Category Archives: News

Lunch break? Time for a rapid SOTA/POTA activation!

by Vince (VE6LK)

As always there are lots of links within the article. Click one! Click them all! Learn all the things! 🙂 Also, it’s with thanks to the management at QRPer.com who give me this outlet for creative writing.

While on business travel in Northern Alberta recently, I found myself with a slow workday and a few hours owed from lunches not taken that week. A quick plan was hatched and out the door I went after ensuring that all at work was going to be fine without me for 2-3 hours. But before I get to that story…

While travelling to and from this site, I’ve made it a mission to activate as many ATNO [All-Time-New-Ones, ie. never-activated parks] as possible within POTA. I plan these 500km trips with some small side journeys to these parks or natural areas and to break up the otherwise long drive along the foothills of the Canadian Rockies up and down the Highway 22 (aka. Cowboy Trail) corridor. It’s truly a lovely drive and I don’t mind it in the least.

Now back to my late-day lunch break adventure…

With the nearest park to me (VE-3162, Whitecourt Mountain) already activated but only on phone, I figured I’d activate it on CW and do more QSOs than the other activator just for good measure. I can’t believe that a park this close to a townsite had only one activation before I got there to activate it.

If that isn’t enough, it’s also a SOTA entity [VE6/ST-102] with a broad and not-steep slope making the activation zone quite wide. On top of that I can do this two-fer as a drive-up! This worked in my favour as I parked my truck within the activation zone! This SOTA entity had been done a couple of times already so I knew that electrical noise would be my nemesis.

For those of you that may have disremembered, I’m in shape -round- and that shape doesn’t easily climb summits, so a drive-up is totally my kind of summit. But I had to get a move on as there were only two hours left on the Zulu timeclock.  At my hotel room I had more gear, but being nervous nelly that I am at times, I do not leave my KX3 in the room unless there’s a safe. Given that the KX3 gets lonely without companions, I ensure that it always has a battery, antenna and key along for the ride so they keep each other happy as can be 🙂 I had just enough of my portable kit with me to make this happen.

Continue reading Lunch break? Time for a rapid SOTA/POTA activation!

Field Radio Kit Gallery: N5FY’S Elecraft KX1 Minimal CW Kit

Many thanks to Joshua (N5FY) who shares the following article about his KX1 portable field radio kit which will be featured on our Field Kit Gallery page. If you would like to share your field kit with the QRPer community, read this post


N5FY’S Elecraft KX1 Minimal CW Kit

by Joshua (N5FY)

I started operating CW this past August and am having a blast! One great thing, or maybe its a bit of a problem for the budget, is that when you can work CW, there is a whole new world of HF radios to collect…I mean operate!

Not to mention the ability to pack out a small portable kit that can be thrown in a bag at the last minute when headed out the door. I have a few such kits but lacked a throw line for each. So, I picked up some more Arborist Throw Line from Atwood Rope Manufacture so I could finish out the first kit.

I just snagged a used, inoperable, KXPD1 paddle to complete my KX1 radio. I had to rebuild the jack on the key but did so in quick order and decided to make it out to my local park for a POTA activation. My plan was to finish up the kit with the throw line and then test out the new complete kit. Suffice to say, all went well!

N5FY Beautiful Morning View with the KX1

The KX1, now out of production, has been a pleasure to operate CW with. This unit has the internal ATU option, 6xAA battery pack, and I updated the internals to add 80 and 30m. So this rig will run 20/30/40/80m.

There are 2 message memories, built in keyer, and even includes RF, AF, and bandwidth knobs for quick adjustment while operating. I’m no experienced CW operator, but this rig is hard to beat in my opinion. Then again, my KH1 hasn’t show up yet!

N5FY KX1 Complete Compact Kit

The antenna of choice here is my Tufteln 2 Wire No Transformer with a 41ft radiator and 17ft counterpoise. The internal ATU makes working 20, 30, and 40m simple and with no coax needed. I would use a much longer wire if I needed to work 80m. This antenna packs away very nice and not needing the Coax is a space saver. I have one version or another of my QRP antennas in each of my radio kits! 

N5FY KX1 Complete Compact Kit Packed

Packing a kit with no room to spare is almost like playing Tetris. I have a good bit of gear from Go Ruck, its all fantastic. For this kit, the 3L would leave a bit more space for some additional gear. If you are looking for some pockets as well, I like the GR2 Field Pocket. For this KX1 though, with the cover installed, I happed to forgo the bit of extra protection for the lightweight small size.

