Category Archives: POTA

A review of the Par EndFedz EFT-MTR triband antenna

Note: the following post originally appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.

The Par EndFedz EFT-MTR triband (40/30/20M) antenna

In July, I purchased a tiny QRP transceiver I’ve always wanted: the LnR Precision MTR-3B. It’s a genius, purpose-built little radio and a lot of fun to operate in the field.

It’s also rather bare-bones, only including a specific feature set built around ultra-portable CW operation.

While the MTR-3B has features like CW memory keying, a wide operating voltage (6-12 VDC), extremely low operating current (20 ma in receive), real-time 24 hour clock, and a full compliment of keying adjustments, it lacks other features like a volume control, SWR meter, speaker, and built-in antenna tuner.

Some of those may seem like big omissions but SOTA and POTA activators who like extremely lightweight/portable gear love the MTR-3B for being so purpose-built.

The MTR-3B (and its predecessors) operate on three bands: 40, 30, and 20 meters. These are, without a doubt, my favorite bands when operating portable since antenna lengths are reasonable.

Since the MTR-3B doesn’t have an internal ATU, you need to pack an external tuner or, better yet, a resonant antenna–ideally, one that can be used on all three bands.

Although many of my portable transceivers have built-in ATUs, I rarely use them because I primarily operate with resonant antennas. Resonant antennas are more efficient–giving you the maximum mileage per watt. In addition, they’re also more simple: connect them to the rig and hop on the air. No tuner or tuning required.

Since I keep self-contained field radio kits, my MTR-3B needed a dedicated resonant antenna.

The EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is incredibly compact and quite easy to deploy.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m a big fan of the Par EndFedz Trail-friendly EFT tri-band antenna (above) which is resonant on 40, 20, and 10 meters.  I’ve activated well over 130 parks with this little antenna.

After I took delivery of the MTR-3B, I borrowed the Trail-friendly EFT antenna from my KX2 field kit. It worked well on 40 and 20 meters, but it doesn’t cover the 30 meter band. Also, by borrowing the EFT from the KX2 kit, I broke one of my rules: never borrow from one field kit to feed another. This led to me leaving the EFT hanging in a tree at a remote park and returning a week later–a three hour round-trip(!!!)–to retrieve it. (FYI, in all fairness, I also blamed my trusty canine companion for this mishap!)

Enter the Par EndFedz EFT-MTR triband antenna

A few months ago, Vibroplex purchased the Par antenna line from LnR Precision.

I was very pleased with this decision as I’m guessing LnR Precision wanted to hand off antenna production so they could focus on the very popular Mountain Topper transceiver line.

Vibroplex is owned by my buddy, Scott Robbins (W4PA), who is not only a successful entrepreneur, but also an award-winning contester and DXer. I’ve known Scott for years and knew he’d not only be a great steward of the Par product line, but also push new innovations.

I emailed Scott asking if Vibroplex had a field-portable antenna that would be resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters. Turns out, there’s a Par antenna designed specifically to pair with the MTR-3 series transceivers: the Par EndFedz EFT-MTR.

Scott pointed me to a description of the antenna on the Vibroplex website:

The new EndFedz ® EFT-MTR is a 40m/30m/20m tri-band QRP antenna rated up to 25 watts. The “MTR” name was selected as LNR Precision developed this antenna to be the perfect companion to the wildly popular 40/30/20m Mountain Topper QRP transceiver. The EFT-MTR’s total length is 65′ of 22 AWG polystealth wire and weighs less than 4 ounces! It is built with the same high level of workmanship and quality that you have come to expect with all EndFedz ® antennas.

A particular innovation on this antenna: This EndFedz is a little different than previous designs. The user has the option to remove an SMA connector at the end of the 30M resonator to enable just 30 meters, or keep the SMA installed for 40 and 20 meters. Because of the broad bandwidth of the antenna, it is unlikely that it will require tuning in the vast majority of deployments. This is particularly true of 30 meters where the band is very narrow. As our tagline states, “They Just Work!”

