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What rig for activation?


#1

I’m planning on being active for the first time on SOTA and would welcome some opinions on the best rig for the job. The FT 817 is an obvious choice but I’m tempted by the FT 857, attracted by the higher power and equal suitability as as a second shack rig. I would welcome views. Bryn G4ZHI


#2

In reply to G4ZHI:

Good morning, Bryn.

Firstly, GL with the first activation. I’m sure you’ll love it and I look forward to working you soon.

Both the FT817 and the FT857 are popular SOTA rigs - and rightly so. As for which one is better, it depends entirely on what you want to do. If you don’t mind carrying the extra weight of the rig and external batteries or you’re heading for more difficult summits the FT857 is the obvious choice thanks to it’s extra power but if you’re limited in what you can carry 'cos you’re backpacking then the FT817 is the answer.

The antenna is probably just as important as far as the overall efficiency of the station is concerned. Are you planning to use HF or VHF?

73, Richard


#3

In reply to G4ZHI:

HF or VHF?
SSB or CW?
Small local activations or high Scottish activations?
Winter or Summer activations?

The primary concern is weight. If you are not going high or far then it matters less. However, by the time you have a rig, batteries, mic, paddle, antenna, fishing pole, guys, warmer layers, waterproofs, survival bag, food, water etc. and your backpack weighs around 14kg and you’re walking 15kms and climbing over 1000m then you’ll begin to wish the lightweight 817 was actually some QRP rig that fits into 2 Altoids tins.

There again if you are only popping up some local lumps that takes no more than 30mins to the top you could carry an old FT101 and an inverter! :wink:

It all depends on the context of your activations Bryn. But as primarily an HF SSB op with just a little CW thrown in, I’ve never needed more than an 817 barefoot. If you are only into VHF SSB/CW an old FT290 and small linear would be as good. Especially as a 290 doesn’t suck the lifeforce out of the batteries on receive the way an 817 does.

And in case anyone hasn’t yet warned you… SOTA is more addictive than crack!

Andy
MA0FMF


#4

HF or VHF?
SSB or CW?
Small local activations or high Scottish activations?
Winter or Summer activations?

Regardless of the answer to any such questions, the answer to the original question is the Yaseu FT-817.

It is small, light, does all bands and modes. The correct choice of band/mode for the time of day, time of year, condx etc, and an efficient aerial will see the 5 watts reaching great distances.

Tom M1EYP


#5

In reply to G4ZHI:
Dear Bryn!

Taking a SOTA trip with one’s hands in one’s pockets may be attractive, but this kind of start determines the (poor) end.

Of course the higher output power is a very important aspect of choosing the right RIG. I am sure that many of the SOTA chasers greatly appreciate if you don’t torture them working with a QRPP RIG powered by 3 AAA type cells delivering 1W output into a bicycle spoke stuck into the ground but you work with let’s say 50W and a full size dipole! :wink: Therefore output power is rather important, but it is not the only parameter worth of interest when selecting a RIG.

What do I mean? Wandering about in multiple level menus just in order to increase/decrease your keying speed, switch a narrow-band filter in/out is awkward. Similarly poor receiver sensitivity or poor IMD characteristic is a significant drawback. Luck of a narrow-band filter often disables working callers in a pile-up and the operator seems to be unsuitable, non-prepared for the task he undertook. He will loose many of the potential QSOs and make the callers disappointed. Furthermore the forthcoming cold season makes it more and more, finally impossible difficult to manipulate shirt-button size or even smaller buttons with fingers grown numb. That is, IMHO, you need to compromise torturing yourself and your QSO partners. The more serious RIG you take for a SOTA expedition, the more weight you need to drag, but the better result you will reach and cause the less suffering at the other side! Finally: selecting RIGs from the same brand may avoid getting confused by different behavior and different philosophy menus systems.

I have a local friend who bought a FT-817 and sold it after a few days calling it a nickel-coated junk and switched to a FT-897. (He intended to use it for serious DXing as well as his one and only RIG.) The FT-897 is a robust and reliable RIG weighting less than 5 kg. and providing far more convenience and better performance as the 817 does. It can not be a sheer accident that many of the SOTA activators with good results use this type. Especially, bacause you want to use it at home in your shack as a second RIG. I don’t know, what your budget and your 1st RIG is, but you will stick to that unless the 2nd RIG provides you at least the most important services you are accustomed to have. That is, there must not be an excessively big gap between the performance of the 1st and 2nd RIG, otherwise you will put it aside, neglect and never use it! I had an FT-100D as 2nd rig for a few months, but I did not like it it, as my 1st RIG is an IC-775DSP… Now I have an IC-746 and I love, I often use it as my main RIG, it and I went activating HA/KM-031 with that. Of course, that was heavy and filed up my back-sack, but I worked 177 QSOs at my very first (single man) activation without any self spotting or preliminary alerting.

Tastes are different, of course, but this was my 2 cents.

