I contacted CP Gear Tactical shortly after outfitting my FT-817 with the TPA-817 pack frame. I measured the frame carefully and asked if the interior padded pocket (which is actually designed to hold a tablet–might fit my radio.
I never heard back from them. I could have called them, but on Black Friday, when it was on sale for 20% off and free shipping, I decided to throw caution to the wind and simply purchase it. My total price in USD was something like $62 shipped.
As soon as I opened the CP Gear pack, the first thing I did was check to see if the FT-817 with pack frame would fit in the interior pocket.
Much to my surprise, it fit it perfectly!
Indeed, it’s as if the pocket were specifically designed to accommodate the FT-817ND/TPA-817 combo.
Even the middle Velcro strap fits precisely in the middle of the radio between the pack frame side extensions. The strap holds the rig securely; once, I accidentally fumbled while holding the bag and even though it was upside down, the FT-817 remained securely inside. The strap held it in place.
The bag has loads of room inside. In fact, you can very easily transform it into a fully self-contained field radio kit.
I actually give a small tour of this pack in my activation video below, so if you’d like to see some of the exterior pockets, I would encourage you to check it out!
I try to start each year by doing a POTA or SOTA activation on New Year’s Day.
POTA actually issues a certificate for completing an activation on New Year’s Day so there are typically loads of activators and hunters working the bands. It’s an ideal time to play radio.
This year, we had a number of family activities on New Year’s Day, but I made a little time to fit in an activation during the late afternoon at my most accessible spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway: the Southern Highland Folk Art Center.
As with my last activation, I suspected I would be operating in the dark, so I brought my LED lantern along for the ride.
Although not intentional, this New Year activation had a lot of new-to-me stuff involved!
New VK3IL Pressure Paddle
The prior evening–on New Year’s Eve–while my wife and daughters were watching a classic movie movie marathon, I used the time to heat up the soldering iron and work through a few kits and projects that had been sitting on my desk.
Quanity of 1: Three conductor wire with a (typically) 3.5mm plug (note that I had one of these in my junk drawer)
Keep in mind: the components are surface-mount. If you’re not used to working with SMD components (ahem…that would be me) I suggest buying a few spares of each in case you lose or damage one or more during the build.
It also helps to cover the finished board in heat shrink not only to protect the board and make it easier to grip, but most importantly (if you’re me) hide your electrically-sound yet unsightly surface mount soldering job.
The build might have taken me 20 minutes.
New FT-817ND Narrow CW Filter
Some time ago, I purchased a second FT-817ND with the idea of doing full-duplex satellite work. I later realized I could be taking the second FT-817ND out to the field more often if I simply had another narrow CW filter installed, so I built one.
This New Year’s Day activation was actually the first time I’d taken this particular FT-817ND and its new narrow filter out to the field!
New Armoloq TPA-817 Pack Frame
Earlier this year, I also decided that I wanted to outfit my 2nd Yaesu FT-817ND with an Armoloq TPA-817 pack frame. The idea was to experiment with building a rapid-deployment field kit around it.
It seemed to me that the majority who posted messages in email groups and on social media had high praise for the FT-817/818. Indeed, many of those same people purchased an FT-818ND the same day of the announcement. The rush of FT-818ND purchases wiped out new inventory at most US retailers overnight.
Not everyone had praise for the FT-817/818 series, though. Many felt the ‘818 was a relic of the past and irrelevant in 2023. Some even posted long “good riddance” rants about the FT-818.
Naturally, as with any camping trip or extended travel, I’d put a lot of thought into choosing the portable transceiver and field kit to take along.
The great thing about camping at a state park is that I can “activate” that park via the “Parks On The Air” (POTA) or “Worldwide Flora and Fauna” (WWFF) programs pretty much anytime: early morning, late afternoon, or even in a late shift well into the night. Or, of course, all of the above. Since my activation site is also where I’m eating and sleeping, my radio usually gets heavy use.
