VHF Handheld Recommendation

Hello Everyone,

To date I’ve only been activating summits on HF but I would like to try some VHF activations as well…

I’m looking at handhelds and FM only seems to be the de facto standard, I was hoping to get SSB for the extra range but no such luck. What do you use or what would you recommend?

I’m assuming 2m FM is the standard VHF band for activations?

I have an Elecraft KX3 so I could always get the 2m module but this is £200 itself and I can almost get a good handy for that…

James M0JCQ

Hi James,

I’ve done a fair bit of activating using mostly 2m. I used to have a high powered 70cm radio with a 5 element yagi, but it was a car crash trying to get the contacts. I can tell you the following:

  • I’ve found it’s often not worth carrying a ‘mobile’ radio for the extra power it might give (not forgetting the additional battery that’s required). 5w from a handheld seems to work just fine for me.

  • While it’s great to operate 2m SSB from a summit (and I’ve had some excellent contacts) it’s very rare for me to manage the required 4 QSO’s in order to get the points. I have to switch to FM and then often the contacts come flooding in.

  • FM, being vertical polarisation, I just use a fold up slim jim made from 300 ohm ribbon cable on the top of a small telescopic fishing pole. I’ve tried using a long aftermarket ‘rubber duck’ type antenna directly connected to the top of the handheld and it’s an immense disappointment.

  • SSB, being horizontal, requires at least a dipole. I typically take a halo, or if I’m feeling strong, a 5 element beam (bigger fishing pole required).

The above (and corresponding weights to carry) means that I typically use FM with a handheld and occasionally SSB with the ‘full works’. I’m quite active in the backpackers contest, where the full works is a prerequiste.

Here are some ideas about handhelds for 2m:

  • The FT270r puts out a good 5w

  • The FT270r is waterproof and very, very strong. During nuclear holocaust tests in the USA they found post impact, that only cockroaches and the FT270r remained on the earth*.

  • The FT270r has an option for an external speaker mic which is very good. You can put the mic up to your ear for RX in a noisy environment.

  • The FT270r is a dedicated 2m radio, this means the front end filtering on it is superb. I’ve used many radios where mast/pager breakthrough totally ruins the 2m band - not the case with the FT270r.

Did I mention I have an FT270r and have found it to really fit the bill?

I guess if you wanted to try something different, then you could try an FT270r or perhaps even on FT270r… the choice is yours…

btw… it will cost nowhere near the 200 quid you’ve quoted. Karen 2E0XYL made the same recommendation to me when I was buying mine and she was spot on the money.

All the best,


(*) I might have made this bit up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this were true


Hello James,
I have a Kenwood TH-D72E. A bit pricey but comprehensive spec. with APRS, GPS etc. Robust and useful.
Full spec. below.
Good luck

Frequency Coverage: 144-146 and 430-440 MHz TX, 118-174 and 320-524 MHz RX
1000 Memory Channels, with 8-digit alpha-tagging
5 Watt RF Output from Standard Li-Ion Battery
Built-in SiRF Star III GPS with 5000-point logger function

Built-in 1200/9600 baud TNC
Mini-USB port
SkyCommand II System
8.33 kHz steps on Airband receive
Multi-Scroll Joystick + Keypad

Supplied With

Antenna Yes, Flexible Dual-band, with SMA fitting
Battery Yes, Li-Ion Battery
Belt Clip Yes
CD-Rom Yes, Contains Detailed Instruction Manual plus USB Driver
Charger Yes, Supplied with both UK (3-pin) and EU (2-pin) mains cables
Instruction Manual Yes, Printed “Basic operations” manual in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish & Dutch
Screw Set Yes
USB Cable Yes, USB-A to USB-Mini connectors

