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Gear talk: Nitecore powerbanks for lightweight backpacking

Powerbank options from Nitecore for backpacking
Powerbank options from Nitecore for backpacking

Nitecore have produced a range of powerbanks over the years. Three Points of the Compass looks at four particularly suited for lightweight backpacking.

Engineering and manufacturing company Nitecore were established in 2007. Based in China, they have regional stockists and outlets across the globe. Having built their name with the introduction of innovative torches (flashlights to our cousins across the pond) they have since diversified and now also produce headlamps, chargers, powerbanks, and other accessories, even a wickedly sharp little knife that Three Points of the Compass looked at here. I have a liking for many of their products and previously used their F1 and F2 battery chargers extensively while backpacking. As recently as January 2020 I wrote on how these chargers, when fitted with 18650 batteries, acted as handy little powerbanks, yet Nitecore already produce lighter and smaller options. So, in 2021, a glance at four Nitecore powerbank, or external battery, options that Three Points of the Compass has purchased and used. One of three of these can effectively fill a niche in my gearlist for any multi-day hikes. The fourth is for day hikes only.

The first two looked at are small, very small. Both are battery chargers for rechargeable Nitecore 21700 series batteries and can then also act as a small powerbank. Each can only be used with one of the HPi 21700 batteries produced by Nitecore. They cannot be used with 21700 series batteries from other manufacturers, nor are they safe to use with other similarly sized Nitecore batteries such as their NL2150HPR, NL2150R or NL2150i batteries. The HPi series of batteries from Nitecore have been manufactured so that both positive and negative polarities are combined at one end and have some additional built in protective circuitry.

A single high density Nitecore NL2150HPi battery measures 21mm x 76mm and weighs 75.5g. The extra length over a standard 21700 battery is due to the additional protective circuitry that Nitecore have built in. These have a 5000mAh capacity and a 15A continuous discharge current. These can be charged with a number of different chargers, not just those looked at here, however these two options from Nitecore are both very small and very light.

Nitecore MPB21
Nitecore MPB21

Nitecore MPB21

The Nitecore MPB21, or Magnetic Power Bank, is pretty tiny. Measuring just 22mm x 23.5mm and weighing 11.7g, when combined with a battery, it is doubtful you can get much smaller, lighter or simpler. Three Points of the Compass has previously looked at the 21700 Intelligent Battery System that utilises this little charger. Essential detail is that the cap has a 5v/2A micro USB for charging, in or out. It can take up to five hours to charge the battery, though does allow through charging via its USB-A output. Other than its lengthy charge time, one particular detriment is the weak magnetic grip maintained by the MPB21 when attached to a battery. If buried within a pack, it will almost certainly detach. So it’s suitability for attaching to a solar charger while hiking, or connected to a device such as a phone when charging ‘on the move’ is limited. Three Points of the Compass has consigned this diminutive charger to day hikes only. If you can work around its shortcomings, this is about as minimal as it is possible to get, with the option of carrying additional charged NL2150HPi 21700 series batteries for swapping over as required.

Nitecore MPB21
Nitecore MPB21
Nitecore MPB21
Nitecore MPB21

Nitecore F21i

The Nitecore F21i solves many of the issues with the MPB21 but at the expense of slightly greater weight and bulk though it is still very small. Nitecore have looked at the little MPB21, upgraded it’s connections, added some functionality and included a heat resistant EPDM rubber strap that keeps the charger connected to a battery, no longer relying on a weak magnet.

Nitecore F21i
Nitecore F21i

The Nitecore F21i is 43mm long with the elastic strap extending another 45mm or so, before it is passed over a battery of course. Diameter is 27mm. It weighs 22g. A NL2150HPi 5000mAh battery weighs a further 77g, so 99g in total. When a battery is fitted it is 113mm in length.

This has a 5v/2A input via USB-C. It supports 18W Quick Charge Power Delivery. The USB-C port also acts as an outlet for charging other devices. Depending on the device, this will be 5v/2.4A or 9v/2A or 12v/1.5A. Blue power indicators show the remaining charge- three LEDs=100%, two LEDs= approximately 70%, one LED= approximately 30%. Tapping the port with a finger tip activates the LEDs. If it is Fast Charging a compatible device, either in or out, a white LED comes on to indicate this. These batteries have built in protection against overcharge, over-discharge and over current.

