Category Archives: Portable Radio

Guest Post: Tom’s Backpack Shack 3

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, TomL, who shares the following guest post:


Backpack Shack 3 – Amplified Whip Antenna

by TomL

So, having enjoyed using the Ferrite Sleeve Loop I created last year, I have wanted something a little more sensitive and less bulky.  I will eventually create a much BIGGER FSL antenna on the order of 2 feet long and perhaps 18 or 24 inches in diameter for indoor/attic use.  But that is not a priority at the moment.

Since I already have the DX Engineering Pre-Amplifier and the very nice Cross Country Preselector from the loop project, I thought it might be useful to create an active whip antenna for it.  And the cool looking Solar Red backpack needed something to do!

Power

Now that the bulky loop was not taking up the main compartment of the backpack, I could think about what else to put in there, like a larger power pack.  I scoured FleaBay for ideas and stumbled upon this contraption for backup power to network systems, the CyberPower CyberShield for Verizon.

This has 12 spaces for D-cell batteries and was mounted inside the demarcation terminal to provide backup power for things like cable systems and Copper-to-Ethernet networks.  It is not waterproof, so would be inside the premises of the customer getting the internet/cable service. But my Pre-Amp needs 12-18Volts and would love to have nearly unlimited power.  So, I bought a used one, cut the end off of the power lead and put on my own 2.1×5.5mm plug (carefully glued down and tie-wrapped). Then I filled it with 1.2Volt Tenergy D-cells.

Everything was just fine until I forgot to double check the polarity of the plug that I had wired onto the end.  Plugged it into the DX Engineering Pre-Amp, flipped the power switch and fitzzz…. The Pre-Amp light went on, then off (permanently!).

So, my expensive mistake is that I start using the FREE multimeter I got from Harbor Freight and check the polarity before I connect homemade battery packs to anything!!

DX Engineering charged me $60 to fix my mistake and it is working fine now after I swapped the wires on the plug. Yes, their Pre-Amp is NOT reverse-polarity protected! Disappointing, since the price tag for that device is $148!!!  The CyberShield now sits comfortably inside the bottom of the backpack.

Antenna

Now that the drama was over regarding the Power pack, I could think about the whip.  I did not want a wimpy whip! (No one should rightly aspire to this, in my opinion). More FleaBay searches found me looking at Trucker parts.  Loaded whips, magnetic mounts, 10 foot tall MFJ telescoping whips, etc was looking a bit expensive.

Besides that, I cannot fit a 10 foot tall telescoping whip into the backpack, I am limited to at most 18 inches (and that is at an angle to fit it in there).  But I found an old-fashioned mirror mount that looked promising since it had a nice SO-239 connector at the bottom and standard CB antenna fitting on top of 3/8”-24.

Then I found the 44 inch SuperAntenna with the same threads; then found the replacement Stainless Steel Shafts for a Wilson antenna in different lengths (I ordered the 10 inch version to test).  With a couple of rod coupling nuts and I was ready for testing!

Test Locations

I had already scheduled a short vacation to Sleeping Bear Dunes on the thumb of Northwestern Michigan, so I took this test setup with my Sony ICF-2010. This area is a very nice remote National Lakeshore with minimal noise.  I tried a beach setting and a couple of hilltop picnic areas (including meeting a local Porcupine) and had very nice reception at all locations. The hilltop locations are approximately 400 – 600 feet above the Lake (yes, the Dunes are THAT big there!).

Meeting a local Porcupine

Later on, I went to Grand Haven, MI on the way home and stopped at their very lovely beach.

Reception was just as good as the hilltop locations at Sleeping Bear! In both areas, I was next to a large body of water (in this case, Lake Michigan) and makes for an advantageous place for DXing!  I had also stopped at a Rest Area off the highway and that was a terrible place even though it was electrically quiet but nowhere near the big Lake. I guess the rumors are true about being near a large body of water somehow enhances reception of weak signals–?