Included with the EFT-MTR is the EndFedz Antenna Winder. Conveniently allowing winding up the antenna line to not have a tangled mess at the end. The winder will hold both the antenna and 25 feet of RG-174U coaxial cable (optional accessory).

Scott offered to send me an EFT-MTR to evaluate in the field (disclaimer: at no cost to me) and I accepted without hesitation, of course!

An EFT-MTR field review

I’ve taken the EFT-MTR antenna to three park activations at this point and have formed some opinions about it.

The EFT-MTR fits perfectly in a slide-in pocket in the main compartment of the Boot Boss.

First of all, I couldn’t be more pleased with the size as it fits perfectly in my MTR-3B field kit built around my Red Oxx Booty Boss pack.

I really like the built-in antenna winder: it’s larger than that of the EFT Trail-Friendly, but also much easier to wind up and manage post-activation.

I’ll admit, the length of the EFT-MTR was a bit surprising the first time I deployed it: 65 feet.  Keep in mind, though, I had been used to a much shorter 41 foot radiator on the EFT Trail-friendly. Occasionally, I operate in spots where I simply don’t have the room to deploy a long antenna. I also worried that the EFT-MTR resonance might be negatively affected by winding its way through trees and over a branches. The MTR-3B transceiver does not like high SWR values and has no built-in SWR meter to monitor it. Last thing I wanted to do was harm the MTR finals.

You might be able to spot the feed point of the EFT-MTR at my activation of K-6952 this week.

Fortunately, winding its way through trees doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on SWR.

Each time I’ve taken the EFT-MTR to the field, I’ve also taken my KX2 which I’ve used to read the antenna’s SWR value. So far, the difference has only been negligible and SWR well within the tolerances of the MTR-3B.  Score!

I should note here that since I’ve started using an arborist throw line, I’m also able to hang antennas much higher than I could before. This has had a huge impact on all of my field activities.

Removing the SMA cap changes the EFT-MTR from a 40/20 to a 30 meter resonant antenna.

To be resonant on 40, 20 and 30 meters, the EFT-MTR requires a field modification. On the coil about 2/3 the way up the antenna, there’s an SMA connector with a small screw on cap (see above). When the cap is on (thus completing the connection) the antenna is resonant on 40 and 20 meters. You must remove the cap for it to be resonant on 30 meters.

Since I’ve been using the EFT-MTR, I start an activation on 40 meters (which is typically my most productive band), then move to 20 meters (typically, my least productive). If I have the time, or need the extra contacts to confirm a valid activation, I lower the antenna, unscrew the SMA cap, and raise the antenna again.

I thought at first this would be a major pain, but it hasn’t. Now that I’m using an arborist throw line, it’s super easy to lower and raise antennas. But even when I’ve used fishing line, it really hasn’t been an issue.

The only issue I see is I’m afraid I’m going to lose that little SMA cap in the field. To prevent this, I’ve made it a routine to immediately put it in the internal zippered compartment of the Booty Boss pack. I might find a source for those caps, though, just in case I still lose this one.

I’ve been very pleased with the EFT-MTR’s performance. I’m guessing it’s actually higher gain than my beloved EFT Trail-Friendly antenna. On my last activation with the EFT-MTR, I knocked out eight 40 meter contacts in about eight minutes during a period of poor propagation. Note that the MTR-3B was only pushing 3 or 4 watts of power.

I then moved to 20 meters where, frankly, propagation was so crappy I didn’t hang out there long. Instead, I lowered the antenna, removed the SMA cap, and started calling on 30 meters. Within a few minutes, I racked up the rest of my contacts.

I was very pleased with how quickly the Reverse Beacon Network picked up my CQs and was thus auto-spotted on the POTA website.


If you own a Mountain Topper MTR-3 series transceiver, I highly recommend the EFT-MTR antenna. As with my EFT Trail-friendly and Par sloper, the quality is top-shelf. I expect the EFT-MTR will last even longer than the EFT Trail-friendly since the winder is so accommodating and the in-line coil is designed so that it doesn’t snag on branches as easily.

