Tag Archives: Eric (WD8RIF)

Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and TufteIn Random Wire at Gauley River National Recreation Area

During my West Virginia POTA expedition with Eric (WD8RIF), Miles (KD8KNC), and Theo (The “Great Warg”) dog, the last park we hit on Friday, May 20, 2022 was Gauley River National Recreation Area (the first park  was New River Gorge  and the second was Hawk’s Nest State Park).

Back in the days of National Parks On The Air (2016), I activated this site (the Gauley River, actually) but it was snowing, the winds were howling, and being on a tight schedule, I didn’t hang around to explore the site.

Gauley River National Recreation Area (K-0695)

Gauley River with the prominent Summersville Dam in the background.

On Friday, May 20, 2022, the weather was nearly ideal.

Eric, Miles, and I decided to venture down to the river for our activation.

We knew that it would compromise our signals to some degree setting up at the base of the Summersville Dam instead near the top, but how can you pass up scenery like this–?

The banks of the river were very rocky and there wasn’t a lot of space for Eric and I to separate our stations, so we knew our signals might interfere with each other.

Eric and Miles setting up.

Eric set up his trusty 31′ Jackite pole which supports a 28.5 vertical wire–the entire setup is attached to his folding chair. FYI: Eric tells me he’ll do a little write-up here on QRPer.com detailing his antenna setup in the near future.

You can barely see it in the photo above, but I deployed my TufteIn Random Wire antenna which I have configured with a 31′ radiator and one 17′ counterpoise. Continue reading Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and TufteIn Random Wire at Gauley River National Recreation Area

New River Gorge: Pairing the TufteIn 9:1 Random Wire with the Elecraft KX2

When Eric (WD8RIF) and I hatched our plan to do a mini POTA expedition in West Virginia, there was one site I wanted to activate more than any other: New River Gorge National Park.

More specifically, I wanted to activate the park by way of the scenic one-way road that starts near the New River Gorge Visitor’s Center and descends down to the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge (the “old” New River bridge).

Why? Because in December 2016 during the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, I passed through West Virginia and activated some very rare parks on my way to a multi-day park run with Eric in Ohio. I fully intended to activate the New River at this very spot (underneath the “new” New River Bridge) after hearing how amazing the drive was from Eric.

Unfortunately, I happened to time my trip through West Virginia on a day when we received about an inch of snow. Even though (at the time) I was driving a Toyota minivan with nearly bald tires, the snow didn’t pose a problem at any other site, save this one. I had to change my plans and activate the New River in a spot where the access had less elevation change on a narrow snow-covered road. With my Subaru, this wouldn’t have been an obstacle in the slightest.

I was looking forward to going back to this site and was very pleased to see that Eric and his son, Miles, had already planned this trip in the draft itinerary!

New River Gorge National Park (K-0696)

On the morning of May 20, 2022, Eric, Miles, Theo the dog, and I left our campsite at Babcock State Forest and made our way to the New River Gorge Visitor’s center next to the New River Bridge.

If you’re ever in this area, I’d highly recommend checking out this visitor’s center as it has some well-designed exhibits detailing the impressive engineering that went into the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge.

There are also some fantastic views from the visitor’s center and from its short gorge overlook trail.

From the trail overlook at the visitor’s center we could see the spot where we planned to activate near the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge deep in the gorge (see photo above).

The drive into the gorge was quite scenic with a number of spots to park and take in the enormity of the New River bridge.At the bottom of the gorge, the view was pretty spectacular as well!

My partners in crime: Eric, Miles and “The Great Warg” (Theo the dog)

TufteIn 9:1 EFRW (End-Fed Random Wire) antenna

I mentioned in a previous post that long-time QRPer.com reader and supporter, Joshua (KO4AWH), runs an Etsy store with a wide range of products primarily designed for field operators.

Besides the Elecraft T1 protection case I mentioned previously, he also sent a couple of his QRP field antennas for testing and evaluation (to be clear: free of charge). Thanks, Joshua!

I decided to break in his EFRW QRP Antenna Long Wire at New River Gorge. Since Eric and I would be operating pretty close to one another, I wanted to use a random wire antenna that would give me a bit of frequency agility to hop around and avoid harmonically-related bands Eric might be using. This TufteIn antenna fit the bill! Continue reading New River Gorge: Pairing the TufteIn 9:1 Random Wire with the Elecraft KX2

POTA activation with WD8RIF at Beury Mountain WMA in West Virginia!

Grist Mill at Babcock State Forest Headquarters

This year, instead of attending the 2022 Hamvention, my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) and I hatched another plan.

