Nowadays, we carry technology everywhere with us. Smartphones are ubiquitous, and it’s not unusual for walkers to be carrying a GPS, smartwatch, head torch, GoPro, or SLR. The batteries for most of these won’t last more than a day at best. So, if you are away from mains power for a couple of days, some sort of power source is going to come in handy. In particular, your smartphone may be the only way of communicating with the outside world in an emergency, so it is especially important to keep it charged.
How much power do you need?
This depends on the device you are charging. It can get a bit technical, but for our purposes we measure the capacity of the battery in milliAmp hours (mAh), with most smartphones needing 1,600 mAh upwards to fully charge. That said, some of the newest, large smartphones have batteries that are approaching the 3,000 mAh mark. A digital SLR will need a similar amount, and a GoPro will need a little less. Tablets and laptops need much more.
Are there other features to consider?
Given that the power pack may be going on the hill with you, a degree of weather protection and robustness is probably a good thing. Some power packs get a water ingress protection rating; IPX6 is splash proof, IPX7 is submersible to 1m for up to 30 minutes. If your power pack doesn’t have one of these ratings then make sure it is in a sealed dry bag that will also fit your device if you need to charge it. Many devices will now charge from a USB connection, but make sure you have the relevant cable to connect the power pack and device.
Aren’t solar panels better?
Despite this technology coming on in leaps and bounds, a good quality panel is still relatively expensive and a similar weight to many of the power packs. The time it will take to charge a power pack or device will also require the panel to be in the sun most of the day. This makes sense for people on a longer trip (perhaps four days plus) with low power needs like a single smartphone. Or for others who have much greater power needs like a keen photographer with multiple camera batteries, and a laptop or tablet. For most people, a power pack will supply their needs, and will charge faster than a panel. Also remember that many panels can’t charge devices directly, and so you will need to take power pack as an interface between the two anyway.
What does George Fisher recommend?
For power packs we have selected the Kodiak range of power packs from an American brand called Outdoor Tech. They come in three sizes (capacities), with the smallest being great for a single mobile phone charge, and the largest being able to charge multiple larger devices like a tablet. They are all IPX7 rated when the lid is closed, and still IPX6 when open. They have a rugged exterior and a built in light, which is great for illuminating a small tent or work surface. If you want a solar panel, we sell the Goal Zero Guide 10+ kit which does an effective job of charging smartphones or the AA batteries included in the pack.
Don’t let your device go completely flat. It takes quite a lot of power to bring a device back to life, so make sure you plug it in before it dies.
All batteries degrade in charge when they get cold. Keep devices and batteries out of the weather and where possible near to your core so that they can benefit from your body heat. If you’re camping, leave them in the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep warm.
Power packs aren’t just useful if you’re away from civilisation. How many times have you stayed in a hotel room with not enough plug sockets or ones in awkward locations? Instant power is a very handy thing to have.