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I must confess that I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for ways to make kayak camping comfortable. Starting with tent selection and ending with the choice of spoon, I have tried and tested a great deal of equipment. While some people may shun electronics in favor of more primitive means I find a sense of security in being able to communicate with my family and enjoy the luxury of taking photographs while on trips, not to mention I like being able to turn on a light at night. Carrying electronics on trips that are more than a couple of days requires planning and preparation.
The basic elements of my charging kit consist of a large capacity battery, a solar panel and cables.
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Calculating your battery capacity needs
The Power-Bank which is the fancy name for a large capacity battery and charging circuit is the primary mechanism for recharging all the devices that travel with me. I have found that it is more reliable to use solar to keep a Power-Bank charged and then the Power-Bank is used to charge devices. I can charge devices while I paddle directly from the Power-Bank, which would be tough to achieve directly from a solar panel that isn’t mounted permanently to the kayak. The reliability of the Power-Bank is key, as is its capacity.
A simple method to understand your recharging needs is to examine each device you want to maintain charged: determine the internal battery capacity of the device and the number of days between charges for that device.
Example one: GPS. A quick web search reveals that for my model GPS (Garmin InReach Explorer+) the internal battery capacity 3100mAh, in the mode I use it can last three days between charges. So, my daily power need for the GPS is 1033mAh (3100/3).
Example two: iPhone. The iPhone 13 mini has a 2500mAh battery and lasts two days between charges when used for the occasional photograph and in airplane mode (most trips are to places without cell service). So, my daily for keeping the iPhone charged is need is 1250mAh (2500/2).
Total needs per day 1033+1250 = 2283mAh
Power packs operate at about 65% efficiency, so the actual battery capacity needs can be approximated by multiplying by 1.5. In my example the battery power needed daily is 1.5*2283 or 3425mAh. The battery unit I carry is rated at 25,600mAh so this gives my 7 days charging capacity (25600/3425≈7). I also routinely carry three other devices that need occasional recharging a VHF radio, head torch, and lantern, as a result this Power Bank doesn’t last for 7 days, more like 4 days, If I am carrying and using my drone then that is a whole different story as it eats batteries.
Power-Banks contain the battery storage as well as charging circuits, some also come with power level monitoring and an assortment of safety mechanisms to prevent overloading or overheating. There is a very large range in capacity, performance and reliability amongst the plethora of Power-Banks on the market. I have had great success with the Anker brand of products, I have been using an Anker Power-Bank now for six years, I recently upgraded from a 20,000mAh version to a 25,600mAh version. Like the batteries in your devices, the batteries in Power-Banks degrade with use and will lose their ability to retain charge after a few years or thousands of power cycles.
There are multiple ports on a Power-Bank, those for charging the Power-Bank and those for charging devices attached to it. Many Power-Banks support charging multiple devices simultaneously. There are three common port types on Power banks, USB-A, USB B-micro and USB-C. The number and type of ports you need will depend upon the type of devices you intend to recharge. Sometimes the port type will also affect the speed at which it can recharge as each port type has a maximum amperage that it can deliver. Simultaneous charging usually causes the individual device charging to be slower as the Power Banks have a maximum rate, they can deliver in total.
As a rule, I charge my communication devices during the night and my lighting devices during the day. I find I rarely need to charge more than two devices as a time but having the ability to charge three of four simultaneously is a nice feature.
The Anker PowerCore III Elite 26k provides three ports two standard USB and one USB C. For reliability and cable redundancy purposes I use the standard USB A ports for recharging devices and the USB C port to charge the Power-Bank. If I was going to bring a tablet or laptop I can use the USB-C port to support recharging those types of high-power devices.
As the calculations above show you can’t travel for many days without needing to recharge the Power Bank. Solar is the most affordable method of wilderness charging that I have found. There are many options in this category, I chose to use an Anker PowerPort Solar. It is a robust foldable, water-resistant solution that produces up to 21W on a bright sunny day. Power is delivered at 5V and at a max of 2.4A via a single USB port.
The Anker PowerPort Solar panel has two USB ports and so can charge two devices simultaneously if desired, but the total max current is 3A combined. So, the actual charging capacity delivery is 2400mAh. As we already saw Power Banks operate in the 65% efficiency range so the so the 2400mAh delivered is equivalent to 1600mAh stored, so the 25600mAh Power Bank would take about 16 hours of sunlight to fully recharge (25600/1600≈16). I take every opportunity in camp to top up the batteries with the solar panel. I need about one quarter of the Power-Bank capacity recharged every day to keep everything topped up, which is about 4 hours of solar recharging with the Anker PowerPort Solar on average, at this rate I can continue indefinitely with fully charged devices.
The Anker PowerPort Solar is built using materials that are both robust and water resistant. The USB connections are housed within a pocket and those connections do not appear to be waterproof, so protecting the connections from the elements is important. The simplest way to achive this is to hand the panel so that water runs down and over the pocket containing the connections rather than into it.
The BigBlue 64W is a larger solar panel that I have used for expeditions it is a 64W maximum output and capable of charging at close the three times the performance of the Anker 21W.
The challenge with the BigBlue 64W panel is setting it up and keeping it facing the sun. It is also double the cost of the Anker PowerPort Solar, and considerably thicker 2.5” compared to 1” when folded. The benefit of the increased power is twofold. First the time needed using the BigBlue 64W is half that of the smaller Anker PowerPort Solar, and second the BigBlue 64W can work in lower light levels (cloudy days, evenings etc.) and still deliver a substantial charge to the Power Bank.
Either solar panel will work well for most needs, which one suits you best will depend upon your likely maximum power needs. The BigBlue 64W really comes into its own when I am traveling with my Drone and need to recharge the Lithium Polymer batteries it uses, or when guiding a group of paddlers with multiple Power Banks. The Anker PowerPort Solar is excellent as a backup for shorter trips or when space is at a premium.
Cables are needed both to charge the electronic devices from the Power-Bank and to recharge the Power-Bank from the Solar Panel. I have found cables to be the most unreliable part of my electronic kit, or more precisely the cable connectors fail first. Because of their unreliability I have tried where possible to be thoughtfully redundant in the cables I choose. First, I use braided cables that are protected from abrasion and have a robust and reinforced connection between wire and connector. Second, I aim to have the ability to cope with any one connector failing either on a cable or a device (Power-Bank or Solar Panel) by doubling up cables.
Clearly each device comes with its specific adapter, I have found that I can be more reliable if I choose devices with similar port types. My preferred style is USB-B Micro. I have found GPS, radio, head torch and lantern that all use the same style port, thus I can carry two USB to USB B Micro cables and have redundancy across all those devices. Unfortunately, iPhones use a specific connector style called lightening, so I carry two cables for those. In addition, I carry a USB A to USB C cable to recharge the Power-Bank from the Solar Panel. By choosing to recharge each device using a standard USB outlet on the Power-Bank I can alternatively plug them directly into the solar panel bypassing the Power-Bank if it is either empty or malfunctioning.
I like to use is a six feet long cable between the solar panel and the Power-Bank, this length allows me to protect the Power-Bank inside my tent, both from rain and the sun so that it doesn’t overheat.
I use three feet long cables for the device connections. Initially I used short six-inch ones to save space, but these are neither convenient or safe if I need to fall back to direct charging from the solar panel, then the 3 feet allows me to place them on the ground and cover them for protection.
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