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I can’t remember the last camping or backpacking trip I went on without my phone.
And I’d wager I’m not in the minority. Phones and other devices have become all but pack essentials.
While convenient, all this trail tech creates its own problem: making sure your devices don’t die.
The good news is this isn’t a difficult problem to solve. This article covers everything you need to know.
It all boils down to being familiar with the two main ways you can keep your electronics charged while backpacking:
- Reduce power consumption
- Pack the gear needed to charge your device on the trail
Let’s look at both in turn.
Part 1: Reduce Power Consumption with These 5 Easy Steps
You probably know most of these steps already, so let’s speed through.
1. Put Your Device on Airplane Mode
My old iPhone 5s normally lasts just half a day. On airplane mode it can last a weekend.
Phones aren’t the only devices with airplane mode. My Kindle has it too. Check which of yours do and keep it enabled as much as possible.
The downside to airplane mode is that you won’t be able to access the internet or receive communications from other devices.
But hey, you’re in the backcountry — don’t you want to unplug a little?
2. Turn Your Screen Brightness Down
Whether using a Kindle, phone, or tablet, turning the brightness down is another simple way to extend your device’s battery life.
Some devices will automatically adjust their screen brightness based on the light conditions around you. You may want to disable this feature (known as “Auto-Brightness” on iOS) so that the screen brightness remains at the level you set.
3. Take Fewer Photos & Videos
I get it — you’re camping or backpacking in a beautiful location and you want to take lots of photos and videos. Pics or it didn’t happen, am I right?
Don’t stop taking photos and videos. Just be more selective about what you choose to photograph and record and when to use your device at all for that matter. (If you’re anything like me, you get home and promptly delete 80% of them anyway.)
That way, you can get shots from every day of your trip — not just the first.
4. Turn Your Device on Low Power Mode
Better yet, turn it off completely when you aren’t using it. Spend some time communing with nature and all that jazz.
5. Keep Your Device Near Room Temperature
Temperatures higher than 95° F (35° C) can permanently damage your device’s battery capacity. And you’ll experience much shorter battery life in cold temperatures.
62° to 72° F (16° to 22° C) is the ideal temperature range in which to keep your devices.
You might have to sleep with your devices to keep them warm overnight.
Part 2: Pack the Gear Needed to Charge Your Device on the Trail
Extending battery life can only get you so far. At a certain point, you’ll need a back-up power source and some related accessories to recharge your dead devices.
Here are the items you’ll need.
1. Lightweight Battery Pack or Portable Solar Charger
For devices such as phones with rechargeable internal batteries, the standard power source among backpackers is a lightweight battery pack.
There are dozens of options out there, but after recently testing five of the best I’ll personally be packing the 4.3-ounce Anker Astro E1 6700 for short trips and the 6.7-ounce Anker PowerCore II 10000 for longer trips or when I have to charge multiple devices.
Check out our guide to the best lightweight battery packs for camping and backpacking for our reviews, test results, and recommendations.
For devices without rechargeable batteries such as many backpacking flashlights and headlamps, just find out what kind of batteries yours takes and pack some spares. (The most common types we’ve seen for these devices are AA, AAA, and CR2032.)
Solar chargers sound like a great idea in theory — capture free energy from the sun while you hike!
In practice, they are well-suited for trails with little to no tree coverage.
That means you wouldn’t want to take them on the Appalachian Trail, for example, which is nicknamed the “Green Tunnel” due to all the sunlight-blocking overhead foliage.
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But on sunny trails in the American Southwest, for instance, solar chargers can be a convenient way to recharge your devices.
Still, they can be heavy and pricey, especially the higher-watt (i.e. more powerful) chargers. A portable battery pack is usually the lighter and cheaper option. You’d probably want to bring one along anyways to store the solar energy you capture during the day so you can charge your devices at night.
We haven’t tested any portable solar chargers, but here are some good options. If you’re the handy type, you can also make a DIY solar charger pretty easily.
2. Charging Cables
All the battery packs I’ve tested require a micro USB cable to charge, which you’ll need to pack if you plan to charge your battery pack at some point during your trip.
(Battery packs usually come packaged with a free cable, though at 1-2 feet these might be too long for weight-conscious backpackers.)
Also don’t forget to pick up or pack short Lightning or USB C cables if that’s what your devices use. All the battery packs and solar panels I’ve seen have USB ports.
3. Lightweight Wall Charger (If You’ll Be Charging Your Devices in Town)
Thru-hikers will also need to take a lightweight wall charger so they can charge their devices while in town.
This can just be the wall charger that came with your phone, such as the ubiquitous white iPhone wall charger. But if you consistently need to charge multiple devices, a good multi-port charger will save you hours every time you charge.
Some Battery Packs Come with These Accessories Built-in
Don’t want to fuss with a battery pack and charging cables and a wall charger?
Some battery packs have a built-in charging cable, wall charger, or both. They tend to be heavier and pricier, but — when you factor in the cables and/or wall chargers you’re not buying and packing — their weights and prices become more competitive.
Here are two to consider:
- Jackery Bolt 6000 (built-in Lightning and Micro USB cable; 5.57 oz)
- Anker PowerCore Fusion 5000 (built-in wall charger; 6.6 oz)
Remember that built-in cables are for output only. If your battery pack doesn’t have a built-in wall charger you’ll still need to pack a cable if you need to charge the battery pack itself.
What about Quick Charge?
Qualcomm Quick Charge is a technology available in some battery packs (and other devices) that can drastically reduce their charging time.
A Quick Charge set-up could be worth it if you constantly need to charge your battery pack quickly — such as during short stops in trail towns.
But it’s unnecessary if you don’t mind your devices charging at a slower rate and you never need to charge your battery pack quickly.
The ideal Quick Charge battery pack has Quick Charge input and output, but forced to choose we’d sooner have it on the input end. Your wall adapter and charging cable must also be Quick Charge compatible.
According to thru-hiking vlogger Neemor, here is a good Quick Charge compatible set-up:
- Battery pack: RAVPower Slim 10000mAh (QC input and output)
- Charging cable: cable included with battery pack
- Wall charger: Anker PowerPort 2 Ports
The charging rate of solar chargers is dependent upon their wattage and the sun’s intensity at any given moment (not to mention other factors like direction and tilt angle of the panels).
Some of the more powerful panels can reach respectable max charging rates, but keep in mind that these are only in ideal conditions.