Showing posts with label Backpacking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Backpacking. Show all posts

April 10, 2021

Amateur Radio Wilderness Protocol

Radio amateurs spending time in the backcountry with their radios are asked to follow The Wilderness Protocol to potentially help someone in an emergency.  Communication capabilities in an emergency situation are extremely important.  Backcountry locations are often without mobile phone service and out of reach of amateur radio repeaters.  

Light-weight low-power amateur radio transceivers (handy-talkies) are easy to carry and provide the possibility of simplex communication in an emergency situation.  However, amateur radio in the backcountry is useful for summoning help only when there is someone listening.  The Wilderness Protocol is described in the ARRL ARES Emergency Resource Manual encourages radio amateurs to listen:
The Wilderness protocol calls for hams in the wilderness to announce their presence on, and to monitor, the national calling frequencies for five minutes beginning at the top of the hour, every three hours from 7 AM to 7 PM while in the back country. A ham in a remote location may be able to relay emergency information through another wilderness ham who has better access to a repeater. National calling frequencies: 52.525, 146.52, 223.50, 446.00, 1294.50 MHz.
The above frequencies are FM simplex calling frequencies in the the US.  It is a good idea to listen on all the prescribed frequencies that your radio is capable of receiving, even if your radio doesn't necessarily transmit on those same frequencies.  You may intercept a call for help and be able to relay it to another station on a frequency your radio does transmit on.

The Wilderness Protocol schedule of listening times are all local times.
  • 7:00 AM to 7:05 AM
  • 10:00 AM to 10:05 AM
  • 1:00 PM to 1:05 PM
  • 4:00 PM to 4:05 PM
  • 7:00 PM to 7:05 PM
California backcountry


It is also a good idea to transmit your call sign once or twice so that others will be alerted to your presence.  Someone experiencing an emergency may hear your transmission and be prompted to respond by asking for your help.
The Wilderness Protocol is simply a recommendation that those outside of repeater range monitor standard simplex channels at specific times in case others have priority or emergency calls. -- FM & Repeaters”, June 1996 QST, p. 85.
As radio amateurs, we can make a difference by using our radios, knowledge, skills, and The Wilderness Protocol.  Now that you know about The Wilderness Protocol, be sure share this information with others including your family, your ham friends, your child's scout troop, your fellow amateur radio club members, and others in your circle.


Good DX and 73, NJ2X


July 5, 2020

Backpacking Hack: Packing Duct Tape

I recently returned from a wonderful backpacking trek in the John Muir Wilderness located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  The John Muir Wilderness is rugged and exceedingly beautiful.  It is also challenging backpacking country with high altitude and difficult terrain.  The trek tested our group's skills, readiness, and fitness.  Fortunately, we were well prepared and able to handle every test mother nature presented us.

John Muir Wilderness Marker
One item in my pack proved its usefulness over and over again - duct tape.  Duct tape is not just for air ducts or home repairs.  Here are just a few uses of duct tape while backpacking:
  • Repair a pair of shoes by re-affixing a delaminated tread with duct tape
  • Repair a tear in a tent stuff-sack with duct tape
  • Patch a puncture in a water bag with duct tape
  • Secure a moleskin pad with duct tape to prevent it from rubbing off while walking
  • Cover a hip abrasion caused by a backpack with duct tape to prevent further injury
  • Wrap a sprained ankle with duct tape to support the join and prevent further injury
  • Whip an end of rope to prevent fraying
  • Patch a torn tent bag
If you aren't carrying duct tape in your pack then you will inevitably find yourself wishing you had.  Fortunately, you don't have to bring a bulky and heavy roll of duct tape to benefit from this miracle material.  Several feet of tape will do.

A helpful method of packing duct tape is to roll several feet onto a plastic medicine bottle.  The width of the duct tape fits perfectly on the bottle and adds very little weight or volume to a pack.  This hack also provides you with a waterproof container for medicine or small items.  Later, when a length of duct tape is needed, simply peel off the desired amount from the medicine bottle.

