My Gear

This is an on-going compilation of my gear list I use for a typical SOTA or Summits On The Air activation. This page features a bullet style list of the gear I typically carry with me as well as a detailed explanation section below.

Updated 30 March 2014.

The Ten Essentials
The Ten Essential “Systems” as defined in the book Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (The Mountaineers Books, 2003).

  1. Navigation Systems (map, compass, GPS etc.)
  2. Sun Protection (clothing, hats, sunglasses, skin protection creams)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamps, LED flashlights, extra long-lasting batteries, solar panels)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (matches, firestarters)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water, purification capability)
  10. Emergency shelter and signaling devices (mirrors, radios, SPOT devices)

Communications Gear

  • Elecraft KX3 w/ stock microphone (previously Yaesu FT-817)
  • Pigtail
  • Hamlog
  • iPad 2 with Otterbox Defender Case
  • Philips Earhook Headphones
  • Chill Pill compact speakers
  • Yaesu VX-8R w/speaker/mic/GPS
  • iP-30 Antenna Analyzer
  • Doc Wattson Meter
  • Buddipole Versatee Vertical with New Ridgid Series Shockcord Whip
  • Buddipole A123 Nanophosphate Battery Pack 13.2v, 9.2Ah
  • Elk 2m/440 5 element log-periodic antenna

Misc Gear

  • APM3 iFAK (Individual First-Aid Kit)
  • Rite in the Rain Journal
  • Fisher Space Military Pen
  • Garmin Oregon 300 GPS (with 24K Colorado Topo maps)
  • Sony HDR-XR160 HD Video Camcorder
  • Dolica WT-1003 Monopod (this doubles as hiking staff & antenna mast)
  • Lowepro Apex 120 AW camera bag.  (Used to pack/protect my FT-817)
  • Casio G-Shock Watch Model GW-9100
  • Large Sigg Aluminum Survival Box (serves as case for my KX3)
  • 4×4 sheet of Tyvek wrap

Clothing Items

Note:  The clothing items I use are listed here as reference only.  I recommend you visit with an outdoor retailer and try multiple pairs of boots and packs before making your purchase.  What I find comfortable and what works for me, may or may not work for you.

  • Gregory Denali Internal Frame Backpack (Replaced with Kelty Redwing 50)
  • Kelty Redwing 50 Internal Frame Panel Loading Backpack
  • Kelty Raincover
  • Nalgene “Get a Grip” CXC 2L Water Bladder
  • Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots
  • Mountain Hardware Gaiters

Additional Details on Gear Selection

This information is provided as additional information on the “why and how” for my decisions to use the gear I list.  For just about every item I list there are alternatives.  What works for me along with why I use a particular item, may or may not work for you.  In other words, your mileage may vary.

Communications Gear

  • Elecraft KX3

This lightweight all-mode transceiver is becoming a new favorite among QRP operators.  It weighs in under 2 pounds and is small and compact.  Now in addition to the KX3, I also own the 817, I also own the FT-897 and the mobile version FT-857.   The 897 (in my opinion) is just too bulky for SOTA activations and the 857 is a little more weight than I like to carry.

The KX3 was officially introduced to SOTA on Saturday, 21 April 2012.  The rig performed beautifully.  I received excellent signal/audio reports and I’m pleased to have the KX3 in my SOTA kit.

My KX3 has the following options:  MH3 Hand Microphone, KXFL3 Dual-Passband Roofing Filter, KXAT3 Internal 20w Antenna Tuner.

  • Pigtail

The Pigtail is a device that interfaces amateur radios to the popular iOS and Android OS Hamlog.  It creates an ad-hoc wireless network to connect and communicate with the iPad and requires only one cable to connect to my KX3. The Pigtail also works with many other transceivers.

  • Hamlog

Hamlog is an iOS application I use on my iPad.  With Hamlog and the above mentioned Pigtail, I have rig control and logging to the KX3 and can also operate PSK-31 and RTTY.  See this YouTube video I created demonstrating this functionality.

  • iPad 2 with Otterbox Defender Case

I use the iPad 2 (did not upgrade to the 3rd version) to both log and also operate PSK-31 and RTTY as discussed above.  I keep the iPad protected in an Otterbox Defender case.

  • Philips Earhook Headphones

While I have a fantastic Heil Proset headset I use in the shack, it is much too heavy to carry along on a SOTA activation.  For now I use a pair of Philips Earhook headphones.  I use these if conditions are especially windy or weak band conditions.  I may eventually look for a lightweight microphone/headset combo unit.  But for now this setup works great.

  • Chill Pill Compact Speakers

Unfortunately, due to the compact size of the KX3 the built in speaker is small compared to the Yaesu FT-817.  The audio output is compromised and I use these compact external speakers in certain situations.

  • Yaesu VX-8R w/speaker/mic/GPS

The VX-8R includes the add-on GPS module and I use this for 2m operation and on-trail APRS tracking.  I have recently purchased the MH-74A7A corded speaker/mic for the VX-8R.  I’ll attach the GPS module onto the speaker/mic and this setup will allow me to better use the radio while hiking.