Eric and I–along with his son Miles (KD8KNC) and sometimes Mike (K8RAT)–attend Hamvention every year it’s held.  We’d planned to do the same this year especially with it being the first in-person Hamvention since 2019.

As Hamvention approached though, we both had a lot going on in our lives and decided to save a little money, a lot of travel time, and meet in West Virginia for several days of POTA activations and just hanging out. I explain a bit more about the decision in this previous post.

We camped three nights and performed activations together for four days. It was an absolute blast!

Setting up camp

On the afternoon of Thursday, May 19, 2022, we (Eric, Miles, Theo the dog, and I) met at Babcock State Park and set up our tents at the adjoining campsites we’d reserved.

Babcock would serve as our home base for the entire WV POTA expedition.

As a bonus, Babcock State Park (K-1798) is also a POTA entity, so we activated it in the late shift after dinner each evening.

As soon as the tents were deployed that afternoon, we all jumped into Mile’s Subaru with our radio gear and hit our first park!

Beury Mountain Wildlife Management Area (K-7036)

Beury Mountain WMA is so close to Babcock State Park, I have to assume they share a common boundary.

The drive to the site was very brief but as with many WMAs and Game Lands, the entry road isn’t paved and there are rough patches you might need to avoid. Of course, Mile’s Subaru was way over-engineered for this task! Continue reading POTA activation with WD8RIF at Beury Mountain WMA in West Virginia!

POTA camping in West Virginia and focusing on the radio journey

As I mentioned in a previous post, instead of going to Hamvention this year, I went on a POTA expedition with my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) and his son Miles (KD8KNC) in West Virginia.

Just a random roadside waterfall.

In short? It was a brilliant trip!

Amazing WV

The New River Gorge

West Virginia is such a beautiful state and it’s absolutely chock-full of state and national parks. Eric and I were left scratching our heads as to why there are so few activations in many of West Virginia’s most accessible parks.

The iconic New River Bridge

In fact, though it’s still relatively early in the season, we found the parks to be rather busy with tourists from across the globe.

We set up camp at Babcock State Park and used it as our home base to activate numerous parks in the area. In the late evenings we activated Babcock from the comfort of our campsite.

The Grist Mill at Babcock State Park.

I didn’t bring Hazel on this trip, but Eric brought his little dog, Theo– A.K.A “The Great Warg”–who was our little POTA mascot and certainly our ambassador at each site.

The Great Warg enjoying a little ice cream at Dixie’s Drive-In in Anstead, WV.

Theo attracted a lot of attention from pretty much anyone and everyone. That little guy never meets a stranger.

On a mission

Our goal wasn’t to activate as many parks as possible, rather it was to enjoy camping, sightseeing, and simply hanging out together during our activations.

Wow–what a success!

I stole Eric’s K1 field kit and used it to activate Hawk’s Nest State Park. Only made me wish I’d never have sold my K1 some 10 years ago!

If you’ve been on the air the past few days, you’ll have noticed that band conditions have been pretty rough and unstable at times.

We met this confident little guy while hiking at Hawk’s Nest SP.

We had to allocate more time than normal to work our ten contacts needed for a valid park activation.

That was perfectly fine, though, because the scenery at our activation sites was simply spectacular. I just hope the rushing waters didn’t create too much QRN in my videos!

Gauley River at the Summersville Hydroelectric Project

We also learned early on that (since we had no band pass filters in tow) it was best that we work non-harmonically-related bands simultaneously and, of course, separate our stations as far apart as reasonable at each site. When Eric was on 40 or 20 meters, I was on 30 and 17 and vice versa. It worked out pretty well.

Time management…

Now that I’m back at the QTH, I’ll pull the videos from my camera then process and upload them. I’m currently a good four weeks behind on field reports.

Thurmond Depot

If you’ve tried to contact me recently, you’ll notice I’m also at least two or more weeks behind on email as well. Unfortunately, there’s simply not enough time in the day and I need to sort out a better way to handle questions from readers and subscribers. I love answering emails and attempt to reply to each and every one, but the amount of time it takes to manage email is actually now taking a significant bite out of my content creation time. Between QRPer.com and the SWLing Post, I receive an average of 25-40 messages per day from readers, many of which are new to the site. Those stack up rapidly when I’m traveling or out and about doing activations.

I receive questions about choosing gear, asking about operating practices, and general advice on a variety of radio topics. They’re all great questions, but I feel like I’m a bit of a bottleneck in terms of delivering answers.

I might build a discussion board or create an email group where people can find community support. I certainly welcome your thoughts and comments on this.

I need to take action soon, because I’ve got a lot of travels planned this summer and will be off-grid for days at a time.

