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how to charge your phone in an emergency

Smartphones can be important tools in an emergency. Besides providing the chance to call for help, a phone can act as a flashlight, compass and GPS. But all of a phone’s functions rely on the battery and the features most useful in a pinch are the ones that consume the most charge.

Once the battery is flat, the phone becomes nothing more than a lump of plastic and metal. There are, however, a few ways to charge your phone in an emergency, when a power outlet or computer isn’t available. These solutions range from mundane to truly innovative.

Car Charger

how to charge your phone in an emergency

Let’s start simple.

Car chargers are cheap, widely available for all sorts of devices and vehicles, and will work so long as there’s a vehicle nearby with an energy provider.

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Most car chargers work in the same way, so buying a specific version isn’t important. Just remember that iPhones will need a compatible charger or an adapter. Also keep an eye out for dual-USB chargers, which are handy if you’d like to charge two phones or a phone and a second device.

Backup Battery

emergency phone charger

In many situations a car charger is all you’ll need. But what if a car isn’t available, is out of fuel/battery, or you don’t want to waste gas on charging a phone? That’s where a backup battery comes in.

These products are literally large batteries with ports for connecting phones or other USB device. Those designed to charge smartphones are usually no larger than one, so they’re easy to store in a drawer, backpack or glovebox. And while not cheap, batteries large enough to fully charge two phones can be purchased for under $50.

A backup battery is a temporary solution, however. Eventually it too will run out of charge, so you’ll be left back at square one. Batteries also lose charge over time (even when not in use) and can be damaged by extreme temperatures.

Solar Charger

emergency phone charger

Unlike the first two options, a solar charger fully solves the problem. You can theoretically use a phone indefinitely without access to central power if you have a solar charger. All that’s required is access to the sun, and even a moderately overcast day will produce enough energy to charge your phone.

Size can be an issue, however. While pocket-size chargers are sold, they don’t work well. A larger folding charger is needed for reliable power. Cost can be an issue, too, because large panels sell for between $100 and $200 online. Still, no other option can match the versatility and reliability of solar.

Hand-Crank Charger

emergency phone charger

You’ve probably heard of hand-crank flashlights, but did you know there are hand-crank chargers? Yep, it’s a thing, and you can buy one for $60 online. Hand-crank chargers work by converting the energy of your crank into charge, which is then transferred either to your phone or an internal battery. This means they always work. If you can crank, your phone can charge.

Don’t expect it to charge quickly, however, unless there’s also charge stored in the internal battery. Most modern smartphones will require a few minutes of cranking before they have enough charge to send a text, and any real conversation demands a good ten to twenty minutes twirling away. These problems make hand-crank chargers an option of last resort.

BioLite CampStove

how to charge your phone in an emergency

Here’s an idea. Instead of charging your phone with something built for only that purpose, why not charge while performing another essential task? Like, say – cooking!

That’s what the BioLite CampStove offers. Unlike most camp stoves, which run of small canisters of fuel (like propane), the BioLite stove is engineered to run off almost any flammable biomass. Twigs, leaves, pine cones – this stove can burn it all. Once the fire starts its energy can be harnessed to charge USB devices. Or make dinner 10 Best Websites To Find Awesome Camping Recipes & Outdoor Cooking Tips 10 Best Websites To Find Awesome Camping Recipes & Outdoor Cooking Tips Summer is almost upon the northern hemisphere, and official camping season is just around the corner. An important and integral part of any camping trip, be it car camping, backpacking or just a day camp... Read More .

The BioLite sells or $129.95, which is a bit expensive. And while small for a camp stove, this is by far the largest device on this list. But if you can find storage, or you’re planning to camp anyway, this stove is a great way to keep your phone charged.

Conclusion

These five options cover many situations. There’s no single choice that is best in ever scenario, but all are reliable. If you can only have just one besides the car charger (really, everyone should have a car charger, even if you don’t own a car), I recommend picking a hand-crank charger with internal battery.

Want to know more about how to charge your phone in an emergency? Read our guides on extending battery life How to Make Your Phone's Battery Last Longer and Hold More Juice How to Make Your Phone's Battery Last Longer and Hold More Juice Battery life is one of the biggest struggles of modern-day electronics. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops all deal with it -- so what can you do to maximize the amount of time you get per charge? Read More and using a smartphone in extreme weather Winter Is Coming: Using A Smartphone Or Tablet In Extreme Weather Conditions Winter Is Coming: Using A Smartphone Or Tablet In Extreme Weather Conditions From time to time I have to venture outside and this can mean using my phone, tablet or even (in rare cases) a laptop to get work done while in transit. Extremes of weather can... Read More And if you’re in the market for a new phone, don’t forget to check out our smartphone review and buying guide.

