Ultralight seat for portable operation and SOTA activations

As I am using a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for logging on some portable activations and have it on my knees when operating it means I am sat in a fairly stationary position for longer periods. I was using a foam garden kneeler as they are very light and nice and cheap. But a couple of hours on that and I had to pack up and go home due to a sore butt!

I decided something better was required. From my camping experience I have ditched the OK but lacking foam karrimat style sleep mat in favour of a Thermarest self inflating mattress so I looked for something from that type of seat. They came up with the goods in the form of the a Lite seat:

This is the seat:

But how does it weigh up to a lightweight kneeler?
Here is my kneeler:

And the new comfier seat:
2015-12-25 11.36.56
Only 9 grams heavier. But it packs down quite a bit smaller. This is the tube it came in, which I shall use to pack it, and it is pretty small. Next to a normal sized mug:
packing size
Looking forward to trying it out on my next portable SOTA activation.

New local portable test site

I have a drive on site North of town which is great for setting up mast systems and testing/building antennas but I have been looking for somewhere a bit closer to home and also a bit quieter on HF. Also in times of prolonged wet weather (like now!) access my usual site can be prone to getting stuck in the mud in my 2WD car. As there looked to be good activity today on 20m and 40m I decided to pop out for an hour or so to test a new site under 15 minutes drive from me that I have been considering. It’s relatively high for the area, a pretty clear take off and I was able to find a spot to pull off the road that was fairly clear of houses and power wires to erect the inverted V link dipole I take for SOTA activations:
Broadmoor common antenna
The site gets cell coverage so I had the luxury of using my Surface Pro 3 for logging with Log4OM and online lookups on qrz.com via my phone as a WiFi hotspot:
Broadmoor common station
For power I used one of my 8400mAh LiFePo4 batteries I also use for SOTA activations as I don’t have my car wired up to power the radio.

I was pleased to get no noise at all on 40m and 20m so that is a bonus. Bands were fairly busy with some strong special event stations and many calling them. I tuned around getting in where I could. I could hear several USA stations calling in strongly and managed to find a few calling to work. The battery wasn’t newly charged so I only worked for about an hour an half but it was nice to get out and try the site out. Looks promising and should be ideal for final assembly and tuning of my forthcoming cobweb antenna build.

Only 13 QSOs but happy with a quick spell on the radio:
Broadmoor common QSOs
Broadmoor common squares

Ultralight guy line winder

For my SOTA activations and HF portable backpacking operating I am using a 3 band link inverted V dipole and winding the dipole up onto a small round spool. Now the colder and darker months are here I was interested in the wire winders a lot of people use. My friend 3D printed me one to try out, but I did not like the kinks it puts into the wire so I decided to keep to my spool method as it keeps the wire lovely and straight. But we thought we would evolve the winder into one suitable for the 4 string guys I use to keep the mast up.Up to date I have been looping them up and tying the loops with a loose overhand knot. This works quite well and adds no weight at all. However it can be fiddly with gloves and although unfurls nicely 90% of the time but sometimes does get a knot or small tangle, which I can do without now winter is upon us.

The initial design used was based on one download from a 3D print site, but I wanted to make some improvements by extending the length and deepening the scoop in the middle and adding some function for an elastic loop to keep the string tidy when wound up.

This is the model Paul came up with during our discussions. Deep winding Vees and deep scoop, but with minimal weight. It will be printed in PLA not worring about it’s longevity as will not be outside for long at a time and a nice bright conspicuous red:
winder 3D view
And here is it dimensioned up:
winder dimensions

To use these winders you need to wind them in a figure of 8 fashion both to unwind nicely and also to not introduce twists like this:
incorrectly wound
This is how they should be wound:
string wound on
And when wound like that this is how easily they are unwound:

  1. To retain the string nicely some elastic cord from eBay was added. A loop tied in the middle to make fitting and removal of it easy. Finished bare winder weighing in at 10 grams which tied up with the 3D model prediction:
    finished winder
    To save having to tidy them up and possibly misplace these in the field I have attached the guy through one of the loops in the frame in the same loop that will go around the guy peg. This will actually also help me to slide the tensioner up the line easily with gloves on as I like to pack them away with the tensioner at the bottom of the guy:
    fitted to guy
    All four guys tidy and ready to be deployed quickly. The longer part of my guys are the white cord, the last 3metres are in hi vis yellow to hopefully reduce chance of them being tripped over:
    all guys ready to roll
    These are nothing new of course but it was nice to make them exactly to my requirements. Similar winders can be bought from places like SOTAbeams etc, though this unit is similar in size to the midi winder SOTAbeams sell but a third of the weight and the deep arch allows the string to lie nicely and has loads more capacity than my guys need and they guy an 8 metre fishing pole.

