On Monday, September 27, 2021, I had just enough time to stop by the Blue Ridge Parkway on my way back from Asheville, NC and fit in a short activation.
I had my Xiegu X5105 along for the ride and decided to pair it with the MFJ-1984LP EFHW since I knew propagation was going to be rough.
That day, Earth was being pounded by CMEs and, frankly, I didn’t know how pleasant it would be on the air.
I picked one of my favorite spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway: a grassy hill I’ve used numerous times in the past. I love this particular site because it’s incredibly rare that anyone else parks or walks there, so I can set up larger wire antennas and not have to worry about others walking into the radiator or tripping over the counterpoise.
Recently, I found myself in an embarrassing situation: I was being interviewed on the Ham Radio YouTube channel Red Summit RF, when someone in the chatroom asked how many HF QRP radios I currently own?
How many…? It dawned on me suddenly that I didn’t know the answer.
Throughout my life as a radio hobbyist, I’ve owned a number of transceivers, but I’ve never owned so many at once as I do currently. Since I was licensed in 1997, I’ve owned up to two or three transceivers at once. But things really started changing for me in 2020. And I blame the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our family loves to travel––but during the pandemic, we were essentially grounded. I keenly missed the travel. So, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I turned my attention to more regional destinations––and often took the family along––by activating local parks through the Parks On The Air (POTA) program and local summits through the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.
As a result of this activity, I also began reviewing and evaluating more and more QRP transceivers––and, if I liked them (as I all too often do) purchased them following the review period.
Fact is, I thoroughly enjoy trying out radios, putting them through their paces and engaging all their bells and whistles; I enjoy shaking up my field activations by employing different radios with different antennas and accessories on each outing . I also enjoy writing up field reports and including activation videos on my blog, QRPer.com. Altogether, radio activation gives me a great deal of satisfaction, as does encouraging others to give it a go.
It’s funny: when I started my POTA journey in earnest during February 2020, I plotted out all of the state parks in the part of western North Carolina where I travel the most.
At the time, POTA had only a wee fraction of the community it does now and many of the parks and game lands were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones)–parks that had never been activated. Fort Dobbs was still one, in fact, and I had marked it on my POTA game plan spreadsheet.
My mission back then was to rack up unique-to-me parks as I explored the region; in doing so, I ticked off quite a few ATNOs. It was fun!
I focused on parks a little further afield first. This provided me with a sense of adventure and travel during the first round of Covid-19 lockdowns.
At the end of 2020, I realized I had never activated Ft. Dobbs State Historic site which was, ironically, one of the lowest hanging fruit sites around. It’s only, perhaps, 30 minutes from where I travel each week.
I suppose Fort Dobbs has been “out of sight, out of mind” until I saw a tweet from Andrew (N4LAZ) who activated Dobbs on August 6, 2021. I mistakenly assumed that the only spots to set up on site were around the periphery of the parking lot. This time of year, in the middle of the hot and humid summer? I’m less enthusiastic about open parking lot activations.
Andrew mentioned that the site actually has an excellent covered picnic area where he was allowed to perform his activation.
That’s all I needed to know!
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, I traveled to Fort Dobbs State Historic Site and quickly found the covered picnic area Andrew had mentioned. It was, indeed, ideal for POTA!
“[W]hat’s the toughest HF QRP transceiver on the market? I want a rig with good field performance and features, but I what I really want is something rugged…something that might survive falling off a rock or log while I’m doing a little SOTA.”
It was a no-brainer to me: either the lab599 Discovery TX-500 or Yaesu FT-818/817.
I feel lucky in that I’ve acquired a number of excellent QRP transceivers over the years. Most of my field-worthy radios are acceptably rugged, but the TX-500 and the FT-818/817 really stand out.
The Discovery TX-500
The Discovery TX-500 was designed from the ground up to be a rugged, weather-resistant portable radio that could operate in challenging environments (think the extremes of Russia where it’s manufactured).
If I’m heading outdoors and it could rain or snow? I’ll be grabbing the TX-500 for sure. It’s a brilliant portable radio
Yaesu FT-818 or FT-817
While the Yaesu FT-818/817 has no serious weather-proofing, it does have an incredible study chassis like the TX-500 and was obviously designed for outdoor use. Both of my FT-817NDs have side rails and with those in place, I really feel like it would easily survive falling off a rock or log. In addition, I’ve heard stories of the FT-817 surviving some hard falls–that goes a long way for me. No doubt, it’s a study little rig!
