The Elecraft KH1 Handheld Transceiver

My Elecraft KH1 5-band handheld transceiver. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.

This is not a formal review. There are plenty of those out there in the wild. This article is a bit of my experience in using this little rig in the field. Perhaps someone will find something useful from my experience.

The KH1 was designed by one of my favorite radio engineers, Wayne Burdick of Elecraft. I do not know how long the little rig was in development, but it was released late in 2023. I ordered mine on 20 October 2023, an hour after I learned of its existence. It was delivered in February 2024.

  • It is a five-band CW mode (Morse Code) ham radio transceiver that is small enough to fit in my hand.
  • It has an internal battery pack that will run it for hours.
  • It has a small set of paddles that will store in their socket on the bottom of the radio.
  • Two knobs on the bottom provide access to volume and VFO and protect the paddles.
  • There are four small buttons on the front panel that provide access to many regularly used functions.
  • There is an internal speaker, but the little rig sounds much better with phones.
  • The rig has an internal log feature.
  • It will run with a short telescoping whip antenna and a counterpoise affixed to the radio.

There are a lot more features to the KH1 than listed above. But you can induct from that list.

There is a menu system for features/settings not directly settable from the front panel and bottom controls. The menu requires some learning and reading the manual is suggested. (I need to read it again a couple of times.) The manual is well written and complete to the best of my knowledge.

The display is bright and readable in daylight. It is backlit so is readable in low light. The bottom line can display decoded Morse Code if desired.

Deployment of the radio is very quick. The steps are:

  1. Retrieve the radio from its bag (or other storage).
  2. Affix the telescoping whip to its stud and extend it.
  3. Attach the counterpoise and throw it out on the ground. (Or let it droop from the drivers side window of your rig if waiting for your SO to finish shopping.)
  4. Unplug, turn over, and reinsert the paddles into their socket.
  5. Turn on the radio and start operating.

I can have mine running in less than five minutes. It will match 15m, 17m, and 20m easily with the internal loading coil. It will kinda-sorta match 30m with same internal loading coil. The 40m will not match without help. The best I can tell, one can still operate the KH1 on 40 meters as the finals are resilient, but power is reduced.

Right after I received mine, I carried it with me one afternoon when I drove over to Lowe’s to pick up my son from work. While waiting, I deployed the counterpoise, affixed the whip, and was operating the KH1 with the antenna sticking out my slightly open drivers side window. (It was cold.) I chased three POTA activators while waiting the few minutes for my son. Recovery did not take much longer than deployment and we were off for home.

The receiver is very good. I do not have its specs and I do not care. I find that I hear plenty of signals and the three filter levels work well for my style of operating. When chasing activators, I can use a little XIT (transmitter incremental tuning) to move my sidetone away from the pack so the operator can hear me a little better than the others.

Rejection of strong adjacent signals is solid. I expect this from Elecraft radios.

I have used the KH1 to activate several parks for the Parks on the Air program. I am still getting used to the little paddles, but they function well and are adjustable. I use a pilot’s kneeboard to log on paper. I might be able to position my iPhone on the kneeboard and use it for logging as well. But, for now, I am logging on paper.

I also have the Elecraft AX1 and AXE compromise antenna systems. Given that the KH1 already has a loading coil and switch for the 15m, 17m, and 20m bands, the AX1 seems superfluous. However, I mounted the AXE on the antenna stud and affixed the 33ft counterpoise that accompanies the AXE to the KH1 and pressed the ATU button for 7.060MHz. The KH1 buzzed and fidgeted a moment before returning a 1.2 or 1.3 SWR match. This is plenty good enough to operate on 40m.

My KH1 puts out about four watts (indicated) on the 40m band. That is enough.

With the AXE and long counterpoise attached, the KH1 will find a match on the 30m band as well. I flipped the switch to the 15m/17m side and hit the ATU button. I got a 1.1 SWR match.

I removed the AXE but left the long counterpoise attached to my KH1 and the rig will match frequencies on the 15m, 17m, and 20m bands easily with the longer counterpoise. That means all I have to do is remove the AXE from the rig and replace the whip and I can operate on the higher bands. That makes changing bands very fast.

