Survival & Emergency Preparedness

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This afternoon I took a walk with my daughter Amanda and had her take this picture of me wearing the French surplus parka that I wrote about last week.


The conditions were about 25 degrees F. with some wind and snow. Underneath the parka I had on a long sleeve T-shirt, a cotton flannel shirt, a Cabela’s Primaloft 100 jacket, and a knit cap. I was quite comfortable. The French surplus jacket kept out the wind and protected most of my face even when I was walking into the wind. This parka definitely gets two thumbs up from me.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 21, 2015, 8:29 pm

Back in 2011 Rod Teague of the Liberty Tree blog posted his tutorial on how to build what he calls the “Hellcat” ALICE pack. The Hellcat ALICE combines parts from recent MOLLE II rucksacks with the old standby ALICE pack. It’s an excellent blend of modern and older technology and has proven to be popular among bushcrafters and survivalists.

One of my goals for 2015 is to do a bushcrafty camping trip where I hike into a campsite and carry all I need on my back. To do so I need rucksack larger than what I had, so last weekend I picked up a large ALICE in very nice shape, and then ordered parts to build my own Hellcat.

The parts all arrived this week and I put it together today.  Here is it shown with my USGI Military Sleep System inside to provide some shape to it.


The MOLLE II waist belt and shoulder straps came from eBay vendors. I also wanted to replace the antiquated metal sliders on the compression and pocket straps with Fastex buckles. For these, I ordered a repair kit from Amazon.

The buckles arrived first so that was the first mod that I tackled. The original metal sliders need to be removed from the ruck first, without damaging the existing straps. I used a set of Wiss aviation snips to clip them off. You can also use a Dremel with a cutoff wheel. With the old sliders removed you can install the repair buckles. You’ll need five of the 1” wide on a large ALICE; the kit comes with four. For the last one I used a buckle that I had in my junk pile and used the snips to cut a slot like the one found on the repair buckles. It’s the black one on the middle pouch, below.


For additional security I put a cable tie around each short strap where it snaps to the pocket.

The Fastex buckles make opening and closing the pockets a lot easier, and allows you to move the lid out of the way much better than the original sliders. Even if you don’t do the full Hellcat mod the Fastex buckle mod is very worthwhile.

The MOLLE II shoulder strap kit that I got is a bit different from the one shown in the original tutorial. The design probably evolved over time. The frame attachment straps are different so I had to come up with a slightly different way to attach the shoulder strap yoke to the frame. The load lifter straps are just threaded under the top frame bar, through the loops on the frame, then secured in place with the Fastex buckles.


The web straps had a couple areas that were folded over and stitched so that the webbing was three times the thickness of the unfolded webbing. I carefully removed this stitching so I could thread it through the buckles and give me a little more length. To make threading the webbing easier, I cut each end on an angle then fused the ends with a lighter. The short connector straps that come with the shoulder strap assembly were discarded after removing the buckles, which were used as shown above.

The shoulder strap assembly that I got has a different long middle strap from the one described by Teague. Instead of a Fastex buckle it has an ALICE-type metal slider, and I believe the webbing is shorter.  After removing the slider I had to come up with a way to attach it to the middle of the frame. I settled on using a couple cable ties:


I may replace these cable ties with some 550 cord or beefier ties.

The bottom of each shoulder strap is threaded through the round hole on either side of the ALICE frame at its base. This also shows a side view of how the waist belt is attached to the frame.


And here’s a top view of the waist belt attachment. You thread the attachment straps through the same loops on the frame that the ALICE kidney pad uses, and then secure them with the buckles on the pad.


The waistbelt is the most important part of the conversion for making the ALICE carry like a modern pack. Properly adjusted it allows you to transfer most of the weight you’re carrying from your shoulders to your hips.  There’s a little movement in the attachment but we’ll have to see if it’s a problem under load.

The final component of the Hellcat conversion is the MOLLE Sleep System Carrier. This is a bag that straps onto the bottom and which holds your sleeping bag. I haven’t yet obtained one but will be ordering one shortly. At first I thought I might be able to compress my MSS down and just carry it in the main compartment, but doing takes up pretty much the whole thing. So, I’ll get the carrier bag and strap it onto the bottom.

Were I to starting out all over with this project, I’d order a Hellcat conversion kit including the straps, waistbelt, and sleeping bag carrier. One place to get such a kit, an ALICE with conversion kit, or a complete Hellcat is The Old Grouch’s Military Surplus.

The Hellcat and Fastex buckle mods greatly improve the performance of the ALICE pack, making for a low cost alternative for recreational backpacking or your bugout bag.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 21, 2015, 8:22 pm

The  German surplus flecktarn camoflage Sympatex parka with a that I’ve used for several years as a rough-use waterproof outer layer was in need of replacement.  The last time I wore it I got wet. While I might be able to revive its water repellency, a few weeks ago I ordered a French surplus Gore-Tex parka in the “CCE” camo pattern from CTD to replace it.

Note: The parka isn’t, as far as I know, made with actual Gore-Tex. Rather, it’s a similar moisture vapor permeable membrane.

The parka I received was made in 2005 and is in unissued condition.

The French CCE camo is obviously based on the American Woodland camo pattern, which in turn was based on the earlier M-1948 ERDL camo. Compared with Woodland, it a bit lighter, due to a large amount of a tan in the pattern.

