share photos, descriptions, and/or a video of how and what you pack for field activations. If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, please do so!
Also, I’d love to hear about your favorite packs and how well they’ve held up with time.
Feel free to comment and thank you once again for hanging out here at QRPer.com!
I saw your recent video post of an activation using the IC-705 and I thought you might appreciate one of my recent related projects. Earlier this year I purchased an Icom IC-705 and because I planned to carry it backpacking for Parks and Summits on the Air, I knew I needed some type of physical protection for it since it would be knocked around a bit on rocks and rough surfaces and during transport. The only cases I could find did not fit my vision; they were either too expensive or too flimsy. So I decided to fabricate my own.
I purchased a 9″ x 18″ sheet of 1/8”, 5052 aluminum. I bent it (with LOTS of effort) in two places which created a “U” channel. The lengths were 4.5″ x 3.5″ x 4.5″. I then cut off the excess and used it to make the side pieces. I then did some research on aluminum brazing which led me to purchase some “AlumiWeld Rods” from Harbor Freight and a canister of MAP gas. I then cut the pieces for the front and sides and brazed them in. You may notice the amateur looking joints on the sides of the armor.
I also wanted to have a mic and key port on the front of the enclosure so as not to be continuously connecting and disconnecting those items directly from the radio and for convenience.
The entire assembly was planned to fit perfectly in the plastic orange ammo box also shown. It is made by a company called Sheffield which is in the U.S.
The radio mounts in the armor via the AMPS pattern screw holes on the bottom. I believe they are 4mm screws… not supplied by Icom. The radio is also electrically connected to the armor via the four screws as well as the shields of the mic and keyer ports.
I recently added the vent holes on the top panel for a less than obvious reason. Although they do serve a dual purpose, my primary reason for adding them was to avoid blocking its GPS reception, but factors of cooling and weight reduction do apply.
73 de Dan (KQ8Q)
This is an absolutely brilliant project, Dan, and to my eye, there’s nothing amateur about it. The coating looks fantastic and I like all of the effort you put into stand-off space to protect the rig and connections. Mounted in that orange box, I think you’ve got an all-weather solution.