After several POTA activations and a SOTA activation, I really like this little radio. It does everything my KX1 does but adds the 15m and 17m bands, which I find more useful for my field operations. I have other rigs that will do the other bands if I want them.

I have not done much with wire antennas and the KH1 yet. That is an area I need to explore and I will.

I have an unbuilt MTR5b in my inventory that I bought to get 15m in a pack-friendly radio. Now it seems I will not need the 5b.

I really like the Elecraft KH1. I plan to use it a lot this summer. I will also know a lot more about using the rig in a few more months.

AAR — Shelvin Rock Access SCA POTA, K-10221, 10 March 2024

I really despise the change to/from Daylight Saving Time. It interrupts my circadian rhythm for no good (to me) reason. Yesterday morning was the date to change to DST. So, my routine was AFU from the beginning.

Nonetheless, I had a couple of things on my list and got to them after I was sufficiently caffeinated, which required substantial caffeine. Older Son was busy with other things, so I went outside and retrieved some materials from the camper. I began rebuilding my end-fed random wire antenna.

I have a substantial amount of the copper-clad steel antenna wire that is quite small (maybe 26ga). It never releases its memory and will twist itself up readily. Witness the number of times I mentioned that in my travels when attempting to deploy that antenna.

I made new elements from the DX10 wire that Callum McCormick uses to build the DX Commander antennas. I bought and took delivery of 200m of the stuff late last week. So, I cut three 34ft pieces of wire and used one to make a sloping EFRW, the second to be the counterpoise (wire on the ground), and the third to be an extension to make the antenna work on the 80m band.

I setup a test antenna using the SOTAbeams Carbon 6 mast and the Elecraft KX2 would match it connected to a cobrahead adapter (direct connection to the radio) on all of the bands but the 12m band. I put a 9:1 Unun (matching transformer) between the wire and the radio and it matched all of the bands from 10m to 40m.

I then added the extension to make an inverted vee shape and then the radio with the 9:1 Unun would match all the bands from 10m to 80m. So, I have a working EFRW.

Then Older Son and I blew out the sunroof drains that were stopped up. I know they were blocked because I had water in the floormats of the 4Runner after a rainy night last week. Indeed, water was blown out of the passenger side drain when compressed air was applied.

I put away all the tools and went indoors to have a bite and take a break. Older Son and I decided to get The Girl out for a walk and a play and so we did.

She loves her ball. We have a lot of good plays with her ball and the thrower.

After walkies, Older Son decided to get in a workout so I elected to take The Girl and go activate a park. I wanted to play with the Elecraft KH1 a bit more as I am still learning the radio.

We drove out to Shelvin Rock Access SCA (K-10221) and I found a place to park. I got out the little radio, the small antenna bag (houses the Elecraft AX1 and AXE antenna plus some support materials), and a pilot’s kneeboard on which to keep my log. I sat on a rock, affixed the AXE to the antenna port and added the 4ft whip. I threw out the 33ft counterpoise and turned on the radio.

I set the rig to the 40m band and listened around 7.060MHz. There were stations either side of the frequency, but none heard there. I called a couple of times for usage but heard nothing. So I started the little radio calling CQ CQ POTA DE AG7TX K (calling any station for a Parks on the Air activation) while I spotted myself on the POTA website.

The little radio had tuned the AXE/whip combination to a very usable SWR (Standing Wave Ratio, a measure of the match of the radio to the antenna with 1:1 being perfect) of 1.2 or 1.3. It was putting out about four watts of power. In only a couple of minutes I started taking calls.

I worked several stations before no more callers appeared, so I changed to 10.111MHz on the 30m band and started calling, again letting the radio work while I respotted myself. I worked more stations.

I then rinsed and repeated the process at 14.059MHz on the 20m band. I finally called QRT (I am done and off the frequency) a few minutes before 0000Z (when the day changes), closed out my log, and put away the radio. I made 19 contacts in about 45 minutes — not a bad day.

I have a few notes from the outing.