If anyone with their own 3D printer is interested is making use of this design my friend Paul has made it available on Thingiverse and Youmagine.

GW/SW-016 Ysgyryd Fawr 22-11-15

Been a while since I have been out due to other commitments and various reasons, but I had the chance of heading up to Skirrid Fawr GW/SW-106 to activate it for the first time (for me). As it was a Sunday afternoon the car park was packed as ever, even though I left it later in the afternoon. But I managed to squeeze in at the car park found at SO329164 and head up the usual path. This takes you up through the trees (at any junctions go up) and to a gate by a stone wall. Turn right here and head up again taking a left up some steps a couple hundred metres after. Up some stone steps then go right and onto the ridge. Easy to find your way up this one even in complete white out. The walk is 1.3 miles and a height gain of 277m, reasonably steep in places but not too bad even with my 40lb sack.
Skirrid route
As I was getting rained on I donned my waterproof trousers on the ridge not wanting to sit for some hours in cold wet trousers. Luckily shortly after it stopped raining. Nearly always works! By now it was not that far from sunset and I managed to grab a couple of nice views.

Looking West from the summit over where I set up the station.
View West from GW/SW-016
View back along the ridge I just ascended.
View South from GW/SW-016
There is a nice little area West of the summit where you can set up and be out of the way of the main of the foot traffic. As it was getting on I only had one set of visitors that I heard. Though once the headphones were on there may have been more.
GW1YBB/P station on GW/SW-016
As there is pretty decent mobile internet access from Skirrid I decided to road test my new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 using the phone as a WiFi hotspot. This worked out well. I ended up being there about 2¼ hours and over that time the Galaxy S5 went from a full charge (at home) to about 75% battery power. That included taking the photos on this page and also syncing those photos and my Log4OM files via Dropbox. I was able to keep an eye on the SOTA alert page (for what it was worth!) and use the lookup on the logging program Log4OM. I did disable the instant upload of the QSO information in case of typos. The integral fold out stand for the Surface Pro 3 was good as it hokked over my knees and kept the keyboard and screen at a suitable place to use. As the text is quite small on the Surface I was introduced to the joys of steamed up glasses when coming back into the beach shelter after and antenna tweak. Quite pleased with the Surface Pro 3 as it still has 70% battery power left.
Station inside the shelter
I started on 40m hoping to get some inter G SOTA and WAB trig chasers but things were very slow even after self spotting. An activation during the ARRL Sweepstakes Contest was possibly not one of my better ideas. I worked a couple of stations on 40m then I kept getting someone moving onto my frequency and they seemed oblivious to me. I then noticed when I transmitted the SWR bar graph was going up. Normally I have no reading on my link dipole. I checked outside and saw a couple of sections of the fishing pole had retracted and the ends of the dipole were on the ground. After sorting that out I decided to try 20m. The band was full of the ARRL contesters and as I wasn’t prepared with the complex exchange data I tried to avoid them. I managed to find a clearish frequency and struggled along with slow QSO rate despite spotting myself again until a contester came on frequency that definitely wasn’t there before for about an hour. I tried 40m again and worked a few more before I quit. I noticed that in all the time I was there only 3 other SOTA spots popped up and none of those on a band or mode I could chase.

The main reason I packed in was my butt was killing me. The Surface Pro was great but it meant staying in one position all the time and I need a better seat than the garden kneeler I have. I was starting to feel the chill too, though inside the shelter was pretty comfortable compared to the wind chill outside. Tonight’s lesson learnt is no matter how windy or wet it is, no matter how stiff your fingers are, it IS worth the time to pack your guy strings away the way you normally do, that never ever has a tangle OR you will spend ages breaking your back in the kitchen later untangling an impossible jumble.

