Shortly after acquiring a lab599 Discovery TX-500 earlier this year, I did what I always do: invest an insane amount of time in researching and configuring a dedicated field radio kit.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’m a serious pack geek, so this is incredibly fun for me even though the choice is often difficult.
I like to buy packs and cases from manufacturers in the US and Canada when possible, so started searching through all of the options.
I wanted a pack that was compact, versatile, and offered proper padding (even knowing the TX-500 is a rugged little transceiver). I don’t handle my packs with kid gloves, so I expect them to cope with sometimes rough field conditions and still protect the gear inside. I also like a certain level of organization inside the pack.
I wanted the kit to be relatively compact, but large enough to hold the transceiver, all accessories and connections, logging pad and pencil, paddles, a proper arborist throw line, portable ATU, and a 3Ah LiFePo4 battery. A the end of the day, I wanted this TX-500 field kit to be fully self-contained.
In the end, I adopted a pack with which I’m already very familiar…
The Red Oxx Micro Manager
Red Oxx is my favorite pack company and if you’ve been a reader for any length of time, you’ve obviously seen a number of their bags and packs in my field reports.
Back in 2016, when they introduced the first iteration of the Micro Manager EDC bag, they actually reached out to me–as an existing customer–knowing that I had been looking for a good radio pack with proper padding (many packs don’t require side padding and internal padding). They sent me a prototype of the Micro Manager for my feedback and then incorporated some of my suggestions.
I also purchased a Micro Manager for my wife who quickly turned hers into a mobile art studio!
Much like my buddy Steve (AC5F)–whose XYL creates some amazing water color art in the field–my wife (K4MOI) is also an artist and loves to paint/draw during park and summit activations. Her art kit is always at the ready and she’s traveled with it extensively over the past five years.
The Micro Manager is a pack carried over the shoulder, much like a messenger or laptop bag. Those times when my field activations require a lengthy hike, I’ve simply pulled all of the items out of the Micro Manager (since I do modular packing, this is super easy), else I’ve even been known to stick the entire Micro Manager pack into a backpack!
Over the years, Red Oxx has made iterative upgrades to the Micro Manager including a pleated front pocket, slip-in external pocket, and they started lining the internal pocket with a more flexible and thinner dense foam padding. The new padding not only fits the TX-500 better than the first Micro Manager version did, but I believe it will have enough dimension to accommodate the TX-500 battery pack when that’s available next year.
Inside the Micro Manager I also use a Tom Bihn Large Travel Tray to hold all of the TX-500 accessories: key, microphone, ATU, battery, and cables.
I own a number of these large travel trays and highly recommend them. I especially like the ballistic nylon versions for radio kits as they open and close so smoothly.
I made a short video tour of the TX-500 Micro Manager kit before a recent activation at Table Rock:
I’ve used this pack for a number of field activations and couldn’t be more pleased. Looking back at the contents, it’s funny: the pack and almost every single item inside (save the notepad and pencil) are made in the USA while the radio is made in Russia! A bit of international harmony going on here!
If you have a field pack for the TX-500 (or any radio), I’d love to know more about it. Please consider commenting with details or even submitting a guest post with photos!
As I’ve mentioned a number of times on QRPer and on the SWLing Post, I’m a pack geek. I enjoy organizing and packing my gear for field radio activities and travel.
Last week, I made a very quick overnight trip to visit my parents. My time during this trip was very limited and I did not plan to fit in an activation, but Monday morning, I was able to knock out an errand very early and that freed up a couple of hours in the early afternoon. Fortunately, prior to leaving my QTH, I decided to pack a few travel items in my GoRuck GR1 pack along with a field radio kit built around my Elecraft KX2.
I never leave home without a field radio kit because I never know when an opportunity to play radio might happen.
On the way home Tuesday, I popped Lake Jame State Park and fit in a quick, last minute activation. Moments before arriving at the lake, I received a request from one of my YouTube subscribers asking if I would make the occasional video showing what’s in my radio packs and field kits.
I’ve been meaning to make these videos but, frankly, often forget when I arrive at a park or summit because I’m just a little too focused on starting my activation.
Since I had some overnight items in my pack, it wasn’t a typical SOTA or POTA field kit, but I decided to make the video anyway. After all, I love watching videos about how others pack and organize their radio and travel kits. But then again, I’m a pack geek. I did mention this right–?
Although I’m not always the neatest person (my wife is probably chuckling at this gross understatement), I’m a meticulous and very organized pack geek. What you see in the video is exactly how I pack when no one is looking. 🙂
I’ll add here that if you’re interested in field radio kits and packs, I’d encourage you to check out my Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit series; Part 1 has already been published and Part 2 will be posted later this week. In Part 2, I take a much deeper dive into safety gear I take on SOTA activations.
In the video, I mention that I would attempt to link to all of the items in my pack. I spent time sorting out links this morning; many links go straight to the pack manufacturer because the packs I use typically have no distributors other than the manufacturer, I have also purchased a lot of the smaller items on Amazon, but many can be found in big box stores like Walmart, Target, Canadian Tire, etc.
If I missed something, let me know in the comments.
Like all my videos, this one us unscripted, made in one take (unedited), and also has no ads:
Out of order…
So this video was made prior to an activation at Lake James last week. I’ve mentioned before that my Internet speeds at the QTH are worse than dismal, but since this pack video was relatively short, I was able to upload it ahead of the activation video (it took 1.5 days to upload this 2GB file).