  • I still have a bit of trouble with the paddles. They are small and need a bit more adjustment after my initial setup.
  • The AXE works perfectly with the KH1 and its whip antenna. The 40m and 30m bands are quite usable with the AXE screwed to the antenna port and the long counterpoise (33ft).
  • The Elecraft reflector correspondent who told me that the AXE would not work that way did not know what he was talking about. That is what I thought when I read his response and now I have proved it (again).
  • There is a bit of art to manual logging and managing this radio. I will need a few more repetitions, I think.
  • I am thinking that I really like this little radio. It is very handy, quick to deploy and recover, light in a pocket or pack, and has a very good receiver and very good audio (with headphones or earbuds). It is very easy to get it out and have a little radio fun without a big ordeal.
  • Wayne Burdick and Elecraft have once again outdone themselves with this little rig. It is a field operators friend and will be a lot of fun for POTA, SOTA, or quick operations.
  • I have activated a couple of parks by sticking the radiator out the window of my 4Runner with the counterpoise thrown on the ground/pavement.
  • A better application is to use Pro Audio Engineering’s (Howie Hoyt’s) bracket clamp to affix the AX1/AXE to something outside and run a short length of coaxial cable through the vehicle’s door seal if the weather is bad. That keeps rain out of the rig.

I had a good day and a fun, short POTA activation to boot. It was a good day. Life is good. I am grateful.

AAR: Blue Slip Tower Site POTA, K-11225, 08 March 2024

My pack and radio kit for the K-11225 Blue Slip Tower Site activation. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.

When I went to bed Thursday night, I was pretty sure that I wanted to get out and activate a park. I had my eye on Blue Slip Tower Site State Conservation Area for a week or so. It was unactivated and I did not have any first activations to my credit.

After dealing with my morning duties and getting some food at Rosie Jo’s Diner, I fed The Girl, gathered up my radio bag and KX2 shack-in-a-bag, and headed out to the rig. I put the location of the park into my iPhone and we headed out. Too late I realized that I had not brought a camera with me. But, there is always the camera in my iPhone.

The drive out took about an hour. I had posted my activation so hunters would know I would be there. I was not sure if I would have mobile phone service, but should not have been. There are two cell towers on the hilltop as well as the fire watch tower.

When I arrived at the site, the gate was closed but not locked. It was posted, though, that unauthorized vehicles were not allowed on the access road. There was not a no trespassing sign, however. There should not be — it is public land and a conservation area open to hunting.

The Girl on Overwatch. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.
I got The Girl out the rig, put my radio and antenna bags into my pack, and grabbed the SOTAbeams 10m Travel Mast from the back of the rig. It was a bit of a struggle to keep her out of the mud, but she complied.

The hump up the access road to the top of the hill was neither long nor too taxing. It was a nice climb through the woodlot with a lot of birds calling just ahead of us. The Girl kept an eye open for the dreaded bushytail, not wanting to let one sneak up on us. She also kept an eye on me, I noticed. I had to call her back in a couple of times because she tends to range out a 75 meters if I do not keep her reeled in.

The fire watch tower at Blue Slip Tower Site. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.
As mentioned above, I needed not worry about mobile phone signal because there are two cell towers on top of the hill. I had a good signal. I was tempted to climb the fire watch tower and operate near the top, but I worried that Sera might not pay attention and fall. So, I elected to sit on one of the footings and use the structure to support my antenna.

Although the wire is not visible, the SOTAbeams 10m Travel Mast that supports it certainly is. I affixed the mast to the tower leg. The antenna is an end-fed random wire about 28ft long. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.
It did not take long to deploy the antenna. I considered using the end-fed half-wave for this activation, but decided that the slightly shorter end-fed random wire fit the setting better. I used a cobrahead (binding post adapter) affixed directly to the Electaft KX2 and threw the counterpoise wire out in the grass.

I fastened my kneeboard to my leg and set the rig on it. I grabbed a spare battery (lesson learned) and set it behind the little rig. The Girl settled into a spot in the grass to keep overwatch. I tuned the radio to the 30m band and selected 10.111MHz as my operating frequency. After listening a couple of minutes, I sent QRL? (is the frequency in use) and listened. I sent it again and listened again.

