Best radio for backpacking/overnight hikes

I’m starting to plan some activations in/around Tucson, W7A, where I live. I do a fair amount of hiking already, and hope to do some activations on multi-day backpacking trips, where both space and weight are top concerns.

I gather that the FT-817, KX3 or KX2 will probably be the best radios for this purpose. I’ve been reading up on them in some depth, and the topline pros/cons seem to be: the Elecrafts will get me better overall RX performance, double the output power and more portability (especially with the internal ATU), but the Yaesu is several hundred dollars cheaper.

I’ll be using SSB-only for now as I learn CW. Given all this, I’m curious what the veterans here think, especially those who’ve taken their equipment on longer trips: is the extra price of the KX2 or KX3 worth it?

Looking forward to getting started – this is the radiosport I’ve been looking for!

For SOTA a KX2 is more than adequate relative to a KX3 and has advantages of internal battery, smaller volume and slightly lower price. Both offer internal ATU which the 817 doesn’t. You do give up a few things with the KX2 such as 6m and 160m plus support for an external pan adapter. Both have controls on the top side of radio versus the 817 which has them on front which for some makes the 817 awkward to operate.

Many people seem happy with 817 despite a 5w max relative to KX2 of 10w. Yaesu’s are rumored to generate harmonics which can interfere with other activators if you are doing a multi op activation.

KX2 (and 3) are at start of life and 817 has been around a long time. 817 does offer VHF/UHF FM and SSB which depending on you locale could be an advantage.

For what its worth Elecraft is a US company and why not spend your dollars with the home team (or not).


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The best radio for backpacking, in terms of space and weight is the MTR 3B. :sunglasses:

But, since you’re voice only, I’d go with the Elecraft. I have a KX3 which comes on shorter hikes with me, and I’m very happy with it, both for SOTA and general operating. If it wasn’t also my base station rig, I’d have gone for the KX2.
I’ve done 3 (CW only) activations on one charge of the internal NiMH batteries. The internal antenna tuner is also very convenient, and has matched any reasonable antenna I’ve given it.

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…is the one you have, right now, that allows you to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. You’ll find passionate people on all sides of the fence, but the radio you have with you will get you more contacts than the radio you’d like to buy.


Truth indeed!

I opt’ed to go the 817 route when I got licensed to because it felt more like a “jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none” type approach to figure out where to go next.

It’s really a great little radio for SOTA and while I would kind of prefer to have an internal ATU its not the end of the world. Instead as many others point out you can mix and match what you want on each trip. Don’t under estimate what you can do with 5W QRP even with current conditions. I achieved a VK2 -> ZL3 on 40m in my last activation which was truly a pleasant surprise.

For example my pack conents;

  • Super super light weight you might take just the 817, 2m whip and linked dipole and hope for some trees :stuck_out_tongue:
  • Slightly heavier and for DX take the L817 ATU and still run 5W QRP
  • Slightly heavier still grab the QRO box with a P-50M amp and battery

That said - In retrospect I would probably have gone with a KX-3 because I probably burned too much cash on the SCU-17 interface for Digi modes and the ATU.

TL;DR There is no right way to do it as Andrew said. Grab what gear you have and start from there.


Thanks y’all! Currently, I have no gear except a dual-band HT, which I’ll certainly be using, but the whole point is that I want to get on HF too. I don’t plan to take an amp under either setup – 5/10W is plenty for now, especially on a long trip. So the question here really is whether it’s worth investing a bit more upfront in the KX2, not whether to buy a different radio than the one I have already.

@VK2GPL, your point about the 817 + LDG ATU being a more versatile combination is well taken. Have you found carrying two separate units to be a pain on longer trips, or negligible?

I think ultimately yes having the ATU separate is nice, but mostly so you can choose to be lazy! The main downside with the L817 is the batteries in the tuner make it heavy. Having external patch leads to juggle on top of that makes it a nuisance. On the other hand I can do 15M DX work if I take it on the trips :blush:

If I were to do it over again I would have been more patient and saved for the KX3 with its internal ATU and max 15W in the latest firmware with enough power (See Elecraft KX3 - Increased Output Power with Latest Firmware Update ). It does really feel like the sweet spot for back pack HF from my perspective.

I guess the other rock to turn and without derailing the thread too much (there are oodles of antenna threads here) is that I’ve been really pleased with the SOTAbeams linked dipole on 20/40. That bit of kit I have never thought twice about.


I have the KX-2 with internal tuner, love it. For long hikes I use a small Lipo battery (3S) which works great for a short period. For expected shorter hikes and more contacts I use a 4S Lipo with voltage reducer circuit. I think my whole outfit weighs about the same as a 817.

