Backcountry Technology 101: How to Keep Your Electronics Fully Charged

"As technology tries to maintain its dizzying ascent, one dead weight has kept its altitude in check: the battery."

~Steven Levy

 Goal Zero Solar Panel on my pack. Santa Cruz Island. 

Goal Zero Solar Panel on my pack. Santa Cruz Island. 

There was a time when backpacking or camping was a way to get away from all of the trappings of modern life. Although many of us still escape into the wild to disconnect so we can reconnect with others and ourselves it seems that we still need our electronic gadgets since, after all, they do help us capture our memories and navigate our adventures. Even without cell phone reception, it seems we still use our phones to take photos and videos, help navigate us and even entertain us by playing music. Although we may be disconnected from the outside world, we still need ways to recharge not only our internal human battery but our electronics’ batteries as well.

Smartphones, cameras, GoPros, and GPS devices have a rechargeable battery. Even our headlamps, water purification systems, headphones, and watches now need to power up on a regular basis. There are multiple ways to keep these gadgets fully charged and running properly even when we are miles from home.

Tips and tricks to save battery life on your iPhone

My iPhone 7 usually lasts 2-3 full days when I am using Gaia and my camera on airplane mode and when I practice the following settings:

  • Keep your cell phone on Airplane Mode even if you think you may have cell service. Taking your phone off airplane mode to try to find service can suck up the battery in no time.
  • Have minimal apps running on your phone. Oftentimes, we have multiple apps running in the background, which can eat our battery. I try to only have my Gaia navigation app running when I am on the trails. To delete background apps on the iPhone, double tap on the home button and scroll up to delete each app.
  • Power Off when you are sleeping
  • Dim the screen or turn on Auto-Brightness
  • Update your phone to the latest software settings
  • Enable Low Power Mode
  • Turn off Location Services
  • Turn off Background App Refresh
  • Turn off Notifications

Tips and tricks to save battery life on your Garmin inReach

  • Turn on the Extended Tracking setting 
  • Turn on the Automatic backlight brightness setting or reduce the backlight timeout 
  • Reduce the message Listen Interval setting (I have this set to once every 24 hours)
  • Reduce the value of the tracking Log Interval and Send Interval settings (I have my send interval turned off)
  • Turn off Bluetooth® wireless technology
  Tecnu  sent me this GoPro as a gift and I finally learned how to use it while on my recent trip exploring the Channel Islands. I am pretty impressed and incredibly grateful! 

Tecnu sent me this GoPro as a gift and I finally learned how to use it while on my recent trip exploring the Channel Islands. I am pretty impressed and incredibly grateful! 

 Yelling at my GoPro to "turn on". 

Yelling at my GoPro to "turn on". 

Tips and tricks to save battery life on your GoPro

  • Turn it off when you are not recording
  • Update the firmware: You can update your GoPro by connecting the camera to your phone over Wi-Fi and using the GoPro app to update it
  • Turn off Wi-Fi
  • Reduce the recording resolution or frame rate: For most GoPro action footage, 1080p at 60 frames per second is the standard. Turning it down a notch to 720p or leaving it at 1080p and setting it to 30 frames per second can help conserve battery life.
  • Carry an extra battery: Each battery only holds 1.5 hours of recording time so most of us carry an extra battery to have on hand.

Battery packs (power storage)

Think of battery packs as a storage unit. You can use the stored power from the battery pack to charge your electronic devices but you need to replenish your storage unit with new power from a power source. Your power source can be your wall charger, your car charger or your solar panel. A decent battery pack should provide an iPhone with FOUR full charges and will run you about $50-$150, depending on the battery size and power.

Storage capacity and power output

The capacity of a battery pack is measured in milliamp hours (mAh). By comparing the storage capacity of a portable battery to that of the battery in your device, you can get an idea of how many recharges you have available. This is usually stated in milliAmp-hours (mAh) or Amp-hours (Ah). For example, 2200 mAh = 2.2 Ah. Watt hours (wh) is another measure of capacity. To convert watt-hours to mAh: (Wh /Volts) x 1000 = mAhSmaller USB battery packs have as few as 2,000 to 3,000 mAh, while larger ones can have as much as 10,000 to 15,000 mAh or more. If you're going to be charging multiple devices, or are bringing a tablet along with you, having one of these high-capacity batteries at your disposal will definitely come in handy. Small electronic devices that can be charged with a USB cable need a 5V output rating so make sure your battery pack as at least a 5V output port.

I currently use GoalZero products (and never plan on changing), specifically the Venture 70 and the Flip 30 recharger. Both of these are drastically different work great for different purposes.

Goal Zero Venture 70: Can charge multiple gadgets at the same time, can be used with a solar panel, the capacity of 17,700mAh, and waterproof. I prefer this for longer backpacking trips or thru-hikes.

Goal Zero Flip 30 recharger: Charges one device at a time, can be used with solar panel, 7800mAh, shorter charge times than Venture 70, cheaper in price, less weight than Venture 70, not waterproof. I use this on day hikes or 1-2 day backpacking trips.

 It is pretty amazing that the sun can power all of our gadgets. 

It is pretty amazing that the sun can power all of our gadgets. 

Solar panels (power source)

A solar panel on its own is a good way to keep your devices charged while traveling, but pair one with a portable USB battery pack and you'll have a complete energy system. This approach allows you to store the energy (through the battery pack) that the solar panel generates and save it for use at another time. The solar panel does not hold a charge but it produces power when it is exposed to sunlight, so, therefore, you must hook it up to a battery back or electronic device while it is exposed to the sun. You can plug your phone directly into the panel or use it to recharge a portable recharger for later use.  The larger the solar panel, the more sunlight it collects and the faster it gets converted to power stored in a battery. A smaller panel, though easier to pack, takes longer to charge a battery. Large surface area is also best for conditions such as cloud cover or the low-angled, low-intensity light in winter, or when logistical constraints limit how long you can have it exposed to sun. Solar panels are rated in watts. The higher the number, the more electricity is generated during a given time period. 7 W is a good number to shoot for.

It took me a while to finally invest in a solar panel but I am so happy I did. A decent solar panel should run you about $100-$125. It is important to use your solar panel in direct sunlight and always have it hooked on to the outside of your backpack/tent so the solar panels are facing the sun. On average, a solar panel takes about 6-12 hours to charge a device (depending on the size of the device). When investing in a solar panel, make sure that you can it can charge directly to your device and to your battery pack. It is also important that your solar panel is weatherproof and waterproof. I use the Goal Zero Nomad 7. The Goal Zero Nomad 7 plus is new on the market and currently out of stock.

 I even have a solar-powered light for Moo! 

I even have a solar-powered light for Moo! 

Extra power tips and tricks

  • Always carry an extra USB/lightning cable
  • Download maps on your favorite navigation device (I use Gaia maps on my iPhone) before you hit the trails and turn tracking off to save battery.
  • Download your favorite music (I use Pandora) and use it in offline mode while on the trails.
  • Store all electronics in a Dry Sack to ensure no water gets in. I also use my Dry Sack as my backpacking sink to wash my face and dishes.
  • If you have a rechargeable headlamp (like I do), always make sure you charge the batteries every day before nightfall, as these batteries do not hold their charge for very long.

Do you have any power saving tips and tricks?

Hope to see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen