First SOTA Radio?

I am shopping around for a portable radio and not sure what I should be getting. I was looking at radios that operate in the 20metre band, but when I look at the SOTAWatch and all I can see is the 10 Metre being used. I figure I would start with two radio’s for my first summit and then if I do it more explore more expensive radios which multi bands. What is the best low cost practical radio to take on my first summit? I currently only have a baofeng uv-5r with a homebrew J-Pole.

Really? Can you give an example of this?

There are 3845 spots in the the last 4 weeks and of those, 39 are for activations on 10m.

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This must be a typo. There were 509 spots posted in the last 72 hours and only five of them were for 10 metres.

The majority of HF spots are for 40 and 20 metres, divided fairly equally between CW and SSB. Most of the single band rigs are minimalist CW rigs which I can’t advise on but I would suggest that you look for a second-hand FT817ND as a good all-rounder.

Very true my mistake…I was looking at one page of SOTA and not the whole list.

So what are the Preferred Operating Frequencies and radio’s of SOTA? Is there away to see what people are using in my region?

Hi John, welcome aboard :smile:

If you search this Reflector, there have been many discussions on choice of radio. There is a saying that the very best radio is the one that you have available…

Having said that, I would agree with Brian G8ADD that an FT817 is a good all rounder to start with, covering 160m to 70cm cw / ssb / fm. There are lots of them around, so you stand a good chance of finding one second hand, if that helps.

The Baofeng radios are prone to interference from nearby commercial transmitters, as are many other hand held radios. Apart from that, it should get you a few contacts if they are available.

Take out what you have, learn its weaknesses, choose something more to your likeing - repeat!


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My only issue with the Yaesu FT-817 is the price. If I take my radio with me hiking more often then it will be a perfect system, but if I don’t then it may not be were I should invest my money. Where as the “MFJ-9020 20 METER CW TRANSCEIVER” is just over $200 US. I find the options are endless with pros and cons for each system.

I see your point!

Any small CW rig connected to a decent antenna (eg not a compact compromise design) will get you contacts, provided the band is open - that is the risk with a single band radio. 20m may be a good option, though at this point in the solar cycle, it doesn’t always play ball.

Don’t get bogged down thinking too deeply about it, that’s a trap I and many others fall into from time to time. Make a decision, learn from it, make a better decision etc…


Ok, if you don’t mind some assembly work (not on-board construction, just fitting in a case and wiring up the controls), in your price range, you could look at several kits. Probably one of the most interesting at the moment is the Micro BiTX out of India, at around US$130 including shipping. This is a multi-band QRP CW/SSB transciever. The problem with a single band one at the moment is propagation conditions. Better to have a few choices. Combine such a rig with either an off-centre-fed dipole or a linked dipole (both of which are resonant - no ATU needed and cover multiple bands) and you’ll be pretty safe to get the needed 4 contacts from the summit. For summits where you can see population, the 2m Boafeng and the Home made J-pole may also suffice but HF is (IMHO) more fun.

Here’s some info on the Micro BitX

73 Ed.

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If a homebrew cw qrp rig is an option, my recommendation is QCX monobander. Inexpensive and very good cw transceiver. You can build pair of them, for your favorite bands.

73 Fric YU1WC



Now Fric can you build me a time machine so I have enough time to build my kit along with everything else I am trying to do! :slight_smile:


I am most excited about the Micro BiTX, it looks amazing and a great weekend project. As soon as I say it I ordered…that was 10 days ago and I have not heard a word from them, not sure if it shipped or what is up? Fingers crossed it’s on it’s way.


The company in India is good. The owner Ashar Farhan has contributed to the QRP community and the hobby in general for many years. His company employs a womens cooperative to assemble the boards. Really it’s a charity that gives a living to several families. In short it’s a small company and they have “runs” of products as they get the boards made and components come in.
You may be unlucky and have missed the end of a run. I believe the company has been overwhelmed by the number of orders for both the BitX40 and 20 and this new multiband variant.

The one thing I have heard is that you should source your own box to install the rig in. Several 3D printer designs are on the web from people who have 3D printed their own better cases.

I believe the kit comes in a plastic case but using this for the rig is inadvisable as it’s to flimsy.

I have heard of shipping Issues to Europe (where it’s actually better to use the normal postal service rather than the courier service - extra charge - option), however I believe there are no issues with getting the kits to the US. 10 days delay before the kit is shipped is also not unusual.

Given a sturdy case, this could make you a great rig for SOTA SSB or digital usage. CW might not be too good though as there’s no CW filter, only the SSB one meaning you will receive multiple CW signals concurrently.

The next question that will come I suspect is what battery to use. Forget SLAB batteries they are far, far too heavy. Given the QRP nature of the rig, a battery pack of Alkaline AA cells might be a good solution, otherwise LIPO or (the safer) LifePO batteries are worth a look.

73 Ed.

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I had never heard of QCX before! Thanks for sharing there link, they have some cool projects. How well does the CW display work, does it translate the transmutations well? I am slowly learning CW and hope to have it useable for this summer.

