I do my best to shake up each field activation I perform. Even if in some small way.
While it would be way more efficient to deploy the same radio and antenna combination at each park and summit I visit, I get a thrill out of trying different radio and antenna combinations.
I should add that I’m fully aware how fortunate I am to have a lot of radios and even more antennas to pair in various combinations. I keep reminding myself that building and buying radios and antennas is still cheaper than restoring a 1940s era Willys CJ-2A.
Recently, a reader reached out and asked my opinion about the Chameleon Tactical Delta Loop (CHA TDL) antenna. I think the TDL is a brilliant antenna system, actually, and the one I recommend the most from Chameleon because of its versatility.
Not only can it be deployed as a multi-band vertical delta loop but it has all of the parts needed to be an MPAS Lite vertical as well, save the counterpoise.
The CHA TDL comes with a 25 foot wire that connects the two 17′ whips into a loop configuration, but the clamps on the end of that wire can’t connect to the ground lug on the MPAS ground spike terminal as-is. That said, you could easily make a short connector cable or connection point that would allow the CHA TDL wire to clamp to the ground spike terminal. Else, of course, you could cut a dedicated 25′ counterpoise from pretty much any wire you might have around the shack.
You can buy the same counterpoise used with the MPAS Lite package, but it’s more affordable just to build your own since there’s no magic in the counterpoise. And, FYI, configured as the delta loop, there’s no need for a separate counterpoise; only if you configure it as a vertical.
This same reader also has an Icom IC-705 and an mAT-705 Plus antenna tuner. He was curious how well that combo might work with the CHA TDL. I knew that the combo would work well, but I thought, “why not try it?”
I realized that it has been ages since I last deployed the CHA TDL in the field.
Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)
Tuesday, February 28, 2023, was a gorgeous day weather-wise, although it was a bit gusty at times.
I arrived at K-6856 and decided to film the full set-up of the CHA-TDL.
For an antenna with a fairly large profile when deployed, it’s actually very compact, albeit a bit heavy (mainly due to the weight of the solid stainless ground spike and TDL hub). That said, I did take this same CHA TDL setup on an 11 mile round-trip SOTA hike once and didn’t find it too heavy.
After making my first activation of Fort Dobbs State Historic Site, I knew I’d be back in short order. It had all of the things I love about a great POTA site: it’s accessible in my weekly travels, has tall trees, a huge shelter, and friendly park rangers. Plus, it’s chock-full of history.
Does it get any better?
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
On Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I stopped by Fort Dobbs for a quick activation.
Even though I arrived only shortly after the park opened and I was obviously the only guest there, I checked in at the visitor’s center to get permission to do the activation.
Not only did they grant me permission, but they also allowed me to set up in their main covered picnic area.As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe you should always ask permission at small historic sites like Fort Dobbs. For one thing, I want the staff to know where I am and what I’m doing. Unlike vast state and national parks, their spaces to set up may be more limited and the last thing you’d want to do is set up shop in a space where they plan to do a scheduled outdoor presentation in period costume.
In addition, some historic and archaeological sites may have restrictions on the types of antennas you employ. I’ve known of some, for example, that require fully self-supporting antennas that need no trees nor no stakes in the ground.
The folks at Fort Dobbs couldn’t be more friendly.
On the air
I decided I’d pull out the trusty 28.5′ speaker wire antenna and see how well it might perform while paired with the mAT-705 Plus and Icom IC-705.
Set up took all of three minutes.
With super lightweight antennas like the speaker wire antenna, there is rarely a need to tie off the end of the throw line to hold the antenna in a tree and in position. Unless there are strong winds, the weight of the throw line itself will hold it in place. Deploying the antenna and connecting it to the ATU and transceiver may have taken me two minutes.
Relying on trees can be a little unpredictable; some sites may have trees that are too short, some with branches that are too high, some that are too dense with branches, and/or trees may not be ideally situated for a field activation. When things aren’t ideal, it might take much longer to deploy a wire antenna in a tree. This is one reason why so many POTA and SOTA ops choose to bring their own collapsible support–it gives them a degree of predictability when setting up at a new site.
Fortunately, at Fort Dobbs, there are numerous trees that are ideally situated for effortless field deployments.
I hopped on the 40 meter band and started calling CQ.
Fortunately, propagation was in pretty good shape, and I worked a string of contacts.
It was nice to experience a more “normal” activation where propagation wasn’t completely in the dumps.
I eventually moved up to the 20M band and did a little hunting before finally packing up.
All in all, I made eleven contacts–just one more than the 10 required for a valid POTA activation.
I could have stayed and played radio for a much longer period of time–and I was tempted for sure–but I chose to fit in one more activation that morning at nearby Lake Norman State Park. So I packed up and moved on.
