This blog has been primarily about backpacking, hiking and camping since I started writing about 15 months ago. However, from the beginning, it was intended to cover amateur radio as well. In recent months I’ve been incorporating some amateur radio-related topics -slowly but surely I’m developing my radio legs! 😉
Most original readers are hikers and backpackers, but several are also amateur radio operators with an interest in the outdoors as well. More recently many newer readers are radio operators first, but quite a few are also hikers and backpackers. Many of the original readers know nothing about amateur radio -just like me 18 months ago! My guess is that over the next six months my readership will grow in the radio demographic, and I expect over half of them will be primarily low-power, QRP radio operators who take their radio(s) into the outdoors -combining their radio and hiking/backpacking pursuits. One big, happy family sharing their adventures on the trail along with their varied radio-related technologies, applications and adventures.
My regular readers come from the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom, but some appear from some of the most unexpected places on earth. I don’t know how they find me, but I appreciate them, one and all. Many are bloggers, and I learn something from them with every post I read -they’ve all been at it for awhile! They describe new hikes that I will someday take just because I read their blog, or their descriptions of new radio technologies they are using, sometimes experimentally. Things I am considering doing, largely because of their blog documentation. I compare notes and experiences. It’s actually exciting!
I do enjoy hiking and backpacking, and plan to continue with it as long as possible. A couple of years ago however, I decided I’d incorporate amateur radio into the hiking activities. I knew it would take awhile, but last fall I purchased a Yaseu FT-817ND Multi-Mode Portable Transceiver that provides low-power output -a QRP unit providing up to 5 watts of power output. It will operate on the 160-10 meter HF bands, plus the 6 meter, 2 meter and 70 cm bands, while including single side band (SSB) and digital modes like PSK31 which I plan to use at some point in the future. And this is just a partial list of features. This ‘low-power’ radio can make connections hundreds and thousands of miles distant, depending upon frequencies used, mode and solar conditions. The 817ND is known as ‘The Ultimate Backpacker!’ The entire package weighs in at 2.58 lbs. (1.17 kg.) The light weight is important to backpackers and hikers. Higher power radios require bigger batteries, and they get heavy fast!
These low-power, QRP radios require only a small battery, antenna and possibly a small portable solar collector to recharge the battery (another few pounds) -and they’re ready to go. I’ve already got the batteries, parts for my home-brew antenna, but no solar collector yet for the 817. Getting close!
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the fox hunt. I like a good introduction to the main topic, and we’re almost there! One more connection between the radios and hiking/backpacking –Summits On The Air (SOTA).
I’ve discussed (SOTA) activities in recent posts, where a transceiver (transmitter and receiver) like the 817, is carried to a mountaintop/high overlook site to make contacts with other amateur operators below, for miles around. In SOTA contests the planned site activations are published for SOTA followers to follow, thus publicizing the event (time/place/frequency, etc.) See 2017 North America SOTA Events posted on 1-5-17 by Bob K0NR. An activator activates the mountain top by transmitting on the planned frequency, and chasers are on the ground below trying to find (chase) the activators radio signals and make contact. The contacts may range from 10 or 20 miles to hundreds or even thousands -depending upon equipment, frequency, mode and solar conditions. Name, call sign, and signal reports are exchanged and documented in a log for personal and contest purposes.
Many bloggers post about their activations, like this one describing the First SOTA Activation of Mount Richthofen (12,940′). SOTA will be another one of my connections between hiking, backpacking and amateur radio. I’m studying to upgrade my license to General within the next couple of months, which will allow me broader access to the radio frequency spectrum.
As I get older and the hikes shorter, I can spend more time on the radio in the great outdoors, meeting people across the country and beyond our borders via radio, making friends and learning about other great places to visit -all the while improving my radio skills! Perhaps I’ll even improve my Spanish!
As for the amateur radio fox hunt, referenced above -it’s simply another way for me to connect my expanding radio knowledge with the great outdoors while including more opportunities to meet new friends, and use the radio technology in new ways in everyday life. More options and choices are always good, they keep life interesting!
Fox Hunts are centered on Radio Direction Finding (RDF). During World War II considerable effort was expended on identifying secret transmitters in the United Kingdom (UK) by using radio direction finding. The secret transmissions were often sent by German agents.
Hidden transmitter hunting can be done mobile or on foot, out in the woods or in the middle of small towns or large cities; even by air. You must to be able to read maps and take/set bearings, in addition to using radio technology- transmitters, receivers, antennas and more. It can be a complicated undertaking or a relatively simple exercise, but either way it requires radio and orienteering skills –maps, compass/GPS and triangulation, and radio equipment. Many of the conventional skills used by hikers and backpackers are used in RDF. And as you might guess, special equipment has been developed to facilitate RDF, home-built varieties as well as commercially available equipment.
Amateur radio operators use RDF to find jamming stations, locate lost hikers (search and rescue), and even to find stolen equipment. Preppers and survivalists may use RDF techniques to monitor their surroundings for unusual radio frequency interference and/or to help hide their radio transmissions via limiting their transmitting power, altering frequencies used and time of transmission. They may use directional antennas and mobile positions –tactics also used by military and police forces globally as well. It’s a cat and mouse game, sometimes referred to as wolf and hound. A recommended paperback reference on RDF is: Transmitter Hunting: Radio Direction Finding Simplified, by Moell and Curlee, 1987.
Amateur Radio Direction Finding is also known as ARDF. There are international radio-orienteering rules for competitions, and many amateur radio clubs in the U.S and throughout the world sponsor their own competitions, usually known as ‘fox hunts’ utilizing various frequency bands in the radio spectrum.
As an example, the ‘York Region (GTA) Fox Hunt 2 – 17′ is scheduled to take place on March 25th, 2017 in a small town just north of Toronto. Start time is 9:00 a.m, duration of the hunt is not to exceed 2 hours, and the Fox must transmit using 1 watt power output. The Hounds start at a local McDonalds. Transmit frequency and boundaries of the hunt are also specified, along with complete contest rules. Further information is available here.
In the case of the above Fox Hunt in Canada, ARRL has information available regarding U.S citizens transmitting from Canada. The US and Canada share an automatic reciprocal operating agreement. US amateurs must carry proof of their US citizenship and their valid US amateur license. Identification for US amateurs is their US call separated by a stroke and the appropriate Canadian prefix identifier (e.g. N1KB/VE3).
Photos credit to wiki.org
73 de Mike, KEØGZT