If you are new to preparedness, and especially ham radio, you probably don’t have a lot of supplies, radios and miscellaneous prepper stuff yet. However, if you have been doing the ‘prepper thing’ for any time then you know how quickly items can accumulate and the challenges in storing it and keeping it organized and inventoried. In this article, we are going to look at some options when it comes to organizing your radio gear.
Get Home Bag Radio Kits
For those just starting out with a small amount of gear a small bag with extras in your go kit is a good start. Your kit should have the basics, such as an extra battery, microphone with an earpiece and a ladder-line or roll up J-pole antenna with some extra cord and a small weight to launch over a tree branch. An earpiece is a ‘must have’ in your go kit/get home bag because you don’t want to give away your location, or the fact that you have a radio, when you are on the move. If you have two radios then the one in your go kit should be in a faraday bag– a handheld will fit in the small bags sold by Survival Dispatch. Click here to view.
Additional items that should be added to your bag include rechargeable batteries and a clamshell for your radio. A solar panel and charging unit for the batteries is also a good idea. Goal Zero makes a nice compact panel and charging bank for AA batteries in the Guide 10 and Nomad 7 (see link below). If your batteries can be charged from a rechargeable power cell (usually the rechargeable AA’s can be in their holder) then consider carrying a charged power cell. These are useful when you need to charge equipment and it’s dark or overcast and a solar panel won’t work.
Small bags for keeping your gear organized in a larger pack can be found in the Survival Dispatch Amazon store. Click here to view.
You can organize small parts, such as earpieces, by putting them in small Ziplock type bags. If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain keeping things dry, especially electronics, can be a challenge. Depending on the size of organizer bag you get you can keep the radio in it with the antenna and mic/earpiece coming out through a small opening left in the pouch and then keep the pouch clipped to your belt or backpack. This will provide some protection for the radio. If it is raining you can take a Ziplock type bag, punch a small hole (especially if you have the thin whip antenna) through the bottom of the bag and then place the radio in, so the bag is upside down over the radio. While this isn’t completely waterproof it will keep some moisture off the radio.
Your daily kit should also contain a cheat sheet for programming your radio, so you can add frequencies into the VFO if needed. This is especially useful if your radio is limited in its memory and you don’t have space to program all the repeaters in areas that you travel. Nifty makes small manuals for most radios on the market as well as single sheet cards – these are available in the Survival Dispatch Amazon store. Click here to view.
The Going Home Communications Field Guide contains a programming cheat sheet for Baofeng model radios. You should also have a list of repeaters for everywhere you travel, as well as simplex frequencies. The Going Home Communications Field Guide has pages to record all this information as well as codewords to indicate immediate actions, such as stop transmitting, change direction, bad guys in your area, etc. as well as isograms, checkerboard, codebook and several sets of one-time-pads.
A Rite-in-the-Rain notebook together with a zippered book case is another option that allows you to record challenge and authentication codes, cyphers and other information about your group’s communication plan and the book case has pockets for laminated copies of frequencies etc. In addition to the Going Home Communications Field Guide I also carry a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook in a zippered pouch. This allows me to record authentication codes for different elements of groups (i.e., each group has different authentication in case of compromise). It also allows me to compose a one-time-pad message prior to sending, even if it is raining.
For more information on authentication codes, isograms, one-time-pads, etc. see the articles in the February 2018 issue.
As your gear grows, and like any hobby it will with ham radio, you will acquire more gear. You may well have a mobile 2meter/70cm radio set up in your vehicle, but a mobile radio set up, especially HF capable, in a portable configuration will allow you to carry it and set up wherever you need. There are several ways to do this, including ammo cans and hard cases.
Pelican brand cases, which exceptional for protecting sensitive equipment, are expensive and may be overkill for most of our needs. Harbor Freight sells a brand called Apache in four different sizes with foam inserts. Ideally you would want to keep everything to operate the radio in the case, so you don’t end up leaving one behind however. If this is for HF operations you may not be able to fit anything other than a long wire (14agw wire) in most cases. You also need to remember that you need to allow air flow around the radio; some radios have a fan, others just have heat sinks that air needs to flow over. The more you transmit, and the more power you use, the hotter the radio can get.
One of the best layouts inside a hard case I’ve seen is what my son did years ago when he first got licensed and I bought him a radio. He cut a piece of plywood to fit into the bottom of the case. He drilled two sets of holes on each end and put a short length of code through to function as handles to lift the wood out. The radio body (the radio was an Icom 208H which has a remote head) was mounted to the wooden base together with a power supply. The radio control head was mounted to the inside of the lid, so it was visible when the lid was open. The power supply cables were connected with Anderson Power Poles (a standard adopted by most ARES groups and how all my equipment is.
So regardless of the radio or power supply manufacturer everything is interchangeable. This allowed him to use the included power supply or connect to an external battery. Under the wooden base he kept operating manuals, frequency list as to how the radio was programmed and other contact information. A 50ft length of coax would sit on top of the radio when the lid was closed. A collapsible J-pole antenna sat in a base made from a used paint tin with apiece of PVC pipe in the center and weighted with quick dry cement. He also had an extendable painters pole (the kind you can find in Home Depot) which he could place in the can and secure with guy wires, with the J-pole attaching to the top of the pole which could extend up to 30ft. This set up allowed quick setup anywhere.
