Tag Archives: GoRuck GR1

Organizing and packing field radio accessories–three products I love!

As I was packing up my radio gear at the last activation I posted (click here for that field report), I paused to make a quick video and talk about my rucksack, my accessories pouches, and a winder I like to use with the MFJ-1984LP antenna.

Here are the products I mentioned:

GoRuck GR1 USA

This is one of my favorite rucksacks for SOTA activations. I like the fact that it’s low-profile, structured, and feels great on the back even during extended hiking sessions.

It’s also insanely rugged, weatherproof, and (frankly) over-engineered.

My GR1 was made in the USA by GoRuck. This company specializes in packs that are essentially designed to be used and abused.  They’re all backed by a lifetime warranty. You pay for this kind of quality, though.

I purchased mine perhaps 3 years ago during a closeout sale on this particular color variant. When combined with my educator’s discount I think I paid around $210-220 US for it.

I originally bought it because I’m a huge fan of one-bag travel (read an article where I mention this on the SWLing Post). I discovered that the GR1 meets most airline regulations as a “personal carry on.” This means even with discount airlines and regional “puddle jumper” aircraft, I know I can always take it on board and never need to check it. I can easily travel one or two weeks out of this pack.

The TX-500, clipboard, and my logging pads all tuck away nicely in the GR1’s slip-in rucking plate pocket.

But in the field, the GR1 has the perfect amount of capacity for any of my QRP transceivers along with antennas, ATU, cables, and other accessories.

Click here to check out this pack at GoRuck.

Large Tom Bihn Travel Tray

Being a one-bag traveller (and certified pack geek) I’m also a massive fan of US pack designer and manufacturer, Tom Bihn.

I have a number of their packs, pouches, and organizers.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite TB items is the Travel Tray. It’s a brilliant concept: take this with you on a trip, open it up as a tray in your hotel room, and place all of your valuables in it. By doing this, you don’t have to search your room for your watch, keys, wallet, glasses, phone, etc. When you leave the room, all of those easy-to-lose items will be in one place. If you’re in a rush to catch a flight, grab the whole pack by the drawstring, secure it, and throw it in your carry on! It’s a simple, genius little sack/tray!

I also use these to organize radio accessories in my field pack. For example, I have one now dedicated to the TX-500. In the Travel Tray, I store all of the TX-500 adapters and cords, the speaker mic, a set of CW Morse Pocket paddles, a PackTenna EFHW, some RG-316, and a 3 aH LiFePo4 battery. I even carry a spare Muji notepad in it in case I forget my logging pad. With this little bag and the TX-500, I have everything I need to hit the air!

Note that I much prefer the large TB Travel Tray. My wife has both a large and small travel tray, but I find that the small one is just a little too small for most everything I wish to put in it. The large one’s outer diameter is large enough that you can also store a short coil of RG-58 coaxial cable/feed line in it.

Click here to check out large Travel Trays at Tom Bihn.

I love these so much, I purchased two more this week: one in black and one in coyote.

Thingiverse Wire Winder

This particular winder is red because that’s the filament my daughters had loaded in the printer at the time!

Before we purchased a 3D printer (an Ender 3 Pro) I would make wire winders out of anything I could find.  With a 3D printer, however, it’s so easy to make a winder sized perfectly for your application.

You may have seen winders in various colors in my video field reports–they all come from a simple project file on Thingiverse.

This winder is super easy to print and to enlarge or shrink. If you don’t have a 3D printer, likely someone you know does! Ask them to print this for you. They’re incredible useful.

Click here to view on Thingiverse.

Video

I made a very short video talking about all of these products post-activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

A windy, creekside QRP activation of Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land

Lately, I’ve had quite the backlog of reviews and evaluations building up. Family life has been active–and it always comes first–but also I’ve a number of projects on the table (two kit builds, one repair, two antenna projects), four articles for various publications, two new transceivers (the TX-500 and now an X5105 on loan), and a number of family business projects. ‘Tis the season, I reckon.

