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To HF . . . or not to HF

What are everyone’s thoughts about using HF for peaks that are near to urban areas - that is, peaks where enough people are listening on VHF that I don’t need the additional “reach” of the HF bands?

I’m getting pretty comfortable doing activations in my local area (southern California), and so far I’ve done all of them with VHF FM voice. I have good HF gear that I can use, but so far I just haven’t needed it. By the time I’m considering switching off of VHF I’ve already gotten around six or eight contacts.

For a more remote peak I can see HF being a necessity, but are there compelling reasons to operate HF (and bring the extra gear) when VHF will do the job? Is it good sportsmanship to set up on HF and give people outside the VHF horizon a chance to work the peak?
Brandon, N6BSC

Don’t forget that there are SOTA awards that can only be gained by using HF: the Mountain Explorer Award is well worth going after!


Hi Brandon, my only advice is do what you are happy to do. I mix it up a bit depending on my time and route.

The HF chasers will be very pleased to hear from you of course.

It’s (usually) lots of fun having a pile up on HF. But some days the WX, time or weight (or combination of these) means I just do a quick 2M FM with the handheld and a dipole antenna.

My own rule though (and again this is just for me - no one has to abide by this) is that if I work a band then I stick at it until everyone who calls is worked. So this has resulted in a good 30 mins + sometimes on 40m flat out with 30-50 QSOs. My exceptions to this rule are few and rarely invoked: WX too bad to continue safely or I can’t hold a frequency against other high power stations (I’ll usually QSY at least once to try to continue).

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With a handheld there are surely many options to qualify a summit near a suficiently populated city or area and even more if you connect that handheld to a slightly elevated colineal or a yagi antenna, as your chances to reach fairly long distances will increase a lot, therefore your chances to easily qualify with just that basic piece of rig.
Even with right propagation opennings you may even be able to make really distant QSOs.
SOTA contacts between UK and EA, for instance, have recently been reported here, which is around 1000 Km.
If that’s what you most enjoy and you haven’t got any failures on qualifying activations due to lack of chasers, I’d recommend you to stick to that and keep enjoying SOTA that way.

I often activate Mt. San Cristóbal EA2/NV-119 on Saturdays morning because I’ve been taking my kids to rock climbing training in a place near the base of this mountain, so I can fit that activation within the hour and a half time it lasts = 90 minutes.
The drive from the rock climbing training place to the start of the hike is about 5 minutes, the hike up takes me 35 minutes and descent takes me about 22. Then the drive back to the RC training place is again 5 minutes. All these partials sum up to 67 minutes, which leaves me 23 minutes only to set up and be on air.
In my begining at SOTA activating, my HF gear was not as optimised as it is now and I was only activating on 2m FM. It was nice chatting every Saturdays with local colleagues and I even had some activation with just 1 or 2 chasers on the log. I don’t think I’ve ever had none on the log but possible yes (I don’t remember for sure now).
But I’m mainly a CW HF operator and what I really wanted is to be able to operate on HF during those few minutes I had available each Saturday morning.
That’s why I prepared a fast deployment SOTA kit with the FT-817 and the antenna tuner plus preconnected wires fitted inside a wooden box and a mobile whip antenna with a single wire radial, which has let me activate successfully that summit several times since then on HF only at a rate of about 1 QSO per minute and sometimes higher. That’s what I enjoy most.

Dealing with a pile-up, practising my CW skills on a pile-up scenario, speaking to hams from other countries giving me the chance to practise languages and meeting friends all around the world is highly rewarding for me, rather than making just 4 minimum QSOs on VHF in order to qualify the summit, which is OK but far less satisfying.

But this is just me. Anyone should do what they like and enjoy most.

I dont’ think you should feel bad for not offering to the whole world the summits you’ve hiked onto.
If you do it and I’m around, I’ll be pleased to chase you, but if not, I’ll surely have other things to do :slight_smile:



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Hi Brandon,

If you can guarantee you will qualify a summit with an HT then that strategy works. In less populated areas HF is essential.

I personally like to qualify a summit on as many bands and modes as possible. The analysis option on the activator report is very interesting to me. I like to see lots of columns checked. However it does require more antennas and more power to make contacts on multiple modes. But doing that gives you more return on the investment of energy and organisation you made to get to the summit. It isn’t just the activations points that matter.

Which takes us back to the excellent point made earlier. Do what makes you happy.

73 Andrew VK1DA VK2UH

Hi Brandon
I enjoy both HF and 2m FM, often for the mountains above LA I will do 2m only, with my roll-up j-pole made of 300 ohm twin lead (homebrew but you can buy one for 30 bucks from MFJ). Sometimes it is nice to have just a half hour on the summit doing 2m FM like that. Over time I have learned which are the “good” 2m mountains and which ones are not (such as Table Mountain in Wrightwood) 73 Hal N6JZT


I agree with Hal that some of the peaks in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino etc mountains near LA are FM easy (Sunset) and some FM challenged (Timber) and its the later that having HF is a boon.

As others have said its your call how you want to operate.