Here’s the QSO map of my contacts at Fort Dobbs:
I made another real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation as well. You can view it via the embedded player below, or on YouTube:
I didn’t work any DX at Fort Dobbs, but I was super pleased with the speaker wire’s performance using only 5 watts of output power. I imagine if I would have stayed on the air for another hour or two, I could have worked a couple stations in Europe. It was a tad early for much activity on 20 meters.
Thank you for reading this field report and a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.
If you can, find some time to chase or activate a park or summit near you! Or, if you have an opportunity, just take your radio outdoors, hop on the air, and have some fun. It’s good for your soul!
And a friendly reminder: you don’t need a fancy radio or fancy antenna. Use what you’ve got. Pretty much any transceiver you’re willing to lug to the field will work. And antennas? As you can see, even $4 of speaker wire conjures up some serious QRP magic!
A few weeks ago–on July 12, 2021–I popped by Lake James State Park to do a quick activation with the Icom IC-705. It had been a while since I’d used the ‘705 in the field and the little rig was begging to go outdoors.
Here’s the funny part: I completely forgot about that activation! Two days ago, while browsing my photo archive, I noticed the video I made of the activation and, of course, the memory came flooding back.
In my defense, it has been a crazy summer and the weeks/days seem to all blend together in my head.
Thing is, this activation was memorable for a bad reason: QRM (human-made radio noise). It was also memorable for some of the folks I worked on the air.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
I arrived at Lake James and was a bit surprised to practically have the place to myself.
I found a picnic table with a view of the water, deployed my speaker wire antenna, and set up the IC-705. As with all of my activations, I was only running 5 watts.
Propagation was–you guessed it–forecast as very poor.
It felt that way when I hopped on 40 meters at first as the band was pretty quiet..
Still, I managed to log 5 contacts on 40 meters (two in SSB, three in CW) before moving up to 20 meters which served me well.
I worked a total of eight stations in nine minutes on 20 meters.
If you watch the video, you’ll hear how nasty the QRM was at times.
I keep forgetting that there’s a source of intermittent radio interference at the Lake James visitors center. The spot where I set up the station was only 25 meters or so from that building. I believe the center was responsible for the QRM I first experienced during the activation. Whatever the device is generating the QRM, it doesn’t last for long periods of time–it cycles.
The second batch of QRM was emanating from a small boat that pulled up to the dock in front of my site. It was nasty and completely wiped out the 20 meter band. When the owners turned off the boat and stepped onto the dock, the noise stopped completely. Later, when they got back into the boat, the noise started again. I have to assume it was something in their motor causing the QRM. I suspect they may have been using a DC trolling motor.
POTA activations often feel like a gathering of friends. I often see many of the same callsigns in my logs and it’s a lot of fun working them each time.
Also, it’s a lot of fun to work stations further afield. At Lake James, I was very pleased to work NK7L in Washington State, IK4IDF in Italy, and HA9RE in Hungary. My back of the envelope calculations tell me that I was pushing 1,000 miles per watt when I worked Elemer (HA9RE). To be clear, all of the work was done on his end as he has some world-class ears; just check out his QRZ page!
For some reason when I logged HA9RE, I copied VA4RE. I’m not sure why, but after packing up it hit me that I had logged him incorrectly (funny how brains work!). I reviewed the video on-site and confirmed it was indeed HA9RE.
Here’s my QSO Map:
I was also very pleased to finally work Dave Benson (K1SWL). He’s very well-known in QRP circles for his amazing Small Wonder Labs kits. Dave’s a great guy and, of course, loves playing radio in the field.
Here’s my real-time, real-life, unedited video of the entire activation. Apologies in advance as I really needed a wind screen over my microphone that day–I had the mic and camera a little too close.
Loop next time!
The next time I hit Lake James, I plan to deploy a Chameleon loop antenna. I think it will have a significant impact on the QRM levels at that particular part of the park. Of course, I could easily move further away from the noise source (that’s the easiest solution) but I’d like to see how effectively a loop might mitigate the QRM. That and it’s been years since I last used a compact mag loop antenna in the field.
Again, thank you for reading this report and thank you to those who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–never feel an obligation to do so (especially if you’re investing in your first station, for example)–I really appreciate the support.
Here’s wishing you some outdoor radio fun in the near future!
Lately, when I hit a park or summit to do an activation, I allow a little extra time.
We’re truly in the doldrums of the solar cycle at present, but we’re heading into Solar Cycle 25 with the promise of more sun spots and better propagation. (At least, the ARRL is banking on it!)
If you’ve been doing field activations these past few years, you know how to cope when there are few or no sun spots. You might get less DX contacts, but you can still validate an activation easily enough.
But some days, propagation is unstable or wiped out altogether based on the particles, winds, and CMEs our local star might decide to hurl our way.
Last week (April 12, 2021), I stopped by a new-to-me site: Table Rock State Fish Hatchery.
It was very much an impromptu activation as I decided to visit the site on my way back home after spending time with my parents. Max (WG4Z) mentioned that he had recently visited the site and it had easy access–I checked the map and saw that it was, perhaps, a 30 minute detour.
