Many thanks to Don (W7SSB) who notes that Xiegu has now added a portable power station to their product line:
The new Xiegu BK300 has a form factor much like power stations in the popular Jackery product line.
The BK300 features:
a 296Wh Lithium [I assume Li-Ion] battery
one 12 volt, 10 amp, DC output
a pure sine wave inverter with 110V output rated at 300W continuous and 350W surge/peak
three USB-A and one USB-C charging ports
recharging via USB-C, AC, DC input, and solar panel
a large LED light with diffuser
I’ve never purchased a power station to power my QRP rigs as I’ve always preferred simply using small LiFePo4 battery packs with my own DC accessories. I feel like this is a more cost-effective and simple approach for radio operation (plus, LiFePo4 batteries have insane longevity and shelf-life).
With that said, Li-Ion power stations like the BK300 are absolutely brilliant for camping and for all of those times you might need to power consumer electronics off-grid (including when the grid might be down at the QTH).
In the past, I have tested similar power stations, but their inverters were modified sine wave and injected unacceptable amounts of noise in my radio gear. Hypothetically, a pure sine wave inverter should not generate broadband RFI. Of course, this would need to be tested in real-world conditions.
If you’ve been following QRPer or the SWLing Post for long, you’ve no doubt noticed that I am a certified pack geek.
I tend to buy high-quality packs from companies that both design and manufacture their products in the USA (i.e. Red Oxx, Tom Bihn, Spec Ops Brand, GoRuck, etc.).
In other words? The packs I evaluate are pricey, rugged, and backed by a lifetime warranty. Their quality is uncompromising and at the top of the market.
In addition, I’ve even helped some of these pack manufacturers during product design and development stages, much like I do for radio manufacturers.
Radioddity contacted me a few weeks ago and asked if I’d be interested in testing a backpack they’ve started selling that’s designed with field radio operators in mind. I checked out the info they sent me and the backpack design did, indeed, look bespoke–or custom–for field radio operators. In other words, it wasn’t a laptop bag merely labeled as a radio bag.
But the inner pack geek/snob in me worried that a $45 mass-produced backpack would only lead to disappointment. This is an area where I have tremendously high standards and feel like I get my money’s worth when I happily fork out $200-450 US for a pack.
Still, it’s difficult to find field backpacks that are designed to accommodate radio gear. So I told Radioddity to send me one–which they did for free (meaning, at absolutely no cost to me).
The Raddy backpack arrived in two days (basically, everything from Radioddity seems to arrive within two days with tracking and updates).
My first impression was that the Raddy pack was very lightweight, but then again, I tend to buy backpacks made with Ballistic Nylon or 1000 weight Cordura–i.e. materials that are on the heavier side.
Radioddity mentions that this pack is “dust and rainproof” but then go on to say that it’s ” [m]ade of durable water-resistant polyester fabric with metal zippers[…]. [N]ote it’s not totally waterproof.”
Thus I believe I would classify this pack as water resistant only. I have had the Raddy pack out in light rain and the water seemed to bead up on it. The zipper openings–while covered–have no proper weather seals, but I see where it would be more than adequate for most rains or showers you would encounter on a day hike. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable leaving it out in the rain for an extended period of time, though. Part of its ability to keep rain out relies on wearing the pack in an upright position.
The outer polyester fabric feels durable and is pleasant to the touch–it’s not abrasive like some heavier grade materials.
First thing I wanted to do was open the main compartment to look inside. But first, I had to find the main zippered compartment.
Seriously! Turns out, unlike most backpacks, the main compartment opens from the back or shoulder harness side of the pack rather than the front. They obviously used this design to give the Raddy backpack a better operating surface for the rig inside.
Unzipping the main panel is a little awkward when compared with other packs mainly because the shoulder straps feel like they’re a bit in the way. Still, once I got used to this unconventional design, it became second nature to open.
The zippers are metal, but not YYK–zipper pulls are included.
