What’s in my POTA Backpack?

A recent post by Thomas K4SWL on his QRPer.com blog that I follow inspired me to write about my own portable operations backpack. Thomas’ post was entitled A tour and deep-dive of my SOTA/POTA Backpack (Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC).

Thomas and I approach our outdoor operations from a different perspective. While Thomas gets involved in both SOTA and POTA, my own base in Southern Ontario, Canada is relatively flat and doesn’t have any qualifying summits for SOTA operations. So, I get involved only in POTA activations.

Most of my POTA activations are in parks that are accessible in my truck. I don’t have to take long, arduous hikes on mountain trails to get to my operating site. There are a few to which a hike is necessary. For those I have built a lightweight hand cart to carry my gear where the trail is fairly smooth. I have also built a single wheel cart to carry my gear along rougher, rocky trails and a sled for those long months when snow is on the ground.

Another difference between myself and Thomas is that he is a dedicated QRPer and I would describe myself as a lapsed QRPer for reasons that I have explained in another post. I have built my POTA activation kit around the popular Yaesu FT-891 – a 100 watt radio. I don’t run it on full power though. Typically my output power on an activation is 35 watts (CW). I accidentally did one successful activation recently on 5 watts and that made me ask myself why I quit QRP (and maybe shouldn’t have!

I have a simple philosophy when it comes to Parks On The Air activations. First, I like to carry everything I need into the park – including operating table (more on that in a moment) and chair. I can’t depend on a park bench or picnic table being available. Second, I want my radio equipment to be ready to switch on and go.

VA3KOT’s POTA Rucksack

With those two requirements in mind I built a “backpack” that I actually wheel into place on one of my lightweight handcarts. The pack itself is a “World Famous #190-OD NATO Rucksack Olive”. It was made in India out of 100% cotton canvas and is extremely rugged. It was also surprisingly inexpensive. On the downside, it is also extraordinarily uncomfortable to wear and hence the handcart!

The radio, Bioenno 12AH LiFePO4 battery, paddles and earbuds are all housed in a custom built frame that I made from scrap plastic – I like to custom build my own gear! The frame exactly fits into the rucksack and serves as an operating “table” at just the right height to match a simple camping stool that I carry inside a pack on my back. There is even a small surface (an inverted, painted Altoids tin) on which my paddles are magnetically attached.

Home made loading coil

A coax cable and 9ft Buddipole whip also fit inside the rucksack for carrying to site. My 2-wheeled handcart also serves as an antenna support. I use a home made (except for the whip) centre-loaded vertical antenna. I even made the coil myself; it is a Wolf River type clone that can be adjusted to resonance on my favourite 20m and 40m bands. Four 10ft radial wires clip onto the base of the cart. Hey, it’s not elegant, or efficient, but it gets me through POTA activations with minimal setup.

A couple of small details of my setup and operating practice are interesting. Due to my advancing age (closer to the grave than the cradle) I become tired quite quickly and that shows up in erratic keying if I operate for too long. I try to use the CW keyer memories in the FT-891 as much as possible. To that end I built a home made clone of the Yaesu FH-2 remote keypad. This handy device allows me to send most of each activation exchange by pressing a series of buttons.

FH-2 Remote Keypad clone

It helps to read about other POTA activators kit and operating practices. In that regard I was inspired by a picture that fellow activator Ryuji Suzuki AB1WX posted on the Parks On The Air forum on Slack. Ryuji had detached the head of his FT-891 and mounted it on the clip of his logging clipboard. I thought this was such a good idea that I copied it. But I removed the clip from the clipboard and attached it inside my kit frame. The clip allows the remote head to sit at the perfect angle for viewing from my camp stool!

Ready for the next POTA activation!

One thing is certain for me. As I continue to go out on more activations I will learn more and make more changes to my kit. It’s all part of the fun of being a ham radio operator out in the Big Blue Sky Shack.

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