Overall 21 QSOs which is a bit disappointing but a few new countries worked.
Skirrid QSOs 22-11-15
Skirrid QSO map 22-11-15

G/WB-013 Garway Hill 17-9-15

As things have been quiet lately I have been doing other things that need attending to but I needed a radio fix. First I thought I’d pop up to my local drive on site that I use for testing antennas and setting up mast systems etc, but then I though why not pop up to Garway Hill G/WB-013 again to activate that again. So I did.

There is a small space to park at SO444247 that is possible to fit a few cars in. A fairly gentle but continuous slope takes you up the obvious track leading to the top field and trig point. The walk up is only a half mile and 121 metres of ascent.
Garway walking route
Took my two daughters (both early 20s now) to get them some fresh air, but soon left the eldest to push the youngest’s wheelchair up the hill for me as time was getting on and it’s slow hard work especially with a decent rucksack on your back as well.

By the time I reached the summit the view had gone. This is a picture the girls took on the way up.garway clouds
At least it wasn’t actually raining. Yet.

For this activation I had considerably reduced the pack weight. Most of it by switching from the FT-987D to a new FT-857D. I also left the beach shelter at home though I would have been better operating from it as it turned out. Also I saved a fair bit of weight switching from a steel lump hammer for the pegs to a lightweight plastic one.
hammerThat was very nice, though the hard ground and light hammer did require some fairly furious hammering to get the small tent pegs in. This resulted in a wild inaccurate swing terminating at my forefinger which is sporting a nice lump and bruise today.

System set up I started on 20m, found a free frequency and spotted myself with Rucksack Radio Tool. Good signal on Garway with Three. I even saw 4G flash up now and then!
No instant pile up tonight, but first contact was in the States, and most of first 10 were too. A nice start. Interestingly, although inverted V antennas are meant to be pretty much omni-directional I did set up with the dipole broadside on to East and West. Steady going, longest gap between QSOs about 3 or 4 minutes. With 23 QSOs in the bag including a Stateside S2S (just!) I decided to switch to 40m to see what was about. I also switched to the other battery at the same time to share the drain.

40m seemed pretty busy and finding a free frequency without an adjacent strong signal took a little while and wasn’t necessarily a 100% success on the lack of adjacent strong signals. I did notice a lot of my QSO signals were really strong both ways. The QSOs came in slow but steady getting 30 QSOs in about 40 minutes. During which I had to get out the umbrella and hold it down with my rucksack and edge the radio underneath into the dry. A lull in callers was an opportune moment to go QRT as my girls by now were bored and cold. I was wet and cold. Although it was only about 14°C the water and air cooling had turned my fingers pretty stiff and I was shaking a bit with the cold. Pretty sure my personal CPU was running slow too! All would have been prevented in the beach shelter.
“Man who not make mistake not make anything”

station 17-9-15
Overall 53 QSOs and one Summit to Summit contact.

QSO squares map 17-9-15

GW/SW-002 Waun Fach 16-8-15

Today I thought I would activate the highest point in the Black Mountains for a score of 8 points. I was going out for a walk with my girlfriend anyway so I roped her in to share the carrying of the weight as I am currently using my hefty Yaesu FT-897D.
We parked at the end of a small lane above Pengenffordd to start the 3 mile walk. The ascent was 490 metres of slogging, but the route we chose is up a very nice ridge and we had fairly good visibility today. Thankfully it was fairly cloudy or we have been even more soaked in sweat by the time we got to Waun Fach.
Waun Fach route
There has been a lot of path work done on Waun Fach recently and there is a nice dry stone path heading from Waun Fach towards Pen-Y-Gadiar. I didn’t actually recognise the summit as the peaty bowl seems to have gone. I did come prepared with some home made peat/snow stakes though and they were required. They are 535mm long, 1×1″ made from 1.5mm thick aluminium.
Soft ground stakes
There was a small patch of decent ground inside the curves of the new path and we set up there. Something else new to me on Waun Fach were biting midges! I’d planned to use the beach shelter to operate from, but it became a midge shelter too!
Station setup
Waun Fach station
Inside the midge shelter
Midge shelter
Improvements from my first day’s activations last week are the use of my digital clock from my VHF contest kit for QSO times and printed log sheets and clipboard rather than a make-do notepad. Also peg hammer (although not needed here, pegs just pushed into the soft peat) reduced from 300 gram rubber mallet to 106 gram bright yellow plastic hammer for £1.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get any service on my 3 network when I wanted it (it did kick in now and then) so I was unable to spot myself even by SMS. Or even tell my mate what frequency I was on to spot me. So QSOs were slow. Instead of 2 or 3 a minute it was a QSO every 2 or 3 minutes at best.
I did manage 21 QSOs with one Summit 2 Summit QSO. A lot of lighthouses were being activated today!
Waun Fach Log
Squares Waun Fach

