June 11, 2016

Backpacking Amateur Radio Power: Alternatives

In our prior post (Backpacking Amateur Radio Power: Requirements) we discussed our requirements for powering our electronics in the backcountry including an HT and an iPhone.  We defined our requirements in the form of a user story with acceptance criteria.

USER STORY: As a backpacker, I need a way to use my TH-F6A radio and iPhone 6 during my backpacking trip and not run out of battery before the end of the trip so that I can have fun with the devices during the trip and have them ready for use at any time during the trip in the event of an emergency to call for help.

  • Must allow the backpacker to use the device a little or a lot as needed.
  • Must be flexible enough to allow the backpacker to use the solution regardless of duration (our typical backpacking adventures range from from 1 night to 15 days).
  • Must not add significant weight to the pack (i.e. < 1.5 lbs / 0.68Kg).
  • Must be able to maintain power for an iPhone via the USB connection (5Vdc USB power).
  • Must be able to maintain power for a Kenwood TH-F6A via the 12Vdc connection.

In today's post, we will explore potential alternative solutions and compare them against our requirements.

Option 1: Conserve the battery

  • Practical approach
  • No cost
  • No added weight
  • Conserving the battery means using the devices sparingly over the trip.  For the iPhone it means leaving the device powered off during the hike and powering it on when needed.  Not very convenient for snapping photos while trekking.  Keeping the HT powered off is a bit more feasible.  However, we like to use the radios in our backpacking group to keep the front and rear in communication as we go to since we tend to string out a bit.
  • This approach doesn't meet our acceptance criteria of being able to use the devices as much or as little as needed during the trek.

Option 2: Pack extra batteries

  • On longer trips, one set of extra batteries may not be enough.
  • Some conservation of battery power is still required.

Option 3: Pack a portable generator: BioLite Wood Burning Campstove

  • Claims to provide portable power (USB).

Option 4: Pack a portable generator: K-TOR Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator

  • Possible to recharge both USB and 12Vdc batteries.
  • The weight is under the limit per our acceptance criteria (1.0 lbs/0.45Kg < limit of 1.5 lbs/0.68Kg)
  • Cost is reasonable at $54.00 on Amazon.com
  • The K-TOR Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator had mixed reviews on Amazon.com.  From the reviews is sounds like hand cranking is laborious and takes a long long time to recharge.  This is a material consideration since backpacking can be physically exhausting.  Having difficulty imaging cranking for hours after a day of backpacking 16 miles with elevation changes.
  • Requires packing the transforms for iPhone and HT.  This adds additional weight.

Option 5: Pack a solar panel: Goal Zero Nomad 7

  • Recharges USB devices.
  • Recharges 12Vdc devices.
  • Lightweight at 1.4 lbs/0.64Kg which is less than our acceptance criteria limit of 1.5 lbs/0.68Kg.
  • Easy to use and requires no physical effort to generate power.
  • Cost is reasonable at $77.31 on Amazon.com
  • Solid reviews on Amazon.com.
  • Well made and durable.
  • Need direct sunlight to recharge.  We have sunshine in abundance here in California so this isn't a material concern.

Option 5: Pack a solar panel: Goal Zero Nomad 7 is the clear winner among our alternatives.  It fits the requirements very well.  We are looking forward to putting it to the test.

In our next post in this series, "Project: Hacking the Nomad 7 Solar Panel for Amateur Radio Use" we will show step-by-step how we modified our Nomad 7 to make it more convenience to use with our Amateur Radio setup.

We will review how well the whole setup worked on a challenging backpacking backcountry adventure in our final post in the series.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

NJ2X.COM is now available on Kindle!

Articles in this series:

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2016.


Unknown said...

Another option maybe:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEXrrZcnTuU

NJ2X said...

Hi TheMountainRN,

Thank you very much for sharing the link to Tactical Hydro Power video. Very creative approach to generating power in the backcountry. The total weight of the hydro power generator kit comes it at 23 oz (1.44 lbs) which is feasible for a backpacker. Hadn't seen this before. Love it! Big advantage would be the ability to generate power without sunlight (e.g. at night, cloudy days, ...).

With kind regards,