Camping/Portable antenna setups

I love operating portable when at camp, or just about for any other reason. I run up to 100W on HF and up to 50W on V/UHF and I usually have 120V power available. When 120V isn’t available I run directly off the 500Ah of 12V batteries in my RV, recharged by 650W of solar. You can see the details on my go-kit here.

Inside the RV
Outdoors is best!

I work with a few different antennas depending on my needs, my available setup/teardown time and my location. For short stays, on HF I use a Comet HFJ-350M telescoping whip that sets on a tripod with a couple of radials, one each for 80 and 40m. This antenna is roughly similar to the Outbacker and a few others, and is intended usually for the QRP crowd doing SOTA activations and the like. You’ll see it towards the rear of the photo below.

Lethbridge, AB

For longer stays I use a 30′ push-up mast that is military surplus. It is lightweight and I can manage it without assistance. It uses compression cam clamps at each stage and each stage has a velcro tie to keep feedlines close to the mast on the way up. The mast has two points for guy ropes at the 20′ and 30′ height. It is the definition of built like a lightweight tank!  I guy it at 20′ (1/4″ rope) level and the legs of the HF can be used as extra stays from the 30′ level. Here you see it deployed at a couple of campgrounds and in RV storage without any antennas on it.

White Bird ID
Creston, B.C.
RV Storage (backyard)

At the the top of the mast I place a dualband 7dBi gain collinear fed with LMR400. The mast came with a bracket for the military’s stock vertical and I adapted it to the brackets for this antenna.

Bracket for base of V/UHF antenna

I’ve tried a few different wire antennas while camping and each has its pros and cons. I stick to half-wave dipoles as they are quick and easy to build and tune and efficient as well. I make them multiband so I don’t have to run around and adjust them to change frequency. I feed them through a 1:1 balun. While I am erecting the mast I ensure that a 1/8″ rope is put through the pulley at the top and tied at one end. This leaves me a lead rope I can attach to the 1:1 and hoist the dipole centre easily up in the air.

Double pulley to hoist dipole and flag up top

At one time I had a full-length 80/40/20m dipole and it was huge at 132′ long. I deployed it only once as it required 4 campsites on either side of me. I was happy in this case as it was late autumn with nobody about but clearly a better solution was needed. After that one deployment I purchased a set of loading coils and now the 80m element is only as long as the 40m element which is much more manageable.

Loading coil for 80m

The LC8073 coils are from Hy-Power Antenna Company in Bethlehem PA and are both well-built and well-priced.

Like my Fan Dipole at home, this antenna is constructed with DavisRF Flexweave wire. Each element end is terminated with a ceramic insulator. The difference with this antenna is it is three single band dipoles fed from a common feedpoint. Not quite a Fan, nor a Parallel, nor a Plain ‘ole Dipole. All I know is it works really well when set up either flat-top or as an Inverted Vee which is how I run mine for simplicity.

For ease of setup and teardown of the antenna itself, each element is wound around a keeper of some sort – pictured below are the 4″ cardboard tubes in use as of the autumn of 2020. This means the whole thing fits into a small box when not in use, and it means it is easy to uncurl for setup. For teardown I lower the antenna and carefully wind up each element so that the next time I deploy it is quick.

In the box for transit
Ready to attach a tag line & coax and hoist in the air

Lastly you may wonder how my feedlines route from outside to inside at the desk. Remember telephone lines? Yep, this trailer had a RJ11 jack on the inside at the desk and another on the outside of the same tip-out, a 12″ run in all. I replaced them with a custom built 3-BNC arrangement as seen here. Yes, the outdoor fixture is a GFI cover with the centre blank plate drilled out for the bulkhead connectors.

Outdoor antenna ports
Indoor antenna ports

Summary: I do Glamping more than Camping these days and my antenna system is in alignment with this goal 🙂