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I guess the other rock to turn and without derailing the thread too much (there are oodles of antenna threads here)

Yes, I think I have plenty to go on for selecting a good antenna in either case. Thanks for the input!

@VE6VID, about how long do you get, and in which mode, with your KX2 and the 3S vs 4S Lipo?

3S I get 4+ hours of receive and about 30 xmit time without bottoming the battery out, but I run it at about 7-8 watts . 4S, never have gotten close to bottoming it out @10 watts.

I have the KX2 with the ATU and it is really a great setup for SOTA. It can be powered by 3S LiPO or 4S LiFePO batteries (LiPO for internal, but lower voltage and output). I prefer the LiFePO for safety and extra capacity. No voltage regulator needed with 4S LiFePO, either.

The ATU is really handy. It’s all very lightweight and the rig is very nice. You won’t outgrow it for a very long time, if ever. It’s worth the extra $$ in my opinion.

I’ve used it with tuned and non-tuned antennas and always been able to get the job done. even S2S across the Atlantic!

Bruce - WB8OGK

@VE6VID That’s awesome! Thank you.

When it comes to selecting a rig, don’t go for what is lightest, go for what is best. For example, there is no easy DX about these days, contacts have to be earned. Hard work will still get contacts, just depends on how badly you want them.

When operating from a summit, especially in the HF bands and with the conditions we’re experiencing right now, selecting the correct antenna is by far the most important decision you’ll need to make.

Have fun.




Dam’ right!

When the KX3 and the KX2 came out I was eager to go and look at them, their specifications blow the FT817 out of the water - but - they felt flimsy, I would even say tinny, compared with the FT817 which is built like the proverbial brick outhouse. On one activation a rock the size of my head fell off the cairn and rolled over the 817, all the damage it did was a tiny scratch in the paint. So the 817 may be showing the age of its technology by comparison with the KX2/3, but it covers more bands, outperforms V/UHF handies, is a lot less expensive than the KX’s and is as tough as old boots. Stick to resonant antennas and you won’t need a tuner, or get an end fed antenna with a lightweight manual QRP tuner such as the Sotabeams Mountain which weighs in at 80 grams!

Not sure how it helps, but I am also at the beginning of the CW path and I asked for some advice on CW operations with limited skills: SOTA CW for beginners

What I did, I decided to cut off the bridges and temptation of stepping back to my comfort zone of SSB, all by getting only CW rig with me. Leave alone the learning of CW through real practice, now my whole rig with antenna + T1 box and some accessories in a semi-hard pouch weighs 800g (I have MTR5b trx).

You may want to consider this option - to jump bravely into CW as SOTA community is very understanding and supportive in CW operations from a summit.


Spot on Brian. Anyone wanting to dip their toe in the water as far as backpacking radio is concerned can’t go far wrong with the 817, especially if purchased secondhand. If a KX2, KX3 or other rig beckons, then the 817 should be easily sold to help with funding the new rig.

On several occasions I have sat alongside Paul G4MD, both of us operating HF with our 817’s without any issues, even on harmonically related bands. Sitting inside a summit shelter, one of us running 2m SSB and the other 70cm SSB to antennas in close proximity also raised no issues. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. :slight_smile:

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The spurious specs for HF are the same for both radios (better than -50dBc). At VHF and UHF the 817 spec is better than -60dBc. I suspect that the wide-band phase noise will be far lower for the KX2 than the 817.

:thumbsup: [quote=“W6PNG, post:16, topic:15387”]
are rumored to generate harmonic

Never heard that ever. It’ll be standard internet lore, one user had one that did something odd and blogged it and now that’s a definitive fact that all 817’s have this issue. c.f. PA failure early 817s.


That is pretty much an Internet myth. The only Yaesu radio I’ve heard of that has that reputation is the FT-991

73, Colin G8TMV


So far, so good y’all! If I can extend this just a little further: do any of you 817 users (@G8ADD, @G4OIG) think the 817-ND is worth the extra cost? I’m not really attached to 60M capability, and I’m seeing used plain-old 817s for as low as $200-300, which is pretty incredible. I suppose they might have less resell value down the line, but at that price point I don’t really care – 6 months of good use from it would be well worth the sunk cost.

@SQ6GIT, that’s also really helpful – thanks for sharing. ATM I just want to get on the air ASAP, so I’m not going to wait until I learn CW, but it’s absolutely on my list (along with getting an Extra class license and shortening my damn callsign).