The two together, battery and cap, make a really handy little device. Three Points of the Compass feels this is a better powerbank option than the NB5000 powerbank (which weighs 115g) sold by Nitecore due to its adaptability and opportunity for expansion by carrying extra charged batteries. The F21i comes supplied in a plastic flip top storage box for use at home and, more useful, a 5.4g 160mm long USB-C cable. This ‘shortie’ lead is ideal for use on trail either as a primary lead or as a back-up in case of failure of the primary lead.

Nitecore F21i
Nitecore F21i
Nitecore F21i
Nitecore F21i

Nitecore NB10000

As soon as it was released, the Nitecore NB10000 quickly found favour with lightweight backpackers. The NB10000 is advertised as having a 10000mAh capacity, this actually translates to 6400mAh. It weighs 150.6g and measures 122mm × 59mm × 11mm. Again, advertised as 34450 mWh which, after taking power transfer loss in to account, translates as a very reasonable 230 mWh/gram. There are two ports. USB-C in/out, and USB-A out. Input is 5v/2.4A or 9v/2A, while output from either port is 5v/3A, or 9v/2A or 12v/1.5A. If both ports are being used simultaneously for charging two devices, a maximum of 5v/3A can be drawn. The powerbank also supports through charging.

Nitecore NB10000
Nitecore NB10000

The light weight of this slim powerbank is partially achieved by the utilisation of carbon fibre reinforced polymer in its surrounding frame. This is overlain with carbon fibre sheets. In theory, a carbon frame means that the powerbank is better able to withstand shocks. I can appreciate that. I purchased my NB10000 to replace an Anker powerbank that had a cracked shell from when it was unintentionally dropped. The Nitecore powerbank comes supplied with a 15g 500mm USB-A to USB-C charging cable.

In addition to the two USB ports, there is a mode buton. Pressing this blue LEDs will show. three for approximately fully charged, two LEDs indicate approximately 70% charge and a single LED approximately 30% charge. A flashing LED indicates a low charge. Pressing and holding the mode button enables a safe low current charge for devices such as wireless headphones, headlamps, smart watches etc. This mode is indicated by a white LED. This mode doesn’t actually decrease the power output. Some power banks may not recognise the low power draw from some devices and switch themselves off, by switching to ‘low power’ mode, all this does is keep the Nitecore NB10000 turned on. You should always exit low power mode if you don’t require it as otherwise the power bank will remain switched on and even the low draw LEDs will eventually drain it.

My sole complaint with the power bank is that it has precise ninety degree edges and the corners are not rounded. I keep my electronics in a small waterproof cube baggie when backpacking, DCF does not handle abrasion well and the corners of this power bank are steadily degrading my electronics pouch as a result.

Nitecore NB10000
Nitecore NB10000
Nitecore NB10000
Nitecore NB10000 is a modern looking device with angular edges and lacks any rounded corners. It can feel sharp in the hand but isn’t. Uncomfortable would be a better description. One side of the powerbank displays vital specs in an almost unreadable dark and small print

Nitecore NB20000

Despite being twice the battery capacity of the NB10000, Nitecore’s NB20000 is more than twice the size and more than twice the weight. This is due to extra ports and circuitry being fitted. Proportionally, more energy can be drained from this single powerbank than from two individual NB10000 powerbanks. The NB20000 measures 135mm x 58mm x 20mm. It weighs 326g (a couple of grams more than as advertised). This weight has been reduced by the utilization of carbon fibre frame and covering sheets, in common with its smaller sibling, the NB10000. It feels a big chunky object in the hand but is quite a bit smaller than other 20000mAh powerbanks. Again, this device lacks rounded edges or corners. It is a beast of a powerbank that holds a lot of charge. This is for longer trails with little chance of recharging, for winter use with long hours of darkness, for charging multiple devices- phone, camera, tablet or laptop, GPS, PLB, even drone batteries.

