What makes this field kit so portable is that the KX2 is one of the most compact general coverage HF transceivers on the market.
It’s certainly the most compact (at time of posting) when you realize that two important components–the battery and ATU–are internal options.
The AX1 antenna is also incredibly compact–it comes apart in such a way that no one component is longer than about 6 inches. What you see in the photo above is the entire radio and antenna system.
Yes: A Compromise
Sure–and let’s get this out of the way right up-front–the AX1 is a compromised antenna, and being a massive fan of simple wire antennas myself, I know a properly deployed wire in a tree is going to provide better gain each and every time.
I enjoy shaking up routine and since POTA and SOTA activations are my routine, they end up being the shakers.
On Monday, September 18, 2023, I found out that our planet was rotating into a large CME (Coronal Mass Ejection). This CME made all of the space weather news and we planned for either some potential radio blackouts or at least very unstable conditions.
As I’ve said many times before, I never let the potential for poor propagation stop me from hitting the field. Don’t let it stop you either.
Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)
I had a full afternoon to play radio, so I made my way to Lake Norman State Park.
En route, I tried to think of a way to shake up the activation a bit. I planned to activate at the same spot I had during my last visit because I knew the park’s main trail system was still closed and, frankly, I wanted to take advantage of the EV charger at the visitor’s center again!
I’d packed MW0SAW’s End-Fed Half-Wave (the gift that keeps on giving, Steve) and I did have one new radio toy (more on that later).
I also had a lot of time–at least, more than I normally do during a POTA activation–so I thought it might be fun taking my KX2 down to the lowest power setting it has: 100 milliwatts.
I’ve activated parks with 100mw before, but never intentionally on a day when I knew propagation would be poor.
I figured with enough time, maybe I would get the ten contacts needed for a valid POTA activation.
If not, it would be fun trying!
At the end of the day, I think taking our radios and antennas to their low-power extremes gives us a taste of what we can actually do with so little signal.
I remember shortly after I bought my first Elecraft KX1 in 2008, I was speaking with a local ham and he told me that a maximum output of three watts was pretty useless and that I really needed a minimum of five watts if I expected to make any contacts.
Part of me did feel like perhaps I’d bought something more akin to a toy–fun to look at and hold, but not terribly practical.
Then I started using that KX1 to make contacts and even carry on extended rag chews. Turns out, three watts gets a lot done!
Today, I’ll often run my MTR-3B with three watts or even less when activating a summit and the results are simply outstanding–fabulous DX and contacts galore.
I know 100mw is a proper compromise, but I like knowing what I can achieve with so little. Tinkering with it in the field and listening to signal reports (also reading RBN stats) gives me a good idea.
In an emergency situation? If I could only push 100mw into a decent antenna, I know it wouldn’t be ideal, but I know it wouldn’t be futile either.
Note: The 20 meter EFHW wire has a connector in the middle of the length. By unplugging this connector and removing the half of the wire at the “far” end (i.e., away from the transformer and feedpoint) and replacing it with one of these adapters, the wire is then reconfigured to be an EFHW for 17, 15, or 12 meters.
Other Items as Appropriate (most items not for hikes of any great distance)
BLUU Small Backpacking Chair (the case has been fitted with a rope sling so it can be carried moderate distances) [no longer available]
My experience from years of traveling for both pleasure and business has shown that I always overpack and take too much “stuff”, and POTA is no exception. However, I have made an attempt to modularize my POTA gear so that I can lighten my load depending on what type of activation I have planned and how far I will be going from my parking spot. If you will spend some time scrolling through my blog, you’ll find examples of most of the following:
If I’m going to a location where I’m planning on operating at or not too far from my truck, I’ll take everything on this list to give me maximum flexibility as to how I set up. Probably the most extreme setup involves erecting my 12 meter Spiderbeam mast on my heavy duty towing-style bicycle rack and deploying a wire antenna as an end-fed vertical or as a sloper.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, if I’m going to be doing a pedestrian mobile (/PM) activation then all I need is my KX2 bag, my Maxpedition Gear Cocoon Pouch, probably my Sony ICD-UX570 Digital Voice Recorder (unless I can manage to log on paper somehow), and (optional) my battery bag with shoulder strap.