I’m looking forward to much more field fun with the MTR-3B and EFT-MTR combo!

Click here to check out the EFT-MTR at Vibroplex.

Click here to check out Vibroplex’s full line of antennas.

Many thanks again to Scott at Vibroplex for sending me the EFT-MTR for evaluation!

A field antenna’s best friend: The amazing arborist throw line

At least 95% of the time I’m playing radio in the field, I use wire antennas and suspend them in trees.

Since I do a lot of park activations for the POTA program, trees are typically very easy to come by and most of the time the park office doesn’t care if I hang an antenna in their tree for a couple of hours.

For years, I’ve been using a heavy steel nut–a nut that would fit a very large bolt–as a weight and attach it to fishing line. I then simply throw the nut into a tree and pray the fishing line deploys properly. I have reasonably good aim, so–on a good day–I typically only need one or two throws/tries to get the fishing line over a branch. On bad days? Well… let’s just not talk about that.

There are some inherent weaknesses in the fishing line/monofilament system:

First of all, I’m lobbing a heavy metal object into the trees. If it ricochets–and it eventually will–it can come back down to earth and land where you might not want it to (for example, on your radio, on your car, or on your friend’s head).  Fortunately, I’ve never hit anything or anyone as I’m careful to clear the area first, but unfortunately, I once had the nut hit a tree and come back down near me. That was a little scary.

Secondly, fishing line isn’t exactly recyclable and you simply can’t use it over and over. I get at most three deployments with a section of fishing line before it gets too stretched and unworkable.

Finally, fishing line is incredibly prone to tangle, especially near the end of the spool.

A Better Solution? The Arborist’s Throw Line

The arborist throw line is no recent innovation. For years, I’ve read recommendations from other ham radio operators who swear by arborist throw lines but I only recently decided to take the plunge after one very frustrating park activation where my fishing line knotted and almost got permanently stuck in a gorgeous tree. I’m very much a “Leave No Trace” kind of guy, so I was incredibly relieved when I was finally able to work the fishing line out of the tree.

When I got home from that activation, I ordered a Weaver Throw Weight and Line and a Throw Line Storage Cube. (Note: these are Amazon affiliate links that support this site.)

Forester Throw Rope folding/collapsible Storage Cube

I once talked with an arborist about throw lines and he stressed the importance of getting not just the line, but also a throw line storage cube. The cube allows you to both deploy and take up the line without any tangles or knots.

All in, I spent about $50.00 US for both.

Preparing the throw line

My arborist buddy gave me an important tip: the throw line needs to be stretched.

As you can see in the photo above, the throw line is packed in a bundle that’s easy to unroll. After you unroll it for the first time, though, the line has a “memory” of all those bends from its life in the package.

You can remove much of the throw line memory by tying one end of the line to a tree and stretching the line to its full length. The line is 150 (or so) feet long, so you’ll need an open space to do this.

The arborist in this video shows how this is done (I’ve queued it to the point in the video where he shows how to do this):


You’ll need to attach the throw line to the throw weight, of course.

There are a number of knots arborists use, but I’m a fan of the slipped simple noose knot. Perhaps it’s because it’s easy to tie even with semi-rigid line, it holds quite well and, most importantly, it’s easy to untie.

Looks like arborists use it too because when searching for an instructional video, the first result was from an arborists’ channel:

Throwing up!

There are a few different ways to launch a throw line into a tree.

Take my advice here: practice at home before you hit the field! It could save you a lot of embarrassment, although, admittedly, my at-home practice sessions gave my wife and my daughters good reasons to chuckle.

I’ve only been using the throw line for a little over a week, so I’m still sorting out which method works best for me. One thing I discovered very quickly, though: no matter which launch method I use, I can send that throw weight into a tree at least 60% higher than I could before.

No doubt, the throw line and weight really put the laws of physics in your favor!

Here’s a great video highlighting different throw line launch techniques:

In practice

I took the throw line to the field today for the first time and I’m very pleased with how effectively it works.

