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On Foot, Off Grid: Cold Weather, Battery Powered Gear, and You

There is a cruel irony in the fact that we rely more on electronics, like flashlights, during the short days of the winter months when cold weather can wreak havoc on your batteries. Cold weather slows the chemical reactions that take place inside the battery which lowers its ability to deliver the power you need. 

Have you ever had a phone or flashlight refuse to work because of cold weather? Depending on the circumstances, that can be anything from a mild annoyance to a very serious situation.  Fortunately, you can mitigate the effects with solid gear selection and some planning.

Bring Them Inside… Your Jacket or Sleeping Bag

Your first line of defense against the cold is your clothing. The same goes for your electronics. Anything that you have with a battery should be stored inside your jacket during the day and your sleeping bag at night. This will keep them at a similar temperature to your body which is more than warm enough to keep them running.

This is, perhaps, the best argument for choosing compact, lightweight gear. It needs to be able to fit in pockets or sleeping bag, close to your body, without being a burden. It’s also the reason that I prefer base layers with a chest pocket as this can be a great place to store a smartphone even if you have removed insulation layers during high activity. 

If the electronics you are keeping near your body are sensitive to moisture, consider keeping them in a plastic bag or some other vapor barrier to protect them from your perspiration.

Battery and Gear Selection… Choose Wisely

This series has covered a lot of rechargeable electronics in part because I have been working to streamline my own loadout with rechargeable options. However, I will readily admit that rechargeable battery chemistries are often very susceptible to cold weather. There are ways to mitigate this with your battery and gear selection.

Choose the Right Battery – Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries show a significant reduction in efficacy when the temperature of the battery drops to around freezing according to published testing by Panasonic. You are unlikely to notice this until the air temp is colder than the freezing point since factors like the battery’s own warming from internal resistance, warmth from your hand or head, or other factors can play a role but the fact remains that these batteries can begin to suffer performance loss at freezing and more drastic losses below freezing. Recharging at these low temperatures can also be an issue.

Lithium primary batteries like CR123As or lithium AAs, are more resistant to cold. These batteries can usually provide acceptable performance to temperatures well below zero. Energizer for instance, touts that their AA Lithium batteries will retain around half of their capacity down to -40C/F (depending on the rate at which they are discharging). Which brings us to…

Choose the Right Gear – If you are going to select something like a flashlight or headlamp that uses rechargeable batteries, it would be wise to ensure that it can also operate with lithium primary batteries for cold weather use. If you have selected a light that will accept lithium primary batteries, you can then either leave the rechargeables at home when you expect cold temps or at least carry some spare lithium primary batteries as a backup. Options are a good thing. 

In the early days of 18650s, it was typical for a light to be made for CR123A batteries but also accept 18650s. This dual-fuel concept is not always the case these days with more and more lights being made specifically for these high-performance batteries. Flashlight makers are chasing lumens and courting flashoholics that seek only the highest performance which can often only be provided by lithium rechargeable batteries. Make sure you understand what kind of batteries your light can take before you open your wallet.

The following are headlamps that accept rechargeable batteries for 3 season use and primary lithium batteries for cold weather. I have purchased all of these, use them, and will be reviewing some in future installments:

If you need even more cold resistance than battery selection alone can provide, consider something like a headlamp with a remote battery pack. Headlamps with battery packs in the back, separate from the light emitting portion of the lamp can be worn with the battery pack under your hat and/or hood to keep the batteries at a good operational temperature. Some headlamps that are built for cold and/or longer runtimes even have larger remote battery packs with a long cable that allows it to be placed in a coat pocket or on the beltline.

Headlamps with remote battery pack options:

There MIGHT Be a Cold Weather 18650 Option… Maybe

I should point out that Nitecore, who is known for selling good quality 18650 batteries (I say selling instead of “making” because most flashlight makers just rewrap batteries from other makers), offers two batteries that they claim are built to handle temps down to -40C/F fairly well. Many people who know more than me speculate that these are just rewrapped Panasonic NCR18650F cells which will cost less but are not as easy to find. I couldn’t find much in the way of testing, other than anecdotes, on these batteries so I am hesitant to spend the money on them when I have other workarounds.

Wrap Up

Cold weather doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your electronics. You can mitigate its grip on your batteries with some planning and remember, you should always carry some analog backups where possible, like a map and compass.


Do you have a gear or concept recommendation that fits the On Foot, Off Grid series? Do you have strategies for dealing with cold weather? Tell us about it in the comments below or drop us a line on the Contact page.

The above URLs may be affiliate links.


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On Foot, Off Grid: Olight UC Magnetic USB Charger

Electronics have become an important part of many people’s backcountry experience and safety. In this series, On Foot, Off Grid, we cover the electronic gear that power your backcountry adventures along with some strategies for their use. The series will cover plenty of gear options and explore ideas for dealing with cold weather, streamlining your power needs, and more.


We covered the use of a power bank as a central, or even THE central component, of a portable backcountry power setup in the first installment of On Foot, Off Grid (read it HERE). Now we are going to take a look at an item that lets us access the electricity stored in the power bank to charge other loose batteries – the Olight UC Magnetic USB Charger.

