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.
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.
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.
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.
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 121.9mm x 59mm x 10.6mm. Again, advertised as 34450 mWh which, after taking power transfer loss into 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.
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 carbon fibre shell of the Nitecore NB10000 weighs 5.9g and the frame a further 7.9g. The remainder of the weight is comprised of a single monolithic Li-Po battery and the battery cell management circuitry. 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 button. 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.
One gripe I have with this 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.
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 (a lighter option), i.e.- it has a “greater dischargeable capacity.” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 efficiency 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.
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.