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Author Topic: Need advice on a portable station...  (Read 5719 times)

Posts: 119


« on: July 14, 2010, 02:38:59 PM »

I'm going to be taking a road trip from SoCal to Colorado this Fall.  We'll be making a few stops along the way in Nevada and Utah, and I'll be staying with family for a week in Colorado.  I want to take a portable, easy to setup HF station with me.

This will be my first QRP/portable setup, and here's what I'm considering, having done some research in the Articles area and looking around the web...

- Yaesu FT-817ND radio (will run on internal battery)
- YoYoVee dipole antenna w/ 1:1 current balun from
- Some sort of telescoping mast w/tripod base that goes 20 to 30 feet (where to get???)
- Nylon rope, rope tensioners, and tent stakes (to secure the antenna, and provide additional guying)

Nice to have:

- An amp (e.g., 50w kit from
- Adequate external battery for QRO operation (like a deep cycle gel battery w/o acid spillage issues)

Since I don't yet own an antenna analyzer, I was going to get an MFJ-249B so that I can mark off different band lengths on the YoYoVee dipole.  That way I can quickly unspool the proper length for the desired band.  I'm considering picking up an LDG Z-817 tuner if I find it to be difficult to easily reconfigure to a different band (I realize this is limited to 20w).

Please comment on or critique my choices!

73 de Jeff, W6UX

Jeff W6UX

Posts: 2243

« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2010, 03:14:30 PM »

Well Jeff, you're certainly ambitious.

I would get an external battery and run the FT-817 off of that.
Will be so much easier than having to keep charging and or swapping out
the rigs internal battery.Maybe a 7-12 Ah gell cell, depending on if you pick up
that HF Packer amp (NICE to have, I've built one, but doesn't work well on CW).
You're going to have to charge that battery, you'll have to figure that out. An AC charger where you are staying with relatives?

Antenna Stuff: I would not get the LDG-817 antenna tuner. Spend
the extra $40 and get the Z-100 plus. It'll handle 125 watts (they claim)
and you can use it with a big rig later on. I would look at getting
one of those MFJ telescoping masts. To hold it up. Well, when I go out
QRPing in the field I am in a car anyway. So I take one of those cement patio table umberella holders. Get one at any hardware store. They're about 24 inches in diameter,
weigh about 40-45 pounds, and have a 1 1/2 to 2" pipe in the center
with a couple of wing screws. That'll hold up most
any mast to 30 feet depending on wind conditons you may need to guy it.

Antenna istelf: Forget the Yo Yos and use a ladderline or TV
twinline fed doublet of some kind. Use an LDG 4:1 balun with
the auto tuner. Don't know how much room you'll have,
136 feet overall is best and will get you on well on 10-80 with the tuner.
Do some Net research and see what shorter length doublets are recommended.

OR, you could tape some wire to the outside ofthat fiberglass mast,
throw down some radials hooked to ground of the tuner and have a
"dandome length vertical".

Antena Analyzers are really nice, and great accessories, but you don't need to drop
hundreds of bucks for one to setup dipoles on a road trip. Nice to have
eventually but essentials first.

Might be nice to have a decent power/SWR meter between
the rig (or that amp) and the antenna tuner. I rally like
the Elecraft W1 auto ranging wattmeter/power meter.
Reads acuraelt from .1w to 140w in three ranges. But it doesn't
come with an enclosure. You can find something else decent though.
MFJ has a large selection of meters but I hate cross needle meters
so that doesn't work for me.

Whatever you do, remember tohave fun
73, Ken, AD6KA
PS: Oh yeah, you need a log! The ARRL sells mini
paper logs you can stick in your pocket for field use.