Table Rock State Fish Hatchery (K-8012)
I arrived on site and found a number of concrete picnic tables and a load of trees ideal for suspending a wire antenna.
Before I deploy an antenna–a wire or vertical–I always check for power lines or cables in the vicinity. This site did have them so I deployed my antenna in such a way that there would be no possible way they could touch.
My buddy Mike (K8RAT) told me in advance that this would be a challenging activation because band conditions were so rough, so I decided to deploy my Chameleon CHA MPAS 2.0 antenna as a random wire instead of a vertical.
I didn’t have my instruction sheet for the MPAS 2.0 so forgot to use the strain relieve at the base of the antenna (not a big deal) and I added a counterpoise wire. I knew it would radiate well.
I paired the Icom IC-705 with my mAT-705 Plus ATU knowing this would give me frequency options across the bands. Setup was actually very simple.
I hopped on the air assuming 40 meters might be somewhat fruitful.
Turns out, it was not.
Contacts were slow coming and I could tell conditions were very unstable. In the span of 30 minutes, I had only worked five stations. That’s a very slow rate compared with a typical activation.
I eventually made my way to the 60 meter band and was very happy to rack up an additional three contacts in fairly short order. (I often forget about 60 meters, but it’s a brilliant band and proper blend of 80 and 40 meter characteristics.
When I felt like I’d worked all available stations on 60 meters, I went back up to 40 meters and finally added three more contacts in 20 minutes.
If I’m being honest, this activation felt like a proper struggle. I was fully prepared to call it quits without having logged 10 stations to validate my activation simply due to my schedule. This activation took me to the threshold of my available time.
In fact, I recorded one of my real-time, real-life videos of the activation, but decided I wouldn’t even bother posting it because…well…it would be too long and had so few stations calling in.
In the end, though, and against my better judgement, I uploaded the video to YouTube because, frankly, activations like this are a reality in 2021.
In fact, once I returned home, I looked at the POTA and SOTA discussion groups and there were numerous reports of failed and troublesome activations that afternoon with ops running much more than QRP power.
I even read a report of one unlucky operator who was attempting his first ever POTA activation during that same span of time. He was not able to gather his 10 needed contacts and felt somewhat deflated. I shared my story with him because I think he feared either his gear or his technique were to blame. He was running SSB which would have put him at even more of a disadvantage that day.
Still…I had fun!
A bad day in the field is better than a good day in the office, right? Right!
While I might have been frustrated with the poor propagation, it didn’t stop me from enjoying this outing. The weather was beautiful, and I even had a canine welcoming committee pop by for a visit (you can see that in the video). I also worked a number of friends that day on the air including (I later found out) one very new CW operator.
Although you can’t see it in the photos or video, the Fish Hatchery is close to Table Rock which is a beautiful mountain here in western North Carolina. The drive to the site is quite scenic.
I don’t do POTA, SOTA, or WWFF for the numbers–I do it because I love playing radio outdoors.
Time is your friend
My activations are normally very short because I squeeze them into my weekly schedule. Keep in mind that, regardless of propagation, you can almost always get your 10 contacts with enough time. It also helps if you’re activating a site that is either rare, or if it counts for multiple programs (I’ll often find SOTA summits that are on state or national park land). Chasers from multiple programs are a good thing!
I’d encourage you to check band conditions before leaving home and simply plan to spend more time on the air if conditions are poor. Bring a book with you and put your CW or voice memory keyer to work while you dive into your favorite novel. 🙂
Keep in mind that sometimes our local star will surprise us with amazing band openings. The activation after Table Rock was a case in point. Stay tuned!
Have you struggled to complete an activation recently? Or have you struggled as a hinter/chaser? Please comment!
In the video below, I actually demo how I used my arborist throw line to deploy the EFT-MTR antenna.
On The Air
While the weather and the POTA site were ideal, propagation was not. I knew that going into the site and that’s exactly why I deployed a near resonant wire antenna instead of a vertical. I say “near-resonant” but the EFT-MTR is actually a resonant antenna on 40, 30 and 20 meters–I repaired mine recently, however, and it affected the resonance. I need to take an antenna analyzer to it and sort that out. In the meantime, though, I simply used the mAT-705 Plus ATU to take the edge off of the SWR.
I ended up only using the 40 meter band to make my 11 contacts in the span of about 33 minutes. Considering the propagation and the fact it was a Monday mid-afternoon, I was pleased with the results.
If I had the time, I would have moved up to the 30 and 20 meter bands, but again, I had a schedule to maintain so I went QRT after working my buddy K8RAT.
Here’s a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:
I’m definitely coming back to the New River State Park later this year. In fact, I think this would be an ideal spot for a family canoeing and camping trip.