N5FY KX1 Complete Compact Kit Closed Up with Pencil for Size Reference

Next Kit to finish up is the KX2 and TX-500. Both just lack the throw line.

Joshua N5FY, 72

Winner of the ARRL POTA Book Prize Package Giveaway!

Last week, we announced an ARRL POTA Book prize package that included:

We had over 240 entries in this giveaway and used a random number generator to pick our winner.

The winner is Ernie Antczak (W3ETE)!

Thank you all for participating!

Please join me in congratulating Ernie for being the lucky winner!

A have a few other giveaways scheduled for the next year, so if you didn’t win this one, stay tuned!

Elecraft KH1: A Quickie Pedestrian Mobile POTA Activation!

Thursday, November 9, 2023 was a typical “dad taxi” day for me.

By the time I got around to doing a POTA activation that afternoon (which was always on the docket) it was within 30 minutes of when I needed to pick up my daughters.

Fortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center was en route to town.

I had planned that day to pair up my Elecraft KH1 with a random wire antenna, but looking at the time, I realized that was being a little ambitious–the few minutes to deploy and pack up the antenna would cut into the activation.

Instead (since I had just received my KH1 logging tray/cover) I decided to put it to the test with a real pedestrian mobile activation using the KH1, its  whip antenna, the logging sheets I printed/cut, and the teeny space pen included with the logging tray. In theory, this all looked doable, but in practice I didn’t know if I would actually be able to log on a tray attached to the side of my radio!

I had planned to use my Zoom H1n recorder for the KH1 audio since I would be making an activation video (see below), but frankly, I simply didn’t have time to set it up. I had to make do with the KH1 wee speaker.

Speaking of the speaker…

After playing with the speaker for a few weeks now, I’ve found that it sounds much better when I run the KH1 with a wide CW filter.

I’d always assumed being a low-fidelity 1″ speaker that narrow audio would be best, but I was wrong about that. In the field, I tinker with the filter and attenuation settings for the best audio balance.

Still, it’s not perfect (the speaker is really a “bonus” feature) but it’s much improved over my initial POTA activation.

Of course, I would have been using earphones had I not been recording the activation on camera. Via earphones, the KH1 audio is excellent!

Gear:

Note: All Amazon links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

On The Air

I hopped on the air, started calling CQ POTA, and the stations started rolling in. Continue reading Elecraft KH1: A Quickie Pedestrian Mobile POTA Activation!

Seal the Deal: Exploring the Best Watertight Cases for the Elecraft KH1

Well before I actually had a KH1 in hand, I noted the dimensions of the radio from the preliminary spec sheet and started exploring the world of compact, watertight cases.

Why a watertight case?

This Pelican 1060 case houses a complete Mountain Topper MTR-3B field kit including a throw line and throw weight.

I like to have a watertight case option for pretty much any QRP radio I take on SOTA (Summits On The Air) activations.

It’s reassuring to know that if I stumble and fall on my pack, the case will prevent me from crushing the radio. In addition, a good case keeps my radio dry if I get caught in heavy rains or (even more likely) slip on a rock and fall in a river/creek. In fact, many of these watertight cases will float with the KH1 inside so if it goes overboard while kayak mobile, it’ll be easy to retrieve. (For the record: I don’t want to test this theory.)

With one exception, all of the cases I explore here cost somewhere between $25-$40. I consider this cheap insurance for a $500-1100 radio.

My requirements

I searched a few manufacturer’s websites and tried to find interior dimensions that would accommodate the KH1 and all protrusions: 1.4”H x 2.4”W x 5.6”L (3.5×6.1x14cm).

I primarily searched two watertight case manufactures: Pelican and Nanuk. I trust products from both of these companies and both offer compact watertight cases. There are more manufacturers out there, but but both of these companies offer quality products. Pelican cases are even made here in the USA. Many Nanuk models are made in Canada, but not their Nano series included here.

In the end, I was searching for two case sizes:

  1. A compact case to only hold the KH1 “Edgewood” package: the KH1 with paddle attached, Cover/Logging Tray, Whip Antenna, and 13′ Counterpoise. There also needed to be enough room for a pair of earphones.
  2. A slightly larger case that would accommodate the KH1 “Edgewood” package along with earphones, a throw line, throw weight (or rock sack), and a simple random wire antenna.

The idea with the second, slightly larger, case is that it would give me the option to use a wire antenna during an activation and would be fully self-contained (meaning, everything needed for the activation included).

The contenders

I took a total of eight cases to a local park and spread them out on a picnic table for this test. This made the process of comparing the cases quite easy. I actually made a video of this whole process–you’ll find the video further below in this post.

