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Power play: how to charge your gadgets in the wild

Knowing how to charge your gadgets in the wild could be a matter of survival or (more likely) avoiding boredom during a rainy day spent huddled under canvas.

Let’s face it: even if you’re a hardcore survivalist, a compass and map simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Whether it’s tracking your route with a hiking app, triangulating your position using GPS or letting your loved ones know you’re safe, adventurers these days rarely leave home without at least one electronic device.

During my recent hike along the South West Coast path, my smartphone provided me with entertainment in the form of reading material and music, directions to public conveniences and campsites, train and bus timetables, the ability to track my hike, the freedom to photograph at will and, most importantly of all, a way to call Kia at the end of the day and report my whereabouts.

I was hardly cut off from the world and I could of course have managed all of the above without a smartphone, but it certainly made life easier. All I had to do to keep all this information at my fingertips was ensure my smartphone was charged.

Below, I take a look at how to charge your gadgets in the wild, covering everything from a lightweight camping trip to a transatlantic voyage.

Mini-chargers

Price: from $15

For day trips, the easiest way to ensure you have a quick, simple and easily accessible bank of power is to carry a mini-charger. Usually about the size of a lipstick, mini-chargers are lightweight (75-85g), small and hold enough power to charge a smartphone or ereader. They charge quickly using USB so can be plugged into either a desktop PC, laptop or mains socket.

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Mini-chargers also make an ideal companion for bus and train journeys or flights. Kia and I both carry an MSC power stick in our daypacks when we travel. We prefer the power stick to our old Anker Astro mini as it has an LED display showing how much charge is remaining.

Mobile Solar Power Banks

Price: from $40

For longer trips such as a multi-day camping trek, the next logical charging device is a mobile solar power bank. These are still lightweight (160-200g) and usually about the size of a smartphone, but are more versatile than a mini-power bank as they use UV rays to charge instead of mains electricity or another device.

In strong direct sunlight, a good mobile solar power bank should be able to fully charge a smartphone, ereader or digital camera in almost the same time as a mains connection. In poorer sunlight they provide a constant solar trickle charge – enough to get you that vital call or locate your position in an emergency.

Apart from solar, they come with multi-charging capabilities including mains, car charger or USB, meaning that even if there’s no sun around they can still act as a reserve bank of portable power.

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I recently bought an MSC waterproof mobile solar bank to replace a Freeloader model which failed in its first week of use. This one seems to be doing much better. I used it every day on my recent hike through Cornwall, finding that it worked best if I had it on the front of my backpack during the day, soaking up as much sun as possible. I would then top it up at a mains point at a campsite.

Folding Solar Panel Chargers

Price: from $50

For ongoing off-grid portable power, a folding solar panel is the best option. They are well suited to sailing trips, camping and trekking expeditions and long-term travel such as campervan or overland journeys.

Folding solar panels will charge larger devices such as tablets and laptops, and can charge multiple smaller devices simultaneously. They are of course heavier (500g upwards) and larger, especially when extended, but fold up to about the size of a magazine.

Kia and I are planning our next big trip – six months through south and east Africa including Madagascar and Mozambique – so have invested in a dual-panelled 12W folding solar charger. I’m not sure if it’s entirely necessary considering James Redden is using something similar in the Arctic Circle but we do have a blog to run!

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Power banks

Price: from $50

Power banks are for storing power in order to provide a reliable reserve of power capable of charging multiple devices simultaneously. They are by far the most reliable and versatile, providing the strongest currents. However, they are also the heaviest power solution too – anything from 270g to 4kg!

Power banks are ideal whether you’re keeping the kids entertained on a family camping trip or powering your only link to civilisation while crossing the Gobi Desert. You can go for tough waterproof smartphone charging models such as this Aqua Trek or high performance models capable of starting light aircraft!

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They can charge off almost anything with a current including solar devices, car and campervan batteries and mains electricity, retaining their power for months.

Additionally, they can charge almost any device including laptops, tablets and smartphones and the high-end models are even capable of charging model aircraft, drones, fridges and televisions!

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Alternatives to solar power

There are alternatives to solar power and power banks, but most are not as cheap or reliable. Here’s a selection of some of the alternative options.

Water: myFC Power Trekk Fuel Cell Charger
Price: $200
Essentially running off a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt this is an innovative design from Swedish company myFC.

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Wind: HYmini Wind Turbine
Price: $35
This micro wind powered device from HYmini looks ideal for sailing voyages or weekends in Scotland!

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Hand: American Red Cross FRX3 Hand Crank
Price: $55
The Red Cross Hand Crank has been around for decades but like the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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Camp stove: BioLite Wood Burning Campstove
Price: $120
This BioLite wood burner that doubles as a charger is ideal for campers.

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Bike: Tigra Sport Bike Charge Dynamo
Price: $110
An obvious choice for cyclists, from Tigra Sport.

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Power wellies: Orange Got Wind Power Wellies
Price: TBC
Is the world ready for thermoelectric wellington boots?

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(Lead image: Dreamstime)

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