Planning a Portable Ultralight Radio DXing Session

Paul Blundell

For some people this could simply be as easy as grabbing a radio as you head out the door; for me however, I have found that some more planning and research is required to get the most from my portable Ultralight radio DXing sessions. This is especially important now with COVID-19 restrictions in some areas and changes due to this. I am now focusing on more remote / less used areas. For those in areas with current COVID-19 restrictions, it is vital that all rules and guidelines are followed. Local health advice must be the overriding decider on what you are able to do, when and where. 

When I am planning a portable Ultralight radio DXing session, my first step is to arrange a suitable day and time. I am happily married and as we have a couple of young children, ensuring the domestic front is happy goes a long way to ensuring I can have a good time. I like to try and arrange my outings around times when my wife will not be home or is busy; this makes it easier to be away from home. Only you know your own domestic situation and can assess the best way to do this. All too often I hear of domestic situations where one person’s hobbies or interests have a negative effect on the household. Normally I aim to have at least one portable Ultralight radio DXing session a week if I can, normally a Saturday night or one night during the week, however this can change based on the above. Of late I have been taking my children for more walks and quite often I take an ultralight radio or two with me in case I find a suitable location, as they are now slightly older, they will often be happy on the play equipment while I am doing some Ultralight DXing. I have also recently had a change of jobs and this has seen me working from home most of the week.

Once a suitable day and time has been found the next step is to check the weather forecast for that day. In the past when I was involved in the amateur radio / radio scanning hobby, I used to undertake quite a bit of out and about scanning which involved sitting on hill tops, lookouts, mountains and so on, from doing this I learnt two VERY important lessons:
- Sitting in the sun for hours at a time is not fun and this reduces your enjoyment of the hobby.
- Sitting in the cold for hours at a time is not fun and this reduces your enjoyment hobby.

Based on this I like to make sure the weather will be suitable. While the cold can be overcome with extra clothes, being too hot is much harder to control and in extreme cases this can be quite bad for your health (dehydration, sun stroke and so on). Storms and other weather extremes are also not fun to be out in, so I like to try and avoid these if possible. During our Australian summer, bush fires are a very real risk and given most locations are prime fire spots, the fire danger rating (FDR) and a safe access / escape are very important to consider. The local sunrise / sunset is also checked, and this helps with planning a suitable time to leave home to be at the chosen location to maximise any advantage from these different times of the day.

Next you need to decide on a location, I like to have a mix of new locations and some proven ones. Some are quite close, and others are quite a distance to drive. The things I consider when deciding on a location include:
- Distance to drive (The cost of fuel is a factor in this, as is the amount of time I have for my DXing session)
- Access (some areas are locked after hours or have other access restrictions)
- RF profile (Some locations are better due to distance from high power transmitters)
- Comforts (Shops, toilets, etc.)
- Personal Security / Safety
My planning really starts the night before or early in the morning when I prepare everything I am going to take, charge batteries and pack up my gear. My normal kit consists of this:
- Receivers (1, 2, 3 or more in my carry case)
- Batteries (Fully recharged and also some spare alkaline AA's and AAA’s)
- Head phones (I prefer the ear bud type and these are easier to carry)
- Log book / sheets and pen + spares
- Torch (Now using my phone / torch in my radio)
- List of all frequencies
- Multi-tool
- Food and drinks
- Band-Aids and a small first aid kit.
- Mobile phone
- Identification such as a driver’s licence (which you should be carrying anyway if you are driving)

In the past I have used digital camera bags and hard ABS type cases, these types of cases / bags each have advantages and disadvantages. ABS cases standout and make it look like you are carrying expensive equipment, which might not be a great idea in some remote locations. Soft cases on the other hand do not provide enough protection in some circumstances. Based on my experiences to date, I have settled on a hard case which I can either carry with me or leave this in the car and grab a radio or two to carry with me.
Before leaving home, I check my kit and confirm I have everything I need. When I arrive onsite, I do a quick recon of the area to make sure it is safe, no dodgy people around and I feel comfortable. Then I do a quick scan of the bands and check for the normal stations, now I can sit back, relax, and get serious about logging. I also try to eat something and drink to keep my fluids up. I like to also get some photos each time I go out for the report on my blog. If I am going portable, I like to try a few different spots and interact with anybody I see, even if this is just a passing hello on a track. 

On returning home I make sure I spend some time with my wife and children before checking my loggings and entering these into my frequency database.

In 2023, it would be great to see more people undertaking portable sessions and posting about these. Some photos of your sessions would also be great.