As I noted last week, I participated in the W4G SOTA campout at Lake Winfield-Scott Campground in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in north Georgia.
In short? It was amazing!
I thought I’d share a few photos and memories…
Campsite and friends
These SOTA campouts typically involve an announcement via the W4 SOTA group then we all make individual reservations at the chosen campground. Since we’re not reserving the whole campground as a block, we tend to share our individual camping sites with others who might not have been able to reserve a spot.
At Lake Windfield Scott campground, the SOTA group did reserve one large group campsite, but only a couple months ago it was canceled by the park service due to a trail maintenance group that needed it.
Typically, I camp with my friend Monty, but he had other family plans that weekend.
As you can see in the photo above, both of our tents fit on the tent pad with absolutely no extra room to spare. 🙂
It was such a pleasure getting to know Joshua. What a kindred spirit and super nice fellow.
We ended up doing all of our SOTA activations together as you will see in upcoming activation videos and field reports.
Joshua is as pack and organization obsessed as I am. A proper pack nerd! I really enjoyed checking out his bags, cases and all of the brilliant accessories that are a part of his field kits.
He brought both an IC-705 and TX-500 along for the ride. He logs in the field using the HAMRS app (same one I do) but on an iPad Mini (see photo above) and I must admit that the size of the iPad mini is nearly ideal–much better than a phone for logging.
He also used the SDR-Control app to connect wirelessly with his IC-705 and operate digital modes.
We activated a total of three summits during the weekend (Big Cedar,Black Mountain, and Yonah Mountain). It would have been easy to activate six or more if that was the goal–the area is chock full of accessible summits.
That’s a great question and the answer is actually in the product manual.
The following comes from the MTR-3B manual but also applies to the MTR-4B (save the 4B has four band positions instead of three):
The band is selected by three, three position slide switches. For proper operation, all three switches must be in the same column[…]. It’s easy to get into the habit of flipping each switch in sequence from the top down.
The top switch tells the processor which band to operate on and connects the Receiver input filter to the first mixer. The middle switch connects the transmitter low pass filter output to the antenna and connects the antenna to the receiver input filter. The bottom switch connects the output of the transmitter PA to the low pass filter.
The manual is correct: it’s easy to get in the habit of sliding all three switches with band changes. It becomes second nature in very short order.
It’s easy to tell that all of the switches are in the correct position as well because without all three switches selected, the receiver sounds deaf and audio muted. With them in position, the receiver sounds “alive.” (That said, the noise floor is so low on these radios, it’s quite possible you might think they’re not engaged properly if there aren’t many signals on the band!) Of course, it’s very easily to visually inspect the switches and confirm they’re in the correct position.
Side note: On the Mountain Topper series, each band switch is an independent mechanical switch. On the Venus SW-3B (which was no doubt inspired by the Mountain Topper) the two band switches are bound together as one:
You can’t tell from looking at the photo above, but if you slide the top switch, you’re also sliding the bottom switch: the two switches are only one mechanical piece. An interesting design choice!
Side Note: The (now discontinued) Mountain Topper MTR-5B had a more complex series of six switches. Here are the instructions for it along with a drawing from the MTR-5B manual:
I hope this helps clarify how/why the Mountain Topper series uses multiple switches for band changes!
A few months ago, Mike (KE8PTX), contacted me with info regarding his latest 3D-printed creation: a compact housing for an end-fed half-wave balun.
He called it the “Oreo Balun.”
Once printed, and after he wound the coil and installed the BNC, he sent this photo:
It’s cute, isn’t it?
He then surprised me by putting it in a padded envelope and sending it to me as a gift. Wow–thanks, Mike!
End-Fed Half-Wave antennas are popular portable antennas for a reason: they’re effective!
They’re compact, easy to deploy, and resonant.
I only needed to attach some wire to the Oreo Balun, trim it, and hit the field!
Earlier this year, my buddy Vlado and I built two doublets with some scrap wire I had in my antenna parts box. I measured the amount of wire I had left from that same spool. I knew it wasn’t enough length for a 40 meter EFHW, but I did think there was enough for 30 meters.
