I took the family on a multi-day camping trip at New River State Park in April 2022. During that trip, I made an activation of New River each day and also fit in a quick SOTA activation (click here to read an overview). I didn’t film all of my on-the-air because some of that radio time was spent sitting around chatting with my family and even some neighbors at the campground.
I’m often asked if I ever charge my LiFePo4 batteries in the field via solar energy.
Truth is, I’m a big fan of solar, but I’m rarely in the field long enough to need to recharge my batteries via solar when performing SOTA and POTA field activations. It’s easier to charge them at home in advance (often via the solar system at our QTH).
In fact, one of my 3 Ah LiFePo4 Bioenno batteries can easily take me though 3-5 activations or possibly more, depending on the length of the activation and the rig I’m using.
For longer forays into the field, however, I love going solar.
Indeed, every few years, my family will stay in an off-grid cabin on Prince Edward Island (Canada) for up to 6 weeks at a time. Solar is the only practical way to stay on the air that length of time.
Of course, I also like having a solar option, when doing proper primitive/off-grid tent camping.
In the past, I’ve used a very simple portable solar charging system based on a variety of rigid and folding panels, a Micro M+ charge controller, and sealed lead acid batteries. The batteries are of course heavy, but they work brilliantly for fixed operations.
These days, I’m fully invested in LiFePo4 batteries and my Micro M+ charge controller is not really designed to pair with the BMS (battery management system) in my Bioenno packs.
If you were hunting POTA contacts last week, you might have seen my callsign pop up in the spots quite a few times at New River State Park (K-2748).
Our family decided to take a little break from everything–including the internet–and simply enjoy the great outdoors and a little camping in our small travel trailer (caravan).
It was amazing fun.
In terms of radios, I limited myself to two. While we had room for more, I decided in advance I wanted to spend some proper bonding time with my Yaesu FT-817ND.
I’m so glad I did.
I also brought the Elecraft KX2 but primarily planned to use it when operating off-site. This way, I could keep the FT-817ND system hooked up and ready for action at our camp site.
In fact, the KX2 remained in my SOTA pack for the duration of the trip as a grab-and-go. I had an absolute blast with it activating the summit of Mount Jefferson.
This camping trip gave me an excuse to use a station accessory I purchased last year: my Buddipole Powermini 2.
The Powermini 2 is a very compact and capable charge controller with an input for solar panels, a battery, two DC outputs, and even a USB power output. A genius little device.
I’ve been asked a number of times why I don’t do solar charging in the field during my activations. There are a few reasons, actually:
First of all, my activations tend to be short in duration–perhaps 45 to 75 minutes. I could easily operate for a few hours on one battery charge with most of my QRP radios. In other words, I rarely need to recharge in the field.
Often, my field activation sites are shaded by choice. Since I like to hang wires in trees, those same trees would block sunlight from ever hitting my panels.
Finally, unless I’m testing a new radio, I tend to take the least amount of accessories necessary to complete the activation. This is especially the case with SOTA activations. Since I’m unlikely to use solar panels, I leave them in the car or at the QTH. I do, however, keep them packed and at-the-ready should the need arise.
I paired the Powermini 2 with PowerFilm Solar folding panels I purchased many moons ago at Hamvention (I’m guessing in 2012 or so–?). These were blemished units and I snagged them for a brilliant price. Looking back, I wish I would have purchased a few more.
They’re only 5 watts each, but I run them in parallel to feed the charge controller with the equivalent of 10 watts.
QRP gear is so efficient, these modest panels actually do a respectable job keeping the battery topped off. At New River State Park it helped that our picnic table was in full sunlight most of the day.
Sure, we had shore power at the site, but where’s the fun in that?
During the week, the site had low levels of RFI/QRM. That all changed during the weekend when new campers moved in along with their leaky switching power supplies and noisy inverters.
On Saturday, I found it too frustrating to try making contacts from the campsite–the noise floor was a steady S7 with peaks around S9 simply washing over all but the strongest signals. I regretted not packing my Chameleon loop antenna.