The X5105: A close runner up?
I’ll admit that the Xiegu X5105 feels like a very study radio as well. The chassis is made of an aluminum alloy and feels rigid. Mine has a polycarbonate screen protector. I also like the fact that its buttons and the main encoder are all low-profile. It’s still pretty new to me, but it’s obvious Xiegu designed the X5105 to be rugged. If it fell off a rock during a SOTA activation, I wouldn’t worry too much.
Admittedly, I feel like the X5105 wouldn’t be terribly weather-resistant–the buttons are somewhat recessed and the button openings are quite large, likely allowing water intrusion. Of course, I haven’t cracked mine open yet (it’s still under warranty and is sealed), so I’m assuming there’s no effort to stop water intrusion internally.
Do you need a “rugged” transceiver?
That’s up to you.
One of my favorite portable transceivers is the Elecraft KX2. I’ve taken it everywhere. I’ve dropped it, it’s rolled off my clipboard, I’ve got caught in the rain with it, and I’ve even slid and fallen on my backpack when it was stored inside. I wouldn’t classify the KX2 as a “rugged” transceiver, yet it’s survived all of this without even sporting side rails (like its bigger brother, the KX3).
At the end of the day, if you like to operate in extreme conditions, put ruggedness at the top of your priority list. Otherwise, simply protect your transceiver in transport with a good waterproof case or padded/waterproof pack. If you’re worried about rain or water, bring a rain jacket or portable fly/canopy to protect you and your rig during operation.
Did I miss something?
What radios do you consider to be some of the most rugged on the market? I’m certain I’m overlooking some. First hand experience would be most welcome! Please comment!
I’m not a summer-heat-loving guy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Give me cold weather and I can hike and camp forever.
On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, it wasn’t cold outside, of course, but I still wanted to fit in a park activation and hike. Despite the forecast highs of 90F/32C. I had almost the entire day to play radio, too–a rarity.
When I have an entire day to devote to radio, I can either hit the road and try to hit multiple parks–perhaps as many as 5 or 6–or I can choose to venture further afield and hit a new-to-me park.
I tend to choose the latter and that Tuesday was no exception.
North and north by NW of Winston Salem, NC, are two parks I’ve always wanted to visit: Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park.
I devised a plan to first visit Hanging Rock, then Pilot Mountain. Both parks are close together geographically, but a good 30 minutes drive apart.
A quick check of the SOTA database and I discovered that there are actually two summits on Hanging Rock State Park’s grounds. One is off the beaten path a bit and would require some light map work, and the other–Moore’s Knob–is on one of the park’s main trails. Since I was putting this whole plan together morning of, I opted for the “easy” summit as I didn’t have time to double-check topo maps, parking areas, etc.
Hanging Rock State Park (K-2735)
Travel time to Hanging Rock was about 1 hour 45 minutes. Once I arrived on site, I discovered that, like many state parks, the main visitor’s center is being renovated.
I easily found the parking area for the Moore’s Knob loop. It being a Tuesday, the parking lot only had a few cars.
Pro tip: with the visitor’s center out of commission, stop by the swimming area pavilion for some proper restrooms/washrooms!
I planned to take the full trail loop in a counter-clockwise direction.
I’m glad I did, too, as the bulk of the ascent was a long series of steps. I’m not a fan of steps, but I much prefer using them heading up a mountain rather than down.
Near the summit, there’s a very short spur trail to Balanced Rock which is worth a visit not only for the rock, but also the views.
It being a North Carolina state park, there are some obligatory warning signs about how falling off of cliffs can lead to injury or death. These warning signs aren’t as prominent as those at Crowders Mountain State Park, though!
Moores Knob (W4C/EP-001)
There’s no mistaking the summit as there’s a large observation tower on top that affords some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the foothills, and Pilot Mountain (my next stop). There were a number of hikers on the summit of Moore’s Knob and it was actually pretty gusty up there, too. I searched and found a nice little spot to set up that was sheltered from the wind, shaded, and even had trees tall enough to hang my Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna!
