Whether it’s for your phone, GPS tracker, camera, or headlamps, you are probably going to need some power during your backpacking trip. A backpacking power bank is simplest way to make sure your devices don’t die on you.
Luckily, power banks have gotten a lot lighter over the years and can get more than 1,600mAh of power per ounce. Some backpacking power banks are even durable and waterproof too.
Here’s the best power banks for backpacking. If you don’t know how much power you will need or what to look for then scroll down to read the complete guide.
- Best Power Banks for Backpacking
- Capacity Explained (mAh)
- How Much Power Do You Need?
- Improving Capacity
- Choosing a Power Bank
- What about Solar Panels?
Best Power Banks for Backpacking
1. Anker Power Banks
Anker is one of the best known brands for backpacking power banks (as well as other gear like portable solar panels). They have power banks in different capacities. All of them have a good weight-to-capacity ratio (or milliamps per ounce).
Another reason to choose Anker power banks is that they actually deliver close to their advertised efficiency. Whereas other power banks might only give 2/3 of their listed power, Anker gets up to 90% efficiency.
You can also expect advanced features like 2.4amp fast charging, durable design, and a good 18 month warranty. They are actually affordable too, so definitely worth buying instead of a knockoff brand.
Top Power Bank Chargers by Anker:
- Upgraded to 6700 mAh
- 4.4oz (1,522mAh per ounce)
- Size of a small candy bar
- Recharges in 5 hours with 1A adapter
- Output: 5V=2A
- Number of ports: 1
- Buy Here
- 10,00 mAh
- 6.35oz (1,574mAh per ounce)
- 3.6×2.3×0.9 inches
- Recharges in 5 hours
- Output: 5V/2.4A
- Number of ports: 1
- Buy Here
- 20,100 mAh
- 12.5oz (1,608mAh per ounce)
- 5V/4.8A max output (two ports of 2.4A each)
- 6.5×2.3×0.9 inches
- Recharges in 10 hours with 2amp charger
- Buy Here
RavPower is another reputable brand for backpacking power banks. They have all of the same good features you’d get with an Anker power bank. Depending on the product, some of their power banks are either heavier or lighter per mAh than Anker. Here are the main options by RavPower.
- 4.1oz (1,634mAh per ounce)
- 3.5×0.98×1.57 inches
- Output: 2.4A
- Recharges in 3 hours with 2A charger
- Buy Here
- 10.9oz (1,536mAh per ounce)
- 4.5A max output (5V/2.4A and 5V/2.1A ports)
- 5×3.2×0.86 inches
- Recharges in 10 hours with 2A charger
- Built-in flashlight
- Buy Here
- 16.1oz (1,664mAh per ounce)
- 5.5A max output (divided between 3 ports)
- Outputs: 1 Type C output and 2 iSmart outputs
- 6.8×3.2×0.9 inches
- Recharges in 15 hours with 2.4A charger
- Buy Here
Here’s a cool idea: Instead of bringing a power bank, why not use 18650 batteries as your power source? Just insert some batteries into the ultralight NiteCore F2 charger. Then connect this with the device you want to charge.
NiteCore 18650 batteries hold 3,500mAh of power and weigh just 49.9 grams (1.76oz) each. The NiteCore F2 only weighs 46.5 grams (1.64oz).
Let’s say that you bring four 18650 batteries with you. That gives you 14,000mAh of energy. The total weight is 246.1g (8.68oz). That breaks down to 1,612mAh per ounce. This is even better than most of the Anker and RAVPower banks. The best part is you can customize the number of batteries you want to bring to meet your power needs.
The NiteCore F2 will accept 2 batteries but will still work even with just one battery in it. When you get to town, that same charger will let your refill the 18650 batteries.
Some issues: 18650 batteries are a bit pricy. It also takes a bit more effort to constantly swap in/out 18650 batteries (and keep track of which ones are drained). You’ll also want a case to store the batteries in, which adds a few more ounces. However, this is one of the coolest, lightest solutions for bringing power with you.
The Fenix ARE-X is another charger that lets you use 18650 batteries as a power bank. At 58grams, it is slightly heavier than the NiteCore F2 mentioned above and can only hold one battery at a time. However, it has a self-contained cover. That means you don’t have to worry about bringing a case for storing the batteries (at least for one battery – any others will still need a storage case).
Another cool thing is that it has a cable which clips in. The cable is really short, but a good quality so it works efficiently and doesn’t weigh much.
So, while this charger might be slightly heavier than the NiteCore F2, it is easier to use. I’d recommend it for shorter trips or when power needs a smaller.
It can be incredibly confusing trying to figure out how much power you need to bring with you on a backpacking trip. You don’t want your phone, GPS tracker, headlamp, or camera batteries to die right when you need them the most! And, since more power equals more weight, you also don’t want to bring too large of a power bank.
For starters, let’s look at what capacity means.
Power bank batteries have capacity measured in Milliamp hours, or mAh. This stands for how much power the battery can provide per hour.
For example, if your device requires 1000 Milliamps per hour, then a 3,000mAh battery will (in theory*) keep it going for 3 hours.
To figure out what capacity of power bank to bring, you’ll have to look at how many mAh all your batteries require per day.
No power bank is going to deliver its full capacity. A lot of the power is lost in AC/DC conversions and through cables (another reason to invest in good cables).
Some better power banks are more efficient, like the Anker power banks that deliver around 80%-90% of their listed capacity. Take this into consideration when calculating your power needs.
Capacity is tricky to calculate because you actually lose some of the power in the batteries and power banks. Here are some tricks to get maximum capacity:
- Don’t let batteries drain completely: When a battery runs to zero, it won’t work as efficiently because the system gets stressed. Try to recharge before it hits 20%.