You don't need to pack the whole roll

I hope this article has inspired you to add duct tape to your backpacking kit and try rolling it onto a plastic medicine bottle for convenient packing.

Several feet of duct tape rolled onto a plastic medicine bottle

Happy trails and 73, NJ2X


Related Articles:


© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

June 8, 2020

How to setup backpacking tarp shelters (A-Frame, Lean-To, and C-Fly)

Many backpackers prefer camping with a lightweight tarp shelter versus a traditional tent due to the weight savings, cost advantage, and convenience that a tarp shelter provides.  In this article, I explore the tarp shelter in detail.  I made the switch to backpacking with tarp shelters many years ago and these shelters have served me very well through all kinds of weather and conditions.  I hope this article inspires you to give a tarp shelter a try on your next backpacking adventure.

Tarp shelter in use in the John Muir Wilderness
What is a tarp shelter?
A tarp shelter is a lightweight and simple shelter consisting of a tarp, 550 cord, stakes, and trekking poles.  There are many different ways to construct a tarp shelter.

Why use a tarp shelter?
A tarp shelter is an attractive alternative to a tent because of its weight savings, low cost, and simplicity.  Weight is an important consideration for wilderness backpackers.  A tarp shelter is also helpful in a survival situation when a tent is unavailable.  A tarp shelter is very inexpensive, costing only a few dollars to construct using a common utility tarp and a few on-hand items.  Tarp shelters are also easy to set up and tear down.  Setup/tear-down speed is an especially nice advantage when it is raining.

What are the disadvantages of a tarp shelter?
Tarp shelters are typically open to the elements on one or more sides, meaning rain, snow, or insects can potentially intrude on your sleep.  Unlike a tent, a tarp shelter does not provide a waterproof pan or offer much protection to your sleeping bag during a heavy rain.  This risk can be mitigated, though, by adding a waterproof bivy sack, which would also add extra warmth, and a small tarp as a floor under the sleeping bag, which would provide an additional layer of protection against dampness.  Also, adding a mosquito head-net would mitigate the risk of insect bites while you sleep.

Condensation is often a challenge with tent camping.  How about with tarp shelters?
Condensation is never a problem with tarp shelters, provided the construction of the shelter includes openings for ventilation.

How many lengths of cord should you pack for use as tarp shelter guy-lines?
I typically pack six lengths of 550-cord for setting up my tarp shelters: two 4-ft lengths (1.2 m), two 6-ft lengths (1.8 m), and two 8-ft lengths (2.4 m).  Packing multiple lengths of cord allows me to set up my tarp shelter in different configurations and in different conditions.

What types of knots are used for the guy-lines?
I like to use bowline knots and tautline hitches, tying a bowline knot on one end of each guy-line and a tautline hitch on the other end.  The bowline knot is useful to attach to the tarp, while the tautline hitch provides adjustable tensioning when attached to a stake.


Bowline knot

Tautline Hitch

What is the optimal height to set my trekking poles for my tarp shelter?
There is no optimal pole height because the pole height will be determined by the type of tarp shelter you decide to build and your needs.  If you want more headroom, increase the height.  If you want better rain runoff, increase the height.  If you want less exposure to the wind or rain, decrease the height.  If you are using the lean-to shelter and want a better view of the night sky, increase the height.  The beauty of using trekking poles and guy-lines with tautline hitches is that everything can be adjusted easily - even in the middle of the night if needed.

Are there any tricks to staking?
When staking, angle the stake away from the guy-line to provide more secure support.  If the ground is soft, place a good-sized rock on top of the stake to help it stay put all night.  Pound the stakes all the way to the ground to reduce tripping hazards in camp and to maximize the holding power of the stake.  Common lightweight metal camping stakes will work fine.  Avoid plastic stakes since they are bulky and not as durable.

