Our Favorite Camping Apps And Li Ion Battery Pack
Advanced warning, this is going to be one long read, full of technical but useful information. In this latest blog, we'll discuss Lithium-Ion power banks; how and why they work, what type of Li Ion battery packs there are, what our favorite camping battery pack is, some amazing outdoor apps that you can download, and a few tips and tricks for how you can drain your battery as little as possible while enjoying the great outdoors.
A Li Ion battery pack is a must have item for your next backcountry trip. Here at Cold Case Gear HQ, we like to use this Anker product, we find it to be the best camping battery bank, as it has enough juice to keep all of our electronics charged up. Another option if you want something super small for just your phone is Apple's new MagSafe battery pack. We love to use a 20,000mAh Li Ion battery pack, despite its weight because we typically will be charging up an iPhone, a DJI gimbal, a Garmin 66i, and a GoPro. While this huge capacity might be overkill for you we think it’s amazing for the creative types who spend long periods of time in the backcountry.
Here's a protip. If you're an ultralight gram counter and you want to ditch your lighting cable or other usb charging cable, you can find a Li Ion battery pack, like Apple's MagSafe battery pack, that acts as a wireless charger. Outside of the MagSafe battery pack, other manufacturers make a fast charging Li Ion battery pack that uses the Qi wireless charging standard.
These options are really great because all you have to do is place your iPhone or Android device on top of the portable charger and the wireless charging just works. It's so simple and easy and you can ditch the cords for good. Our West Slope Case does not support wireless charging at the moment but we are looking into how we can offer wireless charging in the future.
In our previous blog, we discussed how reliant we have become on our cell phones. We use hiking navigation apps, we use apps to detect plants and animal tracks, fitness tracker apps, and everyone takes photos on their smartphone now. Because these powerful devices do so much for us it's increasingly important that we are able to keep them powered ON, otherwise, they become a mostly useless brick. These apps can definitely be power-hungry and if you're going to be out for more than just a day it's worth it to bring some extra juice.
For most camping trips you can get away with a smaller size external battery, like the MagSafe battery pack or a 10,000mAh Li Ion battery pack. Not only are these power sources lighter weight but they are also easier to recharge, should you need to. This is enough juice for either a quick charge back to full or to slowly trickle charge it to keep it fully charged.
Many backpackers will bring a solar panel charger as well and these are a great option to recharge your external battery while you're out hiking all day.
Let's talk about some really great apps that can drastically increase your fun, safety, and preparedness in the outdoors and some tips and tricks to lower your battery usage.
- GAIAGPS - We know we have mentioned Gaia GPS plenty of times, but it really is one of the best apps you can add to your iPhone or Android. Gaia GPS is a complete solution for backcountry navigation. It provides extremely detailed topo maps with lots of different layers (if you spring for the premium version), you can download maps for offline use, and it uses your phone's GPS chip so you do not need to have cell phone service to use it. You can record your hike, run, ski, paddle, or just about any other activity right in the app. It functions well in Airplane mode and should not drain your phone's battery too much.
- Windy - This handy weather app shows you all the information you could ever want. Windy uses lots of layers and overlays to show all sorts of weather information for your selected location. You can see live radar, wind speed and direction, snow or rain accumulations over a ten-day range, and so much more. It has an easy to use interface and has proven to be quite accurate.
- Hiking Project - This great app is actually made by REI. Hiking Project helps you to find and categorize trails near you, or other locations that you might want to visit. The Hiking Project app has a seriously surprising amount of information and you will likely be surprised at just how many trails they have listed. However, I would recommend contacting your local forest service to confirm some of the trails. At Cold Case Gear HQ, the app has recommended some trails that were a little bit hard to find and likely belong to local outfitters who may or may not maintain the trails.
- Peak Finder - The Peak Finder app uses the magic of Augmented Reality combined with your location data to show you exactly what mountains or peaks you're looking at. It's pretty darn cool. Next time you find yourself in a beautiful mountain town and want to know what mountains you're looking at, simply load up the Peak Finder app and point your camera at the mountains. You'll see an easy to read overlay that displays the profile of the mountains and what each of them is called.