Amateur Radio General Features

1750 Hz Tone Burst Function. Yes
8.33KHz spacing on Air Band Yes
Alphanumeric LCD Display Yes
Antenna Socket SMA
APRS Function (via built-in TNC) Yes
Auto Power Off Yes
Automatic Repeater Offset (VHF) Yes
Built-in Packet TNC 1200/9600 bps Yes
Channel Display Mode Yes
Clock Yes, Time/Date Function
CTCSS Encoder/Decoder Yes, Choice of 42 tones
DCS Encoder/Decoder Yes, Choice of 104 digital tones
Direct Frequency Entry Yes
DTMF Memory Yes, 10 Channels, 16 digits
Dual Receive Yes, VHFxUHF, VHFxVHF or UHFxUHF
Duplex Operation Yes
DX Cluster Monitoring (via built-in TNC) Yes
DX Cluster Tune Function Yes, Outputs “Tune” data to suitable Kenwood HF transceiver
ECHOLINK Memory Dialer Channels Yes
Firmware Upgradeable via USB Port Yes
Front Panel KeyPad Yes
Full Dual-band operation: V+V/V+U/U+U Yes
GPS Port (NMEA 0183) Yes
High-Quality Front Speaker Yes
Key Beep On/Off Yes
Key Lock Yes
Mask Unused Band (A or B Band) Yes
Memory Channel Lock-out Yes
Memory Channels with Alpha-tagging 1000 Memory Channels
Memory Name Function Yes
Memory Shift Function Yes
Menu System for individual set-up Yes
Monitor Function Yes
MR-Shift Yes
Multiple Scan Functions Yes
Multi-scroll Key Yes
Packet Operation - AX25 and KISS Mode Yes
PC Programmable Memories Yes
PC Radio Control Program (Option) Yes
Power-On Message Yes
Power-On Password Protection Yes
Programmable Function Keys Yes
Reverse Repeater Checker Yes
Selectable Repeater Offsets Yes
Separate Squelch for A and B Bands Yes
Simultaneous 2 frequency RX Yes
Sky Command 2 Yes, In conjunction with a suitable Kenwood HF transceiver.
Time-Out Timer Yes
USB Port Yes, Built-in Mini-USB Port
Wide/Narrow Deviation Selection Yes

Amateur Portable Specification

RF Output Power (approx.) - High 5 W
RF Output Power (approx.) - Low 0.5 W
RF Output Power (approx.) - E. Low 0.05 W
Frequency Range - RX - VHF 118 - 174 MHz
Frequency Range - RX - UHF 320 - 524 MHz
Frequency Range - TX - VHF 144 - 146 MHz
Frequency Range - TX - UHF 430 - 440 MHz
13.8 V DC-In Facility Yes
Antenna Impedance - 50 Ohm Yes
Dimensions W x H x D without projections - 58 x 121.3 x 33.2 mm
Microphone Impedance 2 kOhm
Operating Temperature Range -20 °C to +60 °C with standard battery
Power Requirement (nominal) - External DC 11.73 to 15.87 V
Receiver Circuitry - Double Super Heterodyne Yes
Receiver Intermediate Frequency - A-band - 1st IF 49.95 MHz
Receiver Intermediate Frequency - A-band - 2nd IF 450 kHz
Receiver Intermediate Frequency - B-band - 1st IF 45.05 MHz
Receiver Intermediate Frequency - B-band - 2nd IF 455 kHz
Receiver Sensitivity - Main & Sub Bands At 12 dB SINAD:-
Band A - Less than 0.18 microvolts
Band B - Less than 0.22 microvolts
Receiver Squelch Sensitivity Less than 0.13 µV
Transmitter Maximum Frequency Deviation - FM less than ± 5 kHz
Transmitter Modulation Distortion Less than 3% (300 Hz to 3 kHz)
Transmitter Spurious Radiation Less than -60 dB
Weight 370 gr (with standard battery, antenna and belt clip)

APRS Features

Alert on Special Call Yes
APRS Data Output Yes, To external GPS unit such as AvMap Geosat 5 APRS
Auto Message Reply Yes
Decay Algorithm Yes
Digipeat Function Yes
Message Memory Yes, 100 Messages
New-N Paradigm Yes
Packet Data Output Yes, To a PC via the USB Port
Proportional Pathing Yes
QSY Function Yes
Received Packet Data Pop-ups Yes
Relay Path Display Yes
SmartBeaconing ™ Yes
State/Section /Region Pathing Yes
Station List Memory Yes, Lists up to 100 Stations, with filtering and sorting options
User Phrases Yes
Visible Message Notifications Yes
Weather Station Function Yes, Can be connected to suitable Peet Bros. Ltd and Davis Ltd weather stations to receive, transmit and display various weather parameters

Applicable Standards

IP54 Yes
MIL-STD 810 Yes

Thanks Rob and Mike. The FT-270R seems to be unavailable now, I’m assuming the FT-270E is its replacement?

Rob, The advice was particularly useful, I had assumed incorrectly that there would be more SSB 2M chasers. What kind of range do you normally get from a summit using 5w into the Slim Jim?

I had debated a mobile rig, but sounds like the extra power doesn’t really add too much except weight. A handheld is pretty much the ultimate in lightweight activations.

It sounds like 70cm’s didn’t work out so well for you, any reasons why?

Thanks, James M0JCQ

See Handhelds

So far I’ve seen nothing in that list that does CW, so not a real radio among them :wink:

Pete :gb:

What Rob says! I have a VX170 which is the previous model to the 270. The changes are mainly cosmetic and in the software between the models. However, in a 25 year amateur experience it’s the best handheld I’ve owned (FT-470, IC-80AD, VX1, IC-X21, DJ-G5).

