Tag Archives: backpacking

What power bank, charge leads and plug I take with me depends on the number of days I am on trail

Smaller power banks, plugs and leads on trail

Nitecore F1 and F2 battery charger/power banks

Nitecore F1 and F2 battery charger/power banks

Small power banks/chargers

Like most hikers, Three Points of the Compass takes a number of electric devices when backpacking- phone, camera, LED light, occasionally an MP3 player. Other hikers may be carrying even more devices. Only three years ago I made the total switch to rechargeable headlamps, first to the Black Diamond ReVolt, that can run on either standard AAA or rechargeable AAA batteries that can be charged in the headlamp. Then I switched out to either the Olight H1R Nova, with proprietary rechargeable RCR123A battery, or the Nitecore NU25. The former is for longer winter hikes or where more night hiking is planned, while the NU25 is perfectly adequate for the remainder of the year.

The H1R Nova has a single rechargeable 3.7V 650mAh RCR123A battery. This has built in protection. A spare could be taken so as to swap out with ease. However I just take the one. Each battery weighs 18g

The H1R Nova has a single rechargeable 3.7V 650mAh RCR123A battery. This has built in protection. A spare can also be taken so as to swap out with ease. However I usually just take the one as the battery can be charged while in use. Each battery weighs 18g. Note the excellent build quality of this light and fitted rubber O ring to prevent water ingress

For shorter hikes where I am also carrying a power bank, I may carry either a Nitecore F1 battery charger or the double sized version- the F2. These will take many Lithium-Ion batteries including the 18650 batteries I favour. The F1 is a simple, minimalist charger with Micro USB in-port and USB out-port. It has a nifty little LED array that identifies the voltage of the battery inserted and informs degree of charge and the F1 allows through charging, so it is possible to charge the battery at the same time as charging a device.

Powerbank, charge lead and plug for short walks of a couple or more days.

Nitecore F1 power bank, charge lead and plug for short walks of a couple days

The Nitecore F1 charger weighs 34g including two ranger bands which hold a battery securely in place when in use though I often only take the one. The F1 is not the swiftest of chargers and is not suitable for a brief halt in town of an hour or two and expecting to quickly charge up, but is fine for an overnight stop where there is access to mains power for a few hours. There are a lot of these little battery chargers and power banks available and a little care needs to be taken when choosing one, do your research because a few are downright dangerous. The F1 is a great lightweight option for a day or few, however I feel that the F2 is more suited to longer treks as it gives a greater degree of flexibility and functionality.

Nitecore F2, with plug and charge lead

Nitecore F2, with plug and charge lead

The Nitecore F2 has 0.5A USB 3.0 Micro-B input and two USB outputs, giving 1x 2A or 2x1A. The F2 charger/power bank weighs 47g, 54g with two ranger bands. The little 170mm charge lead that comes with it weighs 12g but I normally carry a more robust longer lead.

Powerbank, charge leads and plug for walks of a week or more

F2 power bank, charge leads, plug and extra battery are sufficient for trails of a week or more, unless opportunity for charging presents additional problems, in which case extra cells could be carried

Depending on the length of trip, I often carry one, two or three Nitecore Lithium-Ion rechargeable 18650 batteries. 3.7V 12.6Wh. The 18650 batteries from Nitecore (and Olight that I have also used) are both built on the Panasonic NCR 18650B, with additional circuitry. The ones from Nitecore each weigh 48g and have built in PCB/IC protection (short circuit and battery overcharge protection and discharge protection circuits) so are a little longer than most other 18650 batteries being 68mm long instead of 65mm. Mine are the 3400mAh batteries which give the best size/weight/power ratio for rechargeable batteries. Though in truth they probably deliver no more than around 3200mAh. When not in use, or in the charger, I keep each 18650 battery in a 6.4g silicone sleeve. This removes the danger of any shorting out while packed. If you have any doubt as to the efficacy of 18650 batteries, it is worth noting that Tesla has been using Panasonic 18650 cells in their Models S and X cars since 2013. Their most common battery pack originally contained 7104 18650 cells, more recently 8256 cells.