73: Joska, HA5CW


#6

i use the icom ic-703 … it’s a fine trx with 10 watts and a built-in antenna tuner.

the only disadvantage is that the rig has not included vhf/uhf. but until now i did not regret buying this radio a single time.

vy73 de martin
www.oe5reo.at


#7

In reply to G4ZHI:

The FT 817 is an
obvious choice but I’m tempted by the FT 857, attracted by the higher
power and equal suitability as as a second shack rig. I would welcome
views.

Bryn

The requirements for a shack-rig and SOTA are different so you will have to make some sort of compromise if you want a radio that can perform both roles.

In respect of output power, my impression is that for SOTA on HF CW, power levels between 2 and 10 watts will usually give quite acceptable results with an efficient aerial (full-sized dipole). For HF SSB, 5W is often adequate on a quiet band such as 5MHz but is equally often inadequate on the other HF bands. There, I have found that increasing power to about 30 Watts makes a huge difference to the results. Beyond that level, I am not convinced that the improvement in performance outweighs the inevitable weight penalties.

On VHF, 5 Watts will usually bag you four or more contacts from most English SOTA summits if you have a descent aerial and, most importantly, if you make use of the alerting facilities on SOTAwatch.

There are exceptions to all these things of course; they are inevitably generalisations.

In terms of general performance an 817 is fine for SOTA. It might not be a good second shack-rig though. Personally find that the less weight I carry, the more I enjoy the walking and vice-versa, thus I usually err on the side of lightweight radio equipment. Only you can really decide where your priorities lie!

Good luck with SOTA - but as other have already said, beware - it seems to be a life-changing activity for many people…

73

Richard
G3CWI


#8

In reply to G4ZHI:
I’ve used both, Bryn, and I love both of them for different reasons.

The 817 is a magic little box. Using no more than that as the main station rig
on SSB and a G5RV in the declining years of the sunspot cycle I worked just under 100 countries on 5 continents. It will give great results for SOTA and the multiple layered menus soon become second nature. However, whilst you can work the world in good or even fair conditions with it, in poor conditions its low power is a great disadvantage. When it started to show signs of the heavy use it had received I decided to move up to the 857.

The weight and size of the 857 came as a shock, I had to buy a bigger and better rucsac for a start! The 817 is hardly noticable in a small day sac, but the 857 and its battery etc gives a similar load to that you would carry for some serious Scottish winter climbing, the rig and the battery that I use on their own weigh 6.6 kg without all the other stuff that you have to carry. Despite this the rig is great for SOTA, you can run it at any power between 5 and 100 watts (lower on V/UHF), and a good tactic is to start with high power and drop it once you’ve attracted attention. It makes a good shack rig, too, its supplanted my main rig, and its particularly useful for SSTV and PSK. I don’t do CW, but I should think it is good for that, too, with useful features like the blue LED that flashes when you are properly tuned in to a station, and when you switch to the CW mode the DSP automatically goes to a narrow setting that simulates a narrow crystal filter. But you can get all this from the reviews in Radcom and PW, do you have them?

One serious warning, neither the 857 or the 897 will tolerate an accidental reverse voltage, it instantly destroys them to beyond economic repair, and there is no built in protection so it is advisable to put a crowbar diode across the power leads and fit the lead and battery with a foolproof plug and socket. The 817 has a built in protection diode.

Which rig you get will depend on what you want to do, but they are both good and reliable.

73

Brian G8ADD


#9

In reply to G8ADD:

it is
advisable to put a crowbar diode across the power leads and fit the
lead and battery with a foolproof plug and socket.

Good advice Brian. I never cease to be amazed at the number of photos that I see on the Flickr group showing radios connected to batteries with crocodile clips. I use Powerpole connectors for everything - they are the way to go.

73

Richard
G3CWI


#10

In reply to G8ADD:
One time starting the activation on the summit my 857 was dumb. I was searching a couple of minutes to find out reversed connections on the SLAB . Cold sweat, but after reconnecting the wires the rig went cheerfully on. No damage.
73, Ruda


#11

In reply to OK2QA:
Wow, you were lucky Ruda, mine died and I had to replace it!

73

Brian


#12

In reply to G4ZHI:Hi Bryn, i’m using a ATS IIIb (5W) and an “upper and outer” antenna from DL2LTO on a fiber telescope-mast
My rig see http://www.flickr.com/photos/22111050@N06/2907418234
Antenna: see http://www.dl2lto.de/sc/HB_UP.htm (unfortunately only in german)
73 Peter/HB9CMI


#13

In reply to G4ZHI:

Hi Bryn - whatever you do, do get involved - it’s great fun.

I have nowhere near the experience of many of those above, but having decided to get back into amateur radio after a long absence, I decided to get an FT-817 as it would be a good driver for anything else I decided to build for VHF and up. It also had HF which had become open to me since my earlier amateur radio life! It was only later I discovered SOTA and how useful the FT-817 is for that.

I’ve been pleased I got an FT-817, BUT it eats its internal batteries, and you only get a lower power with the 9.6V internal battery pack. Even with a 12V SLAB I reckon the power output is 4 to 4.5W depending on band; for the 5W I think you really need the 13.8V (well it practically says that in the manual anyway). I almost always operate it with an external 12V battery (at least 4Ah).

