How To Keep Your Batteries Charged While Traveling - Remote Location Edition

How To Keep Your Batteries Charged While Traveling – Remote Location Edition

Photo Copyright blmurch

Copyright blmurch

In my previous article How To Keep Your Batteries Charged While Traveling – City Edition I outlined the basics of what it takes to keep your batteries juiced up while traveling through the civilized world.  The part of the world with powerlines into every home, hotel and hostel.  But what about when you decide to travel off the paved roads into the shrubs, forest and mountains?

Remote locations present a different set of challenges.  For one, convenience.  No more finding a socket and making sure you have the right adapter. Where’s the power going to come from to keep your camera functioning?  To answer this question, let’s take a look at some possible remote location situations as they each have unique resolutions.  Mind you, I can’t cover ALL possible situations, but this guide should help you get started towards battery charging bliss.

Hiking/Trekking/Biking

Take most of what you learned in the City Edition and throw it out the window.  When hiking, trekking, climbing, biking, kayaking or any other of the types of human powered locomotion there are two general schools of thought: 1) Bring a bunch of batteries or 2) Bring a charger.

First, the bag of batteries.  Depending on your trip length and shooting style, bringing along extra batteries makes total sense.  It’s easy to manage and the complications of charging are nil.  There is some weight involved, but not much if just one extra battery is coming along.  If this is your type of trip, then it’s not rocket science, just keep doing what you’re doing.  This setup works well if you know your camera doesn’t have a large power draw and can last the length of your trip on just a few batteries.  I’ve been on a three week trek through the Himalayas and one of the other trekkers only used one battery the entire trip, with another using only two.  The downside is purchasing extra batteries you may not need again for a long while.

Some of us fall into the second group; bring a charger.  On the same Himalaya trek I used probably 10-12 batteries.  I have a large lens with ‘expensive’ (power-wise) image stabilization and I often review images at the end of the day, clearing the blurred and mistaken shots.  Plus the colder conditions rob juice.  To cover my power use I purchased a folding 20W solar panel many years ago.  These chargers are not cheap, but I’m planning on using mine for years to come and it weighs in at just a pound.  When I consider the amount of batteries I don’t need to bring (it also charges AA types for my portable photo storage, CR123 for water purifier, AAA for headlamps, etc…) I have justified the cost when the weight is brought into focus.  Solar chargers come in folding or roll versions, as well as some smaller ones handy for iPods and the like.  Expect to pay anywhere between $250USD-$800USD for folding and roll, or about $50USD for smaller units.

If you go with a solar charger you’ll likely need to purchase another charger that runs off of DC current instead of the AC current in homes.  These are the type which use the round ‘cigarette lighter’ type connection.  One advantage you main gain when purchasing a DC compatible charger is multi-battery charging in a single device.  And simplifying packing by only needing one charger for your various cameras, if you have more than one, is a positive aspect of a multi-battery charger.  These charger can be had for between $10USD and $35USD.

In A Car/4×4

When out on the open road and beyond, keeping your batteries charged is a little easier.  Unless your vehicle comes with an outlet appropriate for your region, you’ll need to adapt your charging equipment to the car.  And as before, there are two ways to do this: 1) Purchase a DC version of your charger or 2) Purchase an inverter and use your standard charger.

As covered above, purchasing a DC version of your charger may have the advantage of being able to charge other camera batteries.  This is especially handy if you are traveling with friends and want to share equipment.  But it can be limiting in that there is usually only one or two power outlets in a vehicle to use for charging.  There are splitters available on the market allowing multiple DC unit charging at once.

The alternative is to purchase an inverter.  An inverter simply takes the DC power input from a vehicle and outputs standard wall socket AC power.  At this point you would plug in your standard charger and away you go.  Don’t forget to bring along a powerstrip to charge more than one device at a time.  The downsides are minimal with an inverter but they do make noise while powered on and can draw down a car battery after a couple days of not being run, depending on the model.  Some of the nicer units come with multiple outlets and are fan cooled.  Figure to spend about $50USD for a nicer unit, but you can get by with a $15USD cheapo for a while.