I will submit recordings later since I lost the mini-B cable for the Sony digital recorder and had to order a replacement.  However, this was a nice project that freed up some space inside the backpack. I will add an 18 inch extension to the whip that will give me a total length of 72 inches.  Plus, it is mounted 12 inches up on the poly cutting board and I place the backpack on a small hunters folding chair that is about 24 inches tall. So, the tip will be about 9 feet off the ground.

Not pictured but I was also able to easily fit inside a used CCrane Twin Coil Ferrite antenna for mediumwave use that also performed very well.  I noticed that the picnic benches at some locations are made of metal, so that gives me a future idea of trying to leverage that to use as a ground plane somehow.  The battery pack is heavy but also gives great ballast to the backpack and will not tip over. Cannot wait for the Tecsun S-8800 to arrive so I can try leaving the radio inside the bag and just use the remote control to tune!

Happy Listening,

TomL

Parts List


As always, I’m so impressed with your spirit of radio adventure, Tom! I love the fact that your goal is to make a field-deployable DX kit that isn’t cumbersome or time-consuming to set up on site. I imagine you only need a couple of minutes to open the pack and have it on the air. 

Those DXing spots are stunning! I had no idea one could find 400-600′ dunes in NW Michigan–! With that said, I’ve heard that part of the state is one of exceptional natural beauty.  If you could somehow turn the lake into a body of salt water–thus increasing ground conductivity–you’d really enhance that already impressive reception! I’m guessing that sort of project would be a bit outside your budget! Ha ha!  That and the freshwater fish might protest!

To me, there is no better way to enjoy radio than finding a nice RF quiet spot in the great outdoors…no matter where you live in the world. On top of that, Tom, you’re constantly building, experimenting, documenting and sharing your findings–you’re a true radio zealot! Huzzah!

Post readers: Read Tom’s past contributions and articles by clicking here.

Gary pulls apart and examines the XHDATA D-808


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares the following report of the XHDATA D-808:


XHDATA D-808 AM-LW-FM-SW-AIR Portable- Tech Report

by Gary DeBock

The XHDATA D-808 portable is an AM-LW-FM-SW-SSB-AIR band model which has already been the subject of many excellent reviews. Until recently the model was not marketed to North American purchasers, but recently a couple of Chinese sellers have started soliciting North American buyers via eBay listings.

My own interest in the model was in comparing its AM Band performance to that of the best performing Ultralight radios– specifically the CC Skywave and Skywave SSB models. Although the D-808 is slightly larger than the 20 cubic inch limit for Ultralight radios, its size and weight make it very convenient to take along as a “travel portable,” specifically as an SSB-enhanced model capable of checking transoceanic station carrier strength on exotic ocean beaches. The Skywave SSB model can also do that– but at a $169.99 list price, compared to the $112.86 (plus $10 shipping) cost of the D-808. In addition, none of the published D-808 reviews seemed to have any information about internal components like the loopstick, or Si4735 DSP chip.

My first test was to compare the stock Skywave SSB model with the D-808 in fringe AM station reception. The Skywave SSB model has a reputation of being one of the most sensitive Ultralight radios, but the D-808 clearly outperformed it on both low band fringe station (550-KARI) and high band fringe station (1700-City of Auburn TIS) reception. The D-808 couldn’t quite hang with a 7.5″ loopstick Skywave model, but that only made me curious about how the same modification could enhance the D-808. So… it was time to disassemble the D-808, and find out why its loopstick was such a superior performer.

The D-808’s 3 7/8″ (98mm) loopstick is shown adjacent to the 2 3/4″ (70mm) loopstick of the CC Skywave models. The D-808 is much easier to disassemble than the CC Skywave models, though, so enhanced loopstick transplants should prove to be quite popular in the D-808.