I was able to place my antenna on a much higher branch than I could have otherwise. It took me three tries today, but it had more to do with my poor aim. As with any skill, this will, I think, improve with practice.

The storage cube folds down flat and keeps the line from tangling

Besides the improved antenna height, I love that the line can be used over and over again. Also, it’s strong enough that should it ever get caught in a tree, I can pull it out without the line breaking.

I can also reel in the line at least three or four times faster than I could with fishing line. Simply flake it into the storage cube one foot at a time.

When the line has been stored along with the throw weight, you can fold the storage cube down flat, then fold and secure it into a compact triangle.

Are there any negatives with the throw line system? Here are a few I’d note:

  • Bulk. Even when packed down, the line in the storage cube take up much more space than fishing line. Although it easily fits in even my smallest backpack (the GoRuck Bullet), I’m not sure I’d take it on a long hike.
  • This system requires a little practice and skill–you can’t pull it out of the package for the first time in the field and expect perfect line launches.
  • The throw line is more conspicuous than fishing line. If you’re trying to be a bit stealthy–as many of us are these days during the Covid-19 pandemic–the bright yellow throw line will attract more attention and questions from other hikers/campers, etc.
One happy activator!

Even though it’s bulky by my standards, I see the throw line becoming a permanent part of my field kit and I expect I’ll use it on most of my POTA activations.

Have you been using a throw line to hang field antennas? Or do you use a different system?  Please comment!

There’s magic in one watt and a wire

This past week, I hit the parks pretty hard while giving the lab599 Discovery TX-500 a good field evaluation. I managed to activate eight parks in the seven days I had the radio.

It was so much fun.

Today, I was going through my logs and was reminded of one park activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway in particular…

The activation was a bit impromptu (like most of my activations, if I’m being honest). My family packed a picnic, I grabbed the TX-500 from the workbench, and we headed to the parkway.

I set up the station on a picnic table and deployed my trusty EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 meter end-fed antenna. I started calling “CQ POTA” on CW and within 15 minutes or so amassed the 10 contacts I needed to validate the activation. Signal reports were overall a little on the weaker side, but propagation that day wasn’t exactly stellar. I worked a few more CW stations, then switched to SSB.

I started my SSB run by trying to work a few “Park to Park” sites because my phone managed to load a list of POTA spots from my very dubious mobile phone connection. I heard a strong signal from a park and replied, “K4SWL, Park to Park, Park to Park!” No reply.

Typically, when you say “Park to Park” an activator makes your contact their high priority. So I was a bit shocked not to hear a reply. I tried again. Nothing.

Then I cycled through some of the radio settings and discovered I had left the radio set to one watt of output power. Earlier that day while testing the TX-500 in the shack, I checked output power levels by hooking it up to a watt meter and dummy load. I forgot to move it back up to 5 or 10 watts.

No wonder I was so weak on SSB! I increased power output to 10 watts (the TX-500 max output) and quickly confirmed that other park.

I worked a few more SSB stations, then packed up for the day.

When I got back home, I made a little map of my contacts.

On the map below, all of the green pins below were CW contacts and made with one watt of power. The red pins are SSB contacts with 10 watts. The yellow star is roughly my location:

I operate QRP (or, at least 12 watts and below) 95% of the time I’m on the air. On rare occasions, I’ll run up to 50 or possibly 100 watts. Besides the amazing portability QRP rigs offer, it’s so much fun to travel the airwaves on peanut power–whether I know it or not.

But I’m pretty sure I’m preaching to the choir here, right–?

I know this: there’s magic in one watt and a wire!

One week and eight parks with the lab599 Discovery TX-500

Over at our other radio blog, the SWLing Post, I’ve been publishing reports and videos of the lab599 Discovery TX-500 general coverage QRP transceiver. If you haven’t been following those posts, you might like to check out the following articles in particular:

Mountain Topper MTR-3B power, speaker, and earphones recommendations–?

I received my Mountain Topper MTR-3B last week, and I’ve already taken it on a POTA activation.

