From mobile phones to GPS receivers and mp3 players, electronic gadgets entertain us and keep us safe when we hit the backcountry. The problem, of course, is that the backcountry doesn’t come with power strips, and electronic gadgets can quickly become paperweights if we don’t figure out some way to recharge their batteries. For all electronic devices, there are basically four options:
- Replace the discharged battery with a fresh one
- Use an external battery pack to recharge the battery
- Use solar power to recharge the battery
- Use wind power to recharge the battery
There are also some hand crank recharging devices on the market, but I am lumping those into category #2, since the crank is usually used to charge an internal battery which, in turn, can be used to recharge an external device (usually via a USB port).
Replace the battery
This is the easiest, lightest and lowest-cost option. Simply take a fully charged spare battery with you and swap it in for the old one when it gets low. This is also the most reliable option, since it doesn’t depend on the availability of the sun or wind and it doesn’t rely on some other gadget to get the job done.
Use an external battery pack
Power storage devices come in all different shapes and sizes, from small Lithium-Ion units to large 12-Volt units with integral power inverters to provide actual AC power. For car camping, the big 12-Volt units are hard to beat, for the flexibility provided by their standard 120-Volt/AC plug that will not only recharge your gadgets, but also run many small AC appliances.
The best solar power chargers are hybrid devices with their own batteries. Since hybrid devices have their own batteries, they can be left at the campsite during the day to recharge, while you are out hiking with your GPS receiver and mobile phone. The gadgets are recharged overnight, from the hybrid’s internal battery, and the process is repeated the next day.
Using the wind to recharge electronic gadgets is a relatively new phenomenon and one that has yet to really prove itself in the backcountry. Like solar chargers, the concept kind of runs counter to most camping strategies, which are to try and camp in the shade and behind some kind of shelter from the wind. Still, the flexibility offered by a multi-technology device, Like the Kinesis K2, which uses both solar and wind (as well as AC and DC sources) to charge a large internal battery that can then be used to charge external devices, is attractive.