Need advice for upgrading ham radio antenna

This is a ham radio question. I am (still) a newbie ham, mainly interested in emergency preparedness. My radio equipment currently consists of two HT radios — the Yaesu FT-60R and the Baofeng BF-F8HP. I am looking to upgrade the rubber duck antennas that came with these radios. I was advised to get a folding, tactical SMA antenna (I don’t actually know what SMA means!) but there is a plethora of choices out there. What I’m looking for is something that will meaningfully extend the range, especially of the Baofeng, is inexpensive, can be folded into my BOB and doesn’t make the radio unbalanced when I hold it in my hand. Looking for recommendations.

P.S. am I correct that the Baofeng needs a female connector and the Yaesu a male connector?

P.P.S. Beyond the male and female issue, are the HT antennas universal? Or do I have to look specifically for something that’s made for the models of radio I have?


  • Comments (19)

    • 3

      Seconded!  I’ve got the Baofeng based on TP reviews.  Haven’t yet gotten my license.  

    • 3

      Hi, Jonnie. I think all HT (handy talkie, a generic term) radios use the same connectors and antennas. It’s good to have a variety of connectors. My goal with an HT radio is to reach the nearest couple of repeaters and to know what frequencies are likely to be in use. Preprogram the frequencies into the radio if you can. You might be able to hear what’s being said on a frequency even if your transmission isn’t strong enough to “hit” the repeater and be heard. 

      Regarding antennas, I think the first upgrade from what came with the radio could be something like a Diamond antenna SRH77CA. It’s about 15 and a half inches long. Next upgrade could be a “mag mount” (magnetically mounted) antenna to put on a car roof or on any flat metal surface.

      IMG_20210825_085052775For easy transportation in a backpack or BOB, I like this flexible antenna, which can be coiled and takes little space. It’s designed to hang from a tree or any other spot where you can suspend it. It can also be placed inside a PVC tube (used like a flag pole), and it’s not obvious that it’s an antenna. I’m not familiar with the folding tactical antenna you mentioned.

      It’s worth it to join ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League). Then you can choose to receive “On the Air” magazine (great for people like us) or a magazine geared for more advanced people. There is digital content, not just print material.  

      Best regards to you.

      • 2

        Hi, Susan. What’s this antenna (the flexible coil) called? Where do I find it? The tactical antennas look like this: https://www.amazon.com/ABBREE-SMA-Female-Foldable-Tactical-Antenna/dp/B07RRPC8VQ/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=tactical%2Bsma%2Bantenna&qid=1629906534&sr=8-3&th=1

      • 3

        Hi, Jonnie. I bought it about five years ago from Ed Fong. He calls it dual band VHF UHF portable roll-up J-pole antenna, model DBJ-2. His website is edsantennas.weebly.com. He teaches at UC-Santa Cruz – Silicon Valley.

        I believe he sells antennas as a fundraiser for the radio club at his school. I think the club participants make the antennas. The website says he has sold over 30,000 antennas (not just this model) over the past 12 years.

      • 2

        You can find those rollup antennas on eBay. Ed Fong makes good antennas. I have the N9TAX antenna. I think they’re about the same. I personally find the roll-ups more trouble than they’re worth, but they’re so small and light that you might as well carry one in your pack.

    • 2

      I should clarify that I have not used a Baofeng, so I can’t speak to its connectors vs. other HT’s.

    • 3

      SMA is simply the connector type. I got the “sex” confused originally in this post. The “sex” you want is based on the antenna, not the radio connector. The BaoFeng has an “outie” so you want a SMA-F antenna or adapter. The Yaesu has an “innie” so you want a SMA-M antenna or adapter. Unfortunately, this means you can swap antennas between the BaoFeng and Yaesu.

      I have one of those big folding ABBREE tactical antennas. They work well, but they are extremely awkward. Plus, the SMA connector is kind of fragile the big antenna puts a lot of strain on it.

