Antennas and Tuners / Products & Product Reviews

Reaching New Heights with Telescoping Masts for Ham Radio Operations

The telescopic antenna mast is popular with many hams. It’s simple to install and reasonably inexpensive to purchase, offering an alternative to a tower for supporting a modest antenna.

A telescoping mast consists of multiple sections. You start with it in an easy-to-handle collapsed state. Once you’re ready for setup, you pull out the sections until you reach the desired height for your mast. Their flexible height options are a handy feature for ham radio operation.

Supporting the telescoping mast is done by connecting guys to the guy rings and clamps, and the other end to ground stakes or some other stable anchor. A base is helpful for keeping the pole anchored and from slipping to the side. If installed beside a structure, additional support can be provided by standoff brackets with U-bolts.

A variety of telescoping galvanized steel, fiberglass, aluminum, and carbon fiber support poles can be used as dependable and durable masts. They cover the range from permanent to temporary, as well as backpack-portable. Extended lengths start at about 14 feet and max out at 50 feet.


There are four basic types of fiberglass poles. Each serves a slightly different purpose, although in some cases they may overlap:

Lightweight, telescoping fiberglass poles: These are often known as kite poles, with some specifically made for portable ham radio use. When collapsed, they’re very short and easy to transport. They’re best suited for vertical antennas, inverted-L antennas, lightweight dipole antennas, slopers, and lightweight loops. Examples of these lightweight poles include the SOTAbeams Tactical 7000HDS and MFJ 1916.

Light-duty fiberglass poles: Light-duty poles are generally used for low heights and lightweight antennas, such as dipoles and simple VHF/UHF antennas.

Thick wall (HD) telescoping fiberglass poles: Thick walls allow for increased strength and height as well as more flexibility with antenna options. As the name implies, the walls of the individual tubes are much thicker than those used for light-duty telescoping fiberglass poles. Thick wall models include the DX Engineering DXE-TFK46-HD and MFJ-1908HD.

Stackable fiberglass poles: You’ve probably seen these at hamfests. They’re typically 4-foot military surplus tent poles which slide into each other by end couplers.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber telescoping poles have the strength of steel with the weight of aluminum and are a highly versatile choice for a variety of applications. About 90% of the carbon fiber is made from Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and the remaining 10% is made from rayon or petroleum pitch.

A carbon fiber pole is not as good of a conductor as most metals but can conduct electricity to some extent. It won’t affect dipole, sloper, and inverted-V wire antennas but could have an effect on resonance if used to support a wire vertical/inverted-L antenna. The same is true of steel/aluminum poles. The SOTAbeams Carbon 6 Mast and DXE-TCFP-49 Mast are two examples of carbon fiber poles available at DX Engineering.

Metal Masts

A length of metal telescoping mast is stronger and more rigid than similar lengths of fiberglass. Because of their additional strength, some metal telescoping masts used with ground mounts can be extended up to 15 feet above the roof line without requiring guy wires. Another advantage of telescoping masts is that they can be easily adjusted to odd heights without having to cut the tubing.

Steel telescoping masts: They’re strong, but they can be tricky to install because of their weight. Be sure to have a buddy help. A ROHN H40 weighs about 36 pounds. By comparison, the 10-foot-taller DXE-TFK46 fiberglass mast weighs only 18 pounds. The length and weight of some steel masts limit them to truck shipping. However, the 34-foot ROHN 9H50 can be shipped UPS.

Aluminum telescoping masts: These are primarily intended for temporary and portable use but can be used on a more permanent basis with proper guying. WiMo aluminum telescoping masts are available with extended lengths of 5 to 16 meters (16.4 to 52.5 feet)

Wise Guys

The primary purpose of guying is to limit the amount of travel the pole has in strong winds. It’s not necessary to pull the guys as tight as you can–they need only be snug and may even have a little bit of slack in them. A little motion is okay, but your pole shouldn’t look like the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore being blown sideways during a strong storm.

How many do you need? Generally, best practices call for two sets of guy wires/polyester ropes for standard-height poles (20-30 feet), located at the center and at the top. These sections of the pole are the least sturdy since they are farthest from the base. For tall, light masts, installations in locations with bad weather, and masts that support some weight, install three sets of guy wires 120 degrees apart.

Guy wire support is critical to antenna survival on taller standalone poles. Most manufacturers have recommended guy guidelines that can be found in the product manuals or on their website.

Hang ’em High

As the old ham radio saying goes, “If your antenna didn’t come down in the last big windstorm, it wasn’t up high enough.”

But seriously, the ready-made sizes of telescoping poles automatically set the upper limits. You need to be careful to have about a foot of each section nested in the pole below it. This means you can count on the installed lengths to be shorter than the maximum height listed. Due to the tapering of the poles at the top, baluns and center supports may need to be mounted lower for stability.


These items can be helpful for the use and installation of telescoping masts:

SOTAbeams MDCS-100 Drive-on Mast Mount: Operate from your parked car–just drive a wheel onto the base plate and insert a mast into the steel sleeve. Perfect for operating from remote locations where other portable antenna mounting options are not available. Recommended maximum mast height is 33 feet, guying recommended.

ROHN Telescopic Mast Ground Mounts: Keep your telescoping pole from slip-sliding away or burying itself under the weight of the pole and antenna.

ROHN Mast Wall Mounts: Securing the pole to a house or other structure will add stability and often take the place of a lower set of guy lines.

ROHN Universal Mast Roof Mounts: The convenient hinge feature allows tall masts to be swung up or down with ease. The bottom of the mast inserts into the hinged base and is secured in the base clamp. Use them to secure the bottom of your mast to decks, flat roofs, concrete pads, or any secure anchor.

DX Engineering Ground Stakes and Mastrant Guy Ropes: This combination offers high strength and UV-protected rope for extended longevity.

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