POTA Park Hampton Creek Cove

Last weekend, I decided to break it in on a POTA “two-fer” site: Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area (K-6246) and The Overmountain Victory Trail (K-4577) in Tennessee. Hampton Creek Cove was actually an ATNO (all time new one) so it was a trial by fire!

POTA Park Overmountain Victory Trail

In short, the MTR-3B was marvelous. I’m so impressed.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m building a full SOTA/POTA activation kit for the MTR-3B. I already have a kit built around my KX2 and I don’t want to “borrow” any items from it (so I’m not surprised later in the field when an item is missing).

The TalentCell Rechargeable 12V 3000mAh Lithium Ion Battery Pack is the little black box.

For this activation, I powered the MTR-3B with this inexpensive 12V battery pack a friend recommended on (affiliate link). The battery pack is almost identical in size to the MTR-3B and works perfectly. The battery, charger and cable all set me back a whopping $25.

I also used my Whiterook paddle (which needs new paddle arms at this point) but that will soon be replaced with a set of N0SA portable paddles I recently ordered.

Since the MTR-3B has no volume control, I used a pair of 20 year old Sennheiser earphones I bought when I lived in Munich. These have been in a drawer for ages because I now prefer using in-ear earphones with silicon earpieces for better comfort and sound isolation. But the Sennheisers have one thing none of my other earphones sport: in-line volume control.

While the earphones worked well for this activation, I’d still prefer a set of in-ear earphones with in-line volume control. Any suggestions from MTR-3B owners? Also, I’d like a compact amplified speaker with volume control to carry as an option when needed. If you can recommend one, please comment!

I’m writing an article for The Spectrum Monitor magazine about portable power later this year. I noticed that a number of MTR-3B owners swear by 11V rechargeable cells that are used in the RC and drone markets. Many have a similar compact form-factor as the common 9V battery. I understand, however, some of these cells need special chargers and equipment to balance them.

I would appreciate any and all information about these batteries.

In the meantime, Rich (N8TGQ), recently shared a pic of his Mountain Topper portable pack. Check it out:


I think it’s brilliant how he’s mounted everything on a compact plastic cutting board inside the case. Rich says that what he loves about this set-up is that everything is there, ready to go–simply plug in the antenna!

I love seeing how others build out their field kits! Please comment or contact me if you’d like to share yours here on!

Upping my CW pile-up game with Morse Runner

Note: The following post also appears on our sister site, the SWLing Post.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been practicing my CW (Morse Code) skills in an effort to build confidence to do a Parks On The Air (POTA) CW activation.

But how in the world do you practice handling a CW pile-up without actually going on the air–?

I’m glad you asked!

My DXing and contest friends have often touted an amazing free PC application developed by Alex Shovkoplyas (VE3NEA) called Morse Runner.

Morse Runner’s goal is simple: teach you how to manage a CW pile-up.

In short? It’s incredibly effective!

When you start a Morse Runner session, the application emulates the sound and atmosphere of the HF bands in CW mode (meaning, a narrower filter setting). It’s very convincing.

Instead of using a key to send a CQ, the Morse Runner interface emulates a contest logging system where a computer generates your CQ and sends the signal report you record for a station.

Screenshot of Morse Runner (click to enlarge)

You simply set a few parameters like your call sign, max CW speed, pitch, and bandwidth, then press the “run” button and call CQ by pressing the F1 key on your keyboard.

Within a few CQ calls, you’ll hear anywhere from one to several stations answer your CQ (depending on your settings). Your job is to then start logging those stations accurately from the pile-up. If you reply with an incorrect call, the other station will repeat their call until you correct it.

Morse runner has band condition settings you can select like: QRN, QRM, Flutter, QSB and–yes–even LIDs.

Quite often I’ll accurately reply to a weak station and they’ll send “AGN?” and I repeat their report until they copy it.

Morse Runner is so convincing that when I’m in the middle of a big pile-up, I honestly forget I’m communicating with a computer application! I get some of the same excitement and the–let’s be frank–anxiety I would get on the air during a live CW pile-up.

If you select the “LIDs” Band Conditions setting, it’ll crack you up with how accurately it portrays annoying operators who either deliberately or unintentionally try to interfere!

