Question for any QRP portable operators

Discussion in 'Discussions, Opinions & Editorials' started by WB3CII, Sep 26, 2012.

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  1. WB3CII

    WB3CII Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hey guys,
    I have a question for you mobile/portable type QRP operators. I have been thinking it would be neat to have a real portable qrp rig to take to the beach, camping, try the Summits on the Air etc. I like CW and have been looking at some of the small rigs from Elecraft, You Kit etc, but somehow they just dont make sense. By the time I buy an Elecraft KX1 or K1-4 or a You Kits HB1 I am going to be in at a minimum of $300 - $400 and only have a few bands and CW only. HRO has the Yaesu FT817ND for $649 and you get all the HF bands, 2 meters and 440 plus SSB and FM ???? I know $630 is a bit of a jump from $400 but it seems almost stupid not to go that route ??? Unless I am missing a big advantage of the "baby" rigs over the Yaesu ???

    I have no plans to operate QRP at home and I can always turn down my Kenwood if I really wanted to, so my question is strictly from a portable viewpoint.

    Any thoughts ? Any other suggestions or ideas on this type of operating also appreciated !

    Thanks and 73,
  2. N2EY

    N2EY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Couple of factors to consider:

    1) Does the FT-817ND come with a CW filter? If not, what's the total price of the rig and filter?

    2) Same question for an ATU to match field antennas?

    3) How good a performer are the various rigs?

    4) How much do size and weight matter? (When you have to carry the rig for miles, it's a different thing from carrying it a few feet from car to picnic table)

    5) How much does power drain matter? Rigs like the K-1 and KX-1 have incredibly low requirements, particularly on receive.

    6) How well does the rig work when the battery voltage starts dropping?

    7) How much does being able to build and fix the rig yourself matter?

    If you really want to do a comparison, check out the KX3 with ATU against the FT-817 with ATU and CW filter....

    73 de Jim, N2EY
  3. N4OGW

    N4OGW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Two advantages of say a KX1 over a 817:

    1) lighter weight (0.6 vs 2.6 pounds)
    2) much smaller current draw on receive (34 mA vs 370 mA)

    If "portable" means carrying all of your stuff on your back, then the KX1 is better. If portable means operating from your back yard
    or your car, then carrying the heavier batteries needed isn't a problem.

  4. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I have a KX1 and an FT-817ND.

    KX1 is great fun to use and mine has the "attached paddle" option (it's cheap), so that's one less thing to carry about. Its current drain on RX is so low that fresh batteries will last a very long time.

    The 817ND, OTOH, does eat up batteries faster but is a lot more versatile and also works HF-SSB (and digi modes) as well as VHF-UHF FM/repeaters, which can be very handy to have.

    For "backpacking," I'd grab the KX1. For operating from a picnic bench and not carrying stuff a lot, I'd grab the 817ND.

    Either way, of course the antenna(s) used really determines what you can work much more than the rig does!
  5. G8ADD

    G8ADD Ham Member QRZ Page

    The FT817 is in very widespread use amongst the SOTA fraternity, and at least a third of the SOTA activations employ CW. The rig has semi break in operation and a built in electronic keyer. If you put a set of high capacity NiCd cells in the battery box supplied as part of the outfit the rig is good for a couple of hours on SSB, longer on CW, and the "green wire mod" will let you charge the cells in the rig. Some people have fitted rechargeable lithium batteries inside which gives you more operating time, or it can be run off an external SLAB. A CW filter is expensive but is worthwhile if you are into CW.

    Many SOTA operators use a linked multiband dipole thus avoiding the use of a tuner, this can be strung between trees or other available supports, or a fibre-glass fishing pole is very light in weight and you can get some that collapse down to a couple of feet, there is a technique where the dipole as an inverted V acts as two of the support guys with a length of tent guy rope used as a third support. This can be set up in only a couple of minutes, but the disadvantage of the link dipole is that you may have to lower the fishing pole to change bands. For this reason I use a W3EDP antenna with a home-brew tuner.

    Some people claim that the display is too small, but if you press the C button in row 11 of the first menu, marked "DSP", it doubles the size of the frequency readout.

    WARNING: it has no reverse voltage protection!

    Its a great rig, I love it!


