With an increase in storm intensity and the antiquated nature of much of our power grid, outages have become an increasing concern. This presents a major problem for most of us because we have become reliant on an assortment of electronics to get us through our day. While it would be ideal to have the ability to get by without these things, it’s much more realistic to be prepared to power these essentials for a period of time without relying on the power grid. In addition to power outage emergencies, we love the great outdoors and we may find ourselves spending more time in the wilderness away from traditional power sources.
Backup power options come in a lot of shapes and sizes and generally the more power each individual item can produce the higher the cost. For the purposes of this module, I’d like to cover some of the more affordable and basic options that will keep your small tools such as cell phones, flashlights, lanterns, and GPS units going as well as some of your smaller appliances.
The smallest and most cost-efficient form of power typically comes in the form of batteries, while standard batteries work, rechargeable batteries offer a reusable option that can be relied upon and also reduces waste. Most common-sized batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, CR123, etc) are now offered in rechargeable form, some of these are even offered in lithium ion or lithium polymer options which will provide increased life and performance over more traditional options.
Power Banks are very common and relatively inexpensive. These are great for providing backup power options for anything that requires USB charging such as cell phones, tablets, higher-end flashlights, and GPS units. It’s important when looking at battery packs that you buy from reputable manufacturers as lithium batteries are volatile and many of the less expensive no-name brands can lack safety features. Personally, I use Anker-branded power banks and have been very pleased with their reliability and performance over the years.
It is important to note that lithium-ion power banks are temperature sensitive and can have a reduced capacity and faster drain in the cold or overheat in extreme heat. They will also lose charge over time, so it is important to keep your unused power banks topped off, I generally check and top off the charge monthly.
Battery Powered Generators
Battery powered generators have grown in popularity in recent years due to improvements in technology. These are essentially massive power banks that are able to store and use much more power. These can not only charge your small electronic devices but many of them can power small electronic devices such as kitchen appliances, computers, and even your refrigerator. Capacity and output play a large role in the price, generally speaking, you can expect to spend at least $300 on a basic model and more advanced options can be a few thousand dollars.
Most battery-powered generators can be charged via wall outlets, vehicle outlets, and solar panels, making them versatile and a great option for potentially longer-term emergency use. As with power banks, you’ll want to stick with reputable brands for both functionality and safety. I personally use Jackery Generators, but Biolite and Goal Zero are also great options.
There are a number of devices on the market that are designed to have multiple purposes. Many lanterns offer the ability to also charge your small electronics from their internal batteries such as the Luci Pro Solar Powered Lantern. You can also find battery-powered jump starters for your vehicle like the POD Xtreme Jump Starter that can charge your small electronics. Some Flashlights like the Fenix E-CP are able to be used as battery packs in a pinch. As a general rule, these are great backups, but I wouldn’t rely on them solely for powering your electronics as they are designed more for their specific functions.
Charging Your Back-Up Systems
Keeping your Back Up Systems charged and ready to do their job is vital, and that’s easy to do when the power is on as all these items have the ability to charge via a wall outlet. Having the ability to charge when the Powe is out is also important, and this is primarily done through the use of solar panels. Dedicated solar panels provide you with the ability to charge your devices as long as the sun is out. While this is a great perk, they are not nearly as fast or efficient as a wall charger, and most items with built-in solar panels are very slow to charge if they have any significant battery capacity.
Dedicated solar panels are the way to go here, but keep in mind that efficient panels are large and heavy. They are not great for traveling on foot but can be great for your home or at camp. I use a Rockpals 120W solar panel system, which can easily charge all of my devices, including my Battery Powered Generator in a few hours of direct sun. It weighs around 15 pounds and is over 6 feet long when fully deployed. There are certainly smaller options out there, but the smaller you go, the slower the charging will be.
Another option for charging your devices in an emergency or while off grid is using a turbine like the Water Lily. Turbines use either moving water or wind to generate power. In the right conditions, this can be even more efficient than solar panels for direct device powering or charging your backups.
While having backup power options are great, it is important to recognize the limitations of each of these items. Lithium batteries are both cold and hot temperature sensitive, which can reduce their capacity and ability to charge. Lithium batteries have a finite life span and can only take a certain number of charges before there is a reduction in the ability to hold a charge. The casing of lithium batteries can break, making them dangerous, as lithium and water is a volatile combination.
All electronics run the risk of damaged wires and circuits which can render them useless. Solar cells can be cracked, and turbines can suffer from mechanical failures. In addition to possible failure points these items can add significant bulk and weight to your pack.
There are a ton of options on the market, the brands I mentioned are ones that I have experience with and feel are worth viable options, they are not by any means the end all be all of the quality options.
No matter what what you choose, having a back up system is vital in emergency situations or extended trips to the great outdoors, especially if you are bringing a long electronics you are relying on to safely enjoy your time.