On September 20, 2021, I had a full day planned in town. It was one of those days where my few errands and appointments were spread out across the day in such a way that driving back home between appointments made no sense. I knew I might have a bit of time to kill.
The big appointment holding me in town was recall service work on my Subaru that would take most of the day. The dealership reserved a loaner car for me.
That morning, I cleaned out my car (removing a couple of radios and antennas) and I packed a backpack with the supplies I’d need for the day; water, sandwich, laptop, and (fortunately) my Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna.
I would take this pack with me in the loaner car as I ran my other errands. I remember thinking that there was likely no possibility of doing an activation–it was rainy and I knew even getting set up at the service center might take an hour. I packed the Elecraft gear nonetheless. (Never leave home without a radio, I say!)
Shortly after acquiring a lab599 Discovery TX-500 earlier this year, I did what I always do: invest an insane amount of time in researching and configuring a dedicated field radio kit.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’m a serious pack geek, so this is incredibly fun for me even though the choice is often difficult.
I like to buy packs and cases from manufacturers in the US and Canada when possible, so started searching through all of the options.
I wanted a pack that was compact, versatile, and offered proper padding (even knowing the TX-500 is a rugged little transceiver). I don’t handle my packs with kid gloves, so I expect them to cope with sometimes rough field conditions and still protect the gear inside. I also like a certain level of organization inside the pack.
I wanted the kit to be relatively compact, but large enough to hold the transceiver, all accessories and connections, logging pad and pencil, paddles, a proper arborist throw line, portable ATU, and a 3Ah LiFePo4 battery. A the end of the day, I wanted this TX-500 field kit to be fully self-contained.
In the end, I adopted a pack with which I’m already very familiar…
The Red Oxx Micro Manager
Red Oxx is my favorite pack company and if you’ve been a reader for any length of time, you’ve obviously seen a number of their bags and packs in my field reports.
Back in 2016, when they introduced the first iteration of the Micro Manager EDC bag, they actually reached out to me–as an existing customer–knowing that I had been looking for a good radio pack with proper padding (many packs don’t require side padding and internal padding). They sent me a prototype of the Micro Manager for my feedback and then incorporated some of my suggestions.
I also purchased a Micro Manager for my wife who quickly turned hers into a mobile art studio!
Much like my buddy Steve (AC5F)–whose XYL creates some amazing water color art in the field–my wife (K4MOI) is also an artist and loves to paint/draw during park and summit activations. Her art kit is always at the ready and she’s traveled with it extensively over the past five years.
The Micro Manager is a pack carried over the shoulder, much like a messenger or laptop bag. Those times when my field activations require a lengthy hike, I’ve simply pulled all of the items out of the Micro Manager (since I do modular packing, this is super easy), else I’ve even been known to stick the entire Micro Manager pack into a backpack!
Over the years, Red Oxx has made iterative upgrades to the Micro Manager including a pleated front pocket, slip-in external pocket, and they started lining the internal pocket with a more flexible and thinner dense foam padding. The new padding not only fits the TX-500 better than the first Micro Manager version did, but I believe it will have enough dimension to accommodate the TX-500 battery pack when that’s available next year.
Inside the Micro Manager I also use a Tom Bihn Large Travel Tray to hold all of the TX-500 accessories: key, microphone, ATU, battery, and cables.
I own a number of these large travel trays and highly recommend them. I especially like the ballistic nylon versions for radio kits as they open and close so smoothly.
I made a short video tour of the TX-500 Micro Manager kit before a recent activation at Table Rock:
I’ve used this pack for a number of field activations and couldn’t be more pleased. Looking back at the contents, it’s funny: the pack and almost every single item inside (save the notepad and pencil) are made in the USA while the radio is made in Russia! A bit of international harmony going on here!
If you have a field pack for the TX-500 (or any radio), I’d love to know more about it. Please consider commenting with details or even submitting a guest post with photos!
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, licensed amateur radio operators are invited to take their two-way portable radios to the trail on Saturday, October 2, 2021, for an on-the-air get-together. The goal is to contact other amateur (“ham”) radio operators either along the Trail or elsewhere in North America (or beyond) and to showcase our amateur radio hobby.