If I’m being perfectly honest, another reason why I didn’t attend Hamvention this year is because I knew it would only add to my work and correspondence load right before nearly two months of planned travels.

Our POTA camping expedition was a more relaxing option than Hamvention for 2022. (You can bet I’ll be at the 2023 Hamvention, though!)

Sharing the journey

Indeed, this trip reminded me why I do what I do here: I love to share the radio journey.

On that note, I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with kind comments from readers and subscribers. It’s humbling and I’m most grateful to each and every one of you. Thank you so much!
Sharing the radio journey is indeed my main focus here on QRPer.com and on my YouTube channel. Sharing my journey and yours via the many excellent guest posts I’ve received.

I’ll sort out a way to manage correspondence in due time and, in the meantime, I appreciate your understanding.

Thanks for reading this post and many thanks to Eric and Miles for an amazing trip exploring the rivers and mountains of West Virginia! I can’t wait to do this again.

Indeed, this trip has me absolutely energized about the activations I’m plotting in Canada this summer. Stay tuned!

TX Factor Episode 28

Many thanks to Eric (WD8RIF) who notes that the 28th episode of TX Factor was recently released. Here’s the show summary:

Episode 28

It’s been over a year since our last episode was released so we’re trying to make up for lost time by releasing show number 28 almost eight years after our first show back in February of 2014. Where have the years gone?!

In this show, Bob and Mike get to grips with constructing a digital voice modem using an MMDVM module kit and Raspberry Pi Zero, and Bob reviews the long-awaited ID-52 5W hand-held transceiver from Icom. As always there’s a chance to win a bundle of books from the RSGB in our free-to-enter draw. See here for terms and conditions and full details of how to enter. Don’t forget we also provide a podcast of the GB2RS news every week. Details of how to download or subscribe are here.

Click here to view on YouTube.

(tr)uSDX kit: Just pulled the trigger

In January, I missed out on the initial pre-orders of the (tr)uSDX kit being managed by Rowaves in Romania.

I had my calendar marked for February 15 to check the site again for the 3rd batch as I thought that was the day they planned to issue another pre-order.

My buddy Eric (WD8RIF), who is the President of the Athens County Amateur Radio Club (ACARA), contacted me yesterday asking if I knew of any QRP kits designed with phone/SSB operation in mind. One of ACARA’s members was searching for one.

He was already aware of the

The only other kit I could think of was the new (tr)uSDX. When Eric asked for a link to the product, I went to the Rowaves site and discovered that they were taking pre-orders for the third wave of kits. Like, right then and there!

Without hesitation, I added one to my shopping cart and checked out.

I thought perhaps Rowaves caught up and no longer had a waiting list. This morning, when I checked the site again however, it appears they’ve sold out of the third batch.

Without Eric’s prompting, I would have never thought to check the Rowaves site yesterday.

Side note: There are various (tr)uSDX group buys out there. I don’t completely understand how they work, but perhaps someone with more experience can comment. DL2MAN has information and links on his webpage.

Intimidated

(tr)uSDX board “sandwich”

If I’m being brutally honest, the (tr)uSDX kit is a bit intimidating for me. I recently referred to myself as a “gross motor skills” kit builder. I think that’s a pretty accurate description.  I’m fine with through holes, simple toroids, and very clear, illustrated instructions. Truth is, I absolutely love building kits. But I’m not an electronics engineer, so when instructions are vague, I can get lost quite easily.

The (tr)uSDX toroids don’t look terribly complicated and all of the surface mount components are pre-installed. Still: it’s a wee kit and I’ve yet to check out the build instructions.

It might be a challenge for me, but I’m really looking forward to it. Besides: knowing that John (AE5X) will build his kit before I do, I’ll simply bug him if I have questions! [Sinister laugh slowly fades…]

More SSB Kits?

While on the topic of kits, can anyone point Eric to other SSB kits that are currently available on the market?  If so, please comment with a link and thank you in advance!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with a stolen doublet at Table Rock Fish Hatchery!

Someone asked me recently which activity I prefer more: Summits on the Air (SOTA) or Parks On The Air (POTA)?

Truth is, I like both.

I like SOTA because I love hiking and playing radio on the summits of some pretty impressive mountains.  I’m often treated to amazing views and the DX can be spectacular. I love the sense of accomplishment when the activation goes well and I’m back home later feeling a bit tired from a long hike. Good stuff!

I like POTA because it’s incredibly accessible (thus fits in my tight schedule easily). Many of the parks have great hiking trails, and there’s almost always a picnic table available making set up so much easier.  Here in western North Carolina it’s almost a given that park picnic tables are surrounded by large trees and have a reasonable amount of space, thus POTA sites can be ideal for antenna experimentation.

