Kenny Shapiro, KL1YJ and I, did the 2006 Iron Dog using Yaesu VX-150 radios with AA battery packs. I chose the "Copper Top" AA Alkaline. He chose the Lithium cells.
We left Wasilla with fresh cells. I had to change mine in Rainy Pass Lodge, at Puntilla Lake, roughly one day into the race. He was going strong yet. His radio showed better than 8.0 volts, whereas mine was down to 6.5 volts.
In McGrath I had to change the AA's again. He was still good.
Arriving in Galena, I had to change again. He was still good.
Arriving in Nome his batteries were still good, and then a few days later he forgot and left his radio on and they finally died. That was 4X minimum the battery life of the well rated Copper Top AA's. They are also reputed to work well in cold weather.
You pays your money and makes your choice.
Lastly, there is this thing called a Battery Eliminator. This is a device that plugs in place of the battery itself, has a cord that goes to a cigarette lighter in your car, boat or ATV. Or you can somehow hook it up to 12 volts like a motorcycle battery, etc. Most Chinese radios will have these available, the Puxing 777+ and 888K are no exception. Yaesu's as a rule do not have them, but they have a "charging cord" that is similar and will do the same thing.
A plus on the charging cord is that if you unplug your radio, the battery now has some charge, or is fully charged, and you can continue to use it. With the battery eliminator, you have to undo it, and replace it with a battery that may not be fully charged.
The best of both worlds would be if you could get charging cords and battery eliminators for whatever kind of radio you have. Alas, this is not always possible.
3. A Carrying Case!
For the heavier radios you gottsa have one of these, but the new Chinese radios do not need them in most instances.
A heavier radio follows the rule: "The heavier they are the harder they fall." And if you drop one of these radios with no leather case around it, something might break. A knob, a button, the LCD, or the battery will detach from the radio with broken hardware. In my Kenwood TH-79, the case of the whole radio split in half.
Somewhere in the weight range of a Yaesu VX-150/VX-170 or Alinco DJ-196, the case became redundant. Unless your radio is subject to continuous extremely rough treatment, the leather case is optional.
The Chinese radios are so light they really do not need a case.
Regardless, a leather or cloth case can be handy, desirable or allow for mounting options that are not available to the bare, naked radio. To give an example, the new Chinese Puxing radios are light, but the belt clip is on the battery, and .... I really do not trust the hardware that holds the battery to the radio. You would feel stupid, just before you have to spend $80 again, if you reach for the radio and find just the battery hanging on your belt, and the radio is somewhere on the trail or in town. Of course, the external speaker-mic can sometimes retain the radio for you!
The leather or cloth case is not always essential, but keep it in mind depending on your particular circumstance.
4. An External Antenna!
The ability to connect to an external antenna is often the difference between having communications or not.
First, the antenna has to connect to the radio somehow. In the old days, HT radios had only one type of connector: the BNC female. The antenna cable would have a BNC male plug. But that is not the whole story.
While you can buy a mag-mount antenna with your specific plug to mate your radio, you will find that base station antennas typically have the UHF plug to connect to a mobile radio. The only remaining standard is that you will have an antenna cable ending with a PL-259 coax plug.
The radio then needs an adapter to allow connecting this PL-259 to the radio. In the old days, a UHF/SO-239 to BNC male adapter was all that was needed. By the way, the SO-239 is the designator for the female mate to the PL-259. These are called UHF Connectors. See the picture at left, with the cable sporting the PL-259 connectors.
The newer radios have an SMA connector. In the case of Yaesu, the radio has an SMA female and the antenna needs an SMA male. The Kenwood and Chinese radios follow an industry standard that has the radio having the SMA male and the antenna having an SMA female.
Regardless, you can have a solid, one piece adapter to take the antenna PL-259 plug and connect it to the proper gender BNC or SMA on your radio. I very strongly advise you not to do that!
An antenna cable is going to be RG-8, RG-8X or RG-58, all of which are pretty stiff and it means your radio will be lifted and moved around by the antenna cable. This means that eventually the radio's antenna connector is going to be damaged, or the case cracked, or the connector stripped or loose. A loose connector will not connect properly inside the radio, and you are out of business.
Rather, I recommend an adapter pigtail. This is a short piece of very thin and flexible coax, with the right connectors on each end, as shown at left. For instance, you can have a 12-inch coax with an SO-239 on the antenna end, and an SMA Female on the radio end. This thin cable will absorb all the strain. You can get them longer than 12", but don't get one that is too long because this cable soaks up your radio signal rapidly. It will not be noticeable on less than 5 feet or so, but any longer and you can give up a lot of signal and power. I understand that 50 feet of this skinny cable, connected to nothing at the far end, is a fine dummy load with perfect SWR! So, limit your cable to 5 feet max. This skinny cable is known as RG-174, but there may be other types out there. It is 1/8 of an inch diameter.
The antenna you choose could be a mag-mount or a base station antenna. If you have a camp, consider a base station antenna. Route your RG-8 size cable to where your radio is going to be in the cabin, then the adapter cable, and then to your Handheld. Be aware that various critters like foxes, voles, lemmings and mice like to chew on cables. Don't lay the cable out on the ground.
With mag mounts you have two choices of antenna: Those that are one piece; whip, magnet and all are made in one piece; and the other is that you buy the whip and the magnet separately.
The one piece magnet antennas are about 18 inches long, and are inexpensive. The MFJ-1724B at left is a good example.
They do need to be put on a largish piece of metal. A car roof, or at minimum a steel drum, a cabin's corrugated or metal roof, or -in an emergency- a cookie sheet. With anything smaller than a steel circle of less than 40 inches across, your performance will not be optimum.
If you simply set this antenna on a wooden sill, or some non metalic surface, it will not work and could damage your radio.
As a rule, one-piece magnetic antennas have smallish magnets, and can blow off a car roof at speed. An antenna trailing your car at 50 mph can cause all sorts of mischief.
However, you can buy the magnet separate. For instance, Diamond makes the 6" diameter K702M (left) that I swear can lift an empty drum. It has a UHF connector for antennas that have UHF plugs. There may be an NMO version, but I am not sure.
Some Diamond/Maldol/Comet antennas with UHF plug base are whips that do not need a ground. Most will require a ground, so shop carefully. The 37" long Diamond NR-770HA (or black HB) comes to mind as an excellent antenna because you do not have to concern yourself with what the magnet clamps on to. This antenna is shown in the picture at left, and screws directly on the Diamond K702M magnet, or similar. Make sure your whip ends up vertical. In actuality, you could set this magnet on top of something wooden because it is big and heavy enough not to get blown around by normal winds.
By the way, if you see my blue Jeep in town, the one with tinted windows and the AL7X license plates; take a look at the left rear corner just above the tail lamp. That is a Diamond NR-770HB, in black, with UHF base.
If you are in a car, or camp, you will find that an external antenna, even one at moderate height (like a tent roof) will give you solid, full quieted, contacts where the rubber duck antenna that came with the radio will not even allow you to hear anything, much less talk to it. The difference is dramatic! I repeat, dramatic!
5. A longer rubber duck!
These are rubber, flexible "rubber duck" type of HT antenna. Unlike the 6" inch or so antenna that came with your HT, these can be from 12 to 18 inches long.
Two types are available: A heavier type, perhaps as thick as a pencil, and another type that looks at first blush to be ideal, about 1/8" thick, or thinner even, and very flexible.
Get the thick type. The skinny type, for some reason, when it gets cold will mold itself to any shape you want. It will not stay straight!
Performance gain can be noticeable, sometimes, but for the most part it is not very significant. In my opinion the gain does not offset the awkwardness of this longer antenna. While antenna gain is dependent on length; the whip is only half of the antenna. The other half is "ground", or in the HT case, the metal box or chassis of the HT itself. Since these longer whips still operate against a sub-optimum ground, the extra length does not always get you double the results!
I have seen people clip a 19" piece of wire to the exposed metal of the antenna connector, to give a full "ground plane" for the antenna. This wire is maximally inconvenient, but if you use it, along with the longer whip, the improvement will be noticeable. Nothing like an external antenna, however.
Unless you have dollars or curiosity to spare, I do not advocate the longer whip. You may decide otherwise and find the results worthwhile.
All of these accesories are worth the investment. Together they will allow you to have good, comfortable communications far beyond what you can do with a "bare" HT radio. In a car, the magmount on the roof and the external mike will make the whole thing much more practical than a plain HT on the seat next to you. In a cabin, walking around in town or the back country, or at the center of an emergency communications center, the little HT will do very well indeed. Anything more, the full sized mobile radio will work better, but sometimes is not really the right size, or needs too much DC power to be practical.
Make good use of that HT!
Copyright © 2013, Ramon Gandia