How to charge your phone when the power is out

How to Charge Your Phone When the Power is Out

It happens. Power outage. Sometimes briefly, other times it may be out for longer. You’ve got a phone. The battery is going to last only so long… So, you’re wondering how to charge your phone when the power is out

(Updated to reflect the latest technology solutions and products as of this date)

Cell phone communication is always in demand during emergency, disaster, and often during disruptive events – all of which excite people to call others. In any event, if the power is out, your ability to charge that phone is out too. At least or unless you have other ways to charge it!

Today’s smart phone is integral to our modern way of life. It makes good sense to have other ways to charge your phone if the power is out – when your wall charger no longer works.

Or, maybe you’re looking for ways to charge your phone when the grid is simply not available. Perhaps a remote location. Camping. A remote cabin. Wilderness hunting or fishing or hiking expedition. Any extended period when you’re not near “the grid”.

I will recommend two ways how to charge your phone when the power is out.

Portable Phone Charger When Power Is Out

This is my Number One recommendation:

It’s an ANKER (brand) portable charger. It’s actually a battery ‘power bank’ designed with the right USB voltage and power output to charge your phone and other USB devices without grid power access. Things like rechargeable headphones (e.g. bluetooth ear buds), portable speakers, tablets, phones, Kindle-type devices, things like that…

I have a similar Anker brand portable battery. Had it for years (10,000 mAh capacity), and it has been excellent. It still works perfectly. But the following is one of their latest and greatest, with a 20,000 mAh capacity…

ANKER ULTRA-HIGH CAPACITY POWER BANK 20,000 mAh
(view on amzn)

What’s so great bout it?

“I have owned an Anker portable charger for 5 years and I couldn’t be happier with it. I have used it countless times to charge phones, my handheld GPS, and other USB devices. It will hold “a ton” of charges!” – Ken J.

1. Anker brand is THE best for portable cell phone chargers (and other USB devices), in my opinion. They’ve been making these for many years, and by far they have the best ratings and reviews over their competition.

2. Their portable chargers use a smart charging technique (PowerIQ) which recognizes what type of device you’re charging and will adjust accordingly to charge at the maximum rate for your specific device.

3. There are different capacity sizes. The one I recommend above is the most popular and has a tremendous capacity (20,000 mAh). With this capacity, you can easily keep all of your mobile devices charged up for days on end.

Compatibility

Compatible with iPhone 13 / 12 / 11 / XS series, iPad Mini 5, Android smartphones and tablets (including the Nexus 7), and other USB devices.

How Does It Work?

Basically it’s a smart battery pack. It’s designed to output the proper voltage and power in order to charge your phone when the power is out or unavailable (and other USB devices such as portable GPS units, for example).

You might first charge the battery pack with a wall charger (ANKER makes the best). Or, you can charge it with a compatible solar charger with USB output (see example solar panel below). And then it’s ready to go!

Here’s an example of one of their wall chargers that I own (actually, I have several). It’s really nice. “Patented PowerIQ and VoltageBoost technologies charge any device at its fastest possible speed.” It can be used to charge the portable battery, or most any USB device.

ANKER DUAL USB 24 WATT CHARGER
(amzn)

ANKER 24 watt dual USB charger

Solar Charger For Cell Phones

The other recommended method how to charge your phone when the power is out, is a solar charger. A portable solar panel which outputs the proper USB voltage and power to charge directly to your phone.

It can also be used to power a battery pack as exemplified above. This is actually a preferred way (using both a battery pack and a solar charger), because it provides a ‘always ready-available’ source of power when you need it to charge your cell phone (because the sun is not always shining!).

The following is my current recommendation. A great choice, 28 watt folding solar panel:

(Upgraded)

Big Blue – 28 Watt Folding Solar Panel Charger
(amzn)

Big Blue 28 watt folding solar panel

The BigBlue 28w solar charger allows you to charge multiple devices at once (including your battery pack). It comes with smart charge technology which can recognize your device smartly – providing optimal charging speed that varies with different devices.

[ Read: Charge AA Batteries – And More – With A Portable Solar Panel ]

The best of both worlds, so to speak, is to have both methods to charge a cell phone if the power goes out.