Do I need to purchase a special tarp designed for camping purposes, or can I use a common utility tarp from a hardware store?
Inexpensive utility tarps from a hardware store are durable and work just fine, and can be purchased starting at around $5 USD.  The inexpensive utility tarps are preferred by those of us who are thrifty or are just getting started in backpacking.  The more expensive backpacking tarps offer more features like durability, versatility, and additional weight savings, and are preferred by through-hikers and the ultra-light crowd where saving grams is the goal.

How do you pitch a tarp for rain?
All of the tarp shelters described in this article will help protect against rain.

What are the pros and cons between the basic tarp shelter options?
  1. Lean-to Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • Quick and easy to set up
      • Good rain runoff
      • Good protection from sun, wind, and rain on one side
      • Provides a nice view of the night sky for bedtime meteor-watching
    • Cons
      • No floor, so no protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
      • Not ideal for heavy wind or rain
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • Good rain protection and rain runoff
      • Good wind protection on two sides
      • Flexible
    • Cons
      • No dampness protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
      • No view of the night sky
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • You can still see some portion of the night sky from your sleeping bag
      • Good rain runoff
      • Good protection from sun, wind, and rain on one side
      • The tarp fold on the ground acts as a floor, providing additional protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
    • Cons
      • A little more complex to set up
      • Requires more stakes than the other shelters (8 stakes total)
      • Limited view of the night sky
What materials are needed to construct a tarp shelter?
  1. Lean-To Tarp Shelter
    • 4 stakes
    • 2 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks
    • Tarp
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    • 6 stakes
    • 2 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks, or run a ridge line between two trees
    • Tarp
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    • 8 stakes
    • 4 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks
    • Tarp

What do the tarp shelters look like when set up?
  1. Lean-To Tarp Shelter (shown with a 5-ft x 7-ft tarp)

    • Lean-To Tarp Shelter
      Lean-To Tarp Shelter shown with optional bivy sack
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter (show with an 8-ft x 10-ft tarp)
    • A-Frame Tarp Shelter
      A-Frame Tarp Shelter
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter (shown with a 6-ft x 8-ft tarp)

    • C-Fly Tarp Shelter
      C-Fly Tarp Shelter
What are the steps to set up a tarp shelter?
It is generally easier to set up a tarp shelter for the first time using a photo as a reference or having an experienced tarp camper guide you.  However, for those who prefer step-by-step instructions, here they are.  Don't worry if you struggle the first time; with practice, you will quickly find what works best for you.

Lean-To Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using two stakes, stake down one side (two bottom corners) of the tarp
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip. Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    6. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 45-degree angle from the corner of the tarp
    7. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 for the other tarp corner
    8. Adjust the guy-line tension using tautline hitches
A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using two stakes, stake down one side (two left corners) of the tarp
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Insert the trekking pole into the center grommet of the tarp to form a peak
    6. Using two stakes, stake down the right side of the tarp with the trekking pole in place 
    7. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip.  Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    8. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 90-degree angle from the tarp
    9. Repeat steps 6, 7, and 8 for the other tarp peak
    10. Adjust the guy-line tension using tautline hitches
C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using four stakes, stake down one end of the tarp to make a 'floor'
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip. Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    6. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 90-degree angle from the side of the tarp
    7. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 for the other side of the tarp
    8. Pass the bowline knot through the front corner tarp grommet and feed the guy-line through the bowline loop, attaching the cord line to the tarp
    9. Repeat step 8 for the other front tarp corner
    10. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the line is at a 90-degree angle from the front of the tarp
    11. Repeat step 10 for the other front corner guy-line
    12. Adjust all guy-line tension using tautline hitches

I hope this article has inspired you to give backpacking with a tarp shelter a try.  A great way to get started is to practice setting up your tarp shelter in your own backyard.  This will help you gain experience and confidence before heading out into the backcountry.

