On-snow activation - strategies


As my first winter of SOTA starts to sweep across the peaks, I find myself activating for the first time from snow-covered locations. This raises a few issues that I’m sure others have addressed - so I’m after tips.

  1. Logging. I cannot write legibly with warm gloves on. I cannot write legibly with numb hands. Touchscreen solutions work with neither gloves not wet fingers. I’m contemplating abandoning real-time logging and simply recording the QSOs to log later … but that comes with the risk of forgetting to request vital details or not being able to hear what is said on the recording. What works for you?

  2. Spindrift. On a recent summit I was very aware of fine spindrift - miniscule dry snow particles in the air, which were almost certainly entering my radio, microphone, etc. I have had the same concern with fine silica dust on summer activations. I have tried operating with the radio in a transparent bag - which is a pain with mic/antenna cables going in and it being really easy t transfer moisture onto the inside of the bag - but just about viable. I can tape over unused ports, but there are a lot of potential ingress points. Any better solutions? Including for the mic? We’re talking an FT818 here.


Matt - ZL4NVW

1 Like

Hi Matt.
For real cold days I use a pencil that they teach kids how to write. It is about 1/2" in diameter.
Radio, I use a KX2 and once it is all hooked up I sometimes put something over it.


1 Like


You might want to look into a Bothy Bag. It has saved me many of times on cold/windy summits where it would not have been possible/safe to activate. Warm once you are inside and protected from the blowing snow. Though, it can snow inside the bothy sometimes as condensation freezes and then falls from the inside (depends on how hard you worked on the way up)! My lightweight 2 person Bothy packs very small (softball sized) so I keep it in my pack for just in case. https://photos.app.goo.gl/q1x8tYiFxivG2Ca3A A few pix and videos on various activations.


This works fine, but bear in mind that your audio recording will not log the time of the QSOs, so you’ll have to work that out. Something as simple as entering your log with whatever times you want to put on it and then going to Show Who Chased me and taking the actual times from your chaser logs, should work fine.
Then you delete the activator log and upload the one with the good times you took from your chasers.

Regarding your other concern, I’m sorry but that’s something I have never had to deal with, so I don’t even have a guess of what that is and how much of a threat can really be for your FT-817.

One advise I can give you for activations on snow is using a foldable chair to sit on and avoid getting your butt frozen after sitting on the snow.

Good luck!




Cotton gloves help keep the hand warm but allow writing.
I’ve just let the rig sit for a day or so in a warm dry place for a day to dry out any unseen moisture.

Now I have a IC 705 I don’t have to be concerned as it is resistant to moisture ingress.


I have been thinking about this:
Adding a 2nd button to the microphone that connects it to a voice recorder. (they are $20 on Ali)
That way I can press the 2nd button while saying the critical bits
[2331 7085] [ZL4NVW] you are [4by7] qsl you’re at [ZL3 OT051]

I only get a file of the important bits, not a 1hr long audio file.

Or just run a wire into my phones mic/spkr hole, and use a voice recorder app with VOX.

I am playing with a voice recorder app that uses the Deepspeech library to do speech->text on the phone, but it doesn’t work very well for my voice. (none of them do, all trained on septics I suppose) If I could force the vocabulary , which is only numbers and phonetics after all, it would probably work well.

This would also let me playback from my phone into the mic. In particular I could play back my callsign (and some other canned phrases) pre-compressed to help overcome the lack of compressor in the '817.

On my last phone I had a voice recorder app that worked with the PTT button (or the shutter button) on the side of the phone.

Realistically: a small hardware recorder wired in is going to be easier, smaller and more reliable.

1 Like

Definitely pencil for logging. I use golf pencils. Short and reliable.

I have put my rig in a sturdy plastic bag in the field for protection and I let it air dry at home. I keep it stored with those silica packets that come with electronics.

The biggest issues I’ve had with snow activations are staying warm, dry and hydrated.


1 Like


I did the activation in the photo a few days ago and following are a couple take-aways:

  1. Nothing you do will probably be able to prevent cold and numb fingers. Rather concentrate on getting the job done quickly and get moving again ASAP.
  2. Do as much of the fiddly stuff with gloves or mittens on and try to minimize the time when you can’t wear anything on your hands.
  3. The cheap clear plastic shower caps with the elastic can slip around your radio to keep the spindrift off.
  4. Keep you kit organized in such a fashion that you can quickly stuff it away when you are finished and sorting things out later. Doing things quickly and getting off the mountain is key.
  5. Minimize the amount of equipment you use to make the activation.



Hallo Matt

When I arrive at the top and have looked for a wind-protected place, I am actually first well warm. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last that long.
Especially the assembly of the telescopic pole is a problem that I have not yet solved, because I can not do it with gloves… Good gloves (down?) are important for me.
I sit with my back to the wind.
I write with a pencil. My KX2 is left in the bag (Lowepro Viewpoint CS 60) and only the cables for antenna, headphones and key led out. To change the settings, I lift the lid briefly.
My CW with the palm key is often not that nice with gloves… but the chasers have to accept that. :upside_down_face:
I’m also thinking about a bothy bag that I might be able to hold somehow with the hiking poles.
This winter I have abandoned an activation. I couldn’t get the mast up in the cold and wind.

