I Got Bit By The SOTA Bug

Meeting with the SASQ group at Cheaha State Park this past weekend renewed my interest in SOTA. Over the past year, I have gotten myself in pretty good shape making SOTA more doable. I started putting together a bag for hiking to SOTA Summits. I have hiked and backpacked at different parts of my life so I have an idea of what I need (and want) for a kit. Since I’m an old guy, I do not want to be carrying the kitchen sink with me. I have a QRP radio coming, but that’s another post. Here is the list of my current load out.

I’ll start with my E&E bag short for Escape and Evasion. Typically an E&E bag has the bare minimum of gear. This bag travels with me when I leave my home area. I move it from bag to bag as needed. The bag is a Tom Bihn Handy Little Thing (HLT) size 2. Loaded, it weighs 24 oz (1.5 lbs).

Here is a list of the contents:
Mechanical Pencil
Bullet (Space) Pen
Rite in the Rain Notebook
Mylar Rescue Blanket
2 – Eye Glass Cleaners
2 – Dude Wipes
First Aid Kit
2 – Safety Pins
1 – 1 Liter Water Bag
Compass w/signal mirror
Survival Guide
Dental Floss
Ferro Rod, Striker, and Magnesium
Fire Tinder
Duct Tape
Mini Screwdriver
Flash Drive
Evidence Card
Large Magnifying Glass
Small Magnifying Glass

To carry the radio and associated gear, along with food, water, etc., I decided to use my Camelbak HAWG. It is the older style. I like it because it prevents me from overpacking. The bag and gear without the E&E bag weigh an even 6 lbs., 7.5 lbs with the E&E. With adding food, water, and radios, I am hoping to keep the weight below 15 lbs. I’ve done some Go Rucking with 40 lbs so this should be a breeze.

Here is the list:
Canteen, Cup, and Cover (canteen is Nalgene)
Potable Aqua
MRE Spoon
Garbage Bag – Contractor
Rope Kit w/Duct Tape
Triangular Bandanna
Insect Repellent
Tincture of Iodine
Sit Cushion
Tent Stakes – 6

There you have it. enough to cover most events that may happen on an excursion into the wilds, but not too much where you feel like a pack mule. Next work on the radios. 73 – Scott

A little CW Project

I have the K1EL WKUSB-SMT keyer. I like it a lot. I use it at home and in the field. I would normally either plug it into my laptop or a battery for power. However, I am trying to clean up my act and reduce some of the cabling I have. The keyer will run for months on 3 AAA batteries that stow inside the case. It is a little bit of a chore to change them out due to the 4 teeny screws that hold the clamshell case together. Fine at home, but could become an issue in the field.

I put the batteries in and placed the keyer right-side up in my field box. When I got to the campsite and took the box out of my truck, I heard “dah-di-dah-dit, dah-dah-di-dah” I must have bumped one of the buttons. I open the box and there was the keyer chirping away — with no way to turn it off. Luckily, the paddles were in the top tray so it was easy to hook them up and send a dit to stop the keyer.

When I got home, I scrounged a few parts. All I needed was an SPST switch, some wire, and shrink tubing.

I found an open spot below the paddle connector and drilled an appropriate-sized hole.

A little bit of solder and some heat on the shrink and I’m done.

Now when I travel, I just flip the switch to turn it off. It probably took me more time to write this than to complete the project.

I use the keyer a lot. It integrates with ACLog seamlessly. There is also an app that allows me to program the keyer with a keyboard. I can then save the different message banks on the computer and load the one I need for the trip. I have one for POTA, SOTA, and Field Days. One thing I like is I can slow the CW speed for certain words. I’ll do that with Park ID. Start at 18, slow down for the park number, and then speed back up again. All with the push of a button.

