Web Site: http://www.kkn.net/stew/
The Stew Perry Topband Distance Challenge has established itself as the friendly 160 meter contest. It enjoys strong activity from big gun and little pistol stations alike.
The band is slightly less crowded than the major 160 meter contests, but provides some really good opportunities to make contacts on 160m.
Because many big guns are there, the result is that it provides more opportunities for the non super-stations to make intercontinental QSOs with the big guns.
The superstations get their signal out really well and have really good RX antennas. As a result, even a very modest station can make contacts that they thought not possible.
My strongest recommendation for a starter antenna is NOT a dipole, but the infamous Inverted L.
The magic of the Inverted L is that it is based on a ~ 1/4 wavelength long vertical antenna, but folded over somewhere.
I have used an inverted L that was "diagonally vertical" 35' - 50' with the rest horizontal. When I say "diagonally vertical" I mean I feed it about 30' from the base of my tower and then it goes up toward the top of my tower like a guy cable. You could do the same with a tree.
I use THHN covered #12 stranded wire form Home Depot. Buy a spool and have them measure and cut your sections to length. Length = 234/1.825 + 10' (for insulators) or ~ 140'. Have them measure and cut the rest of the spool to approximate length of your radials. A 500' spool is < $60. I like white wire as it blends in with the sky well.
I started with just 3 radials about 50' long under the folded section. Later, I added 14 - 35' radials. One design rule is the radials should not generally be longer than your vertical section, and more in multiples of 8 is better up to around 36 to 100. I have had great results with just my handful of radials. I used a DXEngineering radial plate to attach my radials.
To get on the air, don't sweet the details if you have a tuner. I have a 1:1 current choke balun that connects to a BUDWIG coax to wire antenna connector. The "+" indicator of the BUDWIG is connected to the vertical folded element and the "-" marked side is connected to the ground plane. With the 17 radials, my SWR is close to 2:1 for most of the band, and it is a BIG BAND!
Using a dipole I rarely would make contacts to the EU because I could not get my dipole high enough. With the Inverted L, I have worked over 100 DXCC, including West and East Asia, Oceania, Europe, Africa, North and South America. I also have WAS with my L.
I have contested QRP, 100w, and 1500w. All are fun.
The 160m band is a fun band and the Stew Perry events are great ways to get going.
Now you may be intimidate by the Stew Perry events being CW only, don't be intimated. Consider using a decoder like FLDIGI, CWGet or my favorite CW Skimmer. Operate assisted and have fun. A winkeyer and N1MM+ are great ways to send your exchange.
CW is the oldest digital mode, so don't be afraid to treat it as such at the start like PSK or RTTY. Get on the air and work some 160m DX.
If you need some ideas or help getting pointed in the right direction, post your request on the Elmer forum, I am sure someone will be glad to help.