Portable Operations

Portable operations were a pleasant surprise.

I didn't really consider portable operations when I started this hobby.  However, I ended up buying a Yaesu FT-891 as my first HF rig as it was what I could afford at the time and was highly rated.  The FT-891 is a mobile profile and pretty small, so it made sense that I could take it with me.

The picture on the left is in the spring of 2022 at my wife's family farm.  I'm using an MFJ-1982M0P 300W End-Fed antenna with my LDG Z-100A auto-tuner and A/C power (long extension cord).

It was around this same time that I discovered POTA.  I was scanning HF (since I was a newly licensed General class operator) and I couldn't figure out what the "K-NNN" numbers meant in the exchanges.  This got me thinking about portable operations as a mode of operation I should explore.

So, I started with some three 8 AH AGM batteries wired in parallel (on the right) to provide a portable power source and decided to do some testing.  I picked these batteries and a plastic ammo can up at L&M Fleet Supply in Detroit Lakes (they fit perfectly) and wires in a quick connector into the lid.  

The downside to this setup is that it was heavy, so I quickly realized this was a great solution for long battery life, but not the easiest to carry with me for all situations.

First Portable Test on Battery

I set up my first real test on battery power and used my iPad to log contacts.

After getting my first tests completed for portable setup, I realized that I wouldn't always be able to use an end-fed for the situations I was headed into.  I needed an option for a free-standing antenna that could collapse down to a reasonably small package.  In addition, I wanted to be able to work a wide variety of HF bands with a single antenna.   Enter the Wolf River Coil Take-it-Along (TIA).

I also purchased a NanoVNA network analyzer at the same time.  This seemed like a great solution for tuning the antenna and gave me a lot of additional functionality!  I went with the larger screen and N connectors for this unit and have been pretty happy with visibility and performance.  Additionally, the battery life has been great and I've never run into a problem, even after storage.

First Test

This was my first test with the WRC TIA and I was using batteries (see above photo).

Brewer Lake Activation

Here is the WRC at my first North Dakota POTA activation.  I was sitting in the car for this one (it was cold).  Brewer Lake Wildlife Management Area.

South Dakota Vacation

Here's the coil sitting on a table top while on vacation in Lead, SD.  There were a lot of power lines, so it didn't work very well on this trip.

Detroit Lakes Activation

Here I was using the WRC near my home at the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District.

First POTA Activation

Here's the coil at Kartchner Caverns State Park in Arizona.  This was my first activation for POTA and I also successfully connected to N0ZHD back in MN!

Better Radial Setup

After fighting with my 33' radials for the first year, I purchased some snap line coils at the hardware store and improved the setup and porability!

If you're thinking about a WRC, reach out to me and also check out these videos from KB9VBR on Youtube!

Wolf River Coil vs End Fed Half Wave

A great short video from KB9VBR showing how to use the Wolf River Coil.  His setup is slighly different than mine and seems to work well for his situation.


Another video from KB9VBR where he compares the performance and utility of two different styles of antenna.

The next phase of my portable operations was purchasing a (tr)uSDX QRP radio for some real portability.  I was thinking about how I could bring a radio on an airplane when travelling for work or being able to easily take a radio no a hike.  I also added an MFJ 1899T Portable Telescopic HF Antenna (it breaks down to 11") and an Emtech ZM-2 ATU manual tuner for use with my end-fed antenna.  I did several tests with this unit and it works really well for the price.  I can run it off of a cell phone battery back for 3.5W of power and with a AA adapter for 5.5W of power output.  The last thing I did was buy an inexpensive hard case and custom carve some foam to store and protect the radio when travelling.

First Test of Radio

This was my first test of the unit in mid-summer 2022.  I was using my MFH wire antenna for the test as I knew how well it was working on regular power, so it was a good test for the QRP rig.


Here I was testing my new MFJ 1899T antenna

Hard case for (tr)uSDX

Here is the hard case I purchased with my custom foam cutouts to store and transport the radio.  It's probably overkill, but it makes me feel better!

