Thursday, May 14, 2015
External battery packs range in size from units the size of a lipstick to large blocks. Modern battery technology is allowing manufacturers to cram more amp hours into smaller units, but if you want more than one phone recharge, or need to recharge more than one device, you're going to have to buy one of the larger units.
Last Fall I picked up an EasyACC 15,000 mAh pack from Amazon, and used it on my Fall deer hunting trip. It's about at the limit of what I'd call pocket-sized. The two USB ports can theoretically be used to simultaneously charge two devices, although one port puts out 1.5A and the other puts out 2.1A. However, if one of your devices requires a 2A minimum input then you'll be limited to charging one device at a time.
Aside from the big pack, I also have a smaller unit from Duracell that I picked up when I bought my first iPhone. I carry this one in my EDC bag to and from work, just in case there's a foul up during my commute and I need to give my phone a boost.
Friday, May 08, 2015
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
One type of rifle missing from my arsenal has been a centerfire bolt action with a proper southpaw bolt for deer hunting and informal target practice. I have a slew of military surplus bolt actions, but of course the bolt is on the wrong side for me. My club has an annual World War II-themed practical rifle match in which I usually shoot my 1944 Fazakerly No.4 Mk.I, with which I can hold my own against the Garand shooters, but reaching over the top to work the bolt gets tiring after awhile.
Therefore, back on March 5th I ordered a left handed Ruger Gunsite Scout rifle from Bud’s Gun Shop, specifically the stainless model 6821 with an 18.7” barrel. It finally arrived at my FFL yesterday so this morning I played hooky from work to go pick it up, then took it to the range.
To me the Ruger GSR is sorta a 21st Century No.5 Mk.I Jungle Carbine -- a short, full power bolt action rifle with a detachable mag, and a flash hider. Additionally, it has a threaded muzzle to allow you to attach your choice of flash hider, muzzle brake, or suppressor.
I have a No.5 Mk.I (a real one, not a converted No.4) and while the concept was great, the execution was horrible. The stock design is an absolute abomination. I don't know what kind of dope the designers were smoking, but the recoil pad acts as a recoil enhancement pad, because its dimensions are smaller than the wood part of the buttstock. The No.5 handles superbly but recoil is vicious.
The Ruger’s workmanship is good and the checkering on the laminated wood stock is well done. I like the look of the stock and while it won't be quite as rugged and weatherproof as one made of plastic, it'll do for my needs and is much better than a wood stock in that regard.
The rifle came with a single 10 round metal magazine, a thread protector for the muzzle for if you want to remove the factory flash hider, two extra spacers for the stock, a set of Ruger scope rings to fit the receiver's integral bases, and a gun lock. Along with the rifle I'd ordered one each of Ruger's 5 and 10 round polymer mags. Here it is with all three magazines and still wearing the factory rail and rear sight:
In the pic, the rifle is also wearing the M-1907 sling I used on my Garand, when I shot Service Rifle back in the ‘90s.
The bolt is still a bit stiff and will never be as smooth as a Lee-Enfield, but it's nice to have it on the left side. Unusually for a Ruger, the trigger pull out of the box was quite good. I'm guessing it's about 4 pounds with no creep.
Close up of the factory rear sight and rail:
Close up of the right side of the receiver with the XS rail mounted, showing the XS ghost ring BUIS:
The stainless barrel is medium weight with a step, reminiscent of military Mauser barrels. The rifling twist is 1 in 10 inches, and from what I've read in several online reviews it tends to shoot heavier bullets (e.g., 168 to 175 grain) best.
The Gunsite Scout doesn't quite meet Jeff Cooper's criteria for a scout rifle. It's a little overweight and a few inches too long. It's also missing the ability to load using stripper clips, but makes up for that IMHO by using detachable box magazines. Regardless of whether it fits Cooper's definition, the Gunsite Scout is a very handy rifle and I wouldn't want it any lighter. (As an aside, I'm not sold on the scout rifle concept, particularly the intermediate eye relief scope. I found a good critique here.)
Before taking the GSR to the range I brought it home, snugged up all the screws, and ran a couple patches through the bore.