Posts: 17483

« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2010, 05:25:08 PM »

If you already have the FT-817, that's a good choice.  If not, most HF rigs will turn down to
low power and will work without needing to buy a rig specifically for this purpose.  (Granted, some
may be too bulky for convenient traveling, but that didn't stop those of us who grew up in
the era of tube transceivers.)  I happen to like my K2, but have operated portable with a
number of rigs over the years.  There is a big advantage of using your current rig if you are
already familiar with the controls, rather than trying to learn a new menu system during your
limited operating time.

If your rig has a built-in SWR meter you don't need the SWR analyzer - that is one less thing
to carry.

Given the current draw of the FT-817 on receive, it may be suitable for a couple of hours
operating in the evening, but I think you'll still want the option to run it from the car
battery (being careful not to drain it!) or, preferably, using an external gel cell that can
be recharged from the car while driving.  For this reason I wouldn't consider the ability
to operate the rig on internal batteries to be a huge advantage, though it may be
convenient at times, since almost any rig can be run from the same battery.  A 33Ah
gel cell will run even a big rig (though perhaps best to limit it to 25 or 50 watts output)
for a few hours of casual operating, and much longer with a QRP rig like the K2.

You can build your own Yo-Yo antenna with the reels sold for camping clotheslines at
WalMart - just wind up some #22 stranded, insulated hookup wire in two reels and connect
them to a common feedpoint.  (A balun is nice, but some of the telescoping masts can't
handle much weight near the top.)  Set up the antenna in your back yard or a local park
and mark the band settings with tape or a felt tip marker.  Then just set them to the
same length in the field and operate.  I use RG-174 coax for backpacking, but RG-58 is
perfectly fine for portable use out of a car if the mast can support the weight.

My approach is to have separate wire dipoles for each band of interest that I can connect
to a common feedline/center insulator as desired each time I set up the antenna.  Sometimes
this is just one band, other times it is a full set for 80 / 40 / 20 / 15 and 10m.  Take a spool
of nylon twine to tie off the ends.  I adjusted my dipole kit in a park over 30 years ago and
have never used a tuner with it.  I cut the dipole wires out of different colored wires to make
it easier.  If you are using two or more bands with a push-up mast, the 4 wires serve as the
guys.  (Actually I never carried a mast, especially when backpacking.  I just tossed a rope
over a tree branch or between two handy rock crags and strung it up.)  This approach makes
it more convenient to change bands in a single installation without having to take down the
antenna, but it does require more experience at setting up and winding the various wires so
they don't tangle.

If you have a couple of favorite bands, perhaps 40m and 17m, then just build dipoles
for those bands on a common feedpoint and you are set.

A doublet and tuner makes a good multi-band solution if you have a tuner.  For portable
use I like the simplicity of a tuned dipole, though I've been known to carry some extra
wire and a small manual tuner for those times when a perfect opportunity presents itself
for an end-fed long wire, loop, etc.  One reason I like the dipoles is that I can put up
just a 10m dipole in a small space - like when I happen to find a picnic table with a
convenient branch hanging out about 30' over salt water:  a vertical dipole worked
quite well from there!

I've also just tied off the dipole ends to convenient bushes or rocks rather than carrying
stakes for the purpose.  It depends a lot on where you are setting up, of course:  on a
lawn you may want the stakes (unless the grass is tall enough to tie to - been there,
done that.)   In a parking lot you may need something else (perhaps a brick or small
sand bag to tie to each end - you don't need a lot of tension on the antenna or the

Learn to tie a taunt-line hitch and you don't need the tensioners.


Posts: 1003

« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2010, 08:38:58 PM »

If you haven't already bought the Ft-817. get an Icom 703, the antenna tuner is built-in. Antenna advice given already plays well. Keep things as simple as possible. See The Mast Company, advertised here on eham, for poles.
If you're traveling with a spouse, suggest you NOT do ham HF, she will feel very left out and you will not enjoy the trip nearly as much. Been there!

Fred. KQ6Q

Posts: 2243

« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2010, 10:29:36 PM »

If you're traveling with a spouse, suggest you NOT do ham HF, she will feel very left out and you will not enjoy the trip nearly as much. Been there!

