SOTA Backpacks – what to take?

My recommendadtions when planning what to take to an activation:

Do a “reccie” beforehand if you haven’t been on the summit before, take a small AM/FM radio with you to check for RF noise. Take a camera and take a few shots of the planned operating position. Take some notes while there.

Review the results at home to decide what equipment you will take.

The major question is what antenna can you put up there. If you intend to activate on 2m FM, do you also need a mast and small Yagi or will the rubber duck antenna on the HT be enough? If you take a mast (whether for 2M or HF), how will you support it – is there a small tree you can bungy strap the mast to or will you need guy ropes and pegs? If you will activate on HF, are there two trees at about the right distance apart so that you throw up some ropes for each end of a dipole and not need to take a mast with you? Another non-mast solution might be an end-fed half wave antenna, counterpoise and ATU. I’ve had success with these antennas simply laying them on top of bushes. Simple is good.

Once you have the antenna question answered, the rig and how to power it comes in question. If you intend to operate only CW, there are several very small and light options, if you are going to use 2m FM a small HT will normally suffice. If you are considering HF SSB, there are two rigs that are often used, the Yaesu FT817 and the the Elecraft KX3. Both very good rigs. There are now some kit radios for QRP SSB as well but often they have a very limited frequency range (VXO controlled) and no accurte readout of frequency. These kits normally don’t have an SWR meter built into them which is useful to have to make sure your antenna is functioning correctly. So although these kit rigs are light, you may need to take additional equipment with you. Many people use HF mobile rigs such as the Yaesu FT857 and 897 set to 30w out or less. While these are heavier than the FT817 or KX3 for summits where you don’t need to climb they are still “luggable”.

When considering weight the one major weighty component is the battery or batteries you take with you to power the rig. It used to be that the only practical option would be a sealed lead acid battery (SLAB) but even the 7ah golf cart versions of these are HEAVY. Thankfully through the RC models hobby, PC laptops and electic cars we now have alternatives. The LIPO battery is cheap, light and easily available. They do need a special “balanced” charger but you wont need to carry that to the hilltop. The latest battery is the Lifepo battery which, while still having a special charger is not so sensitive to charge rate issues as the LIPOs. At present Lifepos are more expensive than LIPOs and currently I would recommend someone looking into this need to go with a LIPO battery and a good charger. One point with the LIPO and Lifepo is to look at the nominal output voltage. This deends upon the number of cells in the battery 3 cells giving 11.5V and 4 cells giving 15V in the LIPOs but a little lower in both cases with the Lifepos. The FT817 works fine using a 3 cell 11v LIPO while the larger mobile rigs will start complaining when the voltage drops to 11V. They will also complain when the 4 cell LIPO is fully charged as the voltage is too high. Hence for FT857/897 operation either a voltage regulator to bring the 4 cell LIPO battery voltage down or a (14V) 4 cell Lifepo battery is needed.
Normally a 5 or 8Ah battery is more than enough capacity for all but the longest activations. In the majority of my activations I use a 2.5Ah LIPO that fits inside the FT817 battery compatment, When I take the “full kit” with amplifier I do carry two spare 5aH LIPOs that can be used for the amplifier or plugged in externally to the FT817 if required.

Here are some good articles on adding an internal LIPO to an FT817:




 There’s also a US amateur who provides a complete kit with replacement battery cover with an on/off switch and socket to allow the Lipo to be charged in place. I actually simply remove the battery when I need to charge it (on a proper balanced charger). The one thing you do need to be careful of is that the LIPO should NOT be charged when an external 12V (14V) supply is plugged into the rig. This is the same situation as when you have normal AA cells in the rig – so one lead in the cable to the AA battery holder (the green one) indicates back to the FT817 not to charge the internal batteries. In the case of the battery holder this is connected half way down the batteries – hence about 4-5 volt is supplied back to the FT817 logic. I took the lead from the battery pack for the LIPO and added a simply voltage divider between plus and minus (a couple of 50-100k resistors – value not critical as there’s next to no current drawn, this is only a sensor). The middle if the voltage divider gets the green wire. Taking the lead from the battery holder also sorts out the problem of finding a matching connector (Yaesu use a less common one of course).