The activation video will be published in another week or so depending on my access to some proper broadband service.
Any other pack geeks out there?
I would love to share photos, descriptions, and/or a video of how and what you pack for field activations. If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, please do so!
Also, I’d love to hear about your favorite packs and how well they’ve held up with time.
Feel free to comment and thank you once again for hanging out here at QRPer.com!
Recently, I found myself in an embarrassing situation: I was being interviewed on the Ham Radio YouTube channel Red Summit RF, when someone in the chatroom asked how many HF QRP radios I currently own?
How many…? It dawned on me suddenly that I didn’t know the answer.
Throughout my life as a radio hobbyist, I’ve owned a number of transceivers, but I’ve never owned so many at once as I do currently. Since I was licensed in 1997, I’ve owned up to two or three transceivers at once. But things really started changing for me in 2020. And I blame the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our family loves to travel––but during the pandemic, we were essentially grounded. I keenly missed the travel. So, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I turned my attention to more regional destinations––and often took the family along––by activating local parks through the Parks On The Air (POTA) program and local summits through the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.
As a result of this activity, I also began reviewing and evaluating more and more QRP transceivers––and, if I liked them (as I all too often do) purchased them following the review period.
Fact is, I thoroughly enjoy trying out radios, putting them through their paces and engaging all their bells and whistles; I enjoy shaking up my field activations by employing different radios with different antennas and accessories on each outing . I also enjoy writing up field reports and including activation videos on my blog, QRPer.com. Altogether, radio activation gives me a great deal of satisfaction, as does encouraging others to give it a go.
Most of my on-air time is in the field. While I enjoy operating from the shack, I’ve discovered I especially enjoy operating in the great outdoors.
Besides being a fan of hiking, camping, and the great outdoors generally, I also am particularly fond of radio field gear. I like portable transceivers, portable antennas, battery packs, and all of the accessories that make field operation efficient and enjoyable.
I appreciate the emergency communications skills I’ve developed in the field, too. Should the need (or opportunity) arise, I now keep a complete field kit packed and ready to go at all times, and can even deploy all of it within just ten minutes. In my early days of ham radio operation, I might have easily spent thirty minutes setting the antenna, alone…especially on Field Day, with folks watching me struggle to untangle wires and cables, followed by the undoubtedly entertaining attempts I made to put a line into a tree to deploy the antenna. But after deploying a variety of antennas hundreds of times now, I find that––while I’m still not perfect––I finally have a bit of skill and the process of tossing up a line is becoming much swifter and smoother.
Confessions of a pack geek
If I’m being honest with myself, I admit: I also simply get a thrill out of kitting out my field packs, as well as organizing and tweaking them over time. Yes, (don’t judge me!) I actually like packing up my field gear.
I think my passion for organizing and packing gear goes back to a former career when I lived in the UK, Germany, and France, and was required to travel throughout Europe frequently. Originally inspired by travel guru Rick Steves, I’ve always appreciated the footloose feeling of having all of my travel gear in one lightweight pack. I don’t like checking in luggage, but love the freedom of grabbing my backpack and skipping the baggage claim carousels. And I also like knowing that, even though my gear is compact, it contains everything I need.
I’ve become something of a “less-is-more” traveller. Two years ago, for example, I traveled for one week using what Frontier Airlines classifies as a “personal carry-on.” My Tom Bihn Stowaway pack, which only measures 14.0″ (w) x 9.4″ (h) x 8.1″ (d), carried everything I needed for a conference, including my own presentation gear.
Packing for that trip was great fun as it really challenged me to decide what was essential and what was not. My iPad doubled a computing and presentation device, for example, but I also packed a small flashlight and a mini first aid kit, which I felt were important. Of course, I also carried a small portable Shortwave/AM/FM radio and my Yaesu VX-3R handheld…also vital, as I can’t leave home without radios!
Getting started with a field kit
Putting together a field radio kit is so similar to packing for travel: you must first do an assessment of what you need, starting with the basics––then organize it, pack it, and test it.
In my world, this is a very deep topic. We’re going to break down this topic into two parts.
This article, Part 1, we’ll dive in:
first, going over the obvious components of a basic field radio kit;
second, discussing the benefits of going low-power (QRP) if that appeals
In Part 2, we will:
look at variations of kits based on activity, and finally
review what I consider the “golden rules” of a good field radio kit
The basics of a field radio kit
First, let’s go over the basics of your field kit, considering that that these primary components will dictate your bag, pack, or case size.
Since I’m a bit radio obsessed, I have a number of QRP transceivers I like to take to the field. But if you have selected one transceiver you plan to dedicate to field work, or simply have only one transceiver, period, you can build a kit around it (and see my note below about “modular” kits). If budget allows, you might consider buying a radio specifically for field use, so it can always be packed and ready to go.
There are a number of transceivers on the market that are designed with field use in mind. Some are compact, power-stingy CW-only QRP transceivers that might only operate on three ham radio bands, while others are 100-watt general coverage transceivers that even have built-in antenna tuners––there’s a wide range of options.
