Now that cell phones are so multifunctional (clock, camera, communication, flashlight, navigation, etc.), it is more important than ever to keep them charged while you are camping. Fortunately, there are several options for keeping your device charged, whether you are heading into the outdoors for one night or a few weeks.
Start With a Fully Charged Battery
If you are driving to your campsite, use a car charger cable to keep your battery topped off until you arrive. This is especially important if you are using a navigation service on your phone to get there, as these apps drain a battery quickly.
Most new cars have USB ports in the center console or on the dash, but if your car doesn’t have USB ports, you can purchase an adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter and has a USB output. Many phone charging cables have a USB connector that is plugged into a wall outlet adapter, but if your phone cable is USBC or high speed, you may need to purchase a second cable that will allow you to plug your phone into a USB port to charge it.
Extend Battery Life
Start by taking a few simple steps to reduce your battery consumption, which can significantly extend the life of your phone battery’s charge. Small changes like turning down your screen’s brightness, changing notifications from push to fetch, and avoiding streaming video and music will help your phone last.
If you don’t need to send texts or make calls but want to use features like the camera and flashlight, turn your phone to airplane mode to make the battery last much longer. If you have a weak or intermittent signal, it will be frustrating for you and can drain your battery faster as your phone constantly searches for connectivity, so avoid a headache by switching to airplane mode as soon as you lose workable service.
Finally, phone batteries die much faster in extreme cold, so on chilly nights tuck your phone into your sleeping bag with you while you sleep or zip it into a pocket in your clothing. Take care not to roll onto your phone and break the screen. If your phone does happen to get too cold, the battery might drain extremely quickly, or the phone might shut down altogether, but the phone will regain its normal battery life when it warms up again.
Conversely, leaving your phone in extreme heat can permanently damage the battery life, so don’t leave your phone laying in direct sunlight, in the car on hot days, or in any other situation where it might become excessively warm.
Of course, even if you follow these steps, your phone will eventually need to be recharged. Let’s take a look at your options for charging your phone in the wilderness.
Charge From Your Car Battery
As previously mentioned, you can charge your phone off your car battery while driving, but you can also charge it while the car is off. However, you will need to take care not to drain the car batteries so much that the car won’t start when you are ready to leave.
This is a feasible solution only if you are car camping, and only if you need to charge your phone one or two times. If you are worried about killing your car’s battery, take a short drive around the campground while charging your phone.
Bring a Portable Power Bank
Portable power banks are external batteries that you charge up ahead of time, and then use to charge your phone or other devices. These range from inexpensive devices that will charge your phone one or two times to more expensive options that have other features and can charge your phone up to around ten times.
The benefits of portable power banks are that they are small, relatively inexpensive, and easy to use. Some power banks have multiple USB outputs so you can charge multiple phones or devices at once.
The downside is that power banks only have a finite amount of power stored, so once you use it all, you will end up with a dead phone and a dead power bank. These are great for shorter trips, but if you will be off the power grid for a long time or burn through your phone’s battery quickly, you will need a more renewable source of power. You also must remember to charge up the power bank in advance.
Items That Double as Power Banks
In the last few years, many products have been released that serve a function in camp (such as a light or lantern, music speaker, car battery jumper, etc.) in addition to being a battery bank with USB ports. These are especially useful for backpacking since weight and space are at a premium. They offer a convenience factor and make for one less thing to remember to charge and pack.
Just like the portable power banks we mentioned before, these hybrids will still need to be charged in advance, and will eventually die. Obviously, if you use both features of the device, i.e., listening to music on the speaker AND charging your phone, it will die faster.
Solar powered devices are excellent for camping because as long as it’s sunny, you will have endlessly renewable power. Options for solar power charging range from inexpensive, which will slowly trickle charge your phone, to more expensive setups that will charge your phone as quickly as if you had plugged it into the wall at home and store the extra power for later use.
The most basic and inexpensive options are essentially portable power banks that can recharge themselves with small solar panels on the side. These can also be charged in advance by plugging them into the wall. Although the solar power generated from such a small panel is not enough to fully recharge the battery bank, it is enough to trickle charge your phone which can be a lifesaver if you need to navigate or make an emergency phone call.
The next step up would be a larger but still portable solar panel that you can plug your phone directly into via USB. These are more expensive but are much faster and more efficient at charging than the small power packs. If you camp frequently and need to keep your devices charged, a portable solar panel would be a worthwhile investment.
For serious expeditions where you will be off the grid for weeks or if you need to charge other electronics in addition to your phone (camera, drone, laptop, GPS, etc.) you will need to invest in a heavy-duty power station and high capacity portable solar panel. These stations include multiple output ports for charging several devices at once and will store the excess power harvested from the solar panel until you are ready to use it. They have a bigger storage capacity so you will be able to charge your devices on cloudy days and in shady locations.
That’s right, and you can now turn your campfire into a thermoelectric power station. A company called BioLite has created a portable wood stove that converts and stores energy in a power bank with USB ports. This device can be used to provide a campsite ambiance with fire, and you can even cook food on it with separately sold pans.
The compact design and multifunctional aspect make this product practical for both car camping and backpacking. It provides warmth, enables you to cook, and will charge your phone all at once. You also don’t need to pack a fuel source, as you can feed the fire with sticks and twigs from around your campsite–unless of course you are in the desert with no fuel or are camping in wet weather.
Also, you will need to check the rules for where you are camping, as some places don’t allow open fires or even stoves because of the danger of wildfire. Some campgrounds only allow fires in the designated pits. Research your destination before you head out to make sure that you will be allowed to use your campfire power source.
One of the most foolproof ways to charge your phone while camping is to use a good old-fashioned hand-crank device. You don’t need sun or fuel for a fire, just some time and elbow grease. Most hand-cranked power sources are also emergency radios that receive the NOAA Weather Band, and many of them include flashlights and small solar panels to help boost power as well.
These radios are great to have at home in case of a storm or emergency, and they are also excellent backup power sources for charging your phone while camping due to their simplicity and durability.
In this age of constant connectivity, it can be nice to turn your phone off while camping and just enjoy nature but we understand that for some people that’s simply not possible or feasible, so we hope that these options for charging your phone while camping will be helpful on your next trip!