My Favorite Apps for Portable Operating

I do the majority of my HF operating while out at portable locations. Like most people these days, I always have my cell phone handy. While I have a bunch of apps installed, there are a few that I use most often to figure out where to go and where I am.

Before I begin, I should mention that I use an Android phone. Some of these apps may be available for the iPhone or there may be similar apps available for you.

I should also point out that I do most of my hiking and biking on well-established trails. Suburban Philadelphia is not exactly a wilderness area. Wilderness and backcountry folks will likely have different needs.

Having said all that, here are the non-ham-specific Android apps I use most often in the field.

Where Am I?

This appropriately-named app by Ejelta LLC does exactly what it says. Using your phone’s location services, it shows where you are in the world. It shows your city, zip code, phone area code, sunrise and sunset times, elevation, and GPS coordinates. It also identifies the county you’re in, which is useful for setting up a new location in the TQSL software for Logbook of the World (LoTW).

Where Am I? Screenshot
Where Am I? Screenshot

The sharing feature is also important to me. When I’m out alone, I use Where Am I? to text my location to my (far) better half. I can send her the location of where I parked my truck and where I stopped along the trail to play radio.

Maidenhead Grid Locator

Another piece of information I need for LoTW is the grid square I’m in. For years, I used (and still use) an app with the simple title, Locator. As I started writing this post, I found that this particular app is no longer available in Google Play. No worries; there are lots of other apps to determine your Maidenhead grid square. Here are a few:

  • Ham Locator (by OH5GQF) shows your grid square (6 characters) on a map. You can toggle between street view and satellite view.
  • If you use HamLog (from Pignology) for portable logging, check the “Tools” tab. There’s a grid locator tool there. You can navigate around a map to find the grid square anywhere on earth.
  • HamGPS (by EA4EOZ) is a grid locator on steroids. It shows your current grid square out to 10 characters, along with your coordinates and compass heading. It also shows the location and status of the GPS satellite constellation. That can be fascinating to watch.
Ham Locator Screenshot
Ham Locator Screenshot

TrailLink and AllTrails

These are two similar apps that I use for planning trips to new trails. The Rails to Trails Conservancy produces TrailLink, while AllTrails is from AllTrails, Inc. They both give you maps, directions, reviews, and more. Both apps have paid versions that will let you save maps to your phone. That’s handy if you are in an area with poor cellular coverage.

AllTrails map display. You can zoom in and navigate around the map to see a detailed view. With the paid version, you can save maps to your device for offline use.
AllTrails map display. You can zoom in and navigate around the map to see a detailed view. With the paid version, you can save maps to your phone for offline use.

Storm Radar

Last but not least… There’s no shortage of weather apps for your phone. I have one that I use for the usual weather forecasts: daily, hourly, and so forth. I also use Storm Radar (The Weather Channel) and it has saved my bacon on a few occasions.

Storm Radar. Fortunately, there was no rain in view when I captured this screenshot.
Storm Radar. Fortunately, there was no rain in view when I captured this screenshot.

Of course, Storm Radar‘s radar display lets you see exactly what’s coming your way. What I really like, though, is the real-time rain and lightning alerts. Even if I don’t have the radar display up, Storm Radar gives me a heads up on nasty weather headed towards me. There have been times when this app helped keep me and my gear from getting rained on.

Wrap-Up

So these are some of my favorite apps for portable operating. I didn’t cover any apps that are specific to ham radio but I may do that in a future post.

Do you have any must-have apps for outdoor operating? Let me know in the comments.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

Links

[My usual disclaimer: This blog is not monetized in any way. I have no financial interest whatsoever in any of these products.]

OK. With that out of the way, here are links to the apps mentioned in this post:

 

Calm Before the Storm

We’re under a Winter Storm Warning today, with 5 to 8 inches of snow expected in some areas. I thought I would sneak out for a bit of QRP-portable before the snow starts. So I drove over to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, one of my regular Winter-time haunts.

The Upper Schuylkill River Trail at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park
The Upper Schuylkill River Trail at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park

There were a few people in the park when I got there, including a few hardy fishermen. After installing my 19-foot Vertical on my truck, I fired up the KX3 on 40M in search of some SKCC contacts. The bands seemed to be recovering from the geomagnetic wackiness from the past few days. There were some strong signals on the band but not much activity.

I only logged four contacts today but there were some nice chats. In particular, I had nice two-way QRP chats with W8BUD and AJ8S. The best “DX” of the day was with KR9Z in Florida on 20M.

After a while, a park ranger came by to tell me that they were closing the park in anticipation of the snow. So, I tore down, packed up, and headed home. No problem, I was starting to get hungry anyway.

As I write this, the snow has yet to arrive but the local weatherman assures us that it’s coming. I guess I better rest up for some snow shoveling tomorrow.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Adjustable Bungee Cable Ties

This is another one of those little hacks that takes longer to describe than to build. Some time ago, I stumbled on a clever idea online that has been useful in my ham radio activities.

I used to use ball bungee fasteners in a variety of sizes as temporary fasteners. While they are handy, they have limitations for my uses. On occasion, I found that the sizes I had available were either too small or too large for the task at hand.