The parka has several nice features:

  • Sealed seams.
  • A large, oversized hood. It looks like it’s meant so you can fit it over a helmet. This means you can fit it over pretty much any warm hat you might wear. The hood can be cinched down using elastic shock cords and an adjustment tab on the back. The hood can roll up into the collar, but it’s lumpy if you do so. I’m just going to leave it unrolled.
  • High collar that comes up about to your nose.
  • Two-way zipper covered by dual storm flaps.
  • Pit zips with two-way zippers.
  • Two large cargo pockets with zips and storm flaps.
  • Two Napoleon breast pockets that are protected by the the same storm flaps that cover the main zipper.
  • Elastic cinch cord at the lower hem.
  • Velcro-adjustable cuffs.

Click here for the gallery with full size pics.

Overall, the quality of workmanship appears very good. Between the high collar and huge hood, you can really button up for foul weather.

The parka is consists of three layers – the outer camo layer, the breathable membrane, and the inner layer with taped seams.

All the zippers are plastic but feel like they are high quality. The snaps are secure but easy to snap and unsnap. The adjustment bungees on the hood, collar, and hem all have cord locks.

On each upper arm there is Velcro patch about 1.75” x 2.5”, and 2” square Velcro patch on the front. Presumably, the shoulder patches are for flags or unit patches while the front Velcro is for rank insignia.

Sizing is a bit weird. For reference, I am 5’4” tall and weigh about 185 lbs. (damn gut), and have broad shoulders for my height. I wear a 33” sleeve. The XL parka fits me very well. There’s plenty of room for layering -- with a Polartec 300 SPEAR fleece it’s comfortable without feeling like I’m wearing a tent, without being binding.  The sleeves are about 34”, which isn’t too long for me. The lower hem reaches down to my mid-thigh. Normally, an American garment in XL would have sleeves a bit too long for me.

My first test of the parka was on one of my nightly walks around my subdivision. The temp was about 30*F with some wind and freezing rain. I was out for 36 minutes. (Thankfully, I made my circuit without falling and breaking my neck.)

With the SPEAR fleece for insulation, the French parka kept me dry and kept the wind out. The pit zips were easily worked once I started to warm up, and I was able to adjust the hood over my ball cap to keep out the rain. After getting back inside I noticed that there was actual ice frozen onto the outside of the parka.

I tried the parka again the following day. It was in the upper 30s but with gusts up to 10 MPH. Worn over a sweater it provided ample wind blocking.

Compared to the German Sympatex parka the French parka is much nicer. The pit zips help with temperature regulation and the hood allows for bulkier headwear underneath. The French parka’s cargo pockets are larger and it also has the two chest pockets. The French coat has a two-way zip while the German parka does not. Both jackets have Euro zippers, which are backwards compared with the zips used on American men’s clothing. A bit annoying, but c’est la vie.

As for the two parkas’ camo patterns, which one is better depends on where you are. Flecktarn is one of the best camo patterns available for wooded terrain. It works very well in the Pennsylvania hard woods. The French CCE camo hasn’t been available in the US for as long as flecktarn, so we’ll need to test it in the field.

I don’t know how the French parka would compare with a USGI Gore-Tex ECWCS parka, since I’ve never owner or used one. If a reader has experience with both, please post your impressions in a comment.

For $40 plus about $12 to $20 shipping, the French CCE parka is a good deal, if the sizing works for you. It’s well designed, well made, and should be rugged. I’m looking forward to using it as a shell for camping, hiking,shooting, and hunting in cooler weather.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 19, 2015, 2:03 am

IA Woodsman posted this video of a DIY emergency tarp shelter made from a mylar space blanket, a couple garbage bags, duct tape, and parachute core.

DIY Emergency Shelter
The advantage a tarp like this has over plain sheet of plastic is that the space blanket will reflect heat back down onto you. If you combine this with a wall made from logs or rocks on the other side of the fire from you, this greatly improves the heating ability of a campfire, and reduces the amount of fuel you need to stay warm.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 19, 2015, 1:51 am
The following was posted on by member "Harlikwin" on January 19, 2015.  Harlikwin is a ham with a great deal of experience operating QRP, manpack radios. He has generously given me permission to reproduce it here.

Lightweight Pack radios 

I’m writing this piece from the standpoint of needing a lightweight back-packable radio that I can take with me on overnight and several night outings so weight and power out are critical considerations.My definition of lightweight is that I will use the target weight of approximately 5lbs or less to design a lightweight packable radio system (minus antennas) capable of SSB use.

Thoughts on power 

One thing I will talk about is what I consider useable power levels, and I acknowledge that this topic is highly divisive so I’ll put down my opinions on it and people can disagree with me if they like (and I know they will). I will begin with a simple fact: nearly all of the worlds militaries have for four decades decided on a ~20-30W power level for their portable SSB backpack radios as the best compromise for reliable man portable SSB HF communications and in my opinion for reliable SSB work this is probably the best compromise between power out and weight and power consumption. However, very few of the examples examined here offer a full 20W output as a stock configuration, so some sort of amplifier is required. I will fully acknowledge that SSB contacts CAN be made with very little power under the right conditions, been there done that, but in general it is my experience that there is a big difference between making SSB contacts with 5W and 20W, not merely the measly 1 S unit of power as many folks with come back with as a counterpoint. I will break it down as saying as 5W SSB is great for CW and data modes such as PSK31 but generally unsuitable for making reliable SSB comms. 10W of power is again great for CW and data but still a bit marginal for SSB. In my opinion and experience, 20W+ is the best range for low power SSB under most ionospheric conditions. That being said I will jump in and examine the commonly available options in the new and used ham radio market, the list isn’t meant to be comprehensive but I feel like I’ve covered most of the basic rigs available.

