Portable QRP Ops

I like to keep a QRP rig in the car.  I like to operate QRP portable.  I'm not about to try and send Morse Code while operating a moving car.  I admit, I'm not coordinated enough for that!  And it seems I hardly ever get the chance anymore; but I do like to leave the building where I work at lunchtime, go out to a local park, and set up the QRP station.  I have it down to the point where I can unpack, set up and start listening on the bands in under five minutes.  And I have found a little QRP everyday breaks up the work day nicely, releases a little stress and invigorates me for the rest of the day's work to be done.  And even more enjoyable than this, is to bring the QRP gear out into the sunshine and warm weather on a day off or a weekend.  Whether it be a park, a grassy field, or even the backyard patio table .... sitting down and operating in the fresh air is, well ..... refreshing!

A brief word about logging QSOs on the field. I used to use a Palm Tungsten E.  But now with the proliferation of small netbooks, I procured an Acer Aspire One last winter.  I have N3FJP's AC Log loaded onto it and use that.  I also have the same program on my main home computer and the shack laptop.  I can share the same data on all three - how's that for backup?!?

The picture to the left shows pretty much the entire portable station.  Starting at the upper left we have the K1 in an Rubbermaid container (more about this below). Going clockwise, is a slingshot, the SLA battery, headphones and Emtech ZM2 tuner. All the equipment below is stored in those disposable "Glad type" tubs that deli meats come in.  Beneath the tuner are pencils, velcro tape and cable ties and some 1 oz. fishing weights.  Underneath that, with the yellow base, is the single lever paddle that I use. To the left of those is my Autek antenna analyzer and below that is a 4:1 balun and a Swiss Army knife.  The last container in the bottom left corner holds cables, connectors, misc. items.  I have plenty enough room left over to add in my 88 Foot Zip Cord EDZ and other items like some snacks or whatever if it's going to be a daylong trip.

The picture to the right shows the rucksack filled with the contents of the picture to the left.  They stack very nicely on top of each other; and everything is compartmentalized so that there is nothing loose or exposed to get damaged.  I also included my solar panel and a legal pad inside the rucksack.  These double as a back support and keeps the sack standing upright when I set it down.

Now .... about the container for the K1.  I wanted a container to safely store the K1 in the rucksack.  I wanted something that would cushion it and protect it from getting mechanically and cosmetically damaged.  The solution was found one day while grocery shopping at the A&P.  I bought a Rubbermaid container and made some modifications:

The container as it came home from the store. With the help of the hot glue gun and some foam, the top becomes cushioned. A better view of how I glued foam to the lid and how nicely it held.  This is 1/2 inch foam. The same foam lines three sides inside the bottom part of the container.  The K1 fits snugly without any play or jiggling.

After the glue dried, I put the K1 in the container and gave it the "jiggle" test.  I shook it around pretty good in my hands and there was no evidence of any audible rattling around.  Also, upon opening the container, it was evident that the K1 "stayed put".  The other good thing about using a Rubbermaid container is that these are guaranteed to be "leak proof".  So if soup or whatever is not supposed to get out; then by the same token, rain water should not be able to get in!

CQ Coax

Portable Antennas

What do you use when you're out in the field and away from the shack at home and your everyday antennas? Obviously you can't bring that multi-band Butternut vertical, or that tower and beam, or that 360 foot horizontal loop out with you for that jaunt into nature with your portable QRP rig.

,I have three solutions - Hamsticks on a magmount on top of the car, a  portable vertical such as the PAC-12 or the Buddistick; and wire antennas like the NorCal Doublet.  The PAC-12 and Buddistick are both commercially available; but the NJQRP Website as a page with step by step instructions on "how to roll your own" PAC-12 (link below).

The Hamsticks and the magmount work well.  But they are a compromise - no doubt.  What they have going for them is ease of operation.  They are easy to keep stowed in your hatch or trunk.  They set up so fast that unless you keep this arrangement mounted on you car permanently, which will allow you to get on the air instantly; you can set up and start operating within just one or two minutes - easily!  However, if these are your only solution, then you have to stay in or somewhere near your vehicle to operate.  And sometimes that just isn't practical; or it might be something that you just don't want to do.  Also, I have found out that these antennas work quite well for frequencies at 20 Meters or higher, Below 20 Meters you have to make sure you have good connections between your car chassis and the body for a good groundplane; or unusable SWRs might result. 

For plans on the PAC-12, click here.  The PAC-12 was a good homebrew HF antenna project. The way this antenna breaks down for portability and it's ultra light weight are what drove me to try it.  In its unassembled form the antenna is about 4 or 5 twelve inch pieces!  Assembled, it's a vertical over eight feet in height!  Jim's instructions are also super easy to understand; but the manufacture is a bit more involved.  You have to thread some aluminum rod so that the ends are 1/4 20.  For me this was no big deal, as I use taps and dies in my line of work, which requires some simple machining skills.  For the uninitiated it might seem a little intimidating and daunting; but fear not!  This is a really simple antenna to build.  The ease of use and portability outweigh any misgivings you might have about building this one. And Jim, KA5DVS gives an excellent primer on thread cutting with his assembly instructions.  Another way to go about it is to just by 1/4" threaded rods.  This will work nicely if you're still squeamish about the tap and die thing; however, it's not as elegant as using plain aluminum rods.

