(Electric) Power to the People

There has always a dilemma for many stage racers.  Do I bring the electronics or not?  If I do, then do I bring the solar charger or just live without when the juice runs out?  Well, there may now be an acceptable alternative available.

For me it was never about the iPod (I can run without music and enjoy it).  For me it is more about the GPS watch, I like knowing distances and pace.  For years I used an old Garmin 101 that ran on AAA batteries.  If I was careful one battery change would due me in an ultra or stage race.  The newer watches of today with their smaller form factor have improved performance but unfortunately are only rechargeable.  Some may last an entire race but then again they may not.  Therefore, you are back to solar power, or a heavy battery pack, or two of everything (watches, iPods, cameras, etc.)

Old school and new(er)

However, I am already bringing along spare batteries for the headlamp.  Why can I not use them for a charge?  Well, now you can!  I had first envisioned a homemade charger that I would be able to use with my spare AAA’s.  Looking for parts I fortunately ran across this little gem, a magnetic phone charger.

Magnetic phone charger

This device magnetically attaches to two AA or AAA batteries and with the proper adapter can be used to charge many things.

Charger and various adapters

Here are some benefits of going this way:

  1. It is cheap (about 12 USD for the charger and adapters)
  2. It weighs next to nothing (20 g / 0.7 oz including adapters, 34 g / 1.2 oz including two AAA batteries)
  3. Simple/flexible/charge multiple items
  4. Works at night
  5. Very small
  6. Use your spare batteries for something more than ballast

Now the down sides:

  1. Not efficient (I do not know what the charging loss is)
  2. Limited charging capacity (you only have the batteries you bring)
  3. You will be utilizing your SPARE headlamp batteries so be careful
  4. Keep the magnetic charger away from your compass

My initial test allowed me to charge up my Fenix 3 from about 50% to 100%, plus charge my iPod shuffle from about 75% to 100% and still put some additional juice in my iPhone.  All this from two Duracell AA’s (around 2,000 mAh each).  Obviously, you would get more performance out of lithium cells at 3,000+ mAh each and the fact they would perform better under the high drain rates caused by charging when compared to alkaline models.

While the system is a little “Rube Goldberg” in nature, it will work to provide enough power to get you through a week of reasonable electronics use. I did have to modify the charger somewhat to work with AAA batteries.  The positive pole on AA batteries is higher than that on AAA batteries and thus I had to sand down the plastic face where the batteries are inserted in order to get a reliable connection.  Modification time was about three minutes.

Now you have a lighter weight option over heavier solar systems (which can start around 170 g / 6 oz) or an additional USB battery pack (67 g / 2.4 oz) if you need to bring electronics along on your stage racing or fast packing adventures.


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