The configurations 

I will discuss 3 different configurations, the base radio and what it weighs (with batteries) and then 20W and 50W configurations with an outboard amplifier. For the sake of comparison I have chosen the MX-P50 Chinese amplifier and a Zippy 4.2Ah LiFePo4 external battery and various elecraft or LDG ATUs (noted) for the comparison to keep the configurations simple, all weights posted include internal batteries if available as well. Certainly one can decide if 4.2Ah is enough capacity to run the system for the required time, but I’ve used it as convenient placeholder. It should be noted the amplifier listed does require a very good antenna match, hence all configurations will include an ATU. Alternately I suppose you could use a perfectly matched antenna, but in practice in the field its too much of a pain IMO, a tuner is the same weight or less and much easier to use.

The contenders 

Elecraft KX3 HF+6m 

The KX3 is often bandied about as the do it all super lightweight wonder radio for backpacking, SOTA and other lightweight activities. It certainly boasts a lot of great features such as IF DSP, internal ATU and batteries and fancy things like CW/PSK31 decode, AND it is lightweight and compact to boot. Unfortunately the advertised weight is listed without internal batteries, or optional things like an ATU or optional 2m radio module or extra filters or the “optional” mic so it is a bit misleading. Also unadvertised is the fact that to realize its full 10W of output power it does require an external 13.8vdc power source. With those two caveats however it is still very lightweight and does put out a very usable 10W of power. With an external LiFePo4 battery and internal batteries and ATU option the weight comes in at 3.4lbs for 10W output which has the best power to weight and volume ratio at that power option of the radios listed. Adding an external 20 or 50W amplifier is certainly an option however to my knowledge one must also add an external tuner to utilize it with the KX3. With a MX-P50M tuner and outboard T1 or Z817H ATU the weight climbs to 4.9lbs and 5.5lbs for 20W/50W respectively, we can use the outboard battery to run the amplifier and the internal batteries to run the radio. The one area where the KX3 does fall short compared to all the other options is cost, the price for the various configurations is roughly double that for any other configuration running from about 1430 for a loaded (ATU/Filters/mic) base configuration to about 1800 for a configuration with the amplifier and external ATU.

Yaesu FT817 HF/VHF/UHF

The FT817 was the first QRP radio marketed as such, with a very small footprint for the base radio and a 5W power output, achievable on internal batteries, it took the low power world by storm. However almost all later radios had 10W+ power output after folks became frustrated by the FT817’s lack of SSB performance, also partly due to lack of power and any sort of speech processing which should absolutely be included (easily fixed by aftermarket mics or kits). It should be noted that the FT817 is the only radio reviewed that can cover the whole frequency range from HF to UHF, which may make it attractive to some. The base configuration with batteries weighs in at 2.5lbs for 5W of performance (I should note the kx3 is a bit lighter ~2lbs running 5W). For effective HF SSB performance the FT817 benefits the most from an outboard amplifier, using theMXP50A amp and a LDG Z817/Z817H tuners one gets weights of 5.5 and 6lbs for 20W/50W respectively. Essentially the FT817 is half a pound more than the KX3 at every turn and volumetrically comparable to the KX3 configurations. Cost wise it depends, used FT817’s vary widely from ~300-600 USD so the configurations can run from 800 (assuming a 450 base cost) to ~1000 USD depending on if one gets a new or used FT817 to start off with.

Icom IC703/703+ HF+6m 

The ICOM703 comes in a 10W configuration with a built in narrow range autotuner. This was a very popular radio for some time but was discontinued by ICOM for some reason. At first glance it is very comparable to the KX3, though the KX3 boasts features like IF DSP vs AF DSP and CW/PSK decoding. Also the stock IC703 with external battery (no internal batts) weighs in at a hefty 5.5lbs and volumetrically is comparable to the 20 and 50W configurations of the FT817. If we start adding things like the amplifier and external ATU the weight rapidly climbs out of “lightweight” territory. The 703 isn’t a terrible choice if you can find one cheaply, and it is nicely integrated aside from the external battery, its just going to be a bit heavier than other options. For those interested add about 2.5lbs to add the 50W amplifier and Z817H tuner for a final weight of ~8lbs and about double the volume. Cost wise since its discontinued varies quite a bit, anywhere from 500-700 on auction sites in the authors experience and then 50 dollars for the battery, in this sense it’s a pretty good deal if one decides 10W is all that is required for the user and one doesn’t need the fancy features and light weight of the KX3.

SGC SG2020 HF only 

The SGC SG2020 is sort of the oddball, like the 703 it is no longer produced, it had a mixed repuatation for problems and perhaps that is why it is no longer made. It is a genuine 20-25W radio though it also needs an external battery to run and an ATU is again recommended to match field antennas. In a configuration with our battery and a lightweight elecraft T1 ATU the weight comes in right at 6lbs; not terrible given the power out it compares reasonably well to the amplified KX3 and FT817 based configurations in terms of weight and volume. Cost wise since its discontinued varies quite a bit, anywhere from 500-700 in the authors experience and then 50 dollars for the battery and $160 for theT1 ATU.

Youkits TJ5A 4 HF bands only 

A recent interesting offering from youkits targeted at the SOTA and backpacking crowd and running 20W power out. The base rig is fairly barebones, but it is offered with a clip on 4AH LiIon battery pack. Combine this with an T1 ATU and the rig becomes a very lightweight 4.3lb 20W rig, it has a superior power to weight ratio at the 20W power level to every other rig examined. It is fairly basic however and does not cover all bands, it comes in two configurations of 40/20/15/10m and 40/20/17/15m or fancy things such as speech processing (though one presumes this could be user added like on the FT817). The fully assembled radio with T1 ATU and battery comes in at 610 making the cheapest option.


