Go boxes are a well worn subject in ham radio circles. On prepper/survival internet forums in particular, the topic has been beaten beyond death. In nearly all of these discussions, there is a lot talk about the how, but not much on the why. When reasons are given, they are always very vague and generic. This time around, we are going to walk through the thought process required to come up with a go box that addresses your specific application.
This will not be not another tiresome how-to article on building the “ultimate” go box, nor am I going to try to define for others what “ultimate” is. I will not assume that what works for me will work for anyone. Instead, I want to help radio amateurs focus and find direction to guide them toward their own intelligent, independent conclusions.
On another ham radio website I came across a forum post by a guy who was showing off his amateur radio go box. He was quite boastful about how awesome it was, and to his credit he had a lot to brag about. It was very well organized, professional looking, and built into a rack mount Pelican case that alone cost more than what many hams can afford to spend on their entire setup. He clearly put a lot of time, care, and money into the project. It was a beauty! I was left thinking to myself, Have you ever actually taken that beast out and used it?
Judging by his follow up comments, my guess is that his admittedly impressive go box seldom got past the top of the basement stairs, nor did he have any specific need he was filling. He just liked the idea of a go box so he thoughtlessly opened his wallet and went for it.
The moral of the story is that careful planning and high quality, well organized gear isn’t enough. Every go box needs to have a clear objective and you need to take it out and regularly practice with it. Until a plan is successfully tested in real world conditions, it’s just wishful thinking.
For radio amateurs, preppers, and survivalists, a go box is essential equipment. If you do not have one, then the time to start planning is right now. Before you run to the internet to see what everyone else thinks is “ultimate,” take some time to do a little introspection without being under the influence of biased internet pablum. We’re about to get a little Zen here.
The first and most important tools needed to make a great amateur radio go box is a pencil and paper. Write down answers to the following questions, and I do mean literally write them down:
Why do I need a go box? Be specific. Nebulous answers such as “for when the zombies invade” are not acceptable. This question will have the greatest control over what you ultimately end up with. And while not everyone lists emergency communications during a shit-hits-the-fan (SHTF) incident as a top priority, that should at the very least be a secondary purpose of your go box.
Lacking purpose will cause a project to fail 100% of the time. Without a defined purpose, you will be like the dude who has a big box of really cool, really expensive stuff that has no reason to exist and therefore rarely if ever gets used. The answer to this question should also take into account expected operating environments.
How much of the work am I willing/able to do myself? Be honest with yourself about your technical aptitude and how much effort you personally want to invest in this project. There is nothing wrong with enlisting more experienced help during the build phase, but down the road your Elmer may not be there to bail you out when something goes dead. The more you do yourself, the more capable you will be when a problem arises. That is how radio amateurs learn and improve their skills. Having a go box that is beyond your ability to troubleshoot on your own creates an inherent weakness in your plan that has the potential to completely disable all your communications when you need them the most.
Am I willing to practice operating with my go box? A go box is not a like a fire extinguisher. You cannot just leave it off to the side and forget about it until needed. You must be willing to operate amateur radio with your go box often enough to maintain proficiency under the conditions you set forth in the first question. If you can’t or won’t commit to training, forget about a go box and redirect your time and resources elsewhere.
When does the go box need to be completed? Having a schedule is just as important to your plan as anything else. Keeping a schedule requires discipline, and discipline leads to a better product. An open-ended timetable encourages drifting off the plan, which in turn leads to the project never getting done, or done half-assed. You do not necessarily have to set an aggressive deadline; you only need to make a firm commitment and keep it. Time is finite resource. Do not waste it.
How much money do I have to spend? This question is last because money is not as relevant to the final product as most hams think. Most hams will follow the incorrect path of making a shopping list of what they want on their go box (without answering the previous four questions) and then proceed to start buying stuff. Ninety percent of the time they end up with something they are not happy with and cost way more than expected. Instead, decide on a budget first and work within that.
After you have written answers to these five questions, you have my approval to go on the internet and check out other radio amateurs’ go boxes and gather ideas. You will see many great examples and equipment suggestions that you may want to incorporate into your own project.
After my first go box was declared a total failure due to being much too heavy and lacking purpose, I came up with this procedure to help me get a better result the second time. My current go box is a backpack, and it’s ten times more appropriate for my needs while being a fraction of the space and weight!
Key Points–What You Need To Know.
- Have a written statement that clearly defines what you want your go box for.
- Do not build a go box that is beyond your technical skills.
- Decide on a realistic deadline for completion and stick to it.
- You must be willing to practice and train with your equipment, otherwise there is no point in having it.
By knowing the why you can pay more attention to the how. You will be making clear judgements instead of randomly drifting through other people’s ideas without having any original ideas of your own. Applying some order and discipline to your go box experience will help you avoid being the bad example in someone else’s blog article.