Here are the cases I tested in the order you find them in the video (any Amazon links here are affiliate and support QRPer.com):

Hint: many of these cases are available in multiple colors–prices can vary greatly based on the color. A red case might cost as must as 30% less than a black case, for example.  Always check the pricing of color options, but make sure you don’t accidentally select a different size case in the process (this is easy to do).

Again, you’ll see a lot of detail in the video below, but let’s look at each of these cases with my notes: Continue reading Seal the Deal: Exploring the Best Watertight Cases for the Elecraft KH1

Field Radio Kit Gallery: K8ZT’s Elecraft KX3 Rapid Deployment Kit

Many thanks to Anthony (K8ZT) who shares the following article about his portable field radio kit which will be featured on our Field Kit Gallery page. If you would like to share your field kit with the QRPer community, read this post


K8ZT Elecraft KX3 Rapid Deployment, Expedition Go-Box

I have been active in portable Field Operations, portable contest operations and POTA for many years. I also like always to have the option of both multiple modes (CW, SSB & DIGI) and multiple bands for my portable operations. I am not a SOTA operator, and although weight is still an issue, this is definitely not a minimalist setup. My preferred method for go-boxes is the rapid deployment model. In this model, almost all interconnections of elements in the kit are already made, and the opening of the case and attachment of the antenna get me on the air in seconds. This model is not designed for airplane baggage handling or other rough transportation but works well in a backpack or carry-on.

Here is a photo (above) of operating FD from Delaware

The design I have used can work with other radios with similar footprints, including Elecraft KX2, Icom 705, Xeigu 5105 or 6100, etc. You could also substitute other similar tackle or tool boxes. I like working with plastic cases because they are lightweight and easily modified. I have put together a slideshow on my go-box with instructions and suggestions at tiny.cc/rapidkx3.

I used the Plano 135402 4-BY™ 3500 Stowaway® Rack System tacklebox.

A very similar box is the Harbor Freight- STOREHOUSE Toolbox Organizer with 4 Drawers.

Securing the KX3 to the box was easily accomplished by substituting two longer nylon thumbscrews for the two shorter manufacturer-supplied ones. These screws extend through the case and screw into KX3. Nylon was chosen to allow easy customized lengths. The BNC antenna extends out of the case.

In addition to using the tackle box for my go-box, I also got the four insertable clear plastic containers. With the radio installed, I still have room for one container in its original position.

I can load a lot of extra supplies in these containers. You can even set up each of the four for different types of operations.

The top of the tackle box is storage space for my LiFEPO4 battery and other items. The contents can change depending on the planned operation. Here, you can see the Mic for phone operations and a DigiRig Mobile External Sound Card Interface for FT8. If doing a contest-type operation, I usually use a headset with a mic, and you can see the push-to-talk foot switch in the box ( a source of cheap light foot switches is eBay Tattooing foot switches).

I have also run cabling from the radio’s connections (Mic, Key, Headphone & Serial port) into the top area to make connections easier. To facilitate multiple connections, each uses a 3.5 mm plug 90° (connection to radio) and a splitter with two 3.5mm sockets to connect accessories. I used a label maker to label each connector’s socket ends.

Note the quick reference diagram of the KX3 mounted in the lid of the go-box. This is something I do with all of the go-boxes I build. I use tiny bungee cords on larger go boxes to securely store manuals in lid space.

I like computer logging, especially for more extended contests or Field Day operations. I use the computer to interface with the radio for this operation. This also provides me with a computer to do digital modes. I have found laptops that work with 12-volt DC to extend the usable time when AC is unavailable. I have also found PC Power Banks with 20 V DC output that can run most laptops for 24+ hours in conjunction with the laptop’s internal battery. One accessory I find essential is a simple USB storage drive with the following:

  • Installation file for any computer programs I will be using (Logging software, WSJT-X, JT-Alert, etc.)
  • Elecraft KX3 Control Utility (to program macros, make setting changes, etc.)
  • Rig computer software Drivers for all of my radios
  • Firmware for all of my radios (just in case)
  • PDFs of all user manuals for any equipment I am using. Although paper manuals do not require a computer, they are heavy, easily damaged and especially not computer-searchable for the exact item I need to diagnose my issue.

The other thing the USB drive can facilitate is the emergency use of a loaner computer, which would have none of the software I would need installed.