After giving it a bit of thought, I liked the idea of having a dedicated 30 meter EFHW. For one thing, 30 meters is a great band for field deployments and in the past this band has saved my bacon when either 40 meters or 20 meters was wiped out. Thirty meters is also a refuge WARC band during contest weekends. In addition, a 30 meter EFHW is short enough that it could be deployed on most SOTA summits (which often have shorter trees).
Fortunately, I had just enough wire for 30 meters. IN fact, after trimming the antenna, I only had about two feet of wire to spare. It’s as if I had planned it! I would have never guessed that spool of scrap wire would have made two doublets and one 30 meter EFHW.
When I take a new radio to the field, I often don’t know what to expect until I arrive at the site and put it on the air. It’s one thing to use a radio in the shack, and quite another to use it in the field.
Earlier this year, I purchased a Venus SW-3B, three band QRP transceiver after much poking and prodding from readers and subscribers. I actually contacted Dale (BA4TB) at Venus and asked for a loaner to do a review, but he had no units set aside for loans, so instead offered me a coupon code. I was hesitant to purchase yet another QRP radio–which is why I asked for a loaner–but his coupon discounted the radio enough I could even afford to splurge for expedited shipping. He made money and I didn’t have to worry about loan periods, etc. It turned out to be a win/win.
I knew I wanted the SW-3B’s maiden voyage to be a SOTA summit, but I had to wait for a good weather window.
On Thursday, February 10, 2022, I got that opportunity!
Dogback Mountain (W4C/EM-066)
I learned about Dogback Mountain from my buddy Dave (W4JL) who activated it earlier this year. He told me it was a drive-up summit and was high enough to even rack up winter bonus points.
The road had no ice on it February 10, although it was very muddy and slippery in spots. Made for a very enjoyable drive in the Subaru, although post-activation you would have never guessed I’d washed the car the day before!
I arrived on site and parked the car at a pull-off that was well within the activation zone of the summit. Dave was right: this summit was very accessible (well, as long as your vehicle has a bit of clearance–this isn’t a road for sports cars or low sedans).
Wow, Steve! I would love to be in Switzerland right about now. I’ve got a bucket list item to journey there someday (in summer months) and activate at least 10 summits. Having lived in Grenoble, the Alps always feel a bit like home.
I love how compact your setup is and obviously the K6ARK EFHW is doing the trick if you’re making contacts State side with QRP and during a contest competing with the big guns!
Hmmm…I’m now thinking I might grab a second Maxpedition Fatty Pouch. I just checked and Maxpedition still has the “buy one, get one free” deal on their website. The link above goes to Amazon (hence the affiliate link which my site auto-converts) because pricing is typically best there, but I believe you get an even better deal at present going directly to the source; especially if one could use two pouches!
Thanks again, Steve, for sharing your field kit photos and notes!
While I will be publishing a full activation report and video, it could be a good two weeks down the road.
I’ve gotten so many inquiries about the SW-3B, I thought I’d write up a short recap with some of my initial notes using the SW-3B in the field.
This isn’t a comprehensive review; just some beginning field notes I made for a full review I’ll write for The Spectrum Monitor magazine.
Dogback Mountain (W4C/EM-066)
I decided to activate Dogback Mountain knowing that it would easily fit in my travel plans. The views (see above) were extraordinary. Thank you for the tip, Dave (W4JL)!
This was also a shake-out for my Tom Bihn HTL2 field kit which will likely be shared with the SW-3B and Elecraft KX1. It includes everything I need to deploy the SW-3B in the field–including an arborist throw line!
I confirmed that everything in the kit worked and there were no missing components.
I paired the SW-3B with my PackTenna Mini 20 meter EFHW. This limited me to the 20 meter band, but I suspected it would yield enough contacts to validate my summit (4) and park activation (10).
I fed the Venus SW-3B with a 3 Ah 12V Bioenno LiFePo4 battery pack–my output power would’ve been about 5 watts.
In short? It really couldn’t have gone better.
I worked a total of 43 stations in 44 minutes on the air. Here’s what my contacts look like on a QSO Map (click image to enlarge):
Venus SW-3B Field Notes
Overall, the experience of using the SW-3B was brilliant.