Normally, I’d be in Dayton, Ohio right now enjoying a weekend of fellowship and Hamvention/FDIM insanity, but all that was cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

I’ve had a number of projects that sort of force me indoors, but I haven’t felt like doing them. Spring in the mountains of western North Carolina is truly a thing to enjoy (save the allergies)–and it’s an incredible distraction.

On Saturday afternoon, May 8, 2021, my whole family wanted a little outdoor  distraction time, so we hopped in the car and drove to a nearby spot in Pisgah National Forest.

The drive takes nearly 50 minutes even though the actual site isn’t even 5 miles from the QTH as the crow flies. The weather was beautiful, but a front was moving through bringing strong wind gusts.

I had planned to set up my activation next to our  car along the forest service road, but to shelter myself from some of the winds, I decided instead to set up next to the nearby creek, down the hill a bit.

This particular site is actually located in both Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land–they overlap, which makes this a Parks On The Air “Two-Fer”.

Equipment

While setting up next to a creek makes for a beautiful little activation spot, it also adds a lot of extra background noise. Normally, I would have used some in-ear earphones with the TX-500 for sound isolation, but (after twenty minutes on the air and against my better judgement) I decided to make an activation video at this site, so used the speaker/mic instead.

I’ve activated this site numerous times in the past and while it has tall trees and loads of spots to set up, it’s also in a pretty deep ravine, surrounded by tall ridge lines.  While this is less a problem with HF as it would certainly be for line-of-site frequencies, history has proven that it makes for a challenging activation.

I deployed my new PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna as a vertical. I’m glad I chose the PackTenna because it’s such a low-profile antenna, I knew it would be less affected by the strong wind gusts.

I also decided to employ my Emtech ZM-2 manual antenna tuner during this activation. Why? Because I had never used it with the PackTenna before. So why not?

On The Air

I hopped on 40 meters and started calling CQ. Thankfully, the Reverse Beacon Network found me and the POTA website automatically created a spot from the RBN information.

I worked four stations in four minutes! This was a much better start than I’d ever had at this site before.

Then, nothing…

About 20 minutes passed as I called CQ on 40 meters. This was going to be a challenging activation after all.

I decided to move up to the 30 meter band. I thought there might be some value in showing how to tune the ZM-2, so I started recording one of my real-time, real-life activation videos knowing that the audio might not be ideal with the rushing creek.

On 30 meters, I was able to pick up three more contacts in fairly short order, giving me a total of seven contacts. Only three more needed to validate my activation!

At least 20 minutes had passed since I was on 40 meters, so I decided to hop back down there hoping some new hunters might be monitoring the POTA spots.

Sure enough, I was able to add five more contacts in ten minutes!

My 12th contact is on the back of this log sheet: KF4YEY in FL.

I likely spent a total of one hour on the air. By the time it was over, my wife and daughters were ready to hit the road again: temps had dropped pretty quickly in that one hour time frame and the gusts were strong enough my wife was concerned it could knock some branches loose. (I was less concerned because I always check a site for widow-makers and power lines before setting up.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life activation video starting about 20 minutes into the activation:

With such a simple radio kit, packing up was very quick.

This was my second activation with the new TX-500. I really do love this radio.

A number of folks noted in my last TX-500 video that there was an audio pop present as I keyed the radio either with my paddles or with the built-in memory keyer. I had never noticed this before, but I think I know why it’s happening. In my videos, I crank the speaker/mic volume up all the way so the audio can be heard. When I do this, the T/R relay audio pop/recovery is quite noticeable.

I think I may slow the relay recovery to something like 400ms so the audio doesn’t try recovering between characters. The TX-500 isn’t capable of full break-in QSK anyway, so there’s really no need for a 100ms recovery. I’ll also share this feedback with the engineers at lab599 as I suspect this can be sorted out in firmware. In the shack, it’s not an issue because audio levels are in the normal range, but in the field when the audio is cranked up, it’s pronounced. This also would not be an issue if using earphones, of course.