No discussion of QRP radios would be complete without discussing antennas. There are a ton of options in this regard, from ultra-lightweight wires to fancy portable vertical systems such as the buddistick and buddipole. From the authors standpoint of camping antennas, they have to be lightweight and fairly idiotproof. The paar EFZ trail friendly comes in at .5lbs advertised and will handle 25W power on 40/20/10m. If ones camping site has trees (this is not always possible for me) then it is an ideal antenna to take to throw in a tree. Comparable designs include the EARC antenna kit from Hawaii. The buddistick is another popular option, and one that can be emplaced without supports, though it weighs a bit more. It should be noted that while both of these options can be used without tuners in theory, in my experience the EFZ and other multiband designs will be mostly resonant on only one band and close on the others which necessitates some sort of ATU (unless one is very confident of their finals). It is a similar story for the buddistick, the swr will vary somewhat on the surrounding environment, therefore either an antenna analyzer or ATU is required for the best match and frankly the ATU’s weigh about the same as analyzers and are easier to use with presets for the buddistick.

Concluding thoughts. 

The right radio for someone really depends on primarily on budget and operating style. If you are a drive to your operating site and setup on the picknick table type of operator, a few pounds weight means absolutely nothing to you (why are you even reading this?). However, if one seeks the lightest weights possible at any cost and is willing to give up a bit of SSB power, the base KX3 with an external power pack is probably the best option. If one wants a highly flexible, highly modular and lightweight setup that can be heavily customized ala carte, the FT817 based platform is the best choice as it can run from a uber lightweight 2.5lb 5W CW rig to a 6lb 50W SSB rig and a variety of configurations in between. If one requires a cheap 20W SSB radio and lightweight, then the youkits offering is very tempting both in terms of price and performance though it is limited in terms of band coverage. However if budget and frequency coverage are desirable then the SG2020 and IC703’s if acquired at the right price can also be good choices.

What I’m doing in case you care 

I got into a used FT817 for a very good price a few years back, so frankly upgrading that has made a lot of sense for me since I didn’t pay anywhere near “new” prices. I really do like the flexibility of the platform, if I really need lightweight I can take the radio and the internal lithium pack I run and it is enough to work CW barefoot (or data if I did that sort of thing) for a few nights at a weight of 2.5lbs. I can add an outboard Z817 tuner or external battery if I’m concerned about antenna mismatches (and I usually am) or need more runtime for a pound more at 3.5lbs. And then If I feel I need more power, or need to take a SSB radio I can add the Z817 tuner MX-P50 amp and the zippy battery for a 5.5lb 20W out configuration (I use 20W since I am limited by my tuner and by battery life).

What I would do if I were starting from scratch 

If I were to do it using “new” components and had a pile of money to spend I would very seriously consider the KX3, it would be as good on SSB in the stock configuration (5w), but it would weigh a bit less (2lbs if numbers can be believed) and have an internal ATU compared to my current setup. If I decided I needed lightweight and a bit more power I just grab a battery pack which gets the weight to 3.4 lbs. Then if I decided I needed more talk power I’d grab the amp and outboard tuner for a weight of 5.5lbs and 20 or 50W out (assuming I used the Z817H tuner so I could run 50W). The only thing I would really give up vs the KX3 is the 440mhz capability, which I really don’t need in the wilds (though 2m has come in handy once in a while).

However, If I weren’t daddy warbucks, I would also very seriously consider the TJ5A as a runner up for a man portable SSB rig given its very low cost and high power output. The band limitations might bother me a bit, but realistically one can certainly get by without 80, 30 and 12m, and the 40/20/15/10m configuration nearly perfectly matches the paar EFZ.

What I wish one of the major manufactures would build. 

A waterproof(rainproof, not diveable), durable 20W all mode/band rig that weighs less than 5lbs and is compact with a wideband ATU and with an internal battery bay or clip on Lithium battery pack that can run the rig for an hour or two on SSB (say about the size of the IC703 with battery included max). There should be a provision for vertically mounted HF whip for manpack use, and possibly a separate VHF/UHF whip (though that could be switched internally I suppose) and a front panel mounted BNC connector. There should be a 3 position switch VHF/HF/BNC to indicate where the active antenna is connected. Also there should be effective DSP, and there should be a USB connector for DATA. And it should cost no more than currently priced FT817
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: January 20, 2015, 9:23 pm

I found this for $20 this morning at Home Depot in the tools section.

Compared with the wire strippers found in most electronics kits it's a lot more robust. It'll work as pliers, wire strippers, wire cutters, cutters for small bolts, wire loop benders, and a reamer. It looks like it would be a good addition to a go box or the ham shack., aside from home improvement and repair projects.

Edit to add: If you can’t find them locally, they are $23.95 on Amazon Prime.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: January 19, 2015, 7:42 pm
Yesterday the CB antenna mirror mount that I ordered after I determined that my homebrew mount was too flimsy arrived. This morning I put together v2.0 of my portable vertical. Aside from the mirror mount, I also replaced the original steel drill rod stake with an 18" long piece of 3/8" diameter aluminum rod that was bought at Home Depot.

Before securing the mount to the aluminum rod, I used a file to put a point on the end that goes into the ground. I also roughed up the area that the mirror mount clamps to with the edge of the file, to help ensure a good grip.

Because the bolts which came with the mirror mount were a little larger in diameter than the machine screws I'd used with the homebrew mount, I had to replace the ring terminals on the radials with spade terminals.

