Monday, February 06, 2012

QRP Antennas

I guess in all reality, that's a misnomer.  There are antennas - period.  I often get asked, "What's the best antenna for a budding QRPer?"  Without a doubt, this is:

But if you're like the rest of us mere mortal human beings, you don't have the real estate, money or insurance agent for one of these.  But you do want to get involved in QRP on the HF bands. What should you use?  Again, my friends - that's the $64,000 dollar question; and there as many answers as there are Hams.

But the main thing to remember is this.  In the end, you have to determine this for yourself, as everyone's situation is different.  Here are some questions that you can ask yourself:

1) Can you even put up an outdoor antenna?
2) How much do you want to spend?
3) How much room do you have?
4) Do heights scare the living heck out of you?
5) Are you handy?
6) What bands do you wish to operate on?

If you cannot put up an outdoor antenna, then you will have to end up with a real "compromise antenna". That may sound really crummy, but don't be discouraged!  There are lots of folks out there who have earned Worked All States and DXCC using indoor or stealth antennas. Dipoles can be strung up in attics and be quite effective.  Also, keep in mind that if your antenna is not going to be exposed to the elements, then you can lash up something quite often using lighter duty wire and components.  Another antenna to investigate are the magnetic loop antennas.  Use Google to invest yourself with the wealth of information on these babies.  I have a friend AF2Q who lives in an apartment that is more like a Faraday Cage than anything else.  He uses a magnetic loop from inside his apartment and works juicy DX all the time - even with 5 Watts.  Other folks with antenna restrictions use the Buddipole and Buddistick for temporary installations and have great success. My friend Bob W3BBO just finished WAS for the umpteenth time - but this time using a Buddistick mounted to a mobile mount on his car - and he got HK0NA in his log before I got them in mine. So, there's a lot to be said for his set up, even though it's not considered to be "ideal".

If you have access to the outdoors then your choices are greater; but they can still be dependent on the size of your lot.  I would love to have a full sized 160 Meter loop antenna; but this postage sized New Jersey suburban lot just does not allow for it.  In my case, I have two antennas - an 88' Extended Double Zepp (EDZ) wire antenna and a Butternut HF9V antenna.  With these two, I can operate anywhere from 80 to 6 Meters with no problems.  The 88' EDZ was homebrewed and the Butternut is a commercial antenna, of course.  The EDZ fits nicely.  I had a G5RV for 12 years and one leg had to be zigged and zagged to get it to fit within my property lines; but it worked well. The only reason I took it down was that it physically degraded between the harsh summer sun and the harsh New Jersey winters.

If you're going to operate on just a few bands, individual resonant half wave dipoles might be your answer.  If you want to operate on most, if not all the bands, then a non-resonant antenna like my EDZ and a tuner will allow you to do that.  I can work all the bands on the Butternut, too. If space is at a super premium, keep in mind that a vertical will require ground radials. I have about 25 (25') radials currently attached to the Butternut and I want to add more.  It works very well; but I want to add even more.

If real estate is not a problem, the a 160 Meter full sized loop might be the way to go.  Even if you're not going to operate on 160 Meters, you can operate on all bands if you use a tuner.  And loop antennas tend to be quiet and sensitive.  The point is, if you have a very spacious backyard with plenty of trees, then there's no reason to put up as much wire as you can, as high as you can.  Individually tuned dipoles will eliminate the need for an antenna tuner, if that's something you wish to avoid. The great thing about wire antennas is that they are fairly cheap, if you go the homebrew route.  Again, there is a wealth of information about them on the Internet.  Utilize Google to investigate dipoles, doublets, loops, long wires (Zepp antennas), W3EDP, bazookas, etc, etc, etc.  While Amateur Radio gear is becoming increasingly more complex and expensive, wire antennas still provide an area for low cost experimentation.

If price is a MAJOR factor, please go to my links section and click on the link for the $4 "Special" antenna.  I used one of these for years at my old East Brunswick QTH. It may not be pretty; and it may not be fancy; but it works and gets results.  Ham friends would come over to my house and laugh at it, "How does THAT thing work?"- then they'd walk inside my shack and see a ton of QSL cards on the wall. Which would you rather look at - your antenna or a wall filled with QSL cards?  I think you're thinking that you'd rather look at the cards and of using the wire to get the cards. Pretty antennas are nice; but antennas were never meant to be aesthetic works of art.

If you're deathly afraid of heights, then you're either going to need some help getting wires up or you can use a ground mounted vertical - just keep in mind the radials deal.  If you're all thumbs, or building and experimenting is not your thing, then you'll just have to resort to commercial antennas for all your needs.  Hey, just about everything that you can possibly think of is offered commercially, it just depends on how much you're willing to spend.  If you have really deep pockets, you can always invest in a tower and a beam and have them commercially installed and maintained, but then you're getting closer to the picture above.  And if you have THAT much money, would you consider adopting me?

So in the end, after answering the necessary questions, and doing a lot of Web surfing, you'll probably come up with a half dozen or so solutions that will work for you.  Don't be afraid to experiment, modify or change. Keep thinking outside the box!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. Excellent advice...and in addition to all of the above, still "tons of fun" with the very basic of equipment and space.

  2. Larry,
    Just found your blog. It's a thing of beauty. Happen to be setting up my first 40 meter inverted V dipole, and have two lovely little rigs to play with. A TenTec 1340 and an old Heathkit HW-7.

    Thanks for the great blog! It motivated me to start one too.

    Joseph Delgado Sr.

  3. Anonymous3:43 PM

    Have you tried the Alpha Loop for QRP?
    (Ref. )
    Or any other Magnetic Loop Antenna?
    Would you recommend one for QRP Contesting?

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