I do not know about its CW decoder since I do not have a QCX yet - I am planning to get a pair of them for sure! I recall there has been some talk about the decoder on qrp labs discussion group.

I would not bother about the decoder, I guess it is of little use in pileups. There has been a lot of talk on sota reflector about learning CW… Just go for it. Do not wait to feel 100% comfortable, the best way to master cw is to make cw qsos.

On all my SOTA activations I have been using a MTR 40/30/20 tribander (one of great kits bade by Steve Weber KD1JV). It is still available through LNR. It is a perfect backpacking cw qrp rig - simple, reliable and very small. It has the same transmitter design (and some power output, and same battery requirements) as QCX. I am using it with a miniature 1.2 Ah SLAB - bit of overkill, since current consumption is small and any 3S LiPo would be fine. However, I have found that the RX is susceptible to interference, almost unusable on crowded band (contest) conditions, and completely unusable during nighttime when strong AM stations pop up.

QCX differs from most transceivers in its receiver design. It is based on principles used in SDR transceivers (and in K3/KX3/KX2 Elecraft transceivers as well, if I got it OK). The result is a reception much more immune to interference. Also, a very important detail for serious cw operation: QCX has a narrow CW filter. And most of all, all this comes for approx $50 plus postage. Worth giving a try. The fact it comes without enclosure is irrelevant when you take a look at the specification and the price.

I agree with Eds suggestion for microBITX. Ideal toy for ham not afraid of homebrewing. It would be my toy of choice for multiband ssb (in my opinion it is no good for serious cw - crystal filter too wide, and homebrewing a second crystal filter for cw could be tricky without proper instruments). I already got its older brother, a monoband BITX40, but it sits on shelf, since I am suffering of a bad case of unfinished kit syndrome :slight_smile:

73 Fric YU1WC

I enjoy using a handy (yaesu ft60) and a yagi, simple and effective, not yet done hf sota , next on the list I think

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they are now shipping kits ordered mid Dec 2017 so you will need to wait a while…

73 Marko OH9XX

I’ts depending from:

  • on which bands you would be QRV
  • which modes you like
  • whow much you will invest for this

I have following:

  • allround - KX3 (all Band)
  • CW - PFR-3 (40/30/20m)
  • CW - HB1-B (80/40/30/20m)
  • CW - OCX 20m (soon)
    KX3 / PFR-3 / HB1-B - with these little Rigs I have been for SOTA several times.
  • with KX3 QSO on 20m/17m/15m/40m
  • with PFR-3 QSO on 20m30m
  • with HB-B QSO on 20m

Worked with the Fuchs-Antenna and (more) with the Bazooka 20m (made from RG58)

Most activities are 20m then others. 17m somtimes an amazing band - full surprises.
With all RIGS I had SOTA (also SOTA-SOTA) QSO’s from EA8 to USA/Europe and Asiatic Russia.
eg with the HB1-B (abt 4 Watts), just 2 weeks ago, QRP-QRP to New York / Sweden / Scottland Asiatic Russia.

The small rigs have only max 5 Watts - KX3 max 15 Watts - depends how much weight you will wear to the top of a mountain (for power).

good choice !
73 de HB9FIH Erich

Here last SOTA from EA8/HI-001:

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I think the Mountain Topper radios are ideal for SOTA. I have the 3B, but have been eyeing the 5B.

Jeff, aa6xa


Hi John,

I think you have the answer to a number of questions but not many answers to your actual question. If taken literally, I can answer it very simply, there is no best radio. It all depends on your requirements, interests and experience.

For a general purpose hf/vhf portable radio the ft817 is a very safe choice. However the new price is somewhat daunting if you hoped ham radio equipment could be acquired for prices similar to music players or television remote controls. :wink:

There is a way to avoid the sticker shock. Buy second hand gear and get some experience with various radios. If you are in ham radio for a long time this will be just the first of many radios you will acquire and use, some of them you will discard because of perceived faults or drawbacks. Some will draw too much current, some will be too big, too small, too fragile, won’t work on your then current bands or modes of interest. But it’s not a one-time decison, it is the first of many. I have personally lost count of the radios I have owned and used. I have rarely bought a new radio.

I have two ft817s, both the old model, both bought in used and reasonable condition. They are remarkably robust. But I also have an Icom 703, a 10 watt hf/6m portable rig, and a MTR3B for more portable cw-only use. I use whatever takes my fancy and fits the activation. I have used all of them on SOTA activations, as well as icom and yaesu hand held radios for 2m fm. You might not want or need to have a choice, preferring to stick with one radio for everything.

Another way to learn what a specific model of radio does and how it performs on a SOTA activation is to join an experienced activator on a trip, listen and learn, make a few contacts yourself and get the first hand experience you cannot get in a radio retail shop.

Like in computers, where PC and Mac users clash over which ones are “best”, amateur radio does have its religious wars between users of various brands. None of this matters. Just look for something that suits your intended use and your budget, warms your heart and provides enjoyment from being a radio amateur.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH

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