73 Armin

1 Like

My view and experiences, having started my SOTA adventures during Scotlands longest winter for years.

Gloves. Thin woollen ones for assembly/disassembly and operating. Layer up with mountaineering mitts when not operating. Put self-heating pads in for a boost. They last for hours. My wife loves these. I fortunately don’t get cold hands very often.

Log. 2B soft pencil and waterproof pad. My ft-3d logs tx/rx audio, but I’ve sometimes found the rx to be inaudible when reviewing later. I also have a digital voice recorder and audio splitter leads to connect this to the radio and headphones. Just log the basics.

Summit time. Minimise this by putting up your simplest antenna, get your four contacts and get going (unless you have a pile up - don’t want to be rude). Consider CW or digital modes. Quick QSO’s, no voice (wind noise) and for digital modes, auto logging.

Waterproofing. The portable bothy is literally a life saver and will keep everything dry and free of windchill. My ft-857d travels in a waterproof canoe style bag. I can operate with the radio in the bag and the front face peeking out.

73, Fraser


During winter activations, I leave the FT-817 (and the Z-817 tuner when using a non resonant antenna) inside my backpack. I set the QRG and lock it, then I close the zipper so only the cables for antenna, earphones and keyer go out. I use a clipboard to which I fixed a metal strip so that I can put the magnetic mount of the keyer on. My smartphone is attached to the clipboard, and for logging I use a pen with a touchscreen tip.

This works fine with relatively thin goretex gloves. No problem with temperatures around 0 to -10C. I only open the zipper of the backpack when QSYing. With thicker globes, it would probably be an issue.

Drawback: Battery depletes quicker at lower temperatures. My phone isn’t IP-anything, it just says “water repellant”, but survived all my bad weather aactivations so far. The battery capacity is enough to last me through the day even when i do this.

73 Jens HB9EKO

1 Like

A. A smallish Bivvi bag - keeps out wind and lots of blown snow

B. A foam/sit pad plus some floor underlay foam like goes under laminated flooring 2mm or 3mm thick/thin - use this so your legs don’t touch the snow.

C. Mitts. for walk-in and keep them on for as long as possible - then a decent pair of fingerless mitts that you have kept in an inside pocket so they are warm when you put them on. I have a wool pair and a fibre pile pair both of which also have a pull on over mitt to convert them into mittens. ( I’ve also seen but not used ex-military winter gloves which have small holes allowing you to use your trigger (pen fingure & thumb). Soldiers have similiar needs in winter!!

I find a bigger/fatter pencil helps if you still need to wear a gloves on your writing hand.

D. I always make sure that my radio kit is also laid onto a very thin waterproof mat of some kind so it never touches anything damp.

E. As Jens says, you can buy a special ‘pen’, from any computor / phone place, which as a soft tip and will work on any touch screen - probably works underwater too - but I would not try that yet. :slight_smile:

1 Like

I’m in no way an expert on activations, having only just started, but I have a fair bit of experience in living out and working in cold locations. May I suggest a lightweight shelter sheet? You can set it up as just a windbreak, which makes more of a difference than most imagine, or if the wind is particularly bitter you can set up as a tarp tent using a walking pole (as seen in my pic). A warm drink in there and things were a lot more workable, when outside the wind and hail would have made it near impossible to operate. I also really recommend a multimat or similar sit mat, or you can use a section cut from a foam roll mat, they weigh just a few grams and insulate you from the ground nicely, and when put in your pack next to your back stop any lumps or sharp edges of equipment digging into your back while hiking in/out.


Thanks for all the replies.

As background, most of my activations are part of multi-day tramping ('hiking if I must use the international word) trips. So I’m already carrying alpine tent, mat, winter sleeping bag, stove, food, overnight gear, ice-axe, maybe crampons, on top of the normal mountain clothing and radio gear.

Bivvy bags:

As such, my initial reaction to adding a bivvy-bag to the list is ‘not another thing to carry!’. However, I do see the advantage, and I do own one, so will probably give that a go.

Out of interest - do you use the bivvy-bag as you would in a survival situation - ie. crawl in with full boots & wet clothing (minus any crampons, clearly)? Or do you try and change out of those on the exposed mountaintop. I can see problems with both approaches …


Re tarps - again, I do own a tarp - more usually used by me in forest pitches than mountaintop ones. Very lightweight, though a slower deploy than the bivvy bag. More space to work, fewer issues with dragging snow in and getting the interior wet. But I’d need to carry some sort of additional pole to support it … as my iceaxe is only 700mm and not as long as a tramping-pole. Carrying which would remove the weight advantage over the bivvy bag. And much harder to set up in the windy situations which are giving me the problems.