Hard cases can also be used to keep other gear. I use an Apache case from Harbor Freight to keep a 80meter NVIS set up. The case contains a MFJ-904 antenna tuner, antenna wire, cord and insulators and a short section of coax to connect the tuner to the radio. Lengths of 50ft and 100ft coax are in another box with the radio, which is inside a faraday bag.
If you set up a HF radio in a hard case you can use a homemade AS-2259GR NVIS antenna from PVC pipe mentioned in the article Larger Better Antenna Options, and you have HF capability on 40 and 80 meters.
Wheeled Hard Cases
Another setup you can consider is a wheeled case. The Rigid tool box, found at Home Depot, has plenty of room for a good rechargeable battery, which can be heavy, and then room for a radio and other accessories mounted on a wooden board. Depending on what you mount you can leave room to one side to access the bottom of the box to keep items such as coax, wire antennas and other items. As it is on wheels it is easy to move but might be heavy to lift. The nice thing with the Rigid tool boxes is that they stack and interlock, allowing you to have other equipment, parts and tools in some of the different sized tool boxes.
Ammo Can Radios
I’ve seen some nice setups built out of, usually, .50cal ammo cans. Some are the metal ones and some in the large plastic ammo cans. The ones in the metal cans may provide some protection from an EMP or CME. There is a Facebook page Ammo Can Comms (see link below) that has some great designs.
As with any design you need to make sure you have some method that allows air to circulate around the radio. If you cut a hole and put a fan in the side, you have compromised waterproofing. If you leave a gap in the ‘face plate’ that might provide enough circulation or add a fan into the faceplate. Obviously, a fan is going to drain your battery quicker if you use a battery either in the box or externally.
If you buy an 2m/70cm/HF radio, such as the Yaesu FT-857D, you can have an ‘all in one’ setup. As you might have read in another article, I’m not a huge fan of ‘all-in-one’ radios so you could look at the Yaesu FT-891 and any of the 2m/70cm radios like the Yeasu FTM-400XDR or Icom IC-2730A. If you include a SignaLink you would have digital message as well as voice capability across nearly all the bands, and certainly on the AmRRON nets.
After you have been a ham for a while, and even as part of your preparedness supplies, you will/should have a lot of miscellaneous. This can include Powerwerx Powerpoles, RJ11 and RJ45 connectors (used in connections for remote head radios, microphones, etc.), 3.5mm plugs, PL-259 coax connectors, various coax connector adaptors and more. I find the partition boxes from Harbor Freight are perfect for organizing and keeping small parts.
Other items you seem to acquire are cables; programming cables and the various types of USB cables. One way to keep these organized is with Velcro cable ties (available in Harbor Freight, Home Depot and similar stores), labelled with the radios they program in the case of programming cables, and them place in a heavy-duty plastic bag, such as freezer Ziplock bags.
Rechargeable batteries are another item that if you don’t have them organized they seem to migrate to all areas of your house. Again, the plastic organizer boxes work well.
Information such as frequencies, band plans, group communication plans, one-time-pads, isograms, authentication codes etc. are important and you need to have a system to keep the information up to date and organized. In other articles I’ve mentioned the zippered holders for Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks and the Going Home Communications Guide. There are other field guides that are available and should be part of your go kit. While some of these contain duplicate information each also contains unique and specific information. These include (links are at the end of the article):
ARES Field Resource Manual – contains National Traffic System message formats and information
Auxiliary Communications Field Operations Guide (AUXFOG)– band plans, Marine, air and other frequencies, RJ45 and other connector information
National Interoperable Field Operations Guide (NIFOG) – interoperable frequencies
Going Home Communications Guide – band plans, wire antenna lengths, isograms, authentication codes, one-time-pads, brevity codes and more. (The guide is currently in production and announcements will be made once it is printed).
There are lots of different ways to store, protect, organize you radio equipment and parts. Keeping things protected is important so your equipment is not damaged. Keeping parts organized so you can find them when you need them is also important. As you acquire various parts for projects, such as building an antenna, consider buying enough for two, or more, and keep the parts stored for when you need to build additional antennas in the field or post SHTF. Trying to find connectors, nuts, bolts, etc., post SHTF will be very difficult.
Goal Zero Guide 10 and Nomad 7 solar kit https://www.goalzero.com/shop/solar-kits/guide-10-plus-nomad-7-plus-kit/
Harbor Freight Apache hard cases https://www.harborfreight.com/catalogsearch/result/index/?dir=asc&order=EAScore%2Cf%2CEAFeatured+Weight%2Cf%2CSale+Rank%2Cf&q=apache
Ammo can comms Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/277298416132581/
AmRRON nets https://amrron.com/
ARES Field Resource Manual http://www.arrl.org/files/file/ARESFieldResourcesManual.pdf
Auxiliary Communications Field Operations Guide (AUXFOG) ww.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/AUXFOG%20June%202016%20-%20508%20Reviewed%20-%20Final%20%282-16-17%29.pdf
National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG) https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/National%20Interoperability%20Field%20Operations%20Guide%20v1%206%201.pdf