Staying charged and connected

When I am out and about on one of my multi-day canoe wilderness trips, I generally leave my cell phone at home. I leave a float plan with my wife, and she knows that she probably won’t be hearing from me again until the end of the trip. Therefore, I have never bothered to find a way to keep my smart phone batteries charged.

Looking forward to 2013, I am planning a trip that will involve a lot of communication needs and public interaction, as well as a need for the ability to post to a trip-specific facebook page from my smart phone. Service won’t be a problem because I won’t be in the wilderness, but this will be a week long trip using a phone who’s battery life is measured in hours. So, I’ve been looking for options to charge my phone while living off the grid, and am looking to hear what others’ experiences have been.

The best options I have come across are:

  1. A charger that uses standard batteries to charge the phone. This, of course, eats up standard batteries, and that doesn’t sit well with me.

  2. Solar charger: Good reviews, when the sun is out, but charge time is a long time, and…the sun needs to be out. And I don’t relish leaving my phone out with the charger while paddling…one capsize and its all over.

  3. Just buy multiple batteries for my phone. Expensive option, and not worthwilfe for a trip or two that I might need them.

  4. …and the option I will probably go with: A hand-crank dynamo charger, such as may be found on those emergency radios. They are being made now with USB outputs that one can use with most phone charger cords. Wind away and charge the phone. And, I get a radio and weather reports…and even a flashlight.

    So…any experience out there with any of these? Other ideas?


Biolite stove

Put rechargeable batteries in your
Number one option.

Solio worked for me
I used a Solio charger for my Newfoundland circumnavigation. It kept my radio and my phone charged and happy, even in the not-so-strong Newfoundland sun: That said it doesn’t seem to work with my newer Blackberry…

The charger itself is not waterproof, so I had a pair of them in a clear waterproof aqua-pack on my aft deck. If you stay at a place with electricity, you can top off the Solio internal battery with a wall plug.

You can charge your phone at any time from the internal battery of the Solio. I did this at night in my tent. You DON’T have to keep your phone connected to the Solio while it is soaking up the sun.

If you are not in a wilderness area, I would just buy an extra battery and charge them when convenient.

Greg Stamer

SPOT…leave phone home

– Last Updated: Dec-20-12 12:17 PM EST –

Re-evaluate those communication needs

SPOT will let people know your okay and in many
outdoor scenarios cell phone coverage is still an issue.

Keep the phone off most of the time.
Turn on, leave message for loved ones, turn off.

SPOT will handle the rest.
SPOT supports direct updates to Twitter and
Facebook for all devices.
Post a Check-in/OK or Custom Message to your
Facebook wall and automatically include a
map link to your location.

probably need multiple options
You will probably need multiple options.

The Biolite stove mentioned - IU saw a review and it said that it doesn’t put a lot of power out.

Charging off of disposables - saw a review that said that each AA battery adds less than a bar to the average cell phone.

I suspect the dynamo would take an awful lot of spinning to charge a phone any significant power. What do they say - 10 seconds of spinning gets you a minute of light out of an LED? LEDs draw just about nothing.

I used a cheap solar panel to recharge AAA batteries on a 10 day trip I did, so we could keep a VHF going. Had 2 sets of batteries, so charged one while used one. Had charger in clear dry bag on back deck. Just barely made it. Another day or two of fog and I would have been out of power.

I suspect SPOT doesn’t meet your need of posting to Facebook - yeah, you can post short OK messages, but not photos and such.

If I was you, I’d go or a solar system in clear dry bag. Something like the product mentioned. But I would also get a second option (disposable battery one, or the dynamo) as a backup.

check your phone for compatibility
Some phones, like iphones are very finicky when it comes to what’s on the other end of the USB cable.

Solar is probably the best option. I’ve had friends use that along the BC coast which is not known for sun.

With the hand crank option you would likely be better off charging up a large capacity battery then using that to charge your devices.

I would take some dielectric grease or contact cleaner if you are in saltwater.

wonder if it would be possible …

– Last Updated: Dec-23-12 8:50 PM EST –

...... to turn a small generator using the canoe/kayak's paddle speed . A small generator's shaft (being extended) could be rigged on a couple stand-offs allowing a vertical position . Each stand-off could carry a sealed ball bearing at it's extent and the shaft run through them .

The small generator would set above deck heigth , and the paddle wheel on the other end of the shaft would be submerged .

This same generator with extended shaft running through bearings could also possibly be placed in a shallow current with a tripod near camp shoreline .

The rigging setup seems pretty simple and uncomplicated , compact and lightweight .

Anyway , the idea is to let the paddled canoe/kayak do the work of turning the small generator . And when at camp if a river current is available , let that turn the generator .

I pretty sure (very) small generators that are capable of charging a 12v device are available .