The main compartment opens to 180 degrees if you wish, but sits comfortably at a right angle so that your radio (which will likely live in the pocket mounted on the interior side of the shoulder harness panel) will rest on a padded surface.
There are Velcro flaps on the hinge points of the interior of the pack that you can detach to have the pack open fully.
There is one large padded interior pocket that is the obvious choice for most portable transceivers–especially those with a front faceplate like the IC-703 Plus, Yaesu FT-891, Xiegu G90, etc.
This main pocket has openings at the back corners so that the rig’s power cord, coax line, and accessory cords can all be managed within the pack if you’d actually like to operate from the pack. Admittedly, I’m not certain I’d leave cables and cords attached to the back of my transceiver during transport, though, as it could cause some stress at the connection points on the back of the radio; stand-offs and/or right angle connectors might help with this, however. The back of the pocket is padded and so is he floor of the backpack, so your rig should be otherwise very protected when the backpack is placed on the ground.
The main internal pocket also has two elastic straps designed to hold the radio in the pocket during transport. I think this is a great idea, however, I’ve found in practice they quite easily slip off all but the largest field radios. Speaking of which, the largest field radio I own is the Mission RGO One which is ever-so-slightly too large for this pocket. I assume similarily-sized radios like the Ten-Tec Eagle and Elecraft K2 would not fit.
I wish the pack had a frame sheet and the main pocket had at least one compression strap attached to it to hold a radio in more firmly. The pocket is large enough that even my IC-703 Plus slides around inside.
Of course, this main pocket could also hold a laptop or tablet.
The main interior pocket is not well suited for “blocky” transceivers like the Elecraft KX3, Icom IC-705, or Xeigu X5105 for example. Although the pocket can hold most of these, they would simply fall to the bottom and could not benefit from the full dimension.
The second large padded pocket inside the Raddy backpack is ideal for holding a battery, ATU, or even the “blocky” transceivers mentioned above. I’m calling it a “battery pocket” but in truth it’s obviously designed to also hold transceivers.
This pocket is shorter and has one elastic strap (I’d prefer a compression strap) with a Velcro attachment to hold the contents inside. It’s attached to the front panel of the backpack and when the backpack is zipped closed, this pocket and the rig pocket fit side-by-side.
When I’m carrying the Icom IC-703 Plus in the Rig compartment, I place my 15 Ah LiFePo4 battery in this compartment.
If I’m carrying the Elecraft KX3, I place it in this battery compartment and my tablet and clipboard in the main pocket.
Like the main rig compartment, there are openings at the bottom corners to allow cable management and routing. I’m not so sure how convenient or practical it would be, however, to operate a radio from this particular internal pocket.
There are also two internal mesh pockets: one attached to the front panel and the other attached to the large rig compartment pocket.
There pockets would be ideally-suited to hold small cords, a key/paddle, and possibly a small hand mike.
While the top of each pocket has an elastic band, I would not trust these open pockets to hold small items like adapters. They could easily fall out if the backpack were turned upside down.
In addition, if you have heavier items inside, the pocket may sag a bit and look more like an accessories “hammock.”
Exterior front pocket
There’s also one large, flat exterior pocket on the front panel of the Raddy backpack. This pocket might be easy to overlook if the zipper is tucked inside.
The zipper is centered and oriented vertically. When opened, there’s a surprising amount of room inside, and all sides of the pocket are padded.
The opening isn’t large enough to fit my main clipboard (which is fine, because I would store it inside the main compartment), but it is large enough to allow one to store a tablet, notepads, pens, cables, etc. inside.
While the zipper opening has nearly overlapping seams which should help shed water, the vertical orientation of the zipper would potentially allow for heavy rains to penetrate the zipper opening, especially if that front pocket was bulging with gear. This is why conventional packs tend to have a horizontally-oriented front pocket zipper and rain flap over the zipper.
There’s also an USB access port on the pack that allows for a USB device to be plugged in on the outside and tethered to a device or battery on the inside. I assume this would mainly be used as a battery pack connection.
This would be handy during travels, but I doubt I would ever use it in the field.
