Last week, I thoroughly enjoyed taking the Yaesu FT-817ND to the field.
While the ‘817 lacks features I’ve come to appreciate during field activations like voice and CW memory keying, it’s still an incredibly fun and capable radio.
Last Monday (January 18, 2021), I had an opportunity to visit Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) and perform an activation around lunchtime. Lake Norman is convenient to my hometown of Hickory, NC and these days I typically spend at least a couple nights there doing a little caregiving for my parents. It’s rare my schedule is clear at lunchtime to fit in an activation–typically it’s later in the afternoon.
As with my recent activation at Lake Jame State Park, I paired the Yaesu FT-817ND with my Par End-Fedz EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 meter resonant antenna.
It was an incredibly fun activation and one of the few recently where I racked up some great QRP contacts across the 20 meter band before moving to 40 meters.
Here’s my QSOMap of the activation (red lines are phone, green are CW):
As with most of my activations, this one was relatively short. Rarely do I have more than 45-60 minutes of on-air time during a POTA sortie.
I also made another real-life, real-time, no-edit video of the entire activation. If interested, you can view it via the embedded player below or on YouTube:
I’m long overdue a multiple park run, so will start strategizing soon! The Parks On The Air program has also added a few new park in North Carolina, but none appear to be in the western part of the state.
Oh, and Phillip, thanks for prompting me to take the ‘817 to the field again. It is a gem of a rig and I think it might suit your needs very well!
One question that often faces newcomers to the hobby is: “Should I buy a QRP or a 100W transceiver as my first rig?”
That is a very deep topic, actually, and one to explore in a future post. A 100 watt transceiver will certainly give you more options as they can often pump out 100W or be turned down to 1 watt. If you’re a phone operator only, that’s got some serious appeal. Then again, if you’re operating POTA or SOTA where you are the DX, power–while still important–is much less so than, say, if you were at home trying to work DX.
Again, a deep topic for another post because there is no right or wrong answer.
One of our readers (Phillip) reached out to me a couple weeks ago and asked if the Yaesu FT-818 would make for a good first HF rig. He liked the portability factor, the build quality, the HF/VHF/UHF multi-mode coverage, and the overall flexibility of the rig as a field radio. His goal was to do POTA activations.
We had quite a few emails back and forth about the pros and cons and I decided it might make more sense to simply take my Yaesu FT-817ND (which is nearly identical to the FT-818) to the field and activate a park in both SSB and CW. Since I knew he wouldn’t necessarily have an external antenna tuner from day one, I paired the FT-817 with my resonant 40/20/10 meter end-fed antenna.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
On January 17, 2021, I pulled into my favorite part of Lake James State park and quickly set up my station. I only had about one hour to complete my activation, so knew this would be a very brief excursion. Since I actually had a minimal amount of gear, it was a quick setup.
Since I deployed a resonant antenna, there was no tuning or matching involved which not only makes the most of your 5 watts (in that it’s more efficient), but also saves a bit of time in set up and tuning up.
I’m testing this prototype at the moment, but didn’t need to employ it at Lake James since it’s really useful when the rig is on your lap or on on the ground. It essentially gives you top-mounted controls and a larger display to read front panel information from above–incredibly useful for SOTA and proper in-the-field activations. Andy’s v3 board will include a memory keyer–I can’t wait for that one!
Since I had Internet access at this park, I used my Microsoft Surface Go logging tablet to spot myself to the POTA network. I started calling CQ on 40 meters phone (SSB) and within six minutes logged eight stations. Not bad for 5 watts and a wire!
Next, I moved to CW on 40 meters and started calling CQ POTA. The POTA spots page auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network in short order. In eight minutes, I worked six more stations.
I then moved to twenty meters which was essentially dead, so I called it quits a bit early. I needed to pack up and head to my next destination.
Here’s a QSOMap of this short activation (red polylines are SSB and green CW):
Truth is, each time I use the FT-817, I love it more. Sure it’s only 5 watts, has no ATU, has a small display, a clicky T/R relay, and questionable ergonomics, but it is a keeper for sure. Even after 20 years of being in production, it still holds its own and is an incredibly popular radio for good reason.
As I told Phillip, the 817/818 is the Toyota Corolla of the QRP radio world.
Note: the following post originally appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.
In July, I purchased a tiny QRP transceiver I’ve always wanted: the LnR Precision MTR-3B. It’s a genius, purpose-built little radio and a lot of fun to operate in the field.
It’s also rather bare-bones, only including a specific feature set built around ultra-portable CW operation.