I use a variety of antennas with my kit, but my default is a random-length Endfed connected directly to KX3’s antenna jack with a BNC splitter. My support is a 7-meter fiberglass collapsible fishing pole. Here is a table with alternative random antenna lengths to try- link#1 and  link #2

For additional information on this and other portable operations packing ideas, see my Portable Operations presentation slideshow tiny.cc/portop and video https://youtu.be/It3wlq7RoUo.

Equipment:

KX2/AX1 Travel: Two Quick POTA Activations on the South Carolina coast!

SC Coast: A Postcard Field Report

When life gets busy (it is now) I don’t always have the time to produce a full field report. This is especially the case when I have, not one, but two field reports and two activation videos!

This “Postcard” field report covers two activations on the evening of October 2, 2023. At the time, I was staying on the coast of South Carolina for a night. (You might recall I activated Lee State Park with friends earlier that afternoon.)

Instead of producing two full-format field reports, this will be one report with two activations.

Note that I used the same gear for both of these activations.

Gear:

Note: All Amazon links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

Myrtle Beach State Park (K-2907)

I arrived at my hotel in South Myrtle Beach around 17:30 local. I checked in (thank you, Hampton Inn for the room upgrade!), dropped off my bag in the room, then immediately made my way to what turned out to be my first of two parks.

As I purchased my park ticket at the entrance gate, the park employee told me that my ticket would also allow me into Huntington State Park (just 20 minutes down the road) until end of day.

At that point, I had no intention of hitting a second park…but of course I just couldn’t resist the temptation of that free entry!

I know that some South Carolina parks are picky about antenna deployments, etc. so I stuck with my low-impact, low-profile combo of the Elecraft KX2 and AX1. It doesn’t disturb the trees, the ground, nor any park visitors.

I parked at the pier and set up at a picnic area under the trees nearby. Early October is very much off-season on the coast, so the park was relatively quiet.

There was no one else in the picnic area, so I had the place to myself. Continue reading KX2/AX1 Travel: Two Quick POTA Activations on the South Carolina coast!

Jan’s Unun and Balun antenna PCBs

Over on Mastodon, Jan (DG1JAN) posted a few images of a PCB-based antenna project he made available on github. At my request, Jan kindly shared the following information so you can order your own PCBs with design files he has made available.

Jan writes:

Hello Thomas,

I mostly do portable operation (SOTA, COTA, WWFF,…) and I
like playing around with different antennas (EFHW, Linked Dipoles, OCFD…).

So I came up with a little PCB some time ago that you can use as an UnUn (1:49, 1:9) or BalUn (1:1, 1:4) in different configurations.

I’ve put this under CC License so everybody can reuse or modify the Design (PCB Files in Kicad-Format) or order PCB from any Manufacture (e.g. like JLCPCB) by using the Gerber-Zip-File in the repository.

Please have a look to the Project Page on github for details and source-files: https://github.com/DG1JAN/UniBalun

In addition I’ve done some variations of the PCB, e.g. as a
“UnUn only” variant:
https://github.com/DG1JAN/AntennaPlayground/tree/main/UnUn_BNC_1.2

Or a “micro” variant of a UnUn:
https://github.com/DG1JAN/AntennaPlayground/tree/main/microUnUn

There are some videos from (mostly) German OMs on YT about the build and usage.

vy 73 de Jan, DG1JAN

Thank you so much for sharing this, Jan! Readers, it’s pretty affordable to use a service like OshPark to order a few of these PCBs. Simply upload the provided Gerber files and they’ll make them for you.

Field Radio Kit Gallery: KA4KOE’s FX-4CR Field Kit

Many thanks to Philip (KA4KOE) who shares the following article about his portable field radio kit which will be featured on our Field Kit Gallery pageIf you would like to share your field kit with the QRPer community, read this post. Philip writes:


FX-4CR Field Kit Load-Out

by Philip (KA4KOE)

I transitioned from a full power station, consisting of a 100W radio and 40 AH of batteries. These items fit into two (2) Apache 4800 boxes. Solar panels 400W and sundries (including a field computer – Pansonic CF-53 Toughbook) went into 4 duffle bags. The antenna pole is not included, either a 10 or 12M fiberglass telescoping type. After 29 activations, I decided to trim down the setup. Fully laden, the pack weights in at 26 lbs.