Happy backpacking,

Michael (NJ2X)










© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

April 11, 2020

A Ham's Complete Backpacking Checklist for Northern California

So what do you pack for a backpacking adventure in Northern California?  Here is a tried and true checklist we have used on past adventures with good results.  A big thank you to my backpacking partners for sharing their knowledge with me over the years.  Their combined experience along with my own are reflected in this list.

There are several guiding principles to consider when choosing what to bring on a backpacking adventure:
  • Be prepared
  • Be safe
  • Pack the ten essentials
  • Pack as lightly as possible and no more than you can manage

NJ2X with his pack on the trail in the John Muir Wilderness in Northern California


March 28, 2020

Backpacking Amateur Radio Ten Essentials

In my post, Amateur Radio Backpacking Checklist, I offer a list of helpful items to include when backpacking including the "ten essentials".  So what are the ten essentials?


The ten essentials are your non-negotiable life-saving items to include in your pack when you go on any outdoor adventure:
  1. Knife - A knife is an extremely useful tool in the field.  You can use it to make a shelter, prepare food, tighten a screw, carve wood into gadgets, cut 550 cord, ... 
  2. First-aid kit - Backpacking requires self-sufficiency.  When you are are in the backcountry you typically can't call for help.  Your life may depend on your first aid kit.  Mine is a homemade kit stuffed into a lightweight zippered water resistant sack.
  3. Extra clothing - This is a tough one since it easy to overpack clothing and what to pack depends on your location and conditions.  For backpacking in the California Sierras in July, I always minimally bring two pair of wool socks, a fleece, one pair of synthetic pants with zipper-off legs, a wicking t-shirt, and wool knit hat.  For a day hike, I will pack a fleece.
  4. Rain gear - I pack a waterproof rain jacket minimally.  If I know I am going to be trekking in rain then I will pack rain pants.  Staying dry means staying warm and avoiding hypothermia.
  5. Water storage - I carry a US military surplus water canteen on my belt.  I like being able to easily access water while I hike without stopping.  I also pack a full Platypus water bag as backup.  Two containers provides me with peace of mind between refills.  It is also handy to use one to treat water while drinking from the other.
  6. Flashlight - I pack a lightweight headlamp with adjustable brightness that runs on two AA batteries along with a couple of extra batteries.  I use the minimal brightness necessary for my task to conserve the batteries so they last longer.
  7. Trail food - When backpacking, I pack enough food to last for the entire trip plus an extra day's worth.  An extra day's worth of food is for backup in case of delays.  Pack high protein food (not junk food).
  8. Matches and fire starter - I pack a waterproof container with high quality waterproof stick matches.  I also carry my favorite windproof Zippo lighter.  Fire can mean survival.
  9. Sun protection - I typically wear a broad brimmed hat to protect my face, ears, and neck against the California sunshine.  I also carry a small stick of solid sunscreen.  I wear a collared long-sleeve ventilated shirt that protects my arms, shoulders, and neck.  Long pants protect my legs.  No fun suffering through a sunburn and important to save our skin since we will be needing later in life.
  10. Map and compass - There is no substitute for a good topographic map, compass, and the ability to use both well.  They are lightweight lifesavers.  GPS devices are a wonder of technology and relatively fragile.
  11. Amateur Radio - A 2m / 440 Mhz handy-talkie with a fully charged battery is a potential life-saving communicating device in an emergency.  I program my HT with the repeaters local to the area I will be backpacking in before I go.  I also monitor NOAA weather radio transmissions on my HT for potential hazards.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X


Related Articles:



© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

March 30, 2017

Amateur Radio Backpacking Checklist

Amateur Radio and backpacking are made for each other.  What could be better than enjoying two great hobbies at the same time in the great outdoors?  Amateur radio also adds an element of safety to backcountry adventure by providing a method of communication in the event of an emergency.

