Manpack 1.0: A Complete HF Station Under $1,000

On the way home from work, I overheard a conversation on a local repeater bemoaning the cost of radio equipment today. “Shacks in a Box” can be quite expensive, to be sure, but nothing more than the Collins KW-1 or the Gold Dust Twins of the 1950s.

To prove the point that amateur radio isn’t a rich man’s game, I designed a complete HF radio station that would cost less than $1,000. I wanted it to operate on all modes on as many bands as possible and have it be easy to use. Here is what I put together.

Transmitter: Yaesu FT-817ND

The FT-817ND is the world’s first self-contained, battery-powered, multi-mode, portable transceiver that covers the HF, VHF, and UHF amateur bands.

This rig is very popular among backpack and low-power enthusiasts. I like the FT-817ND because it includes an antenna connector on the face of the radio as well as the back of the radio. This is lets you attach a whip antenna to the radio while mounted inside a backpack.

  • Transmit (MHz): 1.8, 3.5, 5, 7, 10, 14, 18, 21, 24, 28, 50, 144, 440
  • Receive (MHz): 0.1-30, 50-54, 76-154, 420-450
  • Modes: AM, CW, FM, LSB, USB, Digital
  • Power: 5 Watts

Retail Price: $660

Antenna: MFJ 1899T

The MFJ-1899T multi-band antenna is an inexpensive HF whip antenna specifically designed for the FT-817ND. It covers all amateur bands between 3.5 MHz and 50 MHz. To transmit on 144 MHz or 440 MHz, you would use the whip antenna supplied with the FT-817ND.

  • Transmit (MHz): 3.5, 7, 10, 14, 18, 21, 24, 28, 50
  • Power Rating: 25 Watts

Retail Price: $80

Additional Equipment

I’ve included three other items for the station, a extra battery pack, a digital interface to connect the radio to a laptop, and the PowerPort World Pack backpack.

Total Retail Price of the station (excluding tax and shipping): $980

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Manpack 1.0: A Complete HF Station Under $1,000

  1. Lewis says:

    Hi, is there an update( newer releases on equipment) available?
    And what would be the cost? Similar, around $1,000??
    Regards, KN4NZC


  2. KG7NYO says:

    I know this has been out there awhile, but I wanted to ask, why not a FT-857? What constraints did you have in mind when you put this together.

    Awesome though.


  3. timgray1 says:

    Note: do not go man portable with that antenna connected to the 817 sticking out of the pack. it is not strong enough and will snap off the BNC on the radio. rig up an aluminum pipe to hold a BNC and the antenna on that and run a lead in to the radio so that you don’t destroy your radio. also trail behind you a ground counterpoise at least 1/4 wave of your operating frequency. to get a good match and a lot more power output.


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