Look for field-friendly, built-in options like:
CW and voice-memory keying;
SWR and power meter readings;
a battery voltage indicator;
low current consumption;
the ability to lower power to at least one watt;
an internal battery option; and
an internal antenna tuner option
And the more such options are already built into your field rig, obviously, the less separate accessories you’ll need to pack and keep track of in the field, which is a good thing.
Some of my favorite field-ready general-coverage transceivers currently in production are:
The Elecraft KX2 A full-featured, inclusive, and compact 80-10 meter transceiver that’s truly a “Swiss-army knife” of field operation (see November 2016 TSM review)
The Elecraft KX3 Benchmark performance, wide array of features, and compact design
The lab599 Discovery TX-500 Military-grade engineering, weatherproof, spectrum display, and benchmark current consumption for a general-coverage radio (see October 2020 TSM review)
Mission RGO One Top-notch performance, 50-watts out, and excellent audio (see November 2020 TSM review)
The Yaesu FT-817/818 Rugged chassis, 160-6 meters, VHF and UHF multi-mode, both BNC and PL-259 antenna inputs
The Xiegu X5105 Affordable, 160-6 meters, 5 watts output, built-in ATU, and built in rechargeable batttey
The Xiegu G90 Affordable, relatively compact rig with built-in ATU, color screen with spectrum/watefall, good audio, and 20 watts of output power (see August 2020 TSM review)
The Icom IC-705 Benchmark performance, a multitude of features, exchangeable battery packs, 160-6 meters, VHF and UHF multi-mode, D-Star, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth (see February 2021 TSM review)
The Yaesu FT-891: Affordable relatively compact radio with detachable faceplate, 100 watts output, and excellent audio (see November 2017 TSM review)
An important side note for field contests: if you plan to use a field transceiver in an event like the ARRL Field Day and/or another popular radio contest, make sure you choose a transceiver that can handle tightly spaced signals in an RF-dense environment. This is not the time to pull out a lower-end radio with poor receiver specifications. Use Rob Sherwood’s receiver test data table as a guide.
An antenna––and a means to deploy/support it
This particular topic, alone, might warrant a three-part series of articles. So, to keep the scope of this article realistic, let’s just say that you should build or buy an antenna that can comfortably handle the wattage you’re pushing into itin all the modes that you operate, considering that some 100-watt SSB-rated antennas might melt or arc if you run 100 watts CW or FT8.
I would suggest you consider having at least one resonant antenna, like an end-fed half-wave (EFHW) that might cover 40 and 20 meters without the need of an antenna tuner to match the antenna impedance to your rig.
Some of my favorite portable antenna systems?
I’m a big fan of Chameleon Antennafor their ease of deployment and benchmark build quality. Their prices range from $145 for the Emcomm III random wire, to $550 for their MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna system. These prices are near the top of the market, but Chameleon antennas are all machined and produced in the US and the quality is second to none. These are antennas you might well pass along to the next generation, meaning, really heirloom-worthy kit!
PackTennas, likewise, are pricey for such a compact product, but they are also beautifully engineered, lightweight, and designed for heavy field use. PackTenna produces an EFHW, 9:1 UNUN random wire, and linked dipole models. They’re some of the most compact field antennas on the market that can still handle as much as 100 watts of power output.
Wolf River Coils verticals are affordable, compact, and resonant––thus an ATU isn’t needed. It will take some time to learn how to adjust the coil during frequency changes, but they work amazingly well. I have the WRC Take It Along (TIA). Their antennas are designed to handle 100 watts SSB, 50 watts CW, or 20 watts digital.
Vibroplexsells a number of compact field portable antennas and is the manufacturer of Par End Fedz offerings. I’m very fond of the EFT Trail-Friendly and the EFT-MTR.
MFJ Enterprisesalso has a few portable antennas in their catalog, and it’s very difficult to beat the price and performance of their antenna gear. I have their $50 EFHW antenna (the MFJ-1982LP) and love it.
I’ve also had tremendous fun with the uber-compact Elecraft AX1 antenna. Unquestionably, it’s the most compact and quickest-to-deploy antenna I own. It’s designed to pair with the Elecraft KX2 and KX3 using the optional internal antenna tuner.
There are a number of other antenna manufacturers who cater to portable operators. For example––although I’ve not yet had the opportunity of testing their antennas––SOTAbeams is highly regarded among SOTA enthusiasts.
Short on cash? No worries; you can build your own! In fact, until 2016, I had never purchased a field antenna; I built all my own. EFHW antennas and random-wire antennas are no more than a carefully-wound coil, a female antenna connector, an enclosure or mounting plate, and some wire. Some of the most active field operators I know homebrew all of their antennas. It’s easy, affordable, and fun!
Make sure you choose a battery that is sized appropriately for your transceiver power output. I will say that I’m a huge fan of LiFePo4 rechargeable batteries for their voltage range, lightweight design, and longevity. Being primarily a QRPer, I typically use 3 to 4.5 amp hour batteries as they’ll carry me through as many as three or four activations without needing to be recharged. For longer field deployments, or when I’m powering my 100W KXPA100 amplifier, I’ll use my 15 aH Bioenno LiFePo4 pack.
It should go without saying that you need to pack these, but I have gone to the field with operators who forgot their key or mic and asked if I had a spare.
