Portable operation: Siege or Alpine?

In mountaineering there are generally two styles or approaches: siege or expedition and alpine. Siege or expedition style involves establishing a route with camps and fixed ropes while alpine style typically involves carrying all of your necessities with you as you climb. In most cases the siege style involves much more equipment, time, and effort, while in alpine style the food, shelter, and other equipment that you need to both climb and survive is that which is in the pack on your back.

Since I started my portable operation I’ve been using the siege style as illustrated here:

Could you fit more in this wagon?

I haul my TS-480SAT, multiple antennas, various lengths of coax, a group 24 lead acid battery, chair, table, etc. Gear that while nice to have, weighs an awful lot, is rather bulky, and frankly is a chore to lug along a trail. Calling all of this stuff “portable” is likely pushing the limits of the use of the phrase “portable station.” At the end of the day, it’s not really all that portable.

Late last year I decided to re-evaluate my “portable” station. I’m not getting any younger and I can’t afford to care for and feed a pack mule and even if I could my XYL would frown upon hauling it in the camper, so I decided to look for ways in which to lighten my load. The obvious place to start was the battery. Do I really need to lug around a group 24 battery? Yes it’s probably good for around 40 Ah, maybe a wee bit more, but short of an all day operation with an above average amount of transmitting at 100W am I ever really going to need this much power on hand? Not likely.

Given the fact that you actually can make contacts, even SSB contacts, using less than 100 Watts (that may be a shocking statement to some), and given that decreasing transmit power means decreasing DC power requirements, and given that the engineers at Kenwood even included the means by which to do so on the TS-480SAT, coupled with the fact that there has been all manner of improvements in battery technology in recent years, indicated to me that I should  decrease my transmit power and start to look for a newer, lighter power source.

Decrease the power?

So after reading Andrew’s post (VK1AD) about his experience with a new LiFePO4 battery I decided to obtain one as well and try it out with my TS-480SAT. So at the end of the camping season last year I acquired this:

4200mAH LiFePO4 battery

Yes, it is only 4200 mAh but it barely weighs a pound. I did some testing with my TS-480SAT with the power dialed well back and was pleased with the results. I could fit the radio, the battery, a portable wire antenna, and a length of coax into a small daypack. No wagon or pack animals required. This was a great start. But there was probably room for more improvement.

You probably all know where this is going. What is the next heaviest thing in the siege wagon? Yes, you guessed it; the radio. Since ICOM exited the QRP multiband all-mode radio world when they dropped the IC-703 some years ago the remaining contenders are the Yaesu FT-817ND, the Elecraft offerings, the KX3 and KX2, and some nice radios from LNR. The TS-480SAT is a super nice radio and is a very portable rig however it weighs 8 pounds. If weight reduction is the goal, there are offerings that tip the scale at considerably less than 8 pounds.

After a lot of research I elected to purchase the Yaesu FT-817ND at the end of the camping season last year. I looked long and hard at the KX2 which is close in price to the 817 but I really like the shack-in-a-box capability of the 817 (especially VHF\UHF) for camping. It’s entirely possible that a KX2\KX3 finds its way into my shack at some point but I’m presently happy with the 817. I have an FT-857D in my car so I’m used to the menus, I wish the display was a bit larger but it’s a small radio, and I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at the meeting where it was decided that it would be a good idea to cap VHF receive at 154 MHz, thus precluding the reception of NOAA weather radio in the US at 162 MHz, an obvious feature to have in a portable radio like the 817.

FT-187ND and TS-480SAT

Its maiden camping voyage was on our recent first camping trip of the season. One morning I went for a walk with a Maxpedition Lunada containing my entire portable radio shack as pictured below:

KA9EAK Portable

The portable station consists of the 817, an LDG Z817 tuner and cable, the 4200mAh battery, a length of coax, a BNC to PLC-259 adapter cable, the UHF\VHF rubber duck antenna, and an LNR EFT-10/20/40 Trail-Friendly antenna. All of this comfortably fits into the small pack and weighs around five pounds. (I can actually shed the LDG tuner as I don’t need it with the LNR antenna. I purchased the tuner for use with other antennas and I just keep it in the bag with the rest of the 817 gear.)

The first setup was out near the beach at Point Beach State Forest on Lake Michigan. I brought along my arborists throw bag and line and quickly had the antenna up in a nearby tree. Minutes later I was on the air.

817 setup (light red line highlights antenna)

I heard a fair amount of DX on 20m but given conditions and 5W they couldn’t hear me. I tuned around a bit and was able to check into the SATERN net on 14.265 with Bob, WA5EEZ in Oklahoma with a good signal report. After the net I made a few more calls and came upon K0PFV mobile in Washington County, Oklahoma. I gave him a call and was able to make the contact with good signal reports, 59 sent and 53 received.

Fluttering on the bands?

Thus far I am very pleased with my new truly portable station. Yes, it doesn’t have the capabilities of the TS-480SAT station but it’s much lighter and easier to deploy. Plus I save money on back surgery and\or pack mule feed and vet bills. Both radios will make the trip camping, I just won’t be using the siege wagon much anymore. The TS-480SAT can stay in camp while the FT-817ND goes off on some alpine-style radio adventures.

Happy 817 operator self-portrait

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