I don’t typically experiment with antennas during SOTA because after hiking 2-3 hours to a summit, I feel pretty invested in the activation and the last thing I want to do is roll the dice with my antenna.  With POTA, I can bring a few extra supplies or “plan B” antennas if something goes sideways.  Plus, unlike parks, summits are often lacking in tall trees so I stick with shorter wire antennas and self-supporting verticals.

On the morning of October 20, 2021, I decided that I wanted to try a new antenna or an antenna I hadn’t used in quite some time. My intention was to dig out my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical, but when I reached into my antenna bag, I pulled out a nondescript Shure microphone pouch. I scratched my head for a moment…

For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what this was, so I opened it up and discovered a doublet inside! Not just any doublet, either–based on the use of a 35mm film canister in the antenna’s construction, I knew it had to be a creation of my buddy Eric (WD8RIF).

Then my memory kicked in. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with a stolen doublet at Table Rock Fish Hatchery!

Portable Power Primer: A beginner’s guide to selecting the best battery option for your field radio kit

The following article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


I’ll admit it:  I’m a massive fan of field radio.

In 2020, I easily spent a total of 100 hours outdoors with my radios activating a total of 82 sites for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program alone. This doesn’t include hours and hours of SWLing (shortwave radio listening). It’s been great.

Taking radios into the field is so much easier to do today than it was in, say, 1985 or earlier, because we have so many more options for powering our gear in the field. Not only have radios become more efficient in operating off of battery power, but we now have so many affordable and lightweight rechargeable battery choices on the market.

In the following article, let’s take a look at some portable battery power options for your radio gear. By “portable,” I’m talking power options for those of us who load a backpack or carry case and head to the field.

To keep the scope of this article in check, I’m also going to focus only on rechargeable battery options. And rather than get bogged down in the nuances of battery chemistries, we’ll focus on the end result––the pros and cons of each battery type, and how practical they might be for your field application.

In addition, I’ll also limit discussion to batteries that can be purchased of-the-shelf rather than addressing homebrew options. While I love building things, I’m very cautious when dealing with battery charging because if not done correctly, the results can be dangerous. I prefer obtaining products from trusted suppliers who thoroughly engineer and test their equipment.

Let’s take a look at several types of batteries, and speak to their advantages…as well as disadvantages. Then––as we summarize our findings––let’s discuss how to choose the right option for your needs.

Consumer-grade rechargeable batteries

Let’s begin by talking about the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of portable power: everyday rechargeables in the form of 9V, AA, AAA, C, and D cells.

While, admittedly, these batteries are not typically an option because of their limited capacity and energy density, they can still be a very practical power source for portable receivers and even a few QRP transceivers.

Rechargeable battery chemistries have improved with time, thus I no longer purchase nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd or NiCad) or legacy nickel metal hydride (NiMH or Ni–MH) batteries.

 

These days I almost exclusively purchase low-self-discharge nickel metal hydride (LSD NiMH) batteries, specifically, Panasonic Eneloop batteries (Amazon affiliate link).  Although they’re a pricey option compared with generic NiMH batteries, and might even be overkill for certain applications, I do love the shelf life of Eneloops.

Of course, the benefit here is Eneloops have that low self-discharge. They will maintain charge better at rest (i.e., when not in use) than legacy NiMH or NiCad batteries. From my real-word usage, I’m convinced that Eneloops also demonstrate better longevity over numerous charge/discharge cycles than many others.

All of my portable shortwave receivers that accept AA or AAA batteries are powered by Eneloops exclusively.

And although I’ve never done this myself, it is also possible to power highly-efficient QRP transceivers with Eneloop batteries, so long as you use a multiple battery holder to increase voltage and capacity to match both your rig and your desired amount of operating time.

WD8RIF’s AA battery holder

Keep in mind, though, that most transceivers will require a block of at least ten AA batteries to reach a voltage around 12 VDC. As you might imagine, it can be cumbersome after using your radio in the field to remove all ten of these batteries and charge them in a charger that can only hold, say, four batteries at a time. I personally prefer other options, but this one is certainly a fairly affordable, safe, and accessible option.

Note that in recent years, Panasonic started offering Eneloop Pros: while pricier than standard Eneloop batteries, they offer slightly higher capacity at the expense of overall longevity (roughly 500 versus 2100 total charge/discharge cycles). Since the voltage is the same, I’ve never felt the need to use higher-capacity Eneloop Pros.