Nothing heard, so I set the radio to call CQ POTA DE AG7TX K and repeat while I opened the web browser on my iPhone and posted my spot. After a few cycles I checked the Reverse Beacon Network (again on my iPhone) and noticed that one of the spotting stations heard me. I knew I was getting out.

About that time the first call came in and I began working stations. The 30m band actually produced quite a few contacts, especially given I was running QRP (5 watts; low power). I worked stations to the east, mostly.

In the middle of my operation, a rancher drove up in his truck. “Did you see a cow come up here?” he called.

“Nope, nothing here.” I pointed out he had something hung under the passenger side of his rig so he got out to clear it. I sent AS AS (stand by) and chatted for just a few seconds before wishing him luck finding his missing cow. I then returned my attention to the radio as he drove off down the hill.

My Elecraft KX2 deployed on my kneeboard and ready to rock and roll. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.
When that fishing hole was fished out, I moved to the 20m band and repeated the process. Twenty meters provided a lot more action and I worked a pretty good pileup until the calls thinned out. By that time I had about 30 calls in my log, so my activation was made. The skies were quite gray and I had missed some rain by only a few minutes. I really thought it might rain again.

I elected to move up to the 17m band, found an open frequency, and called a few times. Seventeen meters was quite a bit more noisy that the previous two bands. I figured I might take a call or two and then call it a day. I was starting to get cold and was ready for some food. I worked a couple of stations and then called QRT and shut off the radio.

In the end, I collected about 30 contacts and one DX station in Italy. It was a good day.

It did not take long to recover the station. The Girl and I enjoyed the walk back down the hill. The gate was open, so I left it. I was taught to leave gates in the condition I found them.

As I loaded The Girl and my kit into my rig, the rancher drove up.

“Did you find your cow?”

“Yes! She was stuck between two trees and calving! I managed to get the calf out, but now I need to get a chainsaw to free the cow.”

“Good luck!” I called and watched him hurry off to his place to get the tools needed to free his cow. It reminded me of the so many times I worked around the farm when I was a young man. Those are good memories. It was good work.

On the way home I stopped a Hucklebuck BBQ for a bite. The place is billed as the best BBQ around. They were not kidding — the brisket is the best I have had since I left Texas. I left warm and full and even brought the dog tax to The Girl.

I do not have a long list of lessons learned from this expedition. There were things I might have done differently, but they were not big changes. This one was pretty routine.

Life is good.

Parks on the Air AAR — Niangua State Recreation Area (K-10214)

The contact map from my activation of K-10214, Niangua SCA.

Wednesday morning I knew that I would have a hydraulic model running for several hours later in the day. After a couple of test runs, I started the first full run and sat at the computer for a few minutes, watching for an error/warning and listening to the fans run.

That was not going to do. So I looked at the map to see what nearby parks I have not yet activated. I found a small conservation area (Niangua State Conservation Area, K-10214) about 45-minutes out and decided that would do. The sun had come out and I wanted to be outdoors.

I got The Girl ready and we walked out normal loop. I stuffed her into the rig while I went upstairs to retrieve my radio bag. Then we were off.

I called my buddy Dick on the way and we chatted about radio stuff until I got near where I thought I should exit the Interstate (dead reckoning). I pulled off the highway and looked at the map on my iPhone. My intuition was correct — I had exited on my turn instinctively.

So we drove the few short miles to the parking area, where I parked the rig and got out to survey. I decided to pull the rig forward a few feet and deploy the drive-on mast mount. I then retrieved the antenna bag from the back of the rig and the SOTAbeams 10m travel mast. I selected my end-fed half-wave antenna from the kit and the matching transformer.

This was my operating position and station for the K-10214 activation. The KX2 is a great radio and the Begali Traveller key outstanding.
The radio was the Elecraft KX2 barefoot and I affixed the matching unit directly to the radio. I draped a short counterpoise wire off the front of the rig and connected it to the radio. I thought about using the factory paddles, but decided that I wanted the better feel of the Begali Traveller set.

