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Thread: HAM in the wilderness

  1. #1

    Default HAM in the wilderness

    Hi everyone,

    I just started researching amateur radio in the course of another hobby of mine - overlanding/truck camping. I'm not a HAM, yet. At this point, I'm still trying to learn what it is exactly I need to learn about. I'm hoping some of you would be willing to advise me if what I'm hoping to do makes sense or not.

    I'd like to add a mobile rig to my truck, the primary purpose of which is for emergency contact, as a supplement to cell coverage. The secondary purpose would be to do what many other hams seem to enjoy - talking to people. I realize that amateur radio is not a replacement for something like an EPIRB, but I imagine it's better than just a cell phone. Plus, it has more uses than a dedicated GPS emergency locator. I know a lot of people get started on a HT, but I figure I may as well get the equipment I intend to use which I'm not sure of yet) and learn on that. Maybe not the wisest decision, but it wouldn't be my first one. I spend a lot of time in national parks, which cover all different types of terrain. Most of the time, I have a cell signal. But sometimes I don't.

    At any rate, I could use some people's opinions (as I imagine they will vary) on a few things. These are general questions and I understand that, due to the nature of radio, there is probably no one size fits all situations type answer to some of them:

    1. I'm looking for a radio (of any frequency) that can transmit, say, 50 miles or so independent of repeaters. It's not that I don't ever want to use repeaters, but I don't know if I'll always be near one. I understand that propagation varies quite a bit based on a myriad of factors. Is that a reasonable distance to expect from a mobile unit?
    2. If that is reasonable, how much would, say, being in a mountain valley affect that distance?
    3. I've read that HF can transmit quite a distance. Would that be overkill for my application?
    4. I'm thinking that, if I were to go for a general license in order to utilize HF phone, I would probably want to use the 40m band, as it seems to be available most. Is there an appropriate antenna that could be vehicle mounted?
    5. How reliable is NVIS, and would it be a good choice for trying to transmit in a valley? Or is it overkill?

    I know these probably seem like very basic, ignorant questions. And I'll admit it, I *am* ignorant on most of this. But the breadth of information out there on amateur radio is pretty daunting. So, I'm trying to just figure out the specific application I have in mind and that will get me started in learning about the rest.

    Thanks!

  2. #2

    Join Date
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    You will learn a lot by going through the licensing process. You might want to save your questions until then as they will probably change. And, you're not supposed to do anything with the equipment until you're licensed other than listen anyway. The worst thing you could do is to go buy something (other than a study guide!).

  3. #3

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    I guess my overall purpose was to see if the objective I have in getting into amateur radio is a reasonable one. I wasn't expecting a forum discussion to teach me the intricacies of radio operation. And, although I do want to figure out what equipment to get "from the get go", I don't have any intention of attempting to use it without a license to do so. I'm new, but I'm not some kind of yahoo.

  4. #4

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    Well, I wasn't insinuating that you are one. Sorry if I gave you that impression.

    Anyway, getting into amateur radio might meet your objectives. But it's complicated by wanting a mobile set up. A portable set up would be more suitable for communicating from a distant location. It's really the antenna that makes mobile HF difficult, especially on something like 40 meters. But there's a lot of specialized equipment available - it's identifying specifically what you want and then digging for it.

    Like I said, getting the license will fill in a lot of the blanks for you. And I was just throwing out a caution about buying stuff too early. Typically, after we learn and then reflect on what we bought we realize that we probably should have bought something a bit different (I might be speaking from my own personal experience! Lol!).

  5. #5

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    Ok, I'll pump the brakes a little. If I had someone local to bounce these ideas off of, I'd probably be doing that instead of posting here. My immediately local club is borderline defunct (though they're still around), and apparently not the easiest to get ahold of, at least using methods other than radio. Guess I'll try and hook up with another one in the area.

    I don't plan to just go buy some gear that I don't know how to use, and may not be what I need. But, there's so much out there that I wanted to narrow it down before I started down the path to getting license and all that to try and see what kind of costs I can expect to get what will suit my needs. Because I can see this becoming a full-time hobby. And I've already got a couple of those sucking up my money

    Thanks for your input.

  6. #6

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    Yes HF could reasonably do what you are asking, at least as I understand it.
    I disagree that mobile is difficult to do and that the "specialized" equipment needed is any kind of an issue.
    I run 3 mobile set ups, 1 in each of my vehicles. I use tar heel antennas and do very well.
    I like the Tar heel antenna enough that I also have one mounted on the roof of my office and play digital HF from my office from time to time.
    I am fortunate that I live about 40 miles north of downtown Houston and we have several amateur radio clubs in this area.
    One meets about 5 miles from my house and is a pretty active club.
    It sounds like you would do well to find an elmer in your area to help you work out what you should do based on how you want to use your gear.
    That is sometimes difficult with a seldom active club. Good luck and if you have any specific questions feel free to throw them out here.
    Last edited by Obed; Tue 2nd Oct 2018 at 12:38.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by aequitas1916 View Post

    I don't plan to just go buy some gear that I don't know how to use, and may not be what I need. But, there's so much out there that I wanted to narrow it down before I started down the path to getting license and all that to try and see what kind of costs I can expect to get what will suit my needs. Because I can see this becoming a full-time hobby. And I've already got a couple of those sucking up my money

    Thanks for your input.
    The cool thing about this hobby is that although there is an initial expense there's no on-going expenses involved, assuming the right equipment is bought to begin with : )

    Obed would probably agree that although a mobile set up can be done, for your use a portable might suit the situation a bit better. You're most likely not going to be in the same place every time you want to get on the air, so having the flexibility to put different antennas (like long ones) high in the air would be advantageous in certain situations, for example.