Note: I brought the CHA MPAS Lite in case there were no good tree options on the summit.
Set up was quick and easy on the radio side of things, but as with most SOTA activations, positioning my tripod to make a video was the tricky part. Since I’m sitting on the ground, it can be difficult to find the right angle so that the radio, key, and notepad are all in the frame. (See my video below).
I started calling CQ at 16:00 UTC on 20 meters. I had a reasonable cell phone signal on the summit, so I was able to spot myself. Problem was, though, my hiking app seemed to be draining my iPhone’s battery very rapidly (that and my aging iPhone 7 probably needs a new battery at this point). After spotting myself, I shut down the phone to save power. I forgot to contact my buddy Mike (K8RAT) with a frequency, but he eventually saw me on the SOTA spots.
In a period of 29 minutes, I worked 20 stations on 20 meters.
Next, I moved up to 17 meters where I worked eight more stations in seven minutes.
I love effortless activations like this and part of me wanted to continue operating–even switching to SSB–but looking at the time, I knew I needed to hit the trail, make my way back to the car, and drive to Pilot Mountain.
I called QRT around 16:42 UTC and packed up my gear.
Not bad for 5 watts and a 31′ wire!
One highlight of this activation was meeting Jim (NA4J) who heard my CW from the summit and popped by to introduce himself. Although I trimmed out our conversation in the video (I’m not entirely sure he knew I was recording the activation), you’ll hear him in the first half of the activation.
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:
The hike back to the car was very pleasant. It was a bit longer than the path I took to the summit, but the descent had no steps which made it a breeze.
I had a radio topic on my mind during that hike and actually pulled out the OSMO Action camera and made a bit of a “hike and talk” video. It’s on the topic of ATUs and resonant vs non-resonant antennas. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll post it–the shaky camera might make some viewers sea sick! 🙂 We’ll see–maybe I’ll brave up and post it anyway…
Next, I drove to Pilot Mountain State Park for a quick afternoon activation. Although Pilot Mountain is a SOTA summit, too, it’s yet to be activated because the actual summit would require proper rock climbing, I believe.
As always, thank you for reading this field report! And thank you to everyone who has supported me through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. I truly appreciate it.
I hope you find time this week to take your radios outdoors to play, or to hunt some parks and summits from your shack, backyard or vacation spot!
And for those of you working on your CW skills, don’t give up and don’t stress about it. Take your time and allow your brain to absorb code by simply listening. When you feel you’re able to copy even some of the contacts in the videos of my activations, you’re ready to start hunting CW activators!
Until 2016, I had never purchased a commercial field antenna; I built all the ones I had ever used.
These days, I take a number of commercial antennas to the field and use them in my real-time videos and I really enjoy deploying and using them. My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) reminded me, though, that I hadn’t actually used a homebrew antenna in ages. He was right!
You see, while I believe commercial field antennas can be incredibly durable and compact, it’s important to note that antennas are one of the easiest components of an amateur radio system to build yourself. They require only the most simple of tools and are very affordable. And the best part? They can perform as well as those that are available commercially.
I also get a great deal of pleasure out of building things.
A simple goal
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I often set a little goal that runs in the back of my mind for each park or summit activation I make.
On Monday, June 14, 2021, I made a simple goal: buy my antenna wire en route to Lake James State Park, build the antenna on site, and complete a valid Parks On The Air (POTA) activation.
A very simple antenna
I also decided to employ my Xiegu X5105 since 1.) it’s one of the most affordable general coverage QRP transceivers I own and 2.) it has a built-in antenna tuner (ATU).
One of the cool things about having an ATU is that, if it has the matching range, you can allow it to do the “heavy lifting” in terms of matching impedance.
Although I’d never put the X5105 to the test, I suspected its internal ATU would have the matching range to forgo building a 4:1 or 9:1 transformer and simply pair it directly with a random wire.
All I would need was a 28.5 foot length of wire for a radiator, at least a 17 foot length for a counterpoise, and a BNC to binding post adapter.
The antenna would benefit from multiple 17′ counterpoises, but I really wanted to keep this setup dead simple to prove that anyone can build an effective field antenna with a very minimum amount of components.
Even though I have plenty of wire lying around the house to build this simple antenna, I wanted to pretend I had none to prove that any wire would work.