If I know that I’ll be doing a wire antenna activation using a tree for support then I can wear my L.L.Bean day pack, but omit the Maxpedition Beefy Pocket Organizer and the Maxpedition Gear Cocoon Pouch. In that case I’ll likely wear my battery bag with shoulder strap. I may put the KX2 bag in the pack or carry it by its handle.
And, if I know that I’m going to be doing an AX1/AXE1/AX2 picnic table activation then I can omit Stuff sacks #1,# 2, and #3, but otherwise wear my day pack and battery bag as described above.
Of course, there are always variations, such as using the camera tripod, AXT1, and RG174 coax to set up at a picnic table, but allow the AX1/AXE1/AX2 antenna to be more in the clear (such as operating from a picnic shelter).
I’ve also done what you might call “pedestrian stationary”, deploying the KX2 HT-style and hand-held, but sitting in my backpacking chair. Or deploying a wire antenna (EFHW or “random”), but sitting in the backpacking chair with the rig balanced on my leg. By traveling with “everything” but packing in a modular fashion, there are any number of variations on how I can set up for an activation.
On Friday, September 15, 2023, my wife and I had a few hours midday to enjoy the gorgeous pre-fall weather, so we decided to go on a hike with Hazel.
My wife was the one that suggested I pick out a hike that would open the door to a short POTA activation (isn’t she the best–?).
Carl Sandburg National Historic Site (K-0804)
Earlier that week, I made a note to activate the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site in the village of Flat Rock, North Carolina. I passed this idea by my wife and she agreed that it’d make for a perfect outing.
The mission of the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site is to preserve Connemara, the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer Carl Sandburg.
The park has a wonderful trail network and I hadn’t visited it since 2016, during the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) ARRL event.
Technically, I could go back into my NPOTA logs and upload my Sandburg activations to the POTA site because previous activations do count, but I’m not actually motivated by my park count so much as I am just having fun working new-to-me sites under the new POTA program.
That said, my somewhat flexible, non-committal goal of having at least 100 unique parks activated for POTA before the end of 2023 was also on my mind; a small motivator to expand my POTA footprint.
Admittedly, there really aren’t many parks that are within two hours of my QTH that I haven’t already activated for POTA. The ones left, like Sandburg, are just outside the corridors I normally travel.
The Sandburg site is a beautiful one, and I think Hazel may have even remembered this spot from so many years ago. My wife and I got a kick out of how giddy she was to hit the trails, smell the smells, and meet all of the other hikers.
Time to hit the trails and find an activation spot!
Knee Board Portable!
Back in 2016, I got permission from a Sandburg park ranger to place a wire in a tree in order to perform my NPOTA activation. She only asked that I perform my activation on the trail network (not at the house and goat farm).
Wow…I just checked and I had forgotten that I made a short field report of that activation over on (my other blog) the SWLing Post—check it out here. Back then, my KX2 was still very new and shiny!
And here we are seven years later and I’m still activating the Carl Sandburg site from my lap. This time, however, I don’t have my radio on a clip board, I’m using a folding knee board:
This is my Tufteln/N0RNM folding knee board and you’ve seen me use it in numerous activation videos.
Instead of just placing my logs and radio on the knee board, like I did back in 2016, I wanted to place my entire antenna system on it, too.
You see, although I’m sure the staff at the Sandburg home wouldn’t mind me putting a wire in their trees along the hiking trail, I couldn’t find a staff member to ask, so I used this as an excuse to try something I’ve always wanted to do: mount my AX1 on the knee board as well!
Many thanks to Alan (W2AEW) who shares the following article about his portable field radio kit which will be featured on our Field Kit Gallery page. If you would like to share your field kit with the QRPer community, read this post. Check out Alan’s field kit:
W2AEW Field Radio Kit
I’ve only been active with POTA for a little over a year, but have put together a kit that gives me lots of options for antenna deployments.
The main kit is in an old camera bag that I picked up at a hamfest for $5:
One of the outside side pockets houses a small tripod and some little ground stakes for securing support ropes, etc.