The factory iron sights are very serviceable and the first 10 shots through the gun were with the OEM rear sight in place. However, I'm going to mount a scope in the conventional position over the receiver, so after shooting 10 rounds, I replaced the factory rail and rear sight with an XS Sight Systems rail meant for the GSR. It has a ghost ring peep sight built in, so you don't lose the BUIS functionality of the Ruger rear sight.
I got the sight on the XS rail zeroed at 100 yards and managed to whack a torso-sized gong a few times at 200 yards (all shooting from the bench with my elbows supported. I think one of my friends has my Hoppe's rifle rest).
In total, I put 40 rounds of 7.62 NATO M-80 Ball through the rifle today. With temps in the the upper 30s, 20 to 30 MPH gusts, and a crappy rest, I was doing good to keep them in the 8 ring on an SR-1 target.
Recoil is brisk but nowhere near as bad as a No.5 Jungle Carbine. The Ruger recoil pad is pretty good. I like the ability to change the length of pull by adding or removing spacers. Since I'm short, I removed the spacer installed by the factory. Ruger provides with the rifle an Allen wrench that fits the two screws holding on the recoil pad and spacers.
After trying the three different magazines, I like the 5 round polymer mag best. The 10s stick out too far, especially the metal mag. I'll pick up another 5 rounder. Ruger also sells a 3 round polymer mag that is almost flush-fit. The polymer mags are easier to load than the metal magazine and seem to feed more smoothly.
Here’s the GSR with the 5 round magazine after I installed the XS rail:
It will be getting a scope in quickly detachable rings shortly, and I'll be getting setup to handload .308, especially some reduced loads for less recoil. My father gave me a box of several hundred (at least) .308 150 grain FMJ flat base bullets originally intended for a Garand, but I also plan to try some heavier cast bullet loads.
The scope I’m planning to eventually get is a Burris Fullfield 1-4x TAC-30 in QD mounts. I have on one of my AR-15s and I’m very pleased with it. Light transmission is good, the glass is clear, adjustment clicks are precise, and the reticle is illuminated. The 4x max magnification is plenty for my needs. Plus, it’s $299 on Amazon Prime. (As an aside, why are the only scout scopes with illuminated reticles a $600 Leupold and a cheapy from NcStar? WTF? It’s 2015 fer crissakes.)
Some folks have criticized the GSR as not meeting the strict definition of a Scout Rifle as propounded by Jeff Cooper. For example, it’s a little too long, a little too heavy, and can’t be loaded with stripper clips. However, whether it meets Jeff Cooper’s definition of a scout rifle doesn’t matter for me. In fact, given Cooper’s description of a scout, one may wonder if the whole idea isn’t based on some kind of romantic fantasy of the role of a rifleman.
The likelihood of me emulating Sir Richard Burton or Daniel Boone is minimal. Regardless if the scout as envisioned by Cooper a real thing, the GSR is a compact, easy handling, and powerful rifle suitable for putting lead on target out to reasonable hunting or defense ranges. It would serve well riding in the gun rack of a ranch truck, as a hunting rifle in deep woods, or a patrol rifle for a game warden or wilderness cop.
Overall I'm quite pleased with the Ruger Gunsite Scout after one range trip. Once I get a scope on it I'm looking forward to finding out what loads it likes, and hopefully taking a deer with it this Fall.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
After work and getting off the train tonight and getting back to my truck, I started to clear the windshield of a sleet accumulation. I was a bit careless and managed to hit the driver's side wiper blade with my scraper, and bent it, breaking a plastic piece. Thankfully, I had a set of spare blades in the box that I keep in the back of my Xterra. What could have been a major PITA was just a minor inconvenience.
The first time I had to change a wiper blade while away from home was about 20 years ago, during a commute to law school. I was driving during a snow and ice storm, and the driver's side wiper ripped. I had spares with me so I pulled over and changed it.
When I change my wiper blades as part of ordinary maintenance, typically what I'll do is rotate out the ones I kept as spares, then put the new blades in my truck box. That way the spares don't get too old and possibly dry rot.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
This afternoon I took a walk with my daughter Amanda and had her take this picture of me wearing the French surplus parka that I wrote about last week.
