Category Archives: POTA

POTA RaDAR Run: Planning, Plotting, Packing, and Activating Park #1!

You may have noticed a common theme in my field reports: basically, it’s rare that I plan out an activation more than 24 hours in advance.

Indeed, due to my “dynamic” (I think that’s a good word for it?) family schedule, I often don’t plan an activation more than one to two hours in advance.

But last month, I saw an opportunity open on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. Basically, I had from early morning until late afternoon to play radio.

Making plans

At first, I thought about striking out early and hitting some of the parks that are a little further afield–parks I hadn’t visited in a couple years, or some new-to-me parks.

Then, I hatched an idea to activate two SOTA summits. Both would qualify for bonus winter points and both were technically doable in the time I had allotted. It would involve about 9-10 miles of hiking in addition to 3 hours of driving plus allotting for the time I’d actually spend on the air. It would equate to a very early departure and some steady hiking.

That Tuesday evening, I started putting the plan together, downloading all of the maps, preparing my SOTA alerts, and packing my SOTA pack. I spent the better part of an hour plotting and planning these activations.

Then the realization hit me: the trails I’d be hiking were likely covered in snow and ice which would slow me down considerably especially since my Yaktrax Traction Chains hadn’t yet been delivered. I realized the schedule was just a little too tight. There’s be no room for mishaps and if I made the trip I really wanted to hit both summits in the same day. So, I saved all of my maps, links, and notes to do this multiple SOTA run in the near future.

Back to the drawing board!

I decided that I did like the idea of doing multiple activations in a day, so why not fit in a RaDAR run?

RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) is basically an activity that can be combined with summits and/or park activations and the idea is simple: you complete multiple rapid field deployments within 24 hours.

If you’d like more information about RaDAR, check out this webpage. Parks On The Air even has a few awards for RaDAR runs–it would be fun to apply for one of them (thanks, WD8RIF, for the heads-up!).

I so rarely have enough time to consider more than two or three activations in a day that the idea of fitting in four or possibly five activations was very appealing.

I looked at the POTA map and sorted out a route between park entities that were all in western North Carolina. I was familiar with all of the locations save one which had the potential to be both a POTA and SOTA activation. Continue reading POTA RaDAR Run: Planning, Plotting, Packing, and Activating Park #1!

Field Activation Antenna Challenge #1: Military Fixture Homemade Multi-band Doublet!

I mentioned in a previous post that my personal “Activation Challenge” for 2022 was “to build a new antenna each month and deploy it at least once that month during a field activation.”

On Thursday, January 27, 2022 I took my first antenna–the military fixture doublet–to Lake Norman State Park for a Parks On The Air activation!

For more information about this doublet and how it was constructed, check out this post.

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

I picked Lake Norman knowing that it had numerous spots to set up a doublet.

Unlike an end-fed wire antenna, doublets need a little more clear space to deploy both legs; the idea is to avoid as many low tree branches and other obstacles as possible.

Many (if not most) of the operators I know who regularly deploy field doublets actually use a telescoping mast for the center support to make the whole process easier.  I didn’t take either of my fiberglass masts on this outing because, frankly, the winding fixture on this doublet acts as the center insulator, and is “heavy” compared to most of my field antennas. Continue reading Field Activation Antenna Challenge #1: Military Fixture Homemade Multi-band Doublet!

Video: A complete POTA field activation from planning/scheduling to QRT

A few weeks ago, one of my YouTube channel subscribers asked if I could make a video showing the entire process of activating a park: everything from planning, scheduling, packing, driving, setting up, to activating.

Why not, right?

So on January 20, 2022 I scheduled an activation of K-6856 and recorded a very, very long activation video!

It’s 1 hour 42 minutes long, in fact, but I broke the video into chapters to make it easier to navigate and digest.

Activation Video:

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Since the entire process has been captured on video, my field report below will simply focus on the various sections of the video along with my results. That and I didn’t even think to take a single photo I was so busy with the camera (images here are all screen shots).

In the shack

My OSMO Action camera does a brilliant job outdoors, but in the shack it did struggle with my monitor brightness/contrast while I scheduled the activation. When I checked the quality from the camera’s built-in monitor screen, it looked pretty acceptable, but after being uploaded to YouTube, it was less so. Sorry about that!

Knowing this could be a problem, I did my best to describe everything I was doing on the screen. Frankly, I couldn’t go back and re-shoot this if I wanted to because it was all happening in real-time.

