Category Archives: Portable

I’ve sent the Chinese uSDX QRP SDR Transceiver back…

A couple weeks ago, I posted my initial thoughts about the Chinese uSDX/uSDR QRP transceiver.

In short, it wasn’t exactly a glowing review.

I’ve now tested the uSDX at home for a couple weeks and decided to send it back to the eBay distributor.

I made a short video detailing the reasons why I’m sending it back (see blow), but in short there are two main reasons:

1.) The receiver and audio

I understand that quality control varies greatly with the various versions of the uSDX being manufactured in China.

With that in mind, I have to assume mine is one with an incredibly inadequate receiver.

My uSDX receiver overloaded when in the presence of pretty much any strong-ish signal.

As an example, one of the first signals I tuned to on the CW portion of the 20M band–K4NYM activating a park in Florida–had FT8 audio bleeding in from over 20 or 30 kHz away. K4NYM had an S9 signal, but he was very much a portable operator, not a blowtorch contest station. The uSDX should have easily been able to handle this situation.

On my unit, if you tuned to a strong CW signal (or worse yet, a pileup) it opened the receiver window so wide that signals across the band bled through. There was essentially no selectivity. Continue reading I’ve sent the Chinese uSDX QRP SDR Transceiver back…

QRPer Notes: NG2E activates 7 summits in one day, K4OGO discovers QRP in Hawaii, New Icom Software, and TX-500 Firmware Update

Because I receive so many tips from readers here on QRPer, I wanted way to share them in a concise newsletter format.  To that end, welcome to QRPer Notes, a collection of links to interesting stories and tips making waves in the world of radio!


NG2E activates 7 summits on one December day

Many thanks to Jack (NG2E) who shares this Storymap post outlining his effort to activate seven summits in one day.

Jack notes:

[…]My plan was to activate four primary peaks along the Skyline Drive. I then planned to skip over two peaks–Stony Man and Hawksbill Mtn–as I’ve previously activated these peaks. Once activating Hazeltop Mtn farther to the south, I planned to backtrack and pick up the bonus points only for Hawksbill and Stony Mtn if I had enough time and energy.[…]

Click here to view his activation map and narrative on Storymaps.

5 Watts SSB on the Beach in Kauai, Hawaii (K4OGO)

Many thanks to Tommy (N4KBM) who shares this video of K4OGO making his first QRP SSB contact on a beach in Hawaii:

Icom IC-705 Firmware upgrade

Many thanks to Markku Koskinen who writes:

New software available from Icom.

ST-4003W | Firmware / Software | Support | Icom Inc. (icomjapan.com)

The ST-4003W is Windows software, which allows you to set the radio’s time from your PC’s time by connecting the radio to the PC.

Compatible radios (as of November 2021)
IC-705
IC-7100
IC-7300
IC-7600
IC-7610
IC-7850/IC-7851
IC-9700

Use a USB cable to connect the radio to your PC.

The USB port type differs depending on the radio, so please check the radio’s port type before preparing the cable.

Before downloading this software, please thoroughly read the “ST-4003W INSTRUCTIONS” for installation details and what is required for the installation.

New Discovery TX-500 Firmware Update

Lab599 notes via Twitter:

New firmware version available v1.12.00

    1. Improved AGC algorithm
    2. Added beacon mode activity indicator
    3. Added reference frequency correction (TCXO adjustment)

You can download it from here.

 

Ham Radio Workbench Podcast: We take a deep-dive into the world of backpacks and gear bags

As many of you know, I’m a hopeless pack geek.

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.”

POTA Field Report: Activating South Mountains with the new N6ARA TinyPaddle!

On Sunday, November 28, 2021, my family needed a little time outdoors after a Saturday full of home projects.

I packed my field radio kit in the GoRuck Bullet Ruck, then we jumped in the car and drove to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (the same site in my previous POTA field report).

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

It was a gorgeous day and we had the park to ourselves. First thing we did was hike the short Lakeview Trail loop.

This trail is only 1.3 miles long, but offers up some beautiful views.

Hazel also came along and enjoyed the sights, smells, and even got her feet wet in a stream!

Fortunately, no one was using the one solitary picnic table at the Clear Creek access, so we claimed it!

First thing I did was launch a line and deploy my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

I knew it would pair perfectly with the Elecraft KX2!