A portable battery, such as the Anker brand listed above, and a solar panel charger of sufficient power like what I’ve also listed above.

If you are looking for a long term way to charge a mobile cell phone (or other USB devices), a solar charger will essentially last ‘forever’. All you need is sunlight! You could even use it to charge your portable battery.

54 Comments

  1. Another great way to charge your devices during an outage pick up a cigarette lighter plug in USB charger from the qwikee mart or dollar tree. Start your car and you can recharge most USB devices and you can also recharge your battery charger/storage device (item # 1) for future use. Also for less than $50 bucks you can pick up a small inverter from wally world. That way when you are recharging your USB gadgets, you also turn your car into a mobile generator, and can power TV’s, fans, or light duty 110 volt appliances, all at the same time. Your average car uses less than 1/5 of a gallon of fuel idleing for an hour.

    1. I also have a USB Anker Car Charger (cigarette lighter plug).

      Be aware that the ‘cheap’ ones DO NOT CHARGE QUICKLY. They are very low output and will take ‘forever’ to charge a phone. That’s why they are cheap.

      1. I agree completely. The best thing about them is you can still make a phone call when they are plugged in. And everyone can afford one.

      2. Most USB devices won’t tell you when they’re overdrawing a USB charger. They won’t blow a fuse either.
        They’ll just take forever to charge. Look for the output voltage/amperage on the chargers. The higher the output amperage, the more likely your device will charge quickly.

      3. Pretty much anything ANKER holds up. I Also use their cameras for outside use. Good quality

    2. PROBABLY would still charge (at a slightly slower rate) with the engine OFF. But it would depend on how your car is wired, and you might have to put the ignition switch in the accessory position to activate the cigarette lighter plug. If your car battery is already weak, it might be best to crank the engine…

  2. Just a thought, if the “grid down” situation is truly of catastrophic proportions, your cell phone will be useless no matter how charged up it may be. Cell phone towers /repeaters require power too.
    Back-up Generators will only run so long and Big Brother will most likely have the only system in operation. Just Sayin’

    1. Yes indeed. That’s a whole different story if we’re talking catastrophic grid down, EMP style, etc.. ;) That’s ‘Katy bar the door’ hunker-down time!

      That said, cell towers command a very high priority when it comes to repair during or following a disaster. Like you said, the transmitters have generators.

      Your comment reminded me of something: If a cell tower gets clogged up with too many voice calls, texting will nearly always still get through. That’s an important tip to remember.

      1. The texting trick also works in low signal strength area’s. I think it is because text messages are handled as “packets” and do not require constant signal.

        1. I worked in some places in Texas where even having a booster did not allow me to make a call. However, I was able to send out text messages. Besides sending text messages, the only other way we were able to get out and receive info was using the customer reps satellite connection in his office. When I was working in Saudi, most locations had zero cell signal. The crew was given one satellite phone. Plus, we had a satellite dish to contact the outside world if we were given the password.

        2. People in California know this firsthand. Whenever there’s a decent earthquake the cell towers lock down. You won’t be able to make a call. Texts, however will go through. Reason; they only require a minimal burst of bandwidth. Also; if you’re in a sketchy signal area and need to get an emergency message out, send the text even if you don’t have a signal. You may come across a momentary signal, and the text will go out. You may need to “retry” a couple of times.

        3. Yes, when towers become overwhelmed with voice communications, albeit digital (versus the old analog days), text messaging is extremely small / low bandwidth (data) versus voice.

        4. Good reminder of texting. I really never texted until the 2001 ‘quake in the Seattle area. Texts were pretty much the only thing getting through, so I learned fast.

    2. M29
      Over here the cell sites go dead after less than 1/2 hour, i only know of 2 that actually have backup generators and the only reason those sites have gen power is they also serve repeaters for the MPD and MFD, so are critical sites, as far as i know between the gen sets and solar panels and battery banks these sites can run almost indefinitely, the cell part is useless though as without the rest of the network they are dead.

    3. The main use for my cell, motog6 is audiobooks.
      I listen to them often so I have several ways to charge it.

      the usb battery thing
      A solar power system.
      A 12v marine battery box with a volt meter and usb output- that would last weeks charging usb devices.
      2 separate 5 watt solar panels that only have a single usb port on the back.
      2 inverters with usb ports.

