QRP….Less Is Best


QRP is the Q code for low power operating. QRP is a subset of HAM radio that some people love and some people laugh at.  Those that laugh now will not be laughing later…. If the grid goes down those “big guns” will be silent.


Running 100 watts plus is great but……What if you had no stable, store bought power? Maybe your generator was ticking along but now, outta gas? You could be on the move and have no way to carry a generator. All these things are realistic scenarios to think of when designing a communication plan. The solution: QRP. To keep a 100 watt transceiver on the air you will need a significant amount of current (18-20 amps). Without a generator or a running vehicle, you are going to be hard pressed to deliver that kind of current. QRP radio equipment can run off as little as 1-2 amps (maybe less depending on the rig) of current.  Now, yes, QRP means 5 watts or less RF output. This is where those arm chair operator’s will laugh. Let them laugh. Those high power transmitters will be used for parts. Those that are “in the know”, understand that you can work the world with QRP.  People do it every day. 5 watts will not break DX pile ups but it will get the message through.  Many things will depend on your QRP success. Your antenna will make all the difference,  practice now with different types of antennas and see what works for you.  Something else to keep in mind when operating low power is, patience.  You are not going to get 5-9 signal reports all the time. That being said, sometimes you have to wait your turn. Let the high power stations fight it out then make your call. Most of these problems will be non-existent if the grid goes down.  You will not be working DX, you will also not have to compete with those high power stations (remember, we parted them out). You will be talking (and listening) to comms relevant to your situation. Maybe you will be working NVIS HF (if you don’t know what this is, Google it and learn. We will discuss that later.) or just trying to keep your VHF/UHF comms up. You will be on the air with other QRP stations and there will be a different way of conduct.  The trick is to do it now so you know what works. Low power operating is much different and more difficult than you may think. All these things said, the gear is lighter and can be less expensive.  If you are into CW, aka morse code, (and you need to be) you will have more luck with QRP.  CW contacts are easier then voice when operating QRP.  CW gets through when nothing else will. It’s a dying art and it will be needed again.  Learn it now. To power your QRP equipment you can use the techniques learned in the Grid Down…Power Up post. Also something to keep in mind when considering solar power, QRP is the best, realistic option.  Unlike large deep cycle batteries, the small batteries used in QRP can be changed from solar power.20150527_010315

Yes, you can charge deep cycle batteries from solar but you will need a much larger and much more expensive solar set-up. Small batteries equals small solar panels.

As far as equipment requirements goes, they are similar to a high power stations. You need a radio, antenna, power source and probably a tuner.

An icom 706 is a 100 watt radio but the power can be turned back to qrp levels. It still  uses more current but can serve double duty as a high or low power rig.

An icom 706 is a 100 watt radio but the power can be turned back to qrp levels. It still uses more current but can serve double duty as a high or low power rig.

One big difference is QRP gear is smaller and more packable. You can use lighter gauge wire for antennas because your power level is much lower. If you have set frequencies you plan on using, you can cut a resonant dipole and ditch the tuner. There are many ways to cut fat and lighten the load. QRP also offers HF action to those stuck in antenna restricted areas. You can set up in the park or any outdoor area. The easier it is to set-up the more likely you will be to practice. Remember, we are not necessarily looking for DX here. We want to listen and communicate with things that affect us.20150527_005447

There are many daily HF nets you can check into and make sure your gear is working. Spend a while tuning around and listen to all the action. Now, start sharpening your low power operating skills! This post is not a comprehensive article on QRP, I want to get you thinking about realistic communications options.  This stuff works. It’s a fading skill and we need to know how to work with what we have . As we go along, there will be more detailed post about QRP but for now we need to develop a “mind set”. Go outside in the field and operate. Get your hands dirty here.

Dialtone OUT



18 thoughts on “QRP….Less Is Best

  1. QRP (5 watts) is generally plenty enough for local working and being a Freebander the attraction of low power, small battery loads is well known.
    Yet there is a hardcore group of survivalists (or whatever) that still CRAVE power for long distance working.
    Only you’ve got to ask the question WHY?

    Taking a national “total grid down” scenario.
    Consider the real possibility for the need to call for help.
    Unless you live in the back end of beyond, power isn’t usually necessary.
    1 KW plus may get you an answer a couple of hundred miles away but to what end?
    How soon could they reach you (if at all).
    QRP networks help to encourage local co-operation aka LOCAL HELP!
    Plain voice, no CTCSS. (Morse may be pretty but in a desperate situation i.e. a child calling for help, plain voice rules!)
    Neighbors maybe up to 5 miles away or within an hours trek is what we as a group work to.

    An argument I’ve had thrown at me is:-
    “But if you need to know that a radiation cloud is spreading your way, you need to know about it early not with minutes to go.”
    Well that’s the funny thing about local networks, they network with others.
    It’s called passing (or relaying) messages.
    Something radio users have been doing for YEARS.

    As for hearing distant broadcasts on whatever band you care to choose, who says you have to talk back?
    Why advertise your presence anyway?
    In the paranoid world we live in most sensible people won’t want everyone to know their location anyway.

