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Options for Keeping Mobile Device Charged When Camping

Hiker holding his phone that's charged into the power bank.

Most of us have at least two or more mobile devices that are with us virtually all the time. Probably, you have a routine where you put those devices on a charger as soon as you land at home or work. But, if you’re also into camping and roughing it in the wilderness, it can be pretty tough to keep your devices alive. So, we need to look at ways to get away from it all without having no access to any of it.

What Have We Got with Us

Top view of electronics and camping equipment against a wood plank table.

Well, first, we’re going to have an indispensable smartphone, which may or may not have some sort of e-reader on it. Me, I use my iPhone as much for its Kindle app as I do as a phone, and reading eats up my battery fast. You might have a tablet as well, a GoPro camera of one sort or another, and a GPS device – assuming you’re not further burdening your phone’s battery with doing GPS work on it.

And that’s just your digital devices. You probably also have some sort of flashlight or headlamp, a system for purifying water, headphones, and even a watch that will also need charging whether you’re at home or counting daily steps halfway down the Appalachian Trail. I get antsy without my Kindle, and I’m sure you have some I can’t live without them apps or devices as well.

Since most of us are not really looking for that completely off-the-grid, can’t be found by anyone, and happy that way experience, it’s a good idea to consider some ways to keep your stuff going when you’re not near an electrical outlet.

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Portable Battery Packs

2-Pack Miady 10000mAh Dual USB Portable Charger, Fast Charging Power Bank with USB C Input, Backup Charger for iPhone X, Galaxy S9, Pixel 3 and etc …

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One of the most common off-the-grid charging devices is a portable battery pack or power bank, as they are also called. The packs usually have their own rechargeable battery and some USB ports that allow the device to charge other devices. Most of these battery packs can extend your phone’s battery life by quite a bit, and thus your Kindle will make it through the night.

Basically, anything else you can plug into a USB port can use a portable battery pack for powering up. Instead of charging your device from an outlet, you are charging it from the energy you previously stored in the battery pack.

When you start looking to acquire a battery pack for camping, be sure to pick one with enough capacity to get through the time you need and handle being outdoors in camping conditions. Battery pack capacity is figured in milliamp-hours (mAh). A smaller battery pack may have as few as 2,000 mAh, while larger ones can come in at 15,000 mAh or more.

If you expect to be charging a lot of different devices (like your trusty old Kindle), you’re probably going to want to have one of the larger capacity packs on hand.

The market offers a good selection of battery packs today. The average life expectancy is from one to three and a half years or up to 1000 charge cycles. This life expectancy depends on things like battery quality, capacity, the brand, the type of battery, and, of course, the way you use it.

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For me, if it won’t make my Kindle and the 937 books, I have stored on it perpetually available, it’s not the one I want.

Your Traveling Solar Panel

Nekteck 21W Solar Charger(5V/3A Max) with 2 USB Port, IPX4 Waterproof Portable and Foldable Hiking Camping Gear SunPower USB Solar Panel Compatible with iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, and More

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Portable solar panels let you generate power whether you’re sleeping in a tent, at the cottage, or in your RV. The panels have a positive and negative layer, and together they create an electric field. When sunlight hits those same panels, they create an electric current.

The panels work with a charge controller, governing how much power goes through the battery that stores and shares direct current power. An inverter converts the power to AC so that you can use that power on your household devices like laptops, tablets, and phones.

For those who don’t need a lot of power or just want an emergency backup, solar stations and solar generators put all of this solar tech and its accouterments into one package that you can hook up by itself and, just like magic, use solar power. Either way, your power is portable and renewable, and you don’t have to camp beside an electrical outlet.

Battery-Powered Generators

200W Portable Power Station, FlashFish 40800mAh Solar Generator with 110V AC Outlet/2 DC Ports/3 USB Ports, Backup Battery Pack Power Supply for CPAP Outdoor Advanture Load Trip Camping Emergency.

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Battery-powered generators are beginning to replace gas-powered generators because they are less noisy, less smelly, and are more sustainable. They are also portable and, for that reason, of more use to hikers and campers than a large gas-powered generator. Battery-powered generators, especially lithium battery generators, come in various sizes and shapes.

