FAQ: 'Which is the best antenna for portable (backpacking) use?

The following are the opinions expressed by various amateurs. I suggest you read them all and decide for yourself which antenna suits your requirements. Thanks to those who spared the time to assist with their ideas.

I will kick off this discussion with some views of my own.

On my last visit to VK, as VK5GCC, I took a 33 foot wire, a 17 foot counterpoise and a home made L-match. With this in different locations I was able to work some good DX (including into the UK on 40m) using 2 watts.

I found I could get good results on the three bands I used mostly, 40, 30 and 20m CW. I used the antenna from different locations and in my experience, an end fed needing one support only has an advantage over the dipole idea. The counterpoise was pressed into service as a single wire and occasionally was connected to any adjacent metal, a nice metal water tank in one location and a bed frame in another.

On another location, in Scotland, I used a 40m dipole fed with 300 ohm ribbon to a balanced AMU, which worked well on four bands. The centre of this antenna was attached to string thrown over a tree branch and tied to a stone on the ground. Quick to erect and worked well.

Frank G3YCC

I have two favorites and take them both:

1.  Dipole, cut to length, usually 40 or 20M.

2.  Half wave length wire plus a similar counterpoise and the ZM-2 tuner.
Usually configured as a vetical but have used it as a horizontal antenna.

I use the dipole if I can find two suitable supports.  If I have only one
support my experience is that the wire/tuner combination work better than
the dipole as an inverted V.

Bob KI0G

I have strong feelings about a "best" antenna. First it depends
on whether you are planning to work most/all bands. If so, then THE antenna
for me is the Collins 637-T1 or 'T2. This is a somewhat heavy unit for the
long trip backpacker, but for less rigorous weight demands, or portable
use, it is ideal. The antenna is contained in a tough plastic body weighing
a little less than 3 lbs. sized about 5 inches by 9 inches. It has two
dials on either end you set to zero with the coils of #14 phosphor-bronze
antenna wire wound inside. The dials are then calibrated in MHz, and all
you have to do is reel out an appropriate "frequency" from each side. There
are appropriate fasteners to hold it tight while in use, and a molded in
place to attach a rope to raise the unit. When finished, just reel it back
onto the two reels using the spinners mounted on the dial-faces and you're
off to your next QTH. It has a type-N connector for your coax. They have
become available on the surplus market, and, while they are not cheap, they
are a superb, rugged answer to portability, and compactness while camping
or back-packing.


I am a rank newcomer in backpacking / QRP operating. But, given that, I just
use a wire dipole fed with coax. Currently using RG8X / 14 gauge wire as I had
several made up, but plan to make up some from a lighter gauge and RG58.
I don't mess with a tuner. I mount it inverted vee style or, preferably,
dipole style (depending on available trees on that cliff). Always try for a
significant dropoff in the desired direction (see AA7QUs notes in ARS website).

Grant K7GT  

My favourite is a kite-borne vertical Zepp.  That is, a "vertical"
half-wave of wire held up by a kite and fed at its lower end with one leg
of the lightest 300 ohm ribbon cable I can find (the other leg of the
feeder remaining disconnected of course).  The "vertical" naturally always
slopes away from the wind, depending on the type of kite and strength of
wind at the time of operating.  However, a well trimmed box kite or
parafoil kite can hold the wire at better than 45 degrees to the ground
and, in any case, I've never noticed that the slope made much difference to
the results.  The parafoil kite is ideal for this type of operation since
it flies well in light winds, has good lifting power and, most importantly,
has no rigid parts so it will roll into a small bundle and squeeze easily
into a rucksack.  Of course, this type of antenna is only good for windy
days.  I'll leave other contributors to suggest the best antennas for
non-windy day back-packing!

Dave G3LSL

My favorite backpack antenna is a 40 meter center-fed inverted-vee with an
open angle of about 100 degrees; fed with 50' of 440 ohm stranded

I cut the antenna to 67', use a homemade 1/4" plexiglass T with three slots
as strain relief for the antenna's feedpoint.  Drill 1/4" holes in ends and
top for a rope support.