Here’s sample audio from a session this morning:

The screen shot above shows the settings I used for this very tame session with no large pile-ups. If you’re a seasoned CW contester, pump up the speed and the activity level then you’ll feel like you’re on the Heard Island DXpedition!

In short: Morse Runner is giving me the courage to do my first CW park activation. I highly recommend it!

Click here to check out Morse Runner and download.

Snagging two state game lands in three days for Parks On The Air

View from Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway (June 13, 2020).

The following article first appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.

You might have noticed from recent posts, I’ve been on a bit of a POTA (Parks On The Air) kick lately.

I’ve been enjoying taking the Xiegu G90 to the field and seeing just how well it performs under intensive use on battery power. So far, it has certainly proven itself to be a capable field rig.

Still, on two recent activations I also brought my trusty Elecraft KX2 along as well.  Without a doubt, it’s still my number one field rig. It will be difficult for another field transceiver to displace it.

With that said, the G90 is less than half the price of the KX2 (when the KX2 is configured with the optional ATU). The G90 can also pump out a full 20 watts of power–nearly double that of the KX2. I also love the G90’s spectrum display which makes it so easy to find free frequencies and hunt other parks. Its internal antenna tuner–like the KX2’s–can match almost anything very quickly.

Here are a couple of quick reports from my recent activations:

William H Silver State Game Land (K-6967)

Saturday, my family had planned a trip to visit my father-in-law. My wife encouraged me to find a nearby park to activate as there are so many between our house and his. I made it slightly more challenging by deciding to find a park or POTA entity I’d never visited.

Turns out the William H Silver State Game Land was only a 30 minute detour. I had never visited it and, in fact, it was even an ATNO (All Time New One) for Parks On The Air, meaning no one had yet activated it.

I had initially planned 1.5 to 2 hours for the activation, but we were running behind Saturday morning so I had to cut my time at the park to a total of about one hour–which included set-up, operation, and take-down.

We arrived at the site and I immediately deployed my EFT Trail-Friendly end-fed antenna.

My 12 year old daughter (who is studying for her ham radio license and is a great at digging callsigns out of the noise) helped me log contacts. I stuck with very brief exchanges so that I could work as many stations as possible. When activating an ATNO, I always want to give as many POTA “hunters” as possible the best opportunity to put the site in their log books.

I started on the 40 meter band and worked 20 stations in 25 minutes with the Xiegu G90.

I then moved up to the 20 meter band and switched over to the Elecraft KX2.

Turns out, 20 meters was pretty unstable, so I worked very few stations. I did work a station in California with 10 watts and a wire, though, so I’ll still call that a success.

I plan to visit this same site again later this year–it’s very accessible.

Buffalo Cove State Game Land (K-6886)

Monday morning, even though the weather outlook was dodgy, I scheduled another park activation which, like Saturday’s, was at a state game land which was another ATNO.

I like game lands. Unlike state parks, I don’t have to worry about crowds and I also usually get to take my Subaru or truck off-road. Access roads here in the mountains are typically steep, curvy, and washed-out in places. Finding the site can be very challenging, too. Still, I love adding a little off-road fun to a park activation!

The Buffalo Cove State Game Land is much larger than park K-6967 (above). I drove deep into the lands and found a large parking and camping area for hunters. I had the whole place to myself, so I found the best tree to support my end-fed antenna.

I operated the KX2 exclusively on this activation because I wanted to use its voice keyer and my Heil headset for hands-free VOX operation.

In the course of 90 minutes, I worked 51 stations from the trunk/boot of my car.

Many thanks to my good friend Mike (K8RAT) who made the whole process much smoother by spotting me on the POTA site.

Band conditions were actually pretty rough today, so I was very pleased with the results and intend to return here for a weekend activation later this year as well. This would actually be an ideal location for making low-noise portable SDR recordings while camping overnight.

This weekend, I decided I want to increase my portable field antenna arsenal. More about that in a future post!

