My Bag: Ham Radio Edition

My Bag: Ham Radio Edition

Hurricane Sandy, the derecho and the upcoming winter season has had me thinking about what I carry on a daily basis. It also prompted me to consider what I might add to it to be better prepared.  In HAM lingo, we refer to this as our GO bag– the bag that serves in an emergency preparedness capacity.

Here’s a look at my Go bag.

The Bag Itself

My bag is a Swiss Gear Cobalt laptop bag. In fact, this is the same one I use as my daily driver laptop bag; it is available from Amazon for around $60 bucks. I use this bag because it offers numerous pockets, including two on the side for water bottles — which also do well when holding my handheld radios.

What’s Inside

My Bag: Ham Radio Edition

My Dell XPS 15 laptop and its cord go in the laptop section;  I also throw a 1 TB Western Digital Passport drive  and its cable, along with a couple of Moleskine notebooks.  One notebook is my journal, and the other is for random notes. I would normally use Evernote to take notes, but if I can’t charge my device or if I lack connectivity, then Evernote becomes rather useless. That’s where old-school moleskins come in; they work even when the power is out.

My Bag: Ham Radio Edition

My Kindle goes in the next section. It’s useful for entertainment and requires little to no power for days or weeks at a time.  In addition, if push came to shove I could use some of the Kindle apps for notes.  I also have my Zoom H2 Audio Recorder, a collapsible tripod, a cleaning cloth and my eye glass case in this pocket. Finally, this compartment  also holds my chargers.

There are two main outer compartments.  The one on the top holds the spare batteries for my radios, a 32 GB USB Thumb Drive configured with Multisystem (it offers the ability to boot any number of Linux distros) and a Windows 7 install disk.  I also keep the belt clip for my VX-7R, my Kodak Zi8 camera, a case with some converters and sd cards in it. An SMA to PL-259 adapter for plugging into other antennas goes there too.

The final compartment has an organizer that makes it easy to keep everything straight. This gets my Dexim Bluespot S3 USB charger, some Pilot G-2 Gel Pens, a small low power USB hub, an 8 GB thumbdrive, and the antenna and cable connector for my laptops HD TV card.

My Bag: Ham Radio Edition

The pockets on the side hold my Yaesu VX-7R Handheld Radio and my Icom ID-31A D-star radio.  These pockets make it easy for me to grab a radio when one is needed and, once I am on frequency, I can just leave the radio in the pocket  and wear my headset.

Miscellaneous Stuff

My Bag: Ham Radio Edition

I also carry a stick of Burt’s Bees Lip Balm, some Vaseline Men’s Lotion, my wallet, my keys, my Galaxy Nexus and an LED flashlight.

Things I plan to do to improve my bag.

Obviously my bag is far from perfect, and I plan to make a few changes to better configure this bag for my needs.


I have a spare battery for my VX-7R, but my ID-31A only has one battery at the moment.  A spare battery for the ID-31A and a replacement for my VX-7R are in the cards.  I am also looking at picking up a Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Pro. With its 6000 mAH battery it is capable of charging my phone multiple times.


I am looking at building some ultra portable antennas that I can simply leave in the bag.  I want to build an antenna called a J-pole out of TV Twinlead cable.  Built from flexible materials this antenna is one I will be able to roll it up and simply throw it in the bag. It will take up little space in my bag so I’ll be able to carry three-  2m, 70cm and 6m- and then easily tack to a wall or the side of a tree with a pushpin.

I am also planning to add an HF radio in the form of a QRP(Low Power) Radio. Ideally I’ll get a Yaesu FT-817ND. When I do I’ll also get a dipole antenna that can be used on multiple bands.


My Bag: Ham Radio Edition

The Yaesu FT-817ND HF Radio is not much bigger than my handhelds but can operate world wide without the internet. It can run on batteries so extra batteries and a power cable with Anderson Powerpole are also in the cards. It is worth noting that the Anderson Powerpole connectors are the standard in the Amateur Radio Emergency Service organization so as I show up to the center, I would be able to plug into power sources that are already in the plan for the emergency operations center.


Using my daily driver bag as my GO bag is a mistake. It isn’t all that big. As a result it would be of limited use in the field.  So I plan on getting another bag that can serve only as my GO bag. Most likely I would be interested in the High Sierra Cirque 30 or one with a small internal frame

That way one bag will always hold the antennas, the FT-817ND (once purchased), its antenna and an antenna tuner.   I will keep the bag in my station so I can just throw the handhelds and some of the other things I might need into it at a moment’s notice. And where possible, I will have some  duplicate items, like a set of rapid chargers and a couple moleskines and pens that stay in the bag permanently.  I may also purchase a Baofeng UV-5R for the bag. This dual band radio covers the 2m and 70cm amateur bands and, at $60, it is a cheap.

I’ll also throw in a netbook that can be used on the go.  Netbooks are much lighter, and in these kinds of low connectivity situations I don’t really need a lot of CPU power so Intel’s Atom chip should suffice.

Other Considerations

You might be away from the house for an extended period of time so it makes sense to have

-A couple sets of clothing

-A ziploc bag with some antiperspirant, body wash, a wash rag and a towel

-Some baby wipes and/or hand sanitizer

-Food such as granola bars or other non perishable items

-A few MREs


-A coil of rope or parachute cord that can be used to hoist an antenna over a tree branch. (Plus it’s handy to have in case you need hang some clothes up to dry.)


In the wake of the recent weather disasters, preparedness needs to be taken seriously. While something is unfolding is NOT the time to start throwing your GO bag together; that time is now.

Now, when you have the time to plan what goes into your bag; now, when you can test the items going into the bag. After all,  what’s the use of having a radio if it doesn’t work when you need it?

You might want to participate in Field Day and take your go bag with you, or find out when the next simulated emergency test is and participate in it.

Make a GO bag, and the next time the power goes out you will be ready. And remember, when all other communication systems fail, Ham Radio works.


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About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.