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This year’s hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes definitely inspired me to dust off the emergency gear in my basement, such as the battery-powered lanterns, the shortwave radio, the first aid kit, the dynamo flashlight, and the like. It also made me realize, after going several days without power, my online lifeline to world is now my mobile phone (no landline). If it goes, so goes my ability to communicate. Not good. So I thought it would be a good idea to discuss here what you use to keep your mobile devices going through a blackout. Here are a few choices:

MintyBoost – It’s no wonder that, in the wake of these 2011 “acts of God,” our blog post about the MintyBoost became (and remains) one of our more traffic’d pages. This now-classic maker kit allows you to construct a battery charger for USB-enabled mobile devices. It works with iPhone, iPod Nano/Mini/Photo/Video/Shuffle, Blackberry, iPaq, and more. Everyone should have one of these. Of course you’ll need batteries to feed it for prolonged outages, but you can double your devices battery life on two AA batts. You can also retrofit it to solar power.

Solar Charger – I have one of the original Solio chargers (seen top). It takes around eight hours to fully charge a device, and that’s in good sunlight. And, of course, in bad weather situations, you’re not likely to have sunny skies. But it’s a nice power option to have around. Reports are that the Solio chargers have gotten better and there are many other solar charging solutions out there. Many of these solar device chargers retail for $80-$100. One of the cheaper ones that I’m intrigued by is the XTG Premium Solar Charger (second image above). It’s gotten good reviews and goes for only $28 on Amazon. And, without too much trouble, you can roll your own solar charger, as Steve Hobley did in this Make: Project.

Hand-Powered Generators – Years ago, a company (that now appears to be out of business), AladdinPower, sent me a review unit of their “Portable Handy Generator,” a hand-pumped flashlight and power generator. As a battery-less flashlight, it’s awesome. A few strokes and you’ve got a couple of minutes of flashlight power. As a device charger, it works, but your hand falls off by the time you get a usable signal.

I haven’t played with the all-in-one Eton/Red Cross “Safety Hub” seen here, but it looks great and has gotten some good reviews. It cranks up a built-in 7-channel AM/FM/weatherband radio, a light/emergency beacon, and a device charger. Besides the hand crank, it accepts three AAA batteries and AC power. It sells for $62 on Amazon.

So, what do you use to power your mobile devices when the lights go out?

This post is sponsored by Chevy Volt

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.



  1. The Joos Orange has a good reputation as a quality solar charger, and it has a good app that connects to a laptop:

    1. Gareth Branwyn says:

      Wow. The Orange does look… er juicy, Matthew. I might try and test one of these out. Do you actually have one? Wonder if it really gets 2 hrs of talk time for 1 hr of direct sun. That would be awesome.

      1. Gareth – yes, I do. It has very high build quality; it’s even fully submersible. I think in bright noon summer sun it would give you that kind of performance. Right now, it’s December, of course …

    2. Anonymous says:

      I second the Joos Orange.  I almost bought one for a week long paddling trip in the Everglades this year. I decided against it because I needed the ability to charge AAs for my GPS.  Instead, I went with a Powerfilm 4AA and a Mintyboost so I could store the energy in AAs and charge whatever USB device I wanted.  The Powerfilm would charge 4 (not fully depleted) eneloop AAs in less than 5 hours in full sun.  It was strapped to a canoe for 6 days with constant splashes of saltwater, bending and folding, charging batteries everyday and I never had a problem.  I also used it to charge batteries during the snowstorm/power outtage this October in the Northeast.

      I’d recommend either the Joos or the Powerfilm to anyone, but I’d never recommend the folio or the smaller chargers.

  2. Leland Sindt says:

    When looking for a way to keep my phone alive for extended periods of time I took the DIY route…

    1. Gareth Branwyn says:

      Thanks for posting that, Leland. I bet you don’t take that thing on the plane :-)

  3. I just start setting things on fire.

  4. I have the XTG, and when I charge it at home before leaving for a trip, it works well as a second battery.
    The solar capabilities are a little silly, I can’t think of a time when I’d actually be likely to be in that much sun for that long (you need a good 6+ hours of solid sun, I’ve found, to get any reasonable charge). 

    1. Gareth Branwyn says:

      Thanks for that info, Kelly. So that sounds about the same as the Solio, but much cheaper.

  5. Alan says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention jump-start batteries, which are available in any auto parts store or on Amazon (e.g. this one). They’re much too heavy to carry in a pocket, but everyone should have one of these portable gel-cell units in the trunk of the car at least.

    Besides the jump-start cables, they generally have a standard 12V cigar lighter plug, which you can use to charge any device for which you have a car charger. There’s plenty of juice in them to run and charge multiple devices for days on end, and of course they can also get you out of a jam if your car battery dies. We relied heavily on ours during the nine-day blackout that followed the freak Hallowe’en nor’easter here in Massachusetts.