While the MTR-3B has features like CW memory keying, a wide operating voltage (6-12 VDC), extremely low operating current (20 ma in receive), real-time 24 hour clock, and a full compliment of keying adjustments, it lacks other features like a volume control, SWR meter, speaker, and built-in antenna tuner.
Some of those may seem like big omissions but SOTA and POTA activators who like extremely lightweight/portable gear love the MTR-3B for being so purpose-built.
The MTR-3B (and its predecessors) operate on three bands: 40, 30, and 20 meters. These are, without a doubt, my favorite bands when operating portable since antenna lengths are reasonable.
Since the MTR-3B doesn’t have an internal ATU, you need to pack an external tuner or, better yet, a resonant antenna–ideally, one that can be used on all three bands.
Although many of my portable transceivers have built-in ATUs, I rarely use them because I primarily operate with resonant antennas. Resonant antennas are more efficient–giving you the maximum mileage per watt. In addition, they’re also more simple: connect them to the rig and hop on the air. No tuner or tuning required.
I was very pleased with this decision as I’m guessing LnR Precision wanted to hand off antenna production so they could focus on the very popular Mountain Topper transceiver line.
Vibroplex is owned by my buddy, Scott Robbins (W4PA), who is not only a successful entrepreneur, but also an award-winning contester and DXer. I’ve known Scott for years and knew he’d not only be a great steward of the Par product line, but also push new innovations.
I emailed Scott asking if Vibroplex had a field-portable antenna that would be resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters. Turns out, there’s a Par antenna designed specifically to pair with the MTR-3 series transceivers: the Par EndFedz EFT-MTR.
The new EndFedz ® EFT-MTR is a 40m/30m/20m tri-band QRP antenna rated up to 25 watts. The “MTR” name was selected as LNR Precision developed this antenna to be the perfect companion to the wildly popular 40/30/20m Mountain Topper QRP transceiver. The EFT-MTR’s total length is 65′ of 22 AWG polystealth wire and weighs less than 4 ounces! It is built with the same high level of workmanship and quality that you have come to expect with all EndFedz ® antennas.
A particular innovation on this antenna: This EndFedz is a little different than previous designs. The user has the option to remove an SMA connector at the end of the 30M resonator to enable just 30 meters, or keep the SMA installed for 40 and 20 meters. Because of the broad bandwidth of the antenna, it is unlikely that it will require tuning in the vast majority of deployments. This is particularly true of 30 meters where the band is very narrow. As our tagline states, “They Just Work!”
Included with the EFT-MTR is the EndFedz Antenna Winder. Conveniently allowing winding up the antenna line to not have a tangled mess at the end. The winder will hold both the antenna and 25 feet of RG-174U coaxial cable (optional accessory).
Scott offered to send me an EFT-MTR to evaluate in the field (disclaimer: at no cost to me) and I accepted without hesitation, of course!
An EFT-MTR field review
I’ve taken the EFT-MTR antenna to three park activations at this point and have formed some opinions about it.
First of all, I couldn’t be more pleased with the size as it fits perfectly in my MTR-3B field kit built around my Red Oxx Booty Boss pack.
I really like the built-in antenna winder: it’s larger than that of the EFT Trail-Friendly, but also much easier to wind up and manage post-activation.
I’ll admit, the length of the EFT-MTR was a bit surprising the first time I deployed it: 65 feet. Keep in mind, though, I had been used to a much shorter 41 foot radiator on the EFT Trail-friendly. Occasionally, I operate in spots where I simply don’t have the room to deploy a long antenna. I also worried that the EFT-MTR resonance might be negatively affected by winding its way through trees and over a branches. The MTR-3B transceiver does not like high SWR values and has no built-in SWR meter to monitor it. Last thing I wanted to do was harm the MTR finals.
Fortunately, winding its way through trees doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on SWR.
Each time I’ve taken the EFT-MTR to the field, I’ve also taken my KX2 which I’ve used to read the antenna’s SWR value. So far, the difference has only been negligible and SWR well within the tolerances of the MTR-3B. Score!
To be resonant on 40, 20 and 30 meters, the EFT-MTR requires a field modification. On the coil about 2/3 the way up the antenna, there’s an SMA connector with a small screw on cap (see above). When the cap is on (thus completing the connection) the antenna is resonant on 40 and 20 meters. You must remove the cap for it to be resonant on 30 meters.
Since I’ve been using the EFT-MTR, I start an activation on 40 meters (which is typically my most productive band), then move to 20 meters (typically, my least productive). If I have the time, or need the extra contacts to confirm a valid activation, I lower the antenna, unscrew the SMA cap, and raise the antenna again.