Phone, mp3 player, headlight and power- Little was required

Electronics carried on the Icknield Way in 2017, there is an excess of charge leads here as three different electronic devices had three different connectors

 

Another good charger that can also act as a power bank and has attracted a lot of interest in recent years is the Miller ML-102. There have been a number of versions of this USB charger produced and some earlier models introduced a few faults, however at the time of writing (January 2020) the current version- the 32g ML-102 v9, seems to have reintroduced a reliable charger to the market place. However these will only work with unprotected 65mm long 18650 cells, it won’t accept the longer protected 18650 cells, so I cannot use this on trail with my favoured Nitecore batteries. Unprotected cells should not be left unattended when charging for obvious reasons.

Using the Nitecore F1 as an 18650 battery charger

Using the Nitecore F1 as an 18650 battery charger

Tiny Photon Freedom microlight is frequently attached to one of my packs zip pulls

Tiny Photon Freedom microlight is frequently attached to one of my packs zip pulls or my Z Packs chest pouch

In the eventuality that the battery/power bank does give up and all my 18650s are drained, I usually have just a little backup for light. I often carry two of the fantastic little LRI Photon Freedom Micro button lights. One has a red beam to preserve night vision, or to be just a little more discreet and less conspicuous if wild camping where I ought not. The other has a white beam. I have written elsewhere about these great little lights, but for just 10g each, including battery, you can’t go wrong with these. Spare button batteries are carried for any Photon carried (CR 2016 or 2032 depending on if white or red LED). I also have a light on my phone but better to keep a phone battery charged for emergency use. Finally, I have a minuscule USB LED light with dimmable facility that can be plugged into either my power bank or a room wall plug.

For any hike of a week or more I am usually carrying an Anker PowerCore II Slim 10 000mAh power bank. This weighs 209g, so is the heavier option but I swap out for this for one reason- convenience. With a charger that can only charge one (F1) or two (F2) 18650 batteries at a time, I would need to keep swapping batteries to keep them all charged. Not what I want to be doing. I want to be eating, drinking, washing and resting, not hovering over a charger. With the Anker, I can stop overnight somewhere, plug it in and leave it plugged in until fully charged.

Charge leads and plugs

Leads

Charge rate can be severely affected by the cable used. Both internal cable structure and length will alter the charge rate. Also, the quality of the end pins/plugs is of concern, the last thing you want is the end pulling off while on a hike. To ensure I don’t end up totally scuppered, I carry at least two USB/Micro USB charge leads with me. My main charge lead is usually a 900mm 28.4g USB / Micro USB Anker Powerline. This is a good quality charge lead made with Aramid fibre and double braided line. It will take a lot of the wear that charge leads are subject to.

If I have my iPod Nano mp3 player with me (I have no other Apple products), then I include a tiny little Micro USB/Lightning adaptor. It is only 20mm long and weighs 1.2g. However, it is much more likely I will be carrying my little SanDisc player. This has a built in rechargeable battery, the USB/Micro USB cables I am already packing will work with this.

Small adaptors mean that the number of cables carried can be kept to a minimum. The Micro USB/Lighting adaptor is 1.3g and the Micro USB/USB-C adaptor is 2.6g. Depending on which USB LED light is carried, these can be as little as a gram

Small adaptors mean that the number of cables carried can be kept to a minimum. The Micro USB/Lighting adaptor is 1.3g and the Micro USB/USB-C adaptor 2.6g. Depending on which USB LED light is carried, these can be as little as a gram. Three Points of the Compass carries the larger, touch sensitive LED light shown here that weighs just 3g

Other charge leads carried are a very short, silicone coated lead, just 67mm in length and 5g in weight made by Lifemall. Again, this is USB/Micro USB. It originally had a loop for hanging from a key chain but I removed that. Output is 2.4A maximum. Carrying this little extra charge lead means that I am not left bereft should the longer main lead give up the ghost. The very slight weight penalty is acceptable to me.

A rather nifty feature on the Olight H1R is the simple, magnetic tailcap to which the USB charge cable connects. This means that, if need be, the headlight can be charging while being worn. So if I am carrying the Olight headlamp rather than the Nitecore NU25, I also carry the magnetic Olight charge cable for the HR1 Nova head torch. This weighs 14.5g. The tail glows red when charging and switches to green when fully charged.

In the past, the necessity of carrying one particular charge lead has been a source of annoyance. My Olympus Tough TG-4 camera cannot be charged via normal Micro plug, instead, this requires the inclusion of a proprietary connector. This extra 700mm lead weighs 48.5g. However if I am carrying a camera these days, I am normally taking my Sony RX100v, which can be charged with the standard micro USB.

