Straight key or paddle for cold conditions?

I use a tiny straight key for activating. But when my hands get too cold in winter my morse starts to suffer to the point I make mistakes. So I was wondering whether those of you who can and have used both paddle and straight key in cold WX, if using a paddle in cold weather is any harder or easier.

Better or worse, or the same as a straight key in terms of errors?

(I can use a paddle).


Hi David!
IMHO paddle is better. I specially for the winter make slightly larger gaps in contacts than for warm conditions. Since the sensitivity of the fingers of course decreases.


Hi David, this was discussed on another thread and I concluded that there was no consensus for SK or single paddle or dual-paddles. My preference, whatever the weather, is an iambic paddle for reduced effort and errors.

I use a leg strap in good weather (either standing or sitting) or my patented paddles-in-winter-jacket-pocket method when very cold. BTW: I’m left handed but paddle with my RH, so don’t need to take my keying hand out of my pocket between overs to write the log.

See …

regards, Andy


I wear “texting gloves” with a thin wool weave, they give a limited amount of protection from the cold for my 71year old furred up artery pinkeys. Sending whilst wearing them takes sending Morse to the next level!!


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I’ve never activated with a straight key. In fact, I haven’t used a straight key for many years and the last times I did it, I remember ending with my fist really tired. It’s probably due to lack of training on that discipline, but I consider using a paddle far less tiring , and a dual lever paddle less tiring than a single lever one. So, my advise would be, go for a dual paddle for activating and you’ll be able to make QSOs faster and operate for a longer time.
When I activate, I never feel my fingers, hand or fist tired at all. I rather stop an activation due to back ache (if I’m sitting on the grass without a tree or something for my back to lie against), bottom ache (if I’m sitting on a rock) or simply cold, but using a paddle is fully effortless and very comfortable.


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Paddle FTW.

It’s not that hard to use a paddle with thin gloves on. I like the paddle-in-a-pocket idea - will have to give that a shot next time. If it’s really cold, you could also put one of those chemical hand warmer packets in your pocket and have a hot pocket!

I’ve also considered getting a set of heated glove liners since I ride motorcycles - could do double-duty.



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Hi to all,
I use ever paddle (KXPD2) and wear this glove light and thin Trango glove, also allow me use the tablet/smartphone for the log.

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Thanks very much guys. Looks like I might just have an excuse to buy a small paddle. If I find it just as difficult to send decent morse in winter, then I’ll have another ‘toy’ to play with in summer!


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My suggestion would be to use whatever you are most comfortable with. Operating in cold conditions (with the mandatory horizontal driving sleet up in Scotland) is arduous enough, so having a piece of kit that you are not 100% comfortable with is not ideal. With Reynaud’s syndrome and quite often zero feeling in my fingers, at least I can bash out the code on a straight key. A paddle is not an option under such circumstances.


Guru, I can’t help you with the back ache or the cold (I get both too) but I have a small inflatable ‘seat pad’ that I put between my bottom and those hard rocks. Mine is 74cm x 23cm and I double fold it on jagged rocks. It weighs only 85g and folds up into a tiny bag. Only takes two breathes to inflate fully. Wouldn’t activate without it!



Cheeky Sassenach!

Driving sleet in Scotland 2019

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I hate straight keys so paddle. I only have iambic paddles, I need to acquire a portable single lever to try for the times when the gloves are thick.

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I like this one, and it was cheap. Been on loads of summits. Originally Velcro’d to my 817, but now days it attaches to a small clipboard. Works great with gloves :+1:


It’s QRP Guys single-lever kit. Base made from some copper clad.


I’m showing my ignorance of Morse history here… Is a single paddle the same as a sideswiper? (the latter long predates my learning Morse code)

I read that hams who ‘grew up’ on sideswipers use a paddle slapping technique. And what’s more, they tend to continue slapping when they transfer to using iambic paddles instead of the gentle squeeze method. Any truth in that?

Andy, will you frozen brain cope with the mental differences between a cootie and iambic?

I always associate sideswiper with those b-awful Vibroplex monstrosities but that could be wrong. A single lever paddle is what it says (see Josh’s picture above) connected to an electronic keyer that sends nice regular characters.

A sideswiper, AKA ‘Cootie’ is a single lever paddle that is wired as a straight key. There are contacts left and right, but they are wired together (cable has tip and sleeve only). It’s like a straight key, except you move the lever left and right - you have to manually control how long you hold the contacts closed to make either a dit or a dah. It’s weird and takes some practice if you haven’t tried it.

A single lever paddle connected to an electronic keyer has separate contacts for dits and dahs, similar to an iambic paddle but you obviously can’t ‘sqeeze’… so no iambic action.

I think the guys who learned on a ‘bug’ are more likely to really slap things around!

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Hi Josh, thanks for the clarification. That’s makes perfect sense.

I also read somewhere that the sideswiper was invented in the USA for use by US military and commercial radio operators who were suffering from ‘glass arm’ (a repetitive strain injury) due to the US method of keying (where the SK is to the back of the desk, the arm resting on the desk and movement is round the wrist).

By contrast, the British and European technique has the SK near the front of the desk and there’s less wrist movement so less ‘glass arm’. Thus, the SK continued being used over here and the sideswiper never really ‘took off’.

I had no idea there were these different ways of operating a SK.

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I use a paddle all the time during the winter in GM, Vlad RX9WT is right you need a slightly wider gap as your hand becomes less responsive. I use a Palm Pico which changes its feel when the spring and contacts are colder. I imagine all paddles have similar issues, also plays up when it gets damp.

I always wear a pair of thin Polartec Power Stretch gloves like EA7GV suggests to set up and operate. My hands do get cold with them on, but I wear them all day as a liner glove under a pair of mitts in cold conditions. I just make sure my hands and rest of body are warm when I arrive at the summit, take off the outer mitts then set up and operate as long as I can.
Flip combi mitts look interesting, but never spotted them in an outdoor shop to try. Expensive also.

73 Gavin

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I have mostly used a Palm dual lever paddle, I’ve always found a straight key hard work. I use the single lever technique though, none of that iambic stuff, that would finish off my already overloaded brain!

The only time I’ve had a major problem with my key in cold weather was on Helvellyn when it was so chilly that my key cable went so stiff that it snapped! Palm Radio actually sent me a cable FOC after I had mentioned the failure on the SOTA reflector.

I bought a pair of fleece gloves from a cheap shop and cut the forefinger and thumb portions from one of them, it works well for me, and only a couple of quid outlay.

A good solution is to use a bothy bag, that way you can operate without gloves inside!

73, Colin


You can buy them in fishing shops/angling suppliers, I’ve seen them in ‘country stores’, where they sell shooting/hunting stuff, and they are only around £5-£7. I saw a pair similiar to those in your link in an 'outdoor shop. Wow!! There’s no way I’d pay that much for a glove!!

I suppose I should have asked whether I’d make less mistakes when cold using a paddle or a straight key.