Keys are fairly universal, but keep in mind legacy transceivers often want a ¼” plug while newer rigs typically accept an ⅛” plug. Microphones, however, vary in port type and pin configuration based on the manufacturer and model. You could damage your mic or rig if you plug in a multi-pin mic that was designed for a different transceiver. Most mics that use a ⅛” plug are universal. Still, check before you plug it in if using an after-market or non-OEM mic.
Of course, choose a key, microphone, or boom headset that’s compact and rugged so that’ll be easy to pack and will stand the test of time.
I also always pack a set of inexpensive in-ear earphones. These can dramatically help with weak-signal interpretation.
Also, if you plan to operate a digital mode, you’ll likely need some sort of computing device. Even though I rarely operate digital modes in the field, I often pack my Microsoft Surface Go tablet in case I change my mind.
In addition, I like logging directly to N3FJP’s Amateur Contact Log application directly in the field to save time submitting my logs later. Soon, I’ll be using the new HAMRS field log on my iPhone.
Speaking of logging…
A means of logging
As simple as it is, it’s very important to take at least some paper and a pencil for logging your contacts. I like using small, pocket-sized Muji notebooks (affiliate link) for logging, and if the weather is even a little questionable, I’m a huge fan of getting my contacts down in Rite In The Rain mini notebooks (affiliate link) or notepads using a good old-fashioned pencil.
I like logging to paper and sometimes simultaneously logging to my Microsoft Surface Go. I have completed phone-only field activations where I only logged to my Surface Go tablet: in those cases, I snap a photo of my N3FJP call log, just in case something happens to my tablet between the field and the shack! Having endured enough technology failures, it gives me peace of mind to have at least one other backup.
Keep in mind that when you’re activating a park or summit, the folks calling you are relying on you to submit your logs to the appropriate programs so that they can get credit for working you. Many times, this might also help their awards for a state, county, or grid square. Always submit your logs after an activation even if you didn’t make enough contacts to validate the activation (POTA requires 10 contacts, SOTA requires 4 logged). It helps other folks out.
A pack or case
If you have a field radio kit, you’re going to need a means to organize and contain it for transport. There are at least three types of systems used for field kits.
A backpack or soft-sided case
Since I enjoy the option of hiking with my radio gear, I love using backpacks. Although I’ll speak to this more next month in “Part 2,”, I choose quality packs that have at least one waterproof compartment and are comfortable to carry on long hikes. I also try to look for packs with Molle or some sort of external strapping so that I can attach portable antenna masts or even my hiking poles to the exterior of the pack.
A waterproof case or flight case
Many field operators who want extra protection for their gear––especially when they don’t plan to hike or carry their gear long distances to the operating site––like hard-sided cases. I have built field radio kits in waterproof Pelican cases and appreciate knowing that I could drop my kit in a whitewater river, and it would likely survive the adventure unscathed. If you are one of these operators, look for quality watertight cases from brands like Pelican and Nanuk with interiors lined in pick foam padding that allows you to perfectly accommodate and safely protect your radio and accessories.
Portable ready-to-deploy cases
Although this option is almost outside the scope of this article, many emergency communications enthusiasts love having their gear loaded in rugged, portable––often rack-mounted and hard-sided––cases that they can simply open, hook to an antenna, and get right on the air. These systems are often the heaviest, least “portable,” and less suited for long distance hikes, but they’re often completely self-contained, with all of the components, including the power, hooked up and ready to go on a moment’s notice. While a system like this would be impractical for many Summits On The Air sites, it could be ideal for a park or island activation where you’re never that far from your vehicle.
Optional: Antenna cable
This doesn’t sound like an option, but it’s true. I’ve often operated my Elecraft KX3, KX2, and KX1 without a feedline at all: I simply attached two wires to a BNC binding post, and connected that to the radio. It makes for a super-compact setup.
Even an 8-12 foot feedline can make it easier to configure your operating position in the field. If you want to keep the feedline as low-profile as possible, especially if you’re operating QRP, consider investing in a quality RG-316 feedline terminated with the connector that fits your radio and antenna.
Optional: Antenna Tuner/Transmatch
Again, this topic could easily warrant a multi-part series of articles, but I’ll sum this one up in a nutshell: while I love (and even prefer) using resonant antennas that require no antenna tuner, I almost always carry a radio with a built-in ATU or an external portable ATU like the Elecraft T1 or ZM-2.
Why? Because an ATU will give you a certain amount of frequency agility or freedom. If I’m using an antenna that’s resonant on 40, 20, and 10 meters, but there’s a contest that day and the bands are incredibly crowded, I might use the ATU to find a match on 30 meters or 17 meters, thus finding a little refuge and space to operate. Also, sometimes antenna deployments aren’t ideal––due, for example, to site limitations such as dense vegetation that may alter the antenna deployment and thus its resonance. An ATU can at least keep your transceiver happy with the SWR when your resonant antenna might not be perfectly resonant.
But the main reason I carry it? A portable ATU gives you operational flexibility.
QRP or QRO?
Its good to keep in mind that many of the station accessories listed above need to be matched to the output power of your transceiver and modes you use.
Many ham radio friendships have been placed in jeopardy over the question of either using QRP (low power) or QRO (high power) for field operations. This is a shame. Some operators have very strong opinions, but the truth is, there is no right or wrong answer.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I operate 97% of the time at QRP power levels––in my world, this means five watts or less. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of low-power operating. But I also appreciate the portability QRP gear offers.