A tuner and SWR bridge are needed, but can work very efficiently with a
Z-Match and a resistive type LED bridge used so successfully in Joe N2CX's
Rainbow Tuner and the AZ ScQRPion  LED/SWR kit.  In fact, the Emtech ZM-2
used this technique.  One downside is if the height is not substantial then
must ensure the ladderline is not looped, away from metal objects.  One
could make the feedline 30' and make a 20' patch cable in case the antenna
can be brought to good heights in the field.
This is my favorite antenna for the following reasons:

1. Ease of setup.  Only one tall tree or support necessary.
2. Not necessary to lengthen and/or shorten the elements to resonance based
on environment or a particular band of band segment.
3. Multi-band; able to work 40 through 10 meters with one antenna.
4. More omnidirectional vs. a conventional flat-top dipole.  Maximizes QSO
5. Nice gain figures on 20 and 15 meters.  Also the inverted-vee has better
gain figures on 10 meters vs. a flat-top dipole configuration.
6. Stranded ladderline is much easier to wrap up when done.  I use cheap
masking tape to secure.  It tears off quite easily with residue left on the
feedline (as is electrical tape).
7. Have been very successful with this portable setup for the past 3 1/2

Kevin N2TO

If you are TRULY backpacking the only way to go is a super-lightweight wire
antenna. Some time ago I bought some 17-strand copper coated steel, PVC
sheathed #26 AWG antenna wire (Product #541 - The Wireman, South Carolina ,
USA). The stuff is quite incredibly strong, and makes a great lightweight
long-wire (300 feet weighs around 8 ozs) for either tree installation or kite
lofted (using the wire as the kite "string") with a parafoil, all-cloth kite
just a few ounces in weight, that folds up into "nothing". If using the kite
support system it is essential to use something like a 10K 1 watt resistor
from the antenna wire to ground at the tuner to bleed off static induced in
the wire by the wind and other atmospheric sources. You also need a
counterpoise for the above which you should lay out in the direction of the
antenna itself enough for at least an 1/8 to a 1/4 wave of the lowest
operating frequency you are planning on using.

If you have the weight allowance in your backpack about 60 feet of skinny 300
ohm ladder line along with two 51 foot lengths of the lightweight antenna wire
discussed above plus some small, homemade plastic insulators make for a great
center-fed Zepp style antenna that will tune to just about all the bands you
want to work with a balanced tuner or a regular unbalanced tuner with an
external  home constructed 4:1 balun (15 or so turns bifilar wound on a
suitable size toroid for your operating power).

I love wire antennas for backpacking as they are relatively inexpensive,
efficient, lightweight and can be scrunched down to almost no space.

David  KB2TQX     

I think the best Antenna for backpacking is,  a 1/2 wave long wire.  I take
66+ feet of # 24 Stranded wire coiled up with an Aligator clip on one end.
I have a small length of rope with a tennis ball on one end of it, I toss it
up into a tree, attach the free end of the wire to my rope and pull it up
into the trees.  Clip the 1/2 wave length wire to my rig and have at it.
Free end of wire can be doubled over itself to make for 1/2 wave Antenna on
any band 40 Meter and higher.
I don't worry about a counterpose or ground wire, everything seems to work
This is a simple, light weight, very cheap, system, that is very easy/fast
on putting it up and taking it down, and gives what I think are very good

Jim, KU4QW

I've had a lot of success with a plain dipole, usually in the Inverted Vee
configuration.  I had a 15 foot mast that I strapped to the external pole
of a tent and then ran the two legs to convenient trees etc.  I never used
a tuner which simplifies matters and never used a SWR meter which saved
worry and stress.

I tried it out at the same height at home and then used it repeatedly
without any problem.

All my /P operation was from camping sites reached by car so weight wasn't
a major consideration.