As I’ve said so many times before, this is what I love about POTA and WWFF: they provide an excuse to check out public lands that wouldn’t normally be on my radar. New River is a perfect example since it’s a little too far from the QTH to be a day trip, yet a little too local to be a destination we’d typically plan in our cross-country travels.
Last week, I had a hankering to visit a site I hadn’t activated in a few months: South Mountains Game Land.
This game land is pretty vast and has a number of entry points, almost all of which are very accessible. When I re-visit a site multiple times, I like to try different entrances when I can because it gives me a chance to check out a site better and, frankly, even enjoy a little light off-roading.
I found a western road leading deep into South Mountains from the Wildlife Resource Commission map and decided to explore it and do a quick activation.
South Mountains Game Land (K-6952)
I avoid activating Game Lands on days when I suspect there will be a lot of hunting. Tuesday afternoon was *not* ideal for hunters. Besides being the middle of a work day, it was cold and very gusty.
As I drove about 4 miles into the site, I didn’t see a single car or truck parked in any of the parking areas. I could tell I had the place to myself.
A Few Precautions
It goes without saying that if you’re doing a POTA or SOTA activation in a rural/remote area that has no mobile phone coverage (quite common at the ones I activate), you really need to take a few precautions.
First of all, let someone else know where you’ll be and how long you plan to be there. I always let a couple radio friends know where I’ll be so if I don’t show up on the air or they don’t hear from me, they could contact authorities to look for me.
Secondly, always take a proper first aid kit. If you get hurt, you need a way to apply first aid until you can get help.
Take a handheld radio with local repeater frequencies pre-loaded. Even though I might not have cell phone coverage, I can almost always hit at least one repeater.
Of course, carry a little food and water with you and make sure your vehicle has fuel as well.
Always wear a high-visibility vest, jacket, and/or cap. Many game lands require these. Besides, would you rather perform and activation or get shot? I don’t like getting shot. I also don’t like the idea of being bear food, so at least pack a little bear mace if you’re in bear country.
When I’m activating a game land I don’t hike deep into the woods. In fact, I try to stay on or very close to a parking area. Even though POTA is becoming a very popular radio activity, I can promise that you’ll likely be the first POTA activator most hunters will see. It’s a good idea to be near areas of activity like a parking spot or road where they’re much less likely to be hunting.
Finally, as I mentioned before, I personally do not activate game lands on busy hunting days.
Of course, check the weather forecast in advance.
On The Air
I found a great spot to set up my station near a ridge line deep in the game lands.
Normally, I’d set up right next to my car, but Tuesday the winds were very gusty so I found a semi-protected area maybe 10 yards off the road. I located a spot with the least amount of overhanging branches (always check for widowmakers and dead trees!).
It only took me five minutes to deploy the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna with my arborist throw line.
Random wire antennas require tuners, so I employed the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus.
This site has no mobile phone coverage, so I had no easy way to spot myself to the POTA spots page had I decided to do a little phone/SSB operating. I decided to stick with CW as the POTA spots page will auto-spot me using my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (as long as that system is working).
It’s so rare that I do activations around noon or early in the afternoon, so I decided to start on 20 meters just to see if I could snag a European station.
I felt pretty chuffed to quickly snag the Azores (CU3BL) and a few west coast stations with my 5 watts and a wire. QRP rocks!
I then moved to 40 meters where I worked a number of stations in succession and topped off the activation with one 30 meter contact.
Here’s a QSOmap of this activation:
Not bad for about 40 minutes on the air.
I also made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the activation. Note that my camera died on me perhaps five minutes before I completed the activation, so it will end abruptly. Sorry about that!
My ankle is healing nicely so I’m feeling more comfortable with the idea of hiking again. I’m plotting a SOTA activation with my daughter in the coming weeks.
This Saturday (Jan 30, 2021), I had a small window of opportunity to perform a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. My park options were limited because I needed to stay near my home and a store where I was scheduled to do a curbside pickup.
The only viable option–since time was a factor–was my reliable quick hit park.
The Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I plotted a quick trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center which is centrally-located and, this time of year, there are few visitors.
But what radio take? It had been a couple of weeks since I used the IC-705 in the field, so I decided to take it and rely only on its supplied BP-272 battery pack.
My buddy Mike (K8RAT) had warned me only a few minutes before my departure that propagation was pretty much in the dumps. I’d also read numerous posts from QRPers trying to participate in the Winter Field Day event and finding conditions quite challenging.
Saturday was the sort of day that I should’ve deployed a resonant wire antenna and made the most of my meager five watts thus collect my required 10 contacts in short order.
And that’s exactly what I didn’tdo.
You see, a really bad idea popped into my head that morning: I had a hankering to pair the IC-705 with my Elecraft AX1 super compact vertical antenna.
This made absolutely no sense.
I tried to get the idea out of my head, but the idea won. I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m not about taking the easy path (and I’m obviously a glutton for punishment).
