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Best radio for backpacking/overnight hikes


One aspect of the KX2 that I appreciate is its low power draw on receive which means its like the Energizer Bunny…it keeps on going.

That’s beneficial if you do multiple activations during a day or presumably a multi day back packing trip.



I’d love a KX2 or KX3 or FDM Duo or something exotic but in the back of my mind I know that I can’t be trusted with expensive things when operating SOTA. My 250 quid original FT-817 gets slung in my rucksack and is treated very unfairly, but just keeps going.


If you have a dualband HT then forget the FT-817.
When I had to decide which portable rig I’m going to buy it was
Yaesu FT-817 vs Icom IC-703.

I bought the FT-817 because it had 2m/70cm.
I ordered mine with bhi dsp module, it makes a huge difference.
Then I bought an Elecraft T1 autotuner, it’s 1/4 of the size and 1/2 of the weight of LDG 817 autotuner.
It’s so tiny! Goats will laugh at you if you buy the LDG HUGE brick atu.

Now I’m going back to basics, 17m vertical wire monopole no tuner needed.
17m - 40m - 80m linked dipole, again no tuner needed.
8m el cheapo fishing pole without the thinnest section.

What else, well forget internal batteries because it limits you to just few hours of operating.
But… I use AA NiMH cells in my 817 and I have 3x8 cells so it gives
me 3x 2000mAh = 9h operating time with 5W SSB 10% tx.
You can change the internal AA cells in less than a minute, it’s oldscool but good enough for me.

LiFePo4 is the holy grail of portable batteries.
One day I will buy one, the 12V/20Ah packs cost about a hundred or two.

I’m a qrp true believer so I’m ok with low power but you may not like it,
especially if you do not use digital modes or CW.
For PSK RTTY etc. all you need is an old Windows phone, old like HP iPAQ hw6915 and Pocketdigi program.
The cable costs 5€ and is super simple to homebrew.
KX2 has that built-in so that’s a plus.
But, there’s always the but:
10" Windows tablet with JT65 etc. modes, it’s so efficient that it feels like cheating.

Would I buy the FT-817ND again?
Tbh I was looking at the KX3 at some point but the internal battery made me laugh!
Really, what I want is a radio with a quickswap battery just like my dualbander HT has.

Simple bombproof and easy to expand with third party add-ons, because we all know how
much stuff costs when there’s only one supplier.

I think I might buy the FT-817ND again.

I have a 817 with bhi dsp + SCU-17 digimode adapter + D104-M6 mic + palm peg legs.
Yes you need that for it to be a good rig.


Hard to beat an all band, all mode radio like the 817, especially if u want to use VHF (including 2M FM and repeater operation). The five watt difference in power is meaningless…less than half an s-unit difference, and the ATU is also a don’t care if u just build a resonant antenna. Why carry the extra weight of a tuner?

Now if u want the ultimate in light weight go with the MTR3. CW only, 5 watts, 4.4 ounces…runs on a 9 volt transistor radio battery. Talk about light weight. Fits in a shirt pocket.

Good Luck and c u on soon

W7A Association manager


Thanks @WA7JTM – looking forward to getting out there! I do have a dual band HT (Kenwood TH-D72A) which works really well.


Having a separate HT has it’s benefits in a summit where time is limited.
Just leave the HT listening the calling frequencies while you operate HF with another radio.


I just finished a week in Desolation wilderness. I came out one day to do a reconfiguration (basically change how I was carrying the radio gear).
My Radio gear was 2 HTs (one for SAR/PSA, and one for Amatuer use) and then a KX2. I did not opt for the internal battery, but use an external LiFe 4s battery to which I hardly put a dent in it’s charge after 6 activations. I use the LNR endfedz Trail friendly and Heil BM-10. All told my radio gear weighs in around 5 lbs. I started the trip carrying the radio gear in a LowePro camera bag…I pulled out about half way to bring the puppy home, and then change how I was carrying the radio gear so that I would have hydration for the last two peaks I wanted to hit, so now I am using an Osprey Raptor 10L hydration pack. I ended up with 6 total activations on the week, and had a lot of off trail travel from base camps etc. All told my I was backpacking with about 40lb (bear cans add a lot of weight even though I do have a fair bit of lightweight gear)…but then I’m not a full on weight weenie. Good luck on your backpacking trips and your activations!