Jim, VE2KN

I like the SLV as it makes for a fb walking staff when collapsed and
sets up in no time at all. Also, performs well from high ridges above
the tree line where it would be difficult, if not impossible, to put up
a dipole. Vern Wright's (W6MMA) mods also add a great deal of
versatility and convenience to the basic idea.

Arth W6AGS

End-fed vertical half-wave wire with counterpoise.

(1)  Very compact, with little or no feed line -- only a small L/C tank circuit
for matching/tuning.

(2)  Omni-directional

(3)  Low take-off angle

(4)  Only one support wire (no need to look for two nicely spaced trees)

(5)  Can also be set up as a sloper, inverted-V, inverted-L, etc., where a
sufficiently high support cannot be found, where directionality is desired,

72 DE K1CL,

My favorite backpacking / hiking antenna is the St. Louis Loop ( SLL ) which
does require a transmatch if you are using it as a multi-band antenna with
twinlead / ladderline.

This is a very forgiving antenna that produces results. It has been published
in the Peanut Whistle, NorCal QRPp, and CW Ops Australia.

The SLL can be used horizontal, vertical, or as a sloper. the sloper version
uses only support pole, which can be a 'Black Widow' or other 20 foot fishing
pole. Actually if you are backpacking into the trees or to the desert, this
antenna is ground independent, has no radials, is field repairable and provides
a small footprint. Depending on how the antenna is set-up, the operator
has the option of cloud warming to low takeoff angle for dx. This is a most
useable antenna for many occasions.

Walter AG5P 

2 meters and up:
1) rubber duck of the rig
2) hb9cv (2el for 2meters and 3el for 70cm)

HF :
20 met V inv. dipole
home brew 5 band vertical
some wire and a h.b. tuner
commercial 5 band whip
20 metres loop

Silvio I1SU

Possibly it's no use of speaking about  t h e  best ant to be used for
/p.I have been several times in G and in GM this summer.
All depends on the situation. To cut a long story short:

For the upper bands - 10 Mc - I use the upper-and- outer because it is
easily to be mounted with the help of a fishing pole and the radial can be
used for tuning and there is no need of looking for a tree or any other
means to fix the ends of the wire.

When operating from a b&b site I use the longwire fed through coax from
the DTR 7 this coax then being matched to the wire with a C and a ferrite ring attached to 7 Mc.
I had this rig in Northumberland this yr from my room down to the fence where I used  a 4 m fishing rod to lift the end of the wire.

And only a thin wire is seen, nobody will ask...Possily only one will ask
what fish could be caught with this array.

Dieter DL2BQD

By far the best, most reliable antenna is a simple dipole. I use a 40
meter dipole fed with RG-174 and it works great. I don't use / need a
tuner, it is compact and light, and always performs! That's my two cents.


My standard backpack antenna is a set of dipoles for
the 5 pre-WARC HF bands. I have a 10m length of RG-174
coax cable with an insulator on one end, and separate
color-coded wires which I can add in any combination.
All antennas are pre-cut for best performance in the
favored part of the band when installed as an inverted
Vee with the center up 4m and the ends about 2m off the
ground. I don't use an ATU - just put it up and operate.

This kit was originally built for an extended trip "down
under", and I wanted something to handle all the bands
available on my Argonaut. By using #22 insulated, stranded
wire and RG-174, the weight is quite low. I can put up
a 10m dipole during a lunch stop, or the complete set
if I will be somewhere for a day or two.

Assembly is fairly simple, especially after using it a few
times. (Yes, it as been done in the dark.) First, I choose
the bands I want to operate, tie the wires through a hole in the
center insulator (for strain relief), and attach the ends under
the wing nuts. (Each wire is stripped at one end, and has a loop 
tied in the other.) Then I select one of the longer wires 
and tie my throwing rope on the free end, throw a weight over
a handy tree, and use the wire to hoist the feedpoint. This 
gets at least one wire up as high as possible. The remaining
wires are tied off to branches, rocks, grass, etc., using 
pieces of nylon cord ranging from 3 to 10m long.