I love this compact Weaver throw line bag!

The new N6ARA TinyPaddle

This activation also gave me an excuse to check out a paddle my buddy Ara (N6ARA) recently designed.

He calls it the TinyPaddle:

An appropriate name, because this key is wee! Ara notes:

As someone who likes bring experimental gear to summits, I have had paddles break on me multiple times. […] I don’t like carrying the extra weight/volume of a second set of paddles, so I designed my own “TinyPaddle” for backup as a middle ground option. It weighs roughly 3.7g and is 1.2cm x 1.2cm x 5.0cm in size.

He’s right, the TinyPaddle could tuck away even in the most compact of field kits. You’d never know it was there.

Here’s the TinyPaddle connected to the side of my Elecraft KX2:

Ara sent this key to me for frank feedback (prior to doing a small production run of them) knowing I’d not only check it out in the shack, but (of course!) take it to the field.

I decided to do my activation at South Mountains State Park using only the TinyPaddle.

Gear:

Before taking it to the field, I had some concerns that the TinyPaddle might turn in the 3.5mm key port on the side of the KX2 as I used it. Once plugging it in, though, I could tell that it would not be a problem at all. The paddle is so lightweight and so sensitive, it’s simply not an issue. In fact, it would be rather difficult to use it in such a way that it would shift in the 3.5mm port.

On The Air

Knowing in advance that it was a contest weekend (the CQWW), I decided I would stick with the WARC bands during this activation.

I tuned the speaker wire antenna to 10.112 MHz on the 30 meter band.

Hazel asks, “Got any doggy treats in that pack, daddy?”

The 30 meter band was more crowded than usual as many other POTA/SOTA/WWFF and casual operators sought refuge from the signal density on 40 and 20 meters.

Since I had the family with me and since we’d spent most of our time at the park eating a late picnic lunch and doing a casual hike, I allotted only 20 minutes of air time for this activation. I was hoping I could validate the activation with 10 contacts in that amount of time.

I started calling CQ with the N6ARA paddles. First thing I noticed was how sensitive and precise they were. Although the TinyPaddle is a mechanical paddle (with spaced contacts), they feel more like a capacitive touch paddle they’re so sensitive.

I started calling CQ POTA and soon logged KE4Q.

A few minutes later, I worked AI8Z, followed by W5WIL, WO0S,  WA2JMG, AA0Z, WA2FBN, N0VRP, KA3OMQ, W9SAU, and K1MZM.

With a total of 12 stations logged in 21 minutes, I went QRT.

QSO Map

Here’s what 5 watts into a 28.5′ speaker wire did on 30 meters that fine day (click map to enlarge):

Video

Here’s a video of my full activation. Hazel was being very camera shy; for some reason, she doesn’t like the OSMO Action camera. My wife and I think it must resemble something she’s seen at the vet’s office? We may never know!

Click here to view on YouTube.

And the TinyPaddle?

In short? I love the TinyPaddle!

Ara is obviously a talented engineer. I’m always impressed with devices like this that are so simple, yet so effective.

The TinyPaddle is going to live in my KX2 field pack as a backup to the KXPD2 paddles which have actually failed me in the field before.

That time the KXPD2 failed me…

I mention in the video that I once needed to use my Elecraft KXPD2 paddles to communicate with my buddy Mike (K8RAT) to share my SSB frequency for a very rare park activation I activated in the spring of 2020. After plugging the KXPD2 paddles into the KX2, I found that I could only send “dits.” I couldn’t even set it up to send as a straight key from one side of the paddle.

This forced me to drive 25 minutes to a spot where I had cell phone reception to contact Mike with info for a spot, then drive back to the site. That effectively shortened my activation of this ATNO park by 50 minutes!

KXPD2 missing one of the two center posts.

I sent Elecraft the photo above and they quickly identified the problem: turns out, one of the center posts had loosened and fallen out.  They immediately sent me a replacement post free of charge (typical Elecraft customer service).

I use the KXPD2 paddles quite a lot because they mount directly to the front of the KX2 making it possible to use my kneeboard during SOTA activations.
Since that mishap in the field, I tighten the KXPD2 posts at least once a month and also carry a precision screwdriver with me in my field kit.

A proper backup!