The conditions were about 25 degrees F. with some wind and snow. Underneath the parka I had on a long sleeve T-shirt, a cotton flannel shirt, a Cabela’s Primaloft 100 jacket, and a knit cap. I was quite comfortable. The French surplus jacket kept out the wind and protected most of my face even when I was walking into the wind. This parka definitely gets two thumbs up from me.
Back in 2011 Rod Teague of the Liberty Tree blog posted his tutorial on how to build what he calls the “Hellcat” ALICE pack. The Hellcat ALICE combines parts from recent MOLLE II rucksacks with the old standby ALICE pack. It’s an excellent blend of modern and older technology and has proven to be popular among bushcrafters and survivalists.
One of my goals for 2015 is to do a bushcrafty camping trip where I hike into a campsite and carry all I need on my back. To do so I need rucksack larger than what I had, so last weekend I picked up a large ALICE in very nice shape, and then ordered parts to build my own Hellcat.
The parts all arrived this week and I put it together today. Here is it shown with my USGI Military Sleep System inside to provide some shape to it.
The MOLLE II waist belt and shoulder straps came from eBay vendors. I also wanted to replace the antiquated metal sliders on the compression and pocket straps with Fastex buckles. For these, I ordered a repair kit from Amazon.
The buckles arrived first so that was the first mod that I tackled. The original metal sliders need to be removed from the ruck first, without damaging the existing straps. I used a set of Wiss aviation snips to clip them off. You can also use a Dremel with a cutoff wheel. With the old sliders removed you can install the repair buckles. You’ll need five of the 1” wide on a large ALICE; the kit comes with four. For the last one I used a buckle that I had in my junk pile and used the snips to cut a slot like the one found on the repair buckles. It’s the black one on the middle pouch, below.
For additional security I put a cable tie around each short strap where it snaps to the pocket.
The Fastex buckles make opening and closing the pockets a lot easier, and allows you to move the lid out of the way much better than the original sliders. Even if you don’t do the full Hellcat mod the Fastex buckle mod is very worthwhile.
The MOLLE II shoulder strap kit that I got is a bit different from the one shown in the original tutorial. The design probably evolved over time. The frame attachment straps are different so I had to come up with a slightly different way to attach the shoulder strap yoke to the frame. The load lifter straps are just threaded under the top frame bar, through the loops on the frame, then secured in place with the Fastex buckles.
The web straps had a couple areas that were folded over and stitched so that the webbing was three times the thickness of the unfolded webbing. I carefully removed this stitching so I could thread it through the buckles and give me a little more length. To make threading the webbing easier, I cut each end on an angle then fused the ends with a lighter. The short connector straps that come with the shoulder strap assembly were discarded after removing the buckles, which were used as shown above.
The shoulder strap assembly that I got has a different long middle strap from the one described by Teague. Instead of a Fastex buckle it has an ALICE-type metal slider, and I believe the webbing is shorter. After removing the slider I had to come up with a way to attach it to the middle of the frame. I settled on using a couple cable ties:
I may replace these cable ties with some 550 cord or beefier ties.
The bottom of each shoulder strap is threaded through the round hole on either side of the ALICE frame at its base. This also shows a side view of how the waist belt is attached to the frame.
And here’s a top view of the waist belt attachment. You thread the attachment straps through the same loops on the frame that the ALICE kidney pad uses, and then secure them with the buckles on the pad.
The waistbelt is the most important part of the conversion for making the ALICE carry like a modern pack. Properly adjusted it allows you to transfer most of the weight you’re carrying from your shoulders to your hips. There’s a little movement in the attachment but we’ll have to see if it’s a problem under load.
The final component of the Hellcat conversion is the MOLLE Sleep System Carrier. This is a bag that straps onto the bottom and which holds your sleeping bag. I haven’t yet obtained one but will be ordering one shortly. At first I thought I might be able to compress my MSS down and just carry it in the main compartment, but doing takes up pretty much the whole thing. So, I’ll get the carrier bag and strap it onto the bottom.
