Off-Grid Radio: Portable power recommendations?

Elecraft-KX3This year, I have a lot of portable radio play in mind as I travel across the continent. At some point, I even plan to spend several days in an off-grid cabin on the coast.

In the past, I’ve powered my 12 VDC ham radio transceivers with a system comprised of three PowerFilm solar 5 watt foldable PV panels (see below), a Micro M+ charge controller and several gel cell type sealed batteries (a couple 7 Ah and one 20 Ah).Powerfilm-Solar-Panel

The system works well, but the batteries are a little heavy and unhandy when I want to hike into a remote site or play radio on the beach, for example.

PowerFilmAACharger-1

In terms of receivers, my portables (like the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Tecsun PL-660, etc.) simply use AA batteries which I charge with PowerFilm AA PV chargers (see above). My CommRadio CR-1a has an internal battery that will power it for hours at a time.

Power is much less of an issue with receivers because they’re quite resource efficient.

I mainly need a system to power my QRP ham radio gear, and that’s where I could use your experience!

Wish list

Charge controller

I need a new charge controller since my Micro M+ (no longer produced) is now being used to power a remote antenna tuner.

Of course, I’ll need an inexpensive charge controller that doesn’t produce RFI (radio interference).

It would be an added bonus if the charge controller could also charge my batteries when grid power is available.

12 VDC Battery packs

I’d like something relatively lightweight and safe.

Note: LiPo packs worry me, especially since I had one (an early GoalZero model) quite literally melt down and burn up on my bed only a few hours after bringing it back from an eight hour flight a few years ago. Scary!

Pure Sine Wave Inverter

PureSineWaveInverter

I’d also like a small, efficient pure sine wave inverter that I I could connect to my largest battery and power my laptop for extended SDR spectrum recording sessions while off-grid.

I’d love a recommendation from someone who uses one and can confirm a model that doesn’t create radio interference while operating.

Recommendations?

Post readers: Please comment with your recommendations and include model numbers and links if possible. Thank you in advance!

The CountyComm GP5/SSB: my go-to shortwave radio for hiking

CountyComm GP5/SSB while hiking

My two hiking companions: the CountyComm GP5/SSB and Hazel the dog.

Posting the Blinq deal a few moments ago reminded me that my favorite shortwave radio to use while hiking/walking is the CountyComm GP5/SSB.

I have CountyComm’s custom GP5 case which I clip to my belt or backpack. While hiking, I find it handy to open the case from the top, pull the radio out and operate/tune it with only one hand. Indeed, the vertical form factor of the GP5/SSB is ergonomically-ideal; I can control almost all of the radio functions without having to use two hands. A huge bonus while hiking on uneven terrain!

Typically, when I start a hike, I enable an EMT scan and within a minute or so, the GP5/SSB populates temporary memory positions with all of the signals it can easily receive. When you’re in the middle of the woods–far from sources of radio interference–you’ll be amazed by what you can hear.

GP5SSB-Top

Of course, with the antenna fully extended, one does have to watch out for low-hanging branches, etc.

CountyComm GP5/SSB while hiking

Since the telescoping antenna doesn’t swivel, it’s much easier to hold the radio in a way that the antenna points forward while you hike (bonus: it’ll catch all of the spider webs across the trail before your face does!).

GP5SSB-MW-Antenna

So far, I’ve never used the external mediumwave ferrite bar antenna while hiking–I worry that I could drop the radio and damage either the antenna or the 1/8″ antenna jack.

I typically listen to the GP5 with headphones unless I’m walking a trail during the time of year when black bears are active (in which case the speaker helps alert bears that I’m in the neighborhood).

GP5SSB-Front

Of course, there are a few other radio models with an identical vertical form-factor–most notably, the:

If you’re not familiar with the CountyComm GP5/SSB, click here to read previous posts. I also featured the CountyComm GP5/DSP (Tecsun PL-360) in an ultra portable shoot out in 2014–click here to read.

Do you have a favorite shortwave portable for hiking, biking or cycling? Please comment!

Radio Go Bag: JC recommends this affordable shoulder pack

Bag-TacticalSpeaking of backpacks and protective cases for radios, SWLing Post reader, JC, recommends an inexpensive tactical shoulder pack available via eBay.

JC writes:

I tend to want a little more protection and space so I use a tactical military type shoulder bag for my portable radio kit. It hangs nicely off the back of the passenger’s seat in my car and allows me to keep my PL-660, spare batteries, portable wire antenna, earphones, frequency lists, and other gear all together in a handy pack.

JC's shoulder pack

JC’s shoulder pack

The price is about $13.60 w/ free shipping. It’s a great bag for my portable kit, and it’s built pretty sturdy. Any extra protection is better than none for a radio used out in the field.

Click here to view on eBay.

Thanks for the recommendation! That is incredibly affordable and a great looking bag.

I’m very partial to Spec Ops Brand packs, but they’re quite pricey in comparison.

DXing on the Road in Colombia with Don Moore

Radio Mil Cuarenta's studio in Popayan, Colombia. (studio with station's car in front)

Noted DXer and South American radio enthusiast Don Moore (USA) is travelling again and posting fascinating photos & commentary of DXing and life in Colombia.

