The wonderful world of USB charging has a lot to offer preppers.
While a lot of people just use USB for cell phones or a tablet, there are so many other devices that can provide everything from entertainment to helping fix things that break.
In this post, we are going to explore the world of USB chargeable devices and talk about how to set up easy to maintain and affordable USB charging stations that will work even if the grid is totally down.
Tablets and e-readers
A lot of people have tablets. The size of the tablet is related to how much power it burns. You can set the screen to dimmer to save power or turn off the WiFi. A 7-8 inch tablet will be easier on power than a 10 inch. E-readers that use e-ink technology burn very little power. Kindle claims that you get up to 8 weeks reading time on a single charge but that is ideal circumstances and considers a days reading to be a mere 30 minutes. That adds up to 30 hours of reading time. I am not sure I believe that is a realistic figure. My Kindle will last a very long time but I don’t think my battery would last for 30 hours of reading. If you mostly read books on your tablet, an e-reader may be a cheaper option that burns less power.
Other useful USB Devices
There are so many more that it would be a full-length book if I described them. The items below are just a handful compared to what is out there. Over time I expect there will be even more USB chargeable devices out there.
Being able to keep up with hygiene is very important during a long emergency or survival situation. Shavers and hair cutting equipment can help with keeping clean and put together. Shorter hair is easier to take care of and may be necessary if parasites and vermin are rampant.
AA or AAA batteries can run a lot of additional devices. USB battery chargers can add a lot of additional power to your household.
EBL 40Min iQuick Smart USB Individual Battery Charger
Oh my, there is a lot of USB lighting out there. They have come so far, and they can really help out during even a minor power outage.
Here are a few examples of easy to keep going USB rechargeable lights.
EACHPOLE Solar USB Cable Charging Outdoor Camping LED Lights
I have to say that while fans are not essential they sure can make it nicer when it is hot outside or you are cooking a lot. IF you are used to having air conditioning, a fan can help you gradually acclimate yourself during times when it is not possible. Matt and I have learned that we don’t need air conditioning in the summer unless we have guests.
I know a lot of readers like essential oils. This is something I want to explore myself but I have not got around to it. It is not surprising that you can get USB powered diffusers. A diffuser can provide valuable therapeutic and medicinal benefits and remind you of normal times.
I am putting an example in this post. There are a lot of neat diffusers out there, but they vary a lot in size and quality so be careful when shopping around.
Communications are very important, and walkie-talkies are one very simple and easy to use device that you can keep going via USB. You don’t have to have the fanciest radio or walkie talkie for them to be very useful.
Midland FRS Two-Way Radio (Mossy Oak Camo)
Midland makes high-quality walkie talkies with an amazing range. This pair charges via USB and is made to endure what the woods and rough terrain can throw at them. While these claim to have a range of 38 miles, this is likely assuming flat terrain and average obstruction levels.
Group Walkie Talkie Systems
I was really surprised how many sets of 10 or more walkie-talkies are for sale. If you have a big group or family, it may be worth it to purchase a large set that all charge on USB. Even if you don’t use a few of them, you will have extras when one breaks or gets lost. I was a bit incredulous about the cost but a lot of the ones that come in big packs get a lot of solid reviews.
Retevis Rechargeable Portable 2 Way Radio Set
Retevis makes a lot of different walkie-talkies that vary a little in cost. You can get them in packs of up to 20! These are not as rugged as the Midlands but they cost far less.
Drill or Screwdriver
The value of being able to fix something cannot be overstated. You can do a lot of work with a drill or screwdriver. Building things is also an invaluable skill to have during any time but during hard ones, you may be able to make your way in the world with the right tools and some skills.
WORKPRO Cordless Rechargeable Screwdriver
I wouldn’t want to try building something big with this cordless screwdriver but for most tasks, it would do just fine and it would be a lot better than nothing. It is not a serious splurge and it includes a set of 10 different screwdriver bits and a bit extender. It is smart for the manufacturer to include the bits because it is very frustrating to not have the right bit for the job. An extender is essential for getting the most out of a screwdriver since there will be plenty of times that you need to get to a hard to reach screw.
Handheld Video Games
If you have kids then it is a good idea to have some things to keep them entertained and maintain a sense of normality during a stressful situation. Small handheld games are inexpensive and provide some entertainment.