The other outside side pocket houses a small digital recorder and a cellular hot spot:
Many thanks to Eric (NL5E) who shares the following article about his portable field radio kit which will be featured on our Field Kit Gallery page. If you would like to share your field kit with the QRPer community, read this post. Check out Eric’s field kit:
NL5E SOTA/POTA Backpacking Kit
Hello! NL5E here.
I’m one of the rare SOTA activators in Alaska (I also use this same kit for POTA). Anyone that has looked at a map of this state will know that we have some interesting difficult topography. Many of our summit hikes start out near sea level, but are 3000-6000 vertical feet of climbing to get to the summit. So I built my kit with compactness, versatility, and weight in mind. Everything weighs approximately 2lbs (not including the battery, I don’t always take it).
My primary operating modes are CW, FT8, and SSB.
To facilitate those modes I tried to keep everything as small as possible while still being usable. For example, I debated using N6ARA’s tiny paddle, but I found I made too many sending errors. The N0SA paddle is a perfect medium between portability and sending ability. For FT8 the FT8CN app has been a good alternative to carrying a Raspberry Pi or small laptop and the well loved Digirig is probably the best audio/cat interface on the market today. I don’t do a lot of SSB (especially at QRP levels), but the K6ARK mini microphone is a wonderful improvement over Elecraft’s comically massive microphone for the KX2. I added headphones so I don’t disturb anyone on popular summits and so I can hear CW a bit better.
My antennas of choice tend to be random wires and End Fed Halfwaves.
With the KX2 I chose to use K6ARK’s 20w antenna kits and built both a 9:1 and 49:1 version. I usually carry the 9:1 just to have the band flexibility as it will work from 40m-10m. If the ground is wet enough I’ve had it tune up to 80m.
For the 49:1 I chose 20m because bands lower than that have mediocre performance from the latitude. Because of how short both these antennas are, they pair very well with the SOTAbeams Carbon 6 mast. From a summit a 19’ mast is usually tall enough to work most of the US and lots of Asia from here. The only modification I made is gluing the top 2 sections together for durability. To attach the antenna wire I use a small Niteize carabiner and a prussik loop.
I also wanted to ensure that I could power many different devices while out hiking. I settled on an Anker battery because it is easy to power phones and the radio without having to bring a bunch of different adapters like I would with a dedicated 12V battery.
I know someone will mention protection and the bag I chose. Yep, a silnylon stuff sack offers zero protection from bumps and impacts. I firmly believe that hams “over baby” their equipment and think that their radios will hilariously explode if sneezed on wrong. I settled on the Gems Products cover and rails as a good solution to keep the radio from getting destroyed in a backpack. So far so good. I added the dry bag to my list for rainy days.
I didn’t include one in the images, but I also usually have an HT with me, but most summits don’t have good line of sight to our population centers. I usually run a Yaesu VX-6R with Diamond RH77CA or MFJ Longranger. I will usually run 2m FM when I am close to Anchorage or Palmer. I also didn’t include my logging solution, but that is usually HAMRS on my iPhone or a Rite in the Rain book and pencil. I find CW is easier to log on paper for some reason.
Thanks for looking and perhaps I’ll hear some of you on the air.
It’s funny, but until September 7, 2023, I had never activated one of the closest POTA sites to my home: the Thomas Wolfe Memorial (K-6853).
I remember back in 2020 when I really kicked my POTA activations into high gear, I made a spreadsheet of all of the POTA sites within a 2 hour drive of the QTH and started activating them one by one.
At the time, almost 50-60%, or possibly more, had never been activated. Keep in mind that in early 2020, POTA had a wee fraction of the activity it has today.
It was a lot of fun especially considering those were the early days of the pandemic and it was just nice to get out and about. Any excuse, right?
One of the parks on my list was the Thomas Wolfe Memorial but being a small historic site in an urban setting, they were closed for quite some time during the pandemic. There was nothing to stop me from walking on the site–or pulling up in their parking lot–and doing an activation while they were closed, but I just didn’t feel like it should be fair game when closed.
Then restrictions loosened up and, frankly, I just sort of forgot about it.
I tend to activate parks in rural areas and I am prone to overlook urban sites (although quite a few of my activations in Canada last year were urban).