  • iP-30 Antenna Analyzer

This is a relatively new purchase for me.  I own the much larger (and heavier) MFJ model and it has performed perfectly around the shack and even on portable operations like field day.  The iP-30 fits nicely in a #1010 Pelican case (with knob removed) and provides a fast, efficient way to tune the antenna.

  • Doc Wattson Meter

This is a simple DC inline meter which allows me to keep an eye on my power consumption.   This is equipped with Anderson Powerpoles (as is all my gear) and simply plugs inline between the battery and transceiver.  The lightweight unit weighs just a few ounces and is worth having along just to help me keep an eye on my overall battery condition.

  • Buddipole Versatee Vertical with New Ridgid Series Shockcord Whip

Another relatively new addition to my Buddipole setup.  While I’ve used the Buddipole antenna system many times in portable operations, my older setup consisted of the heavier tripod and extension mast setup.  This new lightweight, yet strong shockcord setup is ideal for a versatee vertical setup.  I support the versatee vertical with the Dolica WT-1003 monopod (listed below).

  •  Buddipole A123 Nanophosphate Battery Pack 13.2v, 9.2Ah

I began hearing about the A123 Nanophosphate battery technology back in 2009 when the Buddipole company first began offering them.  I’ll admit the cost did sort of cause me to take notice, but equally important…I did my homework and talked to both fellow hams as well as other hobby enthusiasts who use these types of battery cells.  The feedback has only been positive.

I received my Buddipole 4S4P A123 pack and used it on my second activation.  It worked exactly as advertised.  I made 49 QSO’s in just under two hours and had consumed less than 50% of the available power.  I’m sold on these lightweight packs and fully recommend them for this type of activity.

  • Elk 2m/440 5 element log-periodic antenna

This is a brand new addition to my SOTA gear list.  I will write more after I have a chance to test it on a future activation.  For now, watch this video interview of the owner of Elk Antennas.

Misc Gear

  • APM3 iFAK (Individual First-Aid Kit)

A First-Aid Kit should be the very first thing you take into consideration and pack into your SOTA activation pack.   First-Aid Kits come in a variety of sizes and kit contents will vary from kit to kit.  I chose the AMP3 iFAK for my SOTA pack.  It’s compact and comprehensive and features a modular packaging system for quick and easy access to just what you need.

  • Rite in the Rain Journal

While I’m new to SOTA activations, I’m not new to backcountry hiking, camping and other activities.  I’ve thought about what I would use to log QSO’s and don’t care to lug a laptop or even my iPad.  I also believe using my iPhone will slow me down and be more trouble than it’s worth.  I’ve used these Rite in the Rain products for several years and they work great.

  • Fisher Space Military Pen

While this is not the only pen/pencil I carry with me in my pack.  It is my primary and works perfectly with the Rite in the Rain journal.   Like all Fisher brand “Space Pens” the replaceable ink cartridge is pressurized and allows the pen to write just about anywhere, even upside down and yes…even under water.  If you are a fan of Seinfeld, you might remember the episode in season three titled “The Pen“.  I chose the military version over the other models for the simple fact, if it’s good enough for our men and women who are protecting our freedoms to do what we do, it is good enough for me.

  • Garmin Oregon 300 GPS (with 24K Colorado Topo maps)

I purchased the Garmin Oregon 300 hand-held GPS for geocaching.  It was a serious upgrade to my old Garmin 12 which I’ve had since the mid to late 90′s.  I also have installed all the Colorado and Utah topo maps.  While it’s a bit of redundancy, I also carry along paper maps, compass and the knowledge to use them.

  • Sony HDR-XR160 HD Video Camcorder

This compact and lightweight HD video camera was a family Christmas present I purchased.  I had a larger and older Sony camcorder but due to its size and weight, it almost never got used.  I plan to use this camcorder to create a few activation videos.

  • Dolica WT-1003 Monopod (this doubles as hiking staff and/or lower antenna mast)

This was another idea borrowed from Steve, wG0AT.  Steve often talks about multi purposing as many items as possible and for good reason.  This super lightweight monopod is durable enough to act as a hiking staff.  But also serves as my Buddipole Versatee vertical lower mast.  I have a threaded adapter which allows the Buddipole Versatee to screw down onto the monopod standard camera mount.

  • Lowepro Apex 120 AW camera bag.  (Used to pack/protect my FT-817)

This bag was originally purchased and served to protect my Yaesu FT-817 when I used that rig for SOTA activations.  This bag doesn’t work for the KX3 so I’ve re-purposed it to contain my battery back, microphone, extra cables/cords and such.  While the bag does add a few ounces, the things I pack inside fit nicely and keeps me from having to dig around in the pack.  Just about any type of bag would serve this purpose.

  • Casio G-Shock Watch Model GW-9100

I like this watch for a number of reasons.  One, my wife purchased it for me one year for my birthday.  She also purchased me a nice TAG Heuer, but the Casio is better designed for SOTA use due to its ruggedness and other features including, solar powered, multi-channel atomic accuracy and I can also read the time without my glasses.