GW/SW-026 Bryn Arw 8-8-15

The last SOTA summit I am activating today on my first day out doing SOTA after G/WB-013 Garway Hill and GW/SW-020 Graig Syfyrddin.

This was a longer and steeper approach than the previous summits and also it was by now midday and the sun was beating down. I looked at where some activators had parked on Google Streeview but couldn’t really spot any space to park. So I decided to use a spot I know at the boardwalk start at SO293212. One good advantage is the car was left in tree cover and the woods were nice and shaded for the initial ascent. The route I took is 1.2 miles long and involves 201 metres of ascent.
Bryb Arw route
Didn’t take any pics really on this activation as I was a bit hot and bothered by but I did remember to take a quick pic halfway through taking the mast and antenna down.
The view is towards GW/SW-016 Ysgyryd Fawr with the beginnings of GW/SW-020 Graig Syfyrddin on the far left.
Bryn Arw view
Once set up I found clear frequency on 20m and spotted myself on SOTAwatch using Rucksack Radio Tool via the internet on the 3 network. Another nice pileup soon had more than enough QSOs to quality the summit.

When it had gone quiet I decided to try 40m again, so dropped the ends of the link dipole down to make the join to activate the 40m antenna. I eventually found a free frequency not too close to any splatter and spotted myself again. A couple of calls and the pileup was there again like magic. Lots of UK stations now as well as overseas of course. I did get some reports of an odd audio clipping which I am yet to diagnose. This is the first time I have used this rig on 40m so I hope it’s OK. Worryingly the other other alternative is I deep discharged my LifePo4 battery which is a worry. Something for me to look into.

Overall 65 QSOs and two more Summit to Summit contacts.
Bryn Arw 20m 8-8-15Bryn Arw 40m 8-8-15Squares Bryn Arw

GW/SW-020 Graig Syfyrddin 8-8-15

My second activated summit after G/WB-013 Garway Hill on a lovely Saturday morning.

There is a small space to park one car at SO412212 that is possible to get off the road enough and be clear of all nearby gate accesses. A fairly gentle but continuous slope takes you up the obvious track leading to the top field and trig point. I used to drive up here to the summit in a Mini 1000 many years ago. The walk up is only a half mile and 121 metres of ascent.

Craig Syfyrddin parking
A glorious sunny almost completely wind free summit visit. Perfect calm except for the swarms of flies. I actually tried putting my Goretex shell on because of them but as it’s black and I was hot anyway that lastest about 10 seconds.

The view back towards Garway Hill.
View to garway
The weather station up there.
Weather station
View towards an alternative approach that I have used when geocaching in the recent past.
View from Graig Syfyrddrin
Again here the wind was so gentle I probably didn’t need the guys again, but it was good practice to set it up for me as the Garway activation assembly didn’t go as smoothly as I would prefer. Not a problem today but in poor weather I want to be on the ball.
Station set up
I positioned the radio in the shade of the trig point to make the display easier to read and to keep it cooler. I noticed once I’d settled down that the flies mostly left me alone. It must be moving targets that attract their attention.
Operating position
I didn’t see a soul on this summit from the car and back. I found a clear frequency and spotted myself on the SOTAwatch using Rucksack Radio Tool via the internet on the 3 network and started calling and soon I had another pileup. Quite a bit of activity but did quieten down. Aware of conserving battery I closed down and moved on with 32 QSOs in the log. One more Summit to Summit contact.
Graig Syfyrddin log 8-8-15Squares Graig Syfyrddin
Onto the last summit today GW/SW-026 Bryn Arw…

First SOTA summits 8-8-15

After much research, advice, shopping, antenna building and soldering, today I did my first SOTA summit activations.