The Buddistick is available commercially; but I think if you're resourceful enough you could probably follow W3FF's plans for the homebrew Buddipole and figure something out.  As far as the commercial versions go; the PAC-12 and Buddistick are pretty much identical performers.  However, the Buddistick (in my humble opinion) seems to be sturdier and more substantial

Pro's - They are both easy to use verticals.  The PAC-12 is a fairly efficient antenna; and it's design took top merits in the HF Pack antenna shoot out a few years back.  It can be used anywhere via sticking this antenna directly into the ground or by mounting it on a small photographic tripod.  I homebrewed a small tripod by taking a piece of flat steel bar stock (1/8" thick) and cut three pieces about a foot long.  I drilled a hole at each end and put a 1/4 by 1 &1/2 inch bolt through to act as a pivot and a mounting stud for the center insulator. So, it requires no mast - which can be a MAJOR consideration if extreme portability is of paramount importance to you.  It was very inexpensive to build; maybe an outlay of about $25 in materials.  All materials can be found at your local hardware store and Radio Shack. Lastly, this antenna was designed to be used on all bands 80 through 10 meters - weight is not an issue at all.  Cons- The construction is a bit involved; but if you are handy and are used to homebrewing, then it's no big deal. However, specialized tools, a 1/4 20 die and a 6-32 tap are required.  Also this antenna (like all verticals) requires the use of radials.  I use six 15 foot long pieces of speaker wire which I have all soldered to an terminal ring.  I just attach the ring to the bolt that goes through the center insulator and spread them out like the spokes of a wheel.  Not a biggie; but mention radials to some Hams and they go screaming into the night!  Lastly, at least with the homebrewed version of the PAC-12, when you want to change bands, you have to change coils.   Most folks seem to buy the commercial PAC-12 with the multiband coil, where changing bands meand changing the postion of a movable tap.

The Buddistick, on the other hand, comes only with a multiband coil and instead of radials, it uses a single wire counterpoise.  The first time I used it at Lake George, while on vacation, I worked a station in Portugal on 5 Watts.  As I've said before, the Buddistick does not outperform the PAC-12; but it is definitely beefier and sturdier.  YMMV.


To the left is a picture of the PAC-12 which appears courtesy of the NJQRP group (of which I am a member).  All my efforts to photograph it well have been for naught - so far!  Notice this version uses the multiband coil with the movable tap.  Using an antenna analyzer takes the guess work out of finding the right winding for the tap.

This is a photo of me with the K1 and the PAC-12 (which just does not photograph well; but it's the vertical line to the right of me) set up at a picnic table while on vacation up at Lake George, The antenna serves me very well. In addition to my homebrew version, I have since picked up a "pre-owned" commercial version for a song.  It came with the multi-band coil and it is super convenient to change bands.

The NorCal Doublet is an EASY to make 44 foot doublet using ribbon cable.  The link for instructions can be found here.  I made mine in under a half an hour !  This antenna is extremely lightweight and portable - it weighs a few ounces ..... maybe !  It is extremely easy to use; but you need supports for this one.  Either two trees (where you then have to deal with tossing antenna support line over branches) or you can take along a support when trees are not available.  I plan to use a 20 foot Crappie pole that I bought from Cabelas - the Black Widow (does that sound sexy, or what?).  When I use the Black Widow, the Doublet is configured as in Inverted Vee.  In either case, it involves more set up time than just plunking a Hamstick on the top of the car.

I have recently added another antenna to my "portable arsenal".  I have expounded upon the idea of the NorCal Doublet and have built what I like to call the "Zip Cord 88".  This is a 88 foot EDZ or Extended Double Zepp made from speaker wire.  Construction is pretty much the same as the NorCal Doublet with the exception of materials and lengths.  Instead of using ribbon cable, I went out and bought a 75 foot roll of 22 gauge speaker wire.  I measured off the first 44 feet and made a mark with a small cable tie.  I split the wire to that point to make two 44 foot legs; and the balance of the roll becomes the feedline.  I was having problems getting the NorCal Doublet to load up easily on 40 Meters.  I was able to do it; but in my case the settings on my Emtech ZM2 tuner were quite precise and finicky.  I have found that the Zip Cord 88 loads better and the K1 doesn't fold back the power as the result of the better match.

Portable Antenna Summary

Ease of Set-up
Hamsticks on car
 NorCal Doublet / Zip Cord 88
PAC-12 / Buddistick

Summary : When I'm really pressed for time the Hamsticks are the best for one reason only. I can set up my ENTIRE station and can be calling CQ in under 5 minutes!  The other antennas take a bit more time  - not a lot; but more than the Hamsticks.  If you're in a situation where time is not a tight commodity, then the PAC-12 / Buddistick or the doublets will outplay the Hamsticks.

There are a bunch of other antennas out there for portable QRP use.  These three are what I use.  Besides regular ol' wire antennas, you might want to check out the St. Louis Vertical, verticals made using lightweight fishing poles as supports (like the Black widow or the Crappie pole special).  I'm also thinking of experimenting with an EFHW (End Fed Half Wave) wire antenna.  Basically a hunk o' wire you throw up in a tree and feed directly to to your radio (through a matching network).  I hear lots of QRPers rave about them!  Your options are many !!!