Setup time was about 20-minutes, with some of that spent hunting the antenna bag in the back of the rig. Hmmmph…

I listened on the 10m band for a few minutes and checked the spots. One other activator was working 10m. So I decided to try. I picked a frequency, called QRL (is the frequency in use?), and listened. Nothing heard, so I punched the memory button and started calling while I spotted myself on the Internet.

After calling a few minutes there was no response. The 10m band was not open (for me). I listened for a couple of minutes on the 12m band and heard other stations operating, but every time I picked a frequency someone started calling.

“?#%@$# that” I thought, “I’ll just move to 15m.” So, I did.

I setup near the 21.060 QRP (low power) watering hole, listened, called QRL? again, and started calling while I respotted myself on the Internet.

In just a couple of minutes the callers started trickling in. What followed was about 1.75 hours of working stations. The 15m band provided a few contacts, then the 17m band filled out my quota. I worked both until I fished each hole dry.

Then I switched to the 20m band. I then spent the next hour working an almost steady pile-up of callers. About five minutes into the 20m band, my KX2 suddenly turned itself off. It would not restart.

“Battery died!” I thought. I dashed to the drivers side of my rig and grabbed the spare KX2 battery. I dashed back to the radio and plugged in the spare. I turned the radio back on and finished working my buddy Dick (he was the contact I was working when the battery died).

K7ULM? BAT DIED” I sent. He repeated his exchange and I logged the contact.

I had noticed that the KX2 was only putting out about 5-6 watts although I had it set for 10 watts. The battery was running low and I did not realize it. Fortunately I had a ready spare and it took only a few seconds to grab it and be running again.

I was logging on my iPhone (HAMRS), which works for me when I am in the field. I saw a text message banner pass at the top of the screen. It was my buddy Dick who said “20m is not working very well today…”

The drive-on mast mount was made by a maker friend, Tim W7ASY. I used the 10m SOTAbeams Travel Mast to deploy my 40m end-fed half-wave antenna for this activation.
“Ha!” I thought, funny guy.

The contact counter on my logging software said I had more than 65 contacts. I had worked through the pile-up, catching a fragment of a call or getting lucky when an operator called in the clear (between jumbles). My brain was pretty fried after working on the hydraulic model and then a number of big pile-ups.

I decided i had enough. The frequency was quiet — no callers. I sent DE AG7TX QRT SK (my call sign and I am signing off). Another caller appeared, so I worked that operator. (He was loud; it was an easy exchange.) I sent QRT again and turned off the radio.

I finished with 68 contacts in the log. I was the sixth activator of the park and the first code activator. Of course, there were lessons learned:

  • The end-fed half-wave is a much better antenna than the AX1/AXE. Of course I knew that, but fast deployments have been a thing for me lately. I had the room for this activation and took advantage of a superior antenna.
  • I thought the battery in the KX2 was in better shape. I thought that it was charging or at least not being used because I had used an external battery for the previous activations. I was wrong.
  • The lesson is to always check battery state of charge before going to the field.
  • Always have a spare battery handy. Things go bad.
  • Working a big pile-up is part of the fun of radio. Park activations provide that opportunity. But it is hard brain work and requires focus.
  • Expect to be tired after a park or summit activation. I was.

It was a good day. I chatted with Dick on my way home. I had 68 contacts in the log over an hour and three quarters. When I arrived home, Older Son was going through his workout. We went to supper after he finished and cleaned up.

I then showered and readied myself for bed. As I wrote, it was a good day. I am grateful. Life is good.

AAR Parks on the Air — K-10387 Joe Crighton SRA

This was my KX2 station setup at K-10387, Joe Crighton State Recreation Area. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.

I was up early Wednesday morning to see Older Son off to work. He leaves the house about 0630h and I like to get up and spend an hour or so with him as he readies himself for the day. I have a cup of coffee and chat with him and DiL. She also gets up to spend time with him before he heads off and her day starts.

DiL runs the Springfield Barnes & Noble, so her hours are variable. She sometimes leaves just after Older Son. And sometimes she leaves much later. That is the nature of retail work. But she always gets up with him and I respect that.

