One thing that’s been bugging me recently is how we’re going to stay fully charged whilst we’re on the road, often without access to a plug socket for days, perhaps weeks on end. There are a few different options for keeping your tech charged. I’ll cover the main 3 now with a few pro’s and con’s.
These are often associated with candle bright lights, making a racket and making it impossible to pedal. This isn’t the case any more and dynamos have come on leaps and bounds in recent years. Hub dynamos are now able to give out decent power and are nigh-on silent. Having free energy as you cycle along is a great concept and, whilst its possible to do, there are some drawbacks.
Mainly, its very expensive to do. A half decent dynohub will set you back around £80 and unfortunately because dynohubs are designed to run lights and not your phone, you’re going to need additional hardware to make it all work. The most reputable thing I have found for this is the Busch & Müller E-Werk. What this does is convert the charge from your Dynamo to power that your regular USB powered device can use. This really is a great piece of kit but retailing at £140 for the main device plus £72 for the 1400mah cache battery, its a bit pricey for your average cycle-tramper costing nearly £300 all in with the hub.
On the other hand, it’s probably the best way to keep charged up if you’re planning to be in the wilderness for quite a while, doing distances long enough to charge up your phone or GPS.
Probably the most common question on the subject of keeping your gear powered up is “Are solar panels any good?”. From extensive research and reading many many reviews, yes and no. Solar charging is entirely dependent on the sun. If you’re planning on tripping in the jungle or Australia in the middle of summer then perhaps solar is worth investing in however if you’re going to be cycling Europe where the sun is often more reluctant to visit us for days and weeks, then it’s not the greatest idea.
As with most things in this field, you get what you pay for. The cheaper solar panels are small and often only good enough to charge one device at a time. The PowerBee solar charger, retailing at an extremely reasonable £30 incorporates a solar panel with a 2000mah battery built in. You can charge the battery via the mains when you’re at home and use the solar panel to keep it topped up. As one Amazon reviewer noted “…even on a bright summer day, it will take more than a full day sat in the sun to completely charge it.” which isn’t really brilliant if you’re going to be relying on it regularly and considering the battery is similar to one charge of an iPhone, it’s going to be a full time job keeping it going.
The other option is to go for a more expensive option like the PowerTraveller Solar Gorilla which, accompanied with the PowerTraveller Power Gorilla come in at £290. Considerably more expensive than the PowerBee but a lot more powerful. The solar panel is able to output 20V and 10watts which is more than enough for plenty of devices all at once. If you link it up to the Power Gorilla, it is apparently able to charge a laptop too.
The PowerTraveller kit is one of the highest output portable chargers you can get however from reading reviews, users are less than generous with results- “…it wouldn’t charge my ipod and it barely charged my Nokia phone by 1 bar after a whole day in the sun” and “Even in these tropical conditions, it took several hours’ recharge to replenish the most basic computer usage”.
If you’re really intent on being green about it, don’t want to charge your tech when it’s cloudy and, lets face it, money is no object then solar is the one for you.
Battery Packs and Power Banks
The third and final option is a less commonly explored area, using a big battery charged from the mains to keep you charged up. These come in various flavors in everything from 3000mah (about 1.5 charges of an iPhone) right up to 12000mah (about 6 charges of an iPhone and nearly 10 charges of a Garmin 800 GPS).
The main drawback with Power Banks is that they need to be plugged in to a mains power supply to be charged up. If you’re not going to have access to a plug socket at all whilst you’re touring then the power banks aren’t for you, however if you will (be it from hostel, hotel or coffee shop) then they’re worth considering.
Of the more powerful ones which are more suited to travelling, the price ranges from £30 to £50 which puts it much closer to the grasp of a cycle-tramper. I gather they are very similar and vary from having 2 USB ports to 4 USB ports, varying from outputting 1amp for GPS and Phones to 2amps for iPads and Tablets. The only place I have found they vary is in charge times, the EasyAcc 2USB 12000mah Power Bank charging on a 2Amp in about 9 hours which is the best I could find.
Choosing the route you want to take depends what you’re after and what your situation is when you’re travelling.
- If you’re going to be on the road for weeks in the wilderness, use a Dynohub with a power adaptor.
- If you’re going to be on the road but will be near civilisation every so often then perhaps a Power Bank is the way to do it.
- And if you’re going to be cycling on the surface of the sun, use a solar charger.
Also consider what you’re charging, as I’ll explain here…