The 14g Olight charge lead is a handy little addition. It attaches magnetically firmly to the base of the Nova.

The 14g Olight charge lead is a handy little addition however it does mean an extra lead and extra weight to be carried. It attaches magnetically and firmly to the base of the Nova.

Folding Mu plugs

Folding Mu plugs- 14mm thick

Plugs

Three Points of the Compass has a liking for the ingenious folding plugs from Mu (Greek for small or micro). It is not only weight that can be an issue in the pack, but bulk too. The 51.1g Mu Duo has double USB ports with a fixed split of 1.2A per port. Input: AC 100-240v, 50-60Hz. This accompanies me on shorter trips up to a week. For longer trips I have the 50.4g Mu Tablet, this has a single USB port with a DC 5V 2.4A outlet and AC 100-240V, 50-60Hz input. It may seem counter-intuitive to take a single outlet plug for longer trips but it is the higher, faster charge rate that I want then. Though of course, this is nothing compared to the newer connectors coming through as I write this. There is, for example, a Type-C connector Mu plug available.

The higher output single and dual port Mu both measure 73mm x 55mm x 14mm when folded, there is also a lower 1A output Mu that is a little smaller at 60mm x 55mm x 14mm. This is the open white one shown below.

Mu folding plug, plus international version that can have a number of different socket heads fitted

Mu folding plug, plus international version that can have different socket heads fitted

The above leads mean that I can be charging two 18650 batteries in the Nitecore F2, while simultaneously through charging my phone and Olight or camera. If I have the Nitecore F1, I will also have the double port Mu plug, so can charge a single 18650 battery and also the phone, Olight or camera from the second port.

Aulola folding USB adaptor is a cheaper alternative to Mu plugs

Aulola folding USB adaptor is a cheaper alternative to Mu plugs

Mu folding plugs are not cheap and I have used the cheap ‘n’ cheerful TH31 folding dual USB adaptor from Aulola in the past. This has a 5v 2A output, but that is split across the two ports. Slightly larger at 67mm x 49mm x 20mm, these weigh 57g.

I recognise that while I have been slowly bringing all my electronics in line with each other, utilising micro USB charge ports, the wave of change is sweeping by and I shall have to make a further change in the future to keep up as micro USB is eventually going to become obsolete.

The size of power bank carried on a hike, or rather the amount of mAh, is very much a personal choice and should be influenced by a number of circumstance- cost, weight, availability, bulk, number of electronic devices carried, opportunity for recharge, duration between said recharge opportunity etc.

Charging phone on trail with Nitecore F1 battery charger/power bank

Charging phone (literally) on trail with Nitecore F1 battery charger/power bank and mini charge lead

When Three Points of the Compass completed his 2000 mile hike across the UK in 2018, the lightweight Nitecore F1 was carried for the first 800 miles as there was opportunity to recharge every day or two, by the time Scotland was reached, with far less opportunity to charge a power bank, I had switched out to the larger 10 000 mAh Anker which was completely adequate for the remainder of my hike. The longest I went without opportunity for a partial recharge was five days.

Electronics carried on my five month 2018 hike. A larger 10 000 mAh power bank was carried for the final 1000 miles

Electronics carried on my five month 2018 hike. The large 10 000 mAh Anker power bank shown was carried for the final 1000 miles

An assortment of SwissCards

SwissCards

Victorinox SwissCards

Four Victorinox SwissCards- each offers a slightly different range of tools

Four Victorinox SwissCards- each offers a slightly different range of tools. Shown here are the SwissCard (second generation), SwissCard Quattro, SwissCard Lite (second generation) and SwissCard Nailcare

The Victorinox SwissCards are lightweight plastic ‘cards’ that contain a small range of tools. These can frequently be all that is required on a hike. Three Points of the Compass has a few of these and takes a glance at four of the various cards released by Victorinox since they first appeared in 1997. These are the SwissCard (later SwissCard Classic), the SwissCard Quattro, the SwissCard Lite and SwissCard Nailcare.