Rechargeable Panasonic Eneloop AA batteries (non-Pro version):

  • Price: $2.25 – $4 US per battery, depending on the number in the package
  • Weight: 4 grams/.4 ounces per cell
  • Voltage: 1.2 V each
  • Longevity: Excellent, up to 2100 charge/discharge cycles
  • Ease of recharging: Simple via Eneloop OEM chargers
  • Solar- charging option: Eneloop originally marketed solar chargers, but doesn’t seem to do so presently

Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) Batteries

When I first became a licensed ham radio operator in the late 1990s, sealed lead acid batteries were the primary battery power source used for field radio operation.

At the time, these batteries were one of the best options for portable radio use because they could be purchased in a variety of sizes (based on amp hour capacity), and unlike flooded lead acid batteries, they required no maintenance––and being sealed, did not outgas.

While I’ve owned everything from 3 Ah to 15 Ah SLA batteries, I found the once-ubiquitous 7-8 Ah size to be the “sweet spot” in terms of portability and capacity.

SLA batteries are still among the most accessible high-capacity batteries on the planet. No matter where you travel, it’s likely you’ll be able to hunt them down in any hardware or electronics store. Our small local hardware store has a wide selection of these at their battery kiosk.

What are some of the pros of these batteries? In terms of “bang for buck,” the SLA is still hard to beat. You can purchase a quality 7.2 Ah 12-volt SLA battery for about $18-20 US (affiliate link). This would be more than enough battery to power a typical QRP transceiver for many hours on end. Chargers are also inexpensive––you can purchase a dedicated charger for about $10-15 US. Not bad.

In addition, 12-volt batteries are nearly ideal for amateur radio use since most transceivers are designed to operate with 12-13.8 volts DC +/- a modest margin.

There are some negatives compared with more modern battery chemistries, however. For one, SLA batteries are much heavier than the batteries we’ll discuss in the following sections. After all, they’re (still) made of lead!   In addition, the battery’s longevity will be negatively impacted if you discharge it too deeply.

With that said, if you take care of an SLA battery, it can give you five or more years of service life in the field, yielding an excellent value for the modest investment. If you have an application that requires relatively little capacity from the battery, you might get a very long service life, indeed. In 2011, I built a remote antenna tuner box around an LDG Z11 Pro ATU and a discarded 7Ah 12V SLA battery. At the time, this battery could no longer hold voltage long enough to be reliable in the field, but I knew the Z11 Pro requires very little in the way of power, so I thought I’d try it as a power source anyway. Since the remote ATU box isn’t near an outlet, I charge the SLA battery with a 5-watt solar panel I purchased used at a hamfest with a Micro M+ charge controller. A decade has now passed, and that SLA battery continues to power the Z11 Pro even through seasonal temperature variances of -10F/-23C to 90F/32C. Not bad! Again, keep in mind this application works because the Z11 Pro is so flexible in terms of power requirements––it’ll operate on 6-16 volts DC at 300 mA with a 20 uA standby current.

Clearly, SLA batteries are affordable candidates for back-up power in the shack during occasional power outages.

  • Price: Most affordable option per Ah of the batteries listed here
  • Weight: By far, the heaviest of all the battery options in this article
  • Voltage: Various, but 12VDC is very common
  • Longevity: Very good if properly maintained
  • Ease of recharging: Easy, via simple charge controllers
  • Solar charging option: Multiple types of charge controllers can be used with SLA batteries; among the listed batteries, the easiest and least expensive to charge via solar

Lithium-Ion (Li-ion)

 

Without a doubt, lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized the consumer electronics world.

Why are they so popular?

First of all, their construction allows for a variety of form factors ranging from cylindrical cells to slim packs and pouches so thin they can fit in an ultra-thin mobile phone, eReader, or tablet. They’re the easiest type of battery to accommodate in compact consumer electronics, and indeed, they power most of the consumer electronics we’ve put to use in the last decade.

Secondly, they have a very high energy density, thus pack a lot of capacity for the size and weight. Indeed, if size and weight are your primary requirements, li-ion batteries should be high on your list.

In addition, Li-ion batteries are ubiquitous and affordable because they’re used in so very many applications.

There are negatives, though, with these power sources. First and foremost, they’re very sensitive to over-voltage and over-current events that initiate a thermal runaway. To prove this point, I’ll share some first-hand experience from the early days of large lithium-ion packs…

Li-ion Horror Story

In 2011, I evaluated a lithium-ion battery pack with integrated 5V USB chargers and even a simple one-outlet inverter from one of the big names in portable power systems. At the time, this was a new battery pack and a relatively new technology, at least in terms of the energy density and compact size. After receiving the battery, I charged and discharged it perhaps twice during testing. I had a flight scheduled from North Carolina to California, and decided I’d take it in my carry-on bag to power my laptop in flight. It worked fine on the flight to KSFO. Once there, I recharged it.  On my return flight, it simply didn’t work. I thought perhaps I hadn’t plugged it in properly, or that the hotel outlet I used didn’t work. Upon arrival I emptied my travel pack onto the bed and plugged in the battery pack; it indicated it was taking a charge.