Before I scheduled the activation, I did sneak in a wee bit of park hunting! After all, this is how I do things in the shack.

Oh yeah, my shack wasn’t exactly tidy that day as I had a project on the table. You’ve been warned. Continue reading Video: A complete POTA field activation from planning/scheduling to QRT

N6ARA introduces the new TinyPaddle Jack!

A few week ago, my buddy Ara (N6ARA) sent me a prototype of his new ultra-portable CW key, the TinyPaddle Jack (TPJ).

You might recall, Ara introduced the original TinyPaddle late last year. His motivation for the original TinyPaddle was to have a super minimalist paddle that could be stored away as a spare in your kit for those times when you either forget or have an issue with your primary paddle in the field.

The TinyPaddle is a very capable little key!  Click here to read my field report using the original TinyPaddle.

Turns out, there was a lot of pent-up demand for a product like the TinyPaddle. At $15 for the kit or $20 fully assembled, the TinyPaddle is a serious bargain. Ara and his father have been quite busy producing these.

Enter the TinyPaddle Jack (TPJ)

Whereas the TinyPaddle is designed around being the most simple/minimalist backup paddle solution–basically a wee paddle with a male 3.5mm connector that plugs directly into a rig’s paddle jack–the TPJ takes it one step further.

The TPJ is essentially the TinyPaddle  with a female 3.5mm plug encased in a 3D-printed holder and protective cover.

The design is clever. The case that protects it while stored away in one’s field pack, pulls apart and is re-joined to make a very usable paddle holder.

There are actually quite a few purchase options, so Ara created this short video that describes the different components/options and how to use them:

Click here to view on YouTube.

I’ve been using the TPJ with my MTR-3B and new SW-3B. As I mentioned in my field report with the TinyPaddle, the action of this paddle is actually very precise–it almost feels like a capacitive touch paddle.

I find that the holder definitely adds to the ergonomics of the paddle (although it can actually be used without a holder, too).

Ara also created a small adjustment tool that will allow you to tweak the paddle spacing if needed. Keep in mind, this is a very simple paddle design (there are no springs or magnets) and isn’t really meant to be a primarily paddle. I do feel, however, that it will hold up quite well over time. The spacing of the contacts is so fine, I believe the stress on the paddle levers is minimal .

I plan to keep a pair with my new MTR-3B field kit (above) and use it as the primary paddle for that radio. I will plan to buy a second one for the SW-3B a well.

Highly recommend

The price of the fully assembled TinyPaddle Jack ($24) and Cable ($5) is $29 US.

This is firmly in the “no-brainer” category.

Just take my money!

I personally think Ara could charge $40+ for these and they’d still be a bargain. I know him well enough to know that his motivation is in the fun of designing these products and making them accessible to other field radio operators. Case in point: I’ve been pricing quality 3.5mm patch cables recently and I find his $5 cable to be an excellent price; even more competitive than cables I’ve seen on Amazon and eBay.

In addition, Ara even freely distributes the 3D printer files so you have the option to print your own paddle holder!

It’s obvious to me that these products are his contribution to the community that pays for itself enough so that he can continue to innovate. His designs are so clever, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

Very well done, Ara!

Click here to check out all of Ara’s products at N6ARA.com.

Three watts of POTA power with the Mountain Topper MTR-3B, an EFHW, and Hazel!

Recently on Twitter, I created an informal poll and asked if anyone else named their radios.

Here are the results:

I quickly found out that I’m in the 6.7% minority who freely admit that they name their radios.

We can also assume, however, that a healthy percentage of the “Neither confirm nor deny” crowd do too. They just have a professional reputation to maintain!

Truth is, I don’t name all of my radios; only the ones with “personality” that I plan to keep permanently.

Tuppence

My gift to myself after completing my very first CW activation in 2020 was to purchase a Mountain Topper MTR-3B from LnR Precision. I’ve always admired these tiny hiker-friendly transceivers and have watched as Steve Weber (KD1JV) updated the design over the years.

I first became intrigued with this radio series when I interviewed Appalachian Trail through-hiker and author, Dennis Blanchard (K1YPP) who packed one of Steve Weber’s early ATS-3A kit transceivers (built in an Altoids tin).

A closeup of Dennis’ AT Sprint 3A taken at Four Days in May

By the way, I highly recommend Dennis’ book, “Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail.”

When I took delivery of my MTR-3B and opened the box, I was floored with how tiny it was.

It’s no bigger than a pack of playing cards.