The D-808 loopstick is 3.7/8″ (98mm) long, while that of the CC Skywave SSB model is only 2 3/4″ (70mm) long. Other reviewers have noted the excellent performance of the D-808 on the AM band, and this is probably one of the main reasons. The SSB mode operates very similar to that of the Skywave SSB in providing a quick check of carrier strength on weak AM band targets– the LSB mode can be set to +55, and the radio tuned to different frequencies to check fringe station carrier strength. This can provide a real-time check of propagation changes during time-limited propagation openings for live ocean beach DXing with Ultralight radios or other portables (or with the D-808 itself, if desired).

The D-808’s Si4735 DSP chip was initially used in the Eton Traveler III Ultralight radio model, which was fully reviewed in the 2015 Ultralight Radio Shootout (where it won top honors for MW sensitivity). The D-808 augments that capability with a significantly longer loopstick, plus multiple DSP filtering selections. As such, the D-808 in stock form should be a very superb performer.

The Si4735 DSP chip has markings of “3560, DCUL, .738” and provides a wide range of AM bandwidth choices for the Medium Wave DXer (6K, 4K, 3K, 2.5K, 2K, 1.8K and 1K). These perform very well, and as with the other DSP-enhanced portables, the narrowest bandwidth (1K) provides the most sensitive AM band reception.

In construction very similar to that of the CC Skywave, the D-808 separates into two main circuit boards, connected together by a plug-in ribbon cable. One strange quirk is that the Si4735 DSP chip is located on the RF board (close to the center right edge). The Si4735 DSP chip is also used in the Eton Traveler III Ultralight radio, and although that model lacks the multiple DSP filter selections of the D-808, is has been the subject of highly successful 7.5″ loopstick transplant modifications– proving that such enhanced Medium Wave and Longwave loopsticks will perform very well in the new, Si4735 chip- powered D-808.

Disassembly of the D-808 model is fairly straightforward in comparison to the CC Skywave models, and the technician doesn’t need to memorize a detailed reassembly protocol in order to perform a routine loopstick transplant operation. Neither C.Crane nor XHDATA are likely to show any sympathy to someone botching up an antenna transplant, so you need to be confident that that your skills are superior to those of the company technicians before taking the plunge. In the CC Skywave and CC Skywave SSB models various parts fit together like a puzzle, but the D-808 isn’t like that. It should prove to be a fairly popular model for enhanced MW and LW loopsticks.

Those considering a purchase of the D-808 should be advised that its type 18650 Li-ion 3.7v battery is not commonly available at most stores, and that Postal regulations supposedly forbid shipping these batteries through the mail. One of the eBay sellers (harelan ecommerce) did manage to ship me two of the standard XHDATA type 18650 batteries through the mail (along with two new D-808 models) but if your seller won’t do this, you can still purchase the batteries on eBay. Some of the 18650 batteries sold on eBay have a flat positive terminal which won’t contact the D-808 cabinet’s positive battery connector terminal, but in such a case you can simply insert a #8 lockwasher in between the two, and the arrangement will be very secure. From that point on you can simply recharge the battery with a USB terminal connector.


Thank you for sharing this technical overview of the XHDATA D-808, Gary! I’m looking forward to the antenna mods you’ll no doubt make to this compact DX machine!

Click here to read other posts about the XHDATA D-808 and here to read posts by Gary DeBock.

A full report from Gary DeBock’s Cook Islands (Aitutaki) Ultralight DXpedition

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares the following notes from his Cook Islands Ultralight DXpedition:


“Frequent Flyer” FSL antenna – Lagoon beach DXing setup photo

Checking out transoceanic DX propagation at an exotic ocean beach site can provide the hobby thrill of a lifetime– if a DXer is lucky enough to choose the ideal time, place and gear to make the chase. All of these fell into place in an amazing way during a 5-day trip to Aitutaki Island (2600 miles due south of Hawaii) with Ultralight radio gear, resulting in the reception of MW stations in India, Bangladesh, Mongolia and Cambodia– all at over 6,800 miles.