What do I take..

On a simple summit, especially one that I have activated before I carry two bags for my equipment – a small rucksack and a camera bag (the radio and cables fit very well into a camera bag and protection is given to the equipment). My 6m extended, 0.5m closed, squid pole fits across the back of the camera bag in the place where a belt is usually threaded through to enable the bag to sit on a photographers hips. I have a long shoulder strap on the bag.

The combination of the two bags with the equipment within then totals over 10KG in weight with the photo bag swinging somewhat loose. For  activation of summits like DL/MF-026 Wallberg which require one to do some climbing (or at least scrambling) over rocks a lighter configuration is required. Having the two bags gives me backup options and alternatives however for activations where a lot of walking or even climbing will be required, I have to reduce the equipment down to one bag (the “small pack” configuration) and it’s weight is around six kilos.

Following lists updated to current status – November 2015

“Small Pack” for summits requiring some climbing (all go into one small racksack):

FT817 TRX with inbuilt 2500maH LIPO battery, with microphone. I get 1 hour of operation from the internal battery (if longer required, take spare 2500maH battery). Rig is set to operate through rear antenna connector and a 50 ohm BNC plug dummy load is connected to front connector.

Modified Hama Tripod (added SO239 mount), Diamond RHM-8B antenna with BNC-PL259 adapter, counterpoise plus two top wire extensions (one short – 20m, one longer – 40m), on a plastic stake.

For 145MHz – 1/4 wave mobile whip antenna (fastens to PL-259 on back/bottom of FT-817).

Thick plastic painters sheet to sit on.

Headphones (optional).

Walking poles with Bongo straps (to hold counterpoise and extensions off the ground).

Logbook & pens (2), FT817 Manual, copy of AR licenses, DARC AR brochure.

First aid kit, water & food.

Summer – Light waterproof jacket (or heavier if weather looking bad), Sunscreen, SOTA baseball cap

Winter – Warm-waterproof jacket, gloves, beanie, better shoes (possibly with spikes).

Android smart phone.

PVC Tape & Penknife.


Reading glasses.

“Full Pack” for easier summits (camera bag plus small rucksack):

FT817 TRX with inbuilt 2500maH LIPO battery (plus spare battery), with microphone. I get 1 hour of operation from the internal battery. Rig is set to operate through front (BNC) antenna connector and a blanking cap is connected to rear SO239 connector.

Yaesu “rubber duck” antennas for 6m, 2m & 70cm.

For 145MHz – 1/4 wave mobile whip antenna (fastens to PL-259 on back/bottom of FT-817).

6m or 10m squid pole.

“Bongo Straps” to secure mast to a support.

3 metal guy pegs.

SOTABeams linked dipole or Aerial-51 OCF antenna.

2 x 5000maH 3S backup LIPO batteries with 150w inverter to create 13.8v for the Ramsey QAMP.

Ramsey QRP amplifier (15w o/p 20m, 25w o/p 40m).

BNC / PL259 cables and adapters.

Lipo to USB socket adapter (to charge phone if required), car power cables for FT817.


Operating stand for FT-817.

Logbook & pens (2), FT817 Manual, copy of AR licenses, DARC AR brochure.

Thick plastic painters sheet to sit on.

First aid kit, water & food.

Light waterproof jacket (or heavier if weather looking bad).

Summer – Sunscreen, SOTA baseball cap

Winter – gloves, beanie, better shoes (possibly with spikes), optionally SOTA scarf.

Android smart phone.


Reading glasses.


Mini external speaker (optional – helps on long activations).

PVC tape, 1 screwdriver, 1 penknife, 1 torch.