  1. Anonymous
    March 20, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    i don't car

    • Funny you care
      June 7, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      You care enough to comment... 5 times

  2. Taylah
    July 23, 2013 at 2:58 am

    I have a htc one v and it is completely dead . The enter part of my phone for the charger is broken. How else can i charge it ? And it does not have a battery.

  3. Joyce
    May 2, 2013 at 11:55 am

    There are portable chargers that run on 2AA batteries

  4. Oleksandr O
    April 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    I use portable solar charger with internal battery. For my smartphone it's more than enough.

    • shut up
      March 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      i don't care

    • shut up
      March 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      i don't care

      • Stop Harassing People Online
        May 4, 2016 at 7:03 am

        @Shut Up , Stop being a stuck up keyboard warrior.

  5. Nevzat A
    April 22, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Well, I just have my backup battery called "Greenmate Powerbank". It looks great small enough to carry in my bag. I feel safer with it.

    • shut up
      March 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      i don't car

    • shut up
      March 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      i don't care

  6. Stephanie Staker
    April 18, 2013 at 3:31 am

    Wow, how interesting these ideas are, Matt! I really like the idea of the BioLife stove. Just an hour or so ago, I saw a TED video on using fecal matter (yeah, yuck, I know) for cooking fuel. In some areas of the world there are people doing just that. Very interesting and talk about real ecology, right? Thanks for the article.

  7. derp
    April 17, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    If you want an all-in-one backup option that is camper friendly, GoalZero makes a combo kit that is a solar panel plus a 4xAA battery pack. You can use the solar panel to charge the battery pack, then use the battery pack to charge your phone (or just use the AAs in other stuff). AA's dont have enough juice to fully charge a smartphone, but it can give you a boost in a pinch.

    Charging directly from solar does NOT work well; do it from a battery pack instead. Phones like a steady current, and one cloud can cause your phone to dip in and out of charging mode. Given that phones often turn their screens on when they start charging, this can cause your phone to wake/sleep itself to death.

  8. Pat
    April 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    My husband has the Iphone and he also uses it to check his pulse and he can even use it as a speedometer in our van.

  9. J.w. Saret
    April 16, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    I have a charger which gets energy from both sun and wind. It cost just over $30 with shipping and handling from some close out list I get. I like the notion of a hand crank and I will look into a crank adapter for the wind blades. I have a folding bio-mass stove and I wonder if just the charger is available as an add on.

  10. Allen Coleman
    April 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    How about the MyFC PowerTrekk hydrogen fuel cell based USB charger?

  11. Budd Margolis
    April 16, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Samsung replacement battery under $10 works for me.

    • Tina Sieber
      April 18, 2013 at 11:54 am

      Sure beats the iPhone.

  12. LAG
    April 15, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    If I have the adapter cord, it's not an emergency.

    If you want to address a real emergency, tell me how to charge it when I don't have the cord or access to a replacement.

    • Guy McDowell
      April 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm

      That's not an emergency, unless you need your phone to call the police, fire department, or ambulance. Then it's an emergency.

      What you've described is just poor planning. It can be overcome by asking to borrow a phone or finding a pay phone. They're few and far between, but they do exist.

  13. Robert
    April 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    How superficial, pathetic and just downright sad that people are so worried about their phones.

  14. Igor Rizvic
    April 15, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Im gonna make a solar charger for my laptop,,great article..thanks for the ideas!! :)

  15. geo1
    April 15, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    My backup plan is an emergency radio that cost around $50 and includes hand crank and solar charger. Eton brand and many other possibilities.

  16. James LaBarre
    April 15, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    In an emergency???? Gee, all these options suggest having planned alternative options for charging your phone, so by definition they NO LONGER constitute an "emergency". The headline is the typical illiterate abuse of the English language seen in the media these days. All hype, no logic or intelligence.

    • Guy McDowell
      April 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      Planning ahead does not negate the emergency, it just makes it more bearable and hopefully easier to recover from.

      If you were looking for something a little more MacGyver-ish, might I suggest that you take some copper wire from another device, connect it to a low-amp 12v battery and put the wires to the appropriate contacts on the battery port?

      Or you could make an array of batteries that puts out about the same voltage as your phone requires and connect that to the battery terminals.

      Or Google 'earth batteries' and try powering your cell-phone like that. Of course, if it comes to that point, having a cell phone won't matter much because the zombies will have eaten you.