I hope this gives you ideas for your own projects. 73 — Scott

Day POTA Activation – Cheaha State Park

This morning, 05 May 23, I decided to take a trip out to Cheaha State Park. It’s about a 50-mile drive but worth it since it is the highest point in Alabama. I enjoy the park and consider it my home park. The day was cool and foggy. Since I was operating out of the cab of the truck, it was nice not to see the sun.

For a change of pace, I brought one of my QRP radios, the IC-705 with the AH-705. I like this radio. It is easy (for me) to use since I have other Icom radios and the interface is similar. I don’t have to relearn the radio every time I use it. The antenna was my Frankentenna Mobile version. I also wanted to give it a workout at QRP levels.

I had another motive for bringing the IC-705. I purchased an app for my iPhone called SDR-Control Mobile. It was created by Marcus Roskosch, the same Marcus that made SDR-Control for iPad. This app connects to the IC-705 via Bluetooth and operates FT8 and CW. It also has a logging function along with several other tools. What drew me to the app was the ability to use my cell phone. The cell phone uses far less power and lasts a lot longer than tablets or laptops. I used it for over 2.5 hrs and the battery level barely moved. The app controls the radio like most other apps. FT8 was a breeze as most of it was automated and logging was a push of a button. Exporting the log was also clicky-click.

Band conditions were up and down and even though I operating QRP, I still managed to make 41 contacts. It was nice working FT8 while holding the phone in my hands. In the past, I would have to twist a bit to get to the laptop making it uncomfortable.

While operating, a fellow ham drove up and said he was looking for me! He and 4 others were operating a special event station about 200 yards down the hill from me. the club was the Southern Appalachian Summit QRPers. SASQ or Sasquatch. This is a group that prefers operating outdoors. They enjoy hiking to SOTA summits and operating portable with lightweight gear. I visited with them for a while and interviewed them for my YouTube channel. If you are interested here is a link to their website https://jesarge.wixsite.com/sasq

I made 41 contacts and here is a QSO map of the activation.

It was a good day, I made a few contacts and a few new radio friends. I may have to see about joining SASQ. I also added another tool to my portable operations tool kit. I like it when things end up win-win. Below is a short video on the activation. 73 — Scott

EmComm and FunComm

As I have said earlier, I practice EmComm to prepare for natural or man-made disasters when normal means of communication fail. FunComm is pretty self-explanatory, it’s things I do for fun. Fun things may include POTA, Field Days (winter and summer), supporting bike rides, and other club activities. I always like it when I can blend the two together. When I participate in POTA either for a weekend camp-out or a day activation, isn’t it kind of a practice run for an EmComm event? I use the same antennas and most of the time the same radios. My equipment gets a good exercise and I learn more about how they operate under different conditions.

Recently, I bought a new camper, the old one wasn’t working well for the things I like to do. The new camper is so much better but not without its growing pains. I had to find a better way to use the radios inside the camper. To save words, here is a picture of what I have been using. It works okay but because it uses part of the bed, it made sleeping uncomfortable. After this last camp out when I woke up all sore and twisted feeling, I decided it was time to find a better way.

The new desk stacks the radio and power supply above the computer. This reduces the overhang on the mattress. The desk area for the paddle does overhang a little but sliding the desk to the right when not in use alleviates that.

The other thing I did was make a cut-out on the door side to make it easier to get my legs out. This works really well and does not impair the stability of the desk.

The last thing is the main desk is 30″ deep and the shelf is 20″ deep. This leaves plenty of room for the radios and enough room to slide the computer under the shelf if I need the desk space for something else.

Sitting behind the desk, the radio controls were easy to get to.

The desk is made from one sheet of 3/4″ plywood with (2) 1×3″x8″ boards. The stain was a can of Minwax I had laying around, I think it was Golden Oak.

Construction was simple, using hand tools found in most garages. It is not a piece of art, I don’t have the time. My philosophy is that “Perfection is the enemy of good enough”. The desk is glued, screwed, and nailed without any fancy joinery. If I waited until I had time to do a better job, the wood would still be at Lowe s.