    Brian G8ADD
  6. KC2SIZ

    KC2SIZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    You might consider the Weber tribander:

    It's a kit. I've ordered one of these myself and hope to have time to build it in the coming months. Yes, it's CW only, but for $200 you get three bands of your choice, a built in keyer, a DDS VFO that should be extremely stable, RIT and AGC. It'll give you 5 watts out with a 13.8v power supply. For the money, I doubt that you can beat it.
  7. W1KU

    W1KU Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you want something super-portable, are happy with CW only, and aren't in a hurry, consider one of KD1JV's ATS rigs. See

    The kits aren't currently available, but they will occasionally come up for sale on the yahoo group for between $100 and $250. The older models seem to be going on the lower end these days. My personal favorite and the one I own is the ATS3b.1 which will do 15, 17, 20, 30, 40, and 80 all in two altoids tins (one for the rig, one for the band modules). Throw in a simple EFHW tuner, battery pack (1 9V will do if you don't need full 5W), paddle, and some wire for antennas, and the whole thing will fit in a small toiletry bag. The ATS4 is a big bigger but drops the separate band modules; I think it also loses one or two bands in the process.

    The RX quality is disturbingly good. The TX is what you make of it depending on tweaking the output filter coils and battery voltage, but 4 - 5 W at 12V is completely doable.
  8. KY5U

    KY5U Ham Member QRZ Page

    Just received my Ten Tec 4020 today. The rig plus field bag plus antenna for $257. Of course, I have to go out of town this weekend so won't get to use it....
  9. WB3CII

    WB3CII Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for the replies so far guys. I like CW and would certainly love to build it, but when I look at it in a dollar to value deal, it seems like the 817 is the way to go. I will never be hiking miles away from the car but if I try the SOTA deal, less weight might make a difference. I guess I need to print out all of the different specs and make a decision :) I dont want to wait forever for a kit to be available either, I wanted to do something before winter.

    Keep the suggestions coming !! I will let you know what I decide.
  10. W0IS

    W0IS Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have an FT-817 and use it all the time for portable operation. I just make a dipole for the band(s) in question, so I don't worry about an antenna tuner. As others have noted, the main drawback is the current drain, which isn't an issue if you're near your car (either to use the car for power, or to haul batteries around). For backpacking, it could be a downside, though, depending on how much you want to operate, and how far you need to carry the rig and batteries. If I had to walk a couple of miles with it, I think it would be OK. But if I had to carry it 20 miles, I'd probably be looking at a more lightweight option.

    If you just want to dabble in portable operation and not spend much money in the process, one way to go would be one of the MFJ rigs. I'm not sure if they still have the MFJ-90xx series (9040 for 40 meters, 9020 for 20 meters, etc.) But the last time I checked, they were going for around $100 used. If you don't mind a little drift (keep one hand on the VFO at all times), they're pretty good for that kind of operating. Of course, you're stuck on one band.

    One other reason I like the 817 is that it has VHF and UHF. It's not the greatest rig on those bands, but it is fun to hand out contacts during VHF contests.
  11. W2TXB

    W2TXB Ham Member QRZ Page

    I had an FT-817ND for a few years, and it was my primary radio from 2005-2008; running it into a dipole worked really well, and QRP was a blast. After I got the IC-7000, the poor Yaesu sat around and did not get used much at all, so I sold it. A short time later, I realized that I really missed that radio - it was pure fun in a small package that didn't break the bank to buy. With the W4RT CW filter, it did very well on CW, too.

    If I had it to do over again, the KX1 would be a consideration, mostly because it is even more portable. Not having VHF/UHF is not a big deal to me, as I have a VX-8DR for that.
  12. W8ZNX

    W8ZNX Ham Member QRZ Page


    have and have owned dozens of qrp rigs
    dating back to a much loved 509 Argonaut

    for picnic table work i use either a FT-817nd or a IC 703
    the 703 has the better receiver but its larger and need outboard power

    for field work i use mono band CW only jobs like the Small Wonder DSW
    or the NorCaL 20

    sure the Elecraft radios are great

    but the FT-817 does so much more
    it has general coverage receive
    right now im listening to KMOX on my FT-817nd

    yours truly
  13. KB9BVN

    KB9BVN Ham Member QRZ Page

    PFR-3 is a 3 bander with built in antenna tuner, CW only, but a really nice portable radio from - I think they are about $230 now, new. 5w on all 3 bands, power supply voltage: 8 volts minimum, 12.5 volts maximum. 12 to 9 volts recommend.
  14. K1OIK

