Picking a battery pack for traveling

The modern traveler will almost always want to be bringing a battery pack with them. With the unpredictable nature of plugging in on the go, it’s nice to have that additional power security.

Picking a battery pack for traveling is an important decision whether you are traveling for a week or months. You’ll want to have the right one that charges your devices as needed without headaches. You’ll also see them called portable battery chargers, battery banks, power banks and more. It seems there is no consensus on what to call them but their use is the same. Basically they are concentrated electricity in the form of batteries that you can use to charge your devices anywhere.

If you’ve done a search for them, you have no doubt seen the sheer amount of options there are when it comes to portable batteries. Let’s try and sort through the chaos so that you can better choose the right one for you. The main factors in choosing a battery pack are as follows:

  • Size – The amount of space the battery takes up.
  • Weight – Self explanatory, it relates somewhat to size.
  • Available ports – The type and amount of ports that are used to charge the pack itself and connected devices.
  • Power density – The available milliamp hours that are available for your devices.
  • Power output – The rate at which the battery pack can charge your devices, often rated in watts.
  • Power input – The rate at which the battery pack can be charged.

As you can see there are quite a few variables, and it explains why there are so many choices when it comes to battery packs. Let’s start with the easy ones. The size, weight, and power density are all related for the most part. A bigger battery pack will have more power available, but also weigh more and a small one the opposite. Next, we’ll go into more detail about power density, one of the most important choices you’ll make. You’ll see batteries rated with numbers like 5000mAh, 10000mAh, 16500mAh, etc. This means that they have a certain amount of milliamp hours available for your devices to charge. In real world terms, your average cell phone battery is 3300mAh to 4500mAh in capacity. So in order to add one full charge, you would need a battery pack in the 5000mAh range. It’s important to note that it will never be a 1:1 transfer amount between the battery pack and device since there are electrical losses. It’s best to get one that exceeds the size of your device battery.

When it comes to devices like tablets, they usually have around 6500mAh to 8500mAh batteries so a larger battery bank is needed for those devices. Now this is where you need to make the decision on how big you actually need to go. If let’s say you have a consistent place to charge, and occasionally take a day trip where you might need extra power, then something small like the Anker Powercore 5000 would be perfect. It can entirely charge your phone and is tiny. If you are taking long plane/train/bus rides or will be without an outlet for extended periods, then you’ll probably want to go bigger with something like the Ravpower 10000, or the massive Powercore 20100.

Battery Pack Power Input/Output and Ports

Moving onto ports, power input and output. Almost all battery packs nowadays will have at least one USB A output. So as long as you have the right cable, you’ll be able to plug in your phone and have it charge. When it comes to charging speed, you’ll often times see advertised numbers like 2.4A (2.4 amps) or 18w (18 watts). I’d consider 2.4A to be the minimum charge speed I would accept. When you start seeing numbers like 15w+ you are getting into what is considered ‘fast charging’ which many phones from 2017+ support. So if you have one definitely get a battery pack which also supports it, or you’ll be waiting longer to charge. Also important to remember is that although you’ll see some chargers rated in amps and others in watts, they are basically telling you the same thing. Watts are simply Amps * Volts. Almost all battery packs are 3.7 volts so a port that advertises 2.4A is charging around 9w and an 18w charges around 4.8A.

The ports included on a battery pack often depend on its size. Bigger ones normally have more than smaller ones. If you have more than one device that might need charged at the same time, it’s something to consider. More modern battery packs usually contain a combination of USB A and USB C ports. Either way, if you have the right cable, you’ll be able to charge your devices. If your phone supports fast charging, you’ll ideally want to use the USB C port.

Since the battery pack is just that, you’ll also have to charge it as necessary. This is where they will start to diverge a bit. Some charge much faster than others. For example the Ravpower 10000 supports 18w fast charging so it can be full within 3 hours. However the Ravpower 16500 does not, and takes over 7 hours to fully charge (although it is 6500mAh more). Those two are very close in price so you would need to decide between more capacity and slower charging, or less capacity and faster charging. Both are solid battery packs. It’s important to know that most battery packs don’t come with a charging brick, but you can use your cell phone charging brick, or better yet, an adapter that has charging built in like the Glamfields All-in-One.

If I had to choose one battery pack, it would be between the smaller and lighter Ravpower 10000 and going all out with the Anker Powercore Essential 20000. Either way I can use a single USB C cable to charge the battery pack and my phone when needed. I’ll quickly note that you’ll see some battery packs now with solar panels on them like the Qi 20000. Although it’s not a practical way to consistently charge the battery since it takes a 6 days of sunshine to fully charge, it does offer that option. If you’re out in the field for extended amounts of time that could certainly help. Even if you only get 2000mAh in a day, that’s still half a phone charge purely from the sun, very cool!

As you can see, choosing a battery pack is no easy decision. With so many options out there, you’ll have to find one that makes the most sense for you. Ideally you’ll choose one that is enough to never worry about battery life and is also not a burden to carry around.

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