I do love this TX-500 and am very happy I’ve officially purchased it from lab599 and added it to my transceiver arsenal! Now to give it a name and make it official…


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Activating Elk Knob State Park for SOTA, POTA, and WWFF

On Monday, March 8, 2021, I had a very rare opportunity: nearly a full day to play radio!

I debated where to go the night before and I had a lot of ideas. Do a multi-park run?  Activate some new-to-me parks a little further afield? Hit a SOTA summit?

While it was very appealing to plan a multi-park run for POTA/WWFF, I really wanted to stretch my legs and activate a summit. The weather was glorious and it dawned upon me that we’ll soon be entering the season of afternoon thunderstorms which will, no doubt, have a negative impact on my summit plans for the next few months since afternoons are typically when I have time to do activations.

After examining the map, I decided to go to Elk Knob State Park. The summit of Elk Knob is a SOTA site and the park is in both the POTA and WWFF programs.

Last year, I activated Elk Knob State Park and really enjoyed the experience.

The round trip hike to the summit (adding in a little trail loop around the park) would amount to about 4 total miles and an elevation increase of roughly 1,000 feet.

Monday morning, I left the QTH around 9:00 and arrived at the park around 11:15–it was a proper scenic drive.

The 1.9 mile hike to the summit took me about 45 minutes. The path was amazingly well maintained: 4′ wide with crushed stone most of the way.

One of the nicest trails I’ve been on in ages–Elk Knob State Park is quickly becoming one of my favorite NC State Parks.

There aren’t any antenna-friendly trees on the summit, so I was happy that I packed the Chameleon MPAS 2.0.

At first, I planned to only bring the top section of the MPAS 2.0 vertical to save space, but the hike was so short, I brought the lower aluminum sections as well. I’m glad I did.

Deployment of the MPAS 2.0 was quick and I the Elecraft KX2‘s internal ATU found a match on 20 meters very quickly.

Elk Knob (W4C/EM-005)

I spotted myself using the SOTA Goat app and received quite a 20 meter CW pileup! As you’ll see in my video below, it was testing the limits of my CW skills for sure.

With 5 watts, I quickly worked stations to my east in France, Spain, and Germany, and to my west all over the west coast of North America. It was a hoot!

I eventually moved to 40 meters and operated a bit, but 40 was suffering from poor propagation so stations that are normally quite strong, were weak that day.

I needed four stations for a valid SOTA activation and 10 stations for a valid park activation. I logged a total of 38 stations in 56 minutes. 75% of those contacts were on 20 meters.

Video

Here’s one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation (less a small amount I removed while eating a quick bite):

When people tell me running QRP is like “trying to play radio with both hands tied behind your back” I’ll show them this video. 🙂

AGN?

While the hike, the weather, and the signals were all in my favor, I’ll admit I wasn’t on my “A Game” that day. We all have days like this where we struggle to copy, to keep up with the flow of contacts, and to send correctly.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten a number of emails from readers and viewers who said they had a less-than-smooth SOTA or POTA activation and felt a wee bit embarrassed on the air when they struggled copying.

But you know what?

No worries!!!

This is all about having radio fun in the field, enjoying a hike, taking in the views, and soaking up the beautiful weather! It’s not a contest and we have nothing to prove to anyone.

I can also promise you that any chaser/hunter who has ever activated a field site will completely understand if they have to send their call a couple extra times or if they (heaven forbid!) have to re-send their call after you incorrectly copy a character.

This is totally normal.

Be easy on yourself and enjoy the ride. Even on days when I don’t feel like I’m 100% in the groove, I find doing a summit or park activation clears my mind and resets my soul.

My policy? When a mistake is made laugh it off and move on!

Photos

Here are a few extra photos from the Elk Knob hike:


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