Monday, January 28, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - Charging System

Since I started thinking about the AT, I've been struggling between wanting electronics with me on the trail, and the weight penalty for packin' em. With an Android smart phone, a battery-hungary camera, and an iPod Nano, I need a charging system to keep all that going. In previous articles I wrote about why I wanted those devices, how I planned to keep them charged, and how I lightened the charging system by 5 ozs by swapping out a few items.

The system currently weighs 12.4 ozs. It includes chargers, cables, extra battery capacity, and the bag I put it all in. It's what I carried during my southbound section, and with judicious use of the electronics, it kept everything going for the 12 days I took to climb Katahdin, and transit the 100 Mile Wilderness. That suggests excess capacity considering I'm probably not going to do another 12 day transit on the AT, and that means opportunity for further weight reduction ...

What I'm packing, and what I'm thinking about changing after the break.

Stuff that needs to be charged - I'm carrying an Android smart phone with a spare battery, a camera with two batteries, an iPod Nano, and a New Trent 3,000mAh external battery charger which will recharge the phone up to three times.

Chargers - To keep all that charged, I'm currently packing two Apple-style wall chargers which will charge my Droid, iPod and the New Trent external battery unit. An Anker "universal" charger, with pins that move to adapt to different batteries, charges both my camera batteries and my spare phone battery. It also has a USB port to concurrently charge whatever I can plug into it. To connect everything, I carry two USB cables, and one Apple cable.

Concept of Operations - By carrying what I do, I have plenty of capacity for fairly long transits between towns. I can take lots of pictures, upload a few, stay in touch with friends and family via email and social media, and update this blog.

When I get to town, and assuming I can hog three outlets, I plug the Driod into one Apple charger, and the iPod into the other. I put one camera battery on the universal charger, and plug the NT battery into the charger's USB port. When the camera battery is done charging, I charge the spare phone battery, and then the other camera battery if it needs it.

The Weight Penalty
Item Grams
New Trent External Battery Charger 87
Apple Wall Chargers (2 at 22g ea) 44
Universal Charger 62
Spare Phone Battery 30
Spare Camera Battery 35
USB Cables (2 at 31 ea) 62
Apple Cable 20
Bag 12
Total 352
Under that concept, the Apple chargers are done long before the universal charger. Carrying redundant Apple chargers and cables is a decision to carry more weight for charging efficiency in town. A trade-off that doesn't really hold up under inspection.

Besides, the ability to hog any more than two outlets at hostels is iffy at best.

Opportunities - If I cut one Apple charger, I'd not charge the iPod concurrently with the first wave of stuff. Frankly, the iPod is my lowest priority. So that's an easy 22 grams. Or, I could leave both Apple chargers and a USB cable at home. I'd then rotate the Droid, iPod and NT battery thru the USB output of the universal charger, while charging camera batteries on its pins. That would yield a 75 gram reduction.

I could be more judicious in phone use, rely on the New Trent for 2-3 recharges, and put its spare battery in my bounce box for longer transits. I've learned a lot about conserving my smart phone battery, so that's a fairly easy 30 grams.

Not sure I want to do the same with my camera battery. I'm still smarting from the time a killer photo opportunity presented itself one morning on a mountain top. My camera battery was dead, and all I had was my Droid ... But I might try a transit with it in my bounce box for another 35 grams.

Thats 140 grams, or 4.9 ozs, and reduces the total system weight from 12.4 to 7.5 ozs. I could probably squeeze a bit more by replacing the USB cable with a lighter one. Maybe finding a lighter bag to carry it all in. Leaving the iPod at home, bounce boxing the whole mess ...

But 4.9 ozs is a pretty good start considering it cost me nothing.  I mean, it's cheaper than buying a lighter pack, sleeping bag and sleeping pad ... Giving more thought to the system, finding excess capacity and unnecessary redundancies, and vowing to be a bit more conservative allowed me to identify and leave unnecessary stuff out of my pack. Add that to the 4 ozs I pulled out of my first aid kit and I've achieved over a half pound of weight reduction so far ...

Next, buying a lighter pack, sleeping bag and sleeping pad ...


  1. I would just use the phone for music as well, only take more care to keep the battery for the more "primary" functions of internet/phone calls.

    Another idea that comes to mind - just use a Galaxy Camera for all uses - internet/(IP) phone calls/music/camera. But I know the camera is not as good as a dedicated one. Maybe the next gen will be better.

    What about solar charging? That way you can just top off your devices while hiking, and get rid of some of those spare batteries (probably into the bounce box).

    1. I think carrying a smart phone with a decent camera, with only a small apple-style charger would be the most efficient way to take pictures, update blogs, call for shuttles, keep up with friends and family ...

      I'm concerned, and frankly ignorant, about battery consumption when playing music on my droid. At this point, I am taking taking the spare camera and phone battery out of my kit to see if I can live without them. Increasing battery consumption won't help that, and at 24g, my Nano weighs less than a spare battery for my phone. Might have to load up the droid with music and go for a long walk with it in airplane mode to see what it consumes!

      I carry a dedicated camera cause I'm a photographer with fantasies of publishing a photo book. My droid and iPhones take pretty good pics under ideal conditions, but ... I'm currently uploading last year's AT photos to Tmblr. Here's what I have so far:

      Solar has made great improvements in charging under less than ideal conditions, making them a viable alternative in the "long green tunnel," and it would be great to be off the grid. But the weight penalty is still excessive. Goal Zero kits, with panels and battery packs, weigh 14.4-19.2 ozs. I'm not sure the functionality is worth the weight. Be nice to see someone build a stripped-down, ultra-lightweight version ...

      Thanks for your comments Noam. I love following you on Google+ I really need to spend more time there ...

  2. Thanks for the post!
    It would be even more ideal if there was an all-in-one device. The Android does take pictures and play music, however the picture quality isn't great, though it does work well as a music playing device (in airplane mode to conserve battery).
    This past summer I carried camera and charger, Android phone and charger, and cell phone with spare battery. I used the Android only as a WiFi capable device (read: in-town only internet device) and to read books and listen to music offline in camp. I considered having communication paramount, and smart phones use way too much battery!! The ruggedized flip-phone lasted four or five days with conversations to home daily (signal willing).

    I am hoping Android releases a ruggedized smart phone soon, I was looking at the one that's available now but it has the technical specs of my two year old phone (an extended battery is available). I think there is a small niche market that could use an all-in-one device. Give it the body of a camera with a removable lens system for non-digital telescopic zoom, the screen and internal components of an Android OS, double the battery capacity of most smart phones, and the components of an mP3 player that can access and play the music on the device without having to turn the OS on. All packaged in a rugged body. Outdoor enthusiasts dream! How do we get this to market?!

    1. Jonathon, It would be great to have a ruggedized, waterproof device, with a great camera onboard ... Some of the after-market cases come close to offering that functionality. Unfortunately, the proliferation of Android models, and their short life-cycles, makes it hard for after-market manufacturers to cater to those of us packing droids compared to what they can offer iPhone users …

      The protective cover I have for my droid protects it from bumps and scratches, but is not nearly weather-proof. I carry an aloksak that I can shove my phone into, and a small dry bag for my camera. If it looks like I'll be hiking in an extended deluge, all electronics go into the dry bag - Which makes it damned hard to take pictures!


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