There have been different generations of these cards, particularly with the original SwissCard. Also, a couple of varieties, including a money clip, and car visor models that excluded the nailfile to fit respective clips instead. An oddity that I shall not cover here was the Doctor SwissCard that exchanged the tweezers for calipers. All of the SwissCards are small, measuring 82mm x 54m x 4mm. So, a little smaller than a credit card. The smaller dimensions are necessary if you want to slide one into a wallet or purse. I would suggest not storing them in the pocket as the plastic (actually ABS or Acrylnitril-Butadien-Styrol) will crack and break if overly stressed by flexing or being sat on. They will slip into just about any packs hipbelt pocket.

Blade length is only 36mm on the little knives, often called letter openers, incorporated in the SwissCards. Though short, this is usually more than sufficient for most tasks on trail. There is a good edge to this blade

Blade length is only 36mm on the little knives, which are often called letter openers, incorporated in the SwissCards. Though short, this is usually more than sufficient for most tasks on trail. There is a sharp blade and it keeps an edge pretty well

Most hikers would probably glance at these little tools and discount them as they don’t immediately strike them as ‘knife’. But the toolset in a SwissCard is very similar to that found on many of the the smaller knives, particularly the Signature, also produced by Victorinox. These tools are mostly of a size that makes them pretty convenient for life on trail.

The original 26g SwissCard, released in 1997, boasted '7 features - 10 functions', but some of these are not worth getting too excited about. It came with Letter opener blade, scissors, stainless steel pin, nailfile with screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, ballpoint pen and cm/inch ruler

The original 26g SwissCard, released in 1997, boasted ‘7 features – 10 functions’, It came with letter opener blade, scissors, stainless steel pin, nailfile with screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, ballpoint pen and cm/inch ruler

The first SwissCard appeared on the market in 1997 and while the small range of tools largely remained unchanged, small details in the plastic holder construction were later altered to make it more robust. A rotating sliding lid over the scissors was eventually excluded in 2008 but not before a protractor had been added to the rear of the lid in the second generation of SwissCard.

26.2g SwissCard

Second generation Victorinox SwissCard in translucent blue weighs 26.2g. The first two generations of the SwissCard had a sliding door over the scissors

The sliding door on the first two generations of SwissCard was a design fault. The door easily snapped off from its pivot

Second generation Victorinox SwissCard in solid black featuring an added protractor. The sliding/rotating door was a design fault. The door easily snapped off from its pivot. The protractor on the inside of the door can be seen in this image but was of little practical use

The first two generations of the SwissCard weighed 26.2g, this weight increased imperceptibly to 27g when the sliding door was excluded from the design with the third generation. This meant that the protractor on the second generation was now also removed as a result. While the protractor on the second generation SwissCards could possibly be used for measuring snow slope angle, and the likelihood of avalanche, I really can’t see this being carried out in reality. The third generation of the plastic case is much sturdier and robust as a result of the change.

All SwissCards include a small ruler- 75mm on the front edge, 3 inches on the back

Victorinox SwissCard Classic in transparent blue. All SwissCards include small rulers- 75mm on the front edge, 3 inches on the back

The 27g SwissCard Classic is a simple tool that carries much of the toolset found in the little 58mm Victorinox Classic folding knife. That is- small blade, nailfile, scissors, tweezers and toothpick. The SD version of the Classic knife has a small flat screwdriver tip on its nailfile and this is what is also found in the SwissCard. In addition, there is a stainless steel pin and useful, if miniscule, pressurised ballpoint pen in the SwissCard.

The 58mm Victorinox Classic has a similar set of tools to those found in SwissCards

The 21.3g 58mm Victorinox Classic has a similar set of tools to those found in SwissCards. This is the Edelweiss scaled version, there is a huge variety of scale designs found with these knives

Originally called the SwissCard, the Classic designation was added when new models became available

Victorinox SwissCard Classic in transparent red. Originally called the SwissCard, the Classic designation was added when other models also became available. The Classic also differs from the first two generations of card by not having a sliding door over the scissors

The 22.2g SwissCard Quattro was released in 2000 and this saw the handy little four-way Quattro screwdriver made available for the first time. This is so small and convenient that even if I am not carrying one of the cards with me while hiking, one of the 2.6g screwdrivers is often sitting in my ditty bag. Sadly, the inclusion of the screwdriver was at the expense of the scissors, which are excluded from the SwissCard Quattro. A hole was added to the corner of the card enabling it to be hung from a keyring or lanyard.