Photo by Michael W. Maher
Golden Trout Wilderness


Here is a checklist to help you plan your next backpacking trip:

  • Pack weight - keep it light as possible.  40 lbs or less for adult males in good shape.  Weigh your pack before you depart and adjust accordingly.
  • 10 essentials - these are non-negotiable items every backpacker needs.  Check to make sure all 10 essentials are in your pack before you leave.
  • Extra water carrying capacity - Water is key to survival when backpacking.  There are times when extra water is helpful.  Pack a spare lightweight 1 or 2 liter collapsible water container.  Being able to fill up with extra water will come in handy when trekking over dry areas or when preparing a meal.
  • Program your radios - We enjoy backpacking with our amateur radio VHF/UHF FM handheld radios (Handie Talkies).  Before the trek always take the time to research the area to identify amateur repeaters and program your radios.  This enables maximum usage of the radios during the trek.
  • Charge your batteries - The night before a trek be sure to charge your radio batteries and any spares you intend to bring.
  • Zip Lock Baggies - Pack a couple of 1 gallon ZipLock Baggies.  These make lightweight and inexpensive dry-sacks for maps, radios, books or anything else you want to keep dry.  These can save your gear in the event of rain or when crossing a stream.
  • Large Garbage Bag - One or two large black garbage bags are lightweight and versatile. These can be used for a variety of purposes including a pack cover, rain poncho, food storage, sleeping bag cover, dry bag, or trail trash collection.
  • Improved Antennas - Consider packing a "rat-tail" or j-pole for use with your HT for improved antenna performance over the rubber-duck antenna.
Hope you find this checklist help on your next backcountry radio adventure.

Good DX and 73, 

NJ2X


Related Articles:


© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

November 15, 2016

Field Test: Nomad 7 Solar Panel Performance

This article is part of a series about using the Nomad 7 Solar Panel for amateur radio use on backpacking trips.  Be sure to review our prior article, "Project: Regulating the 12v Output of the Nomad 7 Solar Panel".  In this article we bring the project together with a field test during a high adventure backpacking trip in the Californian Sierras.

Golden Trout Wilderness


The Adventure

Our hiking group decided to take a 5-day / 52-mile (83.7 km) hike through the Golden Trout Wilderness located in the Sierra Nevada range in California.  The Golden Trout Wilderness is 474 mi² (1227.65 km²) (303,511 acres) of rugged mountainous beauty.  The wilderness is named for and protects the habitat of golden trout which is California's state freshwater fish.

Photograph of a golden trout being help in the palm of a hand.
California's state freshwater fish the golden trout.
Elevations range from about 680 feet (210 m) to 12,900 feet (3,900 m).  An abundance of wildlife inhabit the Golden Trout Wilderness including Monache deer, Sierra Nevada red fox, pine marten, cougar, black bear, rattlesnake, and scorpions.  We would be off the grid completely for the duration of our 52-mile trek.  No electrical power.  No stores or restaurants.  No mobile phone service.   Perfect!

Photograph of a scorpion
Scorpion encountered while trekking in the Golden Trout Wilderness

This meant that each member of the team would need to pack what he would need to survive for 5-days in the wilderness.  Here is what I stuffed into my backpack:
  • Topographical map
  • 1 gallon zip lock bag to keep the the map dry
  • Compass
  • Small tube of sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Fleece jacket
  • Rain shell
  • Boonie Hat
  • Quick drying pants that convert to shorts
  • Headlamp
  • First aid kit
  • Waterproof matches in a waterproof container
  • Small butane lighter
  • Knife
  • Dehydrated food for 6 days
  • Trail snacks
  • Bear canister
  • Hip canteen
  • 1.5 liter water bag
  • Water purification chemicals
  • Tarp
  • 550 cord
  • 2 trekking poles
  • Bivy
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • 2 pairs of wool socks
  • 2 wicking undershirts
  • 1 quick-drying shorts
  • 2 wicking long sleeve shirts
  • Fuel canister
  • Backpacking stove
  • Small foil pack of chili peppers
  • Whistle
  • Cook pot
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Liquid soap
  • Baby wipes
  • Ultralight super absorbent towel
  • Toilet paper
  • Trowel
  • Kenwood TH-F6A tri-band HT
  • Nomad 7 Solar Panel (modified and regulated)
  • iPhone for pictures
  • Earbuds
My backpack weighed around 38 lbs. at the start of our journey.  Weight is extremely important on a long trek with significant elevation changes.  Every bit of additional weight requires more energy from the backpacker.  The weight is most apparent when climbing several thousand feet in elevation.