I mention power because it has been an issue for me. Used as a /P “shack” rig, I don’t get far using SSB for HF DX or in a crowded band with the 4W. However, with a 35W HF linear I get on fine. For SOTA HF I started off carrying the linear up the hill, but having tried the FT-817 barefoot during the day I generally don’t bother with the linear for HF now.

For 2m SSB I found the barefoot FT-817 would get me down to the south of England from the southern Scottish hills, but with some difficulty. A portable 25-30W linear makes a big difference - but to the weight of its batteries as well as the radio performance! I have still to build the 70cm linear …

A highly important aspect is the antenna (OK, off topic but important). I like building homebrew Yagis etc. for VHF and up, but at 6m and 2m they are big, a bit heavy for a fishing pole and have wind resistance that bends the pole like crazy in a typical Scottish hilltop “breeze”. I’m still working on the best solution for this. For HF, the fishing pole is a great support for the full size inverted V dipoles that I use for each band (many people use the version with add-on sections to save weight). I think a good antenna means you will get away with the lower powers.

I don’t think anyone above mentioned 2m FM (ducks smartly). It seems to me to be used quite a bit in activations, and I use it myself though it’s not my preferred mode, especially because it’s so greedy on the juice carried with such effort in those heavy containers! I’m sure SOTA is helping to resuscitate local 2m activity which used to be so common when I was first licensed.

I’m still happy with the FT-817 - it suits what I want to do.

73
John GM8OTI


#14

In reply to GM8OTI:
I’m very grateful to all who replied and gave me the benefit of their experience. I’m planning on using HF SSB mostly.

On the question of antennas, I didn’t really want to have to use a separate ATU which means using dipoles cut for the job I suppose. Is this what most people use on HF? They seem fine on the higher frequencies, but what do people use on the lower frequencies like 80m for example?

73s Bryn


#15

the icom ic-703 has a built-in antennatuner …


#16

In reply to G4ZHI:

Bryn

On the lower bands (40/60/80 except 160m) the use of full-size dipoles is almost universal. The favourite configuration is a linked dipole which enables the correct band to be selected by removing the appropriate link. Dipoles are popular on the higher bands too but there some people use verticals.

73

Richard
G3CWI


#17

In reply to G3CWI:

In reply to G4ZHI:

Bryn

On the lower bands (40/60/80 except 160m) the use of full-size dipoles
is almost universal.

However, there are a few of us using the W3EDP antenna, which does need a simple parallel tuned ATU but means you can change bands without getting to your feet! My tuner lets me operate on 80, 60, 40 and 20 without range switching (probably 30 too!)

73

Brian G8ADD


#18

In reply to G8ADD:
I mainly use the linked dipole, but on some summits the Norcal Doublet (http://www.norcalqrp.org/norcaldoublet.htm )and balanced atu is my preferred choice - especially on some of the gorse covered summits in G/SC :slight_smile: If made with 30m of ribbon (2 by 15m top and 1 by 15m feeder) it works from 160m to 6m.

Roger G4OWG


#19

In reply to HA5CW:

I have a local friend who bought a FT-817 and sold it after a few days
calling it a nickel-coated junk and switched to a FT-897. (He intended
to use it for serious DXing as well as his one and only RIG.) The
FT-897 is a robust and reliable RIG weighting less than 5 kg. and

I own both the FT-817 and the FT-897. But I would never use the FT-897 for SOTA. The much larger size and weight of the FT-897 does not justify the slightly better usability.
If you really want to use the higher output power of the FT-897 you need a large battery. I tried to power it out of the cigarette lighter of my car and was shocked about current during TX. I had to be careful not to blow the 8 A fuse!
By the way: To my mind the receiver of the FT-897 is not better than the FT-817. Using the FT-897 in the evening on crowded 80m is painful because of the bad IM so I cannot recommend it as a RIG in the shack for this purpose. But I can accept this at the tiny FT-817.

good results use this type. Especially, because you want to use it at
home in your shack as a second RIG. I don’t know, what your budget and

I think SOTA use and shack use are too different to do it with a single rig. Accept to have two specialised rigs: one small and lightweight for SOTA and a large on with plenty of buttons, controls and a large display for the shack.

I have an IC-746 and I love, I often use it as my main RIG, it and I
went activating HA/KM-031 with that. Of course, that was heavy and
I like my IC-7400 = IC-746PRO very much but I consider it more a boat anchor than a SOTA rig!

Tastes are different, of course, but this was my 2 cents.
Exactly! Mine is the exact opposite.

73 Michael, DO7MM


#20

In reply to DO7MM:

"I tried to power it out of the cigarette lighter of my car and was shocked about current during TX. I had to be careful not to blow the 8 A fuse! "

I think the 897 consumes 22A when on full power. To get below 8A you would have to tx on minimum power therefore negating any advantage over the 817.

FWIW I use the 857 on the hills and I am happy with the setup. I have a few 7AH slabs which will be replaced with lipo once they start showing noticable deterioration. Note for M0DFA. Dave, I run my 857 on full power from a 7AH SLAB, this is normally good for 70ish contacts or up to 2 hours operating. The only thing that does kill batteries is FM - thats why I limit my appearances on that mode.
73