Other commitments kept me from joining one of the local groups of hams for Field Day this year. But it just so happened that I got an FT-817ND in the mail that Saturday morning. Obviously, I had to try it on the air and Field Day seemed like a perfect opportunity.
I connected the rig to a battery/solar panel combo and my off-center fed Windom antenna. This is the first QRP rig that I've owned, so obviously I'm no expert. But between this and my experiences in VHF-UHF contesting here are a few of the things I found about making contacts in less than ideal situations.
I made contacts on 40, 20, and 10. 10 was great when it was open, because there was so little QRN. One thing is to try and maximize opportunities on the higher bands when they're open, because a QRP signal will really shine because it doesn't have to overcome S6 or S8 noise. 6 meters has been open a lot lately and you can do fantastic things with 5 watts on 6 meters. 10 meters is great this way too. And the antennas are very manageable. I built a little 2 element beam for 6 meters, turn it with a small TV rotor, and it has performed wonderfully for me.
During Field Day I made most of my contacts on SSB, a few on CW. 20 meter CW was an absolute zoo, so I didn't even bother. But in general, CW and QRP are a match made in heaven. CW is good for at least 10 dB in readability, especially in less than ideal band conditions, so you've made up most of your 12 dB difference between 5 watts and 100 watts right there. I was fast back in the day, but I can only clunk around now at about 10 wpm--but it's really a lot of fun and guys will slow down for you. So if you don't already do it, I'd say learning Morse code will give you a lot more satisfaction out of your FT-817 or any QRP rig.
Now on SSB, a lot of guys have commented on the fact that the FT-817 lacks a speech processor. Okay, well that add-on is a little too expensive for me so I just do my own speech processing. I yell into the mike, at least in Field Day type conditions where I'm trying to break a pile-up. Pretty much literally shout into it. And I raise the tone of my voice, so that the higher pitch makes a more readable signal at the other end. My son, KC9JTL, speaks too quietly into the mike and keeps the pitch of his voice too low. He gets frustrated during contests that stations will answer me and don't him. Well, that's because I raise my voice. And I get the contacts. But if you're willing to part with more cash to deck out your FT-817, I'm sure a speech processor would be a nice addition.
I signed QRP in my calls and several of the operators heard and cleared the way for me. "The QRP station, go ahead." Let's face it, a weak signal that is just a weak signal is uninteresting and difficult to work with. But a weak signal that is weak for a reason--either because you're QRP or because you're doing VHF-UHF-microwave stuff and you expect it be weak--well that's all of a sudden interesting to a lot more guys. So I'd suggest signing QRP after your call when calling CQ or trying to break a pile-up. Some guys will perk up at that and take the extra effort it takes to copy your weaker signal.