I figured it best to follow the “What Radio should I use for SOTA” posting with one about antennas. Of course, the answer to this question really depends on what you have selected as your radio type.
Keeping it simple with V/UHF Operations only.
Understand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with leaving the clunky and heavy HF gear at home and just heading up the hill with a hand-held or HT radio. I’ve often discussed on my podcast, the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast, those just starting out in the hobby can get on the air with an HT type radio as everything you need to do so is in the box. Meaning, most (if not all) HT’s will come with the hand-held transceiver, power source (battery) and antenna. But understand that the rubber duck antenna which is provided with new hand-held transceivers is a compromised antenna.
If you are going to conduct a V/UHF SOTA operation, I would consider upgrading the rubber duck antenna with a better and more efficient antenna. Antenna manufactures such as Diamond and Comet both make replacement whip style antennas that will improve the efficiency of the hand-held transceiver. I own the Diamond SRH-77CA and use it with my Yaesu VX-8 while hiking for APRS tracking purposes and if I’m close enough (35-40 miles of the Denver area) will use just this antenna to work stations below me in the city.
But perhaps you want an even better solution. This is where the Elk log periodic five element antenna or the Arrow II Portable Satellite antenna will provide you a little better gain while providing the ability to control the direction of your signal. Of course, don’t forget about polarization as you orientate your antenna. Check out this YouTube video from Ham Radio School.com for a practical explanation regarding polarization. The Elk is certainly my favorite and accompanies me on most of my SOTA operations.
But I want to work the world on HF from a mountaintop.
Got HF? As previously discussed, a number of rigs are SOTA ready and with the right antenna and under the right band conditions, YES, you can work the world from a mountaintop running QRP power.
Perhaps the most popular SOTA antenna in use by hams here in North America is the Buddipole/Buddistick antenna. I use a modified Buddipole vertical and what I mean by modified is while I have all the full Buddipole Deluxe package, I only carry certain pieces/parts out for SOTA and other parts I’ve replaced with other items which serve more than one purpose. I replaced the tripod and mast with a monopod which doubles as a hiking staff. This supports the Buddipole Versatee which then connects the shock cord whip. I run a single counterpoise wire in this setup and use guy ropes to support the antenna.
Why not just use a lightweight wire dipole? This would certainly be acceptable for SOTA summits below tree line. Here in Colorado that would be below ~10,500’. Even then, you may not be guaranteed of having anything to use to support the dipole. This is where some lightweight wire and a crappie pole might come in handy.
Another popular antenna with some portable and SOTA operators is the Alex Loop Antenna. While I do not have personal experience with this antenna, Steve wG0AT has used it with success. Visit Steve’s Youtube channel as I believe he has a video or two on the Alex Loop antenna.
Finally, another company providing SOTA antennas which might be of interest is SOTAbeams. This will be similar to the lightweight wire and crappie pole idea. If you search for SOTAbeams on Youtube, you’ll find many videos demonstrating their products.
Should I pack along a tuner or antenna analyzer?
Efficiency matters…and even more true when operating QRP. Before the days of my KX3 and it’s lightweight built in tuner, I never packed my LDG Z-817 tuner. Instead I packed my little and trusty iP30 Antenna Analyzer. Weighing in at a feather weight of just 7 oz. I would rather take the time to adjust my antenna and counterpoise to a resonant frequency (optimum SWR) then have a tuner trick the radio. But certainly use what works best for you.
A Dry Run
I’d certainly recommend performing a dry run with your entire SOTA setup prior to investing the energy of hiking up a SOTA summit. Head out in the backyard or a nearby park and completely setup your gear and get on the air. The idea here (or reason for suggestion) is if you forget something…it’s easy to walk back to the shack from the backyard versus from the mountaintop.
Next time I’ll discuss my thoughts on portable power and share what has and hasn’t worked for me. I truly hope these articles are helpful.
Until next time…
73 de KD0BIK (Jerry)