And to add just a wee bit more challenge, I also limited myself to shopping for antenna wire between my home and the park without making a serious detour from my route. That really limited my options because there isn’t much in terms of commercial areas between me and Lake James State Park.
As I left the QTH, I decided that the best spot to shop was a Walmart in Marion, NC. It would only be a four minute round-trip detour at most. I had a hunch that Walmart would even have speaker wire which would be ideal for this application.
In my head, I imagined I would have at least three or four choices in speaker wire (various gauges and lengths), but turns out I had a difficult time finding some at Walmart. We live in such a Bluetooth world, I suppose there isn’t much demand for it these days. A store associate helped me find the only speaker wire they had which was basically a 100 foot roll of the “premium” stuff for $17 US.
While I would like to have paid a fraction of that, in the end it’s not a bad price because once you separate the two conductors, you have double the amount of wire: 200 feet.
Although the frugal guy in me cringed, I bit the bullet and purchased their speaker wire. To be clear, though, I could have found another source of wire in that Walmart, but I preferred speaker wire for this application. And $17 to (hopefully!) prove a point? That’s a deal! 🙂
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
Once I arrived on site, I found a picnic site I’d used before with some tall trees around it.
Here’s how I prepared the antenna:
First, I cut 28.5 feet of the speaker wire from the roll and split the paired wires so that I’d have two full 28.5 foot lengths.
Next, I stripped the ends of the wire and attached banana jacks I found in my junk drawer. Although these aren’t necessary as the binding post adapter can pair directly with the wire, I though it might make for a cleaner install. In the end, though, I wasn’t pleased with the connection to the radiator, so dispensed with one of the banana jacks on site, and later dispensed with the other one as well. The connection is actually stronger without the banana jacks.
I then deployed the 28.5 radiator with my arborist throw line, and laid the other 28.5 half on the ground (the ground of this antenna would pair with the black binding post, the radiator with the red post). I only needed 17 feet of counterpoise, but once it couples with the ground, I don’t think any extra length makes a difference (although less than 17 feet likely would).
The antenna was essentially set up as a vertical random wire with one counterpoise.
I then plugged the BNC binding post adapter into the rig, hit the ATU button, and was on the air.
All I can say is that I’m incredibly impressed with the X5105 internal battery. This was my fourth activation from one initial charge on May 16. The battery lasted for 20 minutes, taking me well beyond the 10 contacts needed to validate this park. I’ll now consider taking the X5105 on a multiple SOTA summit run!
Even thought the heat was intense and the humidity even more intense, I decided to take in a 2 mile hike post-activation. I snapped a few shots along the way.
I’ll plan to add more counterpoises to the speaker wire antenna as I know this will only help efficiency.
In addition, I’ll plan to build even more antennas with this roll of speaker wire. If you have some suggestions, feel free to comment!
Each time I head to a park or summit, I have a goal in mind.
With summits, it’s getting to the summit and activating it because, sometimes, that can be a challenge in and of itself. I’m not exactly Sir Edmund Hillary, so I’m happy when I make it to the top of any summit!
Parks, however, offer me the chance to experiment with transceiver/antenna combos, test gear, and explore hikes. Parks tend to be more accessible and spacious than summits and even have shelter options if weather is questionable.
I don’t even attempt afternoon summit activations if they require a decent hike and there’s a good chance of pop-up thunder storms.
On Monday, June 7, 2021, it was hot and incredibly humid in the Piedmont of North Carolina. That early afternoon, little patches of showers were passing through the region delivering brief, isolated downpours.
The weather forecast also predicted a high likelihood of thunderstorms that afternoon. (Turns out, they were correct.)
Those were not conditions for a SOTA activation, rather, I decided to pick out a park I knew could offer up some shelter options. Lake Norman was an obvious choice–there’s a very nice covered area at their visitor’s center and also two large picnic shelters at the other side of the park. Lake Norman it was!
I drove to Lake Norman State Park with one goal in mind: deplete the Xiegu X5105 internal battery. I had assumed the battery would only power the X5105 for perhaps two activations on one charge.
Now three full weeks later, I decided I would deplete the battery at Lake Norman because that afternoon I had a decent amount of time to play radio in the field. In my head, I was prepared to squeeze perhaps 30-45 minutes more air time out of that one May 16 battery charge.