After doing a few projects around the house, I went back up to the bedroom and was greeted with an overpowering smell––almost like the pungent chemical odor of nail polish remover. I looked everywhere for the source of the odd smell.  Finally, I located it:  it seemed to be coming from the battery pack. Upon examination, I could tell the battery had begun to swell. As I lifted it up, I noticed that the bottom portion was essentially in a state of melting. As quickly as I could, I unplugged it and removed it from the room. I then discovered that in the thermal runaway process, it had begun burning through the sheets and mattress of the bed. Shocked, I suddenly realized it could have burned down my home.

Keep in mind, I was completely new to this battery technology, and this was years before thermal runaways made the news and airlines began restricting their transport. To my relief, the company from which I purchased the pack ended up pulling that model off the market, and even reimbursed me for the mattress and bedding. But it was a hard lesson learned.

If I’m being perfectly honest, this lesson had a major impact on my willingness to experiment with Li-ion battery packs.

The problem with the model of pack I had purchased was not the battery chemistry or construction, per se, but the charge controller). The fact is, Li-ion batteries require millivolt accuracy and a number of protections to detect and stop thermal runaway. Battery packs with multiple cells need a battery management system (BMS) that also balances the cells and monitors them closely. Fortunately, most manufacturers of the technology now understand this.

Modern Li-ion cells and chargers are much safer and more stable 

Since then, Li-ion battery chargers have become both orders of magnitude safer and more effective. Still, I only charge these batteries on a surface which, should the battery be tempted to melt down, would be less likely to be damaged or serve as a fire hazard. I also never leave them unattended during charging.

With that said, I don’t think Li-ion batteries are to be feared. Obviously, many of us walk around with one tucked in our pocket all day––in our smartphones! They’re generally considered very safe now.  Of course, I’d only buy the best and would steer away from the lowest-costs units you might find on eBay and Aliexpress, as many of these products are made in places with little oversight or regulation.

Another interesting fact about Li-ion battery packs is that since their voltages are usually available in multiples of approximately 3.6 volts (e.g., 3.6, 7.2, 10.8, 14.4 and 18 volts), they are not always ideally suited for radios that require 13.8V input power. Some packs, however, have circuitry that provides an output voltage closer to your desired amount.

One Lithium-ion battery pack I’ve been using with my Mountain Topper MTR-3B, Elecraft KX2 and KX3 transceivers is a (very affordable) TalentCell rechargeable 3000 mAh Li-ion battery pack that provides both 12V and 5V USB power. It has built-in charging circuitry and is very compact. I purchased mine for about $25 on Amazon.com, and have been very pleased with it so far.

Summits On The Air operators often place priority on smaller-sized and lighter-weight power sources, and thus turn to Li-ion battery packs. Many SOTA friends have invested in high-quality balance charger/dischargers to maximize the life of their batteries, and have been happy with the performance they receive. A quality charger may costs upwards of $60, but is worth the investment if you choose Li-ion batteries as your portable power of choice.

  • Price: From affordable to pricey, depending on capacity and charger investment
  • Weight: The lightest weight portable battery options in this list
  • Voltage: Often in multiples of approximately 3.6 volts: (3.6, 7.2, 10.8, 14.4 and 18VDC)
  • Longevity: Good. Typically around 400-500 charge cycles if properly maintained
  • Ease of recharging: Simple, if a self-contained pack; more complex, if using multiple cells that need balancing
  • Solar charging option: Not advised (yet). There are a number of homebrew Li-ion solar charging projects on the web, but I believe this battery chemistry fares better with a balance charger connected to a stable AC power supply.

Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo4/LFP)

I typically use my 15 Ah LiFePo4 battery pack when powering transceivers like the Mission RGO One that can push 55 watts of output power. I also use this battery to power my Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier on Field Day.

The final type of battery chemistry we’ll cover here is my favorite of the bunch.

There are good reasons why Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries have become one of the choice rechargeable batteries for field radio use.