I thought at first this would be a major pain, but it hasn’t. Now that I’m using an arborist throw line, it’s super easy to lower and raise antennas. But even when I’ve used fishing line, it really hasn’t been an issue.
The only issue I see is I’m afraid I’m going to lose that little SMA cap in the field. To prevent this, I’ve made it a routine to immediately put it in the internal zippered compartment of the Booty Boss pack. I might find a source for those caps, though, just in case I still lose this one.
I’ve been very pleased with the EFT-MTR’s performance. I’m guessing it’s actually higher gain than my beloved EFT Trail-Friendly antenna. On my last activation with the EFT-MTR, I knocked out eight 40 meter contacts in about eight minutes during a period of poor propagation. Note that the MTR-3B was only pushing 3 or 4 watts of power.
I then moved to 20 meters where, frankly, propagation was so crappy I didn’t hang out there long. Instead, I lowered the antenna, removed the SMA cap, and started calling on 30 meters. Within a few minutes, I racked up the rest of my contacts.
I was very pleased with how quickly the Reverse Beacon Network picked up my CQs and was thus auto-spotted on the POTA website.
If you own a Mountain Topper MTR-3 series transceiver, I highly recommend the EFT-MTR antenna. As with my EFT Trail-friendly and Par sloper, the quality is top-shelf. I expect the EFT-MTR will last even longer than the EFT Trail-friendly since the winder is so accommodating and the in-line coil is designed so that it doesn’t snag on branches as easily.
I’m looking forward to much more field fun with the MTR-3B and EFT-MTR combo!
[This post was originally published on my other radio blog, The SWLing Post]
As I mentioned in a previous post, what I love about the National Parks On The Air program is that it combines two of my favorite things: national parks and ham radio. My family visits national parks regularly, so it’s easy for me to pack a small radio, do a quick NPOTA activation all while incorporating non-radio activities that the family loves.
Normally, I would set up my station somewhere close to the Museum of North Carolina Minerals which is situated at the junction of these two National Park entities. Saturday, however, was a special event at the museum: a Revolutionary War Encampment.
The Museum is located at Gillespie Gap, an important stop for Revolutionary War fighters on their way to the Battle of Kings Mountain. Each September the Museum hosts an encampment of re-enactors who assume the role of the Overmountain Men, primarily Scots-Irish settlers from Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina who came “over the mountains” and ultimately defeated the left wing of Cornwallis’ army at Kings Mountain, South Carolina. Many historians mark this victory as the turning point in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War.
My family loves living history events.
The Park Ranger kindly gave me permission to do the NPOTA activation, but not at the museum itself. She was trying to keep the site set in the Revolutionary War period–a ham radio operator using a portable transceiver doesn’t exactly fit that description. Instead, around 15:30 UTC, I hiked up the Overmountain Victory Trail in search of an operation site near the Blue Ridge Parkway road.
The trailhead was a little rough and overgrown. I didn’t have to trail-blaze, but I did have to wade through a lot of weeds with my gear and my canine companion, Hazel, on leash. It’s times like this I truly appreciate such a compact, lightweight, and packable station.
Once we entered the woods, though, the trail improved. I found a fantastic spot to operate between the museum and the parkway.
Hazel the dog is a welcome companion does a wonderful job keeping my site free of black bears. She’s patient, too. I typically tie her leash to a small stake or tree next to me and she promptly takes a nap. Here she is admiring my new REI Camping Stool:
Setup was quick. I managed to raise the EFT Trail-Friendly antenna in record time. I connected the antenna to the Elecraft KX2 and was on the air, calling CQ on 20 meters in a matter of minutes. In the space of 15-20 minutes, I only managed to work a few stations on the 20 meter band even though I had been spotted several times on the DX Cluster.
I moved to the 40 meter band and logged contacts quickly, however.
Hazel, as I mentioned, is a great companion that’s sweet to everyone she meets. She’s happy to hang with me even if I’m just sitting there operating radio for an hour. She’s quiet and doesn’t bark unless she notices a true disturbance.
Still, Hazel does get bored. After I had logged about 20 stations, I heard her gnawing on something. I turned around and discovered that she found the reel of fishing line I use to hang my antennas.
She didn’t even look apologetic or guilty! Oh well…fishing line is pretty cheap to replace and I’m sure she assumed it was a chew toy I had placed there for her.
All in all, it was a very successful activation. In less than one hour, I put 22 stations in the log. The weather was perfect and the whole family had a blast.
What a wonderful day to play radio, take in our national parks and re-live some of our history!