A year or two back, I found a great video on the MOD YouTube Channel. The video described how to make these simple, adjustable cable ties. I made up a few and found them handy for several ham-related applications.

A completed bungee cable tie, along with one of the two-hole cord locks I used.
A completed bungee cable tie, along with one of the two-hole cord locks I used.

These little devices have a multitude of uses but my main use is for antennas in the field. I use them to fasten a BALUN or UNUN to a telescopic pole for portable verticals.

I also found they are also handy for lashing odd items to the MOLLE loops on my backpack. In a recent post, I showed how I use them to secure a 19-foot telescopic pole to my sling pack.

I use one of the bungee ties to attach the 19-foot vertical matching box to the fiberglass pole.
I use one of the bungee ties to attach my 19-foot vertical matching box to the fiberglass pole.

Of course, they make great cable ties. Their ability to adjust allows them to fit a wide variety of cables.

You only need 2 things to make these: some shock cord and some double hole cord locks. (If you watched the MOD video, you already know all this.)

I use 4mm diameter shock cord most often to make these. For some smaller, light-duty applications, I have used a thinner 2.5mm shock cord. I have found that the cord locks seem to hold better with the larger 4mm shock cord.

Construction is super simple.

  • Cut the shock cord to the desired length. Be sure to singe the cut ends with a lighter to prevent fraying.
  • Put the two ends through the holes in the cord lock.
  • Holding the two ends together, tie a simple overhand knot and snug it down.
  • To use them, place the bungee around whatever you need to fasten. Place the loop end over the cord lock to hold it. Press the button on the cord lock and pull the ends to cinch it down.

That’s all there is to it. In the time it took to write and edit this post, I could have made a ton of these things. It’s not an Earth-shattering thing but sometimes it doesn’t take much to amuse me.

Thanks to MOD YouTube Channel for sharing this great idea.

72, Craig WB3GCK

[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest whatsoever in Amazon or any of these products.]

Links:

A Slippery Sloper

I spent the weekend with my grandkids out near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My XYL and I watched the kids while my daughter and son-in-law took a little anniversary get-away. Of course, there was some time for ham radio, too.

By the time I got around to setting up an antenna on Friday, it was dark and the temperature was well below freezing. Oh yeah, there was about 4 inches of snow in the backyard to boot. So, I was in need of a real quick and dirty antenna.

I decided to toss a 29.5-foot wire out of a 2nd-floor window. I then went out to the backyard to secure the other end of the wire. I used some shock cord to tie it off to the top of a 6-foot wooden fence. My total time outside in the cold and dark was about a minute.

Back inside, I fed the wire through a homebrew 9:1 UNUN with 18 feet of RG-8X coax. This particular wire and UNUN served me well as a vertical during many National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activations. I commandeered one end of the dining room table for my KX3 and powered up for a test. The KX3 was able to get a match on 80M through 10M.  Then, I went back to hanging out with the kids.

My impromptu sloper's feedpoint. The wire from the 9:1 UNUN is just pinched in the window.
My impromptu sloper’s feedpoint. The wire from the 9:1 UNUN is just pinched in the window.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “slippery” part of the this post’s title comes in. Well, the next morning I looked out the window and saw that some ice had accumulated on the wire. The wire was dragged through the snow during installation and it froze overnight. The KX3 didn’t mind at all; the internal tuner loaded up the frozen wire without problems.

I got on the air for a bit on Saturday afternoon.  On the air, my impromptu antenna far exceeded my low expectations. I started off working N2CX on 40M. Joe was activating a park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I followed that up with a nice two-way QRP chat with WK2J in North Carolina.

My dining room table set up.
My dining room table set up.

I worked a couple of QRPers in the FYBO contest sponsored by the Arizona ScQRPions. I also worked some Minnesota and Vermont QSO Party contesters. An assortment of SKCC, POTA, and SOTA stations also made it into my log over the weekend. The best “DX” of the weekend was VE7ST in the British Columbia QSO Party on 20M.

I didn’t expect much from this quickie antenna configuration but I was happy with the way it got out. Plus, set up/tear-down was easy and only took a few minutes. This sloper will likely be my go-to antenna for future visits to see the Harrisburg grandkids.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Another JS8Call Newbie

Yep, that’s me. At an ARES-RACES meeting the other night, a few fellow members were discussing JS8Call. I decided to download the software and give it a whirl.

After installing the software and looking it over, I watched a few YouTube videos to learn how to use it. Once I thought I had the basics down, I fired up my KX3 to take JS8Call for a spin.

I didn’t see any activity on the waterfall, but after a while, I was able to decode a transmission on 20M. That was a good sign. I called CQ few times with no response. Checking PSKReporter, however, I saw spots from as far away as southern California. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna.

My initial CQs with JS8Call made it out to southern California on 20M. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna!
My initial CQs with JS8Call made it out to southern California on 20M. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna!

I dropped down to 40M and saw immediately saw a few decodes pop up. I called CQ a few times and received a call from N4YTM in North Carolina. Gordon, as it turns out, was only slightly more experienced with JS8Call; I was his third contact. Despite our collective inexperience, we had a nice, albeit slow, chat with this new mode.

