The modern world is full of wonderfully portable and amazingly capable rechargeable electronic devices. The now ubiquitous smartphone is a miracle do-all gadget that handles everything from email and voice comms to record keeping and even star charting.
The latest GPS systems are more accurate and small enough to ride in a lighter pocket on your jeans or cargo pants. Heck, even our flashlights are marvels, pumping out brilliantly white beams of light farther and for longer than was though possible just a few years back.
For preppers, all of this sounds very nice, but the idea of relying on any power-hungry device to keep you and your family safe when the SHTF is just a bridge too far for those who want the steady reliability of analog methods.
Hinging any response plan on a piece of equipment that is little better than a paperweight when the power is out seems foolish in the extreme. And yet, the capability of all of the above tools is simply too great to ignore in the first quarter of the 21st century.
Instead of being a prepping ascetic, you can instead embrace electronics by covering up their biggest weakness with one small, easy to carry piece of kit: the power bank.
These slim, light and easy to carry external batteries will let you painlessly recharge your mobile devices once, twice or even more, on the go or at camp, greatly increasing the “mileage” you get out of your survival gadgets.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best in portable power solutions for your dollars!
Table of Contents
What is an External Battery?
An external battery, or power bank, sometimes called a power cell, is exactly what is says on the label: a self-contained separate battery for a compatible mobile device.
Once connected via the appropriate cable and interface, a power bank will charge your device just like it is plugged in at home sitting on your desk or nightstand. Well, just like it would be in normal times, before the power went out, the sirens blared and you had to flee for your life with a pack full of equipment, but you get my drift!
Though the whole gamut of external batteries are available in just about any size, configuration and adapter you can imagine, for our article today we’ll be focusing on the most common breed today, which are those designed to charge phones, flashlights, GPS’s and any other gadget or gizmo that makes use of one of the USB family of connectors.
External batteries are the picture of simplicity to use: plug cable into battery, plug other end into device. That’s it. Most modern mobile devices begin drawing power automatically when connected, turned on or off. At its most complicated, a good external battery will only need to be switched on to do its job.
Why Carry an External Battery?
Extending runtime is the name of the game, and power banks will do that when you require power on demand (most of them) or a top off at the end of your trek or task. Most external batteries are small and slim enough to even ride in the same pocket as your thirsty device when connected, preventing a loose cable from becoming a snag hazard.
You’ll notice I did include flashlight in that list of candidate above devices. That’s no mistake: there is quite a bit more than just phones today that make use of rechargeable batteries, to include some of the best flashlights and lanterns on the market.
A smart prepper would carry a system for refueling those rechargeable so as to make use of abundant natural power sources and avoid having to carry so many disposable (and heavy) batteries.
A mobile solar charger panel or thermoelectric stove and high-density power bank make a dynamic duo of off-grid and mobile energy for all but the hungriest of portable electronics!
Many of these small yet beefy batteries have two or more USB slots and are completely capable of charging two or even three devices simultaneously. Of course, there is no free lunch: more draw means more power lost from the cell. You’ll have to recharge it eventually!
External Battery Features
External batteries, for all of their technical wonderment, are pretty simple as far as the end user is concerned. Your major performance metrics are capacity, measured in mAh (or milliamp hour, a unit of measurement describing how much energy your battery can hold) and output, measured in amps. Additional features might include more ports for charging more devices or niceties like low-power integrated flashlights.
The style of these external batteries will vary greatly. Many are plastic, or at least have plastic frames but some are metal. Some come in various colors or styles and may even have decorative fabric coatings.
While largely irrelevant for preppers, you should take care to choose one that will not hold dirt or moisture thanks to its outer finish.
The Best External Batteries
Below are our recommendations for external batteries. Each has its own strength and weaknesses; some are high capacity but feature poor, others charge very quickly at a great price but have low capacity. There is a solution for everyone and you can have it all if you can spend accordingly.
Before you buy, consider that you might be better off buying two decent batteries for both greater charge time and as an insurance plan against loss or damage than one uber-cell that costs two or three times as much. On the other hand, buying the very best usually has few downsides aside from price!
