Category Archives: QRP

A quick two park KX2/AX1 POTA run starting at South Mountains State Park!

You might have noticed that I’ve been taking the Elecraft AX1 antenna out quite a lot recently. At time of posting, I’ve almost used it for a month’s worth of activations.

In December, I thought it might be fun to only use the AX1 for one 2023 calendar month–say, the month of March–but since I evaluate and review radios and antennas, it’s just not realistic to make that kind of commitment.

That said, I did decide to simply start using the AX1 as my primary field antenna for roughly a 30-ish day period and, so far, that’s working out very nicely. I thought it might give some real-world context and usage for those who still believe I’ve just been lucky the days I use the AX1 in the field. No better way to test that theory than to just do it!

Mini rove!

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to do a proper park rove. I hope to do a five park rove within the next month or so, if I can clear out space in the schedule. I find roves so much fun and a nice change of pace.

On Saturday, January 21, 2023, on the way back to my QTH in the mountains of WNC, I had just enough time to activate two parks in short order. Having just been challenged by a short activation window at the Vance Birthplace (which, turned into a normal length activation due to a schedule change in my favor) I thought it might be fun to once again, show the whole KX2/AX1 set-up and pack-up process in my activation video.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

I chose South Mountains State Park as my first stop.

South Mountains has a number of public access points. I decided to drive to the main park entrance and set up at the equestrian picnic area. Choosing the main park entrance added about 15 minutes to my overall driving time; the Clear Creek access would have been quicker, but I’d been there only recently. Continue reading A quick two park KX2/AX1 POTA run starting at South Mountains State Park!

Alan’s window-mounted Elecraft AX1 POTA activation!

Many thanks to Alan (W2AEW) who shares the following guest post:


New AX1 POTA Activation

by Alan (W2AEW)

I have to admit, I have been bitten “hard” by the POTA bug!  (I blame Thomas!) It started for me in August 2022 while I was on vacation at the Jersey shore.  Since that time, I have completed 48 activations at 19 different parks.  All of these have been QRP, and almost exclusively on CW. This story is about one of my recent activations, which was unique for a couple of reasons.  Read on…

The Park

My job puts me on the road, covering a large portion of the northeastern United States.  When my schedule permits, I’ll hit the road earlier than needed in order to potentially stop for a quick activation along the way (usually giving up a lunch-on-the-road stop in favor of a bit of QRP CW operation at a park).

This particular park was not your typical state park.  It wasn’t a nature preserve, or a mountain lake, or a hiking or picnic paradise.  No, this park is decidedly urban, occupying 2 blocks in the city of Holyoke, MA.  This is K-2439, Holyoke Heritage State Park. According to the state park website, this park celebrates the rich industrial heritage of the city of Holyoke.  The park also includes a Children’s Museum, a Volleyball Hall of Fame and a restored antique Merry-Go-Round.

The park is situated along a canal that once powered some of the mills that were located on the property.

It certainly is not like any other state park that I’ve been to!

One of the reasons I chose to stop at this park is that it had only been activated 4 times in the past.  In retrospect, I suppose this could’ve been because of the city/industrial setting.  Was it going to be noisy? Maybe this was a bad idea.. Thankfully, it wasn’t… Another thing that appealed to me is that it had not been activated on CW before.  So, my activation would be a CW ATNO (All Time New One) for this park, which is kind of cool.

A New Antenna

Largely due to Thomas extolling the virtues of the Elecraft AX1 compact vertical antenna, I “had to” purchase one for myself.  This activation would be its maiden deployment. Continue reading Alan’s window-mounted Elecraft AX1 POTA activation!

POTA Field Report: The Elecraft AX1’s secret power? Speed of deployment.

I believe I mentioned in the past that when I first purchased my Elecraft AX1, I assumed it would be a bit if a toy or novelty item. I thought it was a fun concept–and that’s why I bought it–but I remember the first time I took it out to the field on an activation, I thought I’d be demonstrating that a compromised antenna delivers compromised performance.

In short? I was wrong.

The AX1 has instead become one of the most valuable tools in my antenna arsenal.

When you are the DX–activating a park or summit–the AX1 is more than capable as long as you live in an area with a reasonable amount of hunters/chasers within your normal propagation footprint.

Speed

The AX1’s secret power, as I mention in the title, is speed of deployment.

Although I can launch a line into a tree and deploy an end-fed half-wave pretty quickly–I’ve literally done this hundreds of times–I can deploy the AX1 even more quickly without breaking a sweat.

