For most of us, having access to electrical power has become so second nature that we hardly give it a thought. It's so abundant to be almost free, and there are lots of places all around to plug in your cell phone when it runs out of juice.
But if the grid goes down for a long period of time, or you need to charge your devices on the move, then you need to consider sources of portable power.
It keeps your communication devices going, and keeps your lights working at night.
This list factors in only small devices, such as anything charged over USB like phones and tablets, or anything that runs off AA or AAA batteries like head lamps.
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Ni-MH AA & AAA Batteries
There are several different types of rechargeable batteries: from the lead-acid which powers your car or truck, to Ni-MH which are used in AA and AAA batteries, to Lithium-Ion used in portable re-chargeable electronics like cell phones.
Lets look at Ni-MH which stands for Nickle Metal Hydride.
Typical Price: $20
We have been using eneloop batteries for years. They are considered by many insiders to be the best-made rechargeables. They maintain 70% of their charge after 5 years of storage and they can be charged and discharged up to 2100 times.
See our full eneloop review.
Typical Price: $8 for 6
It will help to keep your batteries organized and protected from the elements having these little cases to hold them in.
These have charged and uncharged labels on them, so you can orient the batteries and know which ones are ready to go.
Typical Price: $6
You're gonna need a tester to figure out the charge of your batteries once you start getting into reuseables. We like these so much we bought 3 of them for use around the house. These are immensely useful.
Field Charging AA & AAA Batteries
If you are away from home, or don't have access to a grid based power source, you still have options to keep your devices up and running.
Typical Price: $40
This charger can keep your AA and AAA eneloops topped off while mobile. Optimized for solar charging and includes mini USB input.
You can use the batteries as they are or keep them in the Guide 10 and use the USB output to charge your phone or other lithium-ion device as well via the USB output.
Emergency Backup Battery Systems
There are two companies that we trust the most and have been using their products for years: Goal Zero and Voltaic Systems. That's not to say there aren't other good companies out there, but in terms of ease of use, reliability and durability, the products these companies make can't be beat.
Check out our review on the entire Goal Zero Yeti lineup, it is a simplified breakdown of all their systems and what each one is good for.
If grid power is out, one of the easiest solutions to power up small and medium sized devices is solar power. Not as cheap or powerful as a fuel burning generator, but much more portable, quiet, and easily renewable.
Voltaic Systems and Powerfilm Solar make my favorite solar panels.
Typical Price: $39
Our favorite panel. Not expensive, packs small and light. All you need is some sun and a USB charging cable. 10 Watts with 5V/1.9A Output is enough power to charge up most cell phones in 1.5 hours.
For an extra $25 you can upgrade to the Arc 10W Solar Charger Kit which includes a 4,000mAh USB Battery Pack.
Dimensions: Open: 10" H x 13" W x 0.03" D - Folded: 10" H x 6.5" W x 0.15" D - 0.68 lbs.
Typical Price: $310 - $325
If you are looking for a high-end US-Made product that you can rely on, look no further than PowerFilm products. Their R-21 rollable solar panel only weighs 1.6 lbs and rolls down to 14.6" by 3" (14.6" x 60.8" unrolled.) Comes with a 12V Female Car Charger Adapter and a 15 ft. Extension Cord with O-ring Connectors.
Typical Price: $400
If you want to power a base camp with multiple users, look no further than the Goal Zero Nomad 100 Watt foldable solar panels. Open Circuit Voltage: 18-22V. This is a beast of a portable solar panel, and great for base camp use with multiple users.
Weight: 10.2 lbs. Dimensions (unfolded): 20.5" x 59.5" x 1" (folded): 20.5" x 15.5" x 2".