Portable QRP Ops

There is nothing more satisfying than taking a portable radio outside on a warm sunny day, throwing some wire up in a tree and making some QSOs on the radio. So I keep the portable station in the car, because you never know when the opportunity is going to present itself.  It always pays to be ready.

If you go to the "Station W2LJ" page, you'll see the portable set up in the rucksack and how I store it.  That all being said ...... what about antennas?  I can't very well bring the G5RV or the Butternut with me when I leave the home station !  

There are probably as many solutions as to what to use for a portable antenna as there are Hams.  I go with three or four basic setups.  Keep in mind that when I'm out operating from the field, I want to do just that ... OPERATE!  The goal is to make QSOs, and not fiddle with antennas all day.


Hamsticks are easy to use, fast to set up and "relatively" cheap.  I have one of those tri-magnet magnet mounts in the back of the car with Hamsticks for 40, 20 and 15 Meters.  When you're short for time and are not going for a hike or anything like that, Hamsticks are an ideal solution - they have the fastest set up time of any of the antenna solutions that you will see on this page.  They do have some drawbacks, however.  They work best with the higher frequency bands.  20 Meters and up are ideal.   40 Meters in my experience works; but not the greatest.  I always seem to experience some power rollback when using the 40 Meter Hamstick.  But nothing beats plopping the mag mount on top of the car, hooking up the radio and going to town - fast and convenient.  Changing bands?  Change Hamsticks - not the quickest, but still pretty fast.  

Not my car; but you get the idea.

Buddistick - PAC 12

For all intent and purpose, these antennas are identical.  They are shortened verticals with a coil.  Electronically they ARE identical.  Aesthetically, there is a difference in the materials used n manufacture. But basically, you pick a point on the coil to tap into depending on the frequency that you are interested in and you go to town.  They are great because they are extremely portable, require no trees and can be used anywhere.  They both work better, however, if you get them elevated.  I use a 12 foot painter's pole to elevate my Buddistick.  They take a lot more time to put up than the Hamsticks and are a bit fussier.  I keep an Autek antenna analyzer in the pack so that I can set the antenna up with as low an SWR as possible.  Each uses a counterpoise or set of radials to form the other side of a vertical dipole.  Changing bands? A bit more involved as the tap settings have to be changed and in the case of the Buddistick, counterpoise length has to be adjusted.  BUT, once they are set up, they work great!  I have worked plenty of DX with both antennas.  I wouldn't use either of these as a permanent base antenna as they are compromise antennas; but out in a field on a warm, sunny day they will get your signal out there. And, when there are no trees to support wires - these are a very good way to go.

Buddistick mounted on painter's pole behind cabin in Lake George, NY

Doublet Antennas

I carry two doublet antennas in the pack.  The NorCal Doublet and a homebrewed 88 foot extended Double Zepp.  Both are made of Radio Shack speaker wire.  They were cheap to make and I wouldn't be heartbroken if something happened to either.  Super easy to change bands too - I just change frequency and let the K1's internal antenna tuner do its thing.  Setup is relatively quick; but this is they type of antenna that you use if you're going to be in one location for a couple of hours.  To use one of these, you are going to need trees or a center support if you intend to go with an Inverted Vee configuration.  For that purpose, I keep a 20 foot Crappie stick fishing pole in the back of the car.  It's called a "Black Widow" that I bought from Cabela's.  It collapses down to about 30 inches and does pretty good duty of getting the center of the doublets up there.  I do have to admit that I am contemplating the purchase of a 31 foot Jackite pole.  From what I understand, they are sturdier than the fishing poles and don't bend over at the top.

Courtesy of NorCal

EFHW Antennas

I just started playing around with these this past summer and am ready to make them a major part of my portable operations antenna arsenal.  For 20 and 40  and 10 Meters, I use a PAR ENDFEDZ 10/20/40 MKII.  I used this set up for Flight of the Bumblebees 2012 and while on vacation at Lake George.  In both instances, I was very pleased with the results.  The only drawback is that you have to have a fairly tall tree to act as a support for the non-radio end of the antenna.  The really great thing about using one of these is that there's no thinking about it - get the wire up in the air somehow, hook up your radio and start operating!

Getting the antenna up in a tree

Now that you're out in the Great Outdoors, just how do you go about getting that antenna up in the tree?  This is a necessary evil when using a doublet, dipole, EFHW or other wire antenna.  You can use a "throw bag" like Diana Eng uses in the above video; or if you're like Jim W1PID you can use a partially filled water bottle.  Other Hams have devised various pneumatic spud guns, some use the venerable bow and arrow.  I use a homebrewed version of the EZ-Hang.  It consists of nothing more than a corner brace, a fishing reel and a sling shot and a 1 ounce fishing weight.

This contraption didn't cost an arm and a leg to make and it works great!  At the local park here in my neighborhood, I can regularly shoot a line over a 30 foot high tree branch on the first try - with ease.

How about when there are no trees?

Trees are good. Trees are nice.  How do you use an EFHW antenna when there are no trees around? I've devised a "drive on" mast base that works rather well.  It holds my 31 ft Jackite pole securely enough to be used as support.

I started with an oak plank, which is about a foot wide by four feet long.  I chose oak because it's a hardwood and will not crunch, cry, whimper or complain when you drive a vehicle onto it.  In fact, even after using it a lot, it still looks like it's never been under a tire!  I took the board and cut it into two equal 2 foot pieces.

The I took some hinges and made it a four foot board again, but this one bends!

U bolts were added to hold the Jackite in place:

And to stabilize the vertical member, so that it won't tilt in either direction, towards or away from the vehicle, I added a corner brace.

The corner brace is bolted and secured to the vertical member only.  I secure it to the horizontal member by driving onto it!  The weight of my vehicle keeps it in place.  So far, it works very well, even in breezy conditions without any problems.

I suppose there are other more elegant solutions.  But this one folds and stores easy, was inexpensive to build and works rather well.  I may not be great at homebrewing rigs; but every now and then I cobble something together that works well.