I have both the 817 with T1 tuner and the KX2. I just came back from a 3 day outing up in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness using the KX2. The KX2 is light years ahead of the 817, which is getting long in the tooth now. I ran the SEQP as well as the NAQP SSB this past weekend while portable. First time doing an HF contest using SSB and portable. The KX2 runs circles around the 817. And, if digital modes are in your future, then the KX2 is the way to go. Easy hookup - just one USB cable - and you have rig control, KX2 memory editor, CW and PSK terminals. Using 3rd party software is a breeze. With N1MM + you’ll have CW keying - no need for a winkeyer etc etc…

Win4k3suite is also avail for a reasonable purchase price ($50) and has a 30 day free trail - use it to see if you like it.

I’ve never really used the VHF/UHF all mode capabilities of the 817 so won’t comment on it’s use. Others often cite that the 817 has those features. All I can say is that just about everywhere I’ve roamed, I’ve only found activity on 2m simplex 146.52 - so the little VX7 handles that just as well.

Now I have to update to a newer and smaller netbook :wink:

73, Todd KH2TJ


I recently compared (for weight) my KX-2, hard case, mic, cables and battery. Lighter than a 817.



First - I’ve only been able to activate 7 Summits (some activations were the same Summit at different times), but had a great time on them all. I have the 817 (non “ND” model), and have had it quite a few years before I found out about SOTA. I did drool over the KX3 and then the KX2 when they came out, but decided to upgrade the 817 instead of paying significantly more for a new radio. Not knocking the KX2/KX3, I’d love to have either one. I’ve just gotten used to using the 817 on HF, VHF and UHF. Also use it for satellites on VHF/UHF.

I sent the radio to W4RT and had the DSP, dual filter board and upgraded battery system installed. Since I also like using the 817 mobile, the DSP makes a big difference on the road (signal reports are about as good as with my Icom 7000 when using the Hustler Mag Mount/2 foot mast/band resonators on the truck). And even at a campsite the 500 Hz CW filter makes a difference. I mostly use the 817 with an approx 7Ah LiFePO4 battery, with the internals used for really quick setup. The mods cost a bit, but not near as much as a new radio. And the company was very good to work with. So you do have some upgrade options to make the radio’s capabilities a bit better. I didn’t do any “screwdriver tuneups” or “maintenance menu adjustments” on my radio. And it’s worked fine for at least 15 years. You can use the “Widebander” program (google it) to get 60m on your pre-ND (and some early ND I believe) radios. It’s a software change, so no danger of a soldering iron slipping. And the change can be reversed by the same software. Haven’t tried this with my radio, have plenty bands to play with.

Along with the 817 I mostly use the LNR 10-20-40 Trail Friendly antenna. Easier/quicker to set up than a dipole (requires less supports), and is resonant, so no tuner required. Was testing this antenna a few weeks ago with a new 20 foot telescoping fishing pole (squid pole/crappie pole) at a local park here in South Carolina and heard NS1TA calling CQ SOTA on CW. Turned out he was on Mt Katadhin in Maine, at the north end of the Appalachian Trail. Was a scramble to dig out the paddles and set up the radio, but fun to make chaser QSOs on both CW and SSB. The radio is flexible and easy enough to use that even this quick QSO could happen. A few menus, but most can be pre set. And those that need to be changed often are easily reached. There are also quick reference guides available for the radio that make operation a lot easier/quicker.

Have never used a KX3/KX2, but have heard lots of great things about them. Just decided to stick with the 817 since I was used to it, for cost and since I do use the included VHF/UHF a bit. Overall it’s been a great radio for me, and have had a lot of fun with it. It is a little heavy, but not bad in a backpack. Especially with the new LiFe batteries that weigh about a third as much as the SLAs.

Also have an LNR MTR radio (20, 30 and 40 meters), but still getting used to it. Also fun to use, just have to get my nerve up enough to do an activation on CW. With this one, 8xAA lithium batteries, a small paddle, earphones and a resonant wire antenna you’d really have an effective lightweight setup for a long hike.