This is an impromptu activity and is not sanctioned or endorsed by any national or regional organization. It is not a contest, it is a get-together. Participants should read the Guidelines page for more details. We welcome participants from SOTA, POTA and WWFF. No awards will be issued, although a Summary Report will be published on this website afterwards to gauge participation levels and acknowledge the participants. This is intended to be a fun event !
BREAKING NEWS: In accordance with an opinion by AT Conservancy, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail consists of “the A.T. footpath and designated viewpoints, shelters, campsites, water sources, and spur trails linking these features” — in other words, part of the white blazed main Trail, or the blue blazed side trails to shelters, campsites, summits, etc. This is especially helpful to POTA activators who need to be within 100′ of the Trail. POTA also accepts activations from trailheads along the national trail.
Sometimes when I’m activating a park or summit and work someone who, like me, is activating a park or summit for a Park To Park (P2P) or Summit To Summit (S2S) contact, in my head I wonder what their station and operating situation looks like on the other end.
At least one instance was uncovered recently when Dan (WB8JAY) reached out and shared a video he took while working me in a P2P contact. It’s awfully fun to hear what my signal sounded like on his end.
This video reminds me how CW distills the communications down to only those dits and dahs; unlike SSB, for example, where you might hear background noises and extra chatting during an exchange, in CW it’s just pure code.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the easiest POTA sites for me to activate when I’m at the QTH.
Pretty much anytime I head into Asheville from home, I’m going to cross the parkway. The BRP is such a refuge, I often take it to avoid hitting the Interstate or a busy highways. It takes longer, but it’s orders of magnitude more peaceful and pleasant than, say, Interstate 40.
On Monday, September 13, 2021, I had a small opening in my schedule in the afternoon and decided to pop by the Folk Art Center for a quick picnic table activation since I was passing by.
The Folk Art Center is a site where I typically deploy smaller, lower-profile antennas to keep from interfering with others who are enjoying the park. I try to keep my antennas very close to my operating spot and my counterpoises on the ground in a space where others aren’t likely to tread.
In the past, I’ve used the Wolf River Coils TIA, the Elecraft AX1, Chameleon MPAS Lite & MPAS 2.0, and once, a Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire. I avoid anything that slopes so that I don’t inadvertently “clothesline” unsuspecting vacationers!
One of the closest parks to my parents’ home in Hickory, North Carolina (where I travel most weeks) is South Mountains State Park.
Despite its convenient location, I haven’t activated South Mountains many times and, in fact, the times I have activated it, I’ve always found it a struggle to log the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation. I suspect it’s had less to do with the physical location of my operating spot (which has admittedly been in a bit of a “bowl” surrounded by hills) and much more to do with the fact that propagation has been crappy on the days I tried to activate.
Ironically, I’ve activated the adjoining South Mountains Game Land numerous times with wonderful success. It’s funny how that works.
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
I had a good reason to hit South Mountains on September 9, 2021. My buddy Max (WG4Z) had just purchased an Elecraft KX3 at the Shelby Hamfest (at an incredible deal, I might add). He plans to pair it with a Chameleon CHA TDL (Tactical Delta Loop) he has on order.
Sometimes we do things that take us outside of our comfort zone.
That’s exactly what I did on September 8, 2021 at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).
My friend, Jérôme, asked I would consider doing a POTA activation video in French!
Jérôme lives in France and wants to do a POTA activation there eventually, but had a number of questions about what to do in the field (spotting, logging, etc.). He’s been watching my videos for a while but admits that while he can understand written English (with the aid of Google Translate), he doesn’t understand spoken English.
Although I regularly listen to news and YouTube videos in French, it’s been ages since I’ve spoken French for any extended period of time.
Jérôme has been bugging me about the French video for some time, actually, but I’d put it off because there were a number of radio terms I simply never learned when I lived in France (well before I was a ham radio operator).
When he very diplomatically asked me again via email on the morning of September 8, I thought, “Why keep waiting? Just do it!”
After completing a successful activation at Fort Dobbs State Historic Site on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I decided to fit in one more activation that day. I thought about heading out to one of the game lands I hadn’t hit in a while, but frankly, I needed a park a little closer to home due to my time constraints that day, so Lake Norman State Park it was!
Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)
Lake Norman is such an effortless park to activate. Their main picnic area has numerous tables (including two large covered areas), and tall trees providing support for antennas and much needed shade from the NC summer sun!