  • LiFePo batteries are inherently stable and safe
  • They offer a longer cycle life than that of other Li-ion, NiMH, NiCad, or Lead Acid batteries–thousands of charge cycles as opposed to hundreds
  • LiFePO batteries have an excellent constant discharge voltage
  • LiFePo batteries use phosphates––as opposed to cobalt or nickel, which are supply-constrained and carry heavier environmental concerns
  • LiFePo batteries have a lower self-discharge
  • LiFePo batteries are very lightweight compared to SLA batteries
  • 3.2 V nominal output voltage means that four cells can be placed in series for a nominal voltage of 12.8 V, near ideal for most field radio gear

Any cons? Yes…while they’re lightweight, LiFePo4 batteries aren’t as compact as Li-ion battery packs.  But the primary negative here is the price.  At time of print, LiFePo4 batteries have the highest cost per Amp hour of the batteries discussed in this article. With that said, due to the excellent longevity of these batteries, the LiFePo may be the most cost effective option in the long term.

LiFePo4 battery systems sport built-in battery protection modules to address concerns like over-voltage and balancing.

How do LiFePo batteries stack up?

  • Price: One of the pricier options, when you include the battery and charger
  • Weight: Very light weight, but size tends to be larger than comparable Li-ion packs
  • Voltage: Excellent match for gear requiring 12V – 13.8 VDC
  • Longevity: Excellent. Thousands of charge/discharge cycles
  • Ease of recharging: Simple, using the provided charger (battery packs have a built-in charge controller)
  • Solar charging option: Bioenno sells charge controllers designed to work with LiFePo batteries, handy for the field

Without a doubt, the best-known LiFePo battery manufacturer in the world of ham radio is Bioenno Power. I’ve purchased their batteries exclusively and have been incredibly pleased with the quality, longevity, and performance of their products.

Choosing the right battery for you

Each one of these battery types have their pros and cons, and you can find lengthy, in-depth discussions online about the nuances of each battery chemistry. At the end of the day, however, what matters is which one best suits your particular application and provides your gear with the appropriate amount of voltage.

Here’s when I would reach for each of our types of batteries…

NiMH LSD AA batteries

WD8RIF uses Eneloop rechargeable AA batteries with his Elecraft KX3 field kit (Photo: WD8RIF)

If you’re willing to use a battery pack to run 8-12 cells in series to achieve your required nominal output voltage, Eneloop batteries are relatively affordable, lightweight, and of course, power an array of electronic devices in our world.

If you plan to use QRP power for short periods of time, these may suit your needs quite well. My buddy and Elmer, Eric (WD8RIF), has used Eneloop batteries to power his Elecraft KX3 for the majority of his Parks On The Air activations.

Of course, AA Eneloop batteries are also invaluable for those of us who have an arsenal of portable shortwave radios that accept AA cells!

Sealed Lead Acid Batteries

If you’re on a very tight budget and weight is less of a concern, SLA batteries are a great choice. They’re an especially affordable option if you plan to make a solar-powered battery pack since charge controllers are quite simple and affordable.

If you’re looking for a stationary back-up battery for home, these are an excellent choice, as long as you keep the charge topped up.

Li-ion Batteries

Backpacking or flying overseas, and size and weight really do matter? Purchase a Li-ion battery system. Li-ion cells and packs offer the highest energy density of any of the battery chemistries in this list. They’re incredibly compact––and as long as you use a quality charge controller with built-in protections, and you don’t damage or puncture an actual Li-ion pack––they should be quite safe, and you’ll be pleased with performance. Note:  Keep in mind some airlines have regulations about the size of Li-ion battery pack you’ll be allowed to carry on board, so do check before departure.

LiFePo Batteries

The 9V 3Ah Bioenno LiFEPo4 pack is very compact and pairs beautifully with the Mountain Topper MTR-3B as this particular transceiver prefers voltages at 12 volts and below.

If you’re looking for a simple, effective portable battery solution that is almost custom-designed to power radio gear, invest in a LiFePo4 battery and charger. I have everything from a 15 Ah 12V LiFePo4 battery that can power my 50 watt Mission RGO One transceiver, to a 3 Ah 12V pack I now use for 2-3 hours in the field at a time with my QRP transceivers. Bioenno has recently sent me a 9 V 3 Ah battery pack to test with my Mountain Topper MTR-3B––it’s incredibly compact, since it only needs three 3.2V cells in series. LiFePo batteries are also the ones I suggest for those who are new to the world of battery packs and want something that is hassle-free and simply performs.

 

I admit, I’m being transparent here about why I own a total of three LiFePo4 batteries from Bioenno Energy––they’re amazing and I know I can rely on them.

In summary…

…I would offer this final piece of battery-usage advice: whatever you do, don’t “cheap out” on your battery and charging system. No matter what chemistry you decide to purchase, buy the best quality you can afford. If using any variant of a Li-ion battery, heed my tale, and be sure any separate charge controllers you employ will protect your battery (and your home)!

And now…Go out there and have fun. I assure you:  when you take your radios––whether portable shortwave radios or ham radio transceivers––to the field, you’ll find you can escape all of the noises that so often plague us indoors. And out there, you, too, may find your radio bliss.