Lake Norman (K-2740)
I arrived at Lake Norman State Park and scouted out a site. Fortunately–it being a Monday in the early afternoon–it wasn’t busy and all three shelters were available.
I chose to set up at a shelter at the far end of the main picnic area.
The humidity was so thick that day, I was sweating just walking around the site. I noticed in my activation video (see below), I was breathing as hard as I would hiking to a summit even though I was just tooling around the picnic shelter.
I had no doubt in my mind that if a thunderstorm developed, it would be a doozie! (I was right about that, too–keep reading.)
On The Air
I paired the Xiegu X5105 with my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 mainly because I wanted to see how easily the X5105 ATU could match this multi-band vertical. Turns out? Quite easily.
I expected the X5105’s battery to deplete to the point that I would need to use an external power source to complete the activation, so I connected my QRP Ranger battery pack, but didn’t turn it on. I knew that when the radio died, I could flip the QRP Ranger’s power switch and perhaps only lose a few seconds of air time.
I hopped on the air and started calling CQ. I planned to operate the X5105 until the internal battery died, then (if needed) continue operating with the QRP Ranger until I logged my 10 contacts for a valid activation. Post activation, I planned to hike one of the Lake Norman loop trails.
Normally, I would mention the number of contacts I made perhaps noting the bands that were most productive. Instead, if you’d like to experience this activation with me, you might consider watching the activation video.
Please note that this is the longest video I’ve ever published, so don’t feel any pressure to watch it in its entiretity:
Let’s just say that the X5105 sold me.
The activation was incredibly fun and I logged 20 stations (18 CW and 2 phone) from Alaska to Spain with my 5 watts and the MPAS 2.0 vertical. Propagation conditions were only “meh” but since I had the time to play radio longer, I was able to take advantages of little openings as they happened.
The X5105 won.
I simply gave up on trying to deplete the internal battery because I was running out of time to fit the activation and a much needed hike that afternoon before thunderstorms moved in.
I operated over 90 minutes with constant CQ calls and the battery never made it below 10.2 volts.
A most welcome surprise.
No mic, no problem!
During the activation, I remembered that I had been asked by readers and viewers to include more SSB work.
Problem was, I left my X5105 mic at the QTH (nearly 2 hours away by car).
I remembered though that, like the Elecraft KX2, the X5105 has a built-in microphone.
I decided to give that mic a trial by fire and, by golly, it worked!
Not only did it work, but it worked well.
The X5105? A keeper.
It was at Lake Norman that day, I decided the X5105 was a keeper.
That evening, I reached out to Radioddity–who lent this X5105 to me–and offered to pay full retail price for it either in cash or via ad credit
Since Radioddity is a sponsor on my other radio site–the SWLing Post–we decided that, since their ad was coming up for renewal soon, I would simply extend their ad time an equivalent amount of months as the full value of the X5105 ($550 US). This saved them from having to cut a check in two months. Worked for both of us.
I have much, much more to say about the X5105 and will do so in an upcoming review.
In short, though? It’s not a perfect radio by any means, but I feel like it really hits a sweet spot for the QRP field operator.
I enjoy putting it on the air and it’s an incredibly capable little transceiver.
I’m very pleased to now put it in rotation with my other field radios. Look for it in future reports!
Here’s the QSO Map for this activation (click to enlarge):
Hike and dodgy weather
After packing up my gear, I walked over to a nearby trailhead and checked out the trail map. I was prepared to take a very long hike that afternoon despite the heat and humidity, but I also knew conditions were ripe for a thunderstorm.
I decided to take what appeared to be a fairly short loop trail along the lake. Looking at the map, I assumed the trail might be 1 mile or so long.
The hike is well-worn and well-marked, so there’s no getting lost here. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t bother looking at my GPS map or even consulting the trailhead map in detail.
Instead, I simply started hiking the Lake Shore Trail loop. It was gorgeous. Here are a few photos (click to enlarge):
The skies started getting dark, though, and I heard a little distant thunder.
I decided it might make sense to consult my phone for the weather map.
A line of thunderstorms had developed and they were sweeping toward me. Time to pick up the pace of hiking!
