Products & Product Reviews

Lightening Your Go-Kit

Editor’s Note: Troy Blair, KE8DRR, DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist, enjoys sharing personal stories about his involvement in amateur radio so others can learn from his experiences in the true spirit of being an Elmer. Check out Troy’s recent articles, “Building a Field Expedient Amateur Radio Kit” and “Diving into Parks on the Air (POTA),” and look for more of his posts in the days ahead.

I was lovin’ life. I built this awesome go-kit which allowed me to have all the comforts of my shack set up virtually anywhere. Put the go-box and power box on a table, run a coax to the trailer-hitch-mounted antenna on the Jeep, and in less than 15 minutes I’m on the air.

This setup was awesome for Field Day, NVIS Day, and many other events where I would need the full array of band options. I had HF for regional and longer comms and VHF/UHF for local comms. But I soon learned that even though it was “easy” to set up, it could be quite cumbersome for some operations.

I was becoming more and more involved in POTA and other situations where the go-box and trailer hitch antenna were a bit bulky to carry around. I grew to want a portable HF station that I could grab and take with me for the “because I have a few minutes to spare” activation. Something I could take along whenever my wife and I were going out on an excursion but didn’t take up the entire cargo area in the vehicle.

I began researching what I will call “ultra-portable” setups, taking into account concerns such as size, weight, and the accessories I would need to make the go-kit do what I wanted. Three rigs rose to the top in my research: the Yaesu FT-891, Yaesu FT-818, and Icom IC-705. They all had great features and each one had a drawback or two. I began asking friends who owned these rigs their opinion, and when possible, tried them out.

In the end, I settled on the Yaesu FT-891 HF/50MHz All Mode Mobile Transceiver. It offered portability, was feature rich, and put out 100 watts. Although it had to have an external power source, I had that covered. The FT-891 was the cornerstone from which I built my ultra-portable station.

As far as power goes, my POTA activations were usually an hour or so; therefore, a large solar/battery system was not necessary. I chose a 12AH LiFePo battery with a battery-specific case. It was fairly lightweight but produced ample power for the short activations I would be doing.

For an antenna, I chose the Chameleon MPAS Lite Modular Portable Antenna System. This is a 17-foot vertical that comes with the ground spike, matching unit, and two types of antenna elements. It has the ability to be deployed as a 60-foot sloper or a 17-foot telescopic vertical. Chameleon even includes 25 feet of coax. The only thing you need to supply is a 25-foot counterpoise and a rubber mallet. It covers 160m through 6m when used with a wide-range antenna tuner.

I am using the mAT-TUNER mAT-30 Automatic Antenna Tuner. This model is designed to work specifically with the FT-891 (and other Yaesu radios using the FC-30, 40, or 50 protocol) and comes with the interface cable. I chose the mAT-30 over the Yaesu FC-50 because it has a wider range. It is a nice size that straps well to the FT-891.

The final piece would be logging. First and foremost, I carry a legal pad and a few pens/pencils. This almost always works but creates some extra work in getting an uploadable log later. I decided on the Microsoft Surface Pro for a computer. It is not much larger than an iPad. Although an iPad could be used for logging with a few available apps, the Surface gives me a Windows interface between my logging software and the radio. Additionally, I could use it for digital modes if desired. It also provides complete integration with my shack logging software.

All this fit in a smaller backpack with room for a few additional items. I included a Tigertronics SignaLink USB Digital Communications Interface  along with a water bottle, a spare pair of sunglasses, mosquito repellant, and sunscreen. Also, as a retired paramedic, I never travel without a first aid kit and a multi-tool. And for good measure, I take along my Yaesu FT-3DR in case I want some local repeater action.

As I have said in my previous articles, my purpose is not to start another debate of one piece of equipment over another. I simply want to share what I choose and why in hopes of inspiring more people to get on the air.

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