    • Charlie O.
      April 16, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Yeah. I see what you're on to, James. Though I need to say that SOME of these options could be used in an emergency, such as hand crank or solar, the rest do seem to insinuate some foreknowledge of the impending inconvenience, and therefore not much of an emergency. Still, if a catastrophic event simply left you without utilities, charging your phone in your car would be a viable solution and it is, after all, an emergency. However, at that point, your phone is a camera-compass-unassisted GPS because in a REAL emergency, there won't be any cell towers working.

      To your credit, there is a serious washing down of both vocabulary and, more importantly, hype based and misdirected focus and intent in much of what gets 'written' in any media. Sure, writers have the right to use catchy titles, but these days there's mostly a disconnect between the title, the opening ideas and often enough, the various points that comprise the body of the work. I'm getting the idea that MUO may be somewhat of a stop-over for writers who didn't learn to write in collage or (Heaven forbid!) high school. Its nice if you've decided to pick a new direction in life, or add a bullet point to your resume, or you were bored... but there are forums and outlets that can help you BEFORE you get started. That actually brings us to wonderful place of irony - if you're writing an article on preparedness, and you're not prepared to write, which gadget do you plug in at that point?

      Lastly, as more fuel for your argument, there was an official talking, very unnecessarily, on the news after the tragedy in Boston, and he was asking for help from the local citizenry. I was watching with my kids. He asked the people to "remain vigilant", I'm assuming because the investigators need help, which is fine. But, I had to have a 20 minute discussion with the kids on vigilance vs. reaction. It is absolutely true that our understanding of our own language is spiraling downwards into Newspeak, but we're doing it to ourselves. We need lingual vigilance before we end up having to react.

  17. Diana Silander
    April 15, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    I truly didn't know about the hand crank, solar panels or camp stove. That last one is a marvel. To think you could cook dinner and charge is cool.

  18. Onaje Asheber
    April 15, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I wish that this was written at the time ordered a pocket charger. I would have some money. Now I will buy a Solar charger.

  19. Jess Gulbranson
    April 15, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Well, I guess it depends on your definition of emergency, but I've noticed in shopping malls a lot of the vending machines and kiosks are offering courtesy outlets and USB ports to charge your device while you wait.

    • Anonymous
      April 25, 2015 at 2:14 pm

      yu smell lik pure ass

  20. harley
    April 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Good to know after 3 days with no power after an ice storm. We have a generator, which we used to charge the cellphone, also have a solar charger which I didn't know about charging but will keep in mind for the next disaster.

  21. Endomancer
    April 14, 2013 at 12:17 am

    & if someone wants to make a peddle powered phone charger....
    ... that would be awesome

  22. macwitty
    April 13, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Got a Backup Battery as a gift on fair for some years ago and it still work even ig it takes tie to charge. Do not use it very often. Would like to get a Hand-Crank Charger but $ 60 is a bit of money and knowing how much I have used the Backup Battery I can not justify a purchase. Car Charger? Well, when I have run out of battery I have been miles away from any car.

  23. Harshit J
    April 13, 2013 at 4:31 am

    I would rather throw my phone very high in the air and covert my body's chemical energy into kinetic energy and the phone will get charged automatically with such technology. This will make good use of durable Nokia phones for playing catch and throw games while charging the phone. Jokes apart, thanks for the great article.

    • Guy McDowell
      April 15, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      In theory, that is possible. There are electronic devices that convert any vibration into an electrical output. Perhaps you're onto something there.

  24. ASHOK KUMAR
    April 13, 2013 at 2:55 am

    better to carry an extra battery than these tools

    • Kwesi Jackson
      May 2, 2013 at 7:53 pm

      yipp, as a guaranteed large store of immediate power

    • Ali Hussain
      May 16, 2015 at 8:23 pm

      yeah bro u r ryt..

  25. Brad
    April 13, 2013 at 1:15 am

    There is also:
    http://www.thepowerpot.com/
    The power pot is similar to biolite in many ways, except you have many more fuel options than you would with Biolite.

    Also eton makes a cheaper model without the extra battery backup that still has the crank charger.
    http://www.amazon.com/American-CLIPRAY-ARCCR100R_SNG-Charger-Flashlight/dp/B003BYROUQ/ref=pd_sxp_f_pt

  26. Shaun Campbell
    April 13, 2013 at 12:52 am

    I wish I had known about the BioLite CampStove sooner. Thanks Makeuseof.

  27. JR Cairo
    April 13, 2013 at 12:42 am

    How about Waka Waka?

    • H. Rodrig
      April 15, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Very helpful article. I never thought about secondary chargers

    • Tina Sieber
      April 18, 2013 at 11:50 am

      The WakaWaka Power (solar charger) is not on the market, yet. However, they will start shipping in May and I can't wait to get mine! :)

  28. martyn jones0
    April 13, 2013 at 12:35 am

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