In the world of lightweight, super-compact QRP radio kits, there is one key that is, essentially, a legend: the venerable Palm Pico.
The Palm Pico has a stellar reputation because it’s super lightweight, can retract into its housing to protect it in transport, and can be directly attached to various radios with a specific mounting assembly or via Velcro or magnets.
The Palm Pico has been out of production for some time now and, they’re so highly desired, they often fetch the original purchase price or even higher on the used market. Truth is, so few Pico owners are willing to sell that very few of these keys ever enter the used market.
I was very lucky, indeed, when a long-time Patreon supporter reached out and offered to sell me her Palm Pico and Palm Mini paddles along with a KX2 mounting assembly. She had noticed how my eyes lit up when Josh (KI6NAZ) showed me his Palm Pico paddle on an HRCC Livestream in February.
The price she offered was amazingly low. She told me that she favored some of the other keys in her collection and wanted to give me the opportunity to own them. They were like-new with all original boxes and accessories.
How could I resist? I’m so grateful.
I really look forward to using the Palm Pico and Palm Mini this year. I’m especially eager to hook up the Palm Pico directly to the KX2 with its custom mounting bracket.
I decided to take my Palm Pico on a maiden POTA activation at the Vance Birthplace on April 18, 2023.
Postcard Field Report
I’ve got a load of videos in the pipeline and to keep from falling behind publishing them, you’re going to see more of my slightly shorter “Postcard Field Reports” for the next couple of weeks during my travels.
These postcard reports contain all of the core information, just less wordy. (In theory!)
Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:
Field Report: Winter Field Day with a New Antenna
Winter Field Day (WFD) 2022 found me operating indoors, despite my best intentions to get out in the field. I was recovering from a bad cold, and did not want to risk having complications arise from sitting out in the cold and damp. So for WFD 2023, outdoor time with my radio was a must. I wanted to operate a 1-Oscar station, and to do that I had to set up more than 500 feet from my home QTH. So a site next to the pond in our back field, about 800 feet from the house, became my WFD shack.
I started planning and collecting kit for the operation in mid-January, with the long term forecast hinting at near-freezing temperatures with the potential for rain or snow. Let me introduce you to my WFD station.
A shelter was needed to keep out rain and snow, and to provide a barrier against the winds whipping across the adjacent field. A few poles lashed together, and steadied by stakes, provided the frame to support the shelter. With a poly tarp secured to this frame, the resulting a-frame shelter, while not completely enclosed, did provide effective weather protection for both operator and equipment. There was about 3 inches of snow on the ground when I set up the shelter, and I was able to pile some of it along the bottom edge of the tarp to keep the wind from getting under it.
I know that when setting up a station, the antenna is not generally the first thought, but I had recently finished building a homebrew 9:1 random wire antenna with a 144 ft radiating wire, and I wanted to test it out. There are better ways to put a new antenna on the air, but the opportunity was a good one. Besides, I had backup antennas that could be quickly substituted if the need arose. In the event, things worked well, and the antenna proved agile and capable on all activated bands. I particularly wanted to see if it would tune on the 160m band. More on that later.
The goal of trying the antenna on 160m left me with only one choice for a radio. I would use the Lab599 TX-500 Discovery, because it is the only transceiver among my field rigs that is capable of operating on the 160m band. Since a tuner is required, I paired it with an LDG Z-11Pro II, a wide-range autotuner. I also included a Monitor Sensors Power and SWR Meter in the feed line to help assure that I was legitimately running less than 5 watts to qualify for the QRP power multiplier. Continue reading Brian puts a new antenna to the test during Winter Field Day!→
Many thanks to Scott (KK4Z) who shares the following post from his blog KK4Z.com:
by Scott (KK4Z)
Men in general, have a habit of naming things. All sorts of things, cars, body parts, you name it, we will cast our own nickname on it. I thought I would share some of the names I have given my radios. Typically, I don’t just throw a name on something. I am around it for a while, before I decide what I am going to call it. My poor dogs, when I first get them, I go through a plethora of names until I find one that fits. My latest dog, a boxer mix from the pound was named Hawkeye by them. I got him home. I had to get to know him.
