Travel Tech: The Power of Mobile Power – Batteries to Keep You Going



By Keene Haywood

The pace of technology innovation can leave one a little out of breath. Just got a new iPad? Great! In six months to a year, it will be out of date. This is just a fact of tech life. Unfortunately, with our increasingly mobile computing lifestyles, the one area of tech innovation that has not progressed with head spinning pace is batteries. It has progressed at more of a snail’s pace. This little speed bump particularly affects you, the intrepid explorer, who hits the trail ready to map, photograph, video, GPS and otherwise compute your way into the backcountry. While it is great you can take your gadgets out into the wild, you may only get about two miles down the trail when you notice your battery on your phone or other gadgets may start to weaken. It’s a drag. And it’s usually the one thing we tend to forget about in the field until we don’t have any more juice.

What to do? Well the obvious answer is carry some extra power with you. Here are a few options for keeping your devices powered up while you are in the field. You may wonder why most of these options are focused on Apple mobile devices. The answer is simple. They don’t have removable batteries that can be swapped out in the field so these devices require a little external help.

Recently, HyperShop released HyperMac, a series of battery packs for Mac laptops, iPhones, and iPads. If you use a Mac in the field for any length of time, these battery packs will pay for themselves many times over. They come in four different sizes and can power everything from a MacBook Air up to a 17” MacBook Pro (the three largest batteries, can at least). These also include a USB port that was recently upgraded to support the 10 watt charging needs of the iPad. You can also use this port to charge other USB devices, too. You can even add a USB hub to the port and charge multiple devices at once (albeit slower). It's super handy. The largest packs are on the heavy side and costly, but they will power your gear for hours and hours. Even the smallest pack will power MacBook Airs and MacBooks for a few hours If you are out for more than a day or so and need juice, these are the go-to batteries for Macs. I own two!

Additionally, HyperMac makes a line of smaller battery packs for charging the iPhone or iPod Touch. They offer three different models: the Nano, the Micro and the Mini. The two largest packs sport USB ports like their larger laptop kin so you can charge other USB devices. These packs allow you to fully recharge your iPhone from 1.5 x to 6 x over, which is great if you are traveling in remote areas without reliable power. These are also nice if you are in a group and want to top off several iPhones. For the fashion conscious wilderness traveler, these packs come in a range of colors, so you can get one for every color of Gore-Tex jacket you own. Or you can just get silver.

For a good source of general in the field battery packs, BatteryGeek provides a range of packs as well for a variety of different devices.

Finally, the well-regarded gear maker, Brunton makes a range of power packs in their Solo line which is soon to have some slimmer, more powerful models added. These can power a variety of devices as well and are particularly made for use outdoors (i.e. water and shock resistant).

If you prefer to keep the battery closer to home on your iPhone, then these two packs might fit the bill. They are also a bit less expensive and are very portable. The Mophie Juice Pack Air ($79) provides the ability to almost double your iPhone’s battery. The pack case also doubles as a protective case. They make a larger, less protective pack, The Juice Pack, ($99) for a little more cash but it delivers a little more juice. Juice straw not included.

If you really get a wild hair to head off on some 15 mile, all-day bender of a hike, then FastMac’s TruPower iV ($79.95) can provide your iPhone with almost three times the power of the internal battery, plus it gives you a little LED light that can serve as a mini-flashlight or flash for the camera. It is a bulkier case, but sometimes slim does not cut it beyond the trailhead.

These are two of the larger phone mounted battery packs. There are other smaller plug-in style packs, but I have found these don’t hold much of a charge, you can loose them easily and they look like some weird appendage on your phone. Who needs that?

Solar power? Glad you asked. In theory, solar powered chargers should be the perfect complement to your outdoor tech and low impact lifestyle. But, the cells are expensive and they typically take a long time to charge a device. Conditions also need to be optimal to get the most out of the chargers. They need direct sunlight and usually require many hours of charging. And let’s face it, when you need power is probably near the end of the day or at night. Forgot to leave out the solar panel tethered to your device? Oops! Trying to hang one of these on your pack as you bounce along the trail is, well, a tad unrealistic.

Still, if you are interested, there are a couple of options to consider. Again Brunton has been pushing the edge of consumer, outdoor solar panels with their . Some of the battery packs have solar panels to charge up the batteries. This is a trend, by the way, to have solar panels on a battery pack (hybrid solar chargers) instead of just relying on the solar cells alone to charge. So you can charge the battery in the sun and then use the juice when you need it (like at night).

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Solio has been a long time poster child for consumer portable power. Their innovative “flower” petal design is a nice touch for compact style. They offer several different models.

A more recent entry is Novothink’s Surge which is an iPhone case with a solar panel built in. The jury is out as to whether it is any good. Word on the street is that its a tad slow to charge which is no surprise.

So there you go. Power to go is more power to you, so don’t be afraid to take the gadgets deep into Terra Incognita. Just don't forget your charging cable!

Photograph courtesy of HyperMac

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