On Monday morning (July 31, 2023) I left the QTH with POTA on my mind.
As I mentioned in a previous post, July was a busy month and I was in desperate need of some POTA Therapy! Fortunately, I had the full morning to play radio, so I plotted a two (or possibly three) park rove, starting with Lake James State Park.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
I arrived at Lake James a little after 9:00 AM and pretty much had the park to myself.
In order to keep my setup time a little on the short side, I chose a picnic table next to my car.
I grabbed my throw line cube and (1st gen) Red Oxx Micro Manager pack in which I’d packed my Discovery TX-500 and accessories.
Since it was in the morning, I planned to spend time on the 40 meter band and, hopefully, work a number of hunters in the surrounding states.
For this activation, I paired my Discovery TX-500 with MW0SAW’s 40 meter end-fed half-wave antenna.
I powered the TX-500 with a homemade 5Ah LiPo battery my friend Joshua (N5FY) sent me a couple months ago.
“If you could only have one QRP radio for all of your ham radio activities, which one would it be?”
The responses started flowing in immediately and, once again, within the first day we had already accumulated over 400 votes.
I turned off the survey at 8:00 EDT on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, with a total of 618 responses. Due to my travel schedule this week, I didn’t leave the survey open for responses as long as I did for Survey #1.
Here’s a pie chart showing the top 14 results in the survey. To see detail, you will need to click on the image below (or click this link) to enlarge it in a new window:
The top choice was the Icom IC-705 which accounted for 28.8% of the 618 votes.
I’m not at all surprised the IC-705 was the most popular choice.
This survey focused on the one single QRP radio you’d pick to accommodate all of your ham radio activities, modes, etc. Frankly? The IC-705 does it all: HF/VHF/UHF multimode operation, DV voice (D-Star), built-in GPS, wireless connectivity for digital modes, built-in sound card, built-in Bluetooth and WiFi hotspot, built-in recording, broadcast band reception, high-performance receiver, color spectrum display and waterfall, and so much more. Heck, you can even charge its battery pack with a common Micro USB charger. Read my review if you want a more comprehensive view of the IC-705.
The only real con anyone mentioned was a lack of an ATU which, frankly, is something that’s so easy to remedy with an external ATU or by using resonant antennas.
Your second choice was the Elecraft KX2 which accounted for 20.1% of the votes.
The KX2 is such a versatile portable HF transceiver that it was the most popular choice in our first QRP radio survey. No doubt, those who chose the KX2 love playing radio in the field as their primary activity because it’s such an adept and versatile radio to take outdoors.
Your third choice was the Elecraft KX3 with 18.7% of the votes.
I actually thought the KX3 would take second place since it’s one of the highest-performance HF radios on the market and covers 160-6 meters with a 2 meter option. It’s an HF Swiss Army Knife of a radio.
In fact, during the first day of voting, the KX3 held the number two spot with as much as a 2% lead over the KX2, but as more votes rolled in, that lead narrowed and the KX2 displaced the KX3 for runner-up.
Your fourth choice was the Yaesu FT-817/818 which accounted for 10.5% of the votes.
It’s also the most affordable among these top contenders!
Like the IC-705, the FT-817/818 has multimode capabilities from 160-6 meters, VHF, and UHF. It also sports both SO-239 and BNC antenna ports which makes it very unique among QRP radios!
The lab599 Discovery TX-500 took fifth place with 3.9% of the votes among this set of distinguished radios.
Those who chose the TX-500 appreciate it for its 160-6 meter coverage, its unique form-factor and weight, overall performance, weather-proofing, and superb RX/TX current numbers for battery conservation. For those who like to play radio outdoors (sometimes in the rain) for hours at a time with a modest battery? Yeah, the TX-500 is made for that stuff!
QRP POTA Activation During the CQ World Wide Contest
by Joshua (KO4AWH)
I had an opportunity to activate Fort Yargo State Park (K-2177) during the CQ WW DX contest.