Speaking pragmatically––and this fact really isn’t open to debate––QRP and lower-power transceivers and accessories tend to be more efficient, more compact, and lighter than their higher-power siblings.
Most of my QRP transceivers weigh anywhere from two to five times less than their 100-watt equivalents. If you’re operating mobile (from a vehicle or camper/caravan, for example), an eight to twelve pound difference might not be a big deal. But the moment you’re hiking several miles to a mountain summit, weight becomes an important factor.
QRP transceivers have modest power requirements: everything from battery, to antenna, and even to tuners, are smaller, lighter, and more compact.
When operating QRP, you don’t have to worry as much about RF coming back to the radio from, say, an end-fed antenna. If I’m pushing over 20 watts into an end-fed half wave or end-fed random wire, I’ll likely want an in-line RF choke to keep some of that energy from affecting my transceiver or giving me an RF “tingle” when I touch the radio chassis or my key. Too much RF coming back to the transceiver can also affect things like electronic CW keying. But at five watts? I don’t worry. This is almost a non-issue, unless your transceiver happens to be very RF-sensitive indeed.
And even though I’m predominantly a QRPer, I definitely do pack radios like the 50-watt Mission RGO One and occasionally my Elecraft KX3 and KXPA100 100-watt amplifier, especially for an event like Field Day where my club is operating at higher power. I simply size up my gear appropriately. Again, this is especially important with your antenna, feed line, ATU, and battery selections.
If you primarily activate parks and are never far from your vehicle, it’s quite easy to accommodate a 100 watt transceiver like an FT-891, for example. Of course, if you wish to operate low-power and save your battery, simply turn down the output power. If you plan to hike a lot with your gear, then get your mind around QRP!
If you’ve been following QRPer or the SWLing Post for long, you’ve no doubt noticed that I am a certified pack geek.
I tend to buy high-quality packs from companies that both design and manufacture their products in the USA (i.e. Red Oxx, Tom Bihn, Spec Ops Brand, GoRuck, etc.).
In other words? The packs I evaluate are pricey, rugged, and backed by a lifetime warranty. Their quality is uncompromising and at the top of the market.
In addition, I’ve even helped some of these pack manufacturers during product design and development stages, much like I do for radio manufacturers.
Radioddity contacted me a few weeks ago and asked if I’d be interested in testing a backpack they’ve started selling that’s designed with field radio operators in mind. I checked out the info they sent me and the backpack design did, indeed, look bespoke–or custom–for field radio operators. In other words, it wasn’t a laptop bag merely labeled as a radio bag.
But the inner pack geek/snob in me worried that a $45 mass-produced backpack would only lead to disappointment. This is an area where I have tremendously high standards and feel like I get my money’s worth when I happily fork out $200-450 US for a pack.
Still, it’s difficult to find field backpacks that are designed to accommodate radio gear. So I told Radioddity to send me one–which they did for free (meaning, at absolutely no cost to me).
The Raddy backpack arrived in two days (basically, everything from Radioddity seems to arrive within two days with tracking and updates).
My first impression was that the Raddy pack was very lightweight, but then again, I tend to buy backpacks made with Ballistic Nylon or 1000 weight Cordura–i.e. materials that are on the heavier side.
Radioddity mentions that this pack is “dust and rainproof” but then go on to say that it’s ” [m]ade of durable water-resistant polyester fabric with metal zippers[…]. [N]ote it’s not totally waterproof.”
Thus I believe I would classify this pack as water resistant only. I have had the Raddy pack out in light rain and the water seemed to bead up on it. The zipper openings–while covered–have no proper weather seals, but I see where it would be more than adequate for most rains or showers you would encounter on a day hike. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable leaving it out in the rain for an extended period of time, though. Part of its ability to keep rain out relies on wearing the pack in an upright position.
The outer polyester fabric feels durable and is pleasant to the touch–it’s not abrasive like some heavier grade materials.
First thing I wanted to do was open the main compartment to look inside. But first, I had to find the main zippered compartment.
Seriously! Turns out, unlike most backpacks, the main compartment opens from the back or shoulder harness side of the pack rather than the front. They obviously used this design to give the Raddy backpack a better operating surface for the rig inside.
Unzipping the main panel is a little awkward when compared with other packs mainly because the shoulder straps feel like they’re a bit in the way. Still, once I got used to this unconventional design, it became second nature to open.
The zippers are metal, but not YYK–zipper pulls are included.
The main compartment opens to 180 degrees if you wish, but sits comfortably at a right angle so that your radio (which will likely live in the pocket mounted on the interior side of the shoulder harness panel) will rest on a padded surface.
There are Velcro flaps on the hinge points of the interior of the pack that you can detach to have the pack open fully.
There is one large padded interior pocket that is the obvious choice for most portable transceivers–especially those with a front faceplate like the IC-703 Plus, Yaesu FT-891, Xiegu G90, etc.
This main pocket has openings at the back corners so that the rig’s power cord, coax line, and accessory cords can all be managed within the pack if you’d actually like to operate from the pack. Admittedly, I’m not certain I’d leave cables and cords attached to the back of my transceiver during transport, though, as it could cause some stress at the connection points on the back of the radio; stand-offs and/or right angle connectors might help with this, however. The back of the pocket is padded and so is he floor of the backpack, so your rig should be otherwise very protected when the backpack is placed on the ground.
