Pedestrian Portable HF DXing


Now that HF conditions are starting to improve it is time to get out in the great outdoors and work some HF DX with the hand portable rig. Here I am talking about true handheld operation rather than setting up a portable QRP station with a "proper" antenna. During the last sunspot maximum it was possible to work some impressive DX using just a 2.5W portable, a base loaded whip antenna and a short counterpoise wire. This page is intended to give you a flavour of what is possible and what can realistically be expected.

Basic Equipment

Many people assume that QRP DXing requires CW or digital modes. Certainly these are effective modes, but nothing beats actually TALKING to someone thousands of miles away from a handheld transceiver. So, what do you need?
  1. A QRP portable transceiver - something like the FT817 is ideal producing 2.5W from its internal battery and with enough energy to last an hour or two of casual operating, with the NiMH pack at least. Second hand Mizuho single band HF rigs are also a possibility. The IC703 is another possible rig but is more of a manpack. Another possibility is a homebrew DSB rig especially on a band like 10m or 6m.
  2. A whip antenna - several people make lightweight base loaded whips for the higher HF bands. Choose one that is not too heavy i.e. a single band version. A whip with the loading coil some way up the antenna would be slightly more efficient but I've not found a commercial source of such antennas. An ideal antenna is one for 15m which can also be used on 12m and 10m by reducing the whip length when extended to obtain best SWR on the band on which you are operating. Antennas such as the Miracle Whip are fun, but several S-points down on a good single band whip in my experience.
  3. A wire counterpoise - this consists of a short length of wire attached to the ground point of the transceiver and which is cut to a length to suit the band in use. In practice, one for 15m will be OK on 12m and 10m. See information from KQ6XA at the bottom of the page.
  4. A small notebook to log contacts or a portable voice recorder in which you can dictate calls, reports time, date etc.
  5. A Morse key - if an SSB QSO gets marginal then swapping to CW is worth another 10dB. However, these days not all SSB operators can read CW.
  6. A pencil or pen - all too easy to leave at home!
  7. A case to carry all this in - ideally a small waterproof case suitable for SLR cameras is ideal. These come with internal dividers that can be adjusted to suit the camera and lots of zip pockets to house antennas, Morse keys, mics, pencils and paper.


Well, anywhere is possible but some locations offer better chances of success than others. For example, operating on clifftops seems particularly good, with good low angle take-off in the direction of the sea if the ground slopes away steeply. Such locations are worth many dB of effective "gain". I believe Les Moxon (famous for the Moxon antenna design) did some work on such sites back in the 1980s and used them to work the Antipodes with 1W QRP. Height, as such, is less important on HF than on VHF. What is more important is a clear take-off in the direction you're interested in and ground sloping away from you in the direction of interest.

Another obvious consideration is interference: working in portable in locations well away from man-made noise sources is a great pleasure. So, getting out away from built-up areas can help reception.

Think about the impact of your operating on others. Operating on a quiet and lonely hilltop site is one thing, but a clifftop path frequented by walkers may be less suitable with people walking by being annoyed by this weirdo talking loudly into a black box with a long wire attached!  In the picture above I was sitting on a seat in Devon on the SW Coastal Path and had people walking by about every 10 minutes. I stopped operating if anyone wanted to sit on the adjacent seat, for obvious reasons.


As with QRP SSB from home, the most successful technique is " hunting and pouncing" rather than calling CQ. Find stations ending a QSO and try giving them a call, or call stronger stations calling CQ. Don't waste time calling weak stations unless you are sure they are also QRP too. The difference in S-points needs to be such that the distant station has a reasonable chance of hearing you, so choose stations running at least RS58 to have a decent chance. You may get lucky but this sort of approach gives you the best results. Once you have a QSO and mention you are "pedestrian portable" and running a handheld others may call you.

Adjust a whip antenna for lowest SWR carefully as some rig's PAs do not like large mismatches.  Listen a lot and call when you have a good chance as this reduces battery drain.

What results can be expected?

When summer sporadic-E is around most of Europe and North Africa can be worked from the UK on SSB  on 15,12,10 or 6m with some patience and luck and a modest station and antenna. When the bands are truly wide open then F2 DX to far more distant locations is certainly possible. I have worked many stations in the USA in a contest on 10m SSB with a handheld FT817 laying on the bed at home, so from a good outdoor location with sloping ground and a clear take-off then DXCC on SSB is not an unrealistic target with a few watts. My best DX "in the field" so far was a YV station 8000kms away from my mother's back garden but working LU at 11000kms from the bedroom table with a Miracle Whip suggests working much greater distances are certainly possible from a good location.

Don't expect such QSOs to be easy: you will be competing against a wall of stations running hundreds of watts to beams, so your signal may be many S-points weaker. However, being handheld you can move around to get the best direction and angle and even a few degrees of change to antenna position can make several dBs improvement. If on a clifftop watch where you are walking and don't fall over the edge in your enthusiasm! Having said this, sometimes conditions are so good that you will be in with a very good chance of success. Believe anything is possible.

Log keeping

In the excitement of a QSO it is all too easy to forget to log the details for later. Try to have a piece of paper to note down the details as soon as you can. Some use handheld voice recorders instead and transcribe log details later. Believe me, you will forget who you've just worked at some point.


  • Don't operate with whip antennas if there is bad weather around. Long metal whips and storms do NOT mix.
  • Take care with trailing counterpoise antennas: you could trip over these and so could people nearby.
  • Watch where you are walking - cliff edges, rabbit holes and the like are all dangerous, especially if you are out alone.
  • Let someone know where you will be and have a mobile phone handy so you may be contacted.

Trailing Counterpoise Lengths

This information from Bonnie KQ6XA appeared on the Miracle Whip Yahoo group some years ago. You may find it helpful in working out what lengths to try. These are for counterpoise wires that trail on the ground. Expect to experiment and optimise the lengths that work best for you.

 BandCounterpoise       Length (m)
 10m 2.3
 12m 2.6
 15m 3.0
 17m 3.3
 20m 4.2