There was a time when backpacking or camping meant getting away from all of the trappings of modern life. Although many of us still escape into the wild to disconnect so we can reconnect with others and ourselves, it seems that we still need our electronic gadgets. After all, they do help us capture our memories and navigate our adventures. Even without cell phone reception, it seems we still use our phones to take photos and videos, navigate, and even entertain us by playing music. Although we may be disconnected from the outside world, we still need ways to recharge not only our internal human battery, but our electronics’ batteries as well.
Smartphones, cameras, GoPros, and GPS devices frequently have a rechargeable battery. Even our headlamps, water purification systems, headphones, and watches now need to power up on a regular basis. There are multiple ways to keep these gadgets fully charged and running properly even when we are miles from home.
My iPhone 7 usually lasts two to three full days when I restrict usage to the Gaia GPS app and my camera and when I keep my phone in airplane mode. Here are some tips to stretch out your phone's battery life:
Think of battery packs as a storage unit. You can use the stored power from the battery pack to charge your electronic devices, but you need to replenish your storage unit with new power from a power source. Your power source can be your wall charger, your car charger, or your solar panel. A decent battery pack should provide an iPhone with four full charges and will run you about $50-$150, depending on the battery size and power.
The capacity of a battery pack is measured in milliamp hours (mAh). By comparing the storage capacity of a portable battery to that of the battery in your device, you can get an idea of how many recharges you have available. This is usually stated in milliAmp hours (mAh) or Amp hours (Ah). For example, 2200 mAh = 2.2 Ah. Watt hours (wh) is another measure of capacity. To convert watt hours to mAh: (Wh /Volts) x 1000 = mAh. Smaller USB battery packs have as few as 2,000 to 3,000 mAh, while larger ones can have as much as 10,000 to 15,000 mAh or more. If you're going to be charging multiple devices or you are bringing a tablet along with you, having one of these high-capacity batteries at your disposal will definitely come in handy. Small electronic devices that can be charged with a USB cable need a 5 volt output rating, so make sure your battery pack as at least a 5 volt output port.
Goal Zero Venture 70: This can charge multiple gadgets at the same time, can be used with a solar panel, has a capacity of 17,700 mAh, and is waterproof. I prefer this for longer backpacking trips or thru-hikes.
Goal Zero Flip 30 recharger: Charges one device at a time, can be used with solar panel, 7800 mAh shorter charge times than Venture 70, cheaper in price, weighs less than Venture 70, and is not waterproof. I use this on day hikes or on day-long backpacking trips.
A solar panel on its own is a good way to keep your devices charged while traveling, but pair one with a portable USB battery pack and you'll have a complete energy system. This approach allows you to store the energy that the solar panel generates and save it for use at another time. The larger the solar panel, the more sunlight it collects and the faster it gets converted to power stored in a battery. A smaller panel, though easier to pack, takes longer to charge a battery. Large surface area is also best for conditions such as cloud cover or the low-angled, low-intensity light in winter, or when logistical constraints limit how long you can have it exposed to sun. Solar panels are rated in watts. The higher the number, the more electricity is generated during a given time period. Seven watts is a good number to shoot for.
It took me a while to finally invest in a solar panel, but I am so happy I did. A decent solar panel should run you about $100 to $125. It is important to use your solar panel in direct sunlight and always have it hooked on to the outside of your backpack or tent so that the solar panels are facing the sun. When investing in a solar panel, make sure that it can charge directly to your device and to your battery pack. It is also important that your solar panel is weatherproof and waterproof. I use the Goal Zero Nomad 7. The Goal Zero Nomad 7 plus is new on the market and currently out of stock.