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Author Topic: Small Man Portable HF/VHF  (Read 8569 times)

Posts: 3

« on: February 21, 2014, 11:41:05 PM »

Good day,

I am having trouble seeking a specific type of radio to meet requirements. I travel constantly by ship, car, and foot. I would like to bring along a HF/VHF transceiver for enjoyment as I do not get on the air much due to this travelling.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a radio that would stand up to the abuse that 250+ days a year on the move would generate. Radio faces along would die a dozen ways before the year was out and I cannot pack along two or three transceivers to do the job as well as antennas.

I have turned to trying to find a small radio which I may shoehorn into an old PRC-77 case and run the faceplate (if detachable) or cut out and mount flush (if the faceplate doesn't detach) and antenna connections, digital mode connections, power, ground, etc to the front while the radio body remains safe inside the case and behind guards. I am hoping someone out here may know a transceiver to fit the bill.

The unit (6.75"W 2.3"H 7.75"D maximum, smaller is better) needs to be capable of 40m-10m, 6m, and 2m in USB/LSB, FM, and digital modes with up to 100watts on HF and may be run from 12V power or up to 13.8v. I am flexible on the maximum transmission power as well as some of the bands. 2m and most of the HF is required. 6m is very much desired.

The unit will likely spend as much time running from a battery pack as it will from a power supply. It does need to perform modestly well when connected to a large VHF vertical whip antenna and no ground outside the case (no worse than a handheld with similiar antenna anyway). Half of the time, it will be paired with a portable vertical with radials (if I have the time to set them up).

I prefer a unit that does not use powered microphones but not a necessity. Detachable faceplate is nice, but not required.

Low heat generation at low power levels (10w or less) as the case will be buttoned up. I do not plan to work the radio hard while it is shut in and in its carrying case as I am moving but I have not solved the heat dissipation problem yet so when it is on my back, less heat generated is less heat to vent. Higher power modes will see the radio pulled out from the case and be used when I am not having to move around.

Weight is not as much an issue as size.

I am open to suggestions. I listed out the specs as I would hope to have them but compromises, I understand, may be necessary. The size is the only item which may be fairly hard and fast, as I need to keep my total radio equipment to a relatively small size, including antennas and all. Travel and bulk do not match. The need for only one transceiver is hard requirement. I plan to tune the antennas to one unit and leave them for my travels. I do not need multiple transceivers, batteries, chargers, power supplies, etc etc.

Thank you for your consideration of the matter.

Posts: 665

« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2014, 05:41:25 PM »

Elecraft K2 will get you close, but you'll need transverters for 6 and 2 meters. Unless your idea of travel is jumping out of airplanes into a war zone the PRC-77 is probably overkill, but if you have your heart set on using a PRC-77 case it is about the same dimensions as the K2, so you might be able to come up with some sort of mount for the circuit boards and front panel. The 100W amp and battery pack will fit inside the stock case, although I don't think at the same time.

Posts: 142

« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2014, 05:44:36 PM »

The IC-7000 is almost exactly the dimensions you wanted at 6.57×2.28×7.09 in, but it seems to be on the verge of being discontinued.


Posts: 731

« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2014, 06:37:07 PM »

So, the first two replies suggest probably two of the most fragile radios one could possibly use for a rugged environment.

How about a good 'ol FT-857D? Put in in a Pelican case, with some customization. 100w HF/6m, 50w VHF, 20w UHF.

Are you on the railroad?


Posts: 3

« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2014, 09:00:10 PM »

Thank you for the replies.

I will look at the Elecraft K2. I see what you mean about mounting the boards and this could be an option. I do not, at the moment, have any habitual desire to jump out of perfectly good aircraft. But a jeep ride with me for a few hours and it may be a toss up as to which is rougher. Add in the hiking, rocks, ship life, and the toll it takes can be found in my parts boxes. A silent memorial to gallant service of my electronics.

I had actually considered the 7000 but as it was at the largest size allowable and, as you said, on the verge of discontinuance, I turned away from it.

The 857 was a consideration but was too big at first pass. Pelican case is an interesting idea but I was concerned about thermal dissipation. I googled to insure my memory was right and found that the 857 has a "little brother", the 817ND which was designed from the get go as a man-portable mobile. No idea why this did not turn up on my searches before... Until I realized I probably rejected it due to the 5W max output.

But, with the year or so of off and on work on this project, I've learned a little more about QRP work and antenna design as well as amplifiers, though I am loath to use one as that means more battery consumption. I suppose I will redirect my inquiry at the bottom of this reply.

To answer your question, I do not work the railroads. Half the year, I am a ship's master. The other half of the year, I travel very frequently. I hike in the mountains, live in a remote area, and put down 500-600 miles every other month traveling to see family and friends.

So, new question. Does the FT-817ND live up to the brochure? It seems to have everything I need, even a built in battery. The 5W power is well below what I was hoping for but advancements in my learning on antenna design and efficiency may make this acceptable. I can even fit it in the PRC-77 case, chop the AA battery carrier cable to allow attachment to a bigger 8 D cell battery assembly I have.