I’d planned to do four summits, but battery charging took longer than expected so I only had one charged to use. So I decided to skip G/WB-024 Aconbury Hill partly due to the batteries and partly due to my not knowing the terrain, so decided to start with G/WB-013 Garway Hill as this hill is well known to me as I have spent many long nights up there on the radio in the times when you could still drive up to the very top. Next stop would be GW/SW-020 Graig Syfyrddian which is the next closest and another hill I used to drive to the top of in my Mini 1000 for some all night radio. Final stop was GW/SW-026 Bryn Arw, a smaller top in the Black Mountains I recently visited for the first time knocking off some geocaches. I skipped GW/SW-016 Ysgyryd Fawr as with it being the weekend and a lovely day it would be teeming with people.

G/WB-013 Garway Hill
I parked at the end of the track at SO444247 and set off for the fairly gentle half mile walk  and 64 metres of ascent. This is a good thing as my sack weight was pretty hefty. Hefty enough to start me thinking I should add an FT-857 to the family of FT-897D and FT-817 I currently have.
Garway walking route
The familiar summit building at the top.
G/WB-013 Garway Hill
A few of the locals.
Garway Hill residents
View from the top with two summits in distance, one of them my next stop.
Summit view
My portable station ready for unpacking.
Portable station
Time to set up the antenna. As my coax is heavier than some and I like to use as much of my 8metre pole as possible I am velcro cable tieing the coax to the mast so it doesn’t hang off the pole and cause more of a bend than required.
Coax strapped to mast
Although it was such a light breeze and lovely day that the pole would probably self support on the fishing umbrella stake I am using at the mast base I still prefer to attach my guys. This also helps let me keep it nice and upright. I’m using white nylon cord for part of the guys but at the ground and the ends of the dipole I am using high visibility yellow nylon tent guys. These are £1 for a pack of four each 3.5metres from Poundland.
Antenna and mast
I decided to set up on one of the benches in the shade so I wouldn’t have to contend with the bright sun and reflections and also keep cool. I actually had to put my Goretex shell on as the light morning breeze was a little chilly.
Garway station
Once switched on I could see there was something wrong with the radio. Where was my solid S7 to S8 of noise?! I always loved hilltop operating, and this is another reason to love it! I probably could have turned off my base station DSP settings if I had thought about it.
Free from noise!
I started on 40m as I have not yet used 40m as no antenna at home, but it seemed a bit manic with a lot of Italian sounding strong rag chewing going on. So I reverted back to 20m. I worked a few portable stations tuning around the band then found myself a clear frequency and spotted myself on the SOTAwatch using Rucksack Radio Tool via the internet on the 3 network. A couple of calls and the pileup started. I was surprised how well the spotting works! This was like old times contesting. However I soon found my make do enquiries pad I brought for logging was greatly lacking for a single op. First item on the things to improve next time!

After about 40 minutes the pileup had gone and I had 40 QSOs total in the log. I’d also used 2.3Ah of my 8.4Ah battery. I got three Summit to Summit contacts too.
Garway 8-8-15Squares Garway Hill
All in I am pretty pleased with the first activation and all the equipment.

Onto the next summit GW/SW-020 Graig Syfyrddin…

First portable lightweight link dipole

Following my first wire dipole which is too heavy for portable and I am using it at home, I am making a multi band link dipole for portable use for SOTA activations on the hills and mountains.
Instead of traps it will have links where we can make or disconnect sections of wire in to be resonant on different bands. It will be cut for 20m, 30m, and 40m. The 30m dipole should work as 5 half waves on 6m, and the 40m dipole should work as 3 half waves on 15m.

Via the SOTA reflector I found this very useful link dipole designer:
and used it to design the dipole like so:

3 band link dipole
The 4 foot support at the ends will be my trekking poles, which enable me to keep the end elevated with a lesser ground footprint, which needs 61feet as it is.

I decided to adopt a very similar design as my first dipole (here) with a flat plate centre and cable ties. The plastic I used before I found to be a little brittle so I don’t expect it to last repeated portable batterings on hills. So I found some bare FR4 board and used that.

Dipole centre
Coax stripped back and wires attached. I decided to not go for the loop of coax at the top many go for to stop water ingress, but go for a simpler style and will waterproof it with some liquid electrical tape. I have gone for RG58 as it’s less lossy and mechanically good and not that heavy really. It can always be lightened up if really necessary later.

