(The Gear Loop) - As much as we’d love to ignore it, the fact is that even when we’re at one with glorious nature, there are often modern devices lurking in the background, ready to demand attention.
While switching the phone off for a few days is often a liberating experience, it will need to be turned back on again at some point, for which you’ll need power - ideally in the form of an outdoor power pack, power bank or large portable charging device.
These packs are super-useful in other situations too, being as lightweight as possible but high-capacity and rugged enough to deal with being thrown around in a bag, they can be used to power laptops, charge GPS devices and smart watches when completely off-grid.
We’ve included a selection of power packs, from those smaller versions that will slip into a jacket pocket to the much larger units that will power small appliances around the campsite but weigh heavy on the kit list.
It’s also worth noting that some of the power packs also accept charge from solar panels, meaning you can essentially keep a campsite running in perpetuity, should you be lucky enough to be camping in a sunny spot, that is.
The best power banks and outdoor chargers
Biolite Charge 80 PD
- Low hassle
- Relatively low-cost
- Not waterproof
- Only suitable for quick top-ups
Biolite has a range of three Charge models, all at differing capacities but with the same overall build quality.
The 80 PD is the largest, and the heaviest of this range too, clocking in just under half a kilo. However, it’s a powerful beast, with a 20,000 mAh rechargeable battery pumping out enough juice to charge a smartphone five times, or even one full charge of a 13in laptop.
It’s a simple, uncluttered design with one USB-C PD port, up to 18W and two USB-A Quick Charge Out ports, and is also FAA Carry-On Compliant, an important consideration when travelling.
Finally, it’s relatively wallet-friendly at under £70 - a fair price for such a lifesaver.
Decathlon Forclaz 5200MAH Power Bank
- Waterproof emergency power
- Limited power on tap
If you’re looking for a small, lightweight outdoor charger then this is very much worth your time. Tiny, powerful, robust and super-cost effective, the Decathlon Forclaz 5200MAH power bank ticks an awful lot of boxes.
Firstly, it’s a mere 200 grams, which is entirely portable, it’s waterproof up to IP65, and although the capacity is only enough for a couple of phone charges or one iPad rejuvenate, that’s enough to get through a weekend, or for emergencies.
It’s drop-resistant from up to one metre, and is nice and simple, a Micro-USB socket input and a USB A output - for a shade over 20 smackers, that’s quite a deal.
Goal Zero Venture 35 Power Bank
- Lightweight and powerful for its size
- Good waterproofing
- Will struggle with larger devices
As with many of the packs here, the Venture 35 is part of a wider range of packs, so you can pick the best size for your needs.
The Venture 35 is a good lightweight model, clocking in at a mere 286 grams, but able to pump out 35.52Wh (3.7V, 9600mAh) - a pretty impressive feat.
A standard USB-A output can output 15W max, and a USB-C port doubles as input and output, yielding 18W max.
There are some other clever tricks up the Venture’s sleeve too, with decent ruggedisation in the shape of an IP67 rating (30mins submersion at 1 metre), and rubber bumpers to protect against shocks - there are even waterproof plugs to keep ports dry and sand-free.
A final twist is a small but handy integrated 50 lumen light as an emergency backup.
Jackery Explorer 500
- Powers pretty much anything
- Huge capacity
- Quite heavy
The Jackery Explorer 500 is a bit of a beast. It might weigh a touch over 6kg, and resemble a car jumper pack, but there’s enough energy in it to run a TV for seven and a half hours.
Outputs are correspondingly broad, running from DC car-style plugs, through USB to a standard UK three-pin domestic plug.
It is genuinely a tiny little power station, ideal if you’ve decided to operate a standard household appliance in a field (up to 500 watts). It’ll also charge laptops, phones and everything else in between.
An included wall charger tops the Explorer 500 back up within 7.5 hours, or from a car battery in around the same time, or finally from a solar panel available in various capacities separately. It might not be lightweight, but it’s beefy.
- Runs pretty much anything, anywhere
- Relatively light
- Light fairly useless
In a similar class to the Jackery, the EcoFlow River is a relatively chunky fellow at 5kg, but more than makes up for that in terms of power output, knocking out an impressive 288Wh.
It can power up to nine devices at the same time, and ingeniously has a proprietary X-Boost mode that can power much more powerful devices than it should be able to in theory, up to 1800W.
Combined with a standard output of 600W this basically means it’ll run most household appliances and DIY tools too, as well as recharge laptops and phones.
It’ll recharge to 80 per cent in just an hour from the wall, and can also be hooked up to various solar panels for a mini-off-grid set-up.
There’s a small light in the front panel to help prevent fumbling for plugs in the dark, but the real magic is the flexibility and capacity here.
What to look for in an outdoor power bank
Capacity vs Weight
The conundrum with outdoor power packs is capacity vs weight, and while we’ve picked a range here to suit most situations, the fact is that smaller capacity packs are light, and bigger ones are heavy.
Just where you need to be on that line will be dictated by either portability, or power requirements. Some of the larger power stations have serious amounts of juice - enough to run a TV for a day or so - while the smaller packs will recharge a phone a couple of times.
Check the output
Confusingly, manufacturers often use different metrics to explain capacity, especially in the higher-performance power packs. Smaller units tend to specify the capacity of the battery pack installed in XXX mAh, just like a phone, GPS or action camera, some rate the output in watts, and others rate in Wh - shorthand for Watt Hours.
The latter is simply a measurement of how many watts the system can put out an hour before running flat. So, a 10Wh pack will pump out 10 watts for around an hour. Once you’ve got a rough idea of the size pack you need, another key consideration is ruggedness.
Some packs are more robust than others, and if you’re planning on paddling the Amazon, then a more waterproof number might be a good start. Similarly, a family camping trip in Kent probably needs less industrial ruggedness, and more home TV-powering.
For international travellers, it’s worth checking whether your chosen powerpack is Carry-On Compliant, which can also vary by country and airline.