It’s waterproof, has a metal chassis, it seems to handle heavy RF overload with ease (tops of summits with lots of commercial setups), it’s simple to use, the battery lasts forever, its audio is LOUD, it produces 5W RF. Mine has lived in an outside mesh pocket of the rucksack since 2009. It is simply a workhorse radio. It was some of the best £85 I’ve spent on SOTA.

The IC-X21 has 23cms but mine expired when an internal flexible PCB cracked. The DJ-G5 has 23cms and is the only reason I bought it. G4ZRP got 2 of them from LAR for £150 as both were customer returns, I have one he has the other. My DJ-G5 doesn’t switch off properly, you need to pull the battery hence it costing £200 below normal. The IC-80AD is 2m/70cms and D-STAR but on 2m it’s useless as the front end overloads if someone in the next galaxy transmits on a nearby frequency.

So buy a 270 for about £90 or pick up a pre-loved FT290 for between £25-£80 and get a 2m multimode and you’ll be ready for the next Vintage Electric Handbag event we have.

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I have a handheld but almost never use it. Compared with an FT817 used as a handheld with an end-fed halfwave mobile whip plugged into it the handheld is just a toy. Many people use them and seem happy so perhaps I am prejudiced! My advice FWIW is bite the bullet and get the 2 metre module for the KX3, it will outperform most if not all handies.

As for SSB on two, its as quiet as the grave until you get an opening or a contest, then all Hell breaks loose! Get a summer sporadic E opening and you will hear hundreds of S9 Mediterranean stations, unfortunately you don’t get more than a dozen or so in the average summer!


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Nope, you just don’t go up enough hills to realise why it’s useful to have a handheld and “big radio” at the same time.

Thanks for the suggestions, my only hesitation with the FT-270 is also one of its benefits… It’s 2m only. Ideally The handhelds second use would be for working satellites, so split frequency on 2m/70cm is a pre-requisite… any suggestions based on this?

Hello James, see the specs on my post on here ~ not a problem.

Setup a separate satellite system using independent radios… there’ll be less menu button activity that way!

Ooh! Dig, dig! My 817 fits in the poachers pocket of my jacket, I do carry the handy in a rucksack pocket in case anything goes wrong with the REAL radio, but really its just eight ounces of ballast!


Not at all Brian. If you were up a hill every weekend you’d know having a handy you can waffle to Jack/Iain/Colwyn/Robin on at the same time whilst the big radio does HF is a boon. My problem is forgetting the autopower off shuts the handy down and thus not hearing the others come up on air on 2m!

Golly, I wish I had the wind to waffle in stereo! Do you multitask, operate CW on HF whilst waffling on 2FM?!


Hello Andy,
A little unfair, Brian has logged 3 activations for 2014 :wink:
My H/H bleeps asking to be touched before it powers off - isn’t tech stuff great.

Of course, I thought everyone could. I also check the database et al. is working as well if there is sufficient network coverage.

It would be more but my XYL/driver is effectively a cripple now. There’s a limit to how often I can ask her to spend a day in the car reading the “Woman’s Weekly” or a Mills and Boon! Anyway, if I’d activated all the Scottish hills I’ve climbed in my time, without taking into account LD, NW and overseas I would be at least a double MG by now, and none of them would be worth less than four points, none of this fairying about on single point molehills! :wink:


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70cm? Nothing technically wrong with the band, I just don’t think enough people use it.

On a good summit with the slim jim and hh (it’s an ft270r btw) yields contacts typically up to 150km under flat conditions.

On ssb with 3w I consistantly work up to about 600km under flat conditions. The best stations in the contest will work around 800km with 3w. Interestingly, if you look at stations in other contests with stacked beams and 400w they’re not actually getting much further. I put this down to the curvature of the earth and the ‘standard’ refraction of the signal under flat conditions.

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I see there’s a later but more budget model called the ft252e. I have no experience of this model so you might want to check out eham reviews. This ‘cheaper to compete with the new Chinese brands’ could go one of two ways…

+1 for the FT270R.

I use a MH57 speaker mic too, which is not waterproof, but has been out in horrendous rain and never missed a beat.

It goes out with me on every activation and has been used almost every time, racking up close to a 1000 points. So a lot of hills and a lot of rain!

Rob may have exageraged a tad with the “nuclear blast” survival (EMP?) but it is almost bombproof.

I use it 90% of the time just with a vertical dipole.

Relatively cheap too.

Gerald MW0WML/P

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