Were I to starting out all over with this project, I’d order a Hellcat conversion kit including the straps, waistbelt, and sleeping bag carrier. One place to get such a kit, an ALICE with conversion kit, or a complete Hellcat is The Old Grouch’s Military Surplus.
The Hellcat and Fastex buckle mods greatly improve the performance of the ALICE pack, making for a low cost alternative for recreational backpacking or your bugout bag.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
The German surplus flecktarn camoflage Sympatex parka with a that I’ve used for several years as a rough-use waterproof outer layer was in need of replacement. The last time I wore it I got wet. While I might be able to revive its water repellency, a few weeks ago I ordered a French surplus Gore-Tex parka in the “CCE” camo pattern from CTD to replace it.
Note: The parka isn’t, as far as I know, made with actual Gore-Tex. Rather, it’s a similar moisture vapor permeable membrane.
The parka I received was made in 2005 and is in unissued condition.
The French CCE camo is obviously based on the American Woodland camo pattern, which in turn was based on the earlier M-1948 ERDL camo. Compared with Woodland, it a bit lighter, due to a large amount of a tan in the pattern.
The parka has several nice features:
- Sealed seams.
- A large, oversized hood. It looks like it’s meant so you can fit it over a helmet. This means you can fit it over pretty much any warm hat you might wear. The hood can be cinched down using elastic shock cords and an adjustment tab on the back. The hood can roll up into the collar, but it’s lumpy if you do so. I’m just going to leave it unrolled.
- High collar that comes up about to your nose.
- Two-way zipper covered by dual storm flaps.
- Pit zips with two-way zippers.
- Two large cargo pockets with zips and storm flaps.
- Two Napoleon breast pockets that are protected by the the same storm flaps that cover the main zipper.
- Elastic cinch cord at the lower hem.
- Velcro-adjustable cuffs.
Overall, the quality of workmanship appears very good. Between the high collar and huge hood, you can really button up for foul weather.
The parka is consists of three layers – the outer camo layer, the breathable membrane, and the inner layer with taped seams.
All the zippers are plastic but feel like they are high quality. The snaps are secure but easy to snap and unsnap. The adjustment bungees on the hood, collar, and hem all have cord locks.
On each upper arm there is Velcro patch about 1.75” x 2.5”, and 2” square Velcro patch on the front. Presumably, the shoulder patches are for flags or unit patches while the front Velcro is for rank insignia.
Sizing is a bit weird. For reference, I am 5’4” tall and weigh about 185 lbs. (damn gut), and have broad shoulders for my height. I wear a 33” sleeve. The XL parka fits me very well. There’s plenty of room for layering -- with a Polartec 300 SPEAR fleece it’s comfortable without feeling like I’m wearing a tent, without being binding. The sleeves are about 34”, which isn’t too long for me. The lower hem reaches down to my mid-thigh. Normally, an American garment in XL would have sleeves a bit too long for me.
My first test of the parka was on one of my nightly walks around my subdivision. The temp was about 30*F with some wind and freezing rain. I was out for 36 minutes. (Thankfully, I made my circuit without falling and breaking my neck.)
With the SPEAR fleece for insulation, the French parka kept me dry and kept the wind out. The pit zips were easily worked once I started to warm up, and I was able to adjust the hood over my ball cap to keep out the rain. After getting back inside I noticed that there was actual ice frozen onto the outside of the parka.
I tried the parka again the following day. It was in the upper 30s but with gusts up to 10 MPH. Worn over a sweater it provided ample wind blocking.
Compared to the German Sympatex parka the French parka is much nicer. The pit zips help with temperature regulation and the hood allows for bulkier headwear underneath. The French parka’s cargo pockets are larger and it also has the two chest pockets. The French coat has a two-way zip while the German parka does not. Both jackets have Euro zippers, which are backwards compared with the zips used on American men’s clothing. A bit annoying, but c’est la vie.
As for the two parkas’ camo patterns, which one is better depends on where you are. Flecktarn is one of the best camo patterns available for wooded terrain. It works very well in the Pennsylvania hard woods. The French CCE camo hasn’t been available in the US for as long as flecktarn, so we’ll need to test it in the field.