I'm not certain how much turning force is required to spin one of these small generators , but it can't be much . I would think a small paddle wheel should easily be able to do the job . Some are turned by a small set of propeller blades in the wind .

If you got hours and hours of this type charging going on while you don't even have to think about it , other than changing the different 12v devices you have with you to the generator's leads ... well , there ya go .

How about one of these (maybe the YAF-300 , 450 rpm) :

You see ever that kid pedaling a stationary bike in the TV room so he can watch TV ... the bike powers the TV .

Other thread
There was a thread on west coast paddler about this. The best solution seemed to be a solar charger (with batteries) in a waterproof bag on deck.

turn the phone off
You’ll drastically extend the life of your battery by powering the phone down when it’s not in use. I get a week out of my iphone by carrying an external battery pack, which is the size of the phone. (You plug it into a usb port at home to charge the pack, and then it can re-charge the phone once. It also has a solar panel, but I don’t generally need to use that.)

I check a few web pages each day, for weather and such. Email progress reports/float plan changes to the home office. Talk to my wife and daughter most nights, and otherwise just keep the phone off. If I leave the phone on, it runs through the full charge in about a day and a half. If I simply turn it off when not in use it lasts 3-4 days on a single charge.

I get about a week by using
a couple of Motorola portable chargers for my Droid. I have 2 P790 chargers (they are rechargeable and I make sure they each have a full charge before I leave home). Each charger gives my phone a full charge. By leaving the phone in airport mode, and not running apps I don’t need, I get about a week (or more) with this setup. Here’s what I have:

I need the USB mini to micro adapter to hook the charger to the phone. Perhaps this would work for you, or maybe something similar on the market that is rechargeable. If you are only getting hours of use on a full phone charge you might have a bad battery or you might be running a bunch of apps you don’t need. The worst battery drain on my phone seems to be the GPS which I remember to turn off when I’m not using it.

cell phone roaming constantly …

– Last Updated: Dec-24-12 10:31 AM EST –

....... sometimes my cell phone can't pick up a signal and constantly roams trying to find one . This drains it pretty fast . It happens in mountains , sometimes it's on the river or other times while driving . I have to remember to check it and see if it can call out , if not I'll need to turn it off until later in order to save the battery from draining .

Everyone probably knows this already , but even today I forget sometimes until I try to make a call and can't ... then I remember .

the Biolite has poor real-world reviews – it’s a heavy, slow and inefficient way to charge an electronic device.

keep it simple
I have had good luck buying replacement batteries for my cell phone off e-bay for a very small percentage of what they cost from retailers. When on a trip, I leave my phone off unless I am using it. If I keep my call times short, I have no problem making the battery last 3 weeks or more.

Li-ion battery pack
On some phones, at least iphones, the batteries are not easily changed, if at all. But that is a great option on some phones, as a previous poster said.

I, too, have been trying to figure out the best way to have power in the outback. The best solar options have battery storage. in my case, I want and need significant 12v storage to run LED navigation lights, GPS, and lighted deck compass. And it would be nice to charge a cell phone.

I think a lithium ion 12v 9800mAh battery would have plenty of storage needed to recharge a phone many times. Check the auction site. I’ve even seen one that had three sets of terminals, for 12V, 9v, and a 5v USB output.

For really long trips, pair a “large” battery like this with a solar charger. you would have about $65 in it, if you did the wiring yourself.


JOOS Orange
Hey RS,

i dont own one of these but i’ve been searching the net lately for a similar answer to your question.

Check out this option. The Joos Orange solar charger with built in battery. The biggest selling feature i see is that it is water proof, not water resistant, but waterproof, in fact they show it still charging in a pan of water. I’m thinking just put it in a clear i pad pouch on the deck of your kayak all day while its charging and then use it to charge up your devices overnight.

There are reviews on it on you tube for a better idea of how it works. (very simple) Perhaps others here have tried it. Maybe this is the unit Nate has above??

REI stocks it i believe:



solar charger
With the battery packs appear to be the best thing going. If you have your phone off except when using it or just at night, you will get two days out if it. Then the battery pack will give you a few charges, and the panel can keep it topped off. A few brands have options. Good luck.

Ryan L.

Thank you all!
I was shying away from solar chargers due to price, but the solar charge/battery pack combo sounds appealing. Nevertheless, since I do not anticipate that this is is a situation I will find myself in often, and since I can significantly save battery by simply keeping the phone off except when I am using it, I think I am going to try the radio/dynamo combination to just top off the battery every night (I don’t think relying on a dynamo to recharge a completely discharged battery is practicable), and then report back later this summer as to how it went. If anything, even if it doesn’t work that well, I at least have a useful am/fm/wb/sw radio and flashlight gizmo, which is more than a solar batter charger can say.


that’s not a “wilderness trip”

Cake and eat it too -