Nitecore NB20000
Nitecore NB20000

The NB20000 has four ports, three of which are QC 3.0 output. A USB-C ‘input’ permits an 18W maximum charge while a second USB-C ‘in/out1’ will allow a 30W Fast Charge option. This means that this powerbank can be charged to 80% capacity from drained in two hours and forty minutes. Though for this you will require a PD wall charger and cable capable of supporting that. The USB-C ‘in/out1’ port is capable of supporting up to 45W output charge rate, but again, cable and device must be capable of supporting that. A 45W output is enough to easily charge a laptop, not that Three Points of the Compass carries one of these on trail, but some do. There are two USB-A ports ‘OUT2’ and ‘OUT3’ each charge at 5v/2.4A. The powerbank also supports through charging.

Nitecore NB20000
Nitecore NB20000
Nitecore NB20000
Nitecore NB20000 has four ports and a mode button

As with the NB10000, the NB20000 has a mode button. Flashing single blue LED means almost drained. One blue LED= approximately 25% charge, two blue LEDs= approximately 50% charge, three blue LEDs= approximately 75% charge, four blue LEDs= fully charged. Single white LED for charging low current devices (activated with a double tap). The powerbank comes supplied with a 15g 500mm USB-A to USB-C charging cable.

Sizes of Nitecore NB10000 and NB20000 compared
Sides and sizes of Nitecore NB10000 and NB20000 compared. Specifications are shown on each powerbank, however the NB20000 specs are especially difficult to decipher

So, four options from Nitecore. They are all good in their own way. Each fills a particular niche. All of these options have exposed ports and in common with powerbanks from other manufacturers, should be protected from dust, grit and wet as much as possible. They will take a little punishment, the NB20000 has an IP rating of IPX5, this means- “Can resist a sustained, low-pressure water jet spray“. Nitecore do also produce some waterproof options but the additional protection starts to impact on the weight of these products. Put it in a ziplock and stop worrying about it.

A powerbank is of no use alone. You need to transfer charge from it to a phone or other electrical device. And on multi day hikes, recharge the powerbank occasionally. The concept of Qi wireless charging of a phone may be tempting to some, however this is an inefficient method of charging, with power lost in the process. A charge lead (or two or more) is required. There are factors to consider. Quality, durability of a cable, resistance created by a cable (more power lost), connector type, any need for data transfer, length and weight. I am also attempting to bring all my connectors together as USB-C. If wanting to transfer power to a powerbank, and not solely relying on connecting to a solar charger, then a wall plug, or charger, is also required.

When considering wall chargers and leads for a powerbank and devices, things to consider are build quality, wattage, number of ports, type of port, and finally weight. As I am looking primarily at Nitecore powerbanks in this blog I will not delve into these considerations here. Suffice to say that Three Points of the Compass is currently favouring either a folding Mu wall plug (a company that now has a reputation in tatters) or a single port Samsung 25W ‘Super Fast Charge’ PD USB-C plug with a charge lead, plus a tiny 1g USB micro adapter, plus an additional mini charge lead in reserve in case of disastrous failure.

Plugs, adapters, charge leads
Plugs, adapters, charge leads. A small selection from these will be carried on trail. Folding plugs from Mu are a favourite as well as the 25W Fast Charge option from Samsung. Armoured leads from Anker remain a constant

When I purchased my NB10000 and NB20000, each came supplied with a 0.5m long USB-A / USB-C charge lead. I usually prefer a tougher and longer lead which is handier in B&Bs, hostels, bunkhouses and snatched charges in cafes and pubs while on trail when time is limited. Though I recognise that more power is lost with a longer cable, it is the balancing act between efficency and practical requirement. I normally carry a double-braided, aramid armoured PowerLine from Anker. This will frequently be a 0.9m lead weighing 34.2g. Leads can fail however, if it does, I would be pretty much scuppered, so I always pack along a little lightweight ‘shortie’ lead too.

Nitecore F21i comes as a discreet kit and makes a handy addition to the pack on day hikes, and for the frugal energy consumer, multi day hikes too
Nitecore F21i comes as a discreet kit and makes a handy addition to the pack on day hikes and, for the frugal energy consumer, multi day hikes too

There are many other powerbank options from manufacturers other than Nitecore. I have bought and used some myself. It is simply that Three Points of the Compass has purchased the Nitecore devices shown here and has found them all to be excellent, all are recommended.