    K1OIK Ham Member QRZ Page

    I had the FT-817, it was good but now I have the KX3, far superior, you can see the readout, more power and can do RTTY, PSK, without a computer plus it is just far easier to use
  15. K8JD

    K8JD Ham Member QRZ Page

    My first portable setup (in 1961) was a BC454 receiver and a homebrew one tube transmitter in a home made, wooden carry box with 66 ft of rolled up antenna wire and a J-38 key..
    Today I use MFJ Cubs for 40 and 80M ($99 each) and a MFJ-9030 for 30M, powered by 6AH gel cells and rolled up dipoles to hang in trees on the campsites. I still have that J-38 to use on portable ops. Everything fits in a small gym bag.
    The cub kits were fun and easy to build and I don't care for SSB, so they were perfect for me.
    I just added a MFJ 9017 and worked a Russian station with it on my last camping trip.
  16. WB3CII

    WB3CII Ham Member QRZ Page

    That would be great and I would love to build one but ..... I cant swing $1000 for a portable radio :(

    Have you ever operated from the Marconi site ? Hopefully next time I am up there visiting relatives, I will have a portable rig to give it a try, just think it would be neat to say that I operated from that historic radio site :)
  17. WA3UCR

    WA3UCR Ham Member QRZ Page

    I do quite a bit of CW portable and have been banging on an Elecraft K1, 4 bander with ATU for many years. It is amazing how well it works. Excellent receiver with 3 filters, nice QSK, and very low power consumption on receive. Plus, it was fun to build. The 817 is a nice rig too, but I quickly ruled it out due to power drain and I was not all that interested in SSB or VHF. I've used both and much prefer the receiver in the K1 for CW, especially on a crowded band like 40, at night. The K1 handled those kind of conditions much better than my friends 817. My only complaint about the K1 is the crappy headphone jack. I've replaced mine 3 times. The internal switch that shuts off the speaker when phones are plugged in craps out. Yeah, it's annoying, but a cheap and quick fix so I don't consider it a big deal.
    Would I make the same decision today? Yes, I think I would. For my type of portable operations the K1 more than meets my expectations. Of course, YMMV.
  18. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Well, there are other ways to use the FT817, too. Mine sits on the desk next to my computer. I sometimes use it on VHF/UHF, but mostly, I listen on HF with it. I rigged up something that lets me switch my outdoor antennas back to the home office, and I work mostly digital modes while cruising my email and Just worked a CO4 on 10 PSK31. I've been working the world on JT65HF recently, too. Better antennas would help a lot, but mine work.

    I have used the 817 portable many times - it fits well in a suitcase with a small tuner and power supply. I haven't tried it yet, but some of these laptop power supplies provide enough current to power the rig - you will need to add a couple diodes in series with the supply to bring the voltage down to a safe level, and be extra careful with polarity - it's hard to believe a $600 rig doesn't have a polarity protection diode. I'm tempted to wire in a full wave bridge rectifier so you can't hook up the DC incorrectly.

    I have used MFJ's 1899 portable antenna. It's a kluge mechanically, and mine broke almost immediately. Don't rely on the BNC connector - get a BNC to UHF adapter and a right angle UHF, and lash them together so that the BNC can't wiggle around, or you will break the center pin off. But the little antenna work OK on 30 meters and up as long as you have a decent counterpoise for it and a tuner. I screw mine to the back of the tuner and attach a quarter wave wire as a counterpoise. That will make PSK contacts from inside many motel rooms. If you're outdoors, a good wire antenna up in a tree will be much better.

    I often use the 817 as a portable receiver to hunt down noise and to monitor my signals on other bands.
  19. NC5P

    NC5P Ham Member QRZ Page

    I love my FT-817. I mostly do 2m and 432 SSB with the ELK antenna but also some 6m on a small loop from time to time. There are a lot of guys who use this radio with transverters for microwave work. I have the TCXO option, I don't think most people really need it but I like the stability on the higher bands. I'm working on a compact loop for HF, hope to use it this winter. I want to get that dual filter board they make with the two Collins filters for SSB and CW. You have to remove the stock Murata filter soldered on the board and wire in the one filter while the other side plugs into the socket. One of these days, if my job holds out!
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