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An impromptu Parks On The Air (POTA) activation with the Xiegu G90

Note: The following is a cross-post from the SWLing Post.

Yesterday, I was in my hometown helping my parents with a few projects. Around noon, I realized that I had a good four hour window of free time–a true rarity these days!

I had two fully-packed go bags in the car: one with my trusty Elecraft KX2, and one with my recently acquired Xiegu G90.  On the heels of a successful POTA activation this weekend, I was itching to activate a new POTA site.

I did a quick check of the POTA site map and decided a trip to the South Mountains State Park (K-2753) was in order. The park was a nice 30 minute drive on back roads, so why not?

I posted a quick announcement on the POTA website, and jumped in the car.

When I arrived at the park, I noted an excellent, easily accessible picnic site with a nearby tree to hang my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna. Since I hadn’t been to this park in many years, I continued driving to check out other potential POTA sites.

In the main parking lot, I spotted a ham radio operator’s car with a prominent callsign on the back window and a POTA bumper sticker. I couldn’t see their operating site from the parking lot and since we’re all trying to social distance these days, I didn’t bother searching for them to introduce myself.

While it’s certainly allowed to have two activators running a park at the same time, I really didn’t want to impose and certainly didn’t want to cause any QRM by operating on the same meter band.

Contingency plan

I had a “Plan B” in mind in case the park wasn’t accessible.  On the west side of South Mountains State Park there was another POTA site: the South Mountains State Game Land (K-6952). I started driving in that direction, then used Google Maps to help me locate the entry road. Turns out, it was an additional 35 minutes of driving! Still, it was a beautiful day so no complaints from me.

The road was typical of game land roads: gravel and washed out in places. I had to ford one creek. My Subaru had no problem doing this, of course. (I actually love off-roading, so secretly I hoped the road would be more challenging!)

About four miles in, I found a pull-off that was big enough for my car and had an ideal tree to hang the antenna. I backed into the site, opened the hatch on the Subaru, and used the trunk/boot as my radio table.

Within ten minutes I had the G90 on the air.

I started calling CQ on the 40 meter band and thanks to buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Vlado (N3CZ) I was spotted on the POTA website.

Although there was a fair amount of QRN on 40 meters, now that the G90 has an RF Gain control (with latest firmware v 1.74), I could easily mitigate it.

I worked a number of stations on 40, then decided to move up to 20 meters.

I was very impressed with the response on 20 meters as well. Fading (QSB) was very deep, however, so I kept contacts brief. At times, stations would call me, I’d give them a 59 report, and when they’d reply I could barely hear them (and vise-versa). It took a little patience and good timing, but I believe I worked everyone who called me.

In the end, I had a total of 27 contact in the log with about one hour of operating. Here are my log sheets:

After transmitting steadily for an hour at a full 20 watts, the G90 body was pretty warm to the touch, but it had operated flawlessly.

A great field radio

The G90 is a gem of a transceiver and has some features that make it ideal for field use.

For one thing, I love being able to keep track of my battery voltage on the display:

Also, the G90 has excellent selectivity. On both 40 and 20 meters, at times I could see adjacent stations on the spectrum display that would have bled over and created QRM on less robust receivers.

I also like the ability to control all of the major transceiver functions without  having to dive into an embedded menu. Adjusting the filter, RF gain, attenuator, and pre-amp, for example, is super easy.

I love the spectrum display, too. In the field, it’s nice to be able to find an open frequency by simply watching the display for a minute or so before calling QRL or CQ. It also allows me to see when folks are tuning up nearby to make contact with me.

Although I’ve been using a resonant antenna in the field, the G90 has a very capable built-in ATU.  Back home, I’ve used it and have been very impressed with its ability to find good matches. Yesterday, for fun, I was even able to get it to tune up the EFT Trail Friendly antenna on 80 meters! I doubt it would be efficient, but the ATU did find a 2:1 match.