Thomas Wolfe Memorial (K-6853)
On Thursday, September 7, 2023, I dropped off my daughters at school then made my way to a doctor’s appointment. I arrived at the office, gave them my name at the front desk, and then they reminded me that we had re-scheduled this particular appointment for later in the month.
Doh! I forgot to make the change in my calendar.
All of the sudden, I had a bit more free time!
Of course, I always fill free time with POTA activations, and I already had radio gear in the car, so it was only a matter of deciding where to go.
I called the Vance Historic Birthplace (about a 25 minute drive) to see if they were busy. Their director (who I know quite well at this point) told me that a large group was on the site, but would be gone by 1:30. That timing didn’t work for me, so I consulted the POTA map.
Since the POTA site used my coordinates to find the closest park, I was reminded that K-6853 was a mere 3 minute drive from the doctor’s office. I could have walked there.
I gave the site a call to ask for permission (again, I always do this for small historic sites) and they told me I’d be most welcome.
Tuesday, September 5, 2023, was a gorgeous day. A hot day, but a beautiful one!
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to fit in a quick SOTA activation and the most accessible summit that day was Bearwallow Mountain.
Bearwallow Mountain (W4C/CM-068)
I was in South Asheville all day, so Bearwallow was only about a 25 minute detour.
Since it was a Tuesday in the latter part of the morning, there were few others parked at the trailhead. Had it been a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? It can be difficult to find a parking spot. Indeed, the previous day (Labor Day) I’m sure it was packed!
I practically had the place to myself, though.
The hike up was most enjoyable although it was hot and humid, so sweaty I became.
That said–and I think I even say this in the activation video below–I really wished the hike was a bit longer. The Bearwallow trail is maybe a mile long.
I wanted a longer hike, but in truth, didn’t have the time for one anyway.
Bearwallow’s summit is a large pasture. It does offer up some spectacular long-range views.
Bearwallow is also home to a lot of comms towers including a number of local repeaters.
I realize that I’m fortunate, in many ways, that I perform POTA activations at times when parks are relatively quiet: weekdays, mostly, and during that 9-5 window when many are at work. On the flip side, I’m also activating when there are fewer hunters out there.
The upshot, for me, is that I rarely have any competition for picnic tables or activation spots at state and national parks. In general, as you’ll see in my activation videos, the park is quiet and sometimes I literally have the place to myself.
I actually take this for granted until I activate on a busy weekend or a holiday. Something like…
While traveling back to the QTH on Monday, September 4, 2023, I decided to pop by Lake James State Park (K-2739) for a quick POTA activation.
Lake James State Park spans about 3,743 acres and is divided into two areas: the Catawba River Access and Paddy’s Creek Area.
Typically, I play radio at the smaller Catawba River area because there are so many excellent picnic sites with loads of trees.
The Paddy’s Creek area is much larger and (big bonus) has many more trails.
Paddy’s Creek also has a large beach and swimming/boating area with a huge parking lot and large covered picnic shelter (that is often occupied or reserved).
On Labor Day, the weather was gorgeous and, as you might imagine, the park was packed!
So why did I choose Paddy’s Creek on such a busy day?
I might have mentioned in a previous video that we recently purchased a used Volvo C40 Recharge EV (Electric Vehicle). While I normally charge it up at home, I’m trying to familiarize myself with charging on the go as well.
I’d read that Lake James has two (free!) convenience chargers at the Paddy’s Creek area. I drove to the site mainly to see where the were located. On such a busy day, I didn’t assume either of the chargers would be available–my plan was to find them, then head to the Catawba River access.
But turns out, the only available parking spot I could find at the Paddy’s Creek lot was one EV charging spot right there at the beach access and shelter! What!?! That’s an omen, I told myself, so I pulled into the spot, plugged in, and by golly, the car started charging.
I’m still new at this stuff, so it’s all a bit of magic to me. Forgive my excitement.
As I often do, I hunted yet another CW POTA activator during my lunch break while working from home.
I have been learning CW for most of the year. Early on, I realized that with a bit of practice sending, and after listening to recordings of POTA activations, like those from Thomas, I could reliably send the proper exchange needed to hunt a POTA activator.
