By Mark Lebetkin
The Active Times
Whether you're car camping or heading out for several days on the trail, chances are you're not about to leave your smartphone behind.
And if it's not your iPhone or Android device, it's a portable GPS for navigating the backcountry, a tablet for watching movies in your tent or a digital camera for taking your adventures home with you.
So how do you keep the juice flowing when you’re nowhere near an outlet?
We rounded up 12 of the best, most diverse ways of charging your electronics anywhere, so you won't have to ration your Instagrams like camp meals.
Some of these options, like Anker's Astro series, are straight forward: they're battery packs that you charge before you leave, and hold enough electricity to charge USB-powered devices several times over. Some, like New Trent’s PowerPak and mophie’s juice pack powerstation PRO are designed with the jostling and uncertain conditions of the trail in mind.
Battery packs get the job done, but there are also a number of more environmentally-friendly choices out there. Three of the chargers on our list use heat to generate electricity. One is a camp stove that only requires a few dry twigs for fuel; another is a pot for boiling water; and still another harnesses the power of your campfire.
There's also a human-powered charger, a solar-powered one, and even one that requires you add water. The latter uses fuel cells, which it has in common with two other brand-new entries into the market.
BioLite isn't the only way to harness the power of your campfire for the benefit of your electronic gear. Debuting at this summer’s Outdoor Retailer product show, the FlameStower also uses a thermoelectric generator. You fill up the water reservoir and position the generator over an open flame or other heat source. Its USB output charges at about half the rate of a wall outlet, say the manufacturers, so you can completely charge an iPhone in about 3 hours, depending on the heat of the flame. Good for any USB-chargeable device, it's only 8 ounces and collapses down to a very stowable 7.75" x 2.25" x 1”-package (inset). Available for pre-order.
$69.99 at FlameStower.com
Brunton will be releasing its own highly anticipated fuel cell charger later this year. This device operates on a similar principle as the PowerTrekk: you insert a fuel cell into the reactor, and the resulting hydrogen reaction generates enough energy to power your USB device. But that’s where the similarities with the PowerTrekk end. Each fuel cell, manufactured by the company Horizon, can charge an iPhone five times, or a tablet one-and-a-half times -- there's a switch to toggle the amount of juice flowing into your device. The only byproduct of the reaction is water vapor and heat, and each fuel cell ($15 apiece; two included with purchase) can be recharged 1,000 times and recycled when it’s kaput. The only issue: while Brunton works with outdoor retailers to develop public charging stations, your only current option for recharging the cells is purchasing a separate $250 charger.
The third fire-powered charger on this list uses similar technology in a slightly different way. Whereas the BioLite is the stove itself and the FlameStower uses heat from another source, the PowerPot places the generator on the bottom of a pot you can use to boil up to 46 ounces of water. A flame-resistant USB cable will recharge your smartphone, digital camera or other device at slightly faster rate the other chargers -- under 2 hours, the manufacturers claim. Like the FlameStower, you need to keep an eye on the water level, and, at 18 ounces with lid and cable, it’s a tad heavier than average camping pot. (Hint: the lid can be flipped upside down for use as a frying pan.)
$149.00 at ThePowerPot.com
To be released later this year, the Nectar by Lilliputian Systems promises to be the Cadillac of fuel cell chargers -- albeit much smaller. At only 7 ounces, this compact, lightweight charger is similar to the Brunton Hydrogen Reactor, with the difference that each non-rechargeable cartridge ($10) is good for more than 10 iPhone charges, or more than two-weeks of power, boasts the company. Of course it also works for your e-reader, iPad or any other USB-powered device, but it comes at a cost reminiscent of a Cadillac: $300. Available only from Brookstone.
$299.99 at Brookstone
From the tiny Astro Mini ($19.99), which packs enough punch to charge a smartphone once, to the heavy-duty, 20-ounce Astro Pro2 ($99.99), which can charge an iPhone nine times or a laptop once, Anker's Astro series of portable battery packs runs the gamut of size and power output, but maintains a consumer-friendly range of prices. A good middle-ground option for hikers and campers is the Astro E5 (pictured; $49.99) which has enough juice for seven or eight smartphone charges, comes Apple-ready, and can charge any two USB devices simultaneously. Charges via USB or separate AC adapter.
$19.99 to $99.99 on Amazon
An update on the BoostTurbine 2000, this lithium-ion battery pack can fill up the usual way -- plug it into a power source via mini-USB -- and store enough power for a couple solid iPhone recharges (or about a third of an iPad's capacity). But in a real pinch you can unfold this handy pack's crank arm and power it up with a little bit of muscle. One minute of cranking will get you about 4 minutes of talk time or a few texts, Eton claims. That little bit can be vital in an emergency.
Possibly the most durable battery pack on the market, mophie's one-pound powerstation PRO is dust-proof, splash resistant and impact resistant. Its rubber casing means it can survive a fall, and, according to mophie, you can even take this pack in the shower without damaging it (not that you'd want to try.) It also carries enough charge to boost your iPhone four times over, and it’s compatible with most USB-powered devices.
$99.95 at mophie.com
This battery pack isn't just a battery pack. Recognized as best-in-show at this summer's Outdoor Retailer convention by GearJunkie and Gear Patrol, Trimble Outdoors’ TopoCharger does triple duty: it doubles your iPhone’s battery life, serves as a protective case, and turns your phone into a portable GPS device with a removable chip containing detailed statewide topographical maps. You’ll be burning that extra power when you use the maps’ 15 zoom levels (1:250K to 1:24K), but at least you won't need reception to look at them. Available this fall for iPhone 4, 4S and 5.
For the complete slideshow of the Go-Anywhere Power Sources For Mobile Devices, go to TheActiveTimes.com.
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