Products & Product Reviews

How to Choose a Portable Mast

In the hobby of amateur radio, you can take it with you—on a hike to the mountains, vacations, parks, and Field Day. Lightweight radio gear is readily available, along with portable antennas that can be set up in a matter of minutes.

But to get on the air, you need to get those antennas in the air. Here in Ohio, there are an abundance of organic antenna supports, also known as trees. All it takes is good aim and a strong arm to toss a wire antenna over some branches. But what about areas like open fields, deserts, parking lots, and other locations where suitable supports just aren’t available?

Antenna Tower Lite

One portable and lightweight solution for supporting antennas is the telescoping, glass-reinforced plastic (fiberglass) pole. The first time I saw one of these was at the Outer Banks. It stood about 20 feet high and the bottom section was partially buried in the sand like the pole on a beach umbrella.

These fiberglass poles will easily support a lightweight long-wire or dipole antenna and can be quickly erected by one person. They will even stand up to moderate winds if properly set up.  Some are available in compact packages—a 26.5 inch SOTAbeams Travelmast weighs less than three pounds and will extend to 32 feet.

Fiberglass poles are versatile, and there are a number of ways to set them up. They can be quickly secured to fences or picnic tables using bungee cords. A two foot length of PVC pipe attached to a metal rod or stake can serve as a quick ground mount and hold up shorter poles or stabilize longer ones. Drive on mast mounts can also be used if you have a vehicle.

Guys are one of the best solutions for stability and fit easily into a backpack. You can purchase complete lightweight kits or build your own. Remember that in an inverted V configuration, you can utilize your antenna elements as two of the guying points.

Telescoping fiberglass poles can also support a quarter-wave vertical wire antenna on 40 meters and up, depending on the length you select. Fasten a wire cut for the operating band to the top section, extend the pole to length, and add radials. For example, a fully extended 31 foot pole will support a 40 meter antenna, 23 feet will do 30 meters, 16.5 feet does 20 meters, and so on. Choose a pole that will support operating frequencies you plan to use.

They’re really handy for portable station setup. For several years, we’ve used a lightweight off center fed (OCF) inverted V antenna during an OSPOTA (Ohio State Parks on the Air) activation by our club at Lake Milton State Park. The fiberglass center pole was stabilized with a portable tripod. The antenna insulators were fastened to some polyester rope and tied to ground stakes. Adding two more ropes made a complete guying system.

If you’re operating during Field Day or at an emergency station, you may want taller, heavier-duty poles which you can customize to your needs.  DX Engineering has a selection of individual sturdy 1/8 inch wall pultruded fiberglass tubing as well as complete fiberglass mast kits from several manufacturers.

Other Uses

Besides supporting antenna wire, I’ve found the fiberglass pole to be a great wire antenna installation aid. By taping a plastic PVC pipe support hook to the top section, I can maneuver wires around branches or pull small, flexible branches out of the way without a ladder. They can even be used to drop a “first line” with a large fishing weight to pull through the antenna support line.

I also use them for testing wire antennas. It gets them up in the air, closer to their installation height, which helps me tune them more accurately. When we visit our daughter’s home in Arizona, I pull out the telescoping fiberglass pole stored in the garage and can get on the air in less than 15 minutes.

These poles are also ideal as the top support section for home-station vertical antennas. Who says they’re just for portable use?

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