After he leaves I sometimes return to nap for a few more minutes. It all depends on how well I slept the night before. As I age, I find that sometimes I do not sleep as well. I am sure my experience is not unusual.

Fortunately, my work permits me a lot of flexibility. I like that and take advantage of it.

But, Wednesday morning I warmed my cup of coffee and sat at the desk. A hydraulic model I am working on completed late last night and I wanted to review the work and decide what to do next. In reviewing the results, I had good ideas for what needed to be done. So, I got started on it. I worked until my brain rebelled, so I decided it was time to take a break.

DiL had returned to bed, so I got a shower and dressed for my day. That brought Sera out to see what I was doing. I decided I needed a waffle in my face and Sera could tell I was moving with purpose.

So, she went with me. We drove up to the Waffle House and I had sausage and eggs and a pecan waffle. I saved some of my sausage and my hash browns for Sera. She was very excited when I returned to the rig with a treat. 🙂

We drove home and I returned to my hydraulic model. I finished the amendments about noon and started a run. Once the preprocessor finished developing the solution grid and the computational engine started, I knew it would be a few hours before I had any results.

That meant — I had a few hours to play. The weather was gorgeous so I decided to get out and activate a new park. Sera and I headed out, I bought a sandwich and a bottle of water, and we arrived at the park in a few minutes. I got lunch and Sera out and we shared my sandwich and chips. She sniffed around while I deployed an antenna.

It took four or five tries to get a line over a branch. This is a new skill for me and I can tell I need practice judging where to aim to get the line over the branch I want. But the equipment I have is just about right for the light wires that I typically use.

I setup the little Elecraft KX2 with the Tufteln end-fed random wire antenna, connected directly to the radio. I brought a small Bioenno LFP battery, which I connected. I also brought a N3ZN key along as well. It took longer to get the antenna setup than any of the other equipment.

I had a cellular signal, so I was able to spot myself on the POTA website with my iPhone. I also used my iPhone to log contacts with the HAMRS app. I find it easy to log on the iPhone, although I am sometimes a bit fumbly and fat-finger the text.

I have a CQ message stored in the radio, so I set it off to call while I finished getting ready to take calls. And take calls I did. Even running just five watts of power, I worked a pile-up on the 20m band for nearly 45 minutes. When the hole was fished out, I changed to the 17m band, found an open frequency, and started calling. The Reverse Beacon Network picked me up and the POTA scraper respotted my activation at the new frequency.

I worked another pile-up for another half hour or so.

One thing I noticed was that my passband was a little too narrow. I had it set that way during my last activation, probably trying to improve the signal-to-noise ratio or because another operator work working on a nearby frequency. Nonetheless, I could hear a couple of station outside the passband, so I opened it up a bit so I could copy the signals and worked those callers too.

After a couple of hours, I had 32 or 33 contacts in my log, plenty for the activation. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and I still wanted a walk before the day ended. I also needed to attend to the model run and see what needed to be done, if anything.

It did not take long to recover the station and we were off towards home.

When Older Son arrived, we got The Girl out for a good walk. We got home just after the Sun fell below the horizon.

As usual, I learned a few more things.

  • Using an arborist throw kit is a learned skill. I need more practice to get the weight and line over my target branch. It is just practice.
  • I really like the lighter throw weight and the 1.7mm or 1.8mm line that I got on my second buy. The first kit is too heavy for what I do. The lighter kit will be perfect for the light wires I use and is a lot less weight and bulk to carry, should I decide to pack the kit in.
  • I need to work with the Tufteln EFRW antenna more. I could not get a good match on the 30m band (10MHz) with the KX2 and the EFRW antenna connected directly to the radio. This should work. I have an adjustment to make, I think.
  • The little KX2 is a fine radio for this kind of application. It is not as good as the larger KX3, but it is a lot smaller rig.
  • I should have used headphones for the activation. There was enough traffic noise to be distracting and interfere with my ability to copy the calling stations. I do not like to be isolated from the surroundings, however. So I have to get my powered headphones setup to wear while running the radio. They are also active ear protection, so they have microphones to provide situational awareness with control over the balance between communications and environmental sound levels.

All in all, it was a good day. I am grateful. Life is good!