There’s a portable wire antenna design I’ve been wanting to put on the air for POTA and SOTA for what seems like ages: a 20 meter vertical loop.
I mentioned in a Ham Radio Workbench podcast episode a few months ago that I planned to build a field-portable delta loop antenna and that led to a mini discussion about configurations, feed points, height off the ground, etc. and how all of those factors can influence the characteristics and dynamics of the antenna.
Vertical loops are pretty fascinating and incredibly effective.
Delta loops are super easy to build (no more difficult than an EFHW) but this summer has been insanely busy for me and I simply hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
Then my good friend Joshua (N5FY) who runs tufteln.com sent me a prototype 20M delta loop in the mail. We’d been talking delta loops and he couldn’t help but build one. He asked that I take it to the field and put it on the air, then give him any feedback and notes I might have.
Joshua’s design incorporates a 4:1 transformer and was cut to be resonant on 20 meters. I’d actually planned to build one identical to this because the type of loops I’ve deployed at home have been fed with ladder/window line which isn’t as portable as something I could feed with RG-316.
Holmes Educational State Forest (K-4856)
On Friday, September 1, 2023, I grabbed the delta loop antenna and the KX2, then made my way to Holmes Educational State Forest.
I knew that Holmes wouldn’t be busy and that there were a number of options for spots to set up.
After a little scouting, I found a great site to set up the antenna.
I planned to set up this antenna as close as I could to an equilateral triangle with the apex up about 30 feet and the feedpoint in the middle of the base of the delta.
Deploying the antenna in this configuration meant that I only needed one line in a tree to hoist the apex of the delta and two lines to pull out the corners of the base.
I brought along some paracord with tent stakes to secure the base corners of the loop. In the end, though, I simply attached the paracord to trees instead of using the stakes.
I (somewhat reluctantly) made a video of the entire activation including the antenna deployment. I wanted to take my time deploying this antenna for the first time, so the antenna deployment section of the video is much longer than usual.
In the end though? It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The last vertical delta loop I deployed was a 40 meter loop which is roughly double the size–in my head I was expecting the aperture to be larger than it was.
The 20 meter loop is actually pretty compact and almost as easy as setting up as an inverted vee.
I’m very fortunate in that in the past few years I’ve accumulated a number of QRP radios that I use in rotation when I do park and summit activations.
I’m often asked for advice on choosing radios, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, I feel like the decision is a very personal one–everything is based on an operator’s own particular preferences.
Over the years, I’ve written formal reviews about most of the field radios in my collection. In those reviews, I try to take a wide angle view of a radio–to see how it might appeal to a number of types of operators. I highlight the pros and cons, but I don’t focus on my own particular take because, again, my style of operating might not match that of readers. I try to present the full picture as clearly as I can and let the reader decide.
The Getting To Know You series gives me an opportunity to highlight one radio at a time and showcase what I love about it and why it’s a part of my permanent radio collection. After we spend a bit of time talking about the radio, we’ll do a park or summit activation with it!
And, spoiler alert: I think the MTR-3B is one of the most ingenious little QRP transceivers ever made.
In truth, all of the Mountain Topper series radios are outstanding if you’re a CW operator and into truly portable, ultra-lightweight, field radio activities.
Steve Weber (KD1JV), the designer behind the ATS and Mountain Topper series, created a brilliant platform that has only been improved upon over time.
I’ve only ever operated the MTR-3B and MTR-4B. That said, I’d love to add a high band MTR-5B to my field radio collection someday.
I recently reviewed the MTR-4B (see photo above) and I absolutely love it, but in truth? I prefer the more compact MTR-3B simply because it’s rare that I operate 80 meters in the field and I like the even more compact from factor of the 3B. It’s literally the size of a pack of playing cards.
That said, I wish the 3B had some of the later model MTR-4B upgrades like easy-access sidetone adjustments and power/SWR metering, but I still prefer the MTR-3B.
What? A second MTR-3B?
Confession time: last month, a good friend and QRPer.com patron/supporter offered to sell me his MTR-3B for a very fair market price. He could have put this on eBay or in ham classifieds and surely commanded a much higher price, but he knows how much I love this radio and offered his never used MTR-3B to me.