Click on any pic for the full sized version.

I used the original nuts that came with the  mirror mount when putting it together, then used two 1/4x20 wing nuts to hold the radials on.

The finished mount with the collapsed MFJ-1979 whip:

Closeup of the mounted whip and deployed radials:

And finally, the whole shebang, now standing tall even with a slight breeze:

The FT-817ND tuned to 14.070 MHz running 5W QRP powered by a 12V SLA battery*, and my iPad Mini 2 running PSKer, tied together with KF5INZ's Easy Digi interface:

The temp today on my back patio in the shade was in the mid-30s and it starting feeling rather cold. I received signals from as far away as Michigan. I called CQ several times and almost completed a QSO with a ham in Georgia but there was too much QRM. But here's where showed my signal reaching, from my home near Philadelphia, PA:

All in all, I rate this HF vertical as a success for portable 20M ops. I received many PSK-31 signals and got my signal out into the midwest. I'm looking forward to nicer weather when I can take the rig with this antenna to a nice hill and try for some digital QSOs.

* Note re the battery: I previously posted about using a lithium polymer battery sold for use with radio controlled cars and planes. What I didn't realize in my initial tests is that the radio powered up from its internal battery pack. When I tried it without the internal pack, the radio would not power up from the LiPO pack. It may not be providing the 3A needed for the rig to power on. It's very frustrating, especially since I spent about $50 on the LiPO battery and accessories. It might be useful for recharging the internal pack, however. In the meantime I'm going to use this 18 ah SLA battery. I'm looking at getting a 7 ah to 12 ah SLA battery which will be a lot lighter and easier to backpack.

Update 1/20/14: I got the battery working.'s Harlikwin messaged me about this, prompting me to look at it again. It turned out that I had the Power Pole connection on the negative side was bad. The little tab inside the PP wasn't fully seated. I was able to disassemble the PP, reseat it, and verified that I can power the radio from the lithium battery alone. w00t!!!!!
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: January 1, 2015, 10:05 pm

Yesterday was the first day of my Winter vacation, and I took a ride down to the Delaware Ham Radio Outlet. My goal was to get some parts needed to construct a portable vertical antenna for 20M to 6M, based on the “FXTenna” by KD5FX.

KD5FX’s design centers around the MFJ-1979 telescoping stainless steel whip, which extends to 16.9 feet. I also wanted to try a 20M Hamstick-type antenna, so I picked up an MFJ-1620T HF Stick. Both are commonly used for portable ops, and have a 3/8”x24 threaded male stud at the base end. This is the same thread as most CB antennas.

Along with the MFJ-1979 and –1620T, I bought three 3/8”x24-to-SO-239 studs, an Anderson Powerpole-to-alligator clip with a fused negative cable, and a package of Bongo Ties for cable organization. I also went to the Radio Shack a few doors down and picked up a couple crimp-on PL-259s.

After getting home and grabbing something for lunch, I fabricated a mount for the antenna elements, mostly using stuff I already had in my shop. The 3/8”-24-to-SO-239 stud was attached to a couple pieces of steel strap that I salvaged from the trash at work. These were held to a 19” long piece of 1/4” drill rod.

Since the radiating element of a vertical antenna needs something to work against, I made six 17’ long radials from 18 gauge speaker wire, which had ring terminal added to the ends. Some heat shrink tubing was then placed over the terminals and a couple inches down the wire, to reinforce the connection.

The radials attach to the steel strap with a machine screw and a couple nuts.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, take a look below.

Mount next to collapsed MFJ-1979 and a yardstick for scale.

As you can see, once the kinks (described below) are worked out, this will make a nice, portable antenna.

One thing I learned the hard way was that in order to prevent creation of a Gordian knot, it’s important to wind up each radial individually, hence the multiple Bongo Ties.


Detail of top of mount:


Detail of mount bottom:


It turned out that the steel straps weren’t rigid enough to support the weight of the MFJ-1979, so I swapped on the MFJ-1620T. The provided marginal support, and the wind today didn’t help:

The ends of the radials were secured in place with large nails driven into the ground.

Unfortunately, the mount wound up being too flimsy. It would probably work if I guyed the antenna, but I want something more rigid so that guys are not necessary. Also, the hose clamp connection between the straps and the drill rod stake are not very secure. I accidentally pulled the mount right off the stake at one point.

So, design defects aside, how’d it work as an antenna?

With my Yaesu FT-817ND powered by a 12V battery and pumping out a whopping 5 watts, my PSK-31 signal reached northern Indiana, Columbus, OH, and Lexington, KY, according to I only saw a few other signals on the waterfall, but the 20M band wasn’t doing very well, per comments I saw in PSKer.

Still, not bad. In fact, it’s a downright promising proof of concept.

Things to do:

  • Make the base more robust by using a CB antenna mirror mount attached to the stake. I may replace the steel drill rod with a lighter weight aluminum rod.
  • Grind a point on the end of the stake, to make it easier to drive into the Earth.
  • Replace the nut securing the radials to the mount with a wingnut so they can be removed without tools. I didn’t have one of the correct size handy.

Incidentally, the ring terminals, shrink wrap, and hose clamps all came from Harbor Freight variety packs. These are cheap and handy to keep around for when you need a miscellaneous part.

Another experiment for the future is to get a second 20M hamstick and an MFJ-347 mount, then construct a hamstick dipole that can be hoisted from a tree in a vertical orientation, or raised on a painter’s pole for horizontal polarization. Yet another idea is to cut a length of wire, put an alligator clip on one end, then connect it to the top of the MFJ-1979 and run it horizontally as an inverted-L antenna. I might be able to get it to work on 30M and 40M this way.