I don’t know how the French parka would compare with a USGI Gore-Tex ECWCS parka, since I’ve never owner or used one. If a reader has experience with both, please post your impressions in a comment.
For $40 plus about $12 to $20 shipping, the French CCE parka is a good deal, if the sizing works for you. It’s well designed, well made, and should be rugged. I’m looking forward to using it as a shell for camping, hiking,shooting, and hunting in cooler weather.
IA Woodsman posted this video of a DIY emergency tarp shelter made from a mylar space blanket, a couple garbage bags, duct tape, and parachute core.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Lightweight Pack radios
I’m writing this piece from the standpoint of needing a lightweight back-packable radio that I can take with me on overnight and several night outings so weight and power out are critical considerations.My definition of lightweight is that I will use the target weight of approximately 5lbs or less to design a lightweight packable radio system (minus antennas) capable of SSB use.
Thoughts on power
One thing I will talk about is what I consider useable power levels, and I acknowledge that this topic is highly divisive so I’ll put down my opinions on it and people can disagree with me if they like (and I know they will). I will begin with a simple fact: nearly all of the worlds militaries have for four decades decided on a ~20-30W power level for their portable SSB backpack radios as the best compromise for reliable man portable SSB HF communications and in my opinion for reliable SSB work this is probably the best compromise between power out and weight and power consumption. However, very few of the examples examined here offer a full 20W output as a stock configuration, so some sort of amplifier is required. I will fully acknowledge that SSB contacts CAN be made with very little power under the right conditions, been there done that, but in general it is my experience that there is a big difference between making SSB contacts with 5W and 20W, not merely the measly 1 S unit of power as many folks with come back with as a counterpoint. I will break it down as saying as 5W SSB is great for CW and data modes such as PSK31 but generally unsuitable for making reliable SSB comms. 10W of power is again great for CW and data but still a bit marginal for SSB. In my opinion and experience, 20W+ is the best range for low power SSB under most ionospheric conditions. That being said I will jump in and examine the commonly available options in the new and used ham radio market, the list isn’t meant to be comprehensive but I feel like I’ve covered most of the basic rigs available.
I will discuss 3 different configurations, the base radio and what it weighs (with batteries) and then 20W and 50W configurations with an outboard amplifier. For the sake of comparison I have chosen the MX-P50 Chinese amplifier and a Zippy 4.2Ah LiFePo4 external battery and various elecraft or LDG ATUs (noted) for the comparison to keep the configurations simple, all weights posted include internal batteries if available as well. Certainly one can decide if 4.2Ah is enough capacity to run the system for the required time, but I’ve used it as convenient placeholder. It should be noted the amplifier listed does require a very good antenna match, hence all configurations will include an ATU. Alternately I suppose you could use a perfectly matched antenna, but in practice in the field its too much of a pain IMO, a tuner is the same weight or less and much easier to use.
Elecraft KX3 HF+6m
The KX3 is often bandied about as the do it all super lightweight wonder radio for backpacking, SOTA and other lightweight activities. It certainly boasts a lot of great features such as IF DSP, internal ATU and batteries and fancy things like CW/PSK31 decode, AND it is lightweight and compact to boot. Unfortunately the advertised weight is listed without internal batteries, or optional things like an ATU or optional 2m radio module or extra filters or the “optional” mic so it is a bit misleading. Also unadvertised is the fact that to realize its full 10W of output power it does require an external 13.8vdc power source. With those two caveats however it is still very lightweight and does put out a very usable 10W of power. With an external LiFePo4 battery and internal batteries and ATU option the weight comes in at 3.4lbs for 10W output which has the best power to weight and volume ratio at that power option of the radios listed. Adding an external 20 or 50W amplifier is certainly an option however to my knowledge one must also add an external tuner to utilize it with the KX3. With a MX-P50M tuner and outboard T1 or Z817H ATU the weight climbs to 4.9lbs and 5.5lbs for 20W/50W respectively, we can use the outboard battery to run the amplifier and the internal batteries to run the radio. The one area where the KX3 does fall short compared to all the other options is cost, the price for the various configurations is roughly double that for any other configuration running from about 1430 for a loaded (ATU/Filters/mic) base configuration to about 1800 for a configuration with the amplifier and external ATU.