Case in Point: Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

On Tuesday, January 17, 2023, I had a day full of errands and projects in town, but needed to pick up my daughters at a school function around 15:00 local. There were too many variables to accurately predict where I would be at what time, so I didn’t schedule an activation that morning.

As the day progressed, though, I realized I had a very short window and K-6856 was practically en route to the pickup point. After I finished my last errand in south Asheville, I made my way north and based on Google Maps, I had no more than a 25 minute window to fit in a full activation from deployment to pack up.

I stopped in a parking lot en route, pulled out my iPhone, and scheduled an activation at K-6856 on POTA.app.

Keep in mind that my activations are typically short, but 25 minutes for set-up, on-the-air time, and pack-up leaves very little margin for error.

The AX1 is perfect for this type of activation.

A little time math

It takes me two easy minutes to set up the AX1 and maybe one minute to pack it up.  If I wanted to, I could speed that up a bit (I take much longer on camera talking my way through the process). So that’s roughly three minutes to both deploy and pack-up the AX1.

My speaker wire antenna, on the other hand, is also very quick to deploy. With my arborist throw line, I can easily prepare that antenna in four minutes and pack it up in three minutes. Thus, I need to allow roughly 7 minutes to both deploy and pack-up the speaker wire antenna (we have to assume it might take 2 launches of the throw line to snag a branch).

Since it has a built-in ATU and battery the Elecraft KX2 takes maybe 20 seconds to set up. Seriously: pull it out of the pack, connect a key, turn it on. Continue reading POTA Field Report: The Elecraft AX1’s secret power? Speed of deployment.

Michael builds a Pacific Antenna Mini SWR Indicator for his Penntek TR-35 field kit

Many thanks to Michael (N7CCD) who writes:

Hi Thomas!

I just watched your last activation video (very fun by the way!) using the TR-35 and thought I’d share really quickly my solution to the lack of an SWR indicator.

It was a cheap (and fun) $5 for the kit, build project I did with my brother, N7BHP, while visiting him in Mexico. It was actually the first little precursor project to building the TR-35 while on that same trip.

We picked up three (one for me and two for my brother) Pacific Antenna Mini SWR Indicator kits, and some cheap cases off of Amazon that just fit the meter. Of course, we had to add the BNC connectors also.

The kit is a 50ohm dummy load, and the LED lights up if the SWR is above 2:1. I’ve actually used this to tune my AlexLoop with the TR-35. When the light goes out, you’ve hit 1:1. I’ve found the LED on this kit to be more sensitive than the AlexTune light on the antenna.

I modified my kit to eliminate the switch. The way they have you build it is to leave it inline with your antenna, and just flip the switch from ‘forward’ to ‘reverse’. To save space and fit into the little plastic case, we jumpered where the switch would be so it stays in the ‘engaged’ position. I then just put it in at the very beginning of my setup to ensure the SWR is good on my antenna, then take it out of the circuit completely when using the radio.

It’s small enough to just live with my TR-35 at all times.

Hope all is well!
Michael -N7CCD

I love this, Michael. I think I might have to build one as well. Looks like a fun, inexpensive build that’s actually quite practical! Thank you for sharing!

Jonathan takes the Yaesu FT-818ND on an inaugural POTA activation!

Many thanks to Jonathan (KM4CFT) who shares the following guest field report and video:


Chatfield State Park (K-1212)

January 20, 2022

by Jonathan Kayne (KM4CFT)

The honorable Yaesu FT-817/818. You all know it and love it. I had been wanting to get myself one for a while but after just buying myself a shiny new ICOM IC-705, I had been planning on getting myself an 818 in the spring to play around with. December came and I find out that Yaesu was going to discontinue the 818, so I went and bit the bullet and bought one from Ham Radio Outlet.

I had been getting into CW for portable operations lately after wanting to learn CW for a while and my friend Zach Thompson (KM4BLG) had pushed me to learn it. I learned it over the course of two months through an app called “Morse Machine” and listening to Thomas’s YouTube videos while working so as to get used to the exchanges and pick up words. Then I activated and all the rest is history! (If you want to see my 3rd time activating see this video here.)

Why is this important? Because the FT-818ND does not have a narrow 500 Hz filter for CW operation by default, and since I consider myself to be still a newbie I wanted to install a Collins Filter before I take my new 818 into the field. Since these filters are hard to obtain, I went with the build your own route. The method I used has been outlined in this blog and I have made a video of it here.