Instead of fighting the QRM, I abandoned it. I drove to a large isolated picnic shelter at New River and set up the KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite antenna.
The site was noise-free and I had amazing fun.
I made quite a few activation videos, so I’ll eventually post them with abbreviated field reports.
Frankly, I am still catching up from having been offline so long.
Massive thanks to my good friend Eric (WD8RIF) who took care of QRPer.com while I was gone. He’s been moderating comments and making sure scheduled posts published properly. In fact, my friend Robert Gulley (K4PKM) was holding down the fort over on the SWLing Post too. I’m so thankful to both of them.
Also, many thanks to all of the hunters who worked me on multiple bands and in multiple modes. A special shot out to NE4TN who was a life saver and spotted me on several occasions when the connection between the POTA site and Reverse Beacon Network were down. Many thanks, OM!
Of course, 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. Your support actually helps to make radio fun like this possible.
Of course, the benefit of camping at a state park is being able to play radio pretty much anytime while on the park grounds. For a few days, it’s like you’re living in a park activation and can actually set up an antenna and use it over the course of multiple days.
It’s such a big departure from my typically short (45-90 minute) park activations.
When we first arrived at the New River State Park campground, I deployed my PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna.
I brought two transceivers with me: the Xeigu X5105 and the Discovery TX-500–I pretty much split my operating the time equally between the two radios.
New River State Park (K-2748)
Although I spent much more time on the air than I normally do, I didn’t make videos of each session. One reason is I wanted to operate with earphones–especially since some of my sessions were later in the evening or early in the morning. I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors at the campground.
That and, especially with the X5105, I wanted to see what it would be like to operate with earphones for extended sessions. Prior to making videos of my activations, I almost exclusively used earphones in the field. I appreciate the sound isolation earphones offer–I also find they help tremendously with weak signal work. When I make videos, however, I don’t want to go through the hassle of recording the line-out audio separately in order to use headphones, so I use an external speaker.
I decided to record my Wednesday, June 23, 2021 evening session with the Discovery TX-500.
This session started only a few minutes prior to the end of the UTC day which meant I had to watch the clock very carefully and clear my logs at the beginning of the UTC day (20:00 EDT).
In POTA and other field activities, if your activation straddles the UTC day change, you must keep in mind that any contacts made after 0:00 UTC can only be counted on the next day’s logs. This was not a problem for me because I had logged dozens of stations earlier in the day, but if you ever start an activation close to the UTC day change, you need to make sure you log your 10 contacts for a valid activation prior to 0:00 UTC.
Another thing complicating my sessions at New River State Park was that I chose not to schedule my activation via the POTA website prior to our trip.
If you schedule your activation via the POTA website, anytime the Reverse Beacon Network picks up your CQ calls (in CW), the POTA spots website will scrape that information and auto-spot you. It’s an amazing convenience for those of us who operate CW.
I chose not to schedule my activation days at New River because I had also planned to operate at another nearby park during my stay and I didn’t want the system to spot me incorrectly. That, and I thought I would have mobile phone coverage to self-spot.
It turned out that–contrary to my mobile phone company’s coverage maps–I had no internet service at the park. None.
In order to get spotted, I relied on my Garmin InReach GPS/satellite device to send short text messages to my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF). My pre-formatted message would prompt them to check the RBN for my frequency, then spot me to the POTA site manually.
I’m incredibly grateful to have had them helping me in the background. Everyone should have a Mike and Eric as friends!
I made a real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation. Note that it took a while to get spotted, so the first ten minutes are simply me talking (it’s alright to skip that bit…it won’t hurt my feelings!).
Also, here’s a QSO map of that day’s contacts. Note that this includes stations I logged later in the UTC day (i.e. the following morning/day.
Due to some unexpected conflicts, our camping trip was shorter than we would have liked. We plan to visit New River later this year and spend much more time there. It’s a beautiful park!
Thanks for reading this short field report and here’s hoping you get a chance to play radio in the field soon!
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.