    So, a mobile transceiver (a good one), an external tuner and an assortment of antennas and some support equipment (e.g., an antenna analyzer) would total to less than three grand. And, the mobile set up can be a part of this as well. That is, you can do mobile set up and switch to a portable set up when desired.

  8. #8

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    lots of ways to skin a cat. Portable or mobile, what would be best would depend on your primary use....
    I actually have a get away portable system I built. I use a large pelican box (with built in wheels).
    In it have an Icom 7100 with an auto tuner. I have two batteries in there, I forget the ampere hour rating of the batteries, but they are the type installed in emergency lighting in commercial buildings and as back up for ems systems. I also have a battery charger built in and solar panels to attach... there is also a power supply (switching) in the box. That way if there is power available where I am, I can plug in. If not I can use the batteries for a few hours and if worse comes to worse, i can hook up the solar power....it is heavy, hence the box with wheels and a handle, so portable is a bit of a figure of speech.
    I have an off center fed dipole and a slighshot style launcher to put it up in trees... I use weed eater line to hang it with, cheap and strong....lots of ways to do things, all depending on how you set up when you get where you are going....of course mobile rigs can be used while you are going...
    Sometimes it is nice to have other hams around who have set up things similar to what you want to do so that you can look their install over and improve on it...
    ( I don't think I have ever done an install that afterwards I do not see something I could have done better).

  9. #9

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    Wow, thanks for the information! I didn't realize the difference between "mobile" and "portable" until now, unless I'm just making that distinction up so I'll feel like I understand lol. I would definitely have the space for it. Portable would definitely bear consideration - if not for starting out, at least for down the road.

    At any rate, it doesn't sound like what I'm hoping to achieve is unreasonable, so I think I'm going to try to get ahold of one of the other clubs in the area and get crackin on my license.

    Thanks to all of you for your help!

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by aequitas1916 View Post
    Hi everyone,

    I just started researching amateur radio in the course of another hobby of mine - overlanding/truck camping. I'm not a HAM, yet. At this point, I'm still trying to learn what it is exactly I need to learn about. I'm hoping some of you would be willing to advise me if what I'm hoping to do makes sense or not.

    I'd like to add a mobile rig to my truck, the primary purpose of which is for emergency contact, as a supplement to cell coverage.
    If you spend the money to buy the radio and spend the time to get all of the licenses you need, and after you get it all you discover that there is no one listening, are you going to be disappointed?

    The secondary purpose would be to do what many other hams seem to enjoy - talking to people.
    I know a lot of people get started on a HT, but I figure I may as well get the equipment I intend to use which I'm not sure of yet) and learn on that.
    A HT is not a cell phone. HT's are a limited mode type of communications - line of sight. Doesn't talk very well or very far, is a poor substitute for an actual ham radio!

    At any rate, I could use some people's opinions (as I imagine they will vary) on a few things. These are general questions and I understand that, due to the nature of radio, there is probably no one size fits all situations type answer to some of them:

    1. I'm looking for a radio (of any frequency) that can transmit, say, 50 miles or so independent of repeaters.
    You need an HF radio, range is determined by line of sight. On Pikes Peak you could effectively transmit up to 120 miles simplex on VHf, but in the bottom of the Grand Canyon you probably couldn't talk up to the rim!

    a bit based on a myriad of factors. Is that a reasonable distance to expect from a mobile unit?
    Half way around the earth - with the right radio, antenna, band conditions!

    2. If that is reasonable, how much would, say, being in a mountain valley affect that distance?
    It would kill all of your range..

    3. I've read that HF can transmit quite a distance. Would that be overkill for my application?
    NO

    4. I'm thinking that, if I were to go for a general license in order to utilize HF phone, I would probably want to use the 40m band, as it seems to be available most. Is there an appropriate antenna that could be vehicle mounted?
    Lot's of different mobile antennas that would work, but it also requires a vehicle to attach it to, and the proper bonding - since 40 meters is a lot longer of a wavelength then 11 meters - cb radio..

    5. How reliable is NVIS, and would it be a good choice for trying to transmit in a valley? Or is it overkill?
    Near Vertical Incidence Skywave - is how most people transmits - since very few people has towers 100 - 200 feet tall to hang dipoles for each band, and most frequencies needs at least 80' off the ground just to be more than one wavelength above ground..

    I know these probably seem like very basic, ignorant questions. And I'll admit it, I *am* ignorant on most of this. But the breadth of information out there on amateur radio is pretty daunting. So, I'm trying to just figure out the specific application I have in mind and that will get me started in learning about the rest.

    Thanks!
    There are no dumb questions, just dumb people!

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