He ended up being Andy but likes to be called pup-pup. Maybe his last owners called him that. He’s still very much a pup but is going to be a great dog.
I will start with my main radio which is an Icom IC-7610. It is my workhorse radio. It is probably the best radio I have ever owned. I have worked the world on it and it does everything I need it to do. I call it Zeus, the king of all my other radios. I believe there is not a radio out there that can do anything that Zeus cannot do. Any improvements over Zeus would be marginal.
Back in May I had to travel last minute for work to North Dakota. I typically bring radio gear in the event that I have some time to do a Parks On the Air activation. This trip presented the opportunity to activate a park in Minnesota as well as one in South Dakota. I didn’t have much time to plan these activations, but I knew I had an early enough arrival in the afternoon that I could likely activate a park in MN and then in SD. So, I picked out a park in MN close to my destination. I could go activate in MN then get over to a park in SD and activate there.
I found a nice looking State Park in MN. The idea was to activate as quickly as I could and then get back to a park in ND with enough time to activate before it got too late. K-2482 Fort Snelling State Park had 110 successful activations. That is always promising when planning out an activation. I got my rental car and headed to the park.
I also had recently purchased a HFJ-350m which is a base-loaded coil with an extendable whip. I found a tripod base I could print online and then designed an adapter so I could install a SO-239 and RG316 lead with a BNC connector. I had just tested this setup in the back yard and knew it worked, although I certainly knew it was a compromised antenna.
I typically bring my Raspberry PI4 loaded with Build-A-Pi and then run digital modes from my phone or Tablet. My plan was to activate this park with the compromised antenna running 5W on FT8 at the first park and then go to my second park and run a full half wave wire in a tree on SSB at 10W.
Not much to say about the activation in MN. The state park was nice but where I set up presented quite a bit of RF noise. Not so much of a problem since I was running digital. After a bit of adjustment on the whip I was tuned for 20m and started hunting a few FT8 stations. I did make a few QSOs while hunting but I then started calling CQ and had a bit more luck. I think because my signal was quite weak, calling CQ was a bit more efficient as only those who could hear me were calling back. While hunting, if those calling CQ were running a bit more power, I was unlikely to get in while running lower power and on a compromised antenna. I got the activation completed with 12 QSOs and packed it up and headed to the next park.
Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following field report:
Field Report: Reflections on a Kilo at Cook Forest State Park
by Brian (K3ES)
Cook Forest State Park in northwest Pennsylvania has always been a special place for me. It abounds in trees (including some of the last virgin timber around), wildlife (deer, turkeys, song birds, squirrels, and the occasional bear), and also includes the scenic Clarion River. When I found out about Parks on the Air (POTA) after getting licensed in 2020, I knew that I had to put POTA entity K-1345 on the air.
Our family cabin; which has been central to all of the phases of my life – including milestones, joys, sorrows, and unadulterated wonder – is located on a plot of land bordered on two sides by the park. It just seemed natural and right for me to do my first-ever POTA activation under an ancient hemlock tree just a few steps over the line from the back corner of our property. That mostly-SSB activation happened in May 2021 with my TX-500 pushing 10 watts into a homebrew dipole suspended from a dead branch up 30 ft in the hemlock.
Last weekend, I reached a meaningful personal goal by completing my 1000th activator contact from K-1345. After the first activation I never again operated mostly-SSB, and I never increased radiated power. Nearly all of my contacts since have used CW, and many were completed at 5 watts. The added challenge of QRP CW undoubtedly made the Kilo more difficult, but it was also much more fulfilling. It has taken me 28 successful activations, a lot of work to improve my CW skills, and a lot of patient support from the hunters who have shared this journey with me.
My activations at K-1345 tell the story of my journey as a CW operator. I took my first steps on that journey in late 2020, months before I had a portable radio or a plan for my first activation. I started with an Android app, V-Band, and listening to CW exchanges on webSDR. Eventually that progressed to CW Academy basic, intermediate, and advanced classes. The classes really upped my CW game, but what helped even more was using CW on the air. I finally got my HF station on the air in March 2021 and started hunting parks, SSB at first, then increasingly CW. During my first mostly-SSB activation I did manage to hunt down three park-to-park contacts using CW. I started my second activation by calling CQ using CW, and I have not looked back. Wow, those hunters were patient during that first first CW activation! My skills have improved greatly since then, but I’m still not where I want to be. The next goal for me is to gain confidence and proficiency in less-structured QSOs.