Music is so important to people. It can improve mood, help with concentration, and help relieve anxiety. An mp3 player is inexpensive and can hold a lot of music and audio books to provide entertainment and even educational opportunities during a long term situation. Even if times get tough, it is important to keep your mind sharp and how better to do that then through the wonderful worlds of music and the written word read aloud?
I have a waterproof and shockproof speaker that is amazing. It will play music for many hours. I have used this speaker for more than a year and it has proven to be a good one. There are many different options and sizes. The higher the volume you play the less play time you get. This is good to remember when deciding what volume you really want to hear. That being said, many speakers claim a 24-hour playtime on a single charge with an average charge time of 4-5 hours via USB.
USB Charging Station Creation
Jackery or Goal Zero Power Station
Over the last year, I have acquired a few power centers and solar panels. For in-depth reviews of each of the types I own please check out the following posts:
I have to say that each power center has USB charging ports built in but if the few that are there are not enough, you can get an adapter that plugs into the 12-volt sockets on each of the power centers. This will allow for double the USB charging capability. You could even get an adapter that plugs into the 110 outlet receptacle and increases your USB charging capability to 8 outlets! These aftermarket adapters are very inexpensive and you can use them in your car, utility vehicle, or anywhere that has a 12 volt or 110 outlets depending on which adapter you have.
You don’t have to have a power center as large as the ones I have either. The smallest power center will provide a decent amount of USB charging capability. Here is a smaller option for those that just want a little power for USB devices or low draw electronics like small laptops.
The Jackery 160 holds 167 Wh of power. This means you can recharge an iPad 5 times, run a 5-watt camping light for 26 hours, recharge a laptop 2 times, or charge a cell phone 12 times. I would pick the Jackery over the Goal Zero below based on the weight. The Jackery has a lithium battery and weighs under 4 lbs and only measures a mere 7.4 x 4.5 x 6.7 inches. These are good choices for older people and in case you want multiple portable units.
Use any of the 12 volt adapters below to add additional USB ports when needed!
Cable Matters Mini Dual USB Car Charger
Palumma Dual USB Car Charger
This is the USB 12-volt charger we keep plugged into the 12-volt outlet in our house. It gives us an idea what our batteries are at so we don’t deplete them. While our solar panels do deliver the power for a lot of the lights in our house and they allow us to recharge our AA and AAA batteries, there are times when there is not so much sun that we want to be careful and not run down the main battery storage. This device works well and provides us with 2 USB outlets to utilize. You can use this in your car for charging USB devices and monitoring your car battery so you don’t get stuck on the side of the road or at least you will know your battery is not up to par.
Solar panel options
Some portable panels have a few USB charging outlets built in. The Jackery panel I have features two, so that means as long as there is some sun, I can charge a device with just the panel. The advantage of having an actual power center is that you are able to store a reserve of power whereas the panel is only charging when the sun is hitting it, and the angle and intensity can make output vary a lot. There is a big difference between a 50-watt panel that is producing 40 watts in full sun and one that is not at a good angle or under slight cloud cover and only producing 20-30.
Recommended Reading: A Review Of The Jackery Explorer 240 Power Center and 50 Watt Portable Solar Panel
Charging off 110 v when the grid is up
Some households have actually gone so far as to replace some 110 receptacles with USB charging receptacles. If you have more electrical outlets than needed then you might consider using one or more as a USB charging station for you and your family. Changing out an outlet requires some care but it is not rocket science. The most important thing is knowing to throw the breaker so there is no power going to the outlet while you are working on it. This also means the rest of your house that is not on that circuit will not be affected by an outage while you are working.
Of course when in doubt you may just want to cut all power. Wiring in a new outlet is not hard. Here is a video demonstrating what you need to do. I am not always the quickest to catch on to technical stuff and Matt showed me how to do outlets when we were building the house. If I can do it so can you. If you are not comfortable doing it then maybe you have a friend with some experience that will help you out.
You can get different types of recepticles depending on how you want to split your power up. Here are few receptacle options to consider.
TOPGREENER USB Wall Outlet Charger
This receptacle doesn’t even make you give up any of your 110 outlets, and you get three USB charging ports. These are very inexpensive and can make you get more out of your current power system.