It was at this point I realized I had underestimated the length of this loop trail. Part of me was quite pleased that it was longer than I anticipated, but the part of me that didn’t want to be caught out in a t-storm wanted to get back to the car ASAP.
I checked another weather map a few minutes later.
I decided that jogging the rest of the trail made sense!
Turns out the 1 mile loop was something closer to 3 miles when I included the walk back to the car.
I did make it back to the car in time, though, right before the heavens opened.
It’s no exaggeration to say that I was sincerely concerned about the possibility of tornadoes in that storm front.
The skies were dark enough that streetlights turned on and the rain was incredibly heavy with strong wind gusts. I saw flash flooding and driving conditions were nearly impossible. I parked next to a brick building in the town of Catawba and waited for the strongest part of the storm to pass. I was also very grateful I wasn’t still on the trail by the lake!
Of course, the storm passed and I expected conditions to be a little drier behind that front, but I was wrong. I think the humidity level increased to 150%. Ha ha! No worries, though, as I was on my way to air conditioned space!
Thanks so much for reading this field report and stay safe out there!
Preamble: Based on some social media comments, let me say at the outset that: a) I know that the ATU does not tune the antenna, but provides a good match to it; b) resonant antennas are more efficient; c) that you can tune a dummy load; d) just because you can tune something doesn’t make it an effective radiator. I do know these things. This post is intended as a bit of fun and to see just how much of a mis-match this ATU can handle to press objects into service as an antenna, even a very inefficient one. Please don’t take it too seriously!
Ask any Xiegu owner of the X5105, G90 or the XPA125B linear amp, and they will all tell you that they have great auto-tuners. Well, I own a X5105 and recently was lent a G90 for review for Practical Wireless. I decided to put the ATUs to the test using my X5105.
But what challenge to give it? Well, how about trying very, very long and very, very short antennas? What about metal gates, a cow shed roof, the framework of a polytunnel and a stock trailer?
I love G4USI’s philosophy with this fun experiment: see if it’ll match, then see if you can get spotted!
Xiegu ATUs certainly have a wide matching range–so do the Elecraft KX series ATUs. Indeed, having a super capable trans match means that you don’t necessarily need an extra inline transformer to make matching a non-resonant wire easier.
And I see why G4USI mentions that there’s a difference between a good SWR and efficiency. It’s an important note because, yes, dummy loads will yield perfect SWRs!
Many, many moons ago, I used to participate in a fun contest where the idea was to make as many contacts as possible from not-so-standard antennas. The rules of the contest really pushed the operator to metal objects that, in no way, resembled an antenna. They didn’t allow electric fences or even gutters, if I recall correctly.
One year, I remember loading two identical small trampolines and my in-law’s house. I think I ran them QRP with my Elecraft K2 and used a ZM-2 manual tuner to match them. I’m sure they weren’t efficient, but it worked! I made several contacts with other contest stations and it was amazing fun!
Have you ever had success with a non-traditional antenna? Please comment!
I told Thomas I would do my own field test of the Xiegu X5105 doing a couple of Parks on the Air activations and what I thought of the radio.
I have had several radios I’ve used on POTA and SOTA activations over the past year and without a doubt my favorite radio for out in the field is my ICOM IC-705. It has everything I want in a portable radio, however I’m also enjoying it alongside my ICOM IC-7300 in the shack. Therefore I’ve looked at other portable radios for field use.
My latest acquisition was a used Xiegu X5105 that I purchased used on QRZ. The radio works fine and for the most part the menu system with it is very easy to understand. As Thomas has pointed out, the CW memory is absolutely insane to use. It just makes no sense to me why with the 10 memory slots that it’s really impractical to use more than the memory in Slot 1, which for me is the CQ POTA. I would never even have known how to set it up in the first place without instructions to Tom that was shared in Tom’s post regarding the X5105.
I got the radio on June 3, played around with it in the shack to get familiar with it and programmed in the memories. I went to K-5481 (Wm. Penn State Forest), which has several parts scattered around eastern Pennsylvania. It has a very small 10 acre tract in the Cornwall mountains between Lancaster and Lebanon County, which is also at a SOTA summit. I used my Sotabeams EMCOMM III antenna and turned on the radio to start calling CQ POTA. For the life of me I could not get the CQ message to send, so I gave up on that and used my CW Morse paddle and did it the old fashioned way. I also spotted myself on the cluster and made 3 QSO’s on 40 meters fairly quickly. I had success on 30 and 17 meters as well. In total, there were 10 QSO’s made in about 45 minutes.