Dipole centre wired up
Showing the soon to be 20m antenna wire.

20m wire dipole
To mount the dipole on the fishing pole mast I have made this piece of uPVC which is very light and pretty strong which slips down over the thinner section and sits on top of the thicker section below like so:

Dipole mast mount
And attached to the dipole itself:

Dipole centre ready to mount
I have to put a word in for the Barenco crimp PL-259 connectors I got for RG58.
I prefer crimp to any other style due to the reliable retention on the braid (if you have good braid-the Barenco supplied RG58 has a good braid).
This connector also has a reduced diameter tip which lets you use the iron on the outside to transfer heat and keep the main contact section clean of solder.
It also comes with a stiff plastic strain relief that is such a good fit I didn’t think it would fit, but can be fitted and looks like it will give some support.
Product link

Barenco PL-259

Next job is tuning it up and adding sections.

Off to a local hilltop common to set up the mast and antenna and tune the dipole sections.

I’m using an 8m fishing pole and will mostly use it guyed. I decided the middle size guy ring from SOTAbeams was the best option as it sits nicely on a joint and is a nice height but also not too steep an angle to collapse the pole, hopefully. I have a ground stake to strap the pole to for assisting in erecting it and holding the base steady. I tied four guys, but may use just 3 depending on location.

Mid pole guy ring
Antenna attached, will be at 23 feet above ground.

Antenna mounted to mast
As I prefer to take the weight hit and reduce coax losses, I am using RG58. To save it bending the thinner top of the pole with the weight hanging away from the pole, I am using velcro cable ties to keep the coax against the pole to below the guy ring.

Fixing coax to pole
Raising the mast. This is SO much easier than hoisting a 20 foot aluminium scaffold pole on your own!

Raising the mast
I used the MFJ269C for tuning the 20m section of the dipole. What an amazingly useful bit of kit!

MFJ269C antenna analyser
Once the wire was trimmed to nearly be resonant in band I tied on the string I am using to make the link supports. This shortened the dipole making it closer to resonance, then a final trim to tune. It actually read and SWR of 1.2:1 at both band edges, with 1:1 to 1.1:1 in the SSB portion, where I will be operating. Then trim off the ends the same amount as the length of the 2mm bullet connectors I am using for the links. I used the sockets on the ‘uphill’ side of the links.
Soldering the link on, literally ‘in the field’.

Soldering 'in the field'
I’d pre-cut the next sections and already fitted the plug of the bullet connectors, so the link was soon made. I don’t think you’ll get much lighter link supports than these!

Dipole link
We soon had the 30m dipole tuned up nicely, and ends prepared for soldering. Except the brand new gas iron G1YFC had bought failed to work again. Managed literally two solder joints! That’s going back. So I will need yet another dipole building session tonight, as I plan to be using this tomorrow for SOTA activations.

We took the opportunity to work some stations on 20m and test the battery supply. We started on 50W, then 75W, and in the end went for 100W. Why not…
We used about 1.1Ah in about just over an hour. We’d use more contesting or calling CQ more often, but we were scanning the band and calling into other stations.

Portable setup
Rig and DC power meter
G1YBB operating
Final round of antenna making.

Bullet connectors now soldered on at home I headed back out to add the 40m sections of the dipole. First I checked the match of the 30m dipole to check it wasn’t different from the previous install as this time I set the pole and antenna up on some grass near my home and wanted to see if there was much difference. All seemed fine. At least the dog walkers and cars driving by were amused. Or was it bemused…

Anyway, tip of the day if you are using string for your links is to make sure you tie the knots with enough slack. I made one link string a little too short so it was same length as the link, which meant with stretch the connector may pull out.

One problem of a double fisherman’s knot tied in wire and thin nylon cord is it’s pretty much impossible to untie them. I couldn’t cut either as I’d have to start over, so I had to tie a couple of knots in the link string to make it shorter.

Once done I could trim the 40m wires to resonance. I thought I was near so I tied the final knot to join in the bottom guy string, leaving (I thought) plenty of trailing wire to trim.
Wrong. I trimmed as much of the wire as I dared but was resonant pretty much at 7.000MHz, and I will be using SSB. My only option now (as I was getting tired of it now anyway) was to shorten the wire by adding knots. That did do the trick.

40m dipole end
Next stop, some summits.