Best of luck whichever radio you choose, and have fun!

Mike, N4VBV


Not a myth. If you activate with others on a summit, the 817 will interfere with every radio on the summit. If you activate by yourself, no matter. I often activate with others and I have used to the 817 and victimized my buddies and likewise I’ve been a victim, so it does generate noise and hash on other bands in the close quarters dictated by an activation zone. On the other hand, using the MTR’s allows us to set up in close proximity, with little or nor interference. I’ve assigned my FT-817 to working satellites and would never take it on a summit with other activators. As previously stated, if you go by yourself then no worries.


Mike AD5A


Well Mike all I can say is you and your colleagues have some broken gear.

4x817 simultaeneously operating 17m CW, 20m SSB, 30m CW & 40m SSB on a SOTA operation with no problems.


I just wonder whether there is an issue here with one or more of the radios in question. I certainly stand by my earlier comments, that in 10 years of operating joint activations with Paul G4MD, we have never experienced such issues.

I have also operated with others in close proximity without any problems.


Same here. 313 activations and never seen a “hash” problem when I was with other stations on the same summit.



If it’s working for you then you should keep using it, but it has certainly been a problem on several activations I’ve been a part of where 817’s are present. My FT-817ND in question was new out of the box, so not broken. The second FT-817, owned by another ham demonstrated the same characteristics, so go figure. The odds of two separate radios both being broken are pretty high.

I’m not a radio technician, but I learned not to touch the stove when it’s hot, so given my experience, I don’t use it anymore. If your experience is different that let that drive your choices. The MTR’s are actually extremely good in close quarters, so no need for me to go back, plus they only weigh 6 ozs.

Mike AD5A


Hi Mike,
let me add my name to the FT-817 owners who have worked in multi-op activation situations without problems. One thought - what antenna was connected to the offending FT-817s? If this was not a resonant antenna and a good match, this could be part of the issue. The FT-817 likes a good antenna match, the MTR and other kit radios are possibly more tollerant - just a thought.

73 Ed DD5LP / VK2JI / G8GLM.


Likewise. Owner of two of these little Yaesu miracles. One 16 years old and the latest 2 months.




If “space and weight are top concerns” and you need SSB, go with the KX2. Seems like a no-brainer.

Barry N1EU


Don’t get me wrong, I like the 817 and have owned 2 of them. The first I bought in 2001 when they first came out and the second is relatively new. They are versatile radios and very durable. I do believe the KX2 has supplanted it as the lighter, better radio for HF. However it can’t be argued that with 160m - 70cm capability there isn’t a more versatile QRP radio than the 817. The interference issues we had were intermittent, but predictable. Perhaps it is our antenna configuration, resonant EFHW’s, but we weren’t going to change that. So rather than fight the issue, we leave the 817’s at home.

I currently use a 5-band (40m -17m), trapped, EFHW with the MTR 5 bander. The antenna is a product of design work by KT5X aka WS0TA and K1JD. Resonance is wonderful. Using a carbon fiber 21 ft pole, the entire station is around 2 pounds. The summits in NM range from 8,000 ft to 12,000+ ASL so lighter is better.


Mike AD5A


I have only done 3 activations so far. First one was a bust. My fault
not the equipment. Poor planning. 2nd and 3rd ones a blast.
I got the KX3 and used a Par End Fed for those. 22 foot mast and
a good LIPO battery. Worked 25 on one summit and 17 on the other
summit. Used for both CW and SSB. Very good audio and the speaker
and volume were a little short but the updates cleared that up. Very
happy with my set up. Have used Norcal 40A, Sierra, ATS3 and others
for years portable for QRP ops. This was my choice and it is awesome.
I also have a SOTA Beams Dipole (4 band)I used for FD with the KX3 and it was
a very good performer for multi band ops from Black Balsam in NC.
Of all my QRP rigs this is the nicest I have used over the years. I feel I
made a worthy investment. Plus putting it together is fun. Weight is a little
heavier than the KX2 but the extra options suit my needs. Good Luck.