Operating while camping on Mt. Hood 7/31/2021

Hello all, it’s about time I wrote a post about my camping trip my partner and I took a couple weeks ago. I took my trusty Lab599 TX-500 kit, a couple 20W GoalZero Nomad solar panels, headset, and table/chair combo up camping with our “new” 4×4. I wanted to do some HF QRP and some handheld UHF/VHF operation while I was out. I brought some of the same portable furniture that I used at the beach last post since it worked out so well.

The view was pretty sweet for this one. The smoke from the wildfires made everything a bit more hazy but pretty great none-the-less.

View of a heavily forested valley from a high vantage point. In the foreground a radio is sitting on a gray metal camping table.
View while operating

While operating HF I made a number of contacts, and the solar panels kept the 4.5Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery built into the HF QRP radio kit charged the whole day. The first HF contact I made was with Stefan, AF6SA who was working POTA in Eldorado Natoinal Forest (K-4455). His signal was 5/6 on at about 450 miles away on 20m. I also made a contact with VA3AAA, Stanley in Ontario, Canada. I was pretty excited to reach Ontario with a low power radio. That contact was also logged on 20m. I also made a contact with the K0GQ radio club in MO on 20m. All of these contacts were made between 5 and 10w using the Trail-friendly EndFedz EFT-10/20/40 antenna strung between a couple trees about 50′ apart and about 25′ above the ground.

I switched radios and bands to see if I could get into some of the repeaters in the Portland area (I could) with my Yaesu FT3DR and a Signal Stick antenna. I ended up on 2m and caught two hams on 146.520Mhz doing a SOTA activation: K7AHR and K7IW. I think they were on Lookout Mountain, but I can’t remember and didn’t properly log it. I was running 5W for those contacts.

Tour of the radio setup at the camp site

Modified Ed Fong roll-up dual band J-pole antenna kit

Plastic bag containing a roll-up J-pole antenna and various adapters
Ed Fong roll-up J-pole kit

Howdy y’all! This is my second post for today. I wanted to explain my modified Ed Fong roll-up J-pole antenna and kit. This is the stock Ed Fong DBJ-2 (ham) dual band roll up antenna kit with a twist and an extended adapter pack. The antenna itself is pretty great, but I noticed while using it that there were a couple issues regarding setup. I had trouble hanging it in bushes and trees without carrying some extra materials like paracord. In addition to that sometimes the antenna would snag and you’d need to pull on the attached feed line to get it down which could damage the antenna by weakening connections between the feed line and ladder line or separating them entirely! The antenna comes with a wire tie attached to the end which could be used to hang it from a small object, but it didn’t work well because unless you were hanging it from a small metal object like a nail. Using a J-pole with metal objects near them and above the bottom of the antenna can detune them, and likely increasing the the SWR of your setup. Here’s how I solved both of those problems and set the kit up for a number of radios I and other friends have just in case we needed to hook something different up to it. It has come in handy already.

Unrolled j-pole antenna on a wooden table
Unrolled J-pole antenna

Solving the ease-of-hanging and snagging issues turned out to be the same solution – creative use of inexpensive paracord and heat shrink tubing. The ladder line that serves as the antenna’s radiator has convenient slots that one can weave paracord through. If you tie the paracord to the top of the antenna and weave the paracord through the slots in the antenna you can take a long end and throw it over a branch or tie it to some overhead structure, and also use it as a more rugged line to pull a stuck antenna down with. My initial setup didn’t have enough paracord on the bottom to pull the antenna down when it was up higher and stuck so I added the bright red line to give it more length to retrieve it from a higher location. The bright red length of paracord with a reflective 3M strip woven in also makes it more visible in low light or when you’re looking for the end with a flash light. We can now hang and retrieve our antenna easily and prevent damage to it if there’s a snag you need to apply more pulling force. Here are some more detailed pictures of how the paracord is tied on, woven, and secured by heat shrink tubing.

paracord tied to the antenna with the knot covered by heat shring tubing.
Paracord tied to the top of the antenna and the knot is covered by paracord
View of the paracord woven through the antenna and secured by intermittently placed pieces of heat shrink tubing.
Paracord woven through the antenna and intermittently secured by heat shrink tubing
The bottom of the antenna secured with heat shrink tubing and the two sections of the recovery end are tied together

At this point we should probably talk abut the kit in its entirety. The modified antenna is obviously a critical component, but being able to connect the antenna to various radios is also very important. For that we’ll start with an exploded view of the kit.