The main internal pocket also has two elastic straps designed to hold the radio in the pocket during transport. I think this is a great idea, however, I’ve found in practice they quite easily slip off all but the largest field radios. Speaking of which, the largest field radio I own is the Mission RGO One which is ever-so-slightly too large for this pocket. I assume similarily-sized radios like the Ten-Tec Eagle and Elecraft K2 would not fit.
I wish the pack had a frame sheet and the main pocket had at least one compression strap attached to it to hold a radio in more firmly. The pocket is large enough that even my IC-703 Plus slides around inside.
Of course, this main pocket could also hold a laptop or tablet.
The main interior pocket is not well suited for “blocky” transceivers like the Elecraft KX3, Icom IC-705, or Xeigu X5105 for example. Although the pocket can hold most of these, they would simply fall to the bottom and could not benefit from the full dimension.
The second large padded pocket inside the Raddy backpack is ideal for holding a battery, ATU, or even the “blocky” transceivers mentioned above. I’m calling it a “battery pocket” but in truth it’s obviously designed to also hold transceivers.
This pocket is shorter and has one elastic strap (I’d prefer a compression strap) with a Velcro attachment to hold the contents inside. It’s attached to the front panel of the backpack and when the backpack is zipped closed, this pocket and the rig pocket fit side-by-side.
When I’m carrying the Icom IC-703 Plus in the Rig compartment, I place my 15 Ah LiFePo4 battery in this compartment.
If I’m carrying the Elecraft KX3, I place it in this battery compartment and my tablet and clipboard in the main pocket.
Like the main rig compartment, there are openings at the bottom corners to allow cable management and routing. I’m not so sure how convenient or practical it would be, however, to operate a radio from this particular internal pocket.
There are also two internal mesh pockets: one attached to the front panel and the other attached to the large rig compartment pocket.
There pockets would be ideally-suited to hold small cords, a key/paddle, and possibly a small hand mike.
While the top of each pocket has an elastic band, I would not trust these open pockets to hold small items like adapters. They could easily fall out if the backpack were turned upside down.
In addition, if you have heavier items inside, the pocket may sag a bit and look more like an accessories “hammock.”
Exterior front pocket
There’s also one large, flat exterior pocket on the front panel of the Raddy backpack. This pocket might be easy to overlook if the zipper is tucked inside.
The zipper is centered and oriented vertically. When opened, there’s a surprising amount of room inside, and all sides of the pocket are padded.
The opening isn’t large enough to fit my main clipboard (which is fine, because I would store it inside the main compartment), but it is large enough to allow one to store a tablet, notepads, pens, cables, etc. inside.
While the zipper opening has nearly overlapping seams which should help shed water, the vertical orientation of the zipper would potentially allow for heavy rains to penetrate the zipper opening, especially if that front pocket was bulging with gear. This is why conventional packs tend to have a horizontally-oriented front pocket zipper and rain flap over the zipper.
There’s also an USB access port on the pack that allows for a USB device to be plugged in on the outside and tethered to a device or battery on the inside. I assume this would mainly be used as a battery pack connection.
This would be handy during travels, but I doubt I would ever use it in the field.
I’ve used the Raddy backpack on two short hikes and find it, overall, a very comfortable backpack. I do find the harness a little on the small side, but I have broad shoulders. For those with slightly smaller frames, I think this would work well.
The carry handle is attached across the top of the backpack/shoulder straps.
I also find this a bit odd, because if the pack is fully-loaded and heavy, it puts a lot of strain on the attachment points of the handles and at an angle–meaning, the double stitching isn’t providing the strength it otherwise could if the pack weight was distributed evenly on the top of the backpack body instead of the shoulder harness.
The back of the pack is padded with a mesh that allows for your back to relatively cool as you hike.
Overall, it’s a very comfortable pack, although I wish the shoulder straps felt more robust and I wish the main handle wasn’t attached to the shoulder straps.
One real bonus with the Raddy pack is that it’s low profile, has an “urban” look–in other words, fairly nondescript. This pack does not look like a radio manpack, nor is it tactical in design. If I were to take this through a large city, no one would assume this pack was full of radio gear. It looks like a normal, modern backpack.
There’s real security in a low profile, stealthy design.
In addition, other than the front vertical pocket, this would be an incredibly difficult pack for a pickpocket to steal from..
The Raddy backpack is designed to hold up to 44lb/20kg of weight. I’m not sure I’d ever need or want exceed 20-30 lbs with it myself.
Radioddity also backs this pack with an 18 month warranty. Exceptional. Radioddity told me they would offer a replacement if any stress points on the pack fail during that warranty period. They also told me they’d handle any warranty replacements within 1 business day. Having worked with Radioddity now for a year, I do believe they’ll stick by this quick response/handling time.
Is the Raddy Multi-function Backpack for you?
Keeping in mind (again) that I normally review packs at the high end of the market, I’m not familiar with with what would be expected at this $45 price point.
What I can say is that if you’re looking for a compact pack that’s designed to hold and protect radio gear, this is a good option and certainly one of the most affordable I’ve seen on the market.