I tried it out in the driveway and everything works and feels good. The radio is easy to get to and the computer is a little high but not uncomfortable. With the cut-out, it is easy to get in and out of the camper. The next test will be at the end of the month during my next camping trip. Hope to hear you out there. 73 – Scott

POTA Activation K-3726 Kolomoki Mounds State Park

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to visit Kolomoki Mounds State Park in SW Georgia. It’s about 180 miles away and I can get there and back on one tank of gas. I like this park, it is a little out of the way and it is nice and quiet. Cell service/Internet is almost non-existent. What not to like, right!. This time I got a drive-thru campsite that was well-shaded.

Because of the trees, I had to mount my antenna to the truck instead of the camper. However, the shaded provided kept the camper cool and I only had to use the A/C intermittently. This was the first time I had to use the A/C and it will quickly freeze you out if turned up too high.

The setup was pretty normal, I used my K4SWL antenna which is a 28′ random wire with a 17′ counterpoise. It has a homemade 9:1 UnUn and a 1:1 current balun. The tuner is an LDG RT-100. I love this antenna. It is easy to put up and take down, and it performs very well. I include the stats a little later.

Inside everything is pretty much the same except this time the radio is my new Yaesu FT-710. This will be its first real workout. I plan on using FT8 with a little CW if the bands’ permit. As it turns out, the bands were not in that good of shape. I ended up running the FT-710 at 45 watts. On Saturday a G2 magnetic storm hit and wiped out the bands. Saturday during the day was rather slow. Here is a look at 20 and 30 meters. Normally the whole waterfall from east to west is orange.

The radio got a good workout. I went QRV on Friday at 1400 hrs eastern and ran until 0200 hrs eastern Saturday morning, then again at 0730 hrs Saturday morning until about 2330 hrs eastern Saturday night. Operation was a pretty steady diet of FT-8 at 45 watts. The FT710 didn’t even get warm. It’s one of the reasons I like to bring a big radio — I can run them pretty hard without them skipping a beat.

First impression of the FT-710? I like it. I feel it compares favorably with the IC-7300. Each one has its pluses and minuses but in the end, either one will work for my intended uses for them. What are my intended uses? These radios are my field radios. I use them mainly when I am doing outdoor/portable activities such as camping or public service. I look at amateur radio from two different perspectives. First, is amateur radio for fun doing things like POTA, SOTA, or the like as well as some public service events like bike rides, parades, etc. My second perspective is from Emergency Communications. I am quite involved with EmComm at the local/state/region/national level and participate regularly in training events as well as provide training. I have in the past deployed to several disasters as an EmComm Specialist. So, when I look at radios, it is from the point of view of whether can I use them for both of my endeavors. Radios like the FT-710 or the IC-7300 fill that bill nicely. EmComm is one of the reasons I like POTA and camping, It gives me a fun way to practice my craft and ensure my equipment is in good working order. The only way to get to know your gear is to get out and use it.

How’d I do? Not too bad, over the weekend I made 571 FT-8 contacts 46 States, and 19 countries. My best operating times were at night after the earth turned my location away from the sun. You can see that in the map below where I don’t have any contacts from the Pacific which were still sunlit. I had intended to operate a little QRP CW, but the propagation gods had different plans. I was glad to have a big radio with more power. Every time I go out, I learn something new, either about my gear or about myself. Each trip is a nice weekend in a park but also a training exercise to prepare me to deploy if need be.

Here is a video of the activation.

POTA Activation K-1037 Cheaha State Park

Yesterday (04/29/23), I was able to get away and do a day POTA activation. It’s a little harder for me as the nearest POTA parks are 45-60 minutes distant and none are in my normal paths of travel. Cheaha State Park in Alabama is one of the closest and I consider it my home park. Being the highest point in Alabama, it does have some spectacular views. I often set up just below the summit to get away from all the communications towers there.

