QRP Antennas

I guess in all reality, that’s a misnomer.  There are antennas – period.  I often get asked, “What’s the best antenna for a budding QRPer?”  Without a doubt, this is:

But if you’re like the rest of us mere mortal human beings, you don’t have the real estate, money or insurance agent for one of these.  But you do want to get involved in QRP on the HF bands. What should you use?  Again, my friends – that’s the $64,000 dollar question; and there as many answers as there are Hams.

But the main thing to remember is this.  In the end, you have to determine this for yourself, as everyone’s situation is different.  Here are some questions that you can ask yourself:

1) Can you even put up an outdoor antenna?
2) How much do you want to spend?
3) How much room do you have?
4) Do heights scare the living heck out of you?
5) Are you handy?
6) What bands do you wish to operate on?

If you cannot put up an outdoor antenna, then you will have to end up with a real “compromise antenna”. That may sound really crummy, but don’t be discouraged!  There are lots of folks out there who have earned Worked All States and DXCC using indoor or stealth antennas. Dipoles can be strung up in attics and be quite effective.  Also, keep in mind that if your antenna is not going to be exposed to the elements, then you can lash up something quite often using lighter duty wire and components.  Another antenna to investigate are the magnetic loop antennas.  Use Google to invest yourself with the wealth of information on these babies.  I have a friend AF2Q who lives in an apartment that is more like a Faraday Cage than anything else.  He uses a magnetic loop from inside his apartment and works juicy DX all the time – even with 5 Watts.  Other folks with antenna restrictions use the Buddipole and Buddistick for temporary installations and have great success. My friend Bob W3BBO just finished WAS for the umpteenth time – but this time using a Buddistick mounted to a mobile mount on his car – and he got HK0NA in his log before I got them in mine. So, there’s a lot to be said for his set up, even though it’s not considered to be “ideal”.

If you have access to the outdoors then your choices are greater; but they can still be dependent on the size of your lot.  I would love to have a full sized 160 Meter loop antenna; but this postage sized New Jersey suburban lot just does not allow for it.  In my case, I have two antennas – an 88′ Extended Double Zepp (EDZ) wire antenna and a Butternut HF9V antenna.  With these two, I can operate anywhere from 80 to 6 Meters with no problems.  The 88′ EDZ was homebrewed and the Butternut is a commercial antenna, of course.  The EDZ fits nicely.  I had a G5RV for 12 years and one leg had to be zigged and zagged to get it to fit within my property lines; but it worked well. The only reason I took it down was that it physically degraded between the harsh summer sun and the harsh New Jersey winters.

If you’re going to operate on just a few bands, individual resonant half wave dipoles might be your answer.  If you want to operate on most, if not all the bands, then a non-resonant antenna like my EDZ and a tuner will allow you to do that.  I can work all the bands on the Butternut, too. If space is at a super premium, keep in mind that a vertical will require ground radials. I have about 25 (25′) radials currently attached to the Butternut and I want to add more.  It works very well; but I want to add even more.

If real estate is not a problem, the a 160 Meter full sized loop might be the way to go.  Even if you’re not going to operate on 160 Meters, you can operate on all bands if you use a tuner.  And loop antennas tend to be quiet and sensitive.  The point is, if you have a very spacious backyard with plenty of trees, then there’s no reason to put up as much wire as you can, as high as you can.  Individually tuned dipoles will eliminate the need for an antenna tuner, if that’s something you wish to avoid. The great thing about wire antennas is that they are fairly cheap, if you go the homebrew route.  Again, there is a wealth of information about them on the Internet.  Utilize Google to investigate dipoles, doublets, loops, long wires (Zepp antennas), W3EDP, bazookas, etc, etc, etc.  While Amateur Radio gear is becoming increasingly more complex and expensive, wire antennas still provide an area for low cost experimentation.

If price is a MAJOR factor, please go to my links section and click on the link for the $4 “Special” antenna.  I used one of these for years at my old East Brunswick QTH. It may not be pretty; and it may not be fancy; but it works and gets results.  Ham friends would come over to my house and laugh at it, “How does THAT thing work?”- then they’d walk inside my shack and see a ton of QSL cards on the wall. Which would you rather look at – your antenna or a wall filled with QSL cards?  I think you’re thinking that you’d rather look at the cards and of using the wire to get the cards. Pretty antennas are nice; but antennas were never meant to be aesthetic works of art.

If you’re deathly afraid of heights, then you’re either going to need some help getting wires up or you can use a ground mounted vertical – just keep in mind the radials deal.  If you’re all thumbs, or building and experimenting is not your thing, then you’ll just have to resort to commercial antennas for all your needs.  Hey, just about everything that you can possibly think of is offered commercially, it just depends on how much you’re willing to spend.  If you have really deep pockets, you can always invest in a tower and a beam and have them commercially installed and maintained, but then you’re getting closer to the picture above.  And if you have THAT much money, would you consider adopting me?

So in the end, after answering the necessary questions, and doing a lot of Web surfing, you’ll probably come up with a half dozen or so solutions that will work for you.  Don’t be afraid to experiment, modify or change. Keep thinking outside the box!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP – When you care to send the very least!

Larry Makoski, W2LJ, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from New Jersey, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

6 Responses to “QRP Antennas”

  • Jeff KK4ETK:

    What a great article. Thank you! This is a subject that’s overlooked by a lot of “old timers” when a new ham wants to get on the air with something other than a portable. It’s hard to get answers that make sense. Lots to learn….lots to learn….

  • AL2O:

    maybe I will use a KX3 & a couple half-waves in the park. I do want real estate at my age. 73 & have fun .art

  • Michael N5TGL:

    The other part of the puzzle is the mode used. CW is going to do very well with even a minimal antenna setup. It’s one of the reasons I’m working on learning code so I can enjoy the benefits. While I’m learning, JT65 and PSK31 fill the bill.

    I think one of the easiest to put up, lowest impact, high performance antennas is a vertical. Larry is 100% correct, you DO need a ground radial system. My Butternut HF8V (I added 17m and 12m) gives me plenty of DX to play with, but I’ve got 32 radials 30′ in length. So, you need a 60′ diameter circle around the antenna. Mine works great though! I’ll be putting a beam up in a few months, (TH7-DX @ 65′) but the vertical is nothing to sneeze at, and I’ll continue to use it.

    73 Michael

  • BOB AF2Q:

    Hi Larry,
    I used the mag loop for several years now.
    Then I started reading about different types of wire antennas.
    I did buy the http://www.ultimax-antennas.com/services.html MOD 100 only because if it didn’t work as they say in the add I can return it.
    Since then I made some smaller ones and it sure is nice to be able to move around and not re tune every 5 KC.
    Some nights I just drop the 30 foot wire out of the window and I’m on the air working DX.
    Can’t beat it.

  • BOB AF2Q:

    Update on the UNUN antenna.
    One thing I don;t ubderstand is the large ULTIMAX UNUN needs no counterpoise but the small unit I made needs the coax to be at least 12 feet long.
    This is the answer I received but many hams don’t understand so I think the braid is acting as some sort of,or part of the antenna.
    You can see the details here and it does wwork 40 up to 6 meters.

  • Richard Swanson,K0RDS:

    I use a Horizontal loop antenna at 25 feet and it works great running 5 watts QRP with my IC-703. I work what I can hear most of the time.73, Rich, K0RDS

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