Yaesu FT-1DR: A Trail Friendly SOTA HT

A common topic in the QRP community is the Trail Friendly Radio (TFR) concept for backpack-style operating on the high-frequency bands. I’ve adapted the concept for the VHF/UHF bands, calling it the VHF Trail Friendly Radio (VTFR).

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Strong candidates for the best VTFR include the Elecraft KX3 (with 2m option) and the Yaesu FT-817. Heck, both of these radios deliver all of the HF bands, 6m and 2m in one portable package. (The FT-817 also has 70cm.) See my blog post that compares the two rigs.

But the other set of strong contenders for the best VTFR is one of the many dualband HTs available on the market. It is hard to beat the compact, portable attributes of these great little radios for casual use on the trail. I’m not going to review them all but instead talk about my current favorite: the Yaesu FT-1DR. (Yaesu has recently replaced the FT-1DR with the newer model FT1XDR, which is the same design but with an improved GPS receiver and larger battery pack.)

My main usage of the radio is when hiking and doing Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations. This radio has a lot to offer in terms of capability and features, but the main things that stand out are 2m/70cm band coverage, two independent receivers and built-in GPS/APRS capability. Most SOTA VHF operating is on 2m fm so that band is critical, but I also make contacts on 70cm. More important is that together 2m and 70cm covers that vast majority of fm repeaters in my state, providing the best backcountry repeater coverage. The built-in APRS features allow the HT to be an effective tracking device as I move down the trail. SOTA chasers can see my position in real-time and anticipate when I’ll be on the summit. The radio has two separate receivers which turns out to be very useful when on the trail. With two receivers, I can monitor 146.52 MHz (2m fm calling frequency, often used for SOTA) while also keeping an ear on a local 2m or 70cm repeater. Another configuration is using one side of the radio to ping my location via APRS while the other side monitors 146.52 MHz.

The extended receive capability of the radio opens up lots of listening options: AM broadcast, FM broadcast, airband, shortwave and NOAA weather radio. I don’t use these very often but there are times that I want to tune to weather or news.

I am not a huge fan of Yaesu’s C4FM digital mode but do use it on occasion. The DN (digital narrow) mode supports voice and position information simultaneously, so Joyce KØJJW and have been using it to keep track of each other on the trail. The radio provides a basic indication of distance and direction to another C4FM radio.

A few other tips: if you buy an FT-1DR, I recommend upgrading the belt clip to the BC-102 clip from Batteries America. It is way better than the standard one from Yaesu. Michael KX6A created a very handy quick reference card for operating the FT-1D, so consider putting one in your pack.

73, Bob KØNR

11 thoughts on “Yaesu FT-1DR: A Trail Friendly SOTA HT

  1. Thanks for all the great information, Bob. I’m a HAM newbie and a backpacker w/ interest in HF/VHF/UHF QRP and this post (plus the referenced post from Aug. ’14) are great. I’ve enjoyed many of your posts over the past few months and just want to express my gratitude! And I love all the great trail and mountain-top photos– keep up the good work! Keep on keep’in on!

  2. Just got this radio the other day on a lark. I am going to use it primarily for the reason you are, trail and APRS. Curious what antenna you have on the rig in the picture. Thanks!

  3. Bob, I’ll have my FT-1DR with me when I get up to Colorado for the 14er Event this summer. I’d love to get some long distance S2S using DN. We’ll be able to see our distance. Have you done the Main firmware update and DSP update? The DSP update really improves weak signal RX on C4FM digital.

    Andrew
    KD5ZZK

    • Andrew,
      That is a great idea to try DN /C4FM during the 14er event. My wife and I have used DN for SOTA stuff and it is nice to see the callsign and distance pop up on the display.

      I have not done any firmware upgrades, so I’ll have to check into that issue. Can you point me in the right direction?

      73, Bob K0NR

  4. Andrew KD5ZZK,
    I upgraded our FT-1DR’s to the latest firmware. Thanks for the tip.
    I am going to put a note out on the ham14er list and see if there’s interest in C4FM operating for the Colorado 14er Event.
    Bob K0NR

  5. Bob,
    Did you update the DSP also? It’s a seprate (easier) step than the Main firmware update. The DSP update is supposed to improve the C4FM digital RX in very weak signal and multi-path situations.