X Days Off Grid Series Introduction

Hello Operators

The first segment of X Days Off Grid is just around the corner. I’ll be heading off to Lapland for some hiking, camping, and practical radcomm exercises. The first of these off-grid expeditions will be the 14th to the 17th of August 2018.

Background

As you all know, the solar powered Field Station project started last year April 2017, with the radar challenge. That’s when I understood the need for a heated shelter, better load carrying capabilities, and easier to deploy gear for winter field operations. Even before that, I wanted to become a highly mobile, field deployable, field radio operator for emergency & preparedness communications. I wanted to become one who could load up, carrying everything needed, and be deployed in the field for practical radio communications. It didn’t matter if it was WinLink, ALE, FSQ, or a mix of the various modes/systems we use. I also wouldn’t be limited to the traditional radio operator tasks, associated with amateur radio operators.

In order to challenge my equipment my skills, show the effectiveness, and share these concepts on YouTube, a method for testing and improving upon the foundation was necessary. That’s where the X days off grid series comes from.

This first trip will take me to 66° North where I’ll get dropped off. From there I’ll hike to a predetermined location, where I’ll set up a base camp and field station.

Training Objectives

Rather than doing the “same old same old”, Operators from the Portable Digital & QRP group on facebook decided on a more practical, real-world approach to the series. So the operator will have to carry out a variety of practical tasks, not necessarily being related to radio communications, but fulfilling a real world mission.

Objectives

  • Hike with the entire solar powered Field Station 15-30km to predetermined operating location.
  • Set up a base camp, radio comms, and solar generator
  • Send a SitRep to another operator, outside the region
  • Send regular beacons using FT8Call
  • Make contacts with FT8Call
  • Check email and weather forecast using WinLink
  • Observe and log local weather
  • Prepare warm meals, and drinks.
  • Radio Communications

Shelter & heat

For shelter and heat I’m using the Nortent Tipi 6 and NorTent titanium wood stove (if required). This gear weighs nothing, and it’s worth it for the amount of comfort it provides from the elements.

Food & water

Cooking by Jetboil

Meals by Summit to Eat

Water filtration by Sawyer mini

At the moment I have two ways of preparing food, and two ways of filtering water. For preparing food I can boil water with the jetboil, or I can use the titanium wood stove to prepare more traditional foods from dehydrated materials and a skillet. For filtering water I use the Sawyer Mini water filter. I can also boil water on the titanium wood stove or with the jetboil. I use the jetboil for Rapid food or hot drink preparation from 0°C (32°F) to plus temperatures. It is completely useless or even redundant during winter, when I’m using the wood stove.

Portable Off Grid Power

By now most of you should know my field station is powered by PowerFilm Solar folding panels.

Solar: I’ll be powering the station with two different solar panels. The first is the PowerFilm fm16-7200. The second panel is the Powerfilm fm16-1200, which simply augments the first panel. Both panels will be connected in parallel, to reach the upper limits of the Genasun GV-10L charge controller.

Batteries: I’ll use two lithium iron phosphate packs. Both packs will be fed by Genasun charge controllers. The smaller pack is purely for emergencies.

  • 10ah 50A pack
  • 4.4ah 30A pack

Please watch: Portable Off-Grid Battery & Solar Power for Amateur Field Communications

Radio gear

  • Yaesu FT-891
  • Raspberry Pi 3B+

The field station is built around the Yaesu FT-891 HF/6M radio. This is a 100-watt mobile rig, slightly larger than the ft-817 but smaller than the ft-857. It is a solid rig, with an excellent receiver. It also has a ridiculously low price compared to other rigs with the same features.

Messaging

I’m taking a different approach to for this trip while being dependent upon two different systems. The first most of you will already know, which is and that’s Winlink. The second requires no infrastructure, and is very similar to FSQ. IT is called FT8Call.

  • FT8Call (FSQ like messaging based on FT8)
  • WinLink Radio email for weather reports and non real-time messaging

Antenna

The primary antenna for this trip is going to be the EMCOMM 3P from chameleon. This antenna was chosen because of its ruggedness, and it’s waterproof housing. We never know what type of weather to expect this time of year, so I would not like to be shut down by an antenna which can’t handle the elements.

Depending on the space I have, I also plan on testing the Packtenna EFHW using the WSPRLite from SOTABeam. It can also serve as my backup antenna if my primary antenna were to fail for some reason.

Load carrying

As we saw in the radar Challenge from July 2018, the hiking trailers an effective way to move the solar powered Field Station from location to location effectively.

If we carefully choose what we take, leaving behind what’s unnecessary, the actual load for the operator carrying a field station over great distances, is minimal. To reiterate on the idea of the hiking trailer, it’s there to augment the hiker. It’s not there so the operator can add a bunch of useless little weight to the load. Some discipline needs to be utilized.

On site tasks

Logging Wind & Temperature

I’ve decided to take wind and temperature measurements at set intervals while the base camp in field station are set up. The only reason for this is to simulate tasks Beyond radio communications.

For this trip a handheld weather sensor will be used. It’s a generic model which measures wind speed, temperature and humidity. Below freezing its accuracy is abysmal. Above freezing it’s accurate enough for my measurements.

Some thoughts

The point of the series is to inspire others to get outside with a more serious, but no less fun, ham radio in the field. There is no one right way about getting out in the field. What’s important is that we become comfortable with the process of learning and adapting.

Another point of the series is to take everything we’ve done on the channel, the DIY battery builds, the antenna reviews, the solar panels & generators, the field testing, the audio interfaces,… to see how it all works, when we get these systems working together as a system, far away from the bosom of familiar territory.

I know it’s not always simple to follow along on the channel. It’s especially difficult to understand how one video is connected to the next, but generally there’s a point on the horizon we’re trying to reach. That’s true even if the end game is not immediately apparent. A few months ago I was in Lapland testing the communication aspects of my field station. I published those videos under the generic titles “2 days off grid”. Those two days in Lapland very much laid the groundwork for the X days off grid series.

2 Days Off Grid Ham Radio Camping in Lapland:

73
Julian oh8stn

Preparing for and documenting these scenarios out in the field is extremely expensive. If you found this post useful, entertaining or inspiring, or educational, consider dropping a buck in the tip jar. You can do that with PayPal, or by joining my Patreon community. You can also use this Amazon link to support the channel through your Amazon purchases.

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