Because of extensive QRM from Australia and New Zealand the total number of Asian stations received was limited, but it was definitely a case of quality over quantity. Phenomenal gray line propagation around sunrise shut down Japanese signals almost completely, but boosted up those from the exotic countries in east and south Asia. Korean station reception was limited to the big guns, which was also primarily true for Chinese signals. Except for the ANZ pest QRM, the conditions seemed custom-designed for a west coast DXer to go after the exotic stations which rarely– if ever– show up in BC, Washington or Oregon (even though the Cook Islands’ distance to them is greater).

7.5 inch loopstick C.Crane Skywave SSB Ultralight

Ocean beach propagation at sunrise was strong enough to bring in both 693-Bangladesh and 1431-Mongolia at S9 levels almost every morning on my Ultralight gear, and allow both 657-AIR and 918-Cambodia to break through ANZ QRM on April 12th. No doubt many more of these exotic stations could have been logged except for Australian QRM on 576, 594, 872, 883 and 1566, but this only added to the thrill of the chase. The overall results were exceptional for a DXer using only a 7.5 inch loopstick Ultralight radio and 5 inch “Frequent Flyer” FSL– all designed to fit within hand-carry luggage, and easily pass through airport security inspections. Thanks very much to Alokesh Gupta, Hiroyuki Okamura, Jari Lehtinen, Chuck Hutton and Bruce Portzer, who all assisted in the identification of these stations!

657 All India Radio Kolkata, India, 200 kW (8,075 miles/ 12,995 km) Recorded by accident during a sunrise check of the Korean big guns at 1641 on April 12, reception of this longest-distance station went unnoticed until file review after return to the States. The female speaker (in the Bengali language) is the third station in the recording, after the female vocal music from Pyongyang BS and the Irish-accented male preacher from NZ’s Star network. Her speech peaks around 40 to 50 seconds into the recording. The isolation of the Star network at the 55 second point was done by the Ultralight’s loopstick, not by the propagation. Thanks to Alokesh Gupta for the language and station identification:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

657 Pyongyang BS Pyongyang, N. Korea, 1500 kW Like most east Asian signals the N.K. big gun sounded pretty anemic in the Cook Islands. Its female vocal music at 1641 on April 12th shared the frequency with NZ’s Star network (Irish-accented preacher) and AIR’s female Bengali speaker:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

693 Bangladesh Betar Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1000 kW (7,960 miles/ 12,810 km) Probably the biggest surprise of the DXpedition, with S9 signal peaks on 4 out of 5 sunrise sessions. Frequently snarling with the Oz pest 3AW, it usually managed a few minutes on top of the frequency each morning from 1630-1700 UTC. Exotic South Asian music was the usual format, and was very easy to distinguish from the talk-oriented format of 3AW (and other Oz co-channels). This first appearance at 1652 on 4-10 featured a “Bangladesh Betar” ID by a male speaker at 8 seconds into the recording (thanks to Chuck Hutton for listening):

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

This was followed by a lot of exotic music until 3AW claimed the frequency just before the 1700 TOH:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

The next day (4-11) the exotic station was back with S9 peaks, including this typical music and female speaker at 1625:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

The exotic music from Bangladesh was in an S9 snarl with 3AW (and another Oz pest) from 1659 throughout the 1700 TOH on April 11th:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

774 JOUB Akita, Japan, 500 kW Oddly enough, this was the only Japanese signal making it to the island during the entire trip. Mixing with a goofy-sounding 3LO announcer at 1613 on 4-11, the Japanese female speech concerns a “doobutsuen” (a “zoo” in Japanese, similar to what the frequency sounded like with the 3LO announcer):

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

819 KCBS Pyongyang, N. Korea, 500 kW The N.K. big gun managed a potent signal for its 3+1 pips across its “TOH” at 1630 on 4-12 but never could shake off RNZ’s Tauranga transmitter:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

909 CNR6 Quanzhou, China, 300 kW Strong signal with CNR ID (1:08) and Mandarin speech by male and female announcers. NZ’s Star network was apparently off the air at the time, since it was a real blaster when transmitting:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