Normally for a day activation, I bring one of my smaller low-power radios such as my IC-705. However, I recently added the FT-710 to the stable and I wanted to get it outdoors. Along with the radio, I built a new antenna configuration using my Frankentenna and a desk for the truck. Info about the antenna can be found here https://kk4z.com/2023/04/07/frankentenna-stealth-mode/ and the desk info can be found here https://kk4z.com/2023/04/07/necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention/ The setup looks like this:

As you can see the battery fits nicely under the seat. For this activation, I ran FT-8. I wanted to give the FT-710 a good workout similar to the workouts I give the IC-7300. Next weekend will be the FT-710’s first camping trip and that will also be FT-8. Working from inside the truck, all screens were easy to read. I had plenty of room for the radios, computer, etc.

Running the GPS for time sync and running FT-8 on the computer gave me about 2 hours of operating time. I do have batteries to extend the computer operating time but my time at the park was limited. During that time I made 64 contacts from 23 states and Canada. I usually get a couple from Europe, but band conditions were so-so and Europe didn’t happen. Here is a QSO map of teh activation.

Since this was a new antenna configuration, I included a PSKReporter map. As you can see the antenna did fairly well.

How about the FT-710? It is a likable radio. I feel it is on par with eh IC-7300. They both exhibit many of the same qualities. I would have no qualms about taking either to the field. In the next couple of months, the FT-710 will be used more to firm up what I like and dislike about it. Right now, I feel it is a keeper but, if I had to choose between the FT-710 and the IC-7300; in other words, if I could only have one, it would be the IC-7300. That would be more for personal preference rather than performance. Some of my preferences I have outlined in prior videos. As I said, if you are a Yaesu man or woman, get the FT-710. If you are an Icom man or woman, get the IC-7300. I don’t think you can go wrong with either one.

Here is a short video of the activation. 73 — Scott

A Foot in Both Camps

I like to keep a foot in both camps. The Icom and Yaesu Camps. When you blog or YouTube and voice an opinion, You should be as straightforward as possible. It’s hard to be objective when you use one radio (or brand) for years, and the other for a couple of weeks. On many levels, it does no one justice. That’s where I found myself a while back.

To be fair, I have used radios from both brands over the years. From the Yaesu camp, I had an FT-817, FT-950, and FTDX3000. From Icom I had an IC-706MKIIG, IC-7000, and IC-746 Pro. Over the last 7 years until now, I have an IC-7300 and an IC-7610. I found myself making comments about the FTDX10 while not actually having one. I decided right then, that to be fair, I needed to own one and not just for a couple of weeks. In October of last year, I bought my FTDX10 and put it to work. First as a field radio and then as a home shack radio. I make sure it gets regular exercise along with my IC-7610. I recently purchased a Yaesu FT-710. I want to try it as a field radio. My initial impressions are pretty good but time will tell. Over the next couple of months, I will be taking it to the field as my primary radio.

How do they stack up? In my opinion, the FT-710 competes and compares with the IC-7300. I would go so far as to say that they are fairly even in actual use. In other words, if you are married to the Yaesu system, then get the FT-710, if you are married to the Icom system, get the IC-7300.

While it is not fair to compare the IC-7300 with the FTDX10, it is also not fair to compare the FTDX10 with the IC-7610. Me, I use the IC-7610 for all my heavy lifting. It is my main shack radio. The FTDX10 I like to use for causal CW and for things like POTA. Each has its pluses and minuses. A while back, I did a comparison between the FTDX10 and the IC-7300, during the CQWW CW contest. Using the same antenna, every signal I heard with the FTDX10, I heard with the IC-7300.

Where does everybody fit in? Like I said earlier, I feel the FT-710 and the IC-7300 are rather comparable. Time will tell as I get more acquainted with the FT-710. The FTDX10, in my opinion, is better than the IC-7300 but not as good as the IC-7610 when looking at the whole picture. The IC-7610 is probably more in line with the FTDX101D.