From here, I decided to purchase another inexpensive hard case to transport my FT-891 and it's accessories.  I had recently purchased a Yaesu FTdx10 for my home shack, which freed up the FT-891 to become my full-time portable rig.  I also purchased some Polyethylene Foam (I had previously used leftover packing foam, but none of my stock was big enough for the larger case) and custom cut it to fit all of the equipment.  The case is two layers deep to accommodate all of the equipment with a piece of ABS plastic glued to the top foam portion.

I wanted the kit to be reasonably self-sufficient and purchased an 8 AH LiFePO4 battery.  I added a Battery Tender Junior 12v Battery Charger and the needed cables to connect everything and I was all set!  I chose not to include the antenna in the case for two reasons.  First, I wanted to keep the size and weight of the case down and ensure I had flexible antenna choices when I travel.

I took the radio in this card case (along with the Wolf River Coil) to Arizona at Christmas 2022.  There were no issues with TSA and the pressure relieve valve worked well to keep things equalized. 

Bottom layer with all equipment (battery, auto-tuner, charger, cables)

Top layer with radio, remote keypad, and microphone

Top Layer (Empty)

Weights used to help set the glue between the polyethylene styrofoam and ABS plastic sheet

Now that my portable setup is to a usable and sustainable point, I've spent some limited time with POTA activations.  Unfortunately, to this point, it's been winter in Minnesota and my activity has been limited.  That said, I activated 3 parks in Arizona this winter and my wife found she likes to come with and paint while I'm on the radio!

Winter Activation in Minnesota

My first Minnesota POTA activation at Detroit Lakes Wetlant Management District, Park K-0358, in February of 2023.  I sat in my car because it was cold!

Winter Activation in Arizona

My first POTA activation at Kartchner Caverns State Park, Park K-1059 in December, 2022

Quite a difference in the scenery between the two states!

Portal Setup Update, Spring 2023

So, I stumbled across a larger hard sided case at the Grand Forks ham fest and made the purchase.  I've been thinking about using a larger case and placing my Wolf Rive Coil antenna into the case, along with the radio and all of it's equipment, to make an easier "grab and go" setup.  Essentially, I wanted to be able to grab the case and just go and know that I had everything.

Now, due to the size of the two whips and the bulk of the RG-8X coax, those two items ended up separate from the case but everything else fit in great!  I, again, purchased some Polyethylene Foam and ABS plastic to set up the case with all of the necessary compartments and two layers for storage.  After some radio Tetris, I figured out the right configuration and starting cutting.  This time I got smarter and purchase a "hot knife" to cut the foam and WOW! did that make life easier!

Open Case, ready to deploy

Closeup with everything stowed

Set up and ready to operate!

All Packed Up

Portable Setup Update, Late 2023!

This fall, I decided to rebuild my portable setup (again...) to move it back into the original case due to the size and bulkiness of my updated configuration from this spring.  Additionally, I decided taking that big case on the airplane was a non-starter for me.  This time, however, I took a slightly different approach.  I had some scraps left from my previous purchase of polyethylene foam and I purchased some thicker ABS plastic from Menards for the new project.  My goal this time was to create an "open and transmit" type of configuration with far less setup time.

Since the previous configurations, I purchased the Yaesu FC-50 External Antenna Tuner for my Yaesu FT-891.  This is the tune designed for the rig and ties into the integrated controls (not to mention that it physically connects to the radio.  I also used a band-saw to cut the plastic this time and used the hot-knife to cut a foam compartment for the battery and a separate one for the detached head of the FT-891.  To mount the head, I used a Lido Edge Mount for HTs and adapted it to support my remote head.  This gives me the ability to attach it to the case, a picnic bench, a computer, or whatever I need to make the configuration work.  Last, I purchased a few misc. connectors to allow me to just connect antenna and power to start operating.   See below for a few build pictures.

Faraday Cloth vs. Radials (The "Magic Carpet")

Michael, KB9VBR, has a great video discussing using a faraday cloth vs. screen as a "magic" carpet for a ground plane.  I was really intrigued by this concept as it would be far more compact and easier to set up so I ordered one to test it out.

My results were phenomenal across all bands with both of my coils and I would highly recommend getting one!  The link is in the description on this video.

I fashioned an attachment for the radio to the ABS plastic base

Radio mounted and ready for the addition of compartments

Gluing it together (1)

Gluing it together (2)


All packed up after the build and ready to travel!


Set up and ready to Operate!