Technical Articles

Transitioning to HF Portable Ham Radio Operations

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 first article, Serving the Needs of Others Through Ham Radio. Look for more posts from Troy in the days ahead.

Preparing for Winter Field Day

As the excitement built preparing for my first Field Day, I began thinking about getting my gear together. After all, you just can’t go to Field Day empty handed. I started putting together a list of things I would need to be successful. My list had to be complete because it was Winter Field Day, and I wanted to be out in the elements as little as possible. Before I knew it, my list contained one of everything in my shack.

Well, that wasn’t very practical, so I said, “Let’s build a compact, all-inclusive go-box.” The night before the event, I began loading my Jeep with the following:

Before I knew it, I had to attach my small landscape trailer to the Jeep, but I had everything I could possibly need.

After arriving at the site, it took a couple of hours to set up, but I got on the air and began making contacts. After a little refining, everything worked just like it did in my shack. This was the first special event I had participated in, and it was exciting. I had literally packed up my shack and reassembled it in this primitive cabin and was making contacts all over the world. Up until this point I had only checked into nets on HF and VHF/UHF. Now I was playing with the big boys. How cool was that!

After two days it was time to demob. I started the process of packing it all up in the Jeep for the trek home. It was kind of labor intensive, but hey, I was still experiencing the rush of it all. I drove home, unloaded the trailer, parked the Jeep in the garage, and collapsed on the couch. After operating for two days straight, I was exhausted. I woke up long enough to have dinner with my wife, shower, and go to bed.

Monday came along and I went to check into a net when I realized all my shack was still in totes and boxes. The reality of doing Field Day this way was setting in. I had two days of gathering and packing to prepare for the event and when it was all said and done, nearly a week getting everything set back up in the shack. Tuesday was the local ARES meeting, and they began talking about NVIS day. The excitement began to build again.

But wait, I just got everything put back together. Now we’re going to do another event and I need to tear my shack apart again? Then I considered all the events we do. There was Field Day, Winter Field Day, NVIS Day, the Simulated Emergency Test, plus a myriad of local and regional events. I thought to myself, I will always be tearing down or setting up my shack. There must be a better way.

I also thought about my takeaways from Winter Field Day:

  1. Be organized: Have a checklist for packing up in preparation for the event. Detail everything you take with you and where it is packed. I print out my checklist and put it in a clear document sleeve so I can use a dry erase marker. I check it when I pack it and erase the checkmarks during setup at the event. Similarly, I check it off when I pack it up to go home and erase the checkmarks when I unpack it at home.
  2. Have your equipment marked so it is readily identifiable as yours. Often there are multiple users in proximity to each other and things get jostled together. I use bright orange label-maker tape so I can recognize my gear at a glance.
  3. Do a pre-event site survey. If you don’t need to lug along the 100-foot extension cord and coax when 25 feet will do, then don’t. The more you take, the more you must keep track of and unpack. Keep it simple.
  4. Devise a packing convention that works for you. I suggest keeping your equipment in as few “containers” as possible without making them too heavy. Maybe something like cords and cables in one pouch, radio with microphone and adapters in another, power items together, and an antenna bag. Arrange your checklist into these categories.
  5. Consider building a collection of equipment that is designed for portable operations. This equipment is usually lighter and more rugged than standard equipment designed for home use. This does not have to be done all at once. Pace yourself. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

After taking all of this into consideration, I began investigating what it took to be truly portable. I’ll be delving into building a portable EmComm station and a portable POTA station in my next post.

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