Yaesu FT817 HF/VHF/UHF
The FT817 was the first QRP radio marketed as such, with a very small footprint for the base radio and a 5W power output, achievable on internal batteries, it took the low power world by storm. However almost all later radios had 10W+ power output after folks became frustrated by the FT817’s lack of SSB performance, also partly due to lack of power and any sort of speech processing which should absolutely be included (easily fixed by aftermarket mics or kits). It should be noted that the FT817 is the only radio reviewed that can cover the whole frequency range from HF to UHF, which may make it attractive to some. The base configuration with batteries weighs in at 2.5lbs for 5W of performance (I should note the kx3 is a bit lighter ~2lbs running 5W). For effective HF SSB performance the FT817 benefits the most from an outboard amplifier, using theMXP50A amp and a LDG Z817/Z817H tuners one gets weights of 5.5 and 6lbs for 20W/50W respectively. Essentially the FT817 is half a pound more than the KX3 at every turn and volumetrically comparable to the KX3 configurations. Cost wise it depends, used FT817’s vary widely from ~300-600 USD so the configurations can run from 800 (assuming a 450 base cost) to ~1000 USD depending on if one gets a new or used FT817 to start off with.
Icom IC703/703+ HF+6m
The ICOM703 comes in a 10W configuration with a built in narrow range autotuner. This was a very popular radio for some time but was discontinued by ICOM for some reason. At first glance it is very comparable to the KX3, though the KX3 boasts features like IF DSP vs AF DSP and CW/PSK decoding. Also the stock IC703 with external battery (no internal batts) weighs in at a hefty 5.5lbs and volumetrically is comparable to the 20 and 50W configurations of the FT817. If we start adding things like the amplifier and external ATU the weight rapidly climbs out of “lightweight” territory. The 703 isn’t a terrible choice if you can find one cheaply, and it is nicely integrated aside from the external battery, its just going to be a bit heavier than other options. For those interested add about 2.5lbs to add the 50W amplifier and Z817H tuner for a final weight of ~8lbs and about double the volume. Cost wise since its discontinued varies quite a bit, anywhere from 500-700 on auction sites in the authors experience and then 50 dollars for the battery, in this sense it’s a pretty good deal if one decides 10W is all that is required for the user and one doesn’t need the fancy features and light weight of the KX3.
SGC SG2020 HF only
The SGC SG2020 is sort of the oddball, like the 703 it is no longer produced, it had a mixed repuatation for problems and perhaps that is why it is no longer made. It is a genuine 20-25W radio though it also needs an external battery to run and an ATU is again recommended to match field antennas. In a configuration with our battery and a lightweight elecraft T1 ATU the weight comes in right at 6lbs; not terrible given the power out it compares reasonably well to the amplified KX3 and FT817 based configurations in terms of weight and volume. Cost wise since its discontinued varies quite a bit, anywhere from 500-700 in the authors experience and then 50 dollars for the battery and $160 for theT1 ATU.
Youkits TJ5A 4 HF bands only
A recent interesting offering from youkits targeted at the SOTA and backpacking crowd and running 20W power out. The base rig is fairly barebones, but it is offered with a clip on 4AH LiIon battery pack. Combine this with an T1 ATU and the rig becomes a very lightweight 4.3lb 20W rig, it has a superior power to weight ratio at the 20W power level to every other rig examined. It is fairly basic however and does not cover all bands, it comes in two configurations of 40/20/15/10m and 40/20/17/15m or fancy things such as speech processing (though one presumes this could be user added like on the FT817). The fully assembled radio with T1 ATU and battery comes in at 610 making the cheapest option.