Fort Yargo is my local park, about 30 minutes away. The park features a great playground for the kids to play on and many tall trees which are perfect for deploying a wire antenna. There really is not much more I could ask for in a POTA location. Even the noise floor is very low, about S0, so I typically turn on the pre-amp which brings it up to S2-S3 on my Discovery TX-500.
This was very much a last minute plan. I knew the contest was going on which may present some difficulty activating QRP. I knew I would not be calling CQ on 20m where I normally activate and hunting stations could be difficult but likely doable.
There was a bit of rain at the house in the morning, then a promise of drizzle the rest of the day. Not too sure what I would find at the park, but hopefully the rain would hold off and I could get the activation in using the TX-500 without too much worry about it getting wet. I threw in a picnic blanket with a water barrier that promised a bit of protection from the rain if needed it.
I have a go-box setup with my TX-500 and IC-705, as well as several antennas, an ATU, and all cabling and power needed to run FT8 either on my Raspberry PI4 with the TX-500, or on my iPad through the IC-705.
I was taking my wife’s vehicle as she had the car seats needed for the 3 kiddos that were coming along. So, I had to be sure I had everything I needed. There are quite a few additional radio items I keep in the back of my car that I would not have available. But everything should be in the go-box, right?
After a bit of mist and some rain on the drive over, I planned to setup the TX-500 knowing it would get a bit wet. I tossed the throw line in the tree and pulled up my Tufteln EFHW QRP cut for 20m. In retrospect I probably should have pulled up the EFRW for a bit more band agility.
I tuned around for a few minutes.
Yup, there was not a single free place across 20 meters where I could start calling CQ in the clear. In fact, the stations I listened to for more than a few seconds had someone else start calling right on top of them. 20 meters was indeed crazy.
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.
To date, I believe I’ve activated 11 parks (1 in Ontario, 10 in Québec) during our extended family vacation. Instead of hitting the same parks over and over, I’m trying to activate new parks during each outing because it’s giving us an opportunity to explore some really amazing spots that we might not otherwise discover.
Before we leave La Belle Province, I’ve at least two SOTA summits in mind and 3-4 more parks, family time permitting. Indeed, as I mention below, I hope to activate another park sometime today.
Ham Radio Workbench Podcast
Once again the fine crew of the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast made the mistake of inviting me on another episode of the podcast.
In truth, it’s a proper honor to join them each time (don’t let them know I said that!). Seriously, they’re an amazing group of friends.
This episode was dedicated to our Field Day activities. For many of us, it was an unconventional Field Day and perhaps that’s what made the event so much fun.
John (W7DBO) was invited back to the show and it was great hearing how he integrated his whole family in his Field Day activities.
George had to operate from home, I operated from our condo/chalet here in Québec, and Vince from his very unique club setup in Alberta. Rob had a project that took priority on Field Day, and it’s worth listening to the podcast just to hear Smitty’s tale of life as a Field Day RVer (hint: not for the faint of heart).
I did finally choose that one extra radio: the Discovery TX-500.
I chose the TX-500 because 1.) it would be a great “bad weather” radio, 2.) it could operate from my KX2 battery packs, 3.) it’s multimode and also covers 6 meters, and 4.) it has such a slim profile. I could easily the TX-500 in my Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack with the Elecraft KX2 and it didn’t make the pack feel any bulkier.
I came very close to choosing the IC-705, but it was just a bit too bulky for the way I had my pack configured.
Back to the hypocrite part…
The day before leaving North Carolina, I removed everything from our Subaru and gave it a deep cleaning.
When I pulled up the floor panel in the trunk/boot area to check the first aid kit, spare tire, and emergency gear I discovered that there was a fairly large unused area under there–a spot where I might be able to sneak a few extra radio supplies.
After a little finagling, I discovered that I could fit spare batteries, two folding PowerFilm panels, the Buddipole PowerMini 2, and two more radios: the MTR-3B field kit, and my Elecraft KX1.
This essentially amounted to contraband since I tend to be the guy who enforces “one bag per person” policy during our family travels.
I got some serious eye rolls from the family when they discovered the hidden radios after we reached our destination. I might not ever live this down.
If I had even a shred of dignity upon our arrival here in Canada, I can confirm it’s gone now.
Elecraft KX2 getting heavy use
Other than Field Day where I primarily used the TX-500, the Elecraft KX2 has been getting a heavy workout on this trip.
The reason why is because I’ve been activating a number of urban parks where an all-in one radio paired with a random wire or the AX1 vertical has been very useful.
Conditions have been very rough during some of these activations as well, so it’s nice to have both CW and SSB modes available and a full 5 watts (the KX1 and MTR-3B are CW-only hover around 3 watts). I’ve snagged some excellent QRP DX at times, but everything has been so unstable.
I didn’t bring the KX2 hand mic on this trip, so all of my SSB contacts have utilized the KX2’s built-in mic. It’s actually worked brilliantly!
I’ve recorded a number of activations here in Canada and will likely post a couple of these out of chronological order while I’m still on this side of the border.
Uploading from our chalet hasn’t been possible–the upload speeds are about as dismal as they are at my QTH. Download isn’t too bad, though.
While at the hotel in Baie-Comeau a few days ago, I uploaded at least four videos with their high-speed internet, so I’ll soon post a couple of them.
In short: the activations here have been amazingly fun. Some of the sites have been truly spectacular in terms of scenery and others are in urban settings taking me well outside my comfort zone.
In short: I’ve loved every minute of it!
We have had an amazing time here in Québec as always.
Our flavor of travel is the opposite of many: we tend to rent a home or apartment for a few weeks or couple of months and use it as a base for exploring the region. We do this as opposed to traveling long distances and only spending relatively short periods of time at multiple stops.
I plan to activate a park while in Québec City today. I’ve no clue which one it’ll be yet, but I’ll announce it on the POTA site once I’ve got a plan together. If you have the time, look for me on the POTA spots page (as VY2SW) or via the RBN! I’d love to put you in the logs.
Here’s wishing all of you a week full of radio and fun!
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.
With this magic FT-8 box and a little power bank, all you need to make FT8 in SOTA expeditions is your smartphone.
I don’t own this product, but found it might interest many people visiting your excellent website.
Best 73′ from Switzerland,
Lab599 Discovery TX-500 Covers
Many thanks to Mike (KG4MTN) who writes:
I have just received a nice set of 3D screen/keyboard covers from KB7MDB for my TX-500. Along with these covers he included 5 screw-on plug covers. All appear to be nicely made and fit my rig just fine. Cost was $15, which includes shipping. I have the 2-cover set, I believe he also makes a single-cover unit. Mine is black but I think he also makes them in orange. Shipping is very prompt. His Etsy site is Brewer 3D Design LLC.
Many thanks to Ray (K8DRT) who reminds us of an ongoing sale at Maxpedition’s main website. The sale includes a number of popular Organizer Pouches including the Fatty which I use for my Elecraft AX1 antenna, and their smaller EDC organizer that I’ve used for a number of radio accessories, logging pads, and EDC items over the years.
I’ve now taken it on a few activations, but the very first outing was on Monday, December 7, 2021.
That afternoon, my daughters attended an afternoon art class that was only four miles from our QTH as the crow flies, but took 45+ minutes to drive. Gotta love the mountains!
I had no complaints whatsoever about the drive, though, because it was within five minutes of the Zebulon Vance Historic Birthplace; one of my favorite local POTA spots!
Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)
After dropping off the girls, I drove to Vance and was happy to see that no one was occupying their one picnic shelter. Even though the Vance site is relatively spacious and they’ve numerous trees along the periphery of the property, it’s a historic/archaeological site and as a rule of thumb I only set up at picnic areas in parks like these.
It was a breezy day and temps were hovering around 44F/7C. These are ideal conditions in my world.