One thing I had not decided upon was what antenna I’d use at Lake Norman. Earlier, I used my trusty speaker wire antenna at Fort Dobbs, but I like to shake things up. I checked the trunk of my car and found the Chameleon MPAS Lite. Seeing how propagation plummeted after my previous activation, I decided that I wanted a large wire antenna deployed rather than a vertical.
The MPAS Lite can be configured as a wire antenna, of course: instead of attaching the 17′ whip to the “Hybrid Micro” transformer, you attach the 60′ wire that might normally be used as a counterpoise.
Setting it up was quite easy, in fact. I used my arborist throw line to snag a tree branch about 45′ high, then attached the throw line to the floating dielectric ring on the Chameleon wire spool. I stretched the entire length of wire out, attached the end to a tree, then hoisted up the center, forming an inverted vee shape.
Even thought the 50′ coax shield would act as a counterpoise, I really wanted another ground wire attached, so I pulled one of the wires off of my speaker wire antenna and attached it to the grounding post of the MPAS Lite’s stainless spike. I figured a little extra counterpoise wouldn’t hurt.
Although I’d never used the CHA MPAS Lite quite like this, I was pretty confident my Elecraft T1 would find a match. The Chameleon transformer (the Hybrid Micro) brings most any (but not all) lengths of wire within reasonable matching range of an ATU.
I started on 40 meters and found that, without employing the ATU, I had a match that was slightly below 2:1. Not terribly surprising since I had a good 60′ of wire in the tree. Still, I hit the tune button on the T1 and easily achieved a 1:1 match.
I will add here, though, that perfect 1:1 matches are not that important–especially at QRP levels. I’m certain the TX-500 would plug along with a match of 2.5:1 or higher and still radiate perfectly fine. I’ve known hams that truly equate that 1:1 match with an antenna that’s performing efficiently, but that’s not always the case. Keep in mind a dummy load will give you a 1:1 match but is hardly efficient. The ATU’s job isn’t to make the antenna radiate better–it’s to match impedance.
The CHA MPAS Lite will get you within matching range across the HF bands and, many times, it’s close enough that an ATU isn’t really needed.
I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters and within 28 minutes had logged the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation–all with 5 watts, of course. I was very pleased with these results because, as I had suspected, the bands were still pretty darn rough.
I then moved up to the 30 meter band where I worked a couple of stations and then, for fun, found a match on 80 meters and worked one NC station (possibly on ground wave!).
Here’s a screenshot of my logs from the POTA website:
I must say that I do love using the Discovery TX-500. It’s such a brilliant little field radio. I’m just itching to take it on another SOTA activation soon!
I’m also loving the TX-500 field kit that I built around a Red Oxx Micro Manager pack.
I used the same bag (different color) for my KX2 NPOTA field kit in 2016. It’s such a great size and can even easily hold my arborist throw line along with all of the station accessories and rig, of course. I’ve made a short video showing how I pack it and will upload that video when I have a little bandwidth!
I did make a real-time, no-edit video of my entire Lake Norman activation. Feel free to check it out below or via this YouTube link. No need to worry about ads popping up–my videos have no YouTube ads!
A Brief Public Service Announcement…
If I have a little advice for you this week, it’s this: don’t wait to play radio because someone says you don’t have the right gear for the job.
I received an email this morning from a ham that’s new to field operation and just received an antenna he had ordered. He was upset because a YouTuber claimed his antenna was basically a dummy load. To add insult to injury, he also found a blogger or YouTuber was also highly critical of his recently-acquired Yaesu FT-818. [Note that the FT-817ND–the 818’s predecessor–is one of my favorite field rigs.]
Keep in mind that many of these YouTubers are trying to produce “click bait” videos that will stir up a reaction and, thus, increase their readership numbers which will have a direct and positive impact on their ad revenue. It’s a red flag when someone doesn’t have real-world examples and comparisons proving their points and typically a sign that they’ve never even used the products in question.
I’ve been told antennas I use don’t work, yet I’ve snagged some incredible QRP DX with them. I’ve been told that some radios I use are junk, yet I’ve hundreds of successful field activations with them. And funniest of all are those who tell me that QRP is ineffective and–quoting from an actual message recently–“a complete waste of time.”
My advice is to simply ignore these folks. The proof is in the pudding! Get out there and play radio! In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” 🙂
As always, 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.
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!