I’ve used the Raddy backpack on two short hikes and find it, overall, a very comfortable backpack. I do find the harness a little on the small side, but I have broad shoulders. For those with slightly smaller frames, I think this would work well.
The carry handle is attached across the top of the backpack/shoulder straps.
I also find this a bit odd, because if the pack is fully-loaded and heavy, it puts a lot of strain on the attachment points of the handles and at an angle–meaning, the double stitching isn’t providing the strength it otherwise could if the pack weight was distributed evenly on the top of the backpack body instead of the shoulder harness.
The back of the pack is padded with a mesh that allows for your back to relatively cool as you hike.
Overall, it’s a very comfortable pack, although I wish the shoulder straps felt more robust and I wish the main handle wasn’t attached to the shoulder straps.
One real bonus with the Raddy pack is that it’s low profile, has an “urban” look–in other words, fairly nondescript. This pack does not look like a radio manpack, nor is it tactical in design. If I were to take this through a large city, no one would assume this pack was full of radio gear. It looks like a normal, modern backpack.
There’s real security in a low profile, stealthy design.
In addition, other than the front vertical pocket, this would be an incredibly difficult pack for a pickpocket to steal from..
The Raddy backpack is designed to hold up to 44lb/20kg of weight. I’m not sure I’d ever need or want exceed 20-30 lbs with it myself.
Radioddity also backs this pack with an 18 month warranty. Exceptional. Radioddity told me they would offer a replacement if any stress points on the pack fail during that warranty period. They also told me they’d handle any warranty replacements within 1 business day. Having worked with Radioddity now for a year, I do believe they’ll stick by this quick response/handling time.
Is the Raddy Multi-function Backpack for you?
Keeping in mind (again) that I normally review packs at the high end of the market, I’m not familiar with with what would be expected at this $45 price point.
What I can say is that if you’re looking for a compact pack that’s designed to hold and protect radio gear, this is a good option and certainly one of the most affordable I’ve seen on the market.
This pack would best suit the casual park activator that doesn’t need to pack in a lot of extra supplies like field safety gear. It’s designed to only hold a radio, battery, ATU, cables, and a few other accessories–I’ve configured it with a number of radios and found that I can easily pack an entire QRP station inside.
I would use this pack for drive-up parks and summits, and especially for urban outings-. This would be a great pack to wear into a park in or near a city where I wouldn’t want to appear as if I’m a radio operator preparing for field combat scenarios. You could wear this pack into a historic POTA site and politely ask staff if you could activate the park with the low-profile gear you have inside. It would be much less intimidating and conspicuous than a tactical or large hiking pack.
This would also be a great pack if you plan to fly and wish to keep all of your radio gear in a carry-on. Being a compact backpack, the size should easily fit the description of a “personal” carry-on for most airlines (always check before departing, though, as these dimensions will vary by airline). With your gear loaded, it’ll might appear “intentional” and more normal as you go through Airport security as opposed to your gear being simply tossed in a suitcase.
The Raddy pack is not perfect: I would like something more rugged, with a better suspension system and even better weather-proofing around the zippers. I’d also like more rigid padded pockets inside with adjustable straps. I assume all of these things, though, would substantially add to the cost of the pack and might be overkill for most casual operators. While I wouldn’t choose this pack for a 10 mile round-trip hike to a SOTA summit, I would choose it for some casual picnic table operations and, again, for travel.
I love the fact it can be configured so that you can operate directly from the backpack. You could simply open up your pack in the field, connect the antenna, and operate from the open backpack.
I do like Radioddity and find that they stand behind their products. I’m happy to see that they’re offering a competitively-priced radio pack to supplement their product line. I hope other retailers and manufacturers will do the same.
PS: It’s my policy that if I receive a free review product from a retailer or manufacture–and they don’t want it returned–I either use it or give it away. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of giving away review gear to readers and subscribers who I knew would appreciate it. In this case, I know exactly who I’ll be giving this pack to because she’ll give it a thorough workout and is need of a compact radio pack! Maybe I can even convince her to write her own review in a year or so–? We’ll see!
