Powering a portable digital Amateur radio station

In this post I thought I would talk about how I power my Radio and Computers in the field.

Like many other operators I pick computers that have low power requirements such as the Raspberry Pi which will run from 5V USB power, or my latest computer the Microsoft Surface Go 2 which as well as having fairly low power requirments compared to other laptops also has and internal battery.

The radios we use for portable operations also have low power requirements, often 10w or less (often referred to as QRP radios) and may also have an internal battery such as mu current favourite radio the Icom IC-705.

Although the internal batteries will keep us on the air for a few hours at a time, normally more than enough time for a good session, if we plan to operate for more than a few hours or we are setting up for some EMCOMM scenario we will need more power and we need to figure out the best and most efficient way to power our equipment in the field for maximum effectiveness, so here’s what I use.

Batteries and Charging.

I have 2 battery options. For lightweight man portable operation I use the Powerfilm Solar Lightsaver Max. this battery provides me with a single 12Volt output and 2x5volt USB sockets capable of powering a radio and Raspberry Pi, powering/charging an iPad or my Surface Go 2.

The lightsaver max also has its own solar panel so it can replenish its battery when not in use.

The second option I have for when I’m not on foot and carrying the equipment over great distance is a 20ah LiFoPo4 battery that I have installed in a plastic case.

I added various connectors, including a standard 12volt socket, USB sockets and Anderson Powerpoles more about them later. I also carry a couple of meters or wire terminated in powerpoles so I can have the battery remote from my radio for example under the table etc. This battery and cable is capable of powering one or more of my QRO radios – IC7100 or IC7300 for example.

Obviously when in the field its not going to charge my devices forever so if needed I can bring a ‘portable’ 100w solar panel to recharge it. It portable in the sense that its not heavy but its still quite a large size. However its worth the effort of brining it if I plan to operate for more than a few hours. This panel and it’s Genasun 10A charge controller can charge the battery whilst its being used so a typical deployment will see the battery and solar panel used together.

Getting Power from the batteries to the devices.

Possibly the least interesting topic, but quite an important one, is how to get the power out of the battery and into the device(s).

For general 12/13.8volt connections I always use Anderson Powerpoles. I’ve found these to be simple to use and if I buy decent quality ones always connect easily and require just enough force to disconnect that I don’t need to worry about pulling the plug out by mistake. I wire these up in a standard configuration to all my 12volt cables so that they are all compatible with any of my batteries or 12volt PSUs in the shack.

To make it compatible with all my other cables I made an adapter cable for my Powerfilm solar lightsaver max with a plug that fits the lightsave max on one end and Anderson Powerpoles on the other.

If I need an additional 12volt connection I have made splitter cable so I can charge more than one 12volt device, such as my IC705 and Surface Go 2 at the same time.

To charge the Surface Go 2 I use a car adapter designed for the Microsoft Surface that has the Surface Power connector. This one also has a USB port allowing me to charge a third device or power a Raspberry Pi etc. This provides 45W charging so will charge the Surface Go 2 more quickly than a stanrdard USB C cable. The charger fits in a standard vehichle type 12volt socket so I can also use it in the car if I need to.

I also have a USB C laptop charger for if I am using my MacBook Air, again providing faster charging than a USB Port, this charger is capable of charging my 15inch Macbook Pro so it should power most laptops.

Finally I also have a 12volt car charger for my handheld – a Yaesu FT3D – so I can top the battery up on that and some USB C and A socket chargers for other devices, all compatible with a standard vehicle 12volt socket.

As you can see by standardising the 12volt connection I can power or charge all of the devices I need (and even some I don’t really need) to establish my station off grid for EMCOMM or just for the fun of it.

I hope this atrical is of use or may give you some inspiration for your own portable operations. as usual you can find my social media account links here – https://m0iax.com/findme – where I post new content almost daily.

What are your thoughts on my setup? would you use something similar or do you have a better idea? I’m always interested in hearing from you all.

Stay Safe and 73 for now.

Mark – M0IAX

Coming soon – A closer look at my IC705, AH705 Tuner and LC-192 Backpack.