When it comes to battery needs in remote areas, it really matters on how long you’ll be gone, your typical battery usage and what mode of transport you are using.  Sometimes just packing an extra battery will do the trick and sometimes you might need to buy a new charger.  I hope this post has given you a start in the right direction and you’ll be able to keep your batteries fully charged.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to respond.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Audrey Phillips October 6, 2010 05:02 am

    we always use power adapters at home because of our different voltage applications.;-

  • Stephen Dyer November 27, 2009 08:25 am

    On a recent trip to Zimbabwe our group needed to charge 3 mobile phones, 3 camera battery types, 3 ipods and lots of AA batteries. I made up a single charger unit that would work off AC and 12DC with adaptor leads for each battery/device. So all I needed to carry was a small AC power supply, the multi charger unit I made and a bunch of adaptor leads. All worked perfectly with no problems and with the adapter leads I could charge multiple units at once.

  • reysbro November 26, 2009 05:30 am

    Thanks JP, it was a $3 lifesaver really... although it does have a little drawback - you need a light socket!
    we ran into stretches of days where we had only candlelight :-)

  • MtnTopRebel November 26, 2009 04:30 am

    I live off the grid in the mountains of north Idaho, so batteries are a part of life. I use solar, storage batteries, inverters, and a backup generator(s) both gas and diesel.
    On a short outing, I carry a battery charger for each type of battery I use, most of which I have standardised. My camera's Canon 10D, 30D, and a couple Canon film cameras, They either use a battery that I have purchased a direct from 12 vdc to charger, and/or a power grip that will convert to AA batteries. And if for special purposes I need different power, AC Flash, I bring one of several inverters, or if necessary a portable generator. I also have a bug out pack which contains, an inverter, and several sealed 12v batteries like are in you computer UPS. I also have two automotive solar panels, (the type you put on your dash to maintain your car battery). I bought two, they are about 4 inches wide and over a foot long. I put velcro tabs on the two panels so I can snap them face to face for travel, (protecting the sensitive solar cells) I also include a charger for every battery device I use for camping or extended photo shoots. Between this combo, I can power/charge my laptop. recharge a GPS, batteries, even recharge a cordless drill, radios, Cell, or most any low power device.

  • Jason Collin Photography November 25, 2009 05:06 pm

    I really hope LOTS of people buy solar chargers as presents for Christmas.....because then the prices will go down and the quality will go up and I'll be able to afford one! A solar charger would work great for a Florida-based photographer like myself. However, I have not yet found myself in a shooting situation where I drained both of my batteries.

  • queensji November 25, 2009 01:34 pm

    I backpack for months at a time throughout Africa, Australia, etc. For battery power on the road in remote locations I use a solar powered backpack (daypack size) from voltaicsystems.com. It costs a little bit ($250 US) but does double duty as my daypack for daily excursions. Tough and durable, has an optional water bladder and charges my camera batteries for my DSLR, AA for my p&s, my ipod and my cell phone. It works great and I wouldn't dream of going anywhere without it. After thousands of travel miles, dozens of countries and months and months on the road it still looks good and works great.

  • JP Lumansoc November 25, 2009 11:32 am

    @ rysbro, that is genius. I would have never thought about that.

  • Andy Stockglausner November 25, 2009 08:51 am

    Great insight! We are primarily a youth sports photographer and with the volume we do battery life is always an issue. I've used the in car converters before and they have worked. I love the ideas though, great job.

  • Xiao November 25, 2009 08:14 am

    http://www.brunton.com/product.php?id=256

    brunton solar rolls. plan this summer is to tie the larger one on the car roof and charge battery for electronics as we drive/camp

  • reysbro November 25, 2009 07:45 am

    [img]http://www.christmaslightsetc.com/images/productdetail/light_socket_2tap.jpg[/img]

  • reysbro November 25, 2009 07:41 am

    While in Nepal for 30+ days, I used one of these light-socket power adapters to charge my batt in places where there were no sockets.
    [img]http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:D07d1u6x7YHQqM:http://www.christmaslightsetc.com/images/productdetail/light_socket_2tap.jpg[/img]