- Garmin Explore - The Garmin Explore app is meant to be used in conjunction with their Garmin Explorer series and the Garmin 66i In Reach Device. This app combines powerful mapping features with communications, weather, and social sharing. Through this app, you can share your location and route data with anyone, either through a dedicated message or you can even Tweet it out. The Garmin MapShare link provides real time tracking information in 10 minute intervals so you can share a handy map with friends and family.You can also use this app to request weather updates through your satellite device and get exact forecasts for your location. It also provides an excellent means of text communication. You can always fire off preset messages or you can use your phone, with the Garmin Explore app, to send more detailed messages to friends and family. The last thing this amazing app does is track your activity in great detail so you can always find your way back if you get lost. There are a ton of other great features that we won't get into, so check it out.
- SkyView - Who doesn't love to gaze up at a clear night sky!? If you're coming from an urban area you're going to be in for one heck of a surprise when nighttime comes. It's hard to beat the incredible show that our night sky puts on and SkyView helps you identify just what you're looking at. This app will help bring some organization and structure to the millions of points of light out there.
As you may have guessed, running apps like the ones listed above can be a massive drain on your phone's battery. Let's dive into some tips and tricks to lower your battery usage so you can have a fully charged phone for longer and leave your power back in your pack.
- Airplane mode! This should be common knowledge by now but we are going to rank it as our number one tip. By activating Airplane mode you are essentially just telling your phone to not use battery power to try and connect to Wifi, Bluetooth, or Cellular data. This will reliably boost your phone's battery life every time.
- Display brightness - Keep your display as dim as you can. Having the display consistently on and at its brightest setting is a sure-fire way to drain your battery.
- Exit idle apps - If you're not using an app go ahead and shut it down. Reducing the load on your phone's CPU means it can draw less energy to function and you can keep your charging cable and battery bank stored away for longer.
- Keep your phone in your pocket. Yup, we know, it isn't always that easy! We know your new iPhone 12 Pro Max has a killer camera and you want to use it all the time. Sometimes it's best just to enjoy the moment.
So, how exactly does a Li Ion battery pack work? These batteries are so powerful that they not only power cell phones, computers, and even cars! Their inner workings are complicated but let's try to simplify it. Battery packs and power banks are made up of a few parts. There is a Cathode, Anode, a separator, an electrolyte, and a positive and negative current collector. The Anode and Cathode are the components in the power bank that store the lithium. The electrolyte is the material that carries the positively charged Lithium Ions (or Li Ion) between the Anode and the Cathode, through the separator. It's this specific reaction that makes your phone die in the cold. The cold temperature slows down the electrolyte molecules and causes the process to take more energy. This is actually a very interesting point and the crux around the issue of your phone dying in the cold. If you can keep the electrolyte mixture within a certain temperature range then. you will not experience these issues. Perhaps in the future these electrolyte compounds and mixtures can become more resistant to extreme temperatures. We may even be able to put aerogel insulation into the electrolyte compound to help make them inherently and structurally resistant to extreme temperatures.
It's the movement of these lithium ions that creates the necessary electrons at the Anode, which in turn creates a positive charge within the current collector. That current then moves from the positive current collector through whatever device you have plugged in (iPhone 12, laptop, GoPro, etc), down to the negative current collector. It is a complicated process but the science is getting better all the time and reducing the weights of these li ion battery packs all the time while increasing their capacities.
That's a whole lot to digest! Congratulations if you made it to the end of this and a huge kudos if you understand how batteries work. We're still working on that one. The bottom line is this. If you're going off on a camping trip and you plan to use your phone a lot, perhaps with all those aforementioned apps and taking loads of photos, you're going to want to grab an extra power source to keep everything in good working order. Depending on what power bank you pick up it may even be able to pull double duty for you at your home, office, or on the go! The Anker Power Bank that we use here at Cold Case Gear HQ is actually powerful enough to charge a Macbook Pro, via the USB C port, with no power adapter needed. This really comes in handy for long days working out of the office.
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