I was also very curious if the mAT-705 Plus external ATU could tune the AX1 on 40 meters. More on that later…
I arrived on site a few minutes before noon. Setup was fast–that’s the big positive about using the AX1.
Normally, I deploy the AX1 antenna with my KX2 or KX3 and simply attach it to the BNC connector on the side of the transceiver. The AX1 Bipod gives the antenna acceptable stability during operation.
The IC-705 also has a side-mounted BNC connector, but it’s much higher than that of the KX3 or KX2. I’m not entirely sure I could manipulate the Bipod legs to support the antenna without modification.
That and the AX1 needs an ATU to match 40 meters (where I planned to spend most of the activation). Since the IC-705 doesn’t have an internal ATU, mounting it to the side of the transceiver really wasn’t an option.
I employed my AX1 tripod mount for the first time. On the way out the door, I grabbed an old (heavy) tripod my father-in-law gave me some time ago and knew it would easily accommodate the super lightweight AX1.
On The Air
I first tried using the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus ATU to tune the AX1 on 40 meters.
I tried both the phone and CW portions of the 40 meter band, but the mAT-705 Plus simply couldn’t find a match. SWR was north of 7:1 – 9:1.
Instead of grabbing the Chameleon MPAS Lite or 2.0 from the car, I decided instead to see if the Elecraft T1 ATU could tune 40 meters.
In short, I logged my ten contacts to have a valid activation, but it was slow-going. All but two of my contacts were on 40 meters CW. The last two logged were on 20 meters CW.
It was a challenge, but I really enjoyed it! And, frankly, considering the propagation, 5 watts of power only using the IC-705 battery pack, and the inherent inefficiencies using a loaded compact vertical antenna and ATU? I was impressed.
Here’s a QSOmap of my 10 contacts:
I bet my effective radiated power was closer to 2-3 watts.
Typically, the AX1 antenna acts almost like an NVIS antenna on 40 meters, but Saturday it favored Mid-Atlantic and the states of IN, OH, and PA. Normally, I would expect more of a showing from the states surrounding North Carolina.
My last two contacts on 20 meters were with KE5XV in Texas and KB0VXN in Minnesota. Not a bad hop!
It took longer to collect my ten contacts than I had hoped and I ran nearly 25 minutes late to my curbside appointment. I’m a punctual guy, but there was no way I was leaving without my ten! 🙂
Here’s a video of the entire activation. Hint: it’s the perfect remedy for insomnia:
Next time I try to pair the IC-705 with the AX1 antenna, I think I’ll try adding a couple more ground radials and see if the mAT-705 Plus can more easily find a match.
One thing I know for sure: the T1 is a brilliant little ATU. While the mAT-705 Plus was never designed to do this sort of match, it’s comforting to know the T1 can.
I’m very curious if anyone else has paired the Elecraft AX1 with the Icom IC-705 or other QRP transceivers. If so, what was your experience? Please comment!
I’ve received no less than three inquiries this weekend from readers who are seeking advice about purchasing a portable external ATU to pair with their Icom IC-705 transceiver.
Fortunately, there are few options on the market and I believe there is no “right” one because choices are really based on operator preferences.
I’ll do my best to sum up my thoughts below based on the three ATUs I regularly employ and what we know so far about the AH-705 ATU from Icom.
Keep in mind this list will not include some excellent options from LDG, MFJ, and other companies simply because I haven’t used them in the field. Please feel free to add your comments if you have experience with other good options.
Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus
The Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus is the first external ATU on the market that directly pairs with the Icom IC-705 via a control cable.
The latest iteration–the mAT-705 Plus–is the ATU I can recommend.
Be careful if purchasing an mAT-705 used as you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the Plus version. The Plus version has a USB-C charging port on the front panel (seen in the photo above)–the original mAT-705 does not (it uses replaceable 9V cells).
Perfectly pairs with the IC-705 for full CAT control
Wide tuning range
Tuning is fast and relatively quiet
Numerous memories making repeat matching rapid
Internal rechargeable battery
Cannot be paired with other radios without modification (not recommended by the manufacturer)
At $220 US, it’s not the cheapest option
Because the IC-705 relies on CAT control for operation, if you leave the control cable at home or on a park bench, you will not be able to operate the ATU. (Pro)Fortunately, the CAT cable is a simple 3 conductor 1/8″ stereo patch cable.
Summary: If you’re looking for an ATU to take full advantage of IC-705 CAT control, the mAT-705 Plus is a great option. The only significant disadvantage of this ATU is the fact that it only pairs with the IC-705 (or possibly other Icom transceivers with similar CAT control). In other words, you can’t pair it with other QRP transceivers you might own.
The Elecraft T1 has been on the market for at least 16 years and is one of the most popular portable antenna tuners on the market.
Elecraft offers the T1 in kit form ($159.95) and factory assembled/tested ($189.95).