  • Large Sigg Aluminum Survival Box (serves as case for my KX3)

When I began researching a case or padded bag to pack my Elecraft KX3 in, I had a couple of requirements.  First, I wanted it to be sturdy enough to protect the KX3 while it is inside my backpack.  Second, I wanted something water/leak proof and third, lightweight.  The large Sigg Alumninum Survival box is perfect for my use.  The large size measures 9.0″ x 5.7″ x 3.0″.  I added some thin foam pad to the bottom and cut out some larger pieces to place around the KX3.  If you are interested in purchasing the Sigg box, click here.

  • 4×4 sheet of Tyvek wrap

What is Tyvek paper?  If you drive around where new home construction is taking place you may see in the early stages where they wrap the exterior of the house in a white paper material with the words DuPont Tyvek.  Also, some of the United States Postal Service express mail and priority mail envelops are also made out of Tyvek paper.  The material is lightweight and tear resistant.  While it is breathable, it does not allow liquid water to pass through which is ideal fall/winter/spring summit conditions where snow may still be present.

I purchased a 8×8 foot sheet and made several 4×4 foot sheets that I use as a ground cloth on SOTA activations.  4×4 is large enough for me to sit on and place my radio, iPad etc.  Each corner has a single grommet hole where I can suspend it when I get home to rinse it and allow it to dry.

Clothing Items

  • Gregory Denali Pack (Replaced with Kelty Redwing 50)

I’ve owned many different backpacks over the years.  As a teen back in the late 70′s and early 80′s it was the external frame models which were popular.  But times have changed and the internal frame models are certainly what you see on the trails today.  I actually own a couple of different internal frame packs and they are used for different activities.  The Gregory Denali is the smaller of the models and just what I needed to pack my SOTA gear.  I place the Lowepro pack which protects my Yaesu FT-817 in the bottom and have plenty of room for extra clothing and the rest of the gear.

 

  • Kelty Redwing 50 Internal Frame Panel Loading Backpack

This is a new addition to my SOTA gear list.  When I started activating SOTA summits, I used one of my existing backpacks.  It was the smaller of the packs I owned at the time.  The pack (a Gregory Denali) worked fine, but being a top-loading pack…I knew I could improve my setup with a panel loading design.

The Kelty Redwing 50 is an internal frame, panel loading backpack.  The pack falls into the day pack category so it is smaller than other weekend or multi-day style packs.   It is perfect for SOTA (in my opinion) and holds all my gear with room to spare for cold weather activations.

  • Kelty Raincover

The Kelty raincover is lightweight and packs into a small space.  When needed it covers the pack and cinches down providing rain protection for the pack and its contents.

  • Nalgene “Get a Grip” CXC 2L Water Bladder

This is a new purchase for me.  I’ve been looking into getting a water bladder for some time now.  My Kelty Redwing 50 features an inside pocket and a tube feed-thru hole.  While CamelBak is a popular hydration system, the latest model has received some poor reviews due to leaking.  I’ve been using Nalgene bottle for over 15 years and looking forward to using this water bladder.

  • Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots

I wanted to find a replacement for my heavy 1997 Asolo boots and found them in the Salomon Quest boots.  You can read more about the research I did for these boots here.

  • Mountain Hardware Gaiters

This may actually be why my Asolo Globaline boots have last as long as they have.  I’ve worn out several pair of gaiters over the years.  These are a must have for hiking in snow or otherwise wet conditions.

Future Additions

Nothing planned at this time

6 Responses to My Gear

  1. Hi Jerry,
    Really enjoying studying your list of SOTA gear. Can you provide more information (including a source) about the adapter you use between the Dolica monopod and the Versatee. This is my missing link!
    73, Stephen VK2RH

    • Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for your comment. The adapter is a brass threaded stud which allows for a standard tripod screw to thread into the inside and the out side threads screw into the Versatee. The Buddipole company has them available.

      73,
      Jerry

    Steve Veal, N5SKH says:

    Hi Jerry:

    I really enjoy your blog and your Youtube videos. They helped convince me to buy a KX3, a great radio. I’m also curious about the monopod, Versatee interface. I’ve looked all over Buddipole’s website and can’t figure out specifically which part your are referring to. Do they still offer it?

    Thanks again!
    Steve, N5SKH

    Kent Winrich, K9EZ says:

    This is one of the best overviews for SOTA I have seen. Well done! I have been looking for input as far as packs and footwear, and lvoe the fact that you have your complete list. Keep up the good work and hope to work you soon!

    Kent Winrich, K9EZ says:

    Did one of my first SOTA activations over the weekend, using the Kelty 50. HUGE number of QSOs, including 5 S2S, including one S2S to Germany. The antenna I am using is just putting out a great signal.

    OK that all said, my question today is how do you pack all of your stuff in your backpack? I know I am packing too much, but would love to see how you pack your equipment into the Kelty. I need to knock down how much I pack so I can begin to get some camping equipment.

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