Plastic bags, cables, adapters, and the cable arranged on a wooden table.
All components of the kit arranged on the table

This kit isn’t anything really fancy. It comes with the stock antenna and male-to-female extended BNC cable. The antenna itself has a BNC end, but not every radio has a BNC connector. I’ve used this antenna with a number of radios including dual-band Kenwood mobile radios, a Baofeng UV-5R, a Yaesu FT3DR, and a Yaesu FT-857D. The two of those radios have a PL-239/SO-239 connector, one has a male SMA, and one has a female SMA connection. This adapter kit allows an operator to connect any radio with a BNC, SMA male, SMA female, or a PL-239/SO-239 connector to the antenna… additionally you can connect one or more pieces of coax with PL-239/SO-239 cables as well. This can be handy if the antenna is up high or if the radio is far from the antenna. Here’s a list of the parts in the graphic top to bottom, left to right:

  • Medium sized heavy plastic zip-loc bag to hold the kit
  • Small heavy plastic zip-loc bag to hold small adapter parts
  • 6′ BNC male to female extension cable (originally came with the antenna)
  • 2x PL-239/SO-239 barrel connectors for both “changing the gender” (I’m not a fan of this terminology, but it’s what’s used broadly) of the BNC to PL-239/SO-239 adapter and for connecting two pieces of feed line together.
  • BNC to PL-239/SO-239 adapter
  • BNC to SMA male adapter with a wide-flanged connector (for my Yaesu HT)
  • BNC to SMA male adapter with a narrow spinning connector
  • BNC to SMA female adapter with a wide-flanged connector
  • BNC female barrel connector for use with the narrow spinning connector to adapt it to a male port
  • Rolled up J-pole antenna

With this set of adapters and cables we can connect this antenna to a wide variety of radios which might be handy in an emergency, or if you happen to forget another antenna. It’s also worth mentioning that this method could also be applied to other roll-up J-pole antennas, not just for ham bands.

Operating from a park for a couple hours

After a bit of a posting hiatus I thought I’d post a bit about some impromptu radio operation from a park on a fairly sunny weekend day. My partner had a meeting with some folks in our pod in Ladd’s Addition, a Portland neighborhood with a central park so I decided to set up my portable radio station and do some UHF/VHF work locally to see who I could reach from said park. The station I brought is based on a Kenwood TM-V71A and fits in a single bag along with a battery and a 20W folding solar panel. This is essentially the same setup I’d use for emergency communications with a larger antenna or solar panel.

Roll-up J-Pole antenna hung in a rose bush
Ed Fong roll up j-pole deployed in bush
A radio sitting on top of a backpack connected to a solar charger, solar panel, and battery.
Portable UHF/VHF radio and power setup.