Gloves etc:

I get very cold fingers - as far as I can see a result of damage from frost-bite a few years back - at least that’s when the issue started. Fingerless gloves do not work for me since then. I’ll persist experimenting with gloves to see if I can find a combination that is warm enough and tactile enough to work. As suggested - 2 pairs are probably required. One for normal tramping / camp warmth and a thinner pair for activations. Yes - re pencils. Yes re finding a nice chunky one! Yes re rite-in-the-rain notepads.

ZL1THH - I do like your idea. I think if I got into a good habit of ‘read-back’ I could get the info down just by recording one over of my audio,rather than the whole QSO as I’d been imagining. 'ZL1THH from ZL4NVW. Thankyou for the 3/1,31 your are 5/9, 59. Log time is 13:00 local! ’ Makes for a long over for those with dificult copy. But can always repeat the report. Apart from S2S, that would be enough for after-the-event logging. Might play with that idea.

Summit time:
Yes - as primarily a tramper, secondly an activator I’m guilty of rushed SOTA activations. I generally have a long way to go and limited daylight to get there, and so go for a quick deployment and ‘4 QSOs then finish off those-on-frequency’ rather than hanging around to give maximum benefit to chasers (something I do feel guilty for). Though if conditions merit, I’ll work both 40m & 20m as it’s good to keep those VK’s involved and feeling wanted.

My current antenna is an 80m EFHW, which I can extend either fully to stop unwinding at 40m. I’ve not timed it but 5-10 minutes for full deployment of radio & antenna feels about right. Which is enough time after a sweat-inducing climb for body temperature to seriously plummet.

I will always carry the 80m antenna for the easy, relaxed night-time QSOs from camp/huts (Huts on the air - no snow issues there - try it! - ... On The Air) . My quickest deploy would probably be the 6m long 40m centre-loaded vertical (slots over my SOTA-pole) + counterpoise. I might give that a go on some daytime activations but fear I’ll miss the closer ZLs with the low take-off angle.

Radio bags:
Yes - I currently use a dry-bag for radio gear. My issue with this is that I inevitably manage to get some moisture or snow off my gloves or from the environment on the inside of the bag when setting up, using the radio. Where it’s trapped for the rest of the trip.

The FT818 (mine at least) is very sensitive to moisture. Several times I have lost rx (goes ‘deaf’) on the lower bands when it’s stored in a damp pack for a long trip. Something there operating near its tolerances that can’t cope with the moisture, I guess. Comes good when it warms up, but deaf again once it cools until it spends a day or two in the hot water cupboard or sunny windowsill. Probably a fault with my radio, rather than a model-specific issue - but like all these intermittent issues, a real hard one to nail down.

OK. Long rambling reply from me there - but I think I’ve taken all your points into consideration, and many are things I’ll be trying.

Cheers & 73s

Matt - ZL4NVW


I feel your pain. I used to activate in California, but after moving to Alaska the game is a lot tougher. Winters are long, cold, and snowy. Below is an activation I did last year while testing FT8:

It worked out well, but the peak was pretty small and I didn’t have much wind that day. Still, my recommendation is to find ways to make the conditions work for you. Setting up a fiberglass fishing pole is a lot easier when you can just jam it into the snow rather than trying to tie it to a rock. Finding a good place to sit can be easier as well, when all you have to do is tromp down a flat spot and call it good.

As one other poster mentioned, choosing a good location goes a long way towards making the activation easier. Moving from one side of a boulder to another can pay huge dividends.

For keeping gear in good shape I’ve turned to using an insulated cloth/plastic lunch box. If you look closely at the photo of the activation setup you can see the radio tucked away inside the lunch box. What you can’t see is the chemical heater also inside, helping keep temperatures up and preventing any condensation. Small hacks go a long way.
Happy activating,
Brandon Clark, KL7BSC


Hi Matt, I’ve never used a bivvy bag for an activation- I think I’d find the prone position and lack of space a problem. A bothy bag on the other hand allows you to sit up. The only problem with it is they do tend to make a bit of noise in strong winds. But they are certainly effective, compact and light-weight and quick to deploy. Probably an either/or compared to a tarp


Ah. My incorrect assumption. Having checked with google (who knows everything) I see that Bothy bags are not just an overseas name for bivvy bags as I’d assumed but something else entirely.

No floor so I see they avoid the derobing/debooting dilemma with bivvy bags.

I seeno pegs or poles - just memtions of hiking poles. How are they secured to the ground/supported? Or do they just get held up/ down/ in place by your body and blow out downwind?

I completely agree, last week I was above 2600m. in very cold weather and I minimized the activation time, and I pick everything up quickly and messily and when I got home I tidied it up again, the important thing is to keep moving so you don’t freeze, I also carry a small mat to keep my butt dry. :joy: :joy:
72. Manu.

Yes, a bothy bag (sometimes marketed as an emergency shelter) rather than a bivvy bag is your solution. Keeps out snow, rain, dust and midges, plus boosts the temperature around 5 degrees from whatever it is “outside”.

They are held down by you - your backside at one side and your boots at the other. The top of the bag is supported by your head! Simple and fast.

1 Like