On Thursday, January 6, 2022, I woke up with one goal in mind: take the Xiegu X6100 out on a proper hike-in activation!
While I’d had this radio on loan from Radioddity since December 23rd, I hadn’t had an opportunity to truly hike it into an activation site. Between the weather and my tight schedule, I haven’t had an opportunity to plot out a proper Summits On The Air (SOTA) Activation. SOTA activations that involve hiking usually take a much bigger bite out of my day and, lately, I’ve been to busy to plot one.
I do live near a vast trail network, however, and it so happens that much of the trails run through overlapping public lands: Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah State Game Land.
So I packed my Spec-Ops EDC tactical pack, grabbed Hazel’s harness, and headed out the door.
I’ve always believed that the first day of the year should be symbolic of the whole year.
At least, that’s the excuse I was using to fit in a quick activation on New Year’s Day (Jan 1, 2022).
I have had the new Xiegu X6100 on loan and planned to take it to the field, but that afternoon waves of rain were moving into the area in advance of a weather front. Since I don’t own this X6100, I didn’t want to risk getting it wet.
In fact, I had almost talked myself out of going on an activation, but my wife encouraged me to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we jumped into the car and hit the road.
Our options on the parkway were very limited as they often are in the winter. In advance of winter weather, the National Park Service closes off large sections of the BRP because they have no equipment to remove snow/ice. Plus, you’d never want to drive the BRP in slippery conditions. There are too many beautiful overlooks to slide off of.
Thankfully, the Folk Art Center access is always open and incredibly convenient.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
We arrived at the parking lot and I very quickly made my way to a picnic table while my wife and daughters took a walk.
Many thanks to Jon (KA6TVX) who shares the following field report from K-1186.
Activation of park K-1186 Pt. Mugu State Park the hard way
I thought you might be interested in my activating K-1186.
Within the park is Mugu peak that’s 1200 ft above sea level. This is not the highest or most prominent in the park but to get to it you follow an old Chumash Indian trail that goes up the mountain making it a much rougher hike than usual.
The round trip is about 3 miles but took 2 hours to reach the peak. After we got there I set up the Ic-705 and the Wolf River Coil Silver Bullet and tuned it for 40 meters CW.
I noticed that the battery on iPhone was almost dead so was logging on paper. No contacts on 40 after 30 minutes of calling so switched to 20 and retuning my antenna. Got 13 contacts (after I got home and entered them in HAMRS I noticed that each contact was from a different state which I have not had before).
My son came with me; that was really nice.
Thank you for the mini field report and photos, Jon! What a beautiful location. Sorry that 40 meters wasn’t more productive for you, but it looks like 20 meters certainly made up for it. Well done!
Like you, I believe it’s fun to pack in a radio at a park and go on a long hike. It gives me a bit of that “SOTA” feeling, but there’s no particular summit I have to hit and the activation zone is basically anything within the park boundary!
Thank you again for sharing your experience on Mugu peak.
Many thanks to Scott (KN3A) who recently commented with his thoughts and impressions of the Xiegu X6100. Scott writes:
When you published your X6100 [field] report, I could not wait to see the video! You tipped me off when we had our QSO that you were using it! As you said in your YouTube comment, a X6100 to X6100 was accomplished at your activation!
I am an avid POTA/SOTA QRP operator and mostly use my Icom IC-705 on activations. It is a superb radio and no intention of ever selling it. The reason I was attracted to my X6100 was the fact it’s an SDR, has a very nice display screen and has a built in ATU. I use many different antennas on activations, and some require a ATU, like my Sotabeams Bandhopper 3. I like using it when I go backpacking and activating due to how easy it is to deploy and lightweight.
To those who attempt to compare the X6100 to the IC 705 is like comparing a Ford F-150 to a Toyota Tacoma. I had an X5105 for a few months and went on a few activations with it. I would mostly compare the X6100 to the X5105 and call it a big upgrade to the X5105.
I got familiar with the X6100 in my hamshack the past 3 weeks, and although I know of it’s shortcomings, which I did share with Thomas prior to it’s arrival at his QTH, I am very pleased with the radio even with the features that are not enabled yet.
On Christmas eve, I went hiking and afterwards did a quick POTA activation inside my car using my IC 7100 and 50 watts. The temperature was getting warmer and warmer out, so I made a hasty decision to go home and get the x6100 and take it to another local park and sit outside on a picnic table. I decided to use my spark plug antenna and use my 17 ft. Shakespeare fishing pole. I had almost 1:1 SWR on 40 and 20 meters and had to use the ATU as I was having about a 3:1 on 30. The ATU kicked in and had a perfect match in seconds, which is also the same response as the G90 and x5105. Continue reading Xiegu X6100: Scott’s thoughts and impressions→
Many thanks to Josh for sending me this X6100 so promptly and performing the first firmware update!