This pack would best suit the casual park activator that doesn’t need to pack in a lot of extra supplies like field safety gear. It’s designed to only hold a radio, battery, ATU, cables, and a few other accessories–I’ve configured it with a number of radios and found that I can easily pack an entire QRP station inside.
I would use this pack for drive-up parks and summits, and especially for urban outings-. This would be a great pack to wear into a park in or near a city where I wouldn’t want to appear as if I’m a radio operator preparing for field combat scenarios. You could wear this pack into a historic POTA site and politely ask staff if you could activate the park with the low-profile gear you have inside. It would be much less intimidating and conspicuous than a tactical or large hiking pack.
This would also be a great pack if you plan to fly and wish to keep all of your radio gear in a carry-on. Being a compact backpack, the size should easily fit the description of a “personal” carry-on for most airlines (always check before departing, though, as these dimensions will vary by airline). With your gear loaded, it’ll might appear “intentional” and more normal as you go through Airport security as opposed to your gear being simply tossed in a suitcase.
The Raddy pack is not perfect: I would like something more rugged, with a better suspension system and even better weather-proofing around the zippers. I’d also like more rigid padded pockets inside with adjustable straps. I assume all of these things, though, would substantially add to the cost of the pack and might be overkill for most casual operators. While I wouldn’t choose this pack for a 10 mile round-trip hike to a SOTA summit, I would choose it for some casual picnic table operations and, again, for travel.
I love the fact it can be configured so that you can operate directly from the backpack. You could simply open up your pack in the field, connect the antenna, and operate from the open backpack.
I do like Radioddity and find that they stand behind their products. I’m happy to see that they’re offering a competitively-priced radio pack to supplement their product line. I hope other retailers and manufacturers will do the same.
PS: It’s my policy that if I receive a free review product from a retailer or manufacture–and they don’t want it returned–I either use it or give it away. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of giving away review gear to readers and subscribers who I knew would appreciate it. In this case, I know exactly who I’ll be giving this pack to because she’ll give it a thorough workout and is need of a compact radio pack! Maybe I can even convince her to write her own review in a year or so–? We’ll see!
I told Thomas I would do my own field test of the Xiegu X5105 doing a couple of Parks on the Air activations and what I thought of the radio.
I have had several radios I’ve used on POTA and SOTA activations over the past year and without a doubt my favorite radio for out in the field is my ICOM IC-705. It has everything I want in a portable radio, however I’m also enjoying it alongside my ICOM IC-7300 in the shack. Therefore I’ve looked at other portable radios for field use.
My latest acquisition was a used Xiegu X5105 that I purchased used on QRZ. The radio works fine and for the most part the menu system with it is very easy to understand. As Thomas has pointed out, the CW memory is absolutely insane to use. It just makes no sense to me why with the 10 memory slots that it’s really impractical to use more than the memory in Slot 1, which for me is the CQ POTA. I would never even have known how to set it up in the first place without instructions to Tom that was shared in Tom’s post regarding the X5105.
I got the radio on June 3, played around with it in the shack to get familiar with it and programmed in the memories. I went to K-5481 (Wm. Penn State Forest), which has several parts scattered around eastern Pennsylvania. It has a very small 10 acre tract in the Cornwall mountains between Lancaster and Lebanon County, which is also at a SOTA summit. I used my Sotabeams EMCOMM III antenna and turned on the radio to start calling CQ POTA. For the life of me I could not get the CQ message to send, so I gave up on that and used my CW Morse paddle and did it the old fashioned way. I also spotted myself on the cluster and made 3 QSO’s on 40 meters fairly quickly. I had success on 30 and 17 meters as well. In total, there were 10 QSO’s made in about 45 minutes.
Other than my disappointment not being able to easily send the CQ from memory, overall I was pleased with the activation. When I got home I investigated again how to send CW. I also learned how to use the DSP to make it more narrow on CW, which I was thankful for. I then started to see if I could go hands free using my Heil headset that I was able to use when I had the G90. Unfortunately that did not work at all using the AD-1-iCM adapter as it would not transmit with the foot pedal. I did use the Heil headset in the side jack and put the radio in headset mode. I was disappointed to find that I had to increase the volume up the whole way to be able to hear CW loud enough for my old ears. When I unplugged the headset suddenly the radio RX was very loud. (If anyone can offer a solution, please let me know).
Today I took it to my local POTA park near my house, K-1418 (Samuel Lewis State Park). I used the same Sotabeams antenna and was on the air in no time. Band conditions were not so good and I ended up with 18 QSO in just over an hour. It was nice having the CQ function working, however I am used to the interval where it would automatically send every 7 seconds like the IC 705 does. Not a big deal, I just had to press the PTT button on the top.
I never tried using the radio on SSB before so I called unsuccessfully on 20 meters and went to 40 where KM4JEG called me and gave me a 55. Sadly, I had to take my headset off because when I keyed the mic I was hearing my distorted voice through the headset. So, headset was removed. I didn’t expect that was going to happen, so now on SSB, I’m not able to use the headset, at least on TX.
I really like the internal battery in the radio. I did not have to bring the Bioenno 12v 3aH battery along. The internal battery works great!
It is very portable. I watched a YouTube video, and unfortunately I cannot find who it was, but they had an Osprey UltraLight Roll Organizer which I purchased on Amazon. This is perfect for storing the X5105 and the few accessories it needs, in my car so I’m always going to have a portable radio available when I travel.