It didn’t take long for me to accept his offer–like quicker than the blink of an eye quick.
I’ve been looking for a second MTR-3B because 1.) these radios are no longer manufactured and 2.) if something happened to my one and only MTR-3B, I would sob uncontrollably.
I should state here that I blame my buddy, Vince (VE6LK), for introducing the “Two is one, one is none” slogan. Over time, I’ve convinced myself to keep two copies of my favorite radios such as the KX1, FT-817, and MTR-3B.
Vince, by the way, is a card-carrying, certified enabler!
Holmes Educational State Forest (K-4856)
On Friday, August 25, 2023, I made my way to Holmes Educational State Forest to play a little POTA with the MTR-3B.
The site was very quiet. The new school year had just started, so it was too early for school field trips at the park.
Since I was first licensed in 1997, Field Day has been the on-the-air event I’ve always looked forward to more than any other.
I love the combination of playing radio outdoors, experimenting with antennas, hanging with fellow hams, and inviting the public to experience the world of amateur radio.
I’ve participated in quite a wide variety of Field Day events over the years. A few times, I’ve spent the entire event with one club playing radio for the full 24 hour period of time and only getting a couple hours of sleep. It’s exhausting, but loads of fun!
That’s the great thing about amateur radio: no matter where you go in the world, you have a built-in local community of friends.
Many years, I’ve also combined Field Day and POTA (also NPOTA in 2016) with my good friend Vlado (N3CZ). We typically find a nice park to play radio, make some food (Vlado is the grill-master extraordinaire), and hang out for a few hours, many times with our families and other ham friends. Our goal is mostly to have fun, make contacts, and be ready to answer questions when a crowd gathers.
Field Day 2023
On Saturday morning (June 24, 2023), Vlado and I met up around 12:30 at Vlado’s QTH and I placed my gear in his car.
The plan was to hit a park and do a POTA activation–albeit just running Field Day with my callsign–then go to the Blue Ridge Amateur Radio Club‘s Field Day site for dinner and operating with their club call (W4YK).
Holmes Educational State Forest (K-4856)
We made our way to Holmes Educational State Forest (K-4856). It was a logical choice since it wasn’t too far from the BRARC Field Day site.
I had hoped the covered picnic shelter at Holmes would be unoccupied, but it was very much the opposite. I think there must have been three birthday parties in that thing!
Knowing rain showers are all around, I packed my ENO hammock rainfly and, in fact, we chose our picnic site based on tree spacing to hang the rainfly over the picnic table.
We put up the rain fly first and it’s a good thing we did because showers moved in immediately. Fortunately, the fly worked a charm and we both–and more importantly, our radios–stayed bone dry.
Since this was primarily a Field Day effort, I didn’t schedule the activation or do any spotting. No one who worked us knew that it was also a park activation.
We ran as a 1B Battery station, thus our maximum output power was five watts. (Of course we were only going to do this QRP!)
Vlado and I both operated, but he made the bulk of the contacts. While one of us worked stations, the other logged.
In the end, we logged 45 contacts–all but one were CW.
Vlado really enjoyed using his IC-703 Plus. He built a small go kit around it some time ago, but this was actually the first opportunity he’d had to use it in the field.
I also packed the IC-705 and made quite a few contacts with it including our one SSB contact!
Around 4:30 PM local, we packed up and headed to the Blue Ridge ARC FD site at one of the members’ QTH.
I made a short video at Holmes Educational State Forest–not a typical activation video, just a quick visit with us:
We arrived at the BRARC site around 5:00 PM. Typically, the Blue Ridge Club sets up in very public ares–primarily the middle of some of the larger area parks.
This time, however, there was a permitting conflict that forced the club to find another space. Fortunately, two of the club members offered up their home which wasn’t in a public spot, obviously, but in every other respect was ideal.
We arrived and met with several friends I hadn’t seen in ages.
Vlado immediately hopped on KC5F’s Icom IC-7610 (the dedicated CW station) and gave Steve a break at the key.
I then took over after Vlado’s run and added a few more contacts to the W4YK logs.
