Portable Power Banks – What To Look For Before Purchasing

Solar powered battery banks are a key element to a hike

We’ve all had that time when we were out of the house and we go to check our phone, flip it on and scroll the Instagram feed… And while we check out that photo from The Rock… BOOM the power shuts down and you’re a lone wolf that has to twiddle your fingers and toss your fidget spinner around…

Portable power banks have become a key asset in the family of phone and electronic chargers. The main point of these batteries is to charge your devices while on the go when you do not have ready access to a power outlet.

Whether you’re biking, at a sports game, or hiking/backpacking, portable power banks are important for people on the go and who need some extra power close at hand.

In recent years, power banks have stepped up their game in a wide variety of ways. This comes in the form of:


Power Capacity

Charging rate

Let’s get into the details…

Element #1 – Features of Battery Banks

Other than simply charging your device, there have been many innovations to assist with where you’re taking your battery. This includes:

  • Battery charge status indicators
  • Onboard flashlights
  • Water-resistant and rugged housings for the battery
  • Built-in solar cells to charge the battery on the go
  • Versatile outputs
  • Phone case-style battery charger (Mophie cases).

Important Element #2 – Battery Power Capacity

This is one of the most crucial areas to look for when considering the purchase of a portable power bank. The battery is measured in mAh or milliampere-hours and is an important aspect to consider because it shows you how much juice is in the battery. For example, chargers range from anywhere from 2,000 mAh to 30,000 mAh for the really powerful chargers.

Let’s say you had a battery that had 10,000 mAh. This means that for every full charge, you can power up your device at the maximum 10,000 milliamps (or 10 amps) for one hour. So that being said, your iPhone is not going to charge at 10,000 milliamps because that is a huge surge of power. Since the iPhone draws in about 1 amp with the standard power brick, you can charge your phone for 10 hours or about 7-8 times over before the battery bank runs out of juice. Now, if you have an iPad, the standard charge brick that comes with it is rated to handle 2.1 amps, so you can charge your iPad or tablet of similar size for about half the time as an iPhone (5 hours or 3.5-4 times with a 10,000 mAh battery), because the tablet is taking in more energy to charge up.

It’s important to know these measurements to decide which devices that you’re going to need to charge while you’re either off the grid completely or without access to a wall outlet for a while. If you have a tablet, they take more current out of a battery so they will probably need a larger portable power bank to charge it up. It all depends on what you’re charging.

Element #3 – Charging Rate

With a standard USB 5 Volt output on most portable power banks, the charging rate is typically 1-2 amps or a little more than two amps. The higher the amperage, the faster your phone or device will charge up. But you need to make sure that the device you’re charging and the power cable attached can run at a higher current as well before charging.

BEWARE: Some battery banks will give an absurd number of amps on the label or description. For example: “5 amps” or something high like that. This means that the total amount of amps is spread across all of the ports, so if there are three USB ports, then this means that each port has about 1.7 amps, or that one port is stronger than the other port (2 amps on one port, 2 amps on another, and only 1 amp on the third). Don’t be fooled by these little marketing techniques.

An example of this amperage spread across port options can be found in my article on solar chargers for cell phones. In the middle of my post I give three top solar panel chargers and you will see that two of the three options have limits on their amperage “spread” when charging multiple devices.

You can find this post right here: How Long Does It Take a Solar Charger to Charge a Cell Phone?.

Overall, these are the main factors to consider before looking to purchase a portable battery bank. Obviously, it’s easy to get lost in the sauce of all of the different batteries out there, but if you want a battery that will be reliable and sustainable for a while, knowing these measurements are crucial.

If you’re interested in solar power banks, I created a list of my top seven picks for the off-grid user. You can find them here: Top 7 Solar Panel Battery Banks – A Battle for Power.

Max Peters

Hi! I'm Max and I am passionate about off-grid solar technology and adventure! I'm using my knowledge of solar generators, solar panels, and everything in between to provide you with the best tools to keep you powered while off the grid. Read more about me here: About Max Peters."

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