Few of us go somewhere without our mobile phones, and that includes our backpacking trips. After all, our phones can be used for our cameras, maps, GPS, entertainment, plus the real purpose for which they were invented - communication. But how do you plan to charge your phone or other electronic devices while you're away for the weekend or on a backpacking trip?
The best way to keep your electronic devices charged while backpacking is to use a portable charger or mobile power supply, one with enough mAh to charge your device as many times as you think you'll need it on the go. In addition to mAh, the amount of power you can get from a portable charger depends on your device and cable, as well as the battery level of your device when you start charging.
Let's discuss this method in a little more detail. In addition, I will focus on another method of charging electronic devices, before going on to describe ways in which you can optimize the battery life of your device so that it lasts longer and therefore requires less charging.
Ways to charge electronic devices while backpacking
Portable chargers / mobile power
As I said before, I believe that a portable charger is the best way to charge your electronic devices on the go. You simply plug in your device and it charges instantly. They are very reliable and will charge your device when you need it.
Portable chargers are rated in mAh (milliampere-hours). the higher the mAh, the more power you can get from it. Also, as the mAh increases, you can expect the charger to be bigger and heavier. You can find portable chargers with less than 5,000 mAh to almost 30,000 mAh.
Depending on your device, you can use a lower mAh charger for 1 to 2 charges and some of the largest chargers for up to 9 charges. Please note that these estimates are based on a phone and not a tablet. Tablets will take longer to charge and you won't get as much power from a portable charger.
Most backpackers seem to stick to portable chargers between 10,000 and 20,000mAh, charging their phones between 3 and 7 times. This is usually enough to get them into town to recharge their portable charger. However, if you plan to use your phone more frequently or if it dies faster, you may need something larger. Also, if you plan to charge multiple devices, a larger mAh charger is recommended.
Solar chargers are not as popular, but they are still an option. Unlike portable chargers, solar chargers can be charged on the go. Many can even be attached to your backpack, or when you're having lunch you can put the panel in direct sunlight and let it charge while you eat.
The problem with solar chargers is that they don't always charge you when you need them. When on the road, many times you will find yourself in a shaded area, which will reduce the amount of sunlight received by the PV cells on the panel. This means you won't get as much charge, if any, as you could. In addition, cloudy days can also limit the amount of sunlight, which ultimately makes solar chargers unreliable. Not to mention that solar chargers tend to be heavier than portable chargers.
However, if you are mainly hiking in the desert with low tree cover, then a solar charger may be for you. I would still stick with a portable charger, but do what works best for you.
Although it is not technically possible to 'recharge' your electronic devices, using additional batteries is another way to keep your devices running. Instead of charging your device, you can simply replace a dead battery with a fully charged one. This method can even save you some weight, as many phone batteries don't weigh much and it may be lighter to carry 3 or 4 of these than to carry a portable charger.
Not all phones have a removable (or at least easily removable) battery. You should know if this is right for you depending on your phone. However, it is best to use a portable charger. However, it may be a good idea to keep a spare battery in case of an emergency.
Make your charge last longer
While having a portable charger is a good idea to keep your electronic devices charged, knowing what you can do to maximize the life of your device's battery can help you charge it less often. Here are some tips to keep your device charged for longer while you're backpacking.
Refuel before you start your trip
The first thing you should do to maximize the life of your device's battery is to fill it up before you hit the trail. If possible, charge your device in your car on the way to the trailhead so that you can start your hike with a full charge. This allows you to use it for a longer period of time before you need to use any charging method of your choice.
Enabling Airplane Mode
Airplane mode disables the signal from and to your device. When you are traveling, your device will keep looking for a signal if there is none, which can quickly drain the battery. You can prevent this from happening by enabling Airplane mode, thus saving your device's battery life. However, be aware that you can't make or receive calls or messages when Airplane mode is on, but if you don't get a signal anyway, save your battery and turn it on.
If this is the case, let your loved ones know that messages are unlikely to be received, and don't worry if they don't get a reply. Give them a reasonable time frame for when they can expect to hear from you and contact the authorities if they don't get in touch within that time.
Your GPS should still work properly even if Airplane Mode is enabled. However, I am having problems calculating hiking distances using flight mode. My path is accurate, but the distance is incorrect. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with Airplane mode or the usually reliable hiking apps. Just something to keep in mind.
Reduce screen brightness
Reducing the brightness of your device's screen can help extend battery life. The brighter the screen, the more power is used to illuminate it. Reducing it to 50% is a good starting point, but it can be hard to tell if it's too bright out. You should be able to reduce the brightness further when it's dark. If you don't plan to use it on a hike, keep it at a lower level until you need it.
Have a good battery
Make sure you have a good battery in your device to minimize the amount of charging required. A bad battery in your phone will also not charge and will eventually run out faster, so it will need to be recharged more frequently.
I'm sure you've realized that when you first get a new phone, the battery seems to last a few days between charges, but after extended use, you find it needs charging once or twice a day. This could be because apps have drained the battery, but it could also be that the battery itself has gone bad. For more help on this topic, do your research on Google or talk to a professional.
Don't let your device overheat
Heat can kill the battery, so try to keep your device where the heat won't touch it. If the pocket isn't close to your body, it's probably fine, otherwise find a better location, such as a breathable or roomy pocket, and hope it's still easily accessible.
Turn it off when not in use
If you don't have a signal and aren't using your device for GPS or other purposes, it's a good idea to turn it off to save power. However, if you plan to take a lot of photos, this can be difficult to manage as it can be a pain to turn the device on and off each time you take a picture.
Other items needed to charge your electronic devices
Some other items to remember to get your device charged are
all applicable cables
You will need to make sure you have any cables you need to charge any devices you are carrying. If you are hiking and you find yourself in town, you will need a wall charger or adapter to charge your devices and/or a portable charger. And you may not need it, but it's not a bad idea to have the option to charge your devices in your vehicle, just in case your phone dies and you've drained your battery pack, or perhaps you get into trouble and need a quick charge on the road.
Now you're ready to charge your device on your next backpacking trip. You probably already know exactly what you need to do. Again, a portable battery charger is in my opinion the best way and the easiest way, but the method that works best for you is always the right choice. Just make sure you don't find yourself in a situation where you need your device but can't use it because you can't charge it.