The ATU is great on the radio. I can tune all the bands I want to work with the Sotabeams antenna. This also saves having an extra wire and external ATU like I would have to use on the IC 705 with this type of antenna.
The radio is nice and portable and will store nice in my car when not in use and will be ready to go.
The CW presets are almost worthless and not easy to get to. Once I found how to send from the memories, it only really makes sense to use one of the memory slots. I wouldn’t easily be able to switch to a 73 menu shortcut, then go back to the CQ memory.
With the headset plugged in, when I was transmitting CW, I could hear some distortion while it was sending, however it was not too bad, but something I’m not used to hearing.
The headset for SSB could not be used at all due to the distorted noise it made. Also, the volume for the headset and the volume through the radio are night and day. As I mentioned before, when I unhooked the headset and the audio came out of the radio again, I had to quickly adjust the volume down.
Overall, my opinion of the radio is this: For the price and the features it has, I would say it’s a good field radio, as it is easy to store in the car, it has the built in ATU if being used on a random wire antenna, and for 5 watts, people had no problems hearing me, even with poor band conditions and QSB. I hope this radio grows on me, and in the back of my mind don’t find myself thinking during the activation, gee I miss my IC-705 out here.
I know comparing the X5105 to the IC-705 is like comparing apples to oranges. Each radio has it’s good and bad. For the price difference, the Xiegu definitely is worth the price. I would never use it as a first HF radio in the hamshack if I were a new ham. This radio is also not going to be used by me on digital modes. If I want to do digital or work a contest while doing a POTA, then there is no doubt the 705 is coming along for the activation. The Xiegu will be used by me when I want to use a random wire antenna since it has the built in ATU, along with the fact it will be light in the backpack if I am hiking to a summit, and the IC 705 will be used with one of my end-fed half wave antennas or the Hustler vertical array so I don’t need the mAT-705 which I’ll use in the hamshack. I’m trying my best to get away from wires all over the place when I activate, so the laptop computer is staying home. I really like the HAMRS logging program, which I highly recommend, on my Android Samsung S-20.
If anyone who reads this who has some insight into some of the issues I mention, please reply so I have a better understanding of this radio.
Scott Lithgow (KN3A) is a contributor on QRPer.com. Click here to check out his previous posts.
As I mentioned in the video, I knew I’d forget some important points while making the live recording. Here are some extra notes I wish I would have included:
SSB operation: Both radios have excellent features for the SSB operator including EQ settings for both transmit and receive which is a major plus for a QRP radio. I wouldn’t make a purchase decision based on SSB operation–both are excellent.
CW operation: CW operators will be pleased with both rigs. It’s important to note, though, that the TX-500 doesn’t have full break-in QSK like the IC-705. The TX-500 has at minimum a 100ms recovery time after keying a character. That’s a quick recovery, but not fast enough so that an operator can hear between characters formed; especially at high speeds. The IC-705 has full break-in QSK and it sounds great. Note that both the TX-500 and IC-705 use relays, not pin diode switching, so you can hear relays clicking inside the radio, but both are pretty quiet.
Protecting the IC-705: There are a number of IC-705 3rd party cages appearing on the market. These can be used to help protect the IC-705 in the field. Numerous readers and YouTube channel viewers have recommended the IC-705 Carry Cage by Peovi. From what I’ve seen, it looks to be the best of the bunch, but it doesn’t do a lot to protect the lower back portion of the radio–the part of the chassis that meets a surface. I feel like it’s not quite what I’d want, thus hard to justify $135 for it. Other aluminum and 3D printed cages seem to add too much bulk to the radio or obstruct some of the most common connection points on the sides (antenna, key, ATU control cable, speaker/mic, etc.).
TX-500 connectors and cables: The TX-500 uses GX12 mm connectors that are widely used in aviation, commercial and military applications. They’re easy to find online, but the price per each with shipping is typically around $7.00-8.00 US. You get a better deal if you buy in bulk, but often bulk packages of 5 or more are of the same pin count/configuration. W2ENY has posted a number of accessory cables, spare connectors and even a military-style handset on his eBay store and website. The Icom IC-705 uses more standard 1/8″ and smaller two and three conductor plugs.
Receiver Performance: Based on Rob Sherwood’s receiver test data table, the IC-705 has a performance edge over the TX-500. In the field, this difference is not noticeable. Indeed, both radios have very respectable numbers. If I had to choose one radio over the other if operating in a CW contest, for example, I’d give slight preference to the IC-705. I’ve used the TX-500 during a CW contest before, however, and found it did a brilliant job blocking tightly-spaced signals–click here to watch the short video.
Without a doubt, the most popular type of question I receive from readers here on QPRer.com and over at the SWLing Post has to do with making equipment purchase decisions.
In the past two months, I’ve had numerous questions from QRPer readers asking my opinion about choosing between the new Icom IC-705, or the Elecraft KX2. In fact, as I started putting this post together this morning, I received yet another email from a reader asking my opinion about these two iconic QRP transceivers!
I love both of these radios for different reasons, so the answer is not an easy one.
Let’s discuss this in some detail…
I decided to make a video talking about the pros and cons of each transceiver and note the reasons why one might pick one over the other. My hope is that this will help inform a purchase decision: