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Author Topic: Starting HF with QRP?  (Read 49850 times)

Posts: 16

« on: August 09, 2012, 06:09:58 AM »

I'm getting my general soon and am looking at HF rigs to start out with. Because of where I live I mainly want a mobile set-up I can operate from outdoors with a mobile stealth antenna, or an indoor antenna. I will probably be using the rig mobile the majority of the time from wherever I can operate. I think I've settled on the buddi-stick for this application.

As far as radios though I am between the Yaesu FT817ND and the 857D.

I go backpacking and like the idea (and lower cost) of the 817 and it would suit all my mobile purposes. However, I could sacrifice the on-board battery power and just use a battery for mobile use of the 857D and get the extra power.

My thought is that going with the 817ND (which I do want to be able to travel with, like to South America) can hold me over until I move somewhere and can buy a decent base rig and antenna.

My question basically boils down to what I should expect from QRP and a buddistick or similar (maybe a mini buddy pole) as a dedicated set-up. My goal is to make contacts and I want to know what to realistically/consistently expect from QRP on a daily basis (apart from amazing youtube clips), I don't want to have rare contacts.

Any input would be appreciated.



Posts: 131

« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2012, 06:37:28 AM »

I have both radios and they are both nice.
If I were just starting out I'd go with the FT-857D with the same band coverage as the FT-817ND.
The 857 will run 100W whereas the 817 runs just 5 watts. The 857 can be remoted... the front
panel can be removed and connected to the radio via a cable and the radio can be placed
wherever. The 857 is somewhat larger and heavier. QRP can be frustrating. FT-857D would
be a good choice.


Posts: 16

« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2012, 06:54:49 AM »

Thanks for the input Alan. Although it is heavier I can't help but think that I need the 100 watts since I am not an antenna expert and already have one hand tied behind my back with what antenna I can use.

I'm wondering what kind of battery and charger I should look at getting for portable use for a 100 watt rig?


Posts: 97

« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2012, 07:25:11 AM »


Have you considered the FT897D?  One can outfit it with internal batteries for a portable 20 watt transceiver or use it with external power as a 100 watt transceiver.  I have to admit though,  the dedicated batteries and charger seem pricey.  Maybe someday I will get the batteries for mine.


Posts: 16

« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2012, 08:01:24 AM »

Yeah $240 seems steep for a pair of batteries. I had looked at the 897 (I don't own a car at the moment so don't need a detachable face) but its a little larger/heavier and more expensive, so I think I've ruled it out, although I did not know it had the battery bay, thanks for that.

Posts: 1486

« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2012, 09:13:31 AM »

I just got an 817 recently, and it's a NEAT little radio, no doubt about it!  But working QRP is VERY different from 100watts; successes are much rarer, and it's easy to spend a lot of time trying to work people without actually working them.

For that reason, I'd agree with the advice about getting a regular full-power rig, and turning the power down when you need to or want to.  Both the 857 and the IC-706 are fairly affordable, used, and both are fairly small.  I've got an 897 also and use it portable with my riding mower's battery as a power source, and I've had a world of fun with that setup--the 897 is very well made and a nice rig to use.  (Though I'm used to the Yaesu menus, which makes it easier for me.) The 706 (which I own) and the 857 (which I don't own) are a good bit smaller--better for traveling. 

I hope you have a lot of fun with whatever radio you decide on--there's a world of fun to be had with ham radio!  73 GL!  --ken ac4rd

Posts: 376

« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2012, 09:51:32 AM »

Operating mobile means operating while moving - like in a car (/M), on a bike (/BM), on a boat (/MM), or while walking (/PM). Operating portable (/P) means a station that is transportable - like in a backpack, a suitcase, or a shipping container - and usually has its own power source, but that can't be operated while moving.

I'm happy with my FT-817ND, and I mainly run SSB, but I usually use full size antennas like tuned long wires or the ZS6BKW, either in the yard or thrown up in the trees on hiking trips. With a Buddistick and FT-817ND, you could get good results with digital modes and CW, but if you are limited to a Buddistick and SSB, you might be happier with the 857D instead.