Since this little rig doesn’t have an internal speaker, I recorded the audio with an in-line Sony digital recorder. Later, when I produce the activation video, hopefully I can blend the separate audio channel with the video successfully. (Any YouTuber worth their salt can do this, but keep in mind I’m not really a YouTuber!)
Excellent receiver for field activations. I noticed no overloading and it handled the pileups very well.
Very pleased with CW filtering.
I was able to successfully program the “CQ” button with the following message: “BK TU 72 DE K4SWL” This is huge. At one point, the SW-3B could only handle a simple CW + callsign message. I’m very pleased its only message memory slot can hold the end of my exchange. Also, it is very easy to program.
The SW-3B is incredibly compact; only slightly bulkier than the MTR-3B if you include the encoder and AF/RF gain pot protrusions.
I am loving the dedicated AF and RF gain pots.
Display is very easy to read in the field.
Changing the CW keying sped on the fly is really not an option. It’s an awkward process.
The sidetone isn’t adjustable without modifying an internal component. If I could, I’d lower it just a notch or two. As-is, it’s perfectly fine, but adjustable sidetone would be a nice feature.
When switching bands, the SW-3B defaults to saved memory allocations (not the last used frequency). If you forget and switch bands, then turn the encoder, it cycles through saves memory allocations instead of up/down tuning.
Keep in mind: this is my first activation with the SW-3B. I don’t typically form strong opinions until I’ve taken a radio on at least three or four activations and used it at the QTH extensively. With that said, first impressions are great. This radio offers much more than I would ever expect for $188.
I see why it has has become so incredibly popular among CW field activators. Now that the Mountain Topper MTR-3B is no longer available, this is a viable alternative.
I’m sure some of you may be trying to decide between the MTR-4B and the SW-3B. I will be reviewing an MTR-4B soon, but based on my experience with the MTR-3B, I don’t think you could go wrong with either radio, frankly.
The MTR-4B does allow for a total of 3 CW message memories that are very easy to access and include beacon mode. You can also adjust the sidetone volume on the MTR-4B (requires opening the enclosure to make the adjustment). Obviously, the MTR-4B is a four band radio including 80 meters in addition to 40, 30, and 20.
The SW-3B, however, has an AF and RF gain control–the MTR series has no volume control at all. The SW-3B also has a rotary encoder which makes chasing contacts across the band much easier.
The MTR-4B receiver current is roughly 27 milliamps. The Venus SW-3B closer to 40 milliamps. (Yeah, splitting hairs here!)
In the coming weeks, I will be posting a number of activation reports and videos using the SW-3B. As I mentioned, I’ll also post a comprehensive review for The Spectrum Monitor magazine in the coming months.
I can say this: if you’re a CW op who is searching for a compact field radio? The SW-3B is a no-brainer. Just grab one.
If you still can’t decide between the MTR-4B and the SW-3B, consider getting both. Why? You could easily kit out two independent fully self-contained field packs on the (relative) cheap!
This will give you two choices for grab-and-go field activations.
As always, I’d 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 truly appreciate the support.
Your support not only pays the bills at QRPer.com, but makes it possible for me to purchase radios like the SW-3B.
I hope you get an opportunity to play radio this week. Stay healthy and safe out there!
I’ve got my new Venus SW-3B all dressed up and ready for a SOTA activation this morning (February 10, 2022); that is, if all goes well. Haven’t quite decided what summit yet, but it’ll have to be one I can hit fairly easily during my travels today.
I’ll plan to do 20 meters primarily, because I’m taking my PackTenna 20M EFHW. I also have a 30M EFHW–a separate antenna that I might also give a go. We’ll see how busy things are.
I’m either going to find a summit with a good hike, or do a drive up summit, then hike later at park. Either way: my goal is some radio and hiking today.
I’ll plan to make a video of this activation if all goes well. To record the SW-3B audio, I’ll be using a small Sony digital audio recorder I found at a thrift store for $20 a few months ago. I don’t have time to give it a proper shake-out before I go; in fact, I don’t have AAA batteries to load in it for a test so plan to pick some up en route.
New radio, new pack, new thrift store audio recorder that’s never been powered up…