Before leaving on that April camping trip, I knew what radio I wanted to operate the bulk of the time: my Yaesu FT-817ND. For a lot of reasons which I’ll delve into later, I think the FT-817ND (or its latest iteration, the FT-818ND) is an amazing QRP field radio.
Despite unstable propagation and a little campground QRM that moved in over the weekend––no doubt from a neighboring RV, chock full of noisy switching power supplies––I found the FT-817ND activation to be a most enjoyable experience. I posted a few field reports and activation videos from my New River activations on QRPer.com.
The thing is, each time I publish a field report using the FT-817ND, I receive a string of questions from subscribers and readers. Questions such as…
Should I buy a new FT-818 or a used FT-817?
Why do you like the FT-817ND so much?
What’s the difference between the 817 and 818?
How does the FT-817/818 compare with _____ radio?
Most queries, however, are a version of this comment from reader David:
“We have such a wide array of QRP rigs available to us these days, I’m curious what brings you back to the Yaesu for activations? It’s bigger than our more modern radios, with no ATU and more current draw. I’m just wondering if there is something that you find it does particularly well, or if it’s just ‘because I like to use it,’ which to me is an entirely valid reason, too! My 897 served me well, as does my 891; I’ve had Yaesu handhelds forever, so I’m certainly a fan. I don’t own an 817/8 but they have a devoted following so I just wanted to get your perspective on it.”
Or as another subscriber distilled the question:
“Why choose a legacy design like the 817/818 when newer QRP transceivers have better overall field specs and features?”
Of course, these types of questions are simple enough when it comes to asking, but when it comes to answering, much more complex.
Of course, as I said in my recent TSM article about choosing a field radio, one’s love of a particular radio is by definition quite subjective, and this certainly applies to my response…we all have our own personal preferences. But behind these preferences are objective facts, such as product’s unique features, specifications, and form factor; let’s take a look at these.
I took the family on a multi-day camping trip at New River State Park in April 2022. During that trip, I made an activation of New River each day and also fit in a quick SOTA activation (click here to read an overview). I didn’t film all of my on-the-air because some of that radio time was spent sitting around chatting with my family and even some neighbors at the campground.
I’m often asked if I ever charge my LiFePo4 batteries in the field via solar energy.
Truth is, I’m a big fan of solar, but I’m rarely in the field long enough to need to recharge my batteries via solar when performing SOTA and POTA field activations. It’s easier to charge them at home in advance (often via the solar system at our QTH).
In fact, one of my 3 Ah LiFePo4 Bioenno batteries can easily take me though 3-5 activations or possibly more, depending on the length of the activation and the rig I’m using.
For longer forays into the field, however, I love going solar.
Indeed, every few years, my family will stay in an off-grid cabin on Prince Edward Island (Canada) for up to 6 weeks at a time. Solar is the only practical way to stay on the air that length of time.
Of course, I also like having a solar option, when doing proper primitive/off-grid tent camping.
In the past, I’ve used a very simple portable solar charging system based on a variety of rigid and folding panels, a Micro M+ charge controller, and sealed lead acid batteries. The batteries are of course heavy, but they work brilliantly for fixed operations.
These days, I’m fully invested in LiFePo4 batteries and my Micro M+ charge controller is not really designed to pair with the BMS (battery management system) in my Bioenno packs.
If you were hunting POTA contacts last week, you might have seen my callsign pop up in the spots quite a few times at New River State Park (K-2748).
Our family decided to take a little break from everything–including the internet–and simply enjoy the great outdoors and a little camping in our small travel trailer (caravan).
It was amazing fun.
In terms of radios, I limited myself to two. While we had room for more, I decided in advance I wanted to spend some proper bonding time with my Yaesu FT-817ND.
I’m so glad I did.
I also brought the Elecraft KX2 but primarily planned to use it when operating off-site. This way, I could keep the FT-817ND system hooked up and ready for action at our camp site.