Don mentions:

The focus is MW. My postings include photos and local recordings of stations from southernmost Colombia including the cities of Pasto and Popayan.  I’m currently in Cali (the third largest city) for two weeks. I’ll also get a complete band scan completed in the next few days.

His current journal entries, photos, and DX clips are on his web site.The Todelar network building in Pasto.

Be sure and check out Don’s extensive coverage of the Central and South American radio scene, and coverage of his previous travels at http://www.pateplumaradio.com

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Danny’s Tecsun PL-660 still works after a serious mishap

PL-660

In response to our Mega Review, Danny Bower comments:

Fantastic review and whilst I know the article is an older one people will still read it when looking at a portable SW radio.

With this in mind I would like to make the following comment about the PL660. You say it is bulletproof and boy is it! Mine has been dropped, kicked and overwise abused and it’s still going strong.

Most remarkably it was knocked into a bucket of water, plugged in and powered up and was there for a good couple of hours fully submerged before I realised.

It wasn’t long good for a week or two but after 3 or 4 weeks I have it one last try before binning it and hey presto it came back to life! Ok the volume pot is now a bit scratchy but other than that it’s working just fine.

Want a radio that will take the general abuse of travelling – this is it…

Wow!  Thanks for your comment, Danny! Most impressive that your PL-660 went diving that long and lived to tell the tale. Thanks for sharing!

The best shortwave radio for cross-continent cycling?

image006

SWLing Post reader, Pat, is an avid cyclist and is seeking a radio for his next cross-continent adventure. There are a limited number of products on the market that meet Pat’s requirements, so I thought posting his inquiry might bring a few options out of the woodwork. Check out Pat’s requirements and please comment if you have a suggestion!

Pat writes:

I’m a professional ski coach from Colorado. When I’m not on skis, I like to get on my bicycle and go explore the world. I’ve ridden across the USA a few times, covering all 48 states in the Continental US. A couple of years ago I got my 49th state when I rode from Alaska back home to Colorado.

Next year I plan to ride to Argentina, a journey of 12,000 miles over six months.

One of the things that keeps me sane is to have a radio strapped to the handlebars of my bike. I used to have a cheap AM/FM transistor, but have slowly improved the choice of radios on each trip.

During my Alaska ride I used a Degen DE1123, which was a great item. Not a great radio, but having an mp3 player built in made a world of difference. There were some mighty long distances without radio signal, so having the mp3 was great. But like I said, the 1123 wasn’t the most user-friendly item. Plus, it ate up AA batteries, which were pricey in the Yukon. So I upgraded to the Degen DE1125. Certainly an improvement, but still some things that could be improved. [See photo above.]

For my Argentina trip I want to have something really good; something that works well and will hopefully last six months. Also, I really like the idea of having a radio with a mini SD slot. I’ll have to download a lot of music and podcasts to keep me happy.

Someone suggested the Melson S8. I purchased one and it is a great unit, but way too big to fit on the handlebars.

You obviously have experience with many different portables and I was wondering if you could give me your suggestions. Maybe something from Degen, ShouYu, Tecsun?

Things that are important:

  • Ease of use (I’ll be using the controls while pedaling)
  • Weight (smaller and lighter is better)
  • Durability
  • Mini SD capability
  • Radio reception
  • AM, FM and SW capability
  • Li-ion batteries

Not overly important:

  • Ability to scroll through songs/find songs
  • Sound quality (I’ll have wind in my ears anyway)

Things that are not important:

  • Recording ability (I don’t foresee recording anything along the way)
  • Looks
  • Cost (I don’t want to spend $150 on a CC Crane, as the radio may get broken or stolen, but I’m willing to spend some money on a quality product if available).

[…]I’d love to select the best option for this silly ride I’m taking next summer and will happily take any advice.

A cycling trip to Argentina? Nothing silly about that, Pat! What an adventure!

Shortwave radios with MicroSD slots are somewhat limited in numbers, but more and more models have appeared on the market in the past few years.

Readers: can you help Pat with some suggestions/options?  Please comment!

Video: Shortwave listening and radio astronomy

Sony-ICF-SW100

On Thursday I attended an event at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI)–location of the 2015 SWLing Post DXPedition.

During a break, I had a couple of free hours, so I reached in my messenger bag and pulled out the Sony ICF-SW100: a radio that has quickly surpassed all others as my favorite EDC (everyday carry) radio. It has so many useful features in such a small package!

Radio astronomy observatories are ideal locations for impromptu shortwave radio listening as there is little to no radio interference/noise present.

PARI-26E-and-26W

PARI’s “Building 1” and the 26 West (left) and 26 East (right) radio telescopes.

While the weather on Thursday was gorgeous, HF band conditions were…well…miserable. There was very little to hear other than China Radio International, Radio Havana Cuba and a few other blow torch broadcasters.

Still, time signal station WWV was on my mind since I had just purchased Myke’s new edition of At The Tone and have been reading your excellent comments with early memories of listening to WWV and WWVH.

I tuned to 15 MHz and, of course, there was reliable WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado on frequency. Though WWV’s signal was relatively strong (despite the conditions) I turned on the SW100’s sync detector because fading (QSB) was pronounced at times.

Here’s a short video of the ICF-SW100 on a picnic table in the middle of the PARI campus. That’s PARI’s 26 (meter) West telescope in the background: