For Hell Hike and Raft, I knew I needed portable power, as I was planning on using both my iPhone 6 as a camera and also my GoPro, and the wilderness has not deemed it necessary to provide handy outlets when needing a charge. I decided to cast my net wide and try out different backup power sources to get a feel for what would work on the trail and river. In no particular order, here are the 4 products I tested out (I ended up not using my GoPro, so these results are all for the iPhone):
The Olympia Outdoors SB5500 External Battery with Dual Solar Charger Panels (MSRP $59.99) is a really handy device. You can use the sun or plug it in to charge it up, then charge your device on the move. I tried charging my phone via solar power, but the phone got too hot sitting in the sun, so I ended up using the solar power to charge the battery and then used the battery to recharge my phone. Considering its relatively small size, I was really impressed with the performance of this product – I charged my phone with it at least 2 times. I never needed to, but the SB5500 has the capability to charge 2 devices simultaneously, which would be helpful if your adventure partners needed assistance. Since this can be charged at home and then recharged in the field, this is a piece of portable power I’ll be bringing along on all my outings. The clamshell design means the panels are protected while not in use and also makes it more packable, always a good thing.
I received the Brunton PULSE™ 1500 (MSRP $29.99 USD) as part of a Cairn monthly pack (a Hell Hike and Raft partner). Brunton claims that the Pulse will charge a smart phone one time, but I never quite got that, even with multiple tries. Two-thirds to three-quarters was more the norm for me. In it favor is its ability to hold its charge for some time (at least a few weeks between the charge and its use on the trail), its compact size, and light weight. Probably not the best product of these to bring on a longer outing on the trail, but handy in a pinch for sure.
I’m a big fan of GoalZero, their products are well-made and have, for me, always worked as they claimed. The FLIP 20 RECHARGER (MSRP $49.99) claims it can charge your phone twice and I found that to be true and then some. This quickly charges and then keeps that charge for a long time. It’s small enough that it takes minimal space but large enough so it doesn’t get lost in a pack’s pocket. I purposefully dropped it several times (and a few times on accident) and, while the finish got scratched, its functionality remained unchanged. It’s compact, doesn’t weigh too much, charges quickly, and does its job well – highly recommended.
The PowerSkin PoP’n 3 (MSRP $79.99) is an attachable external battery for smartphones. Using suction cups, it clings to the back of you phone and delivers power via a short cable that plugs into the charging port. This device claims to give 1 1/2 charges for a smartphone and I got that and a bit more. Because this is an external device that adheres to the phone, it seems better suited to environments where activity is on the more mellow side; while the suction is sufficient to keep it adhered for basic use, it did separate while in hand during hiking. The only true negative I found are that the suction cups need a smooth surface for adhesion, meaning it does not work well with most protective cases. This is a good product to keep with you for every day use, but I’m not sure I’d bring it into the woods again.
All these products worked as they were intended to, with 3 of the 4 delivering more battery power than promised, which is very cool. The other thing that impressed me was that all of them kept their charge for weeks on end when not in use – nice to be able to forget about these until really needed.
Items were provided for review purposes – all opinions are my own.