We knew we would be isolated throughout our trek.  Our adventure was scheduled to start immediately after the mountain roads became clear of snow so we were pretty sure we wouldn't encounter very many people (if any).  Communication is critical in an emergency situation. 

Emergency Communication Gear

We had two hams in our group so we naturally decided to pack a set of two-way radios and solar power.  The Kenwood TH-F6A HT radios would allow us to maintain communication with each other if we became separated or if someone had to hike out to get help.  The radios would also provide the possibility of calling help directly from a mountain peak through either a repeater or another amateur radio operator.  
Photograph of the Kenwood TH-F6A tri-band amateur radio
Kenwood TH-F6A Tri-band HT

We packed our Nomad 7 solar panel that we had modified to provide output via Anderson Powerpole and a pigtail suitable for the Kenwood HT's.  The solar panel would allow us to keep our radios and mobile devices charged for the duration of the trip. 

Photograph of the Nomand 7 Solar Panel and Kenwood TH-F6A tri-band amateur radio
Nomad 7 Solar Panel and Kenwood TH-F6A

Field Test Results

Our Kenwood TH-F6A radios worked great during our trip.  We used them to maintain communication between the front and back of our group while hiking.  We also used them to maintain communication when exploring the area around camp.  Fortunately, there were no emergencies during our adventure.

On two occasions we inadvertently and unknowingly dropped our radios while crossing obstructions.  In both instances we noticed the radios were no longer attached to our packs and quickly retraced our steps to recover the radios.  The Kenwood TH-F6A is well-built and suffered no damage from either incident.  From this experience, we learned that clipping the radio to the pack is insufficient for securing it.  We improvised lanyards from lengths of 550 cord to positively attach our radios to our packs.  The lanyards allowed the radios to be used while hiking without the risk of falling off and becoming lost along the trail.

We are blessed in California with an abundance of sunshine which we harnessed with our Nomad 7 solar panel to recharge our iPhones and Kenwood TH-F6A.  We chose to recharge one device at a time so as to minimize the charging time.  In full-sun, the Nomad 7 seemed to recharge our iPhones at about the same rate as we would have experienced plugging them into a wall socket charger.  The Nomad 7 did a great job of recharging our Kenwood TH-F6A for the first few days.  On our last day, while recharging our Kenwood F6A via the Nomad 7 solar panel, the radio stopped charging and would no longer power-on.  We believe the unregulated (15vdc in full sun) output of the solar panel was the cause.  For more on this read our article Project: Regulating the 12v Output of the Nomad 7 Solar Panel.

We decided to protect our remaining radio from damage by not connecting it with the solar panel for the remainder of our trip.  Having at least one functioning radio in the event of an emergency was our priority.

We tried recharging while hiking by tying down an open Nomad 7 to our backpack.  This didn't work very well as were constantly moving in and out of sun and shade.  We found it more effective to recharge when stopped on breaks, lunch, or while setting up camp.  Being stationary allowed us to orient the solar panel to maximize sunlight exposure.

The Nomad 7 is very well made and durable.  We gave ours some unintended rough treatment while backpacking and it kept working the entire trip.  This is an important quality in any backpacking gear.  Packs and their contents tend to get knocked around a bit while trekking.  