Practice and experience are important for it to go smoothly.
The most common problem is using a rock which is too light
to pull the throwing rope back down to within reach. Once
on a sandy beach in VK7 I couldn't find a rock, so I filled 
an old sock with sand. Also, practice tying knots which
can be untied easily: I use variations of the bowline, 
slippery sheet bend, and tauntline hitch. In retrospect,
skills such as rock throwing and knot tying may be more
important to enjoying QRP backpack operation than the
specific type of antenna used.

All ropes and wires in my kit are wound in a figure-8
between thumb and little finger of one hand. This also
takes practice, but it greatly reduces tangles. Rubber 
bands are a simple way to secure each piece after it is
wound. (I don't have room to explain my method of tying
them off.)

One design problem for SSB/CW ops in Region 2, is how to
cover the entire 80m band (3.5 - 4.0 MHz). I solved this
by cutting the 80m wires only 55' long: I add the 10m
wires on the ends for the top of the band, or the 15m wires 
for the low end. A typical 5 band configuration uses 4 sets 
of wires: 40, 20, 10, and (80 + 15).

I've operated QRP portable from KH6, KL7, VK, ZL, VE1, and 
several US states. Sometimes it has required creativity
to put up an antenna. In VK6 I propped the feedpoint up off
the rocks with a 1m stick, and still worked W4. The
individual wires can be combined in various ways to make
more elaborate antennas (such as full wave loops, long wires,
half squares, etc.) when conditions permit. In one case I
connected the 40m and 80m wires as a twisted pair feedline
on a 20m dipole (which was tied between two rock crags - 
the rig was level with the antenna, but the ground dropped 
100m in the length of the feedline!)

For real serious backpacking with a single- or dual-band
rig, I would probably use and end-fed wire. 65' would be
a good length for 40m and 20m. The tuner would be an "L"
network designed for this wire on these bands: small
toriod coil, slide switch to select coil tap, and trimmer
capacitor - about 1" square.

For a serious contest trip, I take along a balanced
tuner, twinlead, and extra wire. This allows maximum
antenna creativity, depending on the available
supports. Long wires, vee beams, loops, and colinear
arrays are good candidates.

My best portable antenna probably was one I put up for
Field Day in Southeast Alaska. It was a zepp fed 135'
wire sloping down from a cedar tree to a post that I had
erected on the tide flats (at low tide.) When the tide
came in, I had a sloping wire over salt water, pointing
stateside. The rig was placed on a couple pieces of
driftwood used as a table. I was so engrossed operating,
however, that I didn't watch the tide as it continued to
advance up the beach... it came within a few inches of
sending me maritime mobile!

Good luck!


I am very much a newbie to backpacking and QRP, too. But... what I used this
summer was a pair of wire dipoles fed with ~36 ft lengths of RG58 coax.
Our rigs were NorCal 40A for 40m and MFJ 9020 for 20m. I have since sold the
MFJ and am anxiously awaiting the NorCal 20 kit.

There have veen several articles written regarding backpacking antenna systems
in QST. A common configuration is to have both a 40m and 20m dipole from a
common coax line. Another is to have a single coax run but have various add-on
legs to the elements to make the resultant antenna resonant on various
bands from 40 up through 10m.

When backpacking, I am not about to carry along a Tuner/SWR /Power meter just
to get a slightly more efficient antenna system. I will carry any extra weight
as spare batteries, thank you!

Grant  K7GT 

On the backpacking antennas. I have been using computer ribbon cable (28
awg) for dipoles "and feedline". I just make a simple knot wherever I want the
center to be and spread out the conductors for the dipole. I then make a
loop knot on each end of the dipole and support with fishing line. 
I know it sounds crazy, but it works. During sweepstakes with 2 watts
(SST) I worked CO, MD, MI, TN, IL and others. I call this the "Ultra-Lite 
Knot Antenna" . With the Emtech ZM-2 tuner this makes a really 
lightweight portable antenna system. 

Dave AB5PC