Field HF Rig Setup


My primary field rig is an SGC SG-2020. This is not necessarily a recommendation, as they have been discontinued for a while now, and are somewhat hard to find used as their owners tend to hold on to them. I first saw one when my ham friend Adam bought one for mobile HF. He lives in an apartment in New York City, and thus was limited in the ability to put up HF antennas. With a modest mobile setup he worked some pretty good DX with this rig.


Most of the time I’m running CW in the field as it works better when running QRP and unlike digital modes only requires a simple CW key and no PC/tablet and soundcard interface.  Keys of choice are the classic J-38 straight key, and the J-37 configured as a KY-116/U leg key.

Antennas in the field tend to be simple wire affairs, using BNC/binding post adapters and an LDG Z-11Pro Tuner. I also keep a basic SWR/Power meter and dummy load handy for troubleshooting.

Those BNC/binding post adapters are my secret antenna weapon. They are awesome. You can easily make dipoles, j-poles (aka end-fed zepps), long-wires, loops, and jungle antennas with them. Cut your antenna wires to the desired band(s) of operation, and you wouldn’t even need a tuner.

During a visit to a local Army/Navy surplus store, I found a transport case for an AN/AVS-6 Aviators Night Vision System, and discovered it would fit everything just fine. The case keeps everything together and protects it all when getting tossed in the back of the truck and hauled around.

Another local Army/Navy surplus store had these MOLLE Harris radio pouches. I think they were originally meant for a PRC-152, but again they fit the SG-2020 just fine.


After much consideration, I’m still using 5 and 7AH 12V AGM “gel-cells” for power in the field. While heavier than some of the newer battery chemistry designs, they are significantly less expensive, readily available at the local Ag stores (they are used in electric fence chargers), and are more tolerant of weird charging arrangements.

At 4.5 lbs for just the radio, this is more of a transportable setup for field use at a picnic site or campsite than for portable use. The Elecraft KX-3 is 1.5 lbs for just the radio, and the LNR Mountain Toppers are even lighter and can run on a single 9V battery. Yet, even packing an SG-2020 with a minimal amount of accessories is not horrible for a day-hike to one of the easier SOTA summits. SGC did make a PortaPak that used 10 D-Cell batteries. They have a reputation of being unobtanium, which means you’ll probably find one on the table of some rural hamfest in the middle of nowhere.

Speaking on the practical side of things, this is transportable HF radio system that you can toss in your vehicle and take wherever. Everything you need is in the case, ready to go, including some basic RF test equipment.  As you can hopefully see, there are a few other accessories you’ll need to get on the air, besides the radio itself. Also having the ability to safely and securely transport the radio without banging it around too much is good.

I get a lot of my radio accessories from hamfest vendors and Army/Navy surplus stores.  Two vendors I used back east who also do mail order are Quicksilver Radio and Hamsource. They are both good guys. Check their respective pages for their hamfest schedule, and please let them know that Sparks31 sent you.


3 thoughts on “Field HF Rig Setup”

  1. Sparks,
    Thank you for all the info you present in this blog. All your previous blog work, newsletters, and books have been a treasure trove of info. Congrats on getting back into classes. Have you ever looked at the µBITX radio kit? I am sure it will not be as sturdy as a product from Yaesu or Icom, but 10 watts on 80m-10m for $129 and very little weight sounds interesting.
    Thanks and 73,
    Don KG5CMS.


    1. Hey Don,
      I’m starting to roll my own radios, and have been using SSDRA and EMRFD as references.
      While I haven’t had any direct experience with the uBITX, reports about it are pretty good. I’ve been looking into some of the kits from Hendricks and QRPme. I’ll report it on the blog as I go.
      Just like other preps, PACE also applies to Comms, and most beginners are likely not at the skill level to roll their own, either as a kit or from scratch. Hopefully after he/she gets a store-bought rig of whatever make and model to get on the air, they crack open the books from my list, buy some tools and basic test equipment, and do some DIY for their next rigs.
      Admittedly, I always fantasize that some young proto-ham does it the way the character did in “The Receiver” from the T.W. Lee book. Unlikely, but we all have dreams.


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