Now that I had my radio all ready to go with a filter, side rails, and Windcamp Battery, I wanted to get it in the field as soon as possible. Unfortunately due to a snow storm, the temperature in the Denver area was quite cold.

I can handle myself pretty well in the cold if I put on enough layers, but my fingers are another story. I have found that I cannot write properly unless my fingertips are exposed. The solution: do the activation in the car! Continue reading Jonathan takes the Yaesu FT-818ND on an inaugural POTA activation!

Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with a 28.5′ random wire for a rapid POTA activation

On Wednesday, January 11, 2023, I was on my way back to the QTH after a brief trip to Raleigh, NC.

Later in the afternoon, I needed to take my daughters to a class, thus I had a strict deadline to meet. Still, it was a beautiful day so I decided to pop by Tuttle Educational State Forest for a nice walk and possibly an activation if I time allowed.  I’d spent so much time in my car the previous couple of days, I really wanted to stretch my legs.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

As I drove to Tuttle, I made a decision to film a Hike & Talk session–I had a topic on my mind and thought the timing was right to make a recording. You can check out that (previously published) Hike & Talk session here.

After that casual walk, I found that I had a good 45 minute window–no more–to fit in a full activation including set-up/take-down. Very doable!

The radio I had packed away for this road trip was my Elecraft KX2 field kit which included a Tufteln no-transformer random wire antenna (compact equivalent of my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna) and my AX1 portable antenna. I had this particular kit because I’d hoped to do an urban park activation in Raleigh, but simply didn’t have the time to fit it in.

Setting up the KX2 is a swift process.

I chose a picnic table, deployed the Tufteln antenna and was on the air in no time! Continue reading Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with a 28.5′ random wire for a rapid POTA activation

New Penntek TR-35 Field Kit, Canine Welcome Party, & Brilliant 20 Meter POTA Conditions!

There are few things that make me happier than radios and pets.  On Saturday, January 7, 2023, I got copious amounts of both.

On the way back to the QTH, I stopped by Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012) for a nice, leisurely POTA activation.

En route to Table Rock I gave some though to the antenna I might deploy. In the end, I decided I’d once again set up the Chelegance MC-750.

There was no question which radio I’d use: it’d be the brilliant Penntek TR-35 packed-up in its new field kit!

Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012)

Table Rock Fish Hatchery isn’t open on Saturdays, but that really isn’t a problem because the picnic area where I set up shop is open 24/7.

And the best part about Table Rock? The welcoming committee…

These two dogs are so incredibly sweet and always a highlight of activating Table Rock. You may have seen them in my previous field reports and videos. Continue reading New Penntek TR-35 Field Kit, Canine Welcome Party, & Brilliant 20 Meter POTA Conditions!

MINI Portable: Conrad’s POTA field report from Stuart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

Many thanks to Conrad (N2YCH) who shares the following field report:


Field Report :POTA Activation K-0228, Stuart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Great Meadows Unit

by Conrad (N2YCH)

January 21, 2023

Parks On the Air’s Support Your Parks weekend event for winter 2023 is the third full weekend in January and I found myself without my Jeep. I sold my ten-year-old Jeep Wrangler and my new Jeep wasn’t due to be delivered until the following week, leaving me without my “POTA activation vehicle”. I ended up borrowing my XYL’s MINI Countryman to activate K-0228, but let’s face it, a MINI is not a Jeep. It didn’t have all of my “stuff” in it. I needed to get creative about what to bring along with me that would fit easily in the MINI, yet work well enough to activate the park.

I started with my backpack kit which contains an Elecraft KX3, battery, Signalink and computer (for FT8 and logging).

It includes everything I need to transmit and it’s easy to toss in the car. I just needed to decide on what antenna to use. Since it’s winter here in Connecticut and pretty cold outside, this would be an “in-the-car” activation and without the Jeep, my antenna options were limited. I could have brought my Sotabeams Tac-Mini which could fly my PackTenna EFHW up about 20’. However, anchoring the mast would be a challenge in the cold weather. In the end, I decided to bring my Buddipole tripod and nested mast, which are compact and fit in a small bag which fit right in the passenger seat. Continue reading MINI Portable: Conrad’s POTA field report from Stuart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

Some ham radio retailers have a limited number of new Yaesu FT-818NDs incoming

As you, no doubt, know by now, Yaesu recently discontinued the FT-818ND QRP transceiver. Within a day of the announcement most US retailers sold out their remaining inventory. There may still be new units at some UK and EU retailers at time of posting.