I took delivery of the X6100 last week after returning from vacation in the Outer Banks. It was bittersweet as I was soeager to check out this new radio but simply had too many projects on the table to complete before Christmas day.
That and in the morning light after our return, my daughter pointed out that one side of my horizontal delta loop antenna had fallen to the ground. Fortunately, I was able to fix the antenna in short order. It’s certainly time to push the schedule up for completely replacing this 10 year old wire antenna!
X6100: Known issues
I had gotten a few messages from X6100 early adopters like Scott (KN3A) and Rich (KQ9L) noting that the current firmware version (the December 7, 2021 release) had taken care of a few initial bugs, but there were still a few outstanding points that specifically affect CW operators. Most notably:
Noise reduction (or DNR) in CW mode severely distorts audio
CW message memories can be stored and saved but cannot yet be played back on the air (SSB message memories are fully functional, however)
Fine tuning is limited to 10 Hz steps at the moment
Someone had also noted possible CW keyer timing issues.
At the same time, I had read mostly positive comments about SSB operation from QRPer readers and subscribers.
Frankly, knowing Xiegu’s history of pushing the production and distribution timeline ahead of a radio being fully-functional and properly tested, I expected a few bugs and issues that would need to be sorted out in firmware updates.
To be very clear: I’m not a fan of the “early adopters are the Beta testers” philosophy. I wish Xiegu would thoroughly Beta test their products so that they were more polished and fully-functional right out the door much like we expect from the likes of Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood. There are almost always minor post-production bugs to sort out even with these legacy manufacturers, but issues should be of the variety that somehow slips past a team of Beta testers who actually use the radio.
If you’re not familiar, the Outer Banks (OBX) is a 200-mile (320 km) long string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia that separates the Pamlico Sound, Albemarle Sound, and Currituck Sound from the Atlantic Ocean.
No trip to the Outer Banks would be complete without visiting North Carolina’s most iconic structure: the Cape Hatteras Light Stationin Buxton, NC.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
On Thursday (December 16, 2021–last week) the weather was stunning, so my family took a few long walks on the beach, explored Hatteras Island, and spent the afternoon at the Cape Hatteras Light Station which is located within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Last week, my family hopped in the car and took an eight hour drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
We’ve had such a busy 2021 that we decided to take a full week prior to Christmas and fit in some proper vacation and family time.
We love going to the coast off-season to avoid big crowds. Turns out, we chose well, too: it’s as is we have the whole of the Outer Banks to ourselves. Other than a couple days with some “invigorating” weather (which we actually enjoy) it’s been absolutely spectacular.
While radio plays an important role in any travels, my family time always takes priority. The good thing about activating parks is that radio and family time often go very well together!
On Friday, December 17, 2021, my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and I decided to spend the day together while my wife and other daughter worked on an art project at our rental cottage. We had a few loose plans, but mainly wanted to fit in a nice beach walk, possibly discover some new scenic spots, and enjoy a take-out lunch together.
She very much liked the idea of fitting in a bit of POTA, so we hit the field with two sites in mind.
My Subaru is still in the body shop getting repaired after a bear decided to open the doors and make himself at home, so we have a Toyota Camry rental car on this trip. It’s been a great vehicle for sure, but its trunk space is limited and we packed quite a lot of food knowing local restaurants would be closed this time of year.
We all limited our luggage and I limited the amount of radios and gear I took. I could write an entire article about my holiday radio and antenna selection process (seriously, I put too much thought into it) but in a nutshell I limited myself to two radios and two antennas.
When my wife and I made the difficult decision to move back to the US in 2003, we had a wide variety of options of where to live. There was no doubt in our minds, though, that we would end up settling down somewhere in the Asheville, NC area.
We’re both from western North Carolina and had both–at different times–lived or worked in Asheville. It’s a beautiful area with a good arts scene and loads of outdoor activities.
These days, as I’m involved with both Parks On The Air and Summits On The Air, it’s an especially appealing place to live. We’ve a number of accessible POTA/WWFF entities and loads of summits to activate.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
Any time I drive into Asheville, I pass by the Blue Ridge Parkway.
There are a number of easy parkway access points on the north, east, south and west sides of Asheville. I typically pass by the eastern access point of the BRP on Tunnel Road. Both the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters and the Folk Art Center are within spitting distance and both have picnic tables making setup and deployment quite easy for POTA/WWFF ops!
On Monday, November 29th, 2021, I found that I had a good 30-45 minutes to kill before heading home after running errands in town. My car was empty, as I was hoping our collision shop would ask me to finally bring the Subaru in for repair. They were waiting for one critical component to arrive.
Side note: Bears in cars
As I mentioned in a previous post, in late October, a bear opened all four doors of our car and proceeded to check inside for food. He wasn’t exactly “surgical” in his investigation and was likely frustrated when he realized there was no food to be found inside (never store food in your car in bear country).
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.”