This weekend, I used the X5105 in the shack for perhaps 30-40 minutes chasing a few parks and summits on that same charge. During that weekend time it was mostly in receive mode, unlike when I’m activating (and working stations or constantly calling CW).
I decided to see how long it would continue to play off of the internal battery, so I didn’t re-charge it. Instead, today (June 7), I took it to Lake Norman State Park and had an external battery at the ready if it failed mid-activation.
It didn’t fail, though, even after 1.5 hours on the air. The voltage, when I finally gave up, was about 10.2 volts. I ran out of time, not the battery.
Once I’ve uploaded the video and written the field report (in a week or two), you’ll see that at one point today, I switched to SSB operation. Thing is: I didn’t bring the X5105 hand mic with me–it was 2 hours away at the QTH!
I remembered that the X5105 has a built-in mic–meaning, built into the body–so I decided to give it a go. I mean why not–?
Turns out, it was very easy to operate: simply press the PTT button as you would a mic button and speak. I worked a few SSB contacts this way.
The only other radio I own with an internal mic is the Elecraft KX2.
This X5105 might become permanent
Herein lies the trouble with doing radio reviews: sometimes you get attached. I need to talk with Radioddity.
I’ve been hesitant to take this unit on a SOTA activation because the chances of it getting scratched, etc. increases.
I believe I’m going to add the X5105 to my HF radio arsenal. It’s a fun little radio and it would make the short list for SOTA runs along with the Elecraft KX2 and Discovery TX-500.
I learn a lot about a radio the first time I take it to the field. I’m not sure if it’s because being out of the shack helps me give it my full attention, or if it’s because field conditions vary and this allows me to see how flexible and adaptable the radio is.
On Monday (May 17, 2021), I was eager to hit the field with a new-to-me radio.
The previous week I didn’t log even one park or summit activation. Typically I’d hit at least two. There were a couple of reasons for this…
First, we had a fuel shortage in western NC and I didn’t want to burn any extra fuel for activations knowing we had some important family errands that week.
Secondly, I needed to hunker down and finish a number of projects I’d been working on including a lengthy two-part field radio kit feature for The Spectrum Monitor magazine, and a new in-depth TX-500 review for RadCom. FYI: Part one of my feature for TSM will appear as the cover article in the June 2021 issue.
We also had a number of family projects to sort out. So a week at home perfectly timed with the fuel shortage.
The new radio
I collect reader and viewer suggestions and when I see that there’s a radio or product, in particular, folks would like to see tested, I try to obtain one.
One of the most requested radios lately has been the Xiegu X5105.
A number of readers have asked me to obtain an X5105 and take it to the field. Many are considering purchasing this (incredibly) affordable full-featured QRP transceiver, others own it, love it, and want to see how I like it compared with my other radios.
Even though the X5105 is only $550 US, I really didn’t want to make a purchase at this point because I’m budgeting for a new MacBook, new video camera, and I just purchased the TX-500.
So I reached out to Radioddity who is a sponsor over at the SWLing Post. I’d been in touch with Radioddity a lot as of late because I’ve been evaluating and testing the Xiegu GSOC for the past few months. They lent me the GSOC (and a G90 because I sold after my review) and I was in the process of packing up both units to send back to them.
I asked if they could lend me an X5105 for a few weeks. They were quite happy to do so and dispatched one in short order.
A clear relationship
Back when I decided to place ads on the SWLing Post and QRPer.com, I worried about any inherent conflicts of interest. I read magazines that review products and can tell that they’re being gentle in their criticism because there’s a two page ad of the product immediately following the review. I don’t like that.
This conflict is something that’s almost inevitable with any radio publication that grows to the point of needing monetization to support it.
I made a few Golden Rules up front:
1.) I would only place radio-relevant ads on my sites. Period.
2.) My ads and sponsorships would be hand-picked and by invite only. I choose who can be a sponsor.
