A few months back I had an opportunity to present at the Lothians Radio Society in Edinburgh, Scotland on Wilderness Radio and it inevitably had me reflect on the last three years; destinations, experiences, gear, successes, failures, surprises, does and dont’s etc.
Antennas are a key part of any successful radio station and understandably a Wilderness Station will have different criteria than possibly a home or mobile station. You’re in the middle of nowhere, maybe you hiked, maybe you drove but ultimately you have to consider things such as weight, easy of deployment all the way through to ease of band changes. Sometimes the “wilderness” isn’t that but rather an urban location where antenna footprint is key with smaller being better than larger. Many, myself included initially search for a magic bullet in one antenna, one radio, one this and one that which could be used over and over again. Truth is that each activation is different and realistically the gear mix needed varies. Sometimes carrying extra water (think hot desert) is far more important than carrying a large and efficient antenna. Alternatively, the activation is winter based where clothing, shelter and warm drinks take priority or as mentioned your wilderness is urban, as were a significant number of the 2016 ARRL National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) sites, then small antenna footprint is a must.
An antennas role is to covert an electrical signal (from the radio) to an electro-magnetic radio wave (over the air). A Magnetic Loop antenna harnesses the magnetic portion of the electro-magnetic part of this versus electro(-ical) used by many wire/metal centric antennas. Loops have many benefits and as nothing is perfect a commensurate set of drawbacks, versus a “classic” antenna. I like many didn’t believe it could really work for much than anything given its so small relative to the radio wave length. Its simply too inefficient!!
Cities for many reasons can be electrically noisy and hence “hostile” to standard radio receiving. You just can’t hear as much given the noisy environment muffles and hides weaker signals from interesting or far away stations. To compound this I was living in a Faraday cage that doubled as a nice flat/condo but ultimately hostile went to virtually impossible. I’ve had two operations on the same knee and recovery is not measured in months but years and I’m desperate to play radio.
Thousands of miles south, Alex PY1AHD in Brazil has created a portable Magnetic Loop which while not inexpensive, I acquired.
In 2014, it’s my only ticket out of purgatory and from that point on the journey with the AlexLoop is all positive and here is why.
- Rapid manual band change
- 40m,30m,20m,17m,15m,12m and 10m support
- Reasonably compact
- Partially directional
- Great selectivity
- Less noisy than a vertical or wire antenna deployed in similar “noisy” location
- Great if your “station” footprint is a concern such as urban or popular peak (i.e. Lake District)
- 40m performance is really bad
- High Q means constant retuning require (which is tiresome) if you are in “hunt and pounce” mode
- 25 watts max
- Bulky compared to End Fed and fishing mast antenna system
Numbers and Accomplishments:
- Logged 1,000 plus contacts with my AlexLoop
- Primary antenna to achieve ARRL Worked All States (WAS) using 12 watts SSB portable from the San Francisco Bay Area
- DX contacts from West Coast to Japan and Europe
- Worked 40m, 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m and 10m regularly with AlexLoop
Recommend: If you can get beyond the price and have diverse activating needs then unequivocally recommended…yes, yes, yes
While I struggled to believe a Magnetic Loop could really work for much beyond a short distance powerful contact to my happy chagrin I was very wrong. While I have numerous antennas in my tool chest (Buddipole vertical and dipole, End Feds and portable HF Yagi) the AlexLoop is a valuable and complimentary antenna that I continue to enjoy.
Snaps along my journey….
Reversed Peak in the California Sierras Nevada Mountains was proving problematic for me to activate and the first failure had me curtail the remainder of a trip. It was disappointing as I had driven over 300 miles one way to this area with the intent of activating a series of peaks including Boundary Peak (Nevada’s highest). My coax had failed on first attempt at activating Reversed Peak and having no spare (which was stupid) and not entirely believing my AlexLoop could do the job, I didn’t hike up to 13,500 ft to discover I was “right”.
The year long ARRL National Parks 2016 event had me energized about places to visit and activate. Surprisingly the San Francisco Bay Area has a lot of National Park entities many of which are better suited to small antennas with a small footprint. My first activation using the AlexLoop in ernest is in the Santa Monica Recreation Area in January 2016.
To my chagrin the AlexLoop on 17m and 15m is working like a champ. I’m making QSOs across the US and the ability to quickly dial in 15m or 17m is a boon given my LNR end fed is simply 40/20 and 10m. Its a windy location and my jerry job anchoring the AlexLoop onto a bush and using a short length of string to support it was successful but I couldn’t address the sail like quality of the AlexLoop and it keep rotating into the ever changing wind. Success but time to rethink the support.
Irrigation piping is virtually a dime a dozen in California and its seemingly easy to work with. I’m trying to find the intersection of stability and easy transportation. I opt for a series of PVC irrigation pipes cut to short lengths that can be easily stowed in my backpack. Servicing more than one use (or antenna) is desirable and I’ve been experimenting with a J-pole variant using surplus BuddiPole telescopic whips.
Scott (AK6Q) and I activated Sunset Peak near LA and it was my first opportunity to try out my PVC stand.
Over time I refine the support and consign my PVC piping to a corner of my garage and wheel out a camera tripod that is light, sturdy and quite effective.