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?