I want to thank Thomas – K4SWL, whose real time, real life activation videos challenged, motivated, and inspired me to learn and use CW. I greatly appreciate the work of the CW Academy advisors who guided me through some of the hard work needed for improvement. I also need to thank the hundreds of hunters who have patiently endured my developing CW skill set. Finally, my hat is off for the dedicated POTA volunteers, who continue to improve and expand this amazing activity to the benefit of radio amateurs around the world.
Completing the Kilo activation would have taken me longer if it were not for the tremendous encouragement provided by my gracious, intelligent, and beautiful XYL. As I was contemplating indoor chores on a Friday morning, she pointed out the opportunity to go out and activate during the best weather of the weekend, and save the chores for a rainy day. Who am I to argue with such impeccable logic? Off to the woods we went!!!
I made a point of using the TX-500 with the homebrew dipole suspended in that ancient hemlock tree to complete the Kilo activation, going back toward the starting point, as it were. Of course I did finish with CW mode and 5 watts to commemorate my personal growth during the journey, too. I was set up to go by mid-afternoon. Needing 57 contacts to complete the Kilo, I decided to get some contacts on 20m, then move to 40m a bit later.
After calling CQ for almost half an hour to get two contacts, I decided to move to 40m a bit sooner than planned…
40m was hot! I completed the eight additional contacts needed for a successful activation in less than 15 minutes. By the 2 hour mark, I had racked up a total of 69 contacts and finished the Kilo.
As a final note, I picked up 55 more contacts on Saturday, bringing my total CW mode contacts over 1000. The rain started early Sunday morning, and I got my indoor chores finished after all.
At some point during my Canada travels this summer, I realized I had been using the Elecraft KX2 quite heavily. If you’ve been following my recent field reports, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of the KX2.
This was never intentional–it’s just how it played out.
Why the KX2 in heavy rotation?
For starters, I only brought two general coverage radios with me to Canada: the KX2 and the Discovery TX-500. I also tucked away my KX1 and MTR-3B (hidden under the floor of my boot/trunk space), but band conditions were so incredibly poor most days, I liked the option of a QRP “full gallon” (ie. 5 watts+) for activations. The KX2 and TX-500 can push up to 10 watts when needed.
The KX2 tends to be the radio I reach for when I don’t know what to expect at a park. Most parks I activated in Québec were firsts for me so I liked having my most versatile radio option on hand.
Since the KX2 has a built-in ATU, battery pack, and even an internal mic; it’s so self-contained, I pretty much take it everywhere.
The KX2 is also one of the most compact radios I own–so compact, in fact, it fits on a small folding knee board my friend Carolanne (N0RNM) made (see in photo above and read more about the design in her guest post). With this kneeboard, I’ve no need of a table: just strap the board to my leg, add radio & log book, and I’m good to go!
Whereas I feel like the KX2 is a Swiss Army Knife of a radio, the TX-500 feels more like a tactical radio–ready for any changing weather environment. The TX-500 is water resistant, weather/dust sealed, and insanely rugged. It’s also the most efficient general coverage QRP radio I own, needing only 100-110 mA in receive.
The TX-500 is super portable and I tend to reach for it when weather conditions are uncertain. In a way, I often don’t think about it when there’s good weather. Odd, but true!
It’s a wee bit too wide for my current knee board, but (hint) if you own a TX-500, hang tight. There may be a knee board in your future.
All that said, the big reason I didn’t take the TX-500 to the field a lot is because it served as my “home base” transceiver at our rental condo in Québec. I had it set up for hunting POTA and SOTA activators and making casual contacts. The TX-500 sat on a table next to the deck at the condo and was hooked up to the CHA MPAS Lite most of the time; the KX2 stayed packed away for POTA/SOTA.
TX-500 field time!
On July 18, 2022, I grabbed the TX-500 from the table and packed it in my field radio backpack.
My wife and daughters were up for a trip to Québec City, so I picked out a park in the Sainte-Foy part of town.
