Most preferred rig for SOTA activation

Hi all, I’m new to SOTA so I expect this question has been asked and answered many time previously however, I would appreciate it you would indulge me.

What is the most preferred rig to take on a SOTA activation and the most preferred battery pack to accompany it.

I am in the market for a new rig and would really love to get it right the first time round.

All thoughts and ideas welcome.

73 … Garry VK2GAZ

In reply to VK2GAZ:

Hi Gary, it depends on your prefered mode. I prefer ssb so I use a yaesu ft857 which provides plenty of power and all bands from 160m to 70cms. If you do cw then the ft817 will do a good job as will plenty of other rigs such as elecraft etc.
Battery choice will also be dictated by whether you use phone or cw. Personally I use a 16aH or a 24aH LiFePO4 battery, they are expensive but I think worth the money when you consider their advantages over other battery technologies. If you prefer cw you can get away with a much smaller battery, I think many people now use the LiPo batteries. If you go for LiPo, do your homework as there seems to be lots of quality or reliability issues with some of the cheap chinese produced batteries available on the likes of Ebay.

In reply to G1INK:

What he says!

I think that is an almost perfect summary of the state of play for radio and battery choice.


In reply to VK2GAZ:

One of the most preferred rig among SOTA community is certanly YAESU FT-817. I am using FT-817ND with 3 cell LiPo 11,1V for my SOTA activations.

In the past I was using also ICOM IC-703 and 7Ah SLAB, but this was too heavy to carry arround.

73, Milos S57D

In reply to VK2GAZ:

This is a “how long is a piece of string” type of question, Garry. It all depends on things like how broad your back is, what mode(s) you want to operate, and of course what bands. Although some activators will carry an FT857 and run a reasonable amount of power - and some even an FT897 or IC706 - I think the majority use an FT817 or stick to VHF and use a pocket handy. As for batteries, that comes down to how long you are prepared to operate for. I have a set of 2500 mAh NiMH cells in my 817, and they are adequate for an hour of FM at 5 watts, longer on SSB. A small SLAB may be considered heavy and old-fashioned but it is safe and reliable, and will extend your operating time in proportion to its capacity. I usually carry a 7 AH SLAB for longer or multiple activations.


Brian G8ADD

I really need to bring myself up-to-date with the battery stuff. What trusted supplier have you used for your LifePo4 battery packs Steve?

Then again, after the 12m Challenge I will probably revert to CW-only activations with the HB1B rig! More efficient battery technology would still be good for contest nights though. I hauled two 7Ah SLABs up The Cloud G/SP-015 with me last night - Tuesday 25th February 2014 - as I had some time to spare to play on 24MHz ahead of the contest.

For the 12m Challenge, I added 27 QSOs, mainly CW but with a handful in SSB. The vast majority were into the USA, but the pick of the bunch was 9Y Trinidad, even trumping one of the special ZZ80 stations from Brazil.

In the 6m UKAC, I made 71 QSOs but only into 8 multiplier squares, which were hard to come by. Usually worked squares like IO74, IO80, IO85, IO90, IO94, JO01, JO02 and JO03 were all conspicuous by their absence (in my log) and I don’t even think all my contest group (Tall Trees) managed to work each other!

After packing away, I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that my activation had so far amassed 98 QSOs, despite the bitter cold under the glriously clear night sky. Hence the 2m FM handie was pressed into action, and three more QSOs were added, bringing the activation total to 101 QSOs.

The main rig for the activation was the Yaesu FT-817, with 7Ah SLAB. I love my FT-817 and don’t find the low power to be an issue, although Steve’s results show the benefit of the extra power especially for SSB QSOs.


In reply to G8ADD:

“I usually carry a 7 AH SLAB for longer or multiple activations.”

I thought that was for blowing up ft857`s Brian !

In reply to G1INK:

No, Steve, I use a 12 Ah SLAB for that! :wink:


Brian G8ADD

In reply to M1EYP:

“I really need to bring myself up-to-date with the battery stuff. What trusted supplier have you used for your LifePo4 battery packs Steve?”

Mine are from - I think it is Deben in this country. I saw Rother Valley Optics selling them on Ebay and as I drive to Rotherham every Thusday I picked them up to save p & p. They are designed for golf carts and only come in 16 or 24aH so may be too large for your needs.
I operated 3 hours yesterday with the 24aH and 857 on approx 70 watts. Just scraped 140 contacts on 12m. When I got home the built in “fuel meter” on the battery was indicating 50% - 70% charge remaining.

In reply to G1INK:

Mine are from

Hmmm… That took me to an interesting site about a CAD/CAM package for prosthetic limbs…

I think you might mean :wink:

73, Rick M0LEP

In reply to VK2GAZ:

I guess it depends what bands and modes you want to operate!

Don’t forget the antenna can be bulky (again, depending on the band).

I have a lightweight pole, homemade slim jim (roll-up antenna) and FT-270r handheld which is, I would think, the minimum weight and size I would consider. I’ve tried just using a handheld with the rubber antenna and failed miserably on several summits. This lot goes into a small bag that goes over my shoulder. I don’t even need a backpack.


In reply to VK2GAZ:

Garry, I see you are FISTS #14151, so you obviously enjoy a little CW. If you also enjoy kit building then a good way to go is to buy single band CW kits and put those on the air. I get a lot of satisfaction from the multi-faceted nature of the challenge that way. I started with a Yaesu FT817 and it’s highly recommended.

I currently use a KX1 & Weber Tribander, both very efficient CW only rigs built from kit.


Ian, mm0gyx

In reply to VK2GAZ:

I use an Elecraft KX3. It is an awesome radio. I power it with a LIFEPO4 battery from Hobby King. The battery has served me well. I see many diffrent LIFEPO4 batteries out there on the market now, and matching your power needs is relativly simple.