      I’ve been looking at the SignalStick antennas, which are highly regarded and flexible. What a lot of hams do is attach a BNC adapter to their SMA radio, because it makes it easy to swap antennas. BNC antennas twist on and off while you have to screw SMA antennas on and off. In fact, I’m going to email Richard at SignalStuff to see exactly what I need to do that. They make a special spacer just for the FT-60R, so I guess I’d need that as well.

      • 5

        I highly recommend the SignalStick. Super light weight and durable. I got the BNC adapter so it takes 1/2 second to screw on my antenna versus the SMA that feels more fragile. Here’s a picture of it fully extended and attached.

        Radio 1

        Then you can detach it in 1/2 second and tie it in a knot to slip into your bag. Takes up very little weight and room.

        Radio 2

      • 2

        Thanks, guys! This looks like a great solution for both bugging out and home use. I got one for both my BaoFeng and Yaesu. I couldn’t tell whether the spacer for the FT-60 is the same thing as the gasket on the male SMA adapter, so I wound up getting both (it’s only an extra buck.)

      • 2

        I also ordered the adapter with the gasket, and I bought three of the 3D-printed spacers since you get a discount with each additional one you buy.

      • 3

        I heard back from Richard at Signal Stick. Here’s what you need for a Yaesu FT-60R:

      • 2

        I got my Signal Stick, adapter, and spacers today. Fits like a glove! The BNC adapter is much smaller than others I’ve bought.



      • 2

        Just an update to say this is one of the smartest moves I’ve made in ham radio. I bought BNC adapters for my Yagi and mobile antennas (both have PL-259 connectors), so switching antennas now is as easy as twisting them off and on. The BNC adapter Signal Stuff sells is high quality and the 3D-printed spacer makes a perfect fit.

      • 3

        I also highly recommend having the SMA to BNC adapter.  Then you can use a magmount antenna in your car, or a base station like a J pole at home, and then signal stick while portable.   The SMA connector was not designed for repeated antenna swaps; size and mass were bigger design constraints for it.  The BNC however was designed for repeated reconnects. 

        I use the signal stick and the Diamond SRH77 with a 2m bandpass filter (some locations here have some serious interference issues when doing summits on the air). 

    • 2

      In addition to the good suggestions already given, I’ve had good luck with a couple of antennas from Smiley. Most can be ordered with your choice of connector.  https://www.smileyantenna.com/default.asp

      • 1

        Thanks for the tip. Do you recommend any particular antennas from them?

      • 2

        Just depends on your specific needs I guess. Both of your radios are dual band, but it looks like they (Smiley) only have 1 multi-band antenna on their site. It is telescoping so less durable. The antennas I have from them are all single-band. Given your specific use case, the RH77CA (I also have one and like it) or Signal Stick seem like probably a better choice to me (but I am far, far from being any kind of expert).

    • 4

      Another one for the pile: I have a Comet 24SMA antenna on my Yaesu that works well.

      FWIW, this antenna just survived a week of living in a backpack while day hiking in Yellowstone. It was attached to the radio, stuffed in a daypack, and bent to fit inside the main zipper compartment. It doesn’t show any harm from being bent into a ‘U’ for a week, and still stands straight. (Honestly, I didn’t truly expect it to survive the trip, but it did.)

      Also, at the suggestion of a ham from the local club, I also have a counterpoise installed on the radio: a simple piece of insulated wire the same length as the antenna, attached to the radio by one of the screws that holds the belt clip on. There are large obstacles between where I live and the nearest repeaters, and the counterpoise helps me transmit a useable signal by a little bit.


      • 1

        Just a note to Jonnie about Watermelon Samurai’s comment. The counterpoise is also known as a rat tail or a tiger tail. From my understanding it acts sort of like a ground and can produce clearer signals.

        Some people say they work and others say they don’t. I’m under the camp that it depends. It depends on your radio, frequency you are transmitting at, length of counterpoise wire, and probably some other things. It doesn’t hurt to buy or make one and try it out, but for me, I didn’t see any difference with the one that I made and my situation but it sounds like it works well for Watermelon Samurai, so should be something to look into for maximum range.

        There are lots of YouTube videos if you look up something like ‘ham radio rat tail’ or ‘ham radio counterpoise’.