918 RNK Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 600 kW (6823 miles/ 10,981 km) Breaking through the Shandong and Oz QRM at an ideal time to dominate the frequency, its sign off transmission with the National Anthem peaked just before the 1700 TOH on April 12. Female speech in the Khmer language and exotic music are featured just before the anthem (thanks to Hiroyuki Okamura and Jari Lehtinen for listening, and identifying the National Anthem):

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

Chuck Hutton’s improved audio file of the same reception (thanks):

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

918 Shandong RGD Synchros (Multiple) The dominant Asian signal on the frequency, it rarely allowed Cambodia to sneak through. Here it is with female Mandarin speech at 1647 on 4-11:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

Shandong RGD’s transmitters were poorly synchronized, resulting in the two-tone time pips at the 1700 TOH on 4-12 (during Cambodia’s National Anthem at 1:40, in the MP3 linked below). Although actually from two different transmitters, the sound effect sounds similar to that of a “cuckoo clock,” resulting in some initial confusion about their source:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

972 HLCA Dangjin, S. Korea, 1500 kW The South Korean big gun played the part on most mornings, including this S9+ Korean female speech at 1631 on 4-12:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

981 CNR1 Synchros Changchun/ Nanchang, China, 200 kW/ 200 kW The first of three CNR1 frequencies which usually produced strong signals, this music // 1377 was received at 1624 on 4-12:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

1377 CNR1 Synchros (Various) Overall this was not only the strongest Chinese frequency on the band, but was the strongest Asian station on the band as well. Awesome S9+ signals were typical each morning, as with this male speech and music at 1622 on 4-12:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

Another potent signal from this Chinese blaster at 1640 on 4-12:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

1431 Mongolia (Relay Station) Choibalsan, Mongolia, 500 kW This station was easy to receive on the first attempt, with very little competition on the frequency. It typically managed an S9 signal after 1630 daily with the BBC’s Korean service, which seemed to be broadcast during the peak sunrise enhancement time in Aitutaki’s ocean-boosted propagation. Here is BBC’s Korean male announcer at an S9 level at 1632 on 4-11, with the BBC interval signal at 47 seconds into the recording:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

The Mongolian relay program prior to 1630 was also in Korean, with this female Korean speech at 1627 on 4-11:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

1566 HLAZ Jeju, S. Korea, 250 kW A very poor signal was typical during this trip, with the Chinese service barely showing up under 3NE and two other DU English stations (probably 4GM and Norfolk Island). Whenever 3NE was in a fade it had a chance, since other two co-channels were running very low power. Here is the latter situation, with the weak Chinese barely audible under the DU English snarl at 1641 on 4-12:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

1593 CNR1 Changzhou, China, 600 kW This was another Chinese blaster, with S9 signals typical every morning. Here it was at 1641 on 4-12 with male Chinese speech and music at 1377:

Click here to download an MP3 of this recording.

73 and Good DX,

Gary DeBock (DXing in Aitutaki, Cook Islands)


Amazing, Gary! Thank you for taking us along on your excellent Ultralight DXpedition. With a modest portable radio and a little antenna ingenuity, you’re enjoying some outstanding DX! You’re living proof of the point I was trying to make in a post yesterday!

Thanks again, Gary, and good DX! 

Don’t buy into the doom-and-gloom: Low sunspots are not the end of DXing!

In response to the spaceweather.com article about a lack of sunspots I posted yesterday, SWLing Post contributor, Rob Wagner (VK3BVW), replies:

Oh Thomas! Really?
It’s not all doom-and-gloom, you know! The low-frequency part of the SW spectrum is proving very good value at the moment. And the mediumwave guys are telling me that there’s plenty of DX to be had in that part of the RF spectrum.
And yesterday, I had some FT8 success!
From southeastern Australia on a dipole with 5w getting into Plymouth, Minnesota on 14mHz in the mid-afternoon here. Not bad at all for the bottom of the sunspot cycle!