1. RavPower Portable Charger
- Capacity: 16,750mAh – Ample storage can charge most phones 4+ times.
- Output: 4.5A – Average charging rate will fully power phone or medium tablet in about 8-10 hours
- Ports: 2 – Enough for phone plus one additional device or two phones; yours and survival buddy.
- Special Features: Built in LED flashlight.
One of the very best buys on the market, this modestly price unit from RavPower is our pick for the best all around prepper-specific charger for one reason: it has a built in emergency flashlight! You can never have enough light sources in an emergency and this is one more to make sure you don’t wind up in the dark.
The light switch is a conveniently located click-on, click-off type located on the side of the unit. While it might not ride as comfortably in the hand as a cylindrical flashlight like your favorite MagLite, Streamlight or Surefire, it is easy enough to aim and operate that for short term use it is no trouble.
This modestly sized and slim power bank features an ample 16,750 mAh capacity capable of charging your average smart phone four times. The company advertises 5 times or more for an iPhone 7, but in my time with this battery I found that vagaries of device battery health and other mysterious factors made the 4x mark more consistently reliable.
At any rate, this jewel has two ports and a total 4 ½ amps of output to charge two phones or a phone and a tablet with ease. It is not the fastest charger in town, taking around 8-10 hours to charge a phone depending on battery health, but can reliably direct power most devices with apps running in the background and screen brightness set to medium. Comes with a pouch for added convenience of carry a little more protection.
Recommended! Get it from Amazon.
2. RavPower Xtreme Portable Charger
- Capacity: 26,800mAh – Mega-capacity power cell for the tech-adherent prepper.
- Output: 2.4A – Slightly sluggish charge rate.
- Ports: 3 – Can accommodate phone, GPS and more.
The bigger, brawnier cousin to our #1 pick keeps the modest price and sure reliability of its cousin above, but deletes the flashlight for more bread-and-butter utility: a deep dish 26,800 mAh battery and 3 ports to feed the most gadget-addled preppers or a small party.
More than cable of feeding a phone 6 additional charges or a large tablet twice. The Xtreme features a convenient LED power gauge that will show you how much juice is left in 25% increments.
Curiously, the big boy Xtreme series charges a little slower than the classic model, with most phones taking at least 10 hours for a full recharge. Directly powering a phone is possible, but you should dim the screen and reduce CPU load to ensure you aren’t faced with a power “leak”.
Minor quibbles aside, for a small increase in form factor and the loss of a flashlight that some may see as redundant anyway you get a truly massive amount of power and plenty of ports on hand for a great price. Another favorite of ours.
Get it from Amazon.
3. Anker PowerCore 10000
- Capacity: 10,000mAh – Small size means lean on storage, good for two, maybe three charges of phone.
- Output: 2A – Exclusive PowerIQ and Voltage Boost tech means fastest possible charge for device rating.
- Ports: 1 – One port, one device. Expect to rotate if running more than one device at a time.
Anker is a well known budget-priced maker of external batteries and other power solutions for electronics. Their PowerCore 10000 is a best-seller and with good reason: for a low profile, rapid charging option for backup or standby use, this is one of the best in the breed.
While 10,000 mAh does not seem like much compared to giants like the RavPower Xtreme in the #2 spot, and it only charges one device at a time, it is still enough to charge most phones twice over, and the deal is sweetened by its built-in quick charging capability.
This makes the little charger that could more than capable of directly powering most phones. A safety regulator gives you additional assurance that it will not suffer a terrible mishap from rough handling or inclement conditions.
For those who want to save as much space as they can without sacrificing useful capacity or speedy charge time or preppers who are going it alone the Anker PowerCore 10000 is a go-to.
See the latest price on Amazon.
4. INIU Portable Charger
- Capacity: 10,000mAh – Good for two, maybe three charges. Hungrier devices get 1 ½ charges.
- Output: 4A – Four amp output per port means brisk, efficient charging of most devices, but is not true Quick-Charge capable.
- Ports: 2
- Special Features: LED flashlight, unique paw-print fuel gauge displays remaining energy at a glance.