The 817ND really needs a CW filter if you want to use it for CW. The 857D comes with DSP built in. An 817 can be upgraded with filters, DSP, new microphone, etc. but it can end up costing as much as an 857D that way.

Both for the 817ND and 857D you need to factor in battery weight. The 857D draws more power than the 817ND, even when not transmitting. Even if you turn down the power of a non-QRP radio, it tends to draw more power and you have a bit of extra weight to carry around.

If you had more freedom to experiment with antennas and/or digital mode, and would want a small, light and cheap radio, I'd go for the 817ND.
If you plan to go on extended hiking trips, I'd seriously consider the KX-3, which draws less power and has advanced features, but is very expensive.

If you're limited to Buddipole SSB, for short hiking trips and hotel room operation, I'd go for the 857D. Sometimes you need those extra couple of S-units.
« Last Edit: August 09, 2012, 09:54:08 AM by LA9XSA » Logged

Posts: 5483


« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2012, 11:21:24 AM »

My question basically boils down to what I should expect from QRP and a buddistick or similar (maybe a mini buddy pole) as a dedicated set-up.

What should you expect?  Frustration.

It's one thing to run QRP, which puts you 13dB below a station running 100W.  An antenna like a buddipole/buddistick can be 10dB or more below a dipole in a typical deployed configuration.  To be over 20dB down from a typical station running 100W running a dipole (a very basic station) is a formula for frustration.  To put a buddi-something antenna indoors is piling even more inefficiency and receive limitation on top of that.

Yes, you can make contacts with QRP and a buddi-something type of antenna.  But they will only be with really strong stations when band conditions are good.  If you're up for that challenge then great, have at it.  But you're starting out severely handicapped and I don't consider making contacts with great difficulty a lot of fun.

You're going to want 100W, and you can always turn it down if you want.  It's not a backpack rig but I would do that with a 2nd rig.  I would also stay away from any of the "portable" antenna offerings because they're not terribly portable, efficient and they're expensive for what you get.  Stick to lightweight wire antennas which are not only easy to transport but are readily homebrewed and very low cost.

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM

Posts: 16

« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2012, 12:29:55 PM »

Thanks for the responses everyone, very informative.

I think 100 watts makes sense, I am not looking for a challenge right out of the gate, and especially with my antenna limitations.


Posts: 875

« Reply #9 on: August 09, 2012, 03:52:54 PM »

I have an FT817ND and an FT897D (electrically FT857).
Both are great radio's and for backpacking the FT817ND is the way to go.
If you are out in the woods you can generally find some trees, and a long spool of wire will get you on the air efficiently.
You will appreciate the drop in weight and battery consumption.

BUT - if you are antenna compromised - go with the FT857D and 100W.
I work lots of QRP stations daily on digimodes, but they all have good wire antennas.
If you are looking at a buddipole or similar, the extra power will make a lot of difference.
You can always get an FT817ND later on, when circumstances permit.

Just my opinion, given freely, worth as much.

73 - Rob


Posts: 17484

« Reply #10 on: August 09, 2012, 08:24:20 PM »

I've traveled a lot with a QRP rig in my backpack - Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, Hawaii,
New England, Nova Scotia, and a number of wilderness areas, as well as weekend camping
trips and portable operation for ARES.  Primary rigs were an Argonaut 505 (2 watts) and
a HW-8 (3 watts).  I made lots of contacts in the process, including some DX.  Based
on that, these are my recommendations:

1) use a full sized antenna, or better.  My portable kit is 25' of RG-174 with a center
insulator on the end, and pairs of dipole wires for all bands (the 5 pre-WARC HF bands
at the time I built it.)  This allows me to put up any combination of bands as the
situation requires:  stopping for lunch I might just put up 15m or 10m to see how the
bands are doing, while if I'm going to be there for a day or two I'll put up all 5 bands.
The wires were initially tuned in a local park with the antenna strung up a bit lower
than normal, then after that I just put it up and operated without bothering to carry
an antenna tuner (except for something like Field Day where I might get more creative.)

Where weight isn't a problem, RG-58 or RG-8X may be a better choice of feedline, and
50' to 100' might come in useful.  But for backpacking, the RG-174 was a good trade-off
between weight and loss.  I used trees or whatever else I could find for supports
rather than carrying my own - sometimes this got interesting, but mostly I've been
in areas with trees.

I could always find room to put up a 80m dipole when camping out - sometimes I'd
pick a campsite at the edge of the campground.  But if you tend to frequent crowded
campsites in country with no trees, you might have to take your own support.

2)  For serious backpacking, weight really is important.  I've struggled up a mountain with
70 pounds of radio gear for a weekend, but if I'm out for a week then my radio budget is
much less.  The FT-817 and Index Labs QRP+ are too heavy for this.  The Argonaut was
pretty good:  it was comparatively large, but not very heavy.  Something like the SW40+
is ideal, as you have to consider the weight of the batteries as well as the rig.

For car camping, or a quick trip where you aren't also carrying a week of food, then
a heavier rig might be acceptable, along with the extra batteries that some of them
need for extended operation.  (Check the current required on receive - that is one
of the important factors in operating time.)

3)  CW is much more effective for low power operation than SSB.  I had some very nice
SSB QSOs around Australia while I was there, but that was partly because the bands were
not as crowded as they tend to be in the US.  If you do operate SSB, make sure you have
a good speech compressor and know how to adjust it for maximum effectiveness.  Digital
modes can be good, too, if you have a computer.


Posts: 131

« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2012, 03:31:15 PM »

EITHER can be run QRP but NOT at 100 watts.I am NOT a fan of the 857D since I spent a LARGE sum of money on repairs on one in the past but I would anytime rather have the EXTRA power & NOT need it than to need it & NOT have it! My 2 cents worth.  Cool


Posts: 194

« Reply #12 on: August 20, 2012, 05:04:07 AM »

QRP is great fun and Buddipoles are great antennas. However more experienced operators do much better with them. ANY qso is a learning curve at first. Less power and less antenna = less qso at best. You hear about great contacts and DX ........ but they don't say how many hours and calls they made for the one qso they brag about. Go with a mid power rig and a mid effeciency antenna from a home/comfortable location at first and build your operating skills. They go portable or mobile or qrp.

Posts: 159


« Reply #13 on: August 24, 2012, 05:26:45 PM »

You said nothing about mode - if you plan to operate 100% CW then I could advise QRP being the way to go with a rig.  But with SSB much of the time you will be only frustrated with 5 watts.  First problem is getting over the noise on the lower bands, then there is the matter of how well signals are propagating on the lower bands.  Less than ideal antennas further makes the case for a 100 watt rig.  I suggest access QST reviews if you can and consider some other rigs.  Possibly visit with other hams if you can that might have a rig you are considering.  I might only make a case for QRP in an antenna restricted dwelling, and it that case I would suggest majoring in PSK31 operating.  Here the value of QRP is less interference to neighbors, and PSK31 would give you some ability to make contacts.  If you eventually get interested in QRP, do join us, but keep in mind most QRP operators use mostly CW when operating QRP. 

73 Curt

Posts: 6765

« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2012, 09:08:09 AM »

STU:  I had to scroll 3/4 of the way down the page before anyone really addressed your question.

K5LXP finally summed it up:
What should you expect?  Frustration.

The only thing was he didn't answer with bold or underlined words!  As an old timer who has been there; done that; with QRO, QRP, crummy antennas (Buddypole equivalent and many others)  and good antennas (Quad and TH7DX on a tower).

As a new General, the very last thing you want is FRUSTRATION!  First of all, after all of your hard work, planning and investment the last thing you want is frustration.  That kills the ham enthusiasm or spirit faster than anything.

I suggest you get a rig that will allow you to run at least 100W and if it is capable of reducing power to 5W, great.  As for an antenna my suggestion is to go with the best you can either afford or make.

I've always felt that QRP is for the hams who have become jaded with ho-hum everyday contacts and want a challenge, backpackers or those who have been in the hobby for a long time and have honed their operating skills to the point where operating QRP is actually fun.  This means spending your operating time without a single contact and not getting upset.

For the newbie (no offense meant) QRP is no way to start.  My opinion.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2012, 09:12:30 AM by K8AXW » Logged

A Pessimist is Never Disappointed!
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