As for an antenna I started out with a Buddypole system. I now use a 88ft homebrew diapole supported by a 28ft Jackite pole. This antenna is fairly light and I can set it up just about anywhere. I also seem to get some great signal reports.

Feel free to check out my blog. I have some pics of my setup and will gladly answer any questions.

The second is a link to a video of my battery setup.

SOTA Ranger

In reply to VK2GAZ:

What a difficult question to answer!

I would echo what others have said and suggest the FT817 is a good starting place. I started off using my FT817 and the biggest benefit is that it will let you find your own favourite mode of operating, whether that be UHF, VHF, or HF, FM, SSB, CW or even data. Whilst quite power hungry when you consider more specialised rigs, the FT817’s current requirement can be fulfilled without too much in the way of expense or weight.

Like Ian above, using CW from a specialised kit, say the Weber Tribander or KX1, you can seriously reduce your carried weight. The Mountain Topper (or MTR) by Steve Weber, KD1JV is a fantastic 2 band CW rig for SOTA, but these were only available in limited numbers and command high prices second hand. The good news is that Steve is getting ready to release a limited number of a new MK2 MTR, this time with three bands. New kit offerings by KD1JV are made available to members of the AT Sprint Yahoo Group.

Another great thing about the FT817 is that it is just handy to have around the shack - they make great noise sniffers, lab instruments, general coverage receivers - every ham should have one!

I change my mind all the time about the best rig to take on a SOTA trip, currently I’m putting together a lightweight CW station consisting of a 20m dipole (124g inc feeder) and first edition MTR 5w CW rig (80g). I will use a Palm Pico paddle and 1000mAH 2S LiPo (I have yet to weigh these items).

73 and above all, have fun!

Colin, M1BUU

In reply to VK2GAZ:
Hi Garry,
One way of collecting info is to chase and collect info on the set-ups of the stations and look at what the loudest and weakest are using. You will soon see what is effective and what isn’t.

The best rig-battery combo is the one you have now. Just go and activate.
You will learn a lot from that exercise.

The FT817ND is IMO the most versatile QRP field rig available new. 160m through to 70 cm, all modes, lots of bells and whistles, reasonable rx, compact and not too heavy. No inbuilt ATU so that leads to the antenna issue. Try a dipole on a squid pole for a start. When cut to length you won’t need an ATU for the resonant band. Try different ATU and antennas later.

For HF only, if money is plentiful then the KX3 is an excellent choice.

Some people use the IC706/7000 FT857 mobile rigs especially for higher power ops. but there is a weight penality and the current drain is higher.

The FT817ND will run happily off an external 11 v battery as the internal battery is nominally 9.6 V and you only need to be a volt or so above this.

Re batteries I still have a SLA. SLA’s has been my standard battery for mountain top ops for nearly 20 years. However I recently replaced them with a LiPo with regulator. Presently I use LiFePO4 4S batteries as these are a direct substitute for the SLA and although heavier than the LiPo are quite light and apparently safer than the LiPo. No regulator required for “12 V” radios.

I prefer Japanese SLA’s which are available from a number of stores. The Chinese ones seem to be of lower quality and don’t do as many cycles.

I buy my lithium batteries from the Australian store of Hobbyking.

If you are looking for a $50 station build a Rockmite and small SLA or any rechargeables with more than 1 AH capacity.

Whatever you choose you will probably be doing something differently in a years time, so don’t put off getting out there.


In reply to VK2GAZ:

Howdy and WELCOME!

One thing I did not see mentioned here was PRICE. At some point, you have to decide how much is it worth to you!

That said, I will loudly echo what most have said here. Pound for pound and dollar for dollar, it would be very hard to beat the Yaesu FT-817. I have owned an FT-817 for nearly 4 years now. I have it fully loaded with all the accessories, and I have a 3.6 amp-hour internal battery that runs the radio for 6 hours. I recently ran a V/UHF contest with it from a SOTA summit. I worked a few other FT-817s in the contest, but not a single Elecraft KX3.

Some people like more power. This means a larger battery, and more weight… or reduced operating time.

I will caution you against the ICOM IC-706 series. I have two of them, and they are VERY critical on battery voltage. I do not consider them really suitable for SOTA, but fine for mobile or some other stable 12+ volt operation.

I have run my FT-817 along side many other radios. I continue to be impressed at just how well the 817 works on a nice quiet summit.

Best of luck in your choice… and once again… WELCOME.

Vy73 - Mike - KD5KC.
El Paso, Texas - DM61rt.
W5-SOTA Association Manager.

Thanks very much to all the people who offered their insights into a rig and battery combination.

I must say I am overwhelmed by the response, there are certainly many possibilities to choose from.

Thank you all,

Garry VK2GAZ

In reply to VK2GAZ:
Don’t waste your time and money on the 817, the Elecraft KX3 is far superior to it!
If you want to do vhf/uhf, carry a small HT.
You won’t be sorry you bought a KX3, good luck with your choice !!


In reply to VK2GAZ:
Hi. I am using FT-817 with 3 cell LiPo 11,1V. And FB!!!

In reply to N7EDK:

Don’t waste your time and money on the 817, the Elecraft KX3 is far
superior to it!

It may be superior in some ways, but not all! Buying an FT817 is not a waste of money.

The KX3 is a mighty fine piece of equipment, but it’s not ideally suited for the harsh environment of the great outdoors. The KX3 is also very expensive. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to own a KX3 and it’s performance is truly fantastic, but would I really want to take one on to a beach or wet and windy summit? Nope!

This link is worth a visit (has been posted on SOTAwatch before)

Colin, M1BUU