No discussion of QRP radios would be complete without discussing antennas. There are a ton of options in this regard, from ultra-lightweight wires to fancy portable vertical systems such as the buddistick and buddipole. From the authors standpoint of camping antennas, they have to be lightweight and fairly idiotproof. The paar EFZ trail friendly comes in at .5lbs advertised and will handle 25W power on 40/20/10m. If ones camping site has trees (this is not always possible for me) then it is an ideal antenna to take to throw in a tree. Comparable designs include the EARC antenna kit from Hawaii. The buddistick is another popular option, and one that can be emplaced without supports, though it weighs a bit more. It should be noted that while both of these options can be used without tuners in theory, in my experience the EFZ and other multiband designs will be mostly resonant on only one band and close on the others which necessitates some sort of ATU (unless one is very confident of their finals). It is a similar story for the buddistick, the swr will vary somewhat on the surrounding environment, therefore either an antenna analyzer or ATU is required for the best match and frankly the ATU’s weigh about the same as analyzers and are easier to use with presets for the buddistick.
The right radio for someone really depends on primarily on budget and operating style. If you are a drive to your operating site and setup on the picknick table type of operator, a few pounds weight means absolutely nothing to you (why are you even reading this?). However, if one seeks the lightest weights possible at any cost and is willing to give up a bit of SSB power, the base KX3 with an external power pack is probably the best option. If one wants a highly flexible, highly modular and lightweight setup that can be heavily customized ala carte, the FT817 based platform is the best choice as it can run from a uber lightweight 2.5lb 5W CW rig to a 6lb 50W SSB rig and a variety of configurations in between. If one requires a cheap 20W SSB radio and lightweight, then the youkits offering is very tempting both in terms of price and performance though it is limited in terms of band coverage. However if budget and frequency coverage are desirable then the SG2020 and IC703’s if acquired at the right price can also be good choices.
What I’m doing in case you care
I got into a used FT817 for a very good price a few years back, so frankly upgrading that has made a lot of sense for me since I didn’t pay anywhere near “new” prices. I really do like the flexibility of the platform, if I really need lightweight I can take the radio and the internal lithium pack I run and it is enough to work CW barefoot (or data if I did that sort of thing) for a few nights at a weight of 2.5lbs. I can add an outboard Z817 tuner or external battery if I’m concerned about antenna mismatches (and I usually am) or need more runtime for a pound more at 3.5lbs. And then If I feel I need more power, or need to take a SSB radio I can add the Z817 tuner MX-P50 amp and the zippy battery for a 5.5lb 20W out configuration (I use 20W since I am limited by my tuner and by battery life).
What I would do if I were starting from scratch
If I were to do it using “new” components and had a pile of money to spend I would very seriously consider the KX3, it would be as good on SSB in the stock configuration (5w), but it would weigh a bit less (2lbs if numbers can be believed) and have an internal ATU compared to my current setup. If I decided I needed lightweight and a bit more power I just grab a battery pack which gets the weight to 3.4 lbs. Then if I decided I needed more talk power I’d grab the amp and outboard tuner for a weight of 5.5lbs and 20 or 50W out (assuming I used the Z817H tuner so I could run 50W). The only thing I would really give up vs the KX3 is the 440mhz capability, which I really don’t need in the wilds (though 2m has come in handy once in a while).
However, If I weren’t daddy warbucks, I would also very seriously consider the TJ5A as a runner up for a man portable SSB rig given its very low cost and high power output. The band limitations might bother me a bit, but realistically one can certainly get by without 80, 30 and 12m, and the 40/20/15/10m configuration nearly perfectly matches the paar EFZ.
What I wish one of the major manufactures would build.
A waterproof(rainproof, not diveable), durable 20W all mode/band rig that weighs less than 5lbs and is compact with a wideband ATU and with an internal battery bay or clip on Lithium battery pack that can run the rig for an hour or two on SSB (say about the size of the IC703 with battery included max). There should be a provision for vertically mounted HF whip for manpack use, and possibly a separate VHF/UHF whip (though that could be switched internally I suppose) and a front panel mounted BNC connector. There should be a 3 position switch VHF/HF/BNC to indicate where the active antenna is connected. Also there should be effective DSP, and there should be a USB connector for DATA. And it should cost no more than currently priced FT817