This kind of experimentation is part of the fun of ham radio, and builds your knowledge base so that you can provide communications under less than optimal conditions, or using improvised equipment.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: December 25, 2014, 7:10 pm
When researching the Yaesu FT-817ND before I bought one, I ran across this neat little stand design by KR1ST, which uses a jewel case from a CD or DVD as the raw material. The only tools needed to make one are a sharp knife and a straight edge. Check out his site for instructions.

Since I had the case it didn't cost anything, and it took about five minutes to make.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: December 18, 2014, 11:41 pm
I had my first QSO using my Yaesu FT-817ND QRP rig and the Ultimax-100 antenna on my roof. Transmitting on 5 watts using the PSK-31 mode, I was able to complete a QSO with W0TY in St. Charles, MO. That's 823 miles from me.

Before W0TY replied to my CQ, a couple other hams did but when I replied to them directly they didn't come back. Such is the nature of radio communication, especially at low power.

To control the rig I used my Apple iPad 2 running PSKER, connected using an Easy Digi interface from KF5INZ.

Clifford Wareham, KF5INZ makes the Easy Digi interface for more than just Apple iThingies, and will supply the correct cables to connect your device to your rig. Highly recommended. The interface I bought will also work with my iPhone. Using either my iPad or iPhone, Clifford's little box in combination with my FT-817ND makes for a very portable digital communications setup.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: December 17, 2014, 9:05 pm
This morning I took a picture of the LiPo battery for the FT-817ND, along with the charger and low-voltage checker. The charger weighs only a few ounces while the checker's weight is negligible.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: December 5, 2014, 2:04 pm
After getting some recommendations from the Arfcom Ham Forum, I ordered a 5,000 mAh battery for the FT-817ND, a battery tester/low voltage alarm, and a battery charger from, who sells it in for use in radio controlled cars.
In contrast, the Yaesu FNB-85 NiMH battery pack has a capacity of only 1,400 mAh.
Lithium-polymer batteries have been adopted by many hams for portable use because they pack a lot more amp hours into a smaller, lighter package than AGM or SLA batteries.
I’m really looking forward to getting the FT-817ND into the field.

Edit 12/3/14:

I ordered the battery, charger, and voltage tester on Sunday 11/30, and received it from Hobbyking today, Wednesday, 12/3. When I got it I was confused at first because the Molex-type connector doesn't match the one on the radio. It turns out that it is the connector for charging the battery. The large red and black wires with bullet connectors are for powering other devices. I'm planning to cut off the bullet plugs and replace them with Anderson Power Poles.

Edit 12/4/14:

Here it is, with Power Poles installed.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: November 30, 2014, 5:54 pm

For awhile I’ve been looking for a small ham HF transceiver that I can bring with me on hikes or while camping. Some features I was looking for include:

  • Good battery life
  • Light weight/small size
  • Can transmit and receive on both 80M and 40M, for NVIS use.
  • SSB capability, since I don’t know code (maybe someday).
  • Reasonable cost.

I really wanted the Youkits TJ5A to meet my needs, but unfortunately it doesn’t do 80M. There are a lot of QRP rigs for under $1,000 but most of them are for CW. MFJ makes the 94xx series (9417 for 17M, 9420 for 20M, and the 9440 for 40M, etc.) but from what I’ve read they aren’t suitable for digital modes due to too much drift.

So, the two leading contenders for my use were the Yaesu FT-817ND and FT-857D. Both of them not only support HF ops, but also 2M and 70cm, and are all-mode. E.g, I’ll be able to try out 2M SSB, whereas most VHF radios are FM-only.

I would up getting an FT-817ND at the Delaware Ham Radio Outlet. I chose it over the 857D because it is tiny and has less current draw. Along with the radio I got an LDG Z-817H tuner, which is rated for up to 50W, in case I ever get an amp for the rig.


In the picture above I put my Victorinox Farmer Swiss Army Knife on top of the rig for scale. It’s 3.5” long.

The rig can be powered via 8 AA cells in an internal bay, a rechargeable battery pack that goes in the same bay, or an external DC power source.

The DC power cord that ships with the FT-817ND has a plug that connects into the radio and bares wires on the other end. I’m currently using one of these adapters from Powerwerx to connect the rig to my power supply. Quicksilver Radio sells a replacement cord with Power Poles already installed on the ends, which I’ll get if I can’t install the APPs to my satisfaction.

Since the FT-817ND is all-mode capable on all bands, that means you can use SSB on 2M or 70cm. The vast majority of 2M/70cm rigs are FM-only, but the 817 opens up the possibility of not just SSB but digital modes like PSK-31 and MT63, for which you normally have the rig set to SSB. In a SHTF/WROL situation, this has the potential for increasing COMSEC, since most folks won’t be looking for it, nor be capable of decyphering your signals.

After I’ve had the chance to use the rig for awhile I’ll post a more in-depth article about it.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: November 29, 2014, 2:58 am

I just ran across this video by IA Woodsman on how to construct a winter tarp shelter. It’s well worth watching.

Winter Tarp Shelter by IA Woodsman
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: November 27, 2014, 12:55 am
As found at

The “Bucket Repeater” is a battery powered cross-band VHF/UHF repeater in a weather proof enclosure that can operate unattended for a week or more, and be remotely activated or deactivated from miles away as needed.