    Anyway enter the wide band scanner.
    A “must have” anyway to pick up any itinerant freq. chatter or military transmissions which may be a cause for concern or a source of useful Intel without the need for power (just a damn good aerial!)

    As for the advertising your (Distant or local) presence question?
    QRP is ideal to counter this.
    Whatever you use (HF or up) to track a low power signal is difficult unless you have experience doing so even with sophisticated DF equipment.
    Something I’m pretty sure the NO B.S. “Covert transmitter-fox hunting gamer” will admit.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. In Viet Nam, the LRRP guys were using PRC-25 VHF-FM radios which “only” produced 1.5 watts of RF output, in deep mountainous jungle, and they got the message through. In fact, Gen. Creighton Abrams said of the PRC-25 that, “it was the single most important tactical item in Viet Nam.”

    Sure, technology has improved. But reality has not.

    QRP. It’s the mindset. Which gets the skill set. Which gets the job. Done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LT, this is exactly what I am trying to say!!! Thanks for your great example of low power comms. This stuff works, then and now! Learn it, do it, repeat. QRP is a state of mind.


  3. First off, thanks to you and Sparks 31 for setting up such great sites. They’ve really opened my eyes to what is out there in the arena of grid down comms and it’s importance.

    Second, I apologize if my question is completely outlandish. I’m very new to the world of radios and am trying to figure out where to start. My funds are limited so I want to know where I want to go before I begin to purchase and practice.
    I’d love to drop $1000 plus to jump into the HAM arena but that’s just not possible right now.

    The NVIS propagation you talked about seems like something I’d be interested in learning how to do. I’d like to be able to communicate with people who are between 10 and 60 miles away. From what I’ve read, it seems possible as long as you tailor the frequency to the time of day. Is this true? And if so, can it be done on a budget? Would a 5 watt handheld and a proper antenna work?

    My other option would be an amped up CB radio. When I was a kid, I remember my dad talking about his illegal CB in the truck and how he could talk to guys out of state.

    Any thoughts or comments?


    • Ok, let’s see…..NVIS will only work on certain HF frequencies. Most NVIS is conducted on the 80 and 40 meter ham bands. My advice is to work within your budget, use what you have and work out from there. You should immediately start studying for your ham radio tech license. Don’t wait, it’s free to study and free or real cheap to test. Then you can play. As you are studying get a old CB and make a diapole antenna. This gets you running with something. Next you need to get local comms with your group or like minded friends. This would come in the form of squad radios. When you get your ham license this would be 2 meter simplex but until then, MURS frequencies will work. Check out amazon for a cheap baofeng uv5r handheld. This radio is cheap in all ways but it will get you started. It will do MURS and ham. Don’t transmit on the ham bands until you are licensed. Your need a general class license to work NVIS so you have to start somewhere. Radio gear can be found cheap, have patience. Check local ham fest and yard sales. You can get a good used HF rig for $300 all day long. Good luck and keep following the blog. If you can, come to class….. . scrap the idea of a high power CB, use CB for local low power comms. 73’s and good luck.
      Dialtone OUT


    • One of the keys to NVIS is to keep your antenna low to the ground. You want it to radiate nearly straight up. The higher you put your antenna, the more the radiation takes off at a lower angle, which is great for DX, but not so good for local. And I agree with dialtone that 80 and 40 meters are best for NVIS. 30 meters might also be an option. You can set up a good antenna using a matchbox and 50′ of wire oriented horizontally and elevated about 10′. Details on a good solution here: http://w4kgh.net/why-use-a-multiband-end-fed-antenna/


  4. Hey that’s the stuff I can get into. Less is more, practical, common sense.
    Thanks for pointing out the advantages of this.
    I really dig the whole antenna thing. Makes sense.
    Any suggestions for putting together a rig along the lines you speak of?


    • Yaesu 817nd, a small tuner and some wire. All,can be had new for under $ 1000 bucks. You can find cheaper QRP radios with less capability that will work fine and drop the price greatly.


      • way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we made our own radios. parts were just hanging on trees, but we tried to build with as few parts as possible. (ask me about elliptical filters someday). you can make a basic oscillator with just six or seven parts. that’s the heart of any transmitter or receiver. one of the best ways to get a really good one is is to use a little slab of quartz crystal shaved down to a certain size to work the frequency you want. and when everyone uses a crystal then we’re just about guaranteed to be on the right frequency. your basic receiver made this way is called a direct conversion unit. pretty cheap, reasonably stable and not too many parts. there was something magic called math that let you figure these things out. that was before calculators or computers. you can learn math magic using only your fingers you know? we made projects back in boy scout days using tuna cans as the chassis, cause everyone ate food from cans. and we learned how to do morse code at 5 words per minute. minimum level of proficiency. we strung up whatever wire we had for an antenna. longer is better. some evenings you couldn’t “talk” a mile away. others you’d get, briefly, somewhere out west, or europe. great fun when you’re young and learning. even more fun when you’re old like me and remembering. and that’s what in these xtal kits. it’s a little can of life changing fun. some assembly required. batteries not included. go. do.

        Liked by 1 person

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