But having the TinyPaddle now is even extra insurance that a paddle failure won’t stop me from completing my activation!

When I made the video, I wasn’t certain if Ara was planning to do a production run of these or not. I’m very pleased to see that he has!

He’s made a storefront on his website N6ARA.com and is now selling the TinyPaddle as a kit for $15 or fully assembled for $20 US.

I’m certain he could actually fetch much more for these paddles, but he wants them to be an affordable, accessible backup paddle for anyone doing CW field activations.

He even includes a link to his Thingiverse page where you can download and 3D print accessories (including a TinyPaddle holder) and replacement parts at home free of charge.

Ara, thanks for making your project so available and accessible to everyone!

Click here to check out the TinyPaddle at N6ARA.com. Note that he’s doing these production runs in batches, but you can pre-order them.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this field report and activation.

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

Thank you!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Bonus photos!

My daughter Geneva (K4TLI) took a few extra photos at the park that day. Enjoy!

She took this candid photo of me as I packed up the KX2. Check out my KSKO (McGrath, AK) tee shirt! Thanks for that, Paul Walker!

My QCX-Mini Field Kit

So I just finished putting together a dedicated, compact field kit for the QCX-Mini. I’m planning to do a SOTA activation tomorrow, if the stars align. Hopefully, they’ll align!

Everything in the photo above, save the throw line bag, fits in my Spec-Ops Brand Op Order Pouch.

QCX-Mini Field Kit Contents:

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!

Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC might become my Holy Grail SOTA pack

This year, I got an early Christmas present: a Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack E.D.C.

If you’ve been reading QRPer.com for long, you’ll know that there’s no cure for my pack addiction, so in a sense, there could be no better gift!

Spec-Ops Brand

I’ve been a long-time customer of Texas-based Spec-Ops Brand.

I first discovered their gear at the Wright Patterson AFB Air Force base Military Clothing Store with my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) in 2013. I purchased their Pack-Rat pouch and reviewed it on the SWLing Post.

The Pack-Rat Pouch
Pack-Rat Interior Organization

Since then I’ve purchased numerous products from Spec-Ops Brand.

I’ve owned the Spec-Ops T.H.E. Pack Tactical backpack since 2013 as well. You don’t see that pack in my field reports because, frankly, it’s just too big for most of my field radio applications. It’s designed for armed forces deployments and has a lot of capacity. I primarily use it for camping and extended travels.

Spec-Ops introduced an EDC (Everyday Carry) version of the T.H.E. Pack Tactical in 2015 or after so many customers asked for it. The EDC version is identical to the larger T.H.E. pack in every respect, just smaller in every dimension.

Looking good

It’s very early days, but I suspect this pack will become my choice Summits On The Air (SOTA) pack.

In terms of size/capacity, it’s ideal for summit day hikes and the thing is just covered in Molle (Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment) straps, so very adaptable if I need to attach extendable masts, hiking poles, water bottles, or basically a Molle pouch or accessory.

The best part, though, is that it sports the same two ports/openings Spec-Ops puts into the larger T.H.E. packs for field antennas and hydration. Continue reading Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC might become my Holy Grail SOTA pack

QRP & Tea: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 & AX1 under shelter at Tuttle Educational State Forest

Sometimes field activations can be relaxed and laid-back. Other times they can be absolute mayhem!

Having explored the whole mayhem style activation the previous day, I was seeking a more chilled-out field activation on Thursday, November 4, 2021.

It was pouring rain, but I had a respectable three hour window to fit in a park activation while visiting my parents in the foothills of the NC mountains.

I had such an enjoyable experience pairing my Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna under a shelter at Tuttle Educational State Forest during a previous rainy day activation, I decided to revisit the same site.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

I knew I would likely be the only visitor at Tuttle that day; it was pretty cold and very wet.

Knowing rangers might not expect visitors on a day like this (keeping in mind this type of park caters to educational groups and are otherwise relatively quiet) I made a courtesy call to the park headquarters. I asked the ranger for permission to use their main shelter for an activation.

As expected, he said, “It’s all yours!” Continue reading QRP & Tea: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 & AX1 under shelter at Tuttle Educational State Forest

Compact portable solar charging: Anas seeks your advice!

Many thanks to Anas Patel who writes:

Hello Thomas,

Your post a few days a go regarding quality LiFePO4 batteries in the UK got me thinking about solar charging my batteries during the summer.