I will say that he's probably get better performance by substituting a 1/4 ground plane or copper J-pole for the magnet mount antenna. The latter has the advantage of easy mounting, not to mention the fact that you can buy a decent one from Amazon for around $20, already assembled.

A cross-band repeater like this is valuable for groups who want to communicate over distances or terrain which would normally block an FM signal. For example, you might have two people who need to communicate via UHF or VHF, but one's home is located in a hollow, the sides of which block the radio signal. A cross-band repeater like the one described in the linked article could be placed up in a tree on an intervening hill, allowing two-way communication.

An alternative if you do not have a radio capable of cross band repeat is a simplex repeater like the MFJ-662 or Argent Data Systems ADS-SR1, which use the store-and-forward technique. A simplex repeater might be easier to setup, but cross band repeaters provide better realtime commo.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: November 25, 2014, 2:41 pm

One of the most important items in a survival kit is a good light. Sometimes, you don’t need the blinding power of modern LED tactical lights, just a handy flashlight to help you navigate in the dark, find the keys you dropped, or light up a noise in the yard.

For around the house use I have picked up a bunch of the small, AAA-powered 9-LED flashlights from Harbor Freight. I always get HF coupons in the mail, paper, or the American Rifleman, and there’s usually one for a free light with any purchase. I don’t think I’ve paid for any of the at least six HF flashlights that I have.

That said, the HF lights are cheap, as in chintzy. They use three AAA cells rather than AAs, which I’ve tried to standardize on. The size is very handy, though, so I decided to try the similar AA-powered Cree LED lights from China available from places like Deal Extreme or Amazon.

Also, one of my friends who uses flashlights more than I do gave up on the HF lights after several of them failed, and switched over to the little Cree single AA cell lights.

The first order I placed was for 4 of the lights from an Amazon seller shipping from China. I waited a week past the expected delivery date without them showing, then got a refund from Amazon. I then ordered a pair from a supplier based in the US, Hausbell. They came in two days via Amazon Prime Sunday delivery. In the first picture I have one of the HF lights, one of the Hausbells, and my Victorinox Pioneer Farmer SAK for scale (it is 3.5” long).


(The small blue light attached to the knife is by eGear. I bought it at REI for about ten bucks. It’s come in handy on numerous occasions and I hardly notice carrying it.)

The specs provided by the importer are 7W, 300 Lumen output. It’s supposed to be waterproof. Powered is provided by a single AA cell.

The Hausbell light feels more substantial in the hand than the HF light. The HF light has a small loop attached to it, while the Hausbell has a pocket clip. I wanted to see if the Hausbell would work as a headlamp, so I attache it to the brim of my cap, but it’s too heavy. If it was a little lighter I’d reattach the clip pointing the other way (after drilling and tapping two hole) but I’m not going to bother.

Both lights have tailcap switches but the Hausbell’s is recessed to prevent it from being activated by accident. This also allows the Hausbell to stand on end, while the HF light has to lean on something.


This shows the one Cree  LED emitter of the Hausbell and the nine of the HF light. I don’t have a good pic but the light color of the Hausbell is a bit nicer, with less of a blue tint than the HF’s.


You can change the focus of the Cree LED by moving the bezel in or out. When in, the light is more of a flood. Extended, it’s a narrower beam and when shone on a surface you actually see the outline of the emitter. The HF beam is not adjustable.

The Hausbell is much brighter than the HF light. The latter is good for use up close, but doesn’t throw very far. In flood mode the Hausbell will light up most of my suburban backyard, and when focused down it will cast a beam at least 75 yards.

A few different versions of the Cree-based lights are available. E.g., different case colors, multi-mode units, and some come packaged with # 14500 cells and a recharger. There are also mounts that will clamp the Cree lights to a bicycle handlebar, making it into an inexpensive but reasonably powerful headlight.

As part of my effort to lose weight and get in better shape, I’ve been walking laps of my neighborhood after dinner. I’ve been carrying either a Rayovac, HF, or Fenix light. The Rayovac and the Fenix are both longer and heavier than the Hausbell. I’m switching to the new light. It’s more than bright enough and easier to carry in my pocket.

Both lights are useful. The Hausbell is more substantial and better made. The HF light weighs a little less, and can be picked up for free with a coupon if you’re buying something at Harbor Freight. The HF lights are good for around the house and for giving to kids or other people who tend to lose things. They are almost disposable. In contrast, the Hausbell feels like a solid unit that will give years of service, and comes at low cost.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: November 24, 2014, 2:07 am

One of the most popular pieces of gear issued to American troops is the poncho liner, or “woobie.” Developed in the 1960s or 70s, it’s basically a lightweight quilt with ties around the perimeter, allowing you to tie it into a poncho and use them together as a warm weather sleeping bag. It can be used to add a bit more warmth to a sleeping bag, and you can also use the ties to secure the woobie as a sunshade.

I’ve used an old ERDL camo VietNam-vintage woobie for camping off and on since the late 1980s. Lately, I’ve been sleeping in a recliner at home because of back issues, and dug it out of my camping gear to serve as a blanket.

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Brigade Quartermaster offered a poncho liner with Thinsulate instead of the old fashioned polyester batting insulation. They are long out of production, but other vendors now sell poncho liners/woobies that are both warmer and more compressible than the GI poncho liner.  Among them are:

All of them are quality pieces of gear.  The Woobie Express and Mountain Serape are designed so that can wear them as a great coat. Of these newer designs, I decided to try out the Jungle Blanket.

I chose the JB for its reasonable price, the good reputation of the manufacturer, and it’s feature set. Specifically, I wanted a blanket, I don’t mind the lack of ties, it’s very compressible and comes with a stuff sack, and one side is wind proof and water resistant.

