My SOTA Gear

Posted on November 3, 2016 by Chris Lumens in , , .

I’ve spent the entire year hiking around with my radio participating in Summits on the Air. For the most part it’s been using a little handheld radio with a handheld antenna, but I’ve recently had enough success on HF to be encouraged by the gear I’m using. I thought it might be interesting for other people to see exactly what gear I am carrying with me. And since I spend a lot of time working on lightening my backpacking load, it would be interesting to see how much all this stuff weighs too.

VHF/UHF Gear

VHF/UHF gear is mainly useful for local operations. You can use a handheld radio not just for SOTA, but for talking to other people in your party if you need to split up, or if the climber and belayer need to talk, or all sorts of reasons. For SOTA, from an exposed hilltop with a handheld Yagi antenna, I can get out 70-80 miles. On Lassen Peak in California, I was able to reach all the way down to San Francisco, almost 140 miles.

Here’s what I’m using on my VHF activations:

That’s a total of 955 grams or 35 ounces. For the antenna, I am only carrying the three 2m elements. I bought it for satellite stuff but I’ve never made any satellite contacts, and it’s really annoying to work with all those 70cm elements in the woods. The bag is something Sarah custom made for me. I can’t think of any good way to lighten this setup.

In the past this is what I used for pretty much every activation. In the future, I can see using it on New England summits that are too bald and smooth (Monadnock or Chocorua come to mind), whenever I’m in a hurry, or in the winter. I might also add a hand mic in the winter so it’s easier to use with mittens on.

HF Gear

HF takes a lot more stuff, but the advantage is you can talk to people all over the world. With just five watts and a wire antenna, I should be able to hit anyone in the US, Europe, South America, or the Carribean. And yes, there are people listening. For the backpacker, there are two significant downsides to HF gear: it weighs more and it can take a long time to set up and tear down. On the other hand, the ability to talk much farther means more people can hear you so activations should take less time and be more interesting.

Here’s what I’m using on my HF activations:

That’s a total of 1700 grams or 60 ounces. Like I said, it’s much heavier. There’s also one big piece not shown, the antenna support. For summits that are in the trees (most of them here in New England), I can just toss the center of the antenna up over a branch and haul it up. That doesn’t weigh anything. For summits that are above treeline and have places to anchor things (the Northern Presidentials, for instance), I’ve got the Wonderpole. That weighs 570 grams (20 ounces) and brings me up to 2270 grams (80 ounces). Even worse, the Wonderpole is almost four feet when collapsed so it’s a pain to carry. I’m currently trying to figure out what to do there.

With this setup, I can get on two of the busiest HF bands, 20m and 40m, just by tweaking one little thing on both ends of the antenna. The antenna gives me an awful lot of flexibility in its setup, too. I can stake the ends out or put the wire winders in a tree or jam them in between rocks. And since I can talk so far out, this gives me a lot of flexibility for hiking to really out of the way places where I’m almost guaranteed to not reach anyone on VHF.

I’ve got a couple ideas about lightening this setup. First, not having to carry the pole most of the time will help a lot. That probably accounts for about 50% of the hikes I go on. Second, that power cable seems heavier than necessary. Maybe I don’t need the fuse portion. Third, the mic is more than I need. I’m thinking about building something out of cell phone ear buds/mic. But that’s about it - I can’t make the radio any lighter unless I want to only do CW (which I don’t know how to do), and as long as I’m doing voice I will need the heavy battery.

Long distance backpacking

What would I do if I were going on a long backpacking trip? With the VHF setup, that’s not hard. I would probably buy a second battery to carry with me. Each battery would last several activations which could probably get me about a week. If I were going to be out longer than that, I’d have someone meet me with a charger (plus more food, etc.) and charge them overnight in a hotel.

With the HF setup, I don’t really know what I would do. A second battery would set me back another pound. Maybe a bigger battery with double capacity would weigh less than twice as much? I wonder if solar charging might be at all useful.