Guest Review: CW Morse Single-Lever Keyer Paddle

On October 10, I took delivery of a CW Morse (https://cwmorse.us/) “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” (https://cwmorse.us/product/red-single-paddle-morse-code-key-with-base/) which Tom Witherspoon, K4SWL, had sent me to review for this website. CW Morse had sent Tom several keys to review and Tom, knowing I am a fan of single-lever paddles, sent me the CW Morse single-lever paddle to review.

CW Morse "Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base"

CW Morse "Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base", inside view

I will admit it: I wasn’t expecting much from a 3-D printed CW paddle, but I was very surprised by the quality of the build and the feel of the paddle.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” is a nice mix of 3-D printed frame, lever, fingerpiece, and cover with steel ball bearings, metal contacts, steel centering springs, and a heavy steel base. (See photos, above.)

The mailman delivered the paddle on October 10  and I started using it almost immediately as a cootie-key / sideswiper to hunt Parks on the Air (POTA) activations. (A cootie-key or sideswiper is a manual key in which the operator moves a paddle alternately side-to-side to manually create the dots and dashes of Morse Code.) The paddle worked very well as a cootie and I made six POTA QSOs using the paddle on the afternoon of the 10th. Unfortunately, when I tried to use the paddle for my nightly ragchew-QSO with K8RAT, the paddle stopped centering properly and I had to switch to another key to finish the QSO. A day or two later, I studied the CW Morse key and found that I was able to loosen the nut at the lever pivot-point a little bit to reduce drag. After this simple adjustment, the paddle has worked beautifully without further need for adjustment.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” features adjustable gaps on both sides of the lever. These gaps are easily adjusted using the supplied Allen wrench or with bare fingers. The spring tension is not adjustable and the paddle’s feel is pretty light.

The steel base, while small, is quite heavy and the four rubber feet provide excellent traction on my radio desk. I have a pretty heavy fist and this paddle is almost heavy enough that I can send with my right hand without holding the paddle with my left hand.

Now, a disclosure: I have been using semi-automatic bugs and fully-manual cootie keys so long now that my keyer fist is absolute rubbish. I did use the paddle to drive an electronic keyer for one ragchew-QSO and the paddle worked very well in that mode and it had a nice feel–any mistakes made in keying were not the fault of the paddle but of my own inability anymore to judge how long to hold the dash-paddle.

I’ve been using this paddle as my go-to cootie-key for over half a month now and as a cootie key the “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” excels. The gaps were easily adjustable and the feel of the paddle as a cootie is just fantastic. This key has, at least for the moment, become my favorite hamshack cootie-key.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key” can be removed from the steel base for field or portable use and I did remove the key from the base to try it in this configuration. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the feel of the paddle in my left hand, primarily because the two mounting rails make the key feel awkward in my hand. CW Morse does offer a dual-lever field paddle (https://cwmorse.us/product/pocket-double-paddle-morse-code-key/) and I think a similar design with a single lever would make an excellent field paddle or cootie key. (Read about Tom Witherspoon’s experience with the dual-lever field paddle here: https://qrper.com/2020/10/pota-field-report-pairing-the-icom-ic-705-with-the-elecraft-t1-and-cw-morse-pocket-paddles/.)

Bottom Line: I have been very pleased with the “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” and I can recommend it for any CW operator who needs an inexpensive but well-made single-lever paddle.

Eric’s DIY Cootie: “Levon”

Many thanks to Eric (WD8RIF) who writes:

Well, if K8RAT is going to tout Hermione, I guess I need to tout Levon.

My cootie/sideswiper was inspired by an article (http://sideswipernet.org/articles/w9ok-modernization.php) by W9LA about how hams in the 1930s might have constructed a cootie/sideswiper using a ceramic DPST knife switch. I didn’t have a ceramic DPST knife switch, but I did have a nice Leviton ceramic DPDT knife switch which I used as the basis for my cootie/sideswiper. Instead of using tape for the fingerpieces as described in the article, I used Fender guitar picks.

This cootie is the key I use most often for home-based operations.

While operating in the field, I usually use an inexpensive and lightweight Whiterook MK-33 single-lever paddle as a cootie key.

Levon is a handsome sideswiper, Eric! Thanks for sharing his story and your photo!

Thanks to both of you, I feel inspired to make my own “cootie” this winter. Perhaps I’ll try to find some historic context/inspiration as well!

Any other homebrew sideswipers, straight keys, or paddles you’d like to share? Please contact me and we’ll feature your creations!

I’ve got a very special one that’ll be featured later this week. Stay tuned!