I’ve acquired a menagerie of moderately-priced trail paddles. “Moderate” is defined as “half the price of a Begali Adventure or less.” I’m sure the Begali is a wonderful piece of machinery, but the key plus a KX3 mount, plus shipping looks like about $350, and I’m just not going to pay that much for a trail paddle. I’d go there if it would actually make me a better sender, but it won’t. (Yeah, I have spent about that much on my menagerie. If I’d known then what I know now…)
First, I’ll state my preference and skill level.
I like an iambic paddle with short travel, requiring a little force, with a solid stop when it makes contact. I want to feel when I make contact. I don’t want to have to push real hard, but I want to be able to leave my finger in contact with the paddle without accidentally making contact.
I’m a neophyte at CW. I’ve been studying it for about 2 years, and I’m up to about 15 WPM, but I’ve only made a handful of CW contacts. While my comments may be useless for a more experienced fist, I’m hoping that other neophytes may find my summary useful.
Absolute favorite: AME Porta-paddle II at $75. You can adjust the throw and the force to suit. It has a nice, solid stop when you make contact. I have it mounted on a heavy base at home. This is a paddle I’m happy to use at home, as well as in the field. I’m ordering a quick-mount base for use in the field. This just feels like a Mercedes. It isn’t perfect. It makes the circuit through the pivot pins, and I have to disassemble it and add some Deoxit to the pivot occasionally. With metal grips, I’ve been told it will suck the heat out of my fingers in cold weather. That could be a problem.
Distant second (tied): Palm Pico with KX3 Mount at $160. It fits nicely with my KX3. It has plastic grips, so it won’t suck the heat out of my fingers in cold weather. It is lightweight. In addition to the KX3, it came with a magnetic base and a mounting plate for the base, but the mounting plate is firmly glued inside the carry case, so I’m going to have to order another plate in order to be able to use the magnet mount. This would be a really nice paddle, except the stop isn’t nearly as solid feeling as the Porta-paddle. I’d never use it at home, just because I just don’t care for the feel.
Distant second (tied): KXPD3 from Elecraft at $130. It fits nicely with my KX3. It has a nice stop to it. It is lightweight. Elecraft stands supports it exceptionally well. (They replaced mine when I complained about a loose pivot.) It is certainly an adequate paddle. It is ‘rattly.’ I don’t know how to describe it better. It is loud when making contact and releasing, and the loud clacks are tactile, not just audible. Some have had trouble with the circuit through the pivot pins, but I haven’t (yet). Either Deoxit or the well-documented wire mod will address the circuit issue. I wouldn’t use this one at home, because I just don’t care for the feel.
Interesting: Te-ne-key at $40 ($60 with a base). Very clever. It has curved copper pieces. One end of the copper piece has clear tape under it. When you press on the copper, it gets flatter/longer and it makes contact with the screw near the mid-point (which is also insulated from the steel bar). Small and lightweight. Inexpensive. Minimalist. Some people really like it. Some people like to hold the bar in one hand, while keying with the other. It doesn’t feel like a key to me. I can make it work by adjusting it to a minimal throw and treating it somewhat like a touch paddle. It takes more concentration than a normal key, and I have very little brainpower after a tough hike. It has metal grips that may suck the heat out of my fingers in cold weather. The web site says it is patented, but I did a patent search and couldn’t find it.
Promising: Bulldog at $35. Very clever. It is a Gem clip (a.k.a. Bulldog clip). He’s put insulating tape on the clip, then copper tape to make contact. When you squeeze, the clip arm contacts the copper tape. Has a nice stop to it. Right now, the throw is a bit far for my taste. It is adjustable by bending the retaining wire. I’m not so happy about that. It is hardly a precision adjustment, and it will be prone to maladjustment after packing it. I’m going to have to tinker with this one a bit. I really don’t like the current long throw, but it might be possible to adjust it just right. I’ll have to see whether it stays adjusted. Although it has metal coat buttons for the grip, I could replace those with plastic buttons to reduce the thermal conductivity.