Victorinox SwissCard Quattro in solid black. While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is some wasted storage space in the plastic holder of this version that could have been utilised by Victorinox

Victorinox SwissCard Quattro. While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is some wasted storage space in the plastic holder of this version that could have been utilised by Victorinox. this solid black colour is 20.6g compared to the very slightly heavier translucent Quattro cards which are 22.2g

In 2003 a small LED light was incorporated and the 26.7g SwissCard Lite appeared on the market. Essentially, other than differences in case colour, there are two variants of the Lite- early models had a red LED, these were changed to a white LED in 2009. While the white LED is far brighter than the red and ideal for urban use, Three Points of the Compass feels that red is often more useful on trail, especially if stumbling around a crowded hostel or bunkhouse room and trying not to disturb slumbering occupants.

First generation of SwissCard Lite with red LED, card case in translucent red

First generation of SwissCard Lite with red LED, card case in translucent red.

A hiker normally carries a primary white light headtorch or similar, however a small red LED can be useful at times for discreetness. Early models with the red LED can be difficult to find now but are still available through eBay etc. if now over-priced. Though it must be admitted, the red LED is very dim whereas the white variant is far brighter, but still no where near bright enough for night hiking or similar.

Red and white LED variants of the Victorinox SwissCard Lite

White and red LED variants of the Victorinox SwissCard Lite. The brighter white light is distinct

The LED in the SwissCard Lite is powered by a replaceable 0.6g 3v Lithium CR1025 battery

The LED in the SwissCard Lite is powered by a replaceable 0.6g 3v Lithium CR1025 battery

The SwissCard Lite hits the sweet spot by including both scissors and the handy little four-way screwdriver. Incorporating both of these at the expense of losing the nailfile is a reasonable trade off I feel.

The LED switch is a rather clever and simple affair, being a removable slide that contains both LED and the battery. The drain from the modest LED means that battery life is considerable, though a spare battery could be carried on a particularly long multi-day hike.

The SwissCard Lite has a useful set of tools. The 5 x magnifying glass could be useful as an aid when removing small splinters with the pin and tweezers

Victorinox SwissCard Lite in transparent black. This 26.7g card has a useful set of tools. The 5 x magnifying glass is helpful when removing small splinters with the pin and tweezers. Both four-way screwdriver and scissors are present in this card

The flat four-way Quattro screwdriver is such a handy piece of kit that it can easily be slipped into a ditty bag on trail

The flat four-way 2.6g Quattro screwdriver is such a handy piece of kit that it can easily be slipped into a ditty bag on trail

In 2015, the SwissCard Nailcare was released. While both four-way screwdriver and scissors are incorporated, the little knife blade is replaced by a glass nailfile.  As a result, I think the 26.6g Nailcare is the least useful of the SwissCards for taking on trail, unless personal grooming really is that important to you. Unfortunately the cutout for the nailfile is reduced in the nailcare card, otherwise the nailfile could have been swapped for a knife from another card.

The 6.7g scissors from a Victorinox SwissCard are are an excellent efficient choice for a First Aid Kit

The 6.7g scissors found in most variants of the Victorinox SwissCards are a useful choice for a First Aid Kit

SwissCards were manufactured in a range of solid and translucent/transparent colours only some of which are shown here. Ice Blue (shown here) was only available with the Nailcare. The pin and small tweezers are useful for removing splinters and as with the other incarnations, the spring loaded scissors do a good job, though I find my digits a tad large for the small single finger hole so frequently simply grip the whole of the scissor in my hand when using.

While well-appointed, the SwissCard Nailcare is the least useful of the small range for taking on trail

26.6g Victorinox SwissCard Nailcare in translucent Ice Blue. While well-appointed and great for day-to-day urban carry, the SwissCard Nailcare is the least useful of the small range for taking on trail

I normally carry a small knife or multi-tool on trail, however it is probably time that I gave these little cards more attention. They include many of the items that I already carry but could remove from my gear list- scissors, blade, pen, tweezers, and depending on which variant is taken, could provide a couple of other useful items. Three Points of the Compass feels that of all the available SwissCards, a SwissCard Lite is the most suited for backpacking. As to the choice of colour of LED, that is up to you but the earlier red LEDs are becoming pretty difficult to source these days.

One option with a SwissCard is to replace the pin with a needle. This replacement is a Size 7 embroidery/crewel needle

One option with a SwissCard is to replace the pin with a needle. This replacement is a Size 7 embroidery/crewel needle