The only two features I feel like the G90 is missing are a notch filter (both manual and auto) and a voice keyer. I’m sure a notch filter could be added in a future firmware update (others have been asking for this as well), but I doubt a voice keyer could be added as easily. In truth, the voice keyer is a bit of a luxury, but it’s a feature I use without fail on my KX2 since park and summit activations often require constant CQ calls. Being able to record a CQ and have the radio automatically send it allows the op to drink water, eat lunch, and relax between contacts.

This is a lot of radio for $450 US shipped. I’ve also learned that the G90 has a very active community of users via this email list.

I had planned to sell the Xiegu G90 after my upcoming review in The Spectrum Monitor. I must admit: this transceiver is growing on me. It might be hard to let go of it.

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First time in the field with the Xiegu G90 QRP transceiver

(Note: this post first appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.)

Earlier this week, I took delivery of a new Xiegu G90 general coverage QRP transceiver. I’m reviewing this portable rig for The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Although this Chinese manufacturer has been around for a few years, this was my first purchase of a Xiegu product.

I’ve had the G90 on the air from home for a couple days, but I feel like the best way to test a QRP transceiver is in the field!

Due to the Covid-19 lock-down and a number of our regional parks either being closed or severely limiting visitors, I haven’t made many POTA (Parks On The Air) activations this year.

Recently, however, North Carolina has been opening state parks and allowing visitor access to hiking trails and picnic areas, but keeping all facilities (stores, cafes, visitor centers, and restrooms) closed to the public.

Yesterday, our family decided to pack a picnic lunch and head to Mt. Mitchell State Park (POTA site K-2747). My wife knew I was chomping at the bit to play radio in the field and actually made the suggestion. (She’s a keeper!) 🙂

There were only a dozen people at the park so we essentially had the place to ourselves. Better yet, it gave me the opportunity to pick out the most ideal picnic site to set up and deploy my EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 antenna.

The G90’s backlit color display was actually quite easy to read in the field. My phone’s camera filter made it look darker than it actually was.

My POTA activation was unannounced and I didn’t have Internet access to self-spot on the POTA website, so I started the activation old school by calling “CQ POTA” until someone happened upon 7286 kHz.

After perhaps 10 minutes of calling CQ, Greg (KE0HTG)–a helpful POTA chaser–finally found me and spotted me on the network.

I worked a few stations in succession, but summer QRN levels were incredibly high and I believed static crashes were cloaking would-be contacts. The G90 has no RF Gain [Actually, thanks to this feedback, I now know the G90 does indeed have an RF Gain control (firmware version 1.73 and higher).] I asked one kind operator if he would hold while I switched over to my trusty Elecraft KX2.

The KX2 did a much better job managing the noise and that same op was easily readable where with the G90 I could barely copy him. I suspect I could have tinkered with the G90’s AGC levels to better mitigate the noise, but I didn’t want to do this in the middle of an activation.

I worked about fifteen stations with the Elecraft KX2 on 40 meters.

One real advantage of the KX2 during a POTA activation on SSB is its voice memory keyer (of course, it also has a CW memory keyer). I simply record my CQ and have the KX2 repeat it until someone replies, then I hit the PTT to stop the recording. Not only does this save my voice, but it also gives me an opportunity to eat my lunch while calling CQ!

I eventually moved up to the 20 meter band and switched back to the Xiegu G90.

On the 20 meter band, the G90 handled conditions like a champ.

Someone eventually spotted me on 20 and I worked a few stations.

The 20 meter band was very fickle and unstable yesterday. For example, I struggled to finish a contact with an operator in Massachusetts, yet got a solid 59 report from Spain with only 20 watts.

No activation is complete without brewing a cup of coffee on the alcohol burner!

I had a great time with the G90 in the field. I can see why it’s become such a popular transceiver as it offers incredible bang-for-buck (it can be purchased new as low as $450 US shipped).

This week, the noise levels on the 40 meter band should be very high here in North America, so I plan to spend more time with the G90 settings and see if I can mitigate the QRN a little better. I’d welcome any tips from G90 owners.

And yes, I’m already eyeing a couple of parks to activate next week!

Post Readers: Please comment if you’re familiar with the Xiegu G90 or any of the other Xiegu transceivers.