Even though we didn't have an emergency, it was comforting to know that we could recharge our devices during our 5-day trek through the Golden Trout Wilderness.  Our batteries would certainly have been depleted after 5-days of usage had we not had a solar panel in our packs.  We really enjoyed being able to shoot photographs to our hearts content with our iPhones without worrying about running out of power.  At 1.4 lbs, the Nomad 7 solar panel was definitely worth the additional weight.  We were disappointed to have one of our Kenwood radios stop working as a result of charging it from the unregulated Nomad 7 solar panel.


Mountain meadow in the Golden Trout Wilderness
When we returned home, we subsequently went to work to solve the issue by regulating the output of the solar panel at a lower safer voltage (see Project: Regulating the 12v Output of the Nomad 7 Solar Panel).  We are looking to our next adventure and packing our (now regulated) Nomad 7 solar panel.  We know we now have the perfect backpacking adventure amateur radio and solar power setup.

See you on the trail.  73.

NJ2X

Articles in this series:

    Other related articles on NJ2X.COM

    © Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2016.

    June 11, 2016

    Backpacking Amateur Radio Power: Alternatives

    In our prior post (Backpacking Amateur Radio Power: Requirements) we discussed our requirements for powering our electronics in the backcountry including an HT and an iPhone.  We defined our requirements in the form of a user story with acceptance criteria.


    USER STORY: As a backpacker, I need a way to use my TH-F6A radio and iPhone 6 during my backpacking trip and not run out of battery before the end of the trip so that I can have fun with the devices during the trip and have them ready for use at any time during the trip in the event of an emergency to call for help.

    ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA:
    • Must allow the backpacker to use the device a little or a lot as needed.
    • Must be flexible enough to allow the backpacker to use the solution regardless of duration (our typical backpacking adventures range from from 1 night to 15 days).
    • Must not add significant weight to the pack (i.e. < 1.5 lbs / 0.68Kg).
    • Must be able to maintain power for an iPhone via the USB connection (5Vdc USB power).
    • Must be able to maintain power for a Kenwood TH-F6A via the 12Vdc connection.

    In today's post, we will explore potential alternative solutions and compare them against our requirements.

    Option 1: Conserve the battery

    Pros
    • Practical approach
    • No cost
    • No added weight
    Cons
    • Conserving the battery means using the devices sparingly over the trip.  For the iPhone it means leaving the device powered off during the hike and powering it on when needed.  Not very convenient for snapping photos while trekking.  Keeping the HT powered off is a bit more feasible.  However, we like to use the radios in our backpacking group to keep the front and rear in communication as we go to since we tend to string out a bit.
    • This approach doesn't meet our acceptance criteria of being able to use the devices as much or as little as needed during the trek.

    Option 2: Pack extra batteries

    Pros
    Cons
    • On longer trips, one set of extra batteries may not be enough.
    • Some conservation of battery power is still required.

    Option 3: Pack a portable generator: BioLite Wood Burning Campstove

    Pros
    • Claims to provide portable power (USB).
    Cons

    Option 4: Pack a portable generator: K-TOR Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator

    Pros
    • Possible to recharge both USB and 12Vdc batteries.
    • The weight is under the limit per our acceptance criteria (1.0 lbs/0.45Kg < limit of 1.5 lbs/0.68Kg)
    • Cost is reasonable at $54.00 on Amazon.com
    Cons
    • The K-TOR Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator had mixed reviews on Amazon.com.  From the reviews is sounds like hand cranking is laborious and takes a long long time to recharge.  This is a material consideration since backpacking can be physically exhausting.  Having difficulty imaging cranking for hours after a day of backpacking 16 miles with elevation changes.
    • Requires packing the transforms for iPhone and HT.  This adds additional weight.

    Option 5: Pack a solar panel: Goal Zero Nomad 7

    Pros
    • Recharges USB devices.
    • Recharges 12Vdc devices.
    • Lightweight at 1.4 lbs/0.64Kg which is less than our acceptance criteria limit of 1.5 lbs/0.68Kg.
    • Easy to use and requires no physical effort to generate power.
    • Cost is reasonable at $77.31 on Amazon.com
    • Solid reviews on Amazon.com.
    • Well made and durable.
    Cons
    • Need direct sunlight to recharge.  We have sunshine in abundance here in California so this isn't a material concern.