9 replies »

  1. Ok, love this an excuse for an Excel document!
    This depends on the fact that the Nitecore NL2150HPi batteries give you 5,000mah.
    You could carry 3 batteries, 2 Nitecore MPB21 chargers and a Nitecore MC21 charger and still have more mah. Plus 68grams (Weight difference between all of this and the 20,000 power bank) to use some elastic on one of the MPB21s to solve the falling off in the pack problem. The fact that you cannot through charge seems the really big issue.
    If you buy the MPB21 charger system from Hennie Haynes it comes with a light and the MC21 charger. The MC21 is only for charging batteries and not as a power bank.
    Also with the above set up and a 2 port Mu plug would you need the longer cables?
    Would it make any sense to use only short USB cables and carry a USB extension cable for your current set up?
    Thanks for this you have enlightened me to 2 things the loss in charging and that power banks mah is not actually what their mah is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting. Your primary point I feel is that everyone should look at their own requirements and meet these with the most efficient practical means. One example- I like to stop in to a pub occasionally on a hike. I will sit at a table, plug in my phone to charge up while enjoying a pint, and possibly a meal. Take the phone off airplane mode and use the pubs wifi. To do this I require a longer cable and quick charge facility.
      Also note that regardless of any stated mAh capacity of a battery, it is impossible to actually draw down on all of that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I did wonder about the battery and as far as I can work out it is somewhere between 3,200 and 3,552. They claim the batteries are 11% more powerful so everyone seems confused.
        If the high end my idea has a little merit because my thinking was you have 2 of the smaller chargers to charge 2 batteries while using the other power bank chargers on 2 batteries charging things. My experience of charging is often having no access to the thing being charged.
        If the low end a NB20000 is lighter and more power.
        Yes the rabbit hole that is USB-C fast charging is interesting and basically use only USB-C cables as they have a higher rating than normal USB cables. The pub might be upset if you start fires!
        I am slightly stunned by this information however my large dual charging Anker power bank has 2560 more mah than the Nitecore NB20000 for 169g more weight. It would be lighter to carry a NB10000 & 20000 plus more mah.
        The Anker USB-C fast charging power banks are even heavier and you have to watch what you plug into them as they have a warning about certain low powered devices!

        Like

  2. I should also have noted that Nitecore sell different versions of the 21700 Intelligent Battery System. There are six different HPi batteries that could be included. Additionally, you can purchase the MC21 battery charging cap, or the MPB21 that acts as both Battery charger and enables the battery to be used as a powerbank. Only the latter is of any use on trail

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah it a bit weird Hennie Haynes have it with the MC21 and Knifeandtool have it without. Same item, same description. It even weirder as I have found the MC21 for sale claiming to be USB-C which I can see no evidence of however that is what the one website said.
      I liked the idea of the MC21 being lighter and less chance of getting stolen because all it does is charge and it will only fit certain (maybe one) Nitecore torches.
      This lightweight stuff is bizarre my current power bank might be heavier than your whole large charging set up.

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      • I am not seeing your stated version of the Intelligent Battery System on the Heinnie Haynes site, their description lists the battery, the MPB21 charging cap (both in and out) and the ML21 (which is the magnetic light attachment). Though they have incorporated Nitecore’s images, which does show the MC21 charging cap. I cannot see much use for the MC21 charging cap on trail as it only does half of what the MPB21 can.

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      • I have checked with Hennie and they have in stock the kit as described in the description however the promotional pictures are for the kit with the added MC21. They are looking into it.
        As I said the reason the MC21 appealed was leaving it behind bars or in places and not giving people something they might want to steal. It also gives you a lighter way to charge so rather than having to deal with all your power in one bank, you could have 4 batteries so charge 2 & use 2 for an added 13g. The big problem is how you work out the actual mah of one of the batteries to work out if it worth it or not. Based on the 5000 power bank not however based on the possible 11% more power might be an interesting idea.
        One thought that has hit me is needing to do PC Pro style testing on my electronics so get some idea of how long they actually last and how long my current set up will last.

        Liked by 1 person

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