I hope your readers in the UK can give me some pointers I’m looking to assemble a very small portable solar set-up something I can easily move between multiple locations that isn’t too heavy to travel with.

I’ve had a look around on a few forums, eBay and Amazon but haven’t got a clue what I need. Fast charge speed isn’t a critical factor for me as long as I can get some charge into my batteries on a sunny day.

I know I need a foldable panel, solar controller and maybe cables to hook up to the battery but with a million options out there I don’t know where to start but I think panels between 60/120W output would give me enough power.

I would be most grateful if your readers particularly in the UK could give me some pointers.

My 12V 12Ah battery uses F2 spade terminals and the 30Ah uses M5 ring terminals but I have no issues using crocodile clips to make the connection.

Thank you.

Anas Patel

Thank you for your question, Anas.

While I know what is needed in theory (a PV panel, a good charge controller, cables, and a battery), I don’t know the charge controller market that well. As with batteries, I assume product availability may vary greatly by region.

I typically pair my IC-705 with a 3 to 6 aH Bioenno LiFEPo battery pack.

I do know this: it’s important that your charge controller is rated for the battery chemistry you have/adopt. In other words, if you’re using LiFePo4 batteries, make sure the charge controller is rated for LiFePo4.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many solar panels are terminated with industry-specific connectors like the MC4. Sometimes you can integrate those connectors into your system, other times you may prefer terminating them with other connectors.

My hope is that readers might chime in with the components they successfully use in their portable charing systems. Please comment!

This is timely because I’m actually plotting a portable PV system for my field kit and will be taking notes. I can’t decide if I should simply piece together a system around existing components I have (I would need to connect a couple small folding panels in parallel a get a LiFePo4 controller) or if I should simply go for an all-in-one system like the PowerFilm Solar Lightsaver Max.

SOTA Report: New QCX-Mini, new Packtenna EFHW, and pileup insanity on Mount Mitchell

Do you know what it’s like when you have a new radio and you can’t wait to take it to the field?

Yeah, me too!

Even before I received my QCX-Mini in October 2021, I already knew where I’d take this pocket-sized, single-band QRP CW transceiver for its first field activation: Mount Mitchell (W4C/CM-001).

Mitchell is the highest summit east of the Mississippi river and only about 6 miles from my QTH as the crow flies.  I had yet to activate Mitchell this year for SOTA although I have activated it for POTA/WWFF several times. As I’ve probably mentioned in the past, Mount Mitchell park is my “happy place.” Our family loves this site and we visit it frequently to hike in the spruce-fir forest.

On the morning of Wednesday, November 3, 2021, I realized I had enough room in my schedule to swing by Mount Mitchell for an activation, so I quickly assembled my SOTA pack around the QCX-Mini. Continue reading SOTA Report: New QCX-Mini, new Packtenna EFHW, and pileup insanity on Mount Mitchell

Putting the KM4ACK End-Fed Half-Wave on the air at Table Rock!

Lately, I’ve been in the mood to build kits.

I say “lately” but in truth I’m always tinkering with something in the shack.

The radio room/office at my QTH is pretty small, though, and I don’t have a dedicated, full-time workbench. I’ve been mentally re-arranging the room and trying to sort out a way to make space for one because it would be so nice to have a spot where my soldering iron could remain hooked up at all times.

For the moment, when I work on kits I use our dining room table so I try to stick with one or two session kits as opposed to the multi-day variety.

KM4ACK EFHW

KM4ACK Image

A number of readers and subscribers have asked me to check out the KM4ACK 49:1 End-Fed Half-Wave antenna kit.  This kit is produced by Jason (KM4ACK) and purchasing his kits supports his excellent YouTube channel.

I have a lot of field antennas, so I don’t really need another EFHW, but then again I like having a dedicated resonant wire antenna with each of my radios and, (hey hey!) it’s a great excuse to build a kit!

KM4ACK Image

I purchased the KM4ACK kit and received it within a week. Building the antenna was incredibly straight-forward. Jason packaged the components in small bags so finding parts was easy. I really appreciate kits that aren’t one large “bag-o-parts.” Continue reading Putting the KM4ACK End-Fed Half-Wave on the air at Table Rock!