      I even have an extra cellphone stored in a small metal box for the same purpose, audio.
      Could care less if it gets reception, I’ll have it and time to listen to my books.

  3. The problem with that, is it’s designed to jump start a vehicle (12 volts @ 1000 Amps). Looks like it might be a nice gadget to have in one’s vehicle…

    It does also have a USB port output – which technically would power a USB device (5 volts) within its own specifications (they claim 4 cell phone recharges). I wouldn’t buy one for the specific purpose of phone charge (there are much better choices), but like I said, it looks like it would work.

  4. My DIL1 got me a hand crank charger for the phone. Don’t know where she got it from, she just said she saw it on-line and thought of me. Works great, took me about 5-6 mins ,know it sounds like a long time, but in a pinch it charged the cell when I wasn’t near the other chargers.

    1. One of my power banks has a hand crank built in. I suspect it would take a long time to fully charge the battery that way, but still it’s nice to have the feature just in case.

    2. I read one of those survival stories where they had a hand crank charger. Then, later in the story, a recent arrival to their group set up a contraption to charge the hand crank using a bicycle.

      1. – INPrepper –
        I read one of those hurricane survival stories from Sandy. Their handcrank radio gave up after using the crank the third time. Unfortunately, that seems to be a common theme.
        – Papa S.

  5. How ironic! My mother just called me and said their power is out. She asked if I would call their power company and report the outage. I said I didn’t have their co. phone #. She gave me the #. I asked her why she didn’t call them herself, and she said her battery was low on her cell phone!!!!!!!!! LOl

  6. Tb, I’ve posted your original comment about your truck. It was originally misinterpreted as being off topic. However it makes sense – with a car adapter USB plug. You could probably charge your whole town’s worth of cell phones with that truck…

    1. No big deal,,,
      I figured you would get it cause you have one,
      Dual batteries, high output alternator, and all the powers of the universe in a 6500# pickup truck
      Ha!
      Well maybe not the universe,

  7. I bought the RAV 24 watt solar panel about a month or so ago. I’ve used it once and it worked quite well, I thought. I had 2 of the 3 USB connections being used at the same time. If I’m not mistaken it charged my android phone by 30 percent within about a half hour. It was a clear, sunny day. I also charged my tablet but I did not take note of the time it took to charge that. But overall I was very pleased.

  8. Livin’ in the Woods,
    You have two of the kits? Have you hooked all six panels to the same controller/gizmo? Just wondered if it would handle 90 watts of input from the panels as opposed to the 45 watts that come with each kit.

    Didn’t know the newer ones were different. Better? Worse? Just different? I have several small panels around here for just in case, 15w, 20w, 5w, etc. Thought about hooking up several similar sized and using the HF controller.

  9. a solar charger, some good rechargeable batteries and a USB charger for them. (i have had Very good luck with the Eneloop’s).
    i have gone almost exclusively with USB ports on all of my stuff. you can recharge most things with it now, solar or even from a vehicle. i have other options put in place, but USB is almost universal now.
    i have heard that it is possible to get power from phone land lines but i have never tried it.

  10. Nice work Cliffhanger. Your set up also works well on a two wheeled hand truck. That’s for the over 40 among us :-).

    That way you can roll it around for best solar access and easily roll it into storage.

  11. I’ve tried using the portable solar panels for charging phones – they dont work. The variable current output from clouds, etc means the phone starts and stops charging too much. Every time it does, it wakes up, draining power from the screen being on.
    The only real solution is to use the panel to charge up a battery unit first, and use it to charge the phone.

    1. That’s good advice. Some solar chargers are better at this problem than others, and will restart the charge after clouds go away. However like I recommend above, first charge the portable battery when there’s sunlight available. Then use that storage to subsequently charge other devices as necessary. Also, set the phone’s display to time-out, go dark, after a set time of non-use. I believe mine is set for a minute.