I then moved to the SSB station and added about ten contacts to their logs. That particular station was the club’s Icom IC-718 and if I’m being honest, it’s not the best HF radio for crowded band conditions. It’s an overall good radio, but when the RF is dense (as it is on Field Day) its front end sort of falls apart. The difference between the IC-718 and IC-7610 was striking. The ‘7610 is a contest grade radio and it handles FD conditions with grace.
The barbecue at the BRARC Field Day was amazing. We appreciate good BBQ here in North Carolina. Don’t get me started about that potato salad–it was spectacular!
We left he BRARC meeting around 8:30 PM and on the way home decided to pop by the WCARS Field Day site at a Fire Fighters’ Union Camp Ground. This wasn’t a terribly public place for Field Day, but the grounds were ideal for setting up stations. A number of WCARS members belong to the Fire Fighters’ Union.
We spoke with a few WCARS members/friends we hadn’t seen in some time, then headed home.
In the end, I felt like we’d done a little Field Day tour that Saturday!
It was great hopping on the air, but even better seeing so many friends we hadn’t seen in such a long time.
How was your Field Day?
I’d love to hear what you did for Field Day! Please share your experience with us in the comments section!
Also, keep in mind that Saturday July 1, 2023 (tomorrow!) is the RAC Canada Day Contest! You can find out more about this event on the RAC website.
Thank you for joining Vlado and me for a few minutes on Field Day!
Also,I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.
I arrived on site around 13:30 local, and there were only a few other people floating about.
I walked up the main loop path in search of a good picnic table that was out of the way and with ample trees about.
In a pinch, any of the picnic table sites would have sufficed, but since I practically had the whole park to myself, I could afford to be picky!
The sign above reminds me that Educational State Forests in North Carolina have hours that vary by season and truly cater to school groups, thus are primarily open during the school day. Always check those hours before embarking on a journey to this type of park.
One great thing about our Educational State Forests is that they almost always have a nice covered picnic shelter for school groups. If they’re not occupied, they’re perfect for POTA activators who’d like to escape heavy rains. You can see the one at Holmes off in the distance in this photo:
I ended up choosing the same picnic table I used last time–it had more room around it to set up an antenna without crossing the path.
Since I have a busy family life, I always look for opportunities to fit a little field radio time into my schedule.
My policy is to always keep a radio field kit in my car or truck so I can take advantage of any last minute opportunities.
On the morning of Wednesday, April 20, 2022, I was scheduled to take my car in for warranty/recall servicing at the dealership. I decided in advance that if the service could be completed in two hours or less, I’d relax in their waiting room with my MacBook, drink a cup or two coffee, and attempt to make a dent in my email backlog.
If the service was going to take longer than 2 hours, I decided that I’d use one of their loaner/courtesy cars and activate a nearby park.
The dealership is about 45 minutes from my QTH and I’ve activated most of the parks nearby it, save one: Holmes Educational State Forest. I’ve been wanting to activate this park for ages, but my travels these days simply don’t take me in the direction of the park very often; it’s a good 75 minute drive from my QTH.
Uncertain how long the dealership would need my car, I grabbed my SOTA backpack that had a full field kit inside based on the Penntek TR-35 transceiver.
Why the TR-35? Because I was testing new firmware that added a huge upgrade: two CW message memories!
Suffice it to say, I was itching to see how well the new message memories work during a proper activation.
Front of the line
Since this upgrade was just made public, I thought those of you who either own the TR-35 or are plotting to purchase the TR-35, might want to see it in action. For this reason, I pushed this video and field report ahead of all of the others in my pipeline.
The really weird part about publishing this video so quickly is that one of my next field reports and videos will actually feature the first time I took the TR-35 to the field about 3-4 weeks ago! Back then, CW message memory keying wasn’t even on the table.
I arrived at the dealership around 9:00 AM (local) and the first thing I asked was, “So how long do you think this will take?” The representative looked at the work to be performed and said, “Three or four hours, likely. If you’re in a rush, maybe two hours.”
I decided I wasn’t in a rush because I’d much rather be playing radio at a new-to-me park than sitting in a waiting room.
I asked if I could borrow one of their courtesy cars and he replied, “We assumed you might want one Mr. Witherspoon, so we already reserved one for you.”