Seckatech 4 USB Ports Wall Outlet Charger
If you want to just get rid of the 110 volt or add in a receptacle off your home’s current power system, then this 4 USB unit is the way to go. It is something to consider if you are doing the electrical wiring in a bug out shelter or if adding on to your home.
Creating USB charging stations can help everyone in your home keep things neater.
Even with just Matt and I, there are a lot of cords around the house. We also both sometimes forget to charge our phones or other devices. Having a designated area can prevent this type of behavior, and if you have a lot of people and devices, you can reduce the clutter in some areas as well as the chances someone is going to drop something on a charging device because it got plugged in somewhere that was not the best idea.
Pre-made USB Charging Stations
If you want to get your USB charging organized, there are plenty of premade stations that can keep things tidy and organized. I was surprised that some even have organizers to keep devices upright and provide some protection from falls. These are very space efficient and affordable.
Othoking 5-Port USB Charging Station Dock
This charging station plugs into a standard 110 V power outlet in your home and will charge five devices while keeping them upright and organized. You can even get this charger in a version that looks like wood if you want it to blend in with the decor.
10-Port USB Wall Charger – Black
If you want a really big USB hub, this 10 port unit was the best deal I could find. It plugs into a standard 110 outlet.
Low consumption laptops exist, but only a few expensive models are chargeable via USB.
There are just a few laptops that will charge via USB but that will likely change over the years. Tablets have always been USB chargeable and you can do a lot with one. If you want a system that is totally chargeable off USB I recommend getting a good quality tablet and a USB chargeable keyboard. I have a small keyboard that I can use with a tablet and it works very well. You can even get keyboards that fold up so they can be stored in a very small space when not in use.
Chromebooks and small scale laptops can be charged using 12V power by using an inverter in your car if needed.
I have noticed that there are more 10-12 inch laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks. I do a lot of my articles on a Samsung Chromebook that cost me $105 open box on eBay. It is not the fastest and the screen is small but it is very functional and has a good battery life. Even if I am using an external keyboard and mouse, I can get 5-6 hours out of a full battery charge. Without all the extra gadgets plugged in you can get as much a 10 hours on a charge. I can understand why people get smaller laptops but unless you have a power center or charge them off your car, they may not be the best choice during a very long term situation.
Remember to store rechargeable batteries outside of a device if you don’t plan on using it for a while.
Rechargeable batteries have to be checked occasionally or topped off. Over time even the best rechargeables will not hold their charge when setting in a battery box for an extended period.
You can recharge a lot of devices with a very small Goal Zero Yeti or a Jackery. The lithium battery versions are more affordable than they once were so you don’t have to be tempted to get something really heavy to save some money.
I advise adding up what it would take to keep your devices going and then plan for the backup power you need.
Some e-readers like the Kindle can have the screen function on so you are burning through battery even when you are not using it.
I found out the hard way that my Kindle was actually still burning power even though I thought it was turned off. You actually have to hold down the power button for a few seconds, and it will ask if you want to turn the screen off. It will take a little longer to get started reading the next time you decide to use it, but that is better than having the battery totally drained because you leave it on for a month.
Remember that you can only get so much power out of USB
Sometimes I see bad reviews of USB chargeable devices. Some are true of course but I can’t help noticing that people tend to have high expectations for cordless products. Cordless is great but you are never going to have the same level of power that you will get from the same device that runs on a standard 110 v plugin.
Occasionally check devices to make sure they are charged, especially before any major weather or signs of unrest.
Before any major storms, Matt and I go over what needs to be done. One of the things I make sure to do is check that all the USB powered stuff has been charged. This includes our emergency radio, e-reader, tablet, wireless speaker, mp3 player, and cell phones. This ensures that we don’t immediately have to start charging items off the backup power system. While the power is rarely out here for more than a few hours, it would not take much to change that. A moderate amount of freezing rain can do a lot of damage.
Considering the state of things in the USA, the chances of civil unrest are high, and that can lead to further disruptions and issues, so that is further incentive to keep some backup power and your devices charged up. Sure you can do without your tablet, but decent lighting and keeping a radio going to keep on top of things can affect your safety and survival.
Do you have a plan for keeping some electronics, lighting, and tools, going during a long term emergency? What power centers and battery banks do you recommend?
Samantha Biggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.