  12. The Harbor Freight is a 12VDC system. It will work. Just don’t leave it out in the rain.

  13. A fully charged deep-cycle battery will charge many MANY USB devices on one charge with a small inverter, or better yet, a 12V to USB charger. And… AND… you can hook up a set of jumper cables to your car, start the car, and charge the deep-cycle battery. REMEMBER the CAR. with a small inverter you can run low-draw 110VAC devices. Just keep the engine running. Keep your fuel tank at least half full… always! If possible, DON’T use an inverter if you’re trying to charge a 12VDC or less device. Converting 12VDC to 110VAC and then back to 12VDC or 5VDC (USB) wastes A LOT of power!

    1. The issue becomes (if a very long term outage), the battery will eventually lose its charge. That’s one reason I like solar panels. Free energy (when the sun is shining of course). Additionally, a portable folding solar panel is much easier to carry with you while on an ‘expedition’ than a 12-volt car battery (grin).

  14. I would be careful depending on Harbor Freight. Lots of ‘cheap’ stuff from off-shore places. (Though certainly some great bargains on things too – which I have taken advantage of myself).

    Better yet, look at the specifications (if they exist) about your ‘kit’. That’s what matters (assuming they’re accurate). But it’s good that you have something, JIC.

    A ‘hand crank’ radio will take ‘forever’ to charge a cell phone (for example). But again, these items are all good for diversifying one’s preparedness!

    1. A couple cheap solar panels with charge controllers, and a few to several to a dozen good deep cycle batteries and an inverter can be golden if everything goes dark. Basics, light, radio, ????

      1. That’s true. The sky’s the limit, as they say… It’s a matter of the intended application.

        Here in this post, I’m pointing out a few simple solutions to this particular example, charging one’s phone (or other such USB devices). Something you could essentially put in your pocket. Pack it on an expedition. Portable. Inexpensive.

        Another example: More than once I’ve used my Anker battery to provide extended power to a GPS device while out on a long range ATV mission.

        On the other hand, one could build themselves an off-grid system with a 4,000 watt solar panel array charging a bank of 24 12-volt batteries (grin). But that’s another use-case scenario – can’t take that one with you on-the-road!

    2. I actually bought one of these setups used at a yard sale. It’s Chines crap, yes, but it does work. It doesn’t look like it would hold up well in the rain or hail though. Still it’ll top off deep-cycle batteries,and the multi-voltage breakout box can be handy.

      I also have an Eaton FR-300 AM/FM/weather radio that can be powered by AA batteries, a hand-crank, and an external 6Vdc input. It also has a cell phone charger output but it uses a proprietary cable, which mine, bought used, doesn’t have. This is actually a really sensitive radio, people. I’m a radio geek. I tend to collect things like this. The only radio receiver I have that’s more sensitive out of the box than the Eaton is my 70’s era Zenith Transoceanic. That’s saying something as that Zenith is a hell of a radio!

      Truly though folks, there are SO MANY options for charging things off the grid, if you get caught with your pants down on this, it’s your own fault! I’m old school; a couple of deep-cycle batteries kept on charge with the necessary adapters and cables for what I intend to connect to them. If you’re tight on space, consider one of those “power stations” marketed to jump start your car. The can be kept on charge in a corner somewhere, can be charged off of solar… or your car,… and can charge a cell phone many times on a charge. The newer ones even have inverters on them!

      Speaking of inverters; a previous poster mentioned that cheaper inverters provide a modified square wave instead of a sine wave output. This is also true of generators and UPS units. TRY what you have to check for compatibility BEFORE you need it!

      1. Also, to be clear, in my opinion not all Chines is crap. There is some crap. There’s some good stuff, and there is also some pretty darn good stuff (they’ve been manufacturing for quite a while now and have figured this stuff out.). That said, I do like to support ‘Merican when there’s something worth the extra money for Amercian Made. Depends on what it is. But that’s not always the case.

        The main point is to look at the specs. Read reviews. If it’s junk, it should become clear based on what others have to say about it.

        You mentioned your FR-300. Years ago I bought a FR-200, back when it had ‘Grundig’ on the label. Nice little wind-up. I think it’s in a Faraday cage somewhere… Still can’t beat my Sony portable for sensitivity.

  15. I have an older Anker 20,000mAH (mine has 2 USB A ports, but no USB C) and the Big Blue 28 watt solar panel, and agree with Ken’s comments/opinions on those items.