However, SOTA is something where the chasers and activators are mutually dependent and “servicing” the chaser community to its fullest builds mutual support to try and chase you when you might be struggling to qualify a peak. In the fullness of time you might find yourself on a peak, having driven hours, hiked hours, with questionable HF propagation and millions of miles from any FM users and feeling that you are about to fail; thats when you want the HF chasers to go the extra mile for you having done the same for them.

W6 Association Manager

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If your gear is light and portable, by all means do it. Cross-continent SSB S2S on 5 watts is unforgettable.

As I discovered though, if your back is out when you get home from all the gear you’re lugging up, you’ve gone too far! (4 antennas+ 3 radios…what was I thinking!)

I think one of my next outings will be HT and a roll-up; the good old days!

I love HF for SOTA. I usually do both VHF and HF. I start off on VHF, then switch to HF. Even if I get at least 4 contacts on my HT I will still set up HF. That being said, there has been several instances where I only did VHF. There’s a nmber of reasons for that… weather, time constraints, and coming home from work and only having my HT.

Roland KG7FOP


The guys in Arizona would love to work you also but we are a little out or range for an HT…hi hi. We would love to work u from those summits, and 40 meters would work pretty good for that path.

For myself as an activator I have always figured that not only do I want to activate and score points, but the other operators out of state would also like to join in the fun. Besides when I am on a summit on HF I am the DX…the pile up’s are a lot of fun!

I think u will find the HF activations even more fun than the VHF ones. Working Europe on 5 watts is also quite fun…



Hello everyone,

Thanks for all the insightful comments. It’s great to get good advice from so many people, as well as see how different people are operating. Our club is just getting started with SOTA, so we are pretty much self-taught at this point. I think I’ll definitely start doing some regular HF activations.

I had been thinking about using VHF on the small one- and two-point peaks near home, and using both VHF and HF on the larger peaks. Now that I think about it though, those smaller,easier peaks would actually be great for practicing my HF portable skills.

Since the smaller peaks are easier to reach I’ll have more time on the summit to set up gear and get going. Then, I’ll be that much better-practiced when on more remote peaks where I have less time on the summit and must use HF to reach out.
Thanks for the advice everyone,
Brandon, N6BSC

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Folk in northern California would love to work you, too. We are too close for 20 meters, so 40 meters is a better choice for us.

Totally up to the activator, of course.


I think you received the best advice: it’s your decision on how you want to operate.

To add an additional perspective, I’ve been doing exclusively VHF for SOTA, based on these three reasons:

  • My general interest in operating above 50 MHz…it’s always been my primary interest in ham radio.

  • The interesting combination of mountains and VHF propagation. Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) makes a big difference on VHF…not so much when you are bouncing signals off the ionosphere.

  • The challenge. On average it is harder to make contacts on VHF due to the more limited communication range.

I operate HF for other purposes, usually DXing and contesting, so that is not the issue. And I may start dragging along some HF gear for SOTA activations someday, too.

VHF does have less range, so some things to consider: improving your antenna (a small 2m yagi is a nice upgrade) and using CW/SSB. FM has dismal weak-signal performance, so using a linear mode can be a huge improvement. I use an FT-817 for that.

But the key idea is to have fun with SOTA, in whatever form you choose.

73, Bob K0NR


Do what’s you enjoy for SOTA - that’s the best advice!

However, please be aware that some of us enjoy HF on SOTA peaks so much that we can’t imagine using much of that precious time for VHF…even though we know it’s fun too!

EA2IF, Guru - see his post above - has broken through the piles of chasers to call me from Spain many times! He can hear my 5 watt signal almost 5000 miles away. Once you run a few piles on HF, get the bug, there’s no coming back from HF activations. It’s quite the thrill to be high above the timberline making contacts as fast as you can run and log them.

We also make numerous S2S (Summit to Summit) contacts on HF. I have activations with as many as six of these incredible moments! We activators chase each other!

Often a multi-band activation will go an hour or more. Like MW0WML, I like to work all the chasers who have waited for their turns. I’ve done a fair bit of chasing as well as activating, and I’ve missed many activations because of things that the activators did or did not do - as well as because of my own mistakes.

Chasing will make you a better activator, and the reverse is true also.

It’s fun to do several bands, because each HF band is very different. On 40M you get people closer in, 30M is medium distance, 20M is reliable for really long distances, and higher frequencies go even further, but they’re not always usable. Just when you think you understand the HF bands, the season changes, and the sun changes its various effects, and the bands are all different again!

In the USA - and surely in other countries - the HF activators and chasers form a sort of loose club or group - we gradually get to know each other a bit now and then, and we keep bumping into each other on the bands - and elsewhere. Many activators do joint or group activations as well.

This is a fine long-term experience, and you’re totally welcome to join and participate as much as you like!


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You are still my top chased activator. Thanks for so many activations at the right time for me to chase you and for making so very good and efficient use of your 5 watts, making them copyable at the other side of the pond:

I fully agree on this, George, and that’s why I proposed this challenge based on Completes:

Unfortunately, it looks to me as it’s got very little or no interest at all.

Best 73,