If you can give your call sign, signal report, and state abbreviation, you can make the contact. I started early on with just the basics and then added some of the common “extras” like GM for good morning, TU for Thank You and then 73. Not only is this great practice for getting on the air sending CW, it’s also very rewarding while learning CW. The exchange is short, standard, and easy to follow with a bit of practice.
Once I finished my upgrade to Extra I focused all my spare time, not much though truth be told, on practicing CW.
At some point this summer I set the goal to Activate POTA/SOTA during the W4G SOTA campout this fall. This really wasn’t an aggressive goal, one I figured was attainable but also one that I could hold myself accountable to even knowing I had a very busy summer ahead of me.
During one of the LICW Club classes I heard again that their goal is to get Hams on the air to make a QSO. I thought to myself, yes, that is great, and I want to do more, but I know I have made many QSOs in CW on the air, albeit very short and simple ones. So, I was curious how many.
I jumped on the POTA site and looked up my statistics. I was surprised at how may hundred I had, and yet at the same time, I was a bit disappointed. It’s not that I wanted to have made more CW contacts, it’s that I realized that they were ALL from hunting and not a single one was from calling CQ.
So, I changed my goal.
I know that Hams, especially CW operators, are a great bunch of people and they want to see new CW operators succeed, so there is lots of patience when you call CQ. So, I decided to move up my timeline. This was on a Thursday, and Saturday was a likely candidate for a POTA outing, why not–?
Saturday was my birthday, and I knew I could get away with some personal free time in the morning where I could dive in and call CQ POTA DE N5FY. The next day, Friday, I firmed it up, I would head out in the morning, bring the new to me KX2 and see what happens.
Surprisingly, I was much less nervous than I expected, I had told myself that it wouldn’t help anyways to be nervous so just do it and see what happens. I made it to my local park, to the picnic table I frequent, then setup a No Transformer 2-Wire antenna with the KX2. One press of the ATU button and I had a 1:1 match on 40m band.
Of course, I have great timing. I could not believe the stations on the air on 40m. I never did look but there must have been a contest. I moved up and down about 20kHz and there were stations everywhere! I called “QRL?” on 2 different frequencies and had a reply before I landed on open frequency where I could call CQ.
I had not scheduled the activation; I knew I had a bit of cell phone coverage at this park, so I set the CQ POTA message to calling while I posted a spot.
After two calls, I had my first call back. It was time!
I could have freaked out here, but I was too focused on decoding to even be nervous! Of course, I had to send a partial call and a “?” once or twice to get the full call right. Of course, I made some keying errors. But the caller had patience and worked me and we made the QSO. Now I was really excited!
I called CQ and someone sent me back dits and dahs, and I decoded what they were sending! Boy, this was fun! I continued to call CQ POTA, and tried my best to decode the replies, several pileups, and lots of “?” sent by me. But I was making contacts and having a blast!
After a couple of silent CQ calls later, I switched to 20m. And, again, started to get replies back as well as a couple small pileups. In the end, there were a couple call signs that I could not look up, l had a letter or two wrong, but with almost 20 in the log I knew I had an activation and boy was I happy!
Looking back on the activation, and after talking to another Ham, it occurred to me why I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I might be.
You see, when you are the Activator, when you call CQ, the ball is in your court, you invite people to call back and they are there for you. I almost get more nervous hunting as I don’t want to slow down an activator or run over another caller. But when you are the one calling CQ, it’s your game!
Of course there were several hiccups along the way. For one, it got HOT sitting in the sun. I ended up deploying my hiking chair on the table as a sunshade and pulled a portable fan out of the car. Even the action camera overheated while recording the activation. I couldn’t get the KXPD2 paddle to key the KX2 on 20m when I first got setup. And of course, I had lots of sending errors (although fewer than I expected to have) and sent a A LOT of “?” asking for a repeat.
That said, I am very glad to have jumped in and will continue to activate CW going forward as I continue to build my CW skills. For me, confidence in the ability to Activate on CW is great motivation for practicing, which again, is my biggest learning. If I want to be a good operator, I need to put in the effort, and going out to play radio is one extremely fun way to practice!