Ha ha! Thanks for your reply, Rob! Honestly, I wasn’t trying to spread doom-and-gloom, rather I was pointing out how low this sunspot cycle has gone. (Okay, so perhaps I was also shaking my fist at our local star!)

I completely agree with you Rob. It’s not all doom-and-gloom! Here are a few strategies for working DX during sunspot lows:

Go low!

Sunspots really enhance propagation on the higher HF bands:  especially 17 meters and higher. Without supspots, you’re not going to reliably snag serious DX on 10 meters, for example–there will be the occasional opening, but it might not last long. During sunspot cycle peaks, the higher bands provide outstanding DX opportunities even with a modest setup.

During one peak, I’ll never forget sitting in my car in North Carolina, with a RadioShack 10 meter mobile radio connected to a mag mount antenna, and having a three way chat with a ham in Sandiego, CA and one in Glasgow, Scotland.

With that said, even this year I’ve snagged some excellent DX on 17 meters (my favorite HF band). And, as you point out Rob, 20 meters is a great band for snagging serious DX even with no sunspots giving you a boost.

Openings between the US and Australia happen routinely on the 40 meter band as well, although some of us might have to wake up early or go to bed late to participate.

Of course all of this same advice applies for SWLing. Most of the DX I snag these days is found on the 25 meter band and lower. I’ve also been using this opportunity to explore Mediumwave DXing.

Digital Modes

Kim Elliott and I had an exchange about this yesterday on Twitter. Some digital modes are so robust they seem to work regardless of propagation.

Kim knows this well as he receives reception reports from Shortwave Radiogram listeners across the globe each week.

If you’re a ham radio operator, I strongly encourage you to check out the latest “weak signal” digital modes: JT65 and, especially, FT8.

In fact, SWLing Post contributor, Robert Gulley (AK3Q), wrote an excellent introduction to these modes in the June 2017 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

Robert and I talk about the FT8 mode frequently. Since I discovered this mode at the 2017 W4DXCC conference, I’ve been hooked. Sure–it lacks the nuances of phone and CW, but it’s incredibly fun to watch my flea-powered signal acknowledged by someone on the other side of the planet with a flea-powered signal.

As Robert will tell you, FT8 seems to defy propagation theory. I agree wholeheartedly.

I’ve worked some of my best DX with this mode during the sunspot low and have never used more than 15 watts out of my Elecraft KX3 and KX2.

Don’t give up!

Although propagation was poor, I worked more stations during National Parks On The Air than I had worked the entire time I’ve been a ham radio operator. All in the field with modest portable antennas and 15 watts or less.

Use the sunspot low as an excuse to explore frequencies and modes you’ve never used before. Use this as an opportunity to improve your listening skills and the most important part of your listening post or ham station–your antenna system!

I regularly get email from people who’ve found the SWLing Post and take the time to write a message to me complaining about the death of shortwave radio: the lack of broadcasters, the prevalence of radio interference and the crummy propagation.

My reply?

“Hey…sounds like radio’s not your thing!”

While this same person is moaning and complaining, I’ll be on the radio logging South American, Asian and African broadcast stations.

I’ll be working DX with QRP power, even though everyone tells me that’s not possible right now.

I’ll be improving my skill set and trying new aspects of our vast radio world.

You see: I’ve learned that the complainers aren’t actually on the air. They gave up many moons ago because someone told them it wasn’t worth it, or they simply lost interest. That’s okay…but why waste time complaining? Go find something else that lights your fire!

While these folks are complaining, I’ll be on the air doing all of the things they tell me I can’t do.

Rob, thanks for your comment!

Everyday Carry: My EDC packs and radio kit

SWLing Post contributor, Matt, writes:

Thomas: I know you’re a self-proclaimed pack geek and so am I! You published a photo of your EDC pouch in a post last year. Just a teaser really! What is that pouch and I assume you have a larger carry bag as well? Can you provide more details? I’m ever revising and honing my own EDC pack. Any details would be appreciated.