- Temperature: Keep devices including power banks out of direct sunlight so they don’t overheat. You also don’t want batteries getting too cold. The ideal temperature range is 32-77F (0-25C).
- Get quality cables: Cheap cables won’t send energy efficiently, and some will be lost. Pay more for quality cables. You’ll get more mAh and charging will also be faster.
Calculate Power Needs for a Backpacking Trip
Figuring out how many mAh you need for your trip can be confusing. I’ll break it down by phone, GPS tracker, camera, or batteries.
Most smartphones have around a 3,000mAh battery. You’ll have to check with your specific model of phone though.
However, the battery capacity is probably lower than its listed mAh:
- Older batteries lose capacity. A phone battery typically lasts around 2-3 years.
- After 500 chargers, battery capacity will reduce to 80%.
- Some better batteries can make it to 1000 charges before reducing to 80%.
So, assuming a loss of 20%, your phone probably has a capacity of around 2,400mAh. Now you need to calculate how long until your phone battery dies.
This varies drastically depending on how you use your phone while backpacking. For example, Apple claims that its iPhone 5 can get up to 8 hours of talk time, 10 hours of WiFi internet use, and 225 hours of standby time.
Let’s assume that while backpacking you:
- Turn on Airplane mode (which is especially important in areas where you don’t have a signal so the phone doesn’t drain itself trying to find a signal).
- Primarily use the phone for taking photos
- Turn off airplane mode occasionally to make phone calls
- Turn off the phone completely at night.
Realistically, your phone battery will last around 24-48 hours when used like this. That means you’ll need to recharge your phone battery every 1-2 days (or 1500 to 3000mAh of power per day). Multiply this by how many days your trip will last/how long you can go between refueling.
So: If you need 1,500mAh per day and your trip is 7 days, you’ll need a battery bank with at least 13,125mAh (assuming 80% efficiency)
To figure out how much power your GPS tracker uses, you’ll need to figure out: battery capacity, battery life when in use, and how many hours per day you’ll use the GPS tracker.
Ideally, you are using a high-capacity battery with your GPS tracker. These will allow you to go longer between recharges.
Depending on how many features of the GPS you use, it will probably last 16-25 hours. You’ll have to check with your device’s manufacturer to test battery life. There are also these great tips for making a GPS battery last longer.
Next estimate how many hours per day you’ll use the GPS. If you are hiking 7 hours per day and your battery lasts 25 hours, then you can go 3.5 days between recharges. If your device uses two 2500mAh batteries, that’s about 1,430mAh of power per day that you need. (8)
DSLR cameras can require a lot of power, especially if you are using flash or the LCD screen. As a general rule, expect that:
- DSLR batteries usually have a capacity of 4,800 to 7,200mAh.
- You’ll get 3-10 hours of operation out of the battery. *Read how to extend camera battery life.
Let’s say that you actively use your camera for 2 hours per day. The rest of the time the camera is off or in sleep mode (it’s actually better to keep it in sleep mode than frequently turn it on/off). The battery capacity is 5,000mAh and it gets 6 hours of operation.
In this scenario, you’d need to recharge the battery every 3 days, or have power requirements of approximately 1,700mAh per day. (9)
18650 batteries are now used to power multiple types of devices, including headlamps. A good 18650 battery will have a capacity of 3,400 to 3,600mAh.
Calculate how many of these you will go through during the trip. Instead of using a power bank to recharge them, it might make more sense to just bring backup 18650 batteries. Or, you can even use the 18650 batteries instead of a power bank, as talked about before with the NiteCore F2 power solution.
Choosing a Power Bank for Backpacking
Power banks are usually around 3,000 to 25,000mAh in capacity. How much capacity you need really varies.
Are you just using your phone for occasionally checking in on a 3-day hike? Then you would only need about 3,000mAh in power.
If you have to go over a week between refueling and need to keep camera batteries charged, then you may need 25,000mAh.
Read the section above on Calculating Power Needs. Tally up the mAh/day amount for each gadget you are bringing. Don’t forget to factor in a loss of 20-33% of energy (depending on the quality of your power bank). A cheap 20,000mAh power bank might only give 13,200mAh in power.
Higher capacity almost always means more weight. However, there are some good ultralight power banks that pack in a high mAh without weighing too much.
To compare, look at the power bank’s capacity to weight ratio (or mAh per ounce). The RAVPower 26800, for example, weighs 16.1oz and thus delivers a whopping 1,664mAh per ounce. All the power banks reviewed get at least 1,500mAh per ounce.
Look at both the input and output speeds of the power bank. If it takes forever to refill your power bank, you will go crazy waiting in town. One backpacker even noted how he had to stay at hotels in order to refill his power bank, so it ended up being expensive too.
How fast a power bank can charge has a lot to do with the cables. So make sure you invest in some good quality cables and not the cheap Chinese knockoff ones.
Some power banks have Quick Charge capability. This only works if your device is GC compatible. If not, then the normal charging speed will be used.
If you need to charge multiple devices at once, you’ll need more than one outlet. Just note that charging speed typically reduces when you plug in multiple devices.
What About Solar Panels?
If you have very high power needs (such as if you are doing a lot of photography), even a 25,000mAH power bank probably won’t cut it. You’ll want a portable solar panel to keep charged.
Bear in mind that solar panels are often hyped up. They are cool, but require very sunny conditions to work well. They can also be heavy, bulky, and annoying to worry about. But, there are plenty of reliable solar panels which range from ultralight 5 watt solutions to higher wattages. Check out this post to learn about Portable Solar Panels.