I knew the MTR-3B would be a permanent resident at QRPer HQ, so after some soul-searching and bouncing names off of a few good friends (who also name their radios), I called her “Tuppence.” Continue reading Three watts of POTA power with the Mountain Topper MTR-3B, an EFHW, and Hazel!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Xiegu X6100 and PackTenna Random Wire

I’ve had a lot of fun testing the Xiegu X6100 in the field. Each time I’ve taken this little shack-in-a-box radio outdoors, I’ve paired it with a different antenna.

I’ve paired it with the Elecraft AX1, an End-Fed Half-Wave, and my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

On January 10, 2022, I decided to try one more antenna: the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire.

The Packtenna random wire is a brilliant little antenna to pair with radios like the X6100 that have built-in, wide-range ATUs. It’s such a small antenna and can easily find matches on my favorite POTA/SOTA bands:  40 meters and up. It’s also very compact and super durable.

I use te PackTenna random wire quite a lot in the field, so I was curious just how effectively it might pair with the X6100. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Pairing the Xiegu X6100 and PackTenna Random Wire

My new MTR-3B Ultra-Compact Field Kit built in a Tom Bihn HLT2

I’m a bit obsessed with field radio kits (understatement alert).

If you don’t believe me, check out this episode of the Ham Radio Workbench podcast where they graciously allowed me to geek out about radio packs for a good two hours.

I should also note that I write, in detail, about my packing philosophy in this Anatomy of a Field Radio kit series.

There’s no cure for my pack obsession. I’m constantly in a state of assembling and testing the most efficient kits I can conjure up.

Since I rotate a fair amount of radios in my activations, the majority of my kits are modular; meaning, components like antennas, ATU’s, batteries, log/pen, and cables are packed in their own small pouches/pack. Before embarking on an activation, I simply assemble the components in a backpack along with the radio/s I might use that day. Over the years, I’ve developed a certain workflow with this process that ensures I don’t forget components or pack the wrong ones.

But by far, my favorite type of kit are those that are fully self-contained–proper grab-and-go kits that have everything I need inside to, for example, activate a summit.

Self-Contained Kits

Fully self-contained kits are reserved for the radios I use in the field most because, frankly, they’re stingy resource hogs: they  don’t share components with my other radios or kits. Continue reading My new MTR-3B Ultra-Compact Field Kit built in a Tom Bihn HLT2

Pairing the Xiegu X6100 with the Elecraft AX1 antenna…will it work?

If you’ve been reading QRPer for long, you’ll note that I’ve become quite a fan of the uber-compact Elecraft AX1 antenna.

Not only has the AX1 never let me down, but it can even outperform my other antennas in terms of snagging contacts during an activation. Yes, it can even work some DX as well.

Normally, I pair the AX1 antenna with my Elecraft KX2 (above) or KX3 (below).

I’ve even paired the AX1 directly to my Icom IC-705 using a homebrew simple capacity hat (thanks again for that idea LY2H!)

The AX1 needs a little help from an antenna tuner (ATU) to get a match across the 40, 20, and 17 meter bands. Of course, I could always mount the AX1 on a tripod and attach an in-line ATU, but I love the simplicity and speed of setup when paired directly to a transceiver that sports an internal ATU.  To be clear, the Icom IC-705 has no internal ATU, but I was able to get away with using a capacity hat to match impedance on 20 meters.

The new Xiegu X6100 (above) has an internal ATU–a good one at that! As soon as I took delivery of this loaner unit from Radioddity, I plotted hooking it up to my AX1 to see how it might shake out in the field!

The X6100 lacks only one thing that the KX2, KX3, and IC-705 have: a good, accessible grounding point on the chassis.  The AX1 needs a counterpoise to operate efficiently. Continue reading Pairing the Xiegu X6100 with the Elecraft AX1 antenna…will it work?

Xiegu X6100: New compact throwline, POTA pileups & overloading in Pisgah National Forest

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.

“Let’s go, Daddy!”

Hazel knows me too well.

When she sees my pack and my hiking boots, she  waits in front of the door so there’s no possibility she’ll be left behind. Continue reading Xiegu X6100: New compact throwline, POTA pileups & overloading in Pisgah National Forest

A Last-Minute, Late Afternoon New Year’s Day Activation!

Photo by K4TLI

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.

I knew this would be a short activation even by my standards but hopefully, it would represent the first of many meaningful field outings this year! Continue reading A Last-Minute, Late Afternoon New Year’s Day Activation!