3.) I’m up-front with sponsors that my reviews call it like it is. If they send me product to review, I will give it an honest evaluation based on real-life use. If I don’t like it or can’t recommend one of their products, I’ll let my community know.
I’ve lost a couple of sponsors over Golden Rule #3 over the years. I’m okay with that because I’d rather not allow an advertiser on my site that can’t take customer criticism.
I invited Radioddity to be a sponsor of the SWLing Post last year after I had some positive interactions with them.
Radioddity sent me the new GSOC to review in November 2020. I discovered in short order that the GSOC had some major issues and, frankly, I didn’t like it and certainly couldn’t recommend it. I communicated my concerns about this product with detailed notes and suggestions for improvement. I was open and honest about the GSOC on the SWLing Post (read the thread here).
Radioddity not only embraced my criticisms but sent them to the manufacturer and thanked me.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
But back to the activation!
So on Monday, May 17, I had an errand in town that took me right past the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Arts Center. The detour to do an activation was maybe two minutes, so there was no “fuel-shortage” guilt! 🙂
Also, I had a good hour to burn before I needed to go home and pack for a quick trip to visit my folks.
I deployed the PackTenna 9:1 random wire antenna specifically because I wanted to see how easily the X5105’s internal ATU could match it.
I hopped on 40 meters first, hit the ATU button and it quickly found a 1:1 match–good sign!
This turned out to be a pretty easy and simple activation.
I started calling CQ and within 12 minutes I logged 11 stations.
I moved up to 20 meters knowing it would be a tougher band, but worked one more station–KG5OWB at K-0756–pretty quickly.
I was quite happy with logging 12 stations in short order. A nice contrast to recent activations where conditions were so poor it’s been a struggle to get even 10 contacts within an hour.
I would have stayed on the air longer but (as I mention in the video) I wasted a good 20-25 minutes waiting on the landscape crew to finish mowing on/around the site before I set up my station. I didn’t want to be in their way.
Here’s my log sheet from the POTA website:
Of course, I made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation. I’ve quite a long preamble in this one, so if you’re interested in skipping straight to the on-the-air time, go to 16:24.
X5105 initial thoughts?
So far, I like the X5105. It certainly accomplishes its goal of being an all-in-one “shack in a box.”
I performed this activation only using the X5105 internal battery. In addition, the ATU worked perfectly with the random wire antenna.
I like the size–it’s much smaller than I imagined. It’s also fairly lightweight.
It feels rugged, too–I wouldn’t be concerned about it getting easily damaged in the field.
The speaker works pretty well, but if the volume level is pushed too hard, it starts to splatter. I wish it could handle a little more volume before the splattering kicks in.
The ergonomics are pretty good. It didn’t take long to sort out how to use most of the functions.
One area for improvement? The owner’s manual. It’s poorly written and (frankly) reads as if it was rushed to print.
For example, I wanted to set up CW memory keying prior to hitting the field. Unfortunately, the owner’s manual was no help.
There’s actually a dedicated page regarding CW memory keying, but the first thing it does is reference a different section of the manual (without giving a page number). I followed the procedure, but it didn’t work. In fact, it didn’t make sense as it seemed lead me down the path of digital mode macros. I think the manual may be referencing a procedure before the last firmware update (which, it appears, changed the menu structure significantly).
If you can help guide me through setting up CW memory keying, please comment! I’m sure it’s a simple process, but I haven’t sorted it out yet.
Overall, though? I see why the X5105 is so popular. It appears to compete with a loaded Elecraft KX2. It’s a bit larger, heavier, and less “refined” but it’s also half the price of a loaded KX2.
I also think it’s a great radio for CW operators. The keying feels natural and responsive. It uses relays instead of pin diode switching, so QSK includes a little relay clicking. I don’t find it to be too loud, though.
I’ll be taking the X5105 out again very soon. I’ve got it for 6 weeks, so it will get plenty of park and summit time. If you own the X5105, I’d love to hear your comments on this portable rig.