Thank you all for your time.

Posts: 142

« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2014, 09:57:22 PM »

If you are prepared to entertain 5 to 10W power options:
The Elecraft KX3 is the current darling of the portable world; a 2m option is very close to becoming available. Internal ATU also helps.
There is also the TenTec 539 Argonaut VI ( but lacks 60m and VHF )

Fitting either or indeed a FT817ND plus batteries into a Pelican case would perhaps be a better solution than repurposing the PRC-77 case.

There are many FT817 vs KX3 threads e.g.,92479.0.html

Posts: 4492


« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2014, 07:45:54 AM »

There isn't any amateur gear up to the rigors of what you're describing.   All amateur gear is consumer grade with durability to match.  You're going to have to decide which features - size, durability, power, band coverage - you really need to have and adjust your expectations accordingly. 

Commercial gear may be up to the environmental requirements but most I've seen lacks features that make it usable for amateur use, like lack of a VFO, adjustable filtering, etc.  So you're back to deciding what features you need to have, and which you'd like to have.

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM


Posts: 3

« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2014, 08:52:00 AM »

"There are many FT817 vs KX3 threads" - I was wondering which match ups were the big contentions in the ham world. It looks like it may fill the role as well... I'll grab the owners manual and read through.

The pelican case would sound easier if I didn't already have a stripped 77 on hand. Plus, being made of metal, while it is much heavier (sigh), means it is far easier for me to modify as I learn what I need and don't need. Plus 77 chassis, cases, faceplates, etc are cheap. I screw up a modification, I get another faceplate for $30.

"There isn't any amateur gear up to the rigors of what you're describing."
Generally, yes you are quite right. My two hold outs are an Asus netbook (2 years) and an iPod (~3.5 years). Though I must disagree to some extent. Working in the marine world, I find specialize marine commercial grade equipment is frequently no better than consumer grade, just more expensive (grossly more expensive if it bears that "Marine" label on it- $6000 for a 24" display).

I have learned how to protect larger equipment by encasing it in better shell. Most electronics tend to die on me because controls, displays, connectors, and fittings are struck until they die or no longer make good connections. Hence the idea behind the 77 case. I can break SO-239 fittings all day, wreck mic plugs till I'm blue, and scratch the body till all the green paint is gone. I can build a "fence" around the faceplate. The expensive radio is protected inside on soft rubber mounts. It is the best I can hope for.

As far as compromise, again, you are right. The easiest seems to be to come down on power. I had picked a higher power option because of the desire to be able to push through multiband antennas (less bulk to carry one wide-band multi than three monos or narrow-band multis but they seem to eat power). Coming down on power has the fun side effect of being easier on the battery. This latest attempt to find a match has been more fruitful, as I found LDG makes a antenna tuner that runs off batteries that specifically mates to the FT-817ND.

I appreciate the harsh reality instead of sugar coating.

Posts: 5


« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2014, 11:54:17 AM »

I use a FT-857D portable. I would suggest a Viking case or something similar (musicians use them on tour). The front pops off, revealing the radio (with a PS and/or tuner mounted below), and the back pops off, revealing the antenna and power connections. You can even place some stuff in a padded bag in the backside (headphones, microphone, paddles, etc.).


Posts: 774

« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2014, 08:55:39 AM »

The FT817ND (5W all bands), K2/100 with transverters(kit), KX3 (10W HF+6, 100W amp),
FT857(all bands most 100W), IC7200 (HF+6, 100W) are the best new choices.

The IC7200 is a unique radio as its also water resistant (not immersable), does HF+6 at 100W
and its near manpack out of the box.

Of the QRP radios the 817, KX3 and K2 are all very small but 100W was mentioned and
of those the 817 is 5W and the other two have 100W option.  All three are small in cubic
inches and weight and in the low power form very battery friendly.  The K2 has about the
best form factor at 100W (K2/100).  The only one that gets you all the bands (through 432)
would be the 817(nd).

For FM VHF (2 and 440) I'd suggest a mobile FM radio in addition to  a HF+6 radio as there
are many dual banders that are small with excellent power out.  Also they are a bit more
power efficient as they only do FM (less stuff needed for other modes).

If all the radios the most battery friendly are the FT817(nd), KX3, FT857 (in 20W mode)
and the K2.  The IC7200 is fair on battery with higher receive only current then the rest.
The 817 and the K2 and K3 will run a very long time on a 7Ah gell or LION/Lipo.

NOTE: for battery ops 20W is about the most you can run with a battery in the physical
size of a 7AH 12 gell type  though a LION/Lipo/a123 in the 7-8ah is far lighter and under
97WH is shippable/airline allowed.  Lithium chemistry batteries are expensive but for the
total Amp-hours balanced against weight they always win and their life is excellent.  However
they need a special/correct charger.

You need power supply, battery cables, antenna tuner(for 817, 7200), key, Mic for about all of them.

Case, Pelican top load (opens at the end) or similar.

The PRC77 case is a bit tight for most radios.  The only thing that would fit in that is  Elecraft K2 but
without transverters (hf only).

just thinking out loud....


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