I found that carrying on a basic QSO with JS8Call was pretty intuitive. I still have a lot to learn about some of the more advanced messaging features, though. JS8 is an interesting mode and less robotic than FT8. It’s slow for a keyboard-to-keyboard chat mode but I was decoding signals I could hardly see on the waterfall.

Although CW will always be my primary mode, I’m sure there will be more JS8Call activity in my future.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Winter Field Day 2019

Between errands and other obligations, I squeezed in a little time for Winter Field Day. I was only on for about 3 hours over the weekend but it was still fun.

On Saturday, I went to one of my usual Winter operating spots, Black Rock Sanctuary. (It’s one of a few local parks that have Porta-Potties year round.) I used my usual stationary-mobile set-up and operated from inside the truck.  I operated in category 1O from EPA.

WB3GCK operating in Winter Field Day 2019. If you look closely, you can see a microphone connected to my KX3. Yep. I actually made some SSB contacts.
WB3GCK operating in Winter Field Day 2019. If you look closely, you can see a microphone connected to my KX3. Yep. I actually made some SSB contacts.

I got off to a rough start, though. My trusty Palm Mini paddles gave me some problems. The connector at the paddles wasn’t making reliable contact. After fiddling with it for a while, I managed to get them working again. I’m babying these paddles since Palm is no longer in business and parts are unavailable.

After I got on the air, I found that 40M was wide open. I was able to work pretty much any station I could hear. In a little over an hour of operating, I logged 19 contacts — all on 40M CW.

I packed up and headed home to have dinner with my (far) better half, who had been out of town most of the week. I also went to work on my Palm paddles with some contact cleaner.

On Sunday, I headed back to Black Rock to make a few more contacts. This time my paddles worked right off the bat. (Note to self: Hey, Craig! Do some maintenance on your portable keys once in a while, will ya!)

The QSOs came a bit slower this time around. In two hours, I logged 20 contacts on 40M and 20M. I even made some SSB contacts for the extra multipliers. (That’s a fairly rare thing for me.) My best “DX” of the day was California.

When it starting getting tough to find “fresh meat” on the bands, I decided to pack up and head home. It wasn’t the most adventurous Winter Field but it was fun to get out there to make a few contacts.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Mohican Outdoor Center 2019

Each January, the Boschveldt QRP Club makes its pilgrimage to the Delaware Water Gap. Each year has presented unique challenges. Over the years we’ve had to contend with rain, snow, fog, bitter cold, and power outages. This year, it was snow and ice.

The Boschveldt QRP Club's base of operations at the Mohican Outdoor Center. This picture was taken before the weekend snow and ice arrived.
The Boschveldt QRP Club’s base of operations at the Mohican Outdoor Center. This picture was taken before the weekend snow and ice arrived.

For the 16th year, our small band of QRPers has rented a cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) in northern New Jersey. (This was my 5th year making the trip.) We always look forward to doing some socializing and doing some QRP operating. We had the following QRPers on hand: WA3WSJ, KB3SBC, NK1N, WA8YIH, WB3GCK, K3YTR, K3BVQ, W3CJW, and NU3E.

The forecast for the weekend looked dire. Initial predictions called for up to a foot of snow with a layer of ice. Regardless, the weather forecast didn’t deter the Boschveldt crew.

By the time I arrived at the cabin on Friday, some of our crew had already installed three antennas and stations. After settling in, our activities included socializing, dinner, and operating. We had folks operating CW, SSB, and FT8, some going late into the night.

KB3SBC (left) and K3BVQ hard at work.
KB3SBC (left) and K3BVQ hard at work.

On Saturday, several members operated from the cabin. WA3WSJ and NK1N headed up to High Point State Park to do some pedestrian-mobile operating.

Two of the stations in the cabin. (l-r) NK1N, WA8YIH, and K3YTR.
Two of the stations in the cabin. (l-r) NK1N, WA8YIH, and K3YTR.

My plan was to operate from the Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead. But, I found the road to the trailhead snow-covered and closed to traffic. I returned to the cabin to make some contacts from there.

WB3GCK operating CW at the cabin
WB3GCK operating CW from the cabin

On Saturday night, we headed into town for dinner at a local inn. We were happy to learn that we would be getting less snow than initially predicted. After dinner, some of our stalwart operators again took to the airwaves.

WA3WSJ relaxing in the cabin
WA3WSJ relaxing in the cabin

On Sunday morning, NU3E made his amazing waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. John’s waffles are a traditional Sunday breakfast at our MOC gatherings.

K3YTR relaxing at MOC (with WA8YIH in the background)
K3YTR relaxing at MOC (with WA8YIH in the background)

Outside, we had 3-4 inches of snow overnight with a thin layer of ice on top. After packing up and cleaning off our vehicles, we all headed out and went our separate ways.

It was another fun weekend with the Boschveldt crew. The radio stuff is fun but it’s especially nice spending time with some old friends. This annual gathering always goes by too fast.

72, Craig WB3GCK