Everybody Needs a Pocket Radio

By Jim Cluett

When you go out for a walk, you take your handie, right? 2 metersÖ 440Ö between the two you can usually hit a repeater somewhere. The concept is good. But without much trouble you can make it betterÖ like a few thousand miles better. All you need is the HF equivalent of a handie. So here it is: the Guide to HF Portable (REALLY portable. Iím not talking suitcase here.) for those who like being outdoors, like ham radio, and who want the thrill of a lifetime.

During the last couple of years of experimenting and reading, Iíve got my HF portable gear pretty much down to the size of a handie or two. Itís shirt pocket stuff, and I rarely leave home without it. Not for emergencies or anything specialÖ just for fun, just for the thrill of working California or the Ukraine from the edge of a brook or field along the way. You donít need anything elaborate or expensive. You can put together the entire setup for $100 or so. My setup is for CW, but you can do the same thing for SSB. The phone rigs are generally a bit bigger and a bit heavier and, of course, more expensive.

Yesterday was a pretty typical portable excursion. I took a brief hike North on Mountain Road to Dearborn Pond. I hung a 20 meter dipole from a couple of tree branches. I forgot to bring string so I just tied the ends of the wire (33 feet total) to a couple of branches maybe 8 feet off the ground. Usually Iíd throw it up 25 or 30 feet. I sat down on a rock overlooking the pond. It was beautifulÖ so was 20 meters. There was a contest going on, and the band was pretty active. I worked 15 states in 30 minutes. The contacts included California and Washington, and I even had a QSO with England.

Where to Find the Gear

Putting together a miniature field-ready radio is neither difficult nor expensive. Hereís a description of the gear I brought and some websites where you can see some of the stuff. First of all the entire setup weighs less than 2 pounds. I carry everything in a small Tupperware box.

  1. Small 20 meter rig. A kit runs between $85 and $100 dollars. I like the Small Wonder Labs DSW-20. http://www.smallwonderlabs.com also check out the SST from Wilderness Radio. Itís smaller and lighter but only covers 10 Khz of bandwidth. See http://www.fix.net/jparker/wild.html Iíve also used the MFJ Cub. See http://www.mfjenterprises.com These three rigs put out 2 watts. Take a look at the Elecraft KX1. It's a multiband rig with an antenna tuner. http://www.elecraft.com Also check out the tiny ATS rigs from Steve Weber, KD1JV. Steve is a real genius. http://kd1jv.qrpradio.com/ATS3B/ats3b.HTM
  2. Antenna Ė I took a simple 20 meter dipole. Itís made with 33 feet of light wire and 25 feet of RG-174 coax. The RG-174 is very thin and light. A dipole like this eliminates the need for a tuner. I keep the whole thing on a small plastic reel. But I often use a simple wire. A 30 foot vertical over a tree branch works great, but you'll need a tuner. Look at the T-1 from Elecraft at http://www.elecraft.com.
  3. Earphones Ė A standard lightweight pair of ear buds does perfectly.
  4. Key or Paddle Ė I use an inexpensive paddle that I bought from http://www.electronicsusa.com Itís model MK-44 and costs around $18. I often use a miniature straight key from Morse Express. Itís all brass and is about the size of your thumb. Itís called the mini Sox key. http://www.morsex.com/ Morse Express has the "mini Palm" paddle which is superb.
  5. Battery pack - This can be the heaviest part of the station. Iíve reduced my battery pack to 8 AA NiMH batteries from Radio Shack. This pack is rated at 9.6V but starts out at 11.2V or so. Itís 1600 mAh and will run one of the little rigs for about 4 hours of QSOs. It only weighs a few ounces. Check out Radio Shack No. 23-331B. I also use some Lithium Ion packs that are half the weight.

OkÖ so you noticed itís CW. Youíre scared. Get over it. There are a lot of guys out there doing 5 WPM and entire sections of the band where people hardly ever go over 10 WPM. No matter how bad your code is, you can still make contacts and have fun. AndÖ your code will get better. Itís not different from the first time you tried anything else. A little clumsy at first, but you got better pretty quickly.

You Want Phone not Code?

If you canít stand code and you still want to try HF portable, here are a few suggestions. You may be over the $100 bracket, and it will add a couple of pounds to the load, but itís not difficult. Look at the MMR-40 from QRPKits. http://qrpkits.com/mmr40.html This is a small, portable SSB rig designed for outdoor use. It works on 40 meters and costs just a little over $100. Also look at the Yaesu FT-817. I often take this rig when I hike. Itís bigger than the little CW rigs, but itís also a lot more versatile. Itís got 2 meters and 440 plus all modes, all bands HF. It works like a champ on SSB. http://www.yaesu.com/ The Elecraft K2 is excellent on SSB. See http://www.elecraft.com/ All three of these rigs are lightweight and draw very little battery current.

If you like the sound of outdoor adventure radio, here are a few sites that should help.

http://www.ae5x.com This is a site constructed by John Harper whoís been hiking with radios for years. He tells all about lightweight radios, antennas, and batteries and how to put them all together. Hereís another site: http://arsqrp.pbwiki.com/    This is the site of the Adventure Radio Society. They sponsor several outdoor QRP events each year and also hold a monthly Spartan Sprint contest for outdoor radio enthusiasts. Their site is loaded with information on small, lightweight radio gear. My own site has loads of pictures and stories about outdoor radio adventures: http://www.w1pid.com

Give me a call anytime. Iíll be glad to help you get started with pocket HF.