Thanks for your question Matt!  Besides radio, you’re bringing up on one of my favorite topics: packs! You may regret having asked me!

Yesterday evening, I snapped a few photos of my EDC (Everyday Carry) bag and the pouch you’re referring to. Your inquiry is prompting me to consider publishing a more detailed look at my EDC gear–especially since radio is such an important part of it.

I do carry a larger EDC bag at all times. Typically, this is the Tom Bihn Pilot:

For years, I carried a Timbuk2 messenger bag, but it didn’t have the type of organization I prefer in an EDC bag. My EDC bag must be rugged, water resistant and accommodate my 13″ MacBook Air while still having enough depth to comfortably fit the rest of my gear.

I’ve been using the Tom Bihn Pilot for almost a year and have been very pleased. The Pilot is an investment to be sure, but (like Red Oxx) Tom Bihn construction quality is superb and comes with a lifetime warranty.

It’s amazing how much gear will comfortably fit inside without making the bag bulge. The Pilot also has a dedicated water bottle pocket in the middle of the front panel. While I do carry water, it primarily houses my never-leave-home-without-it Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug (affiliate link) which is filled with piping hot dark roasted coffee!

I also use the water bottle pocket to hold full-sized handled VHF/UHF radios. It accommodates either my Kenwood TH-F6, Yaesu FT2D, or Anytone AT-D868UV perfectly. Indeed, all of the front pockets will accommodate an HT since the zippers terminate at the top of the bag. Long antennas can easily poke out while the zipper still seals 99% of the opening.

The Pilot has one main compartment that houses my 13″ MacBook Air laptop.

The Pilot laptop compartment is spacious and has two built-in pockets opposite the laptop sleeve: one of these pockets (the one on the right in the photo above) holds my EDC pouch, the other holds first aid supplies, an Olight SR1 flashlight and Nitecore LA10 latern (affiliate link). My laptop is in a TSA-friendly Tom Bihn Cache.

While the Tom Bihn Pilot is the bag I use most days, also use a Red Oxx Micro Manager and–when I need 25 liters of capacity–the Tom Bihn Synapse 25.

I pack most of my EDC gear in pouches, so moving from one bag to another takes me all of one minute.

My EDC pouch is the Maxpedition Fatty Pocket Organizer (affiliate link). I love this pouch because it’s incredibly durable, affordable and opens like a clam shell to lay flat.

Everything has its place. Not only does it hold my Yaesu VX-3R handheld, but also a multi-function knife, a Leatherman Style PS tool, clippers, earphones, multi-bit screwdriver, USB stick, notepad, spare VX-3R battery, a mini first aid kit, titanium spork, and much more! Someday I’ll pull the whole thing apart and note each item.

Why do I choose the Yaesu VX-3R? First of all, it’s compact. This HT is so small it’ll tuck away anywhere. Not only is it dual band, but it’ll also receive the AM broadcast band (even has a little ferrite bar inside), the shortwave bands, and the FM broadcast band.

The mini rubber duck antenna will work in a pinch, but I also carry a flexible Diamond SRH77CA in the floor of the Tom Bihn Pilot’s main compartment.

When I attach the Diamond antenna, it significantly increases the VX-3R’s capabilities.

While the VX-3R does cover the HF bands, don’t expect amazing performance. Selectivity is poor, but sensitivity is adequate. For a shortwave antenna, I carry a short length of coax: one end is terminated with an SMA connector, the other has the center conductor exposed.

I also carry a short alligator clip cable which I clip to the exposed center conductor and then to a length of wire. The end result is a very cheap, flexible and effective portable HF antenna!

Someday, I’ll take everything out of my EDC pack, inventory the contents and publish a post about it. Somehow, that’ll please my inner pack geek! I’m overdue a review of the Tom Bihn PIlot and Synapse 25.

Post readers: Do you have an EDC pack built around a radio? Please comment and include links to your favorite gear!