The Elecraft T1 has a CAT control port that has been used with the FT-817 in the past. Elecraft recently announced that they will also produce an IC-705 CAT cable that will allow full pairing with the IC-705 transceiver (much like the mAT-705 Plus above).
To be clear, though, the T1 doesn’t need a control cable to function: simply press the TUNEe button for one second, then key your transceiver.
Very wide tuning range
Soon it will have an IC-705 CAT connection cable option
Uses common 9V battery that is easy to replace in the field. (Con) Not internally-rechargeable like the mAT-705 Plus.
One of the most compact automatic ATUs on the market
Pairs with any 0.5-W to 20-W transceiver covering the 160-6 meter bands
FT-817 Remote-Control Option
Front panel buttons need protection while in your pack to prevent accidental pressing that will deplete the battery. I 3D-printed this simple cover that works brilliantly.
Summary: The Elecraft T1 is my personal favorite. Since the T1 pairs with any QRP transceiver, I love the flexibility. The T1 has also been on the market for ages and is a solid, safe choice–we know longevity is benchmark. I’ve never been in a situation where the T1 couldn’t find a reasonable match.
I will certainly test the new IC-705 control cable option when it is released in the near future–stay tuned.
The AH-705 is Icom’s custom ATU designed to perfectly pair with the Icom IC-705 via control cable. If you want an all-Icom setup, this is it.
Pricing in US dollars is TBD at time of posting, but the announced retail price is $350 .
Perfectly pairs with the IC-705
Wide tuning range
2-way power sources using alkaline batteries (2 x AA cells) or external 13.8 V DC
IP54 dust-protection and water resistance construction
Could (potentially–?) be permanently mounted outdoors at the antenna feed point as a dedicated remote tuner
In terms of overall size, the AH-705 appears to be the largest of the portable ATUs mentioned here
It doesn’t appear AA batteries can be recharged internally
The AH-705 may (we don’t know yet) only work with the IC-705 and possibly similar Icom models
The maximum power handling of the AH-705 is 10 watts–if you use other transceivers (if that is even possible) you would have to be extremely careful with power settings.
The AH-705 is pricey if the actual retail price ends up being near the projected $350 mark. Hopefully, it’ll be much less than this.
Like the mAT-705 Plus, the AH-705 will require a control cable for operation. (Pro) Of course this means it pairs perfectly with the IC-705 and can follow frequency changes without RF sensing.
Summary: Keep in mind, I have not tested the AH-705 yet, so this is only based on announced specifications.
The strongest selling point for the AH-705? Since the AH-705 is designed to be dust and weather resistant, it could be mounted at the antenna feed point. At home, perhaps it could act like an externally-mounted, remotely-controlled antenna tuner. I’m not sure what the maximum length of the control cable could be, but Icom Japan even lists a 16 foot control cable as an accessory. Of course, you would still need to follow Icom’s guidance about protecting the antenna, transmitter and control cable connection points.
The biggest negative to me is the size. Just check out how large it is compared to the IC-705 in this video. It’s still very portable, but the other ATU options above are much smaller.
Still: if the AH-705 is great at matching antennas and the price ends up falling below the $300 point, I’m sure it’ll be a very popular ATU.
Another option often overlooked are portable manual antenna tuners. I’m a big fan of the Emtech ZM-2 which is offered both in kit ($62.50) and factory assembled/tested form ($87.50).
It is a manual tuner, so requires manual input to find a match. While it’s not as easy as push-button tuning, it isn’t complicated either.
Here’s my routine:
I set the top right switch to “GROUND” if using coax feed line and “LINK” if using a balanced line.
Set the added capacitance switch “ADD” to “0”
Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to OPERATE
I set both capacitors to middle positions (6 on the scale)
Tune to AM or SSB and listen to the noise floor as I tune the variable capacitors to maximize the noise level. I typically start with the left capacitor, maximize it, then maximize the right capacitor
If the antenna is particularly challenging, I might add 250 or 500PF via the ADD switch
Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to TUNE
In CW mode, I key down and make fine tuning adjustments with the variable capacitors to make the red tuning LED turn off (high SWR makes the red LED illuminate)
Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to OPERATE and hop on the air! (Often, I’ll double-check the SWR on my transceiver).
This sounds complicated, but once you’ve done it even two or three times, it becomes routine. I’ve yet to find a wire antenna the ZM-2 can’t match–it’s a very capable tuner.
The most affordable option listed here
Very wide matching range
Portable and very lightweight
Requires no batteries for operation
Although not complicated, there is a small learning curve involved
Each time you change bands, you will need to manually re-tune the ZM-2
Not as fast and hassle-free as an automatic ATU
Summary: I carry the ZM-2 with me even if I plan to use an automatic portable antenna tuner. If my auto ATU loses power for some reason, the ZM-2 will always rescue me. Plus, it’s just as capable of making tough matches as the ATUs above.
I also love using the ZM-2 to match antennas for shortwave broadcast listening outside the ham bands.
Even if you buy an automatic ATU, I would still encourage you to buy a ZM-2 as a backup. It’s affordable, reliable, and very handy.
Yesterday, I started the day hoping I might fit in one afternoon activation at a local park. In the morning, however, my schedule opened up and I found I actually had a window of about six hours to play radio!
Instead of hitting a local park, I considered driving to parks I’d been planning to activate for months.
I may have mentioned before that, earlier this year, I created a spreadsheet where I listed of all of the parks I planned to activate in 2020.
Each park entry had the park name, POTA designator, priority (high/medium/low), difficulty level for access, and a link to the geo coordinates of where I could park and possibly hike to the site. I spent hours putting that list together as finding park access–especially for game lands–isn’t always easy.
Yesterday morning, I looked at that sheet and decided to knock two, or possibly three off the list.
I had already plotted the park run, driving to Perkins State Game Land (K-6935) near Mocksville, then to the NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847) in Spencer, and finally Second Creek Game Land (K-6950) in Mt Ulla.
The circuit required about three hours of driving. Here’s the map: When I plan an activation run, I factor in the travel time, add ten minutes extra if it’s my first time at the site (assuming I’ll need to find a spot to operate) and then assume at least one hour to deploy my gear, work at least ten stations, and pack up.
Using this formula, I’d need to allow three hours for driving, plus an additional three hours of operating time, plus a few minutes to sort out an operating spot at Perkins Game Land. That would total six hours and some change.
Knowing things don’t always go to plan, I decided I’d quickly omit the NC Transportation museum if I was running behind after the Perkins activation. In fact, I felt like the NC Transportation Museum might be out of reach, so I didn’t even schedule the activation on the POTA site.
Perkins State Game Land (K-6935)
I arrived at K-6935 a little before noon (EST).
Since this is the week after Christmas, I had a hunch game lands could be quite busy with folks trying out their new hunting gear and I was correct. I passed by the first small parking area and it was packed with vehicles, so I drove on to the second parking area I identified via Google Maps satellite view.
The second parking area was also busy, but was larger. There was just enough room for my car to park between two trucks.
I donned my blaze orange vest–a necessity at any game land–and walked outside to asses the site. In short? It was a tough one. There were no easy trees to use for antenna support and I simply didn’t have the space. I knew folks would walk through the area where I set up my antenna so a wire antenna would have acted a lot like a spider’s web.
I pulled out my trust Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna and deployed it next to the car. I rolled out the counterpoise into the woods paralleling a footpath so no one would trip on it.
Since I had no room to set up outside, I operated from the backseat of my car–it was actually very comfortable.
I pulled out the Elecraft KX3 and hooked it directly to the MPAS Lite–it easily tuned the antenna on both 40 meters, where I started, then later 20 meters.
I very quickly logged 13 stations on 40 and 20 meters.
While on the air, a number of other hunters discovered the parking area was nearly full–some turned around and left. I decided to cut the activation with 13 logged and skipped doing any SSB work. I accomplished what I set out to do here, was short on time, and I wasn’t actually using the game land for its intended purpose. Better to give others the parking space!
I quickly packed up and started the 30 minute drive to my next site.
NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847)
I knew what to expect at the NC Transportation Museum because I’ve visited the museum in the past and, earlier this year, scoped out a spot to activate the park in their overflow parking area.
The museum is closed on Mondays. In general, I avoid activating parks and sites that are closed. I never want to give anyone at the park a bad impression of POTA activators.
In this case, however, the overflow parking area is wide open even when the park is closed and there was no one at the site. I felt very comfortable setting up the CHA MPAS Lite which is a pretty stealthy antenna. Indeed, as I was setting up, I’m guessing it was a museum employee that passed by in their car and waved–no doubt, POTA activators are a familiar site!
I set up my portable table behind the car under the hatchback so I took up the least amount of space.
I used the table primarily so I could shoot one of my real-time, real-life videos of a park activation. Readers have been asking for more of these and I’m happy to make them if they’re helpful to even one new ham.
In the end, I logged 13 stations and didn’t try to work more because I was still on track to activate one more park. I didn’t feel bad about only working 13 stations, because this site has been activated many times in the past–in other words, it wasn’t exactly rare.
Again, since I planned to make a video of the activation, I set up my portable table.
I decided en route to the site, that I’d use the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical at Second Creek. Although I’ve used the more compact Chameleon MPAS Lite at a number of parks–including the two previous parks–I had a great spot to deploy the taller MPAS 2.0.
As with the MPAS Lite, deployment was very quick. the MPAS 2.0 vertical is made up of folding pole sections–much like tent poles. As with all Chameleon gear I’ve ever used, the quality is military grade. Full stop.
I started calling CQ on the 20 meter band in CW this time. Within a minute or so I logged my first contact, followed by five more.