Other than my disappointment not being able to easily send the CQ from memory, overall I was pleased with the activation. When I got home I investigated again how to send CW. I also learned how to use the DSP to make it more narrow on CW, which I was thankful for. I then started to see if I could go hands free using my Heil headset that I was able to use when I had the G90. Unfortunately that did not work at all using the AD-1-iCM adapter as it would not transmit with the foot pedal. I did use the Heil headset in the side jack and put the radio in headset mode. I was disappointed to find that I had to increase the volume up the whole way to be able to hear CW loud enough for my old ears. When I unplugged the headset suddenly the radio RX was very loud. (If anyone can offer a solution, please let me know).
Today I took it to my local POTA park near my house, K-1418 (Samuel Lewis State Park). I used the same Sotabeams antenna and was on the air in no time. Band conditions were not so good and I ended up with 18 QSO in just over an hour. It was nice having the CQ function working, however I am used to the interval where it would automatically send every 7 seconds like the IC 705 does. Not a big deal, I just had to press the PTT button on the top.
I never tried using the radio on SSB before so I called unsuccessfully on 20 meters and went to 40 where KM4JEG called me and gave me a 55. Sadly, I had to take my headset off because when I keyed the mic I was hearing my distorted voice through the headset. So, headset was removed. I didn’t expect that was going to happen, so now on SSB, I’m not able to use the headset, at least on TX.
I really like the internal battery in the radio. I did not have to bring the Bioenno 12v 3aH battery along. The internal battery works great!
It is very portable. I watched a YouTube video, and unfortunately I cannot find who it was, but they had an Osprey UltraLight Roll Organizer which I purchased on Amazon. This is perfect for storing the X5105 and the few accessories it needs, in my car so I’m always going to have a portable radio available when I travel.
The ATU is great on the radio. I can tune all the bands I want to work with the Sotabeams antenna. This also saves having an extra wire and external ATU like I would have to use on the IC 705 with this type of antenna.
The radio is nice and portable and will store nice in my car when not in use and will be ready to go.
The CW presets are almost worthless and not easy to get to. Once I found how to send from the memories, it only really makes sense to use one of the memory slots. I wouldn’t easily be able to switch to a 73 menu shortcut, then go back to the CQ memory.
With the headset plugged in, when I was transmitting CW, I could hear some distortion while it was sending, however it was not too bad, but something I’m not used to hearing.
The headset for SSB could not be used at all due to the distorted noise it made. Also, the volume for the headset and the volume through the radio are night and day. As I mentioned before, when I unhooked the headset and the audio came out of the radio again, I had to quickly adjust the volume down.
Overall, my opinion of the radio is this: For the price and the features it has, I would say it’s a good field radio, as it is easy to store in the car, it has the built in ATU if being used on a random wire antenna, and for 5 watts, people had no problems hearing me, even with poor band conditions and QSB. I hope this radio grows on me, and in the back of my mind don’t find myself thinking during the activation, gee I miss my IC-705 out here.
I know comparing the X5105 to the IC-705 is like comparing apples to oranges. Each radio has it’s good and bad. For the price difference, the Xiegu definitely is worth the price. I would never use it as a first HF radio in the hamshack if I were a new ham. This radio is also not going to be used by me on digital modes. If I want to do digital or work a contest while doing a POTA, then there is no doubt the 705 is coming along for the activation. The Xiegu will be used by me when I want to use a random wire antenna since it has the built in ATU, along with the fact it will be light in the backpack if I am hiking to a summit, and the IC 705 will be used with one of my end-fed half wave antennas or the Hustler vertical array so I don’t need the mAT-705 which I’ll use in the hamshack. I’m trying my best to get away from wires all over the place when I activate, so the laptop computer is staying home. I really like the HAMRS logging program, which I highly recommend, on my Android Samsung S-20.
If anyone who reads this who has some insight into some of the issues I mention, please reply so I have a better understanding of this radio.
Scott Lithgow (KN3A) is a contributor on QRPer.com. Click here to check out his previous posts.
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.