Inside the pack

  1. FX-4CR SDR transceiver in a protective Velcro wrap.
  2. 6 AH Bioenno and a Genasun GV-5 controller.
  3. 40-10M EFHW with the unun provided by N9SAB with approximately 65’ silicon jacket 22 AWG wire.
  4. 100W coaxial line choke by N9SAB.
  5. Plastic Jubliee Clips (hose clamps) to secure sections of the pole.
  6. Headset, Morse Key, and PTT switch. The key is a field CWMorse unit.
  7. RigExpert Stick 230 in an electric toothbrush case.
  8. AT-100M automatic QRP antenna tuner.
  9. Tent spikes to support antenna mast.
  10. Percussive tool.
  11. Global Solar 62W surplus military solar panel and cables. Cables not shown.
  12. 25’ Coaxial Cable
  13. Kelty Raven 2500 tactical radio pack.
  14. Short 7’ coax section installs between unun and EFHW (Item 3).
  15. Winder with mini-paracord.

Outside the pack:

16. 12M Spiderbeam pole.
17. Windows Tablet, Getac F110-G3, carried in a separate PC shoulder bag.

I can set up my station in about ½ hour. Putting stuff back in the pack takes about 5 minutes longer; mainly getting the pack re-stuffed correctly. With the solar panel I can essentially run all day if I have good sun.

Philip Neidlinger, KA4KOE

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

by Leo (DL2COM)

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 1

“No way!” I said to myself when I saw that Alcatraz Island is an official Parks-on-the-air (POTA) reference which has only been activated four times by two operators.

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island / POTA reference K-7888 & 2fer K-0647

It surprised me that such a historically relevant site hasn’t seen more ham radio activity in the past – or maybe it has, just not for POTA. I then got super excited as I was packing my bags for San Francisco.

I have missed this foggy beauty so much and it has been many years since I visited the city. I won’t bore you with the ordeal of our travel but it included canceled flights, multiple delays and rescheduling via Berlin and London the next day due to a hostage situation at Hamburg airport. So our already super short trip of 4.5 days shrunk into a good 3 days in SF. So which things to cross off the schedule now? It was clear that this unfortunate situation was certainly not going to eat into my activation budget. Hell no!

I admit since watching “The Rock” (1996) Alcatraz has always been a place of mystery and fascination to me. Those who are interested in reading more about the former fort, military prison and federal penitentiary can do so here.

After I learned that it was also a CW ATNO I instantly said: “Done deal. The ink is dry. I will activate with morse code in the shadows of Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris”. Of course I would do it plain vanilla style throwing good ol’ wires in trees and staking pointy things in the ground. Yeah right. Sometimes passion does tend to carry you away a wee bit so a little later I gathered myself and started doing some research.

K-7888 log so far

Apparently the first POTA pioneer on Alcatraz was KC1MIJ who managed to get 5 QSOs in with an FM HT in July 2021. I’d say that’s pretty awesome for a location almost as low as sea level. The first successful activation was done on December 3rd 2021 by Elizabeth “Liz” N6LY and her husband Kevin K6YD. Since then both of them had only been back one time in December 2022 for another day to achieve a whopping cumulative 761 phone QSOs in only two days of total operation. Wow! What an achievement. No other hams have tried to activate Alcatraz since.

National Park Service Badge
The entire island is under management of the National Park Service (NPS)

I didn’t hesitate to write Liz an email and ask about her experience operating from the island as I knew it would probably require some preparation. The POTA website also stated that a permit from the National Park Service (NPS) is required. Luckily Liz replied swiftly with a lot of helpful information and I am very thankful for the email exchange. She specifically pointed out that it is in fact necessary to get a permit (even for simple HT activity) and that she had already applied in July for another day activity this coming December. They are still waiting to hear back from NPS’s office so it does seem quite hard to get approval for a “proper” activation. It is understandable that folks there want to have control over an organized operation where antennas, 100w radios, chairs etc. might need to be set up. With so many tourists visiting each day they also want to make sure that any activity doesn’t interfere with their core business especially on weekends.

Since I really didn’t want to spoil any of the hard preparatory work with NPS that Liz and Kevin had done for the ham radio community as well as respect local processes I wrote an email to the Alcatraz Rangers Office asking for a permit only a few days before my arrival. I knew it was a long shot and highly unlikely that they’d get back to me in time. So I called them every morning and afternoon the days after to follow up but was unsuccessful reaching them on any channel. By that point I had almost given up. However there were plenty of other options for activations so I had a blast in/on several SOTA/POTA references in SF which I will report on later.

Alcatraz Island Ferry
Alcatraz Island Ferry @ Pier 33

On our last day I woke up and thought “Man, I can’t just leave the Bay Area and not activate Alcatraz.” Since one of my appointments got canceled short-term I didn’t think long, jumped on an Uber to Pier 33 and off I was (yeeeees, online tickets were still available).  Continue reading DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz