Introduction to Field Operating

If you’ve been paying attention for the last ten or so years, you know that portable operating is one of the fastest growing areas in amateur radio. Even a cursory search will yield a ton of videos, photos, and pages dedicated to the topic: POTA, field day, SOTA, winter field day, IOTA, RaDAR, oh my!

Information Overload

However, what is odd is that many operators who have an interest in portable operating have tremendous difficulty getting started. Why is it that?

If anything, I would think that having so much information available would make it easy to get started. On the contrary, I think the extreme abundance of information is itself part of the problem. Depending on which source a ham views he or she will get completely different advice and be left confused.

MFJ loaded vertical antenna with manual clip for changing the antenna's inductive loading.
Experienced hams often forget that what is simple to us is confusing for new operators. Field operating has to be taught SIMPLY, in manageable pieces.

Consider antennas: one source says dipoles are the only way, another says only end-fed antennas will work, and yet another says that there’s no such thing as an end fed! Confusing enough? Contradictory enough? Frustrating enough?

What if we went about this differently, and broke down field operating into simple pieces that used gear any new ham would already have, without all the jargon, hype, and “my way is the right way” nonsense?

Or even better, what if we taught new operators how to do field operating using basic equipment that a new operator might already have, and and taught using down to earth language that a new operator could grasp?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

A better approach

The dirty little secret of field operating is that you can get started with whatever gear you already have. It’s all just radios, antennas, and electrons, so don’t overthink it, and don’t let the “experts” tell you that what you have won’t work.

If you have a handheld radio and a rubber duck antenna, you’re ready! If you have more than that then you’re already ahead of the game.

Take a moment and round up whatever radio gear you have. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big pile or a small pile, just so long as you have your stuff. Now, see that hardware? That’s what you need to do field operating.

Use what you’ve got!

Four lessons

In the pages below I have taken the “five watts and a wire” approach to getting started in the field, whether your interests are SOTA, POTA, Field Day, or something else.

Each page provides succinct guidance and a “use what you’ve got” approach to getting on the air.

I’m here to tell you that the ham who goes out with an Ht and some guts is going to have more fun and make more contacts than the one who has $1,000 in gear and doesn’t go out because he’s been convinced that he needs $1,001 worth of gear.

Start simple, use what you’ve got, and just have fun!

Updated 2022-05-25