Ham Radio Outlet

Many thanks to John (KC8RZM) who writes:

I notice HRO, after having no listing for new FT818NDs for a few days, it’s now back being listed as being available for ordering (though not currently in stock).

John was correct, of course. I checked HRO’s FT-818ND product page and see that they’re listed as out-of-stock yet you can still order one for $699.95 US they seemed to have increased the price to $799.99 since yesterday (Jan 24, 2023).

I reached out to HRO to gather more information. HRO Sales Manager, Steve (W4SHG), replied:

We have been told more may be coming, we have no idea how many or when they may arrive.

So it sounds like they’re taking orders for an unknown quantity of radios they’ll be taking into inventory at some point in the future.

Martin Lynch & Sons

It also appears ML&S have new FT-818ND inventory arrive by end of January. They are allowing pre-orders to reserve these units. The price is £624.95 and they include a free MyDEL Leg Peg kit. Not a bad deal!

Should you bite the bullet?

If you’ve been considering a new-in-box, fully warranted FT-818ND, it might be worth reserving one of these units.

I would certainly not panic-buy an FT-818ND because there are so many tens of thousands of these in the wild I think there are deals to be found on the used market. I do suspect there may be a temporary increase in prices on the used market, but in a few months they’ll go back down.

Other retailers?

If you know of any other ham radio retailers who will be receiving new FT-818 stock, please comment below.


Here are some tips from readers from the comments section:

Wimo (Europe)

Leo (DL2COM) comments: Wimo was out of stock a few days ago and now seems to have a few new ones. Click here.Scott (K4IBX) comments: Thomas – thanks for all you do! Nevada Radio still has stock w/shipping and today’s exchange rate about $705+/- delivered via FedEx to US.

Flying With Ham Gear and Navigating TSA

Many thanks to Michael (N7CCD) for sharing the following guest post:


Flying With Ham Gear

by Michael (N7CCD)

I often get asked “how hard is it to fly with ….”, or “what does TSA say about …” as my job has me flying a fair amount throughout the year. In fact, I’m writing this now while waiting to board my flight for a week in Georgia and Alabama, after having just gone through TSA.

In a recent QRPer post by Thomas, I posted a comment about my frequent travel with ham gear and Thomas gave me a gentle “hint hint” nudge to write up my experiences on the matter. I thought this trip would be a good time to share my experiences in traveling with ham gear in my check-on baggage, as well as my carry-on baggage and my process for each. I’m always interested in learning from other’s experiences, so if you have some ideas for the good of the community, please share them in the comments below!

Before starting this article, and out of curiosity, I checked my past calendar and figured out that I passed through TSA screening about 26 times in 2022. I would say that, since starting my current role four years ago, I have at a minimum hit that number each year.

To address the main question I get about ham gear (antennas, radios, batteries, etc.) and TSA, surprisingly TSA has very little interest in any of it.

In all of my trips through the x-ray machine, TSA has never once pulled my bag out to further investigate what was inside. They have asked about my thermal camera, but never my ham gear. Full disclosure, I am TSA Pre-Check which does exclude me from having to remove laptops, iPads, etc. However, on a recent non-business trip with my wife and kids to visit family in Mexico, I wasn’t pre-check and they still didn’t care about any of my radio gear.

Since I’m limited on the amount of stuff I can physically carry on the plane, and my work gear requires me to check a bag anyway, I have divided my radio gear between what I want with me on the plane, and what I’ll just pick up when I collect my bag at baggage claim.

I have settled on a hard sided suitcase after having to replace some of my work arc flash PPE (personal protective equipment) when baggage handlers cracked my arc flash face shield. After upgrading to a hard sided suitcase, I started adding more ham equipment I would otherwise worry about getting damaged. In the image below you can see what, at this point, I’ve included in my checked bag.

From top left to bottom right: Raspberry Pi kit (more photos on that below), CWMorse paddle in a dollar store container with cable, Buddipole PowerMini, charging cradle for HT, SignalStuff mag mount for HT in rental car, hand mic for HT for use in rental car, throw line and weight, AlexLoop w/ Amazon Basics tripod, US Road Atlas

The idea behind the Pi and AlexLoop antenna is I can work HF digital no matter where I am. This is more fun than watching TV in a hotel, but also gives me digital capabilities to send emails or texts over HF if I am stranded without service of any kind. The mag mount and HT hand mic allow me to use my HT in my rental car as a mobile radio. The same SignalStuff antenna on my HT can be transferred to the mag mount easily once I step into the car. Continue reading Flying With Ham Gear and Navigating TSA