I then moved to the 40 meter band and logged twelve more stations in twelve minutes.
I decided to then give SSB a go as well and logged two more stations for a total of twenty stations logged.
I would like to have stayed longer at Second Creek and even used the MPAS 2.0 on 80 meters, but frankly I was pushing my time limit to the edge.
All in all, it was a brilliant three park run!
These days, it’s difficult to pack more than three parks in my available time–in fact, I think this was the first three park run I’d done in months. During National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) in 2016, I’d been known to pack four or five parks in a day–it was so much fun.
Here’s my QSOmap for the day (click to enlarge):
Getting outside on such a beautiful day, driving through some picturesque rural parts of my home state, and playing radio? Yeah, that’s always going to be a formula for some amazing fun!
Back in the days of the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program in 2016, I made it a habit of doing multiple park activations in a morning, afternoon, or evening. I’ve done less of this in Parks On The Air (POTA) this year only because my time is more limited. Still, I love doing multiples because it gives me an opportunity to set up, play radio, achieve a valid activation, pack up, move on and repeat. Makes me feel like the only member of a pit stop crew. I love it!
Some call this RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio).
Monday (December 21, 2020) I had a block of time in the early afternoon to fit in up to two activations, en route to the QTH if all went well. While it wasn’t three, four, or five activations in an afternoon, I knew it would be a challenge to fit both in my tight schedule. If an activation took much longer than 30-40 minutes, I wouldn’t be able to complete both.
Since my goal was a quick activation, I reached for the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna which is so easy to deploy. I paired it with the Icom IC-705 and new mAT-705Plus ATU.
My first stop was Johns River Game Land. During hunting season, I spend less time in game lands because parking areas are full and even though I wear a blaze orange vest, I’d rather not be shot if I venture into the forest to set up. 🙂
Johns River has a very accessible large parking area off of a highway near Morganton, NC and I’ve never seen more than two vehicles there at a time.
I arrived on site just before noon on Monday and set up at the edge of the parking area. Unfortunately, this parking area is less than bucolic. Those who use this game land access point leave trash everywhere. You can tell groups gather with pickup trucks, make fire pits, drink beer, break bottles and throw their trash in the woods. Being a firm believer in Leave No Trace, this really, really gripes me.
I found a spot with the least amount of trash and set up in the gravel portion of the parking area so I didn’t drive over sharp objects or step on broken glass.
This is where the Chameleon MPAS Lite came in handy: I plunged its spike in the ground, unrolled the counterpoise, extended the antenna, and I was on the air in perhaps three minutes. No need to walk into the weeds and trees to hang an antenna.
I made a real-time, no-edit video of the entire activation with my iPhone. Since the iPhone was in use, I didn’t take a single photo at Johns River. That’s okay, though, because–as I mentioned–there wasn’t a lot there in terms of scenery. 🙂
All in all, I worked 11 stations in short order. The video above approaches 30 minutes, but much of that time is dialog before the activation started. Toward the end, I also have the Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus tune from 160-6 meters with the CHA MPAS Lite. If you’d like to skip directly to that bit, here’s the link.
I quickly packed my gear and set my sites on the next activation.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
I arrived at Lake James State Park around 19:00 UTC and was on the air ten minutes later with the same equipment I used at Johns River.
I love Lake James because there are so many picnic sites and all have tall trees (for wire antennas) and gorgeous views. It doesn’t get any better for a POTA activator. Also, it’s a very short walk to the picnic spots. Since I recently sprained my ankle and can’t hike at present, this is a major plus. Like Johns River, I also have mobile internet access at Lake James which was a huge plus since the POTA spotting page wasn’t pulling spots from the Reverse Beacon Network like it normally does.
The Chameleon MPAS Lite 17′ vertical (above) served me well once again.
I worked 11 stations in short order.
Even though a vertical antenna isn’t optimal in the foothills of western North Carolina (due to poor ground conductivity), it had no problem sending my 10 watts across the US into California and up to Alaska. I still get a major thrill out of MPW (mileage per watt) like this!
I also made a short video at Lake James where I primarily talk about the trade off between convenience and performance with regards to field antennas. I also work a few stations on 30 meters:
Here’s a QSOMap of all of my contact from both Johns River and Lake James on Monday December 21, 2020:
Today is Christmas Eve and I’ve no plans to do an activation (torrential rain, if I’m being honest, is dissuading me).
Instead, I’ll spend quality time with my family here at home. Same for Christmas Day. This evening, we’ll watch some our favorite Christmas shows/episodes: The Good Life (a.k.a. Good Neighbors), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and of course a Charlie Brown Christmas to cap off the evening.
I know 2020 has put a damper on gatherings with family and friends–our family has certainly felt it this year. With that said, I think the amazing thing about ham radio is the community we build over the air–it’s certainly been an important community for me, this year especially.
Thank you, radio family!
Here’s wishing you, your family, and your friends the very best of the season!