I ended up putting my modified Ed Fong DBJ-1 roll-up j-pole antenna in a large rose bush and hooking it up to my TM-V71A, and hooking the battery, solar panel, and charge controller up. I started operating at medium power (10W) and was able to reach Roger, W7RC, in Battleground, WA without issue on the 2M calling frequency (146.520MHz). This is pretty typical as he runs a beam antenna with the capability of transmitting at 1.5KW and is something of a local fixture. He reported me coming in with full quieting at 10W, and when I dropped to 5W (low power) he heard me with a little static. I also made some additional contacts including one in the Council Crest area: Ed, WB2QHS. He was out for a walk with an HT and we were able to talk with perfect clarity and then some static as he moved around with me running 5 and 10W. His elevated position helped facilitate communications. In about 2.5 hours I used somewhere around 1.3Ah of battery power, but was able to recharge the battery completely from the solar panel by the time I left. Not bad! The radio draws about 0.6A idling, and the solar panel charged at a maximum rate of ~1.1A in more intense sunlight. When I was transmitting at 10W the radio drew ~5A and at 5W ~3.5A. All these power figures are as measured by my Buddipole Power Mini. The current model features a USB port where the one I’m running doesn’t. I should also mention I topped up my phone charge from the battery as well.

If the solar panel provides more power than is required for the radio’s operation and the battery is charged the radio doesn’t draw from the battery. In the event the solar panel isn’t providing enough power to cover the radio’s power needs it dips into the battery, and when the radio consumes less power than the solar panel provides the battery is charged with spare current.

Closed backpack on the groud with a folded solar panel in the attached cargo net.
UHF/VHF setup packed up in a single backpack.

As shown above the whole station packs into my backpack without issue. Were I not on call for my job and carrying a hotspot and laptop there would be some additional room in the bag.

Diagram depicting a solar panel and battery attached to a controller, the controller to a radio, and a radio to an antenna.
Portable radio station block diagram depicting the connections between various station components.

Cold weather backpack setup test

So, the weather in Portland has been pretty snowy which is a touch unusual! As most folks have been inside and not out attempting to drive on icy and snowy roads which are not plowed I decided I’d take my HT for a walk in the cold weather and test methods of keeping it warm enough to not have the battery fail as the temperature is dropping to ~18F with wind chill. My partner and I have been walking to the grocery store and taking our dog out so I decided to test an external antenna I’d built to mount on my backpack a year ago in the gnarly weather. I did some tests with APRS and some 5w FM phone as well. The theory here is that keeping the HT inside the fairly sealed bag would preserve some amount of air that’s warmer than the bag’s surroundings. It seemed to work as I was out with this setup for a few hours at a time and battery performance was within expectations.

Snow and ice covered backpack set on a snow-covered sidewalk with counterpoise extending down and antenna extending up.
Setup covered in ice and snow.

In order to not go stir crazy I’ve been taking walks with my partner and we’re close enough to a grocery store to just walk and pack our food in our bags which is very fortunate. I’ve taken the opportunity to test different ways of carrying the HT so it doesn’t get too cold, and to test a MOLLE antenna holder with a simple antenna and counterpoise setup. During the grocery store run pictured below I was able to reach stations in SE and NE Portland with a strong signal. I was between 2 and 9 S units into a station in Battelground, WA as well depending on structures around me. The antenna I’m using in this picture is a Nagoya NA-771. I used that instead of my Signal Stick because the signal stick doesn’t stay rigid in cold temperatures and will curve and lay over giving poorer performance. The speaker mic was used as both a speaker that I could hear outside the bag and as a sacrificial component in the event something gets too wet. A $30 speaker mic is much cheaper than a new HT. I did test the SWR on this setup and 2m performed very well near 1.2, but 70cm performance was poor with the SWR being near 2.8.

The small bit of orange paracord is used to secure the speaker mic for cable routing purposes. When the mic comes un-clipped intentionally or on accident this cord makes it easier to grab and replace or remove and use. The longer orange paracord holds the weight of the HT in side the bag so the antenna cable and speaker mic don’t hold it up. It’s also necessary to hold it up in the bag to make sure there’s enough speaker mic cable to reach outside the bag and to my shoulder.

HT in the bag suspended by paracord.

The HT holder inside the bag is suspended by the longer bit of paracord that runs through a loop on the HT holder. This suspension system also makes it easy to load the bottom of the bag with heavier items that might otherwise crush the HT or damage connectors.

The above gallery shows the antenna assembly set up but not mounted to the webbing on the backpack.