Snugpak gives it a comfort rating of 45 degrees with a low of 36 degrees.

Even using it in the house, the increased warmth of the Jungle Blanket over my four decade old GI poncho liner is noticeable.

I also took it out on my back patio while it was in the upper 30s, and wrapped myself up, using it like a matchcoat over just a T-shirt and dress shirt. There wasn’t much of a breeze and after a few minutes it warmed up nicely.

Due to the texture of the material, I had to hold the JB in place.  With a belt or cord to hold it in place around your waist, and maybe a safety pin to keep it up around your chest, it would make a pretty decent survival blanket/coat down into the upper 30s.

I remain a fan of the GI poncho liner for warm weather or for adding a little bit of warmth to a sleeping bag, and doing it at a low price. However, the Snugpak Jungle Blanket is a definite improvement offering more warmth with less bulk, and at a price point just a little north of the old woobie.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: November 16, 2014, 3:20 pm

I got the chance to fire off a few rounds of CCI Quiet .22 LR yesterday. It's a 40 grain lead round nose bullet at 710 FPS. Last month I got 2 bricks of it from Midway.

From my daughter's Savage Rascal with a 16.25" barrel, it makes less noise than a high powered spring piston air rifle. Remington CBee loads are louder.

From my Beretta 71 pistol it's a lot louder and sounds like a gun. It did not have enough oomph to cycle the action. I'm looking forward to trying it in my Ruger 22/45 with suppressor. I'm hoping the can will add enough back pressure to allow the gun to cycle.

I didn't test for accuracy as we were in a friend's yard plinking.

If you can find some and you have a gun that shoots it well, the CCI Quiet should make a good load for discrete pest control or small game hunting.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: November 16, 2014, 3:12 pm

I thought this was a clever trick.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: October 30, 2014, 1:44 pm
This site has a ton of old books on everything from farming to Boy Scout manuals, engineering, chemistry, education, and radio. They can be downloaded as PDFs or ePub files.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: October 28, 2014, 12:46 pm
About a month or so ago I got a Kovea LPG adapter to use with my Kovea Spider stove. The little butane canisters that the Spider is intended to run on are handy, but sometimes they aren't available locally. In contrast, 1 lb. propane bottles are available pretty much everywhere, including stores like Target, Walmart, and local supermarkets. This weekend, I had the chance to test the LPG adapter for the first time.

Friends and I went on a camping/hunting trip in Tioga County, PA. The temperatures ranged from the upper 30s to the 60s. Most of our stove use was probably when it was in the 40s. I used the Spider with the LPG adapter to make coffee in my percolator and warm water for dish washing.

When using butane or butane/propane mix canisters, the stove makes a noise a bit like a jet engine. When using the 1 lb. propane bottles through the adapter, it sounds like an jet with the afterburner kicked in. When using the adapter the stove's flame needs more attention to prevent flare ups. I may need to tweak the pressure adjustment, which is done with a very small flat bladed screwdriver.

I didn't do any scientific testing to see if the stove boils water with one fuel or the other. My reason for getting the LPG adapter was to improve the stove's versatility, and in that it succeeded quite well. For that purpose I recommend it, even though I expect that going forward, I'll probably use the butane or butane/propane mix canisters for convenience, and keep the LPG adapter in reserve.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: October 27, 2014, 6:56 pm


Late last month, a security breach occurred, involving a web server at ARRL Headquarters. ARRL IT Manager Mike Keane, K1MK, said that League members have no reason to be concerned about sensitive personal information being leaked.


If you have a login at, I suggest you go change your password.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: October 8, 2014, 2:01 pm
N2EI has made his book, Radio Monitoring A How To Guide, freely available under the Creative Commons License. Go download it here.

{Hat tip to Sparks.}

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: October 3, 2014, 1:12 pm

It was just brought to my attention that Amazon carries the Baofeng UV-5R with a 3600 mAH battery included, instead of the 1800 mAH battery. At $38 shipped, that’s a great deal.

Don’t forget to order a better antenna than the stock rubber duck. If I were buying now, I’d order a SMA-female to BNC-female adapter and find a highly rated antenna that uses a BNC connector. By doing so, you eliminate wear on the radio’s antenna connection, and make it much faster to change out antennas.

An N9TAX roll-up slim jim antenna with a BNC connector would be a good match for the Baofeng when operating from a static location.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 19, 2014, 4:15 pm

Out in my shop I have a CCrane CCradio-EP AM/FM radio for background noise while I work. I mostly listen to music on a few FM stations, including 102.5 WRFY out in Reading, for which reception has been iffy, so I looked into getting a better FM antenna. Not wanting to spend a lot of money, I got this simple dipole from Amazon.

The dipole appears to be made from 300 Ohm twinlead, and has plastic ends on each leg of the dipole, each of which has a small hole in it so you can tack it up to a wall. The feed leg has an F-connector, which attaches directly to the matching connector on the back of the radio.

This morning I got the chance to give it a try and so far I’m pleased with it. For about $8, it noticeably improved my reception of the Reading station, and even the closer stations come in better.

The CCrane radio has a separate, internal ferrite antenna for AM reception. The local AM news station, KYW 1060, comes in very strong in the entire Philly metro area, and beyond, so a better antenna isn’t needed in my application.

You can have the best radio but if you don’t have a good antenna it’ll be worthless. If you’re having problems with the built-in antenna of your radio, look into an aftermarket antenna.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 13, 2014, 8:24 pm

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