One of the main reasons I purchased an Olight UC Magnetic USB Charger is the form factor. It looks more like earbuds than a battery charger. It is extremely compact and extremely lightweight yet it is a surprisingly full-featured charger.

There are other chargers with a similar form factor on the market which brings me to the other reason I chose the Olight version. It is the only one I found that was smart enough to charge both lithium-ion batteries like 18650s or 16340s AND NiMH cells like the Eneloop AA and AAA batteries that I prefer.

Using the Olight UC Magnetic USB Charger is extremely easy. You simply plug it into your USB power source and then attach the magnetic leads to each end of the battery you want to recharge. Polarity doesn’t matter because the charger is smart enough to detect it automatically. An indicator light at the base of the wire will let you know what is happening – blinking red means standby or a charging error, solid red means charging, and green means that your cell is done charging.

It is very well designed and well made. The cord is the flat type that will not tangle. All of the components are encased in anodized aluminum. The magnets in the leads are appropriately strong and the leads are shaped well for use with both flat and button top cells.

I strongly suggest you try this at home before you bring it into the field. One, it is nice to get a sense of the speed that it will charge your batteries. It isn’t the fastest but I have found it to be completely acceptable for recharging AA and AAA batteries in the field. Two, you want to be sure it works with your intended power source. I have used it with Anker Powercore power banks and a Nitecore F1 Charger (more on this in later installment).

Here is the bottom line: The Olight UC Magnetic USB Charger is easy to use. It packs as small as a set of earbuds and weighs just .72 oz. It charges both 3.7V lithium ion batteries and 1.2V NiMH batteries. While it only charges one cell at a time, this hasn’t been an issue for me as I have taken steps to streamline my electronics to include items that only require a single cell. This is an incredibly lightweight, compact item that can be an important part of any backcountry power setup.

Where to Buy:

These are available all over the internet. When I purchased mine, I couldn’t beat Amazon’s price with the included shipping: Olight UC Magnetic USB Charger on Amazon (affiliate link)

The Amazon page also features a full list of compatible lithium ion cells.


Do you have a gear or concept recommendation that fits the On Foot, Off Grid series? Tell us about it in the comments below or drop us a line on the Contact page.

The above URLs may be affiliate links.

On Foot, Off Grid: Battery Banks

Electronics have become an important part of many people’s backcountry experience and safety. On Foot, Off Grid is a new series on Jerking the Trigger that will cover concepts and electronic gear that power your backcountry adventures. The series will cover plenty of gear options and explore ideas for dealing with cold weather, streamlining your power needs, and more.


The On Foot, Off Grid series is going to kick off with a gear item that might be considered the heart of any backcountry power setup – portable power banks. These portable powerhouses can help you charge your phone, charge a flashlight or headlamp, charge batteries, charge GPS units or personal locator beacons, and more. These are important parts of anyone’s gear list and all of them benefit from the addition of a power bank.

What is a Power Bank?

A power bank is essentially just a case that contains a series of batteries (usually 18650 lithium-ion batteries) packaged in a case with at least one input for charging the bank and at least one output for charging electronics (usually some flavor of USB). Even more simply put, it is an easy way to store, carry, and then access electricity.

How Do I Use One?

There are a lot of ways to use a power bank in the backcountry, some of which I have already mentioned. There are some specific ways that I use mine that I can share. The primary use for mine is to keep my phone operational. Today’s smartphones offer excellent GPS functionality (better than many dedicated GPS units), long battery life, excellent cameras, and emergency connectivity in far-flung places. They are also quite a bit more rugged with many of them even being submersible. I will never be caught without a map and compass but my cell phone is central to a lot of what I do when outdoors.

Additionally, I use other accessories with my power banks that let me charge batteries or directly charge USB-rechargeable headlamps and flashlights. By carefully selecting my lights and carrying a power bank, I can reduce the number of spare batteries that I have to carry.

Other Considerations

  • Be sure to test a power bank with your devices before you head out. You need to understand how much power you’ll need and how quickly you can charge your devices.
  • Cold weather can be hard on the lithium-ion cells contained in most battery banks. Choose your power bank with this in mind. If you will be out in cold weather, your power bank should be small enough to carry in a pocket under your insulation layers to ensure that it remains functional.
  • Quality power banks aren’t that expensive. Don’t skimp. The quality of the cells inside the power bank is often reflected in the price. You will see better performance from a quality power bank.

Recommendations

I have used Anker power banks for years. The Anker Powercore 10000, in particular, is beloved among many backcountry travelers for its combination of lightweight (6.34 ounces), compact size (about the size of a deck of cards), quality, and affordability. If I could only have one, it would be this one.

Click Here: Anker Powercore 10000 on Amazon (affiliate link)

I also use an Anker Powercore 20000 that I have owned for years. It is about twice and size and slightly more than twice the weight of my Powercore 10,000mah in part because it is a slightly older model. The current model is slightly lighter than mine.

Click Here: Anker Powercore 20000 on Amazon (affiliate link)

The options for these power banks are extensive. Stick to a quality maker and select the options you need. Anker has always worked for me, they are known for good service, they use quality cells, and they are rugged without being bulky.


Do you have a gear or concept recommendation that fits the On Foot, Off Grid series? Tell us about it in the comments below or drop us a line on the Contact page.

The above URLs may be affiliate links.

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