In fact, the KX2 remained in my SOTA pack for the duration of the trip as a grab-and-go. I had an absolute blast with it activating the summit of Mount Jefferson.
This camping trip gave me an excuse to use a station accessory I purchased last year: my Buddipole Powermini 2.
The Powermini 2 is a very compact and capable charge controller with an input for solar panels, a battery, two DC outputs, and even a USB power output. A genius little device.
I’ve been asked a number of times why I don’t do solar charging in the field during my activations. There are a few reasons, actually:
First of all, my activations tend to be short in duration–perhaps 45 to 75 minutes. I could easily operate for a few hours on one battery charge with most of my QRP radios. In other words, I rarely need to recharge in the field.
Often, my field activation sites are shaded by choice. Since I like to hang wires in trees, those same trees would block sunlight from ever hitting my panels.
Finally, unless I’m testing a new radio, I tend to take the least amount of accessories necessary to complete the activation. This is especially the case with SOTA activations. Since I’m unlikely to use solar panels, I leave them in the car or at the QTH. I do, however, keep them packed and at-the-ready should the need arise.
I paired the Powermini 2 with PowerFilm Solar folding panels I purchased many moons ago at Hamvention (I’m guessing in 2012 or so–?). These were blemished units and I snagged them for a brilliant price. Looking back, I wish I would have purchased a few more.
They’re only 5 watts each, but I run them in parallel to feed the charge controller with the equivalent of 10 watts.
QRP gear is so efficient, these modest panels actually do a respectable job keeping the battery topped off. At New River State Park it helped that our picnic table was in full sunlight most of the day.
Sure, we had shore power at the site, but where’s the fun in that?
During the week, the site had low levels of RFI/QRM. That all changed during the weekend when new campers moved in along with their leaky switching power supplies and noisy inverters.
On Saturday, I found it too frustrating to try making contacts from the campsite–the noise floor was a steady S7 with peaks around S9 simply washing over all but the strongest signals. I regretted not packing my Chameleon loop antenna.
Instead of fighting the QRM, I abandoned it. I drove to a large isolated picnic shelter at New River and set up the KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite antenna.
The site was noise-free and I had amazing fun.
I made quite a few activation videos, so I’ll eventually post them with abbreviated field reports.
Frankly, I am still catching up from having been offline so long.
Massive thanks to my good friend Eric (WD8RIF) who took care of QRPer.com while I was gone. He’s been moderating comments and making sure scheduled posts published properly. In fact, my friend Robert Gulley (K4PKM) was holding down the fort over on the SWLing Post too. I’m so thankful to both of them.
Also, many thanks to all of the hunters who worked me on multiple bands and in multiple modes. A special shot out to NE4TN who was a life saver and spotted me on several occasions when the connection between the POTA site and Reverse Beacon Network were down. Many thanks, OM!
Of course, I’d also 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 really appreciate the support. Your support actually helps to make radio fun like this possible.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the easiest POTA sites for me to activate when I’m at the QTH.
Pretty much anytime I head into Asheville from home, I’m going to cross the parkway. The BRP is such a refuge, I often take it to avoid hitting the Interstate or a busy highways. It takes longer, but it’s orders of magnitude more peaceful and pleasant than, say, Interstate 40.
On Monday, September 13, 2021, I had a small opening in my schedule in the afternoon and decided to pop by the Folk Art Center for a quick picnic table activation since I was passing by.
The Folk Art Center is a site where I typically deploy smaller, lower-profile antennas to keep from interfering with others who are enjoying the park. I try to keep my antennas very close to my operating spot and my counterpoises on the ground in a space where others aren’t likely to tread.
In the past, I’ve used the Wolf River Coils TIA, the Elecraft AX1, Chameleon MPAS Lite & MPAS 2.0, and once, a Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire. I avoid anything that slopes so that I don’t inadvertently “clothesline” unsuspecting vacationers!