A Versatile Backpack Rig for POTA Activations

I recently posted about POTA becoming a competitive activity. Admittedly, I have caught the bug but I also still enjoy just getting out into the Big Blue Sky Shack and being all alone with just my radio for company.

Competing for POTA awards involves rushing from park to park balancing QSO count with getting as many activations completed as possible. No time for a long trek into the park; just get inside the park boundary and get on the air as quickly as possible.

But Sometimes …

VA3KOT’s portable radio pack, ready for action out in the Big Blue Sky Shack

Sometimes, I also enjoy loading up one of my hand built pull-along carts, setting off down a trail and finding a secluded spot inside a park to set up my radio and antenna. If I am lucky there will be a park bench or picnic table I can use. If not, it doesn’t matter at all; I carry a small camping stool and my custom, versatile backpack can be easily adapted for tabletop or ground-mounted operations.

Ready For Action

Over the years I have experimented with many different variations of portable equipment. The most important feature for which I have always strived is rapid deployment. Yes, setting up a portable station in the back country can still be fun. But, being able to tear down the station in a big hurry is my major consideration. Why? I live at the edge of black bear country and most of my field operations are conducted in territory where Ursus Americanus is king.

I have never been chased away from an operating site by a bear – yet! On the other hand there have have been many occasions when operations have been very suddenly interrupted by mother nature. During the summer months lightning is a constant threat. Environment Canada used to operate a program called Canwarn. A well-respected severe weather specialist toured cities to educate hams and other interested parties about the dangers associated with summer storms. it was very – dare I say – enlightening.

So, this amateur radio operator will never be caught out in the field with a whole bunch of equipment spread out on a park bench, exposed to the elements. My gear is assembled, inside a waterproof pack and needs only an antenna to be erected before getting on the air.

QRV: Yaesu FT-891, Bioenno 12Ah LiFePO4, DC power meter, FH2 remote keypad clone, paddles. Oriented for tabletop operation
The same rig oriented vertically for ground mounting.

The two pictures above show the station equipment without its pack. I use a NATO style rucksack which is very rugged. The rucksack is waterproofed using Atsko Silicone Water-Guard. I love that product, it is easy to apply from a spray can and works like a champ.

Conversion between horizontal and vertical orientation is a simple matter of loosening a thumbwheel screw behind the radio head and rotating the head unit through 180 degrees. Note the radio body is mounted sideways to reduce the height of the pack. The Altoids tin at the bottom contains fuses, spare earbuds and various coax adaptors. NB: The equipment is always mounted inside a rucksack during operations.

It Ain’t So Good-Looking Eh?

Okay, I confess, low marks for appearance. The VA3KOT manpack was built for purpose, not for beauty. The prepper in me uses “available materials” instead of spending unnecessary time and money shopping for parts. I have a large collection of scrap plastic that always comes in handy. The pack frame was made from plastic strips that formerly held a screen door in place. The bracket on which the radio head unit is secured was cut from a small storage bin. My Weller soldering gun with plastic cutting tip fitted, and my Dremel tool are faithful friends in my workshop.

The VA3KOT manpack has been subjected to a lot of modifications but the basic design has been deployed in multiple Parks On The Air activations over the last couple of years. It has seen service in the heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter. It has survived many kilometers of bumps and grinds along rock strewn trails, mounted on one of my home-made pull carts, or my winter Smitty sled and has never let me down.

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