    But after the Texas ERCOT disaster, I was looking for something a bit bigger. I bought an Anker PowerHouse II 400 to supplement the smaller Anker Power Bank. It has about 5x the battery capacity of the 20,000mAH unit (388 watt hours vs 72 watt hours) which is handy. Yes, it is expensive compared to the smaller unit, but adds several features that are useful to me.

  16. I bought something very similar 5/6 yrs ago. Name on it is minn Kota battery power center. Has external +/- terminals, trolling boat 10 amp & 60 amp breakers, led battery indicator, two cig ports, made with heavy duty plastic, made for deep cell marine battery. No solar charging though, yet. DB thinking about diy, not me, electrical anything I am a dummy. GGM

  17. I’m not sure it’s worth tapping an analog phone line for power (unless you’re desperate for a trickle of electrons).
    It’s my understanding that typical loop current is 25-ish mA, so 25mA @ 5V would be 0.125 watts… about 1/20th of the weakest USB port (back when they only supplied 500mA).
    I think the idea is cool, but not useful in practice.

  18. I can imagine stiff penalties for disruption of phone service possibly in an emergency?
    Best not even try, you could prevent someone getting help with unnecessary interference and misuse of a system you know nothing about.
    Not harmless, not yours to play with.

  19. PROBABLY would still charge (at a slightly slower rate) with the engine OFF. But it would depend on how your car is wired, and you might have to put the ignition switch in the accessory position to activate the cigarette lighter plug. If your car battery is already weak, it might be best to crank the engine…

  20. I got these handy dandy devices that i can slide onto either my makita or milwaukee tool batteries that will charge most devices and such that plug into a USB, or i plug them into the outlet in my Jeep, kinda a nice thing i discovered in it, or connect my inverter to anything with a 12v charging system and voila, 120v power

  21. My dog ate my phone sunday morning.. seriously, chewed the corners.
    It’s dead Dave, Dave.. it’s dead.

    But I have my home made power supply that running off a 12v car battery will last possibly weeks if only small things are charged like cellphones, music players.
    I have 3 unused car battery’s that are good, that will operate my homemade usb charger thing for a very long time.
    I did purchase a small usb battery bank similar to the anker above, they work nicely.

  22. A big fan of the halo bolt
    It’s a power bank that you can jump start car/power up laptop and other devices and has an outlet in addition to usb ports (charge via wall outlet or car plug)

    I have jump started both an suv and sedan with it so I know it works
    Gave one to god daughter when she went away to college and got for my parents to have available too
    Costs just ~$100 and weighs over 2lbs (little bit smaller than box of tricuits) They make one without the outlet and gas air compressor instead

  23. It’s ironic that Ken just brought this topic back for review. There was a fire at work overnight, a lithium battery decided to go Tesla, thank God it is a concrete building. Fire Dept had to do some damage to make entry. Thank God twice it didn’t happen in my lab or work area, but over at the ‘skunk works’ section.

    Folks, lithium batteries like the one shown on the power bank above are amazing because of the energy density, there is a lot of bang potential inside a small package; it took decades to get the chemistry stable enough to use and sometimes runaway thermal reactions happen anyway. For myself I keep anything lithium-based with a potential of more than 20 watt hours locked inside a fireproof steel box until I’m ready to use it. Be careful! Often you can notice a lithium battery swelling, hissing, heating up and out-gassing just before it goes, often it is long enough to kick it outside and get away.

  24. To Tmac: Thank you for the warning on Lithium Battery Units. Having just purchased a portable power station, now I am kind of nervous about where to place it. I have noticed that with these units, you either end up with a good one and it works for a long time or it goes bad relatively quick/soon after purchase and use. Now that you had one explode inside a room, I am curious how you go about cleaning up the area/decontamination of interior walls of battery chemicals. It makes me glad I bought the smaller, lighter unit these days. (I can move it outside quickly)

    Have a happy Thanksgiving and thank you for the warning. It sounds like you may be working today as I am.

  25. Several on the newer dynamo emergency radio’s are capable of charging a cell phone.Powered by man.How unique!!

    1. I have 2 small radio’s that are supposed to do that, dull-long crank time.
      Remember how long it takes to charge your phone with the wall charger???
      Takes longer with the crank thing, much longer.
      The best you can do it a partial charge to see if it can connect or to utilize some of the phones functions.

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