There are many POTA parks in Sainte-Foy (indeed, I already activated four of them) but the one that immediately came to mind was one of the few I’d explored previously in Québec: Base de plein air Sainte-Foy.
At least ninety percentof all of my radio operations happen in the field. Whether I’m in a park, on a summit activation, or I’m out camping, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed “playing radio” outdoors. In fact, it was the joy of field radio––and the accompanying challenge of low-power operations––which launched my labor of love in the world of ham radio.
I’ve been running QRPer.com now for fourteen years, and during that time, the questions I’m asked most deal with selecting a field radio. Turns out, it’s an incredibly difficult question to answer, and we’ll touch on why that is before we dive into the reasons one radio might hold appeal over another for you.
Instead of offering up a list of field radios on the market, and reviewing each one—and, to be fair, there are so many these days—I’ll share with you a series of questions you might ask yourself before making a radio purchase, and follow up with a few bits of advice based on my own experience.These deceptively simple questions will help hone your decision-making. Finally, I’ll note a few of my favorite general coverage field radios and share what I love about each.
Spoiler alert: It’s all about the operator, less about the specs
When searching for a new radio, we hams tend to take deep dives into feature and specification comparisons between various models of radios. We’ll reference Rob Sherwood’s superb receiver test data table, we’ll pour over user reviews, and we’ll download full radio manuals before we choose.
While this is valuable information—especially since radios can be quite a costly “investment”—I would argue that this process shouldn’t be your first step.
I’ve found that enjoyment of any particular radio—whether field radio or not—has everything to do with the operator and less to do with the radio’s actual performance.
A realistic assessment of yourself
The first step in choosing a field radio is to ask yourself a few questions, and answer them as honestly as you can. Here are some basic questions to get you started in your search of a field radio:
Question 1: Where do I plan to operate?
If you plan to operate mostly at the QTH or indoors with only the occasional foray outdoors, you may want a field-capable radio that best suits you indoors—one with robust audio, a larger encoder, a larger display, and more front panel real estate.
On the other hand, if you plan to take your radio on backpacking adventures, then portability, battery efficiency and durability are king
Of course, most of us may be somewhere in between, having park activations or camping trips in mind, but overall size may be less important as we may be driving or taking only a short walk to the activation site. When your shack is a picnic table not too far from a parking lot or even an RV, you have a lot more options than when you have to hike up a mountain with your radio gear in tow.
Question 2: What modes will I operate the most?
Are you a single mode operator? If your intention is to only use digital modes, then you’ll want a radio designed with easy digital mode operation in mind.
If you plan to focus on single sideband, power output may be more important and features like voice-memory keying.
If you plan to primarily operate CW, then the radio world is your oyster because it even opens the door to numerous inexpensive CW-only field radios.
If you plan to primarily operate CW, I would strongly suggest going low power or QRP. I’ve often heard that 5 watts CW is roughly equivalent to 80 watts single sideband. I tend to agree with this. CW field operators hardly need more than 5 watts, in my experience.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m starting to sort out the gear I’ll take on a long road trip this summer. I still haven’t quite decided which radio will accompany my Elecraft KX2, but the lab599 Discovery TX-500 is on my very short list.
I pulled the TX-500 yesterday to do a firmware update and found my logbook for an activation I made on February 16, 2022. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember writing the field report for that activation.
I checked my YouTube channel and, sure enough, buried at the bottom of my video list was the activation video marked as “unlisted.”
That bit of time between mid-February and mid-March was crazy for me. I was in isolation for a week (thanks Covid) and had a very hectic family schedule. I accumulated a small backlog of videos then and this one was lost simply lost in the shuffle.
Here’s the report and video from that activation:
Clear Creek Trail
It was Wednesday, February 16, 2022, and I was driving to my parents’ house to help them with a few projects. I had enough time to make a little detour to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (K02753) and had two things in mind: a good hike and trailside activation.
The weather? Man oh man was it was fickle.
On the interstate, I got caught in a proper downpour and traffic slowed to a crawl.
I thought about throwing in the towel then, but I made a promise to myself that I would continue driving to the park if it wasn’t raining when I approached the park exit on the interstate.
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.