The minimalist and understated INIU portable charger is noteworthy for a couple of reasons: it is one of the slimmest power banks on the market, making it ideal for in-pocket charging and it is extremely fast, recharging most devices about four times quicker than competitors, meaning you can make better use of your time when halted so you don’t have to keep it married to your phone or GPS all the time.
Two ports are adequate for servicing the gadgets that most preppers will have or just two people’s phones. The only thing I wish this unit had was more capacity, but for the price it is nothing to complain about; it is still enough to top off your power-hungry little witch brick twice, on average. A quirky, light up paw serves as a fuel gauge showing how much energy remains stored.
The only other major concern is the body of the battery; while sturdy enough, there is the vague feeling when handling it that it is brittle. Nothing you could not shore up with some creative crafting, and probably not something to complain at about at the price point, but it stands.
If you can stand to treat it with some extra care and attention, though, this is the hot-rod of portable power options; not good for long but it does the job really, really fast!
Check it out on Amazon.com.
5. CXLiy PowerBank
- Capacity: 24,000mAh – Terrific storage-to-size ratio; easily provides 7+ charges for most devices.
- Output: 2.1A – Average charging rate will direct power most phones and fully charge from empty in about 8 hours.
- Ports: 2 – Can handle the needs of two to three devices with minimal fuss.
- Special Features: Easy to read LED screen provides detailed performance data; best in class safety features prevent accidents and damage.
This fire-engine red option by CXLiy is the best option on our list for those who are analyst-type personalities: a small LED screen displays charge remaining, voltage input status for either of its tow ports and amperage for either on output. If you like additional data to keep an eye on your electronic equipment’s health and status, this is the one for you.
It isn’t just a pretty face, either. A 24,000 mAh capacity rivals that of the larger and less feature-rich RavPower Xtreme above in the number two spot while only giving up a single port in exchange. Unlike that big boy, this charger from CXLiy does not suffer from an anemic charge rate, gassing up most phones in about 7 hours.
A premium polymer battery, surge protection, short-circuit safeties and more keep this fiery fuel source running at peak performance, safely, with almost no worry of a catastrophic malfunction.
If you have never seen an energy dense lithium battery cook off, trust me, it is quite a sight, and not something you want to happen in your pocket, pouch or pack.
The color might be a turn off for serious preppers, but that is nothing a coat of paint or camo tape wrap won’t fix. It is more expensive than most of its competitors, but the added features and emphasis on safety combined with great capacity in standard form factor make this the power bank to beat for the technically concerned.
See this portable charger on Amazon.com.
6. Belkin Valet Charger
- Capacity: 6,700mAh – Miserly capacity will recharge iPhones approximately twice.
- Output: 1A – Slooow compared to most competitors.
- Ports: 1 plus wireless dock
- Special Features: Wireless charging of compatible Apple devices, one of the only chargers that works with Apple Watch.
On the surface, this Belkin power cell has little to commend it: small capacity, slow charging and one single stinking port.
But for Apple aficionados it has a major perk: wireless charging capability of your iPhone and your fancy Apple watch, a capability shared by few others.
The Belkin Valet Charger combines this capability in a slick, sleek and sturdy aluminum housing that can fit in any pocket with room to spare.
While the lack of pass-through capability and its high price tag compared to other tried and true (and affordable) options is chafing, the sheer convenience of this model may make it worth it, especially for those who rely on their wrist-mounted gadget.
Check out the Belkin charger here.
Our modern electronics can do too much for us to simply be ignored or abandoned when the power grid is down or when bugging out. It is good to know how to get along and survive without them but a savvy prepper will make use of all of his tools to ensure they can survive and thrive when the SHTF.
A simple, inexpensive power bank or external battery can afford your devices- smartphone, GPS, flashlight or lantern- with anywhere from two to 8 times as much runtime as it contains on its own.
The less time you spend fretting over a dwindling battery or looking for a working recharge point, the more time you’ll have to sussing out serious matters of survival, like finding clean water, making shelter and getting some warm food. Be smart and setup your own personal off-grid power source today, and make a power bank the first component.