Great advice, Fred! I've been there myself as well.
Now I do my portable ops solo with "the guys".

Last year I was packing for our 10 day trip to
Maui to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Where we were
going to stay, our front door was 30 feet from the beach.
We would be 3 stories up. Huge trees everywhere.
I had my K2, paddle, PS, and a big spool of wire in hand,
standing over my suitcase..........
Then I had a moment of sanity & clarity and put the stuff
back in the shack!

Posts: 119


« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2010, 10:21:39 AM »

If you haven't already bought the Ft-817. get an Icom 703, the antenna tuner is built-in. Antenna advice given already plays well. Keep things as simple as possible. See The Mast Company, advertised here on eham, for poles.
If you're traveling with a spouse, suggest you NOT do ham HF, she will feel very left out and you will not enjoy the trip nearly as much. Been there!

Fred. KQ6Q

Thanks for the tips on masts.  BTW, my wife WANTS to setup the mobile radio, she thought it'd be fun and provide better entertainment than XM radio while driving across the desert.

Jeff W6UX

Posts: 1421


« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2010, 02:14:44 PM »

I use an MFJ-971 tuner with my 817.  It will match a very broad range of antennas and has a dual-needle SWR meter which can be set up for 6 W full scale--perfect for use with the 817.

My three most used QRP portable HF antennas are an Outbacker Outreach on an Alpha-Delta stand, a 135-ft dipole fed with 300-ohm ladder line, and a 24-ft sloper tied to a tree and operated against another 24-ft wire as a counterpoise on the ground.  That last antenna works well on 40, 30, and 20 m.

I bought a 17 Ah jump start battery at Walmart.  I keep it charged either with a solar array or via one of the 12 V sockets in my car.

The 817 is a nice does-everything-sorta-kinda rig.  It's a bit of a power hog, and its T/R relay makes almost as much noise as an old time telegraph sounder when operating CW, but it's a decent SSB and PSK31 rig.  Oh, and having the VHF coverage eliminates the need to carry HT.  OTOH, if you want to work CW, a rig like a Elecraft K2 is the hot ticket.

Posts: 1556

« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2010, 05:29:46 PM »

I've had a SG-2020ADSP2, FT-817 and IC-703 all at the same time.  After a few weeks I only had the IC-703.  Great QRP radio, with built-in speech processor and super antenna tuner.  Plus it also gives you 10 watts and lower receive current consumption.

Check out the travel vertical and travel dipole on my website (  They both work great as portable antennas.  My favorite is the 40-10 meter travel dipole.

Phil - AD5X

Posts: 331

« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2010, 09:58:33 AM »

Then I had a moment of sanity & clarity and put the stuff back in the shack!

Excellent advice for maintaining domestic tranquility. I made the same decision myself a few years back. Haven't regretted it. Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD. Everything has a time and place for it.

73 de N8AUC

Posts: 194

« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2010, 09:01:47 PM »

Get one of those 3 large dia magnet mounts and a couple hamsticks for the bands you want. From the wide open spaces you'll do well enough with that as your antenna. And you'll have a mobile too!

DEFINATELY run your DC power directly from the car's battery. DEFINATELY keep track of how long/much you operate so you don't kill the car's battery when you're not running the engine. A set jumper cables is good in case you forget to do the amp hour math or do the math poorly.

A used 100 watt rig is about the same $$ as the 817 and can be turned down. If you back pack or bicycle mobile then sure the efficiency of a dedicated QRP -- even an analog rig -- is way more efficient than a turned down full size rig. Since battery size/weight is a factor if you're carrying it then small and light are the rule. But for driving go with what's more universal. My TS-50 is still a winner after a lot of years and miles and picnic table. My IC-703 with its built in tuner is also a rig I will never part with ............ it's been in my travel trailer, hotel balocnies, field day, under trees. I love it.

The guy who said above all have fun is right. DO THAT FIRST.
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