So far, I like all 4 radios. I don’t plan on selling any of them soon. I like that I can speak from experience when talking about the differences or similarities of the radios. Over the next couple of months, the FT-710 is going to get a workout. I will probably have two trips in May and one trip in June and I plan on using it for Field Day.

After a day with the FT-710

I gave the 710 a bit of a workout yesterday. Mainly ran CW and FT8. I did find some differences between it and the 7300. To some, the differences may be small, but to others, not so small. My initial ranking putting the 710 behind the 7300 still stands. The 7300 is a bit easier to use and for all practical purposes, they hear about the same.

Using FT8, the 710 would sometimes do funny things to WSJT-X software. It would change the mode to FT4 when I changed bands. Also when changing bands, the software would lag behind the radio before it would change. It may be a polling issue. I do have the latest revision of the software.

Below is a video of some of the differences I found between using the 710 and 7300. You will have to excuse the gaffs, sometimes it gets a little confusing when switching between two different manufacturers. I don’t edit the videos, this is me doing the things I do. I got the 710 packed up and ready to go on my next adventure. This will be the first field test of the radio.

Happy Birthday to me and FT-710 Day 2

For my birthday, my wife bought me a JackTite 31′ pushup pole. I’ve had my Mfj-1910 pole for about 15 years and bought it used for $25. On my last outing, the joints were starting to slip. This time I went with JackTite. It’s a 31′ pole instead of a 33′ but it has a sturdier tip.

The MFJ is above and the JackTite is below. Overall they are about the same size.

The only mod I did was add some Gorilla Tape where the pole rubbed against my trailer hitch flagpole holder. Hoisting up a 12ga insulated antenna wire the tip does have a little sag but not near as much as the MFJ.

I normally tape the wire to the pole at the top three sections using a little electrical tape. 3M Super 88 is my go-to. The joints are tight and secure and the JackTite has a sturdier construction than the MFJ. I will take it out on my next camping trip. I’ll keep the MFJ as a spare.

Update on the FT-710. Yesterday, I spent the day setting up the radio. I’m not much of a tweaker once I get things set up, I get on the radio to operate and make contacts. If you look at military or commercial HF rigs, there is very little to tweak. I think I am close to where I like it. One very frustrating issue was getting the radio to operate FT8. I got everything to work except the audio on transmit. The software would key the radio, but no sound. I turned on the monitor and could hear it through the speakers, but the radio would not transmit it. so zero watts out. I worked on this for a couple of hours. Finally, I checked to see if there was a firmware update and there was. Duh, I know! The update fixed the issue, but really! The radio should have never left the factory like that. With the popularity of digital modes, that should have been a priority. Come on Yaesu!

On a good note, my first contact on FT8 was Turkey. First (or second) impressions. My intended use for this radio is a field radio and as such, it will work fine. My other radio is my trusted IC-7300. I’ve had the Icom for 7 years now and know it quite well. My field box is set up in such a way that to swap the radios out for a trip, all I have to do is swap the radio and the microphone and I am good to go. I pretty much bring the same things every time I go out. I am involved in EmComm and it pays to know your gear.

Where does the FT-710 fit in? I always thought that comparing the IC-7300 to the FTDX10 was unfair, but a lot of people did, and that should tell you how people think about the radio. I don’t think anybody will be comparing the FT-710 to the IC-7610. Today, I would place the FT-710 slightly behind the IC-7300. They are both good radios and if you are married to one manufacturer, then by all means stick with that brand. I have 2 Icoms and now I have 2 Yaesu’s, The FT-710 and IC-7300 will be my field radios. Currently, I do not have any intention of selling either one. Like the FTDX10, the FT-710 will be a long-term review. I wouldn’t worry about the Rob Sherwood numbers too much; it would be rare that the FT-710 would need that kind of filtering horsepower. The IC-7300 will hear everything the FT-710 will hear. I am looking forward to bringing the FT-710 on my next trip. 73 — Scott