Even if your goal is to get “far from the madding crowd”, having a working phone for emergencies means keeping it charged. Learning how to charge a phone when camping can be a life-saving skill.
Unfortunately, electrical chargers aren’t as portable as one might wish. Pedaling or cranking a generator isn’t easy. Solar chargers only work when the sun is shining, and power sticks or extra batteries have a finite life.
How to Charge a Cell Phone While Camping
With these things in mind, here are a few ideas for how to charge a cell phone when camping.
1. Select a Campsite with Electrical Outlets and Wi-Fi
Sometimes called “glamping”, you can have a tent with almost all the comforts of home. A modern, family-sized tent might have three or more “rooms” and a flap entry for an extension cord.
Be aware that some powered campsites have rules about radios and other noisemakers, but a good set of headphones could allow you to catch your favorite shows as well as enjoy hiking and picnicking during the day.
2. Use Your Car Charger
Although you need to be judicious about this, your vehicle can act as a generator.
Be sure to run the motor long enough to keep a charge on the main battery, and you can charge up your cell phone, and perhaps a tablet or two to keep the small fry entertained.
3. Carry Several Power Stick Chargers
Incidentally, you can charge these up from your vehicle’s power port, just as you might your cell phone. It’s a good idea to know how long your phone is likely to hold a charge since they will vary.
If you have a phone that’s not likely to hold a charge well, you can turn it off for most of your trip, and only turn it on at scheduled intervals. This will help preserve the charge.
Power stick chargers can be refilled anywhere you can plug them into a USB port. To charge your phone from them, just plug the phone into the “out” port, just as you would into any charging port.
4. Get a Hand-Crank Generator
This is handy if you’re heading out into the wilderness and expect to be gone for a while.
Hand-crank generators are old-school technology, harkening back to the early days of ham radio operation. Fortunately, the newer models aren’t nearly so large or heavy as the older ones.
They range from a small, box-shaped device with two USB plug-in spots to complex units that can be hand-cranked or charged in the sun. Some of the units include a flashlight and radio reception.
5. Use Solar Chargers
Solar chargers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and weights. Some of them are fairly large, while some are small enough to fit into your pocket.
With solar chargers not only does size count, but so does quality. Not all solar energy collectors are created equal.
The pocket-sized chargers are likely to take a long time to generate a significant amount of electrical energy. If you’re backpacking any distance, a good option is a cloth-backed, folding solar array that can be strapped to your pack.
This, combined with an inverter that has USB plugins, is probably your best solar generator option. You’ll need to stay in one place for several hours to allow batteries to charge, but on a sunny day, it will get the job done.
6. Biolite Camp Stove
Again, old technology miniaturized. This little camp stove captures thermal energy from a tiny campfire and uses it to charge a battery.
You can plug your phone into it while the fire is burning, or later after the fire has gone out. Indicators will show when the battery is fully charged as well as how hot the fire is getting to be. The camp stove works with Biolite’s grill and kettle pot, which can be purchased separately or as part of a bundle.
The kettle pot can act as a container for the camp stove, and the grill has its own cover. The camp stove’s preferred fuel is small twigs, such as you might find on the ground anywhere near trees, so no need to haul fuel to the campsite.
7. Use Your Bike
If you’re bicycling to your campground or taking a bike tour, you can add a dynamo charger to your bike. Although this sounds like a great idea at first, there are some downsides to it.
First, although there are 24 different bike chargers on the market as of 2020, none of them are super-efficient.
You would need to travel at 10 to 15 miles per hour just to keep your phone topped up, let alone charging it from nothing. Second, it adds some drag to your pedaling efforts, so you will have to work harder to attain a good cruising speed.
With that said, although it’s not completely free power, you might as well use the energy that you’re going to be spending anyway.
The bottom line is that you should probably use several methods to keep your cell phone charged while exploring the wilderness or taking a long bicycling tour.
Begin conserving energy by turning off anything battery-powered that you’re not using. Top up your cell phone and your backup batteries before leaving civilization and anytime a power source is available.
If you’re biking, why not use that dynamo to keep your phone topped up, especially if you’re using GPS. Finally, using your campfire and a solar mat as added chargers just helps keep everything powered up while you’re away from civilization.
Educate yourself in ways to save energy when using your cell phone. Turn off features that you don’t need, such as notifications or roaming.
Unless you’re geocaching and need your GPS, use a map and only turn on your phone when you really need to check your location. Or, to put it another way, use multiple resources and conserve energy as much as possible.