    Option 5: Pack a solar panel: Goal Zero Nomad 7 is the clear winner among our alternatives.  It fits the requirements very well.  We are looking forward to putting it to the test.


    In our next post in this series, "Project: Hacking the Nomad 7 Solar Panel for Amateur Radio Use" we will show step-by-step how we modified our Nomad 7 to make it more convenience to use with our Amateur Radio setup.

    We will review how well the whole setup worked on a challenging backpacking backcountry adventure in our final post in the series.


    Good DX and 73, NJ2X


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    © Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2016.

    June 4, 2016

    Backpacking Amateur Radio Power: Requirements

    So how do you bring an iPhone and HT on a backpacking trip and use them without running out of battery before the end of the trip?  In this post, we explore this question and the related requirements.

    We have been doing a lot of backpacking lately in the mountains of Northern California.  Backpacking is great exercise, physically challenging, and a great way to immerse yourself in nature.  A backpacker must carry everything needed for the trek including food, water, shelter, clothing, first aid, and personal items.  Our 3-day/2-night pack weighs in around 30 lbs / 13.6 Kg.  Weight comes at a big cost to a backpacker so the objective is to minimize.

    When trekking in the backcountry there is often no mobile phone coverage.  Mountain peaks sometimes provide a line of sight to a faraway cell tower which can yield one or two bars of signal.  In our experience, the valleys are barren of mobile phone signal.  We still carry our cell phones on backpacking trips because the phone provides a good camera and can also serve as a potential emergency communication device.  Being able to summon help when you need it most is invaluable.

    Apple iPhone 6
    Apple iPhone 6 makes a great pocket camera while trekking
    Amateur radio VHF/UHF repeater coverage in the backcountry is more readily available than cell phone coverage in the places we have been hiking.  This makes the amateur VHF/UHF HT a valuable companion on a backpacking trip.  In an emergency situation, communication can make a tremendous difference in the outcome.

    We programmed our Kenwood TH-F6A tribander radios with as many repeaters as we could covering the areas we like to travel and backpack in Northern California.  The TH-F6A transmits 5W on the 144 MHz, 220 MHz, and 440 MHz amateur bands. We also programmed them with the various simplex calling frequencies.  We bring them on every trip.  Sometimes we also use our TH-F6A with our TinyTrak4 TNC and GPS for APRS tracking.  The TH-F6A has a wide-band receiver which allows us to listen to broadcast radio in camp (AM/FM).

    Kenwood TH-F6A hand held transceiver
    Kenwood TH-F6A Triband VHF/UHF HT is perfect for backpacking

    The challenge with bringing electronic devices on a backpacking trip is using them without running out of power before the trip ends.  We don't simply want to throw the devices into our packs powered off during the trip in order to save the battery.  So what are the requirements for the solution?  We defined our requirements in the form of a user story with acceptance criteria:

    USER STORY: As a backpacker, I need a way to use my TH-F6A radio and iPhone 6 during my backpacking trip and not run out of battery before the end of the trip so that I can have fun with the devices during the trip and have them ready for use at any time during the trip in the event of an emergency to call for help.

    ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA:
    • Must allow the backpacker to use the device a little or a lot as needed.
    • Must be flexible enough to allow the backpacker to use the solution regardless of duration (our typical backpacking adventures range from from 1 night to 15 days).
    • Must not add significant weight to the pack (< 1.5 lbs/0.68Kg).
    • Must be able to maintain power for an iPhone via the USB connection (5Vdc USB power).
    • Must be able to maintain power for a Kenwood TH-F6A via the 12Vdc connection.

    Now that we understand our requirements, we are ready to explore potential solutions in the next article.


    Good DX and 73, NJ2X

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