Essentially a large rechargeable battery, the battery-powered generator can be recharged at a standard electrical outlet, in your car, or via solar panels. They don’t use fuel, so they don’t produce emissions at your campsite and are silent enough to avoid noise pollution as well. The lack of emissions makes them better for inside use and for your camp’s air quality.

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Other nearby campers will greatly appreciate the lack of noise, especially if you’re at an occupied commercial site.

Newer generation battery-powered generators are mostly relying on lithium-ion batteries. These batteries actually contain power-generating cells. As the charges up and dispenses power, lithium ions move from positive to negative electrodes and thus generate power to charge the battery.

Lithium battery generators can be small and lightweight, but they can also charge several different devices, often simultaneously. Lithium matters can recharge with sunlight making them a very ‘green” power source.

On the other hand, lithium battery generators charge up slowly. Some even need overnight to reach a full charge. Further, if your battery dies, so does your generator, with no way to refuel unless you have another battery on hand. If you want to use solar to charge up, you’ll most likely have to buy a panel since few generators come with one.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen fuel cells are becoming a real cutting-edge technology for keeping mobile devices charged up. Introduced to the world at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by Intelligent Energy, they were developed to extend the battery power of digital phones. This month, General Motors announced it is working on hydrogen fuel cells for battery-powered cars.

GM’s idea is to use its Hydrotec technology to produce hydrogen fuels cells for various needs. GM’s big idea is to create a mobile electric car charging station. The generator would power EV chargers, and the charger could move from place to place.

On a smaller scale, GM plans to create an Empower rapid charger. The charger would give retail charging stations the power to add DC fast-charging points without going to the grid. Empower would charge up to four vehicles at one time, at rates up to 150 kilowatts of power.

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GM, working with Renewable Innovations, expects to deploy 500 of the Empower rapid chargers by the end of 2025. Energy authorities in Michigan and California will be working with GM to begin field testing this summer.

Portable Waterpower Generator

Estream portable water generator

Source: Estream

If your plans involve being near a source of running water like a large stream or a river, Estream offers a generator to convert moving water into energy you can store. It then allows you to charge every device you have that uses a USB connection. The product is on a Kickstarter page, so it isn’t exactly available at your local Best Buy yet, but it is fully developed.

The Estream generator produces 2.5 to 5 Watts of energy. It is suspended in the river or stream, allowing the water flow to rotate the Estream’s turbine. The rotation, in turn, enables the generator to create electricity.

The turbine works well even in a weak current or when being towed along behind your boat. It will take about 4 to 5 hours to fully charge Estream’s 6400mAh built-in battery in running water. Estream’s battery can charge up to three smartphones, GoPros, or tablets twice as fast as a regular electrical outlet when it is fully charged.

The Estream’s battery is rechargeable, so as long as you are around running water, you can keep all your devices fully charged, no matter how far off the grid you get or how many e-books you read.

What to Look for in a Portable Power Source

Portable power station being charged in a solar panel over autumn leaves.

When you’re thinking about purchasing a portable power source, there are various issues you should consider before deciding what you want.

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How much power do you need?

Calculate the power your on-the-road devices use and make sure that you buy a generator that will produce that much power. Ensuring your capacity meets your needs is the most important thing to look for in a portable charger.

How long will you be using it?

Is this a weekend tour, or will you be on the island for years? For longer trips with more usage for more devices, you will want to consider a higher-powered generator. Your location and the times of day when you can recharge with solar also need to be considered. If you’re in Alaska in the winter, you’re not going to get a lot of solar charging accomplished. Fit your power source to your trip, your usage, and your location.

How big a pain is it to tote around?

Portable power stations of various types weigh as little as four pounds and as much as nearly twenty pounds. If you’re planning on hiking, the smaller, lighter models are probably your best choice. On the other hand, if you’re camping and going to be at some semi-permanent locations for a few days, then a larger, heavier device shouldn’t be a problem. You also want to think about how weather-resistant your power supply is. Make sure to read the product manual before you buy!

How much can I plug in at once?

Be sure to check the number of ports and how big the impact of charging more than one device at a time might be. Your generator will probably have one or two AC outlets and several USB ports.

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Can I replace the batteries?

Consider a unit with replaceable batteries or the option to add more batteries. This flexibility will extend the usability of your generator.