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Portable HF Operation


Introduction to Portable HF Operations:

Portable HF operation has been an interest of mine from the first day I received my license. In the late 70's and early 80's, I used portable HF gear to maintain communication from wilderness areas where 2m repeaters & cellphone still do not work.

Being actively involved in Boy Scouts, hunting, & fishing, I'm camping 30 or more nights a year and take advantage of the time to share amateur radio with the scouts as well as chat with friends in the evening.

With the founding of the HFPack yahoogroup by Bonnie KQ6XA, portable operators worldwide have a forum to exchange learnings on antenna's and equipment. Vendors now have offerings specifically for portable operation, which is a first!


There are now many good radios suitable for HF Portable operations. I have had direct experience the following:

Yaesu FT-897D

The FT-897 is a versatile "all in one" rig which excells at portable operation. With 9AH of internal battery capacity, add the top-notch AT-897 bolt on tuner from LDG, and you have a great picnic table (/PP pedestrian portable) and usable /PM (Pedestrian Mobile) rig with the right pack.

The FT-897 can be configured to use minimal current on RX by turning the dial light to automatic, and disabling the DSP. Using headphones helps as well. In this mode, you can get down to 550-600mA, which is much lower than counterparts like the IC-706. In fact, other than the dedicated manpacks like the F-817, VX-1210 and military equivilants, only a few rigs like the Elecraft are more frugal.

One nice feature is the 897 and 857 will automatically switch to battery mode, lowering power to 25 watts, putting the display light in auto mode, etc. No changed needed. While the dedicated manpacks do have a more efficient power output on low power, being able to use the rig on 25-100w is a large plus.

The case is very rugged, with die cast components and a handle. It's truly designed for portable use, if not manpack usage.

I made an insert for the British Radio pack for the FT-897 which works well. It's made of corrugated plastic from an old political sign, which I cut & folded to shape, then covered with camo cordura.

 Mine was used extensively portable, mobile, and on emergency deployments.

Yaesu FT-857D

The FT-857 is the mobile version of the FT-897. It's smaller, lighter, and has a remote mount head. It's also less expensive. But you lose the capability to use internal batteries and bolt on tuner. Electrically, it's identical, and operation the same.

I switched to the mobile once I purchased the Kenwood TS-950SDX and eliminated the need to ever use the FT-897 as a base station.

From a construction perspective, it's lighter duty than the FT-897. In a pack, that's OK. But for slapping on a picnic table it's not as rugged.


This military radio is a very rugged and usable manpack with 25 watts on HF. More info here.

Vertex VX-1210 HF Manpack

This 25w SSB radio is a new favorite. It's pretty much optimal for pedestrian mobile HFPack type operation.

More info here


This little 10w SSB lunchbox is crystaled up on 40m & 60m. It works great, and is handy to listen to around camp. It's also a great grab & go rig to give to someone to have instant HF capability. Recent testing between this radio and my VX-1210 in canyon conditions show it's a very viable short range (ground-wave) alternative for when VHF/UHF are unusable.

More info on the JSB-20

Alinco DX-70

This inexpensive rig is an excellent way to get started in portable HF operation. They are available for $400 or so used, have a reasonable current drain and are quite compact. You can also remote mount the head if desired.

This photo shows my DX-70 in a Wal-Mart Hydration pack. There is room in the pocket for a 14.4v 5AH NiMH battery.

I've since moved on to other radios, but the DX-70 offers lot's of operating for not much money!

Others IC-703- Nice, well integrated rig. If it were 25w I'd have one. Lighter duty construction, more like a cheap CB when contrasted with the FT-897 and even FT-857.

FT-817- The first modern purpose built HF portable for the portable market. Neat rig, but power is too low for my usage patterns.


There are many options for backpacks to use with HF Portable operations. I have found several that work well:

British Radio Pack

It's hard to beat the British Radio Pack for overall flexibility and "mission suitability". I use it with the PRC-104, FT-897, etc. It is much more robust than daypack type packs, and more comfortable.

I also converted the (otherwise useless) grenade launcher zip on pockets to antenna mounts. If you don't need these, you can use zip on pockets the British troopies call "Rocket Launchers", as they look you added rocket engines to the pack.

The "rocket launcher" pockets are great for holding the audio accessories and AT-271 whip. There is an internal pocket which will hold the AB-??? spring base.

Even with a larger radio like the PRC-104 loaded there is room in the bottom of the pack, for rainjacket, lunch, water bottle, etc.

Radios like the FT-897 & FT-857 will need a carrier to mount them securely. (Not difficult to make)

It's also possible to buckle the radio in at the bottom of the pack. It's a little harder to change frequency this way, but does have the advantage you can stand the pack upright, which you cannot do if the bottom of the pack is empty.

Wal-Mart Pack

This pack was mentioned on HFPack. I had to take a look, and it turned out to be a useful pack. Especially for $14! While I initially bought it for use with smaller radios, it turns out it is wide enough to carry the PRC-104 with no problems. It's not as sturdy as the British Radio pack's Cordura construction, but it's well padded and should be OK for light duty usage.

It's a bit of a trick to find these, they are typically found in the boys/girls section as "back to school" items, and not in luggage or sporting goods as the store employees would tell you.


Antennas & Tuners:

SG-211 Portable Tuner SG-211 Portable Tuner
AT-271 military whip I use the plain jane AT-271 on the PRC-104 more than anything, often without the spring base. If not in motion, or in clear fields it works quite well without the spring. With the AB???? spring you really have to be careful in crowds, as it will spring forward and hit people if you bend over slightly!
Shakespear Coil For lower bands I add an old Shakespere coil to the mix to increase the inductance. Though the tuner will match 60m and higher with just the AT-271 whip, it works a bit better with a coil.
Buddi-Stick Others use a Buddi-stick with good results. See K6ERO's "Bushwacker" page for more info. This is probably the optimal setup for pedestrian mobile on the lower bands. Bud W3FF has a great product, and is a nice guy to boot!
Vertical wire I keep a small coil of wire and line in the pack. It's easy to toss up into a tree and raise a 25' vertical whip. I use the AB-xxx base to attach it to the radio feedpoint.
Fan Dipole  

Operating Experience:

Notes on HF portable operating here

Up HF Portable JRC JSB-20