Pat Cascio’s Product Review: Rechargeable Batteries and Chargers

Disclaimer: I make no pretense that I’m an expert in electronics, batteries, or devices that use batteries in them. However, as I’ve stated numerous times in my SurvivalBlog articles, I’m a serious student, and I’m always increasing my learning curve on many subjects. I have many devices that use all battery sizes, with AA and AAA batteries being the most commonly used batteries. We were always buying batteries and would rotate through them, all to no avail! Before we could rotate through our battery supply, some of the Alkaline batteries would already be dead or leaking. That’s not a good thing in a survival situation. Additionally, no matter how well you store your batteries, the shelf life isn’t nearly as long as you believe it is.

In the past two months, I’ve had to replace the four AAA batteries in my tv remote, five times! Furthermore, when these batteries gave up the ghost, they didn’t give any hint that they were getting low; the tv remote just stopped working, period! According to the packages that these batteries came from, they were only a couple years old, and none were leaking.

Many of today’s hi-intensity, small flashlights operate off of either AA or AAA batteries, and some of these lights can take as many as four batteries. Sure, these little flashlights have a good run time with many running up to six hours, depending on the lumens settings. Still, these little batteries can only last so long in a device or sitting on your shelf.

Over the years, I’ve been buying various types and brands of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries and experimenting with them. First off, don’t believe what the package says about how many times you can recharge the batteries…not even close. Secondly, the packages state that the batteries are good for “X” number of years; nope! Then we have the statement that says “batteries come fully charged”. Well, that hasn’t always been my experience, as many needed to be charged before I could use them. In all honesty, it really doesn’t seem to matter what brand name is stamped on the batteries, they all seem to work about as well as the other brand.

Now we have the actually battery chargers. Some of the rechargeable batteries actually come with a charger for free! However, don’t get your hopes up as to how well these chargers work or how long it takes to recharge several batteries. In my experience, some of these charges can take as long as a day to recharge your batteries. Now, while that may not be a big issue right now, in a grid down situation when you need to use your gas-powered generator to recharge your batteries, do you really want to run your generator all day long to recharge your batteries? Do you have the fuel to keep your generator going for as long as it may take to keep those batteries charged up? Probably not!

We also need to keep in mind which devices use up our batteries faster than others. Digital cameras are notorious for using up batteries, whether Alkaline or rechargeable batteries. Even when not turned on, most digital cameras will drain the batteries. It’s strange! You’ll also want a charger that can recharge both AA and AAA batteries. Some will only recharge one or the other. I don’t mix the different battery sizes when I recharge the batteries. That’s just me!

Let’s take a look at the cost of standard Alkaline batteries vs rechargeable batteries. On the surface, if you don’t start to add things up, Alkaline batteries appear to be less expensive, but it’s not even close. You will spend (literally) a few bucks more when you purchase a 4-pack of rechargeable batteries, compared to Alkaline batteries. However, when the Alkaline batteries go dead, you have to toss them in the trash. When your rechargeable batteries die, you simply recharge them over and over and over again. The savings is obvious; rechargeable batteries are a much better buy no matter how you look it. In the past, many rechargeable batteries didn’t run as long as an Alkaline battery. However, any more, that’s no longer the case, at least with most rechargeable batteries. I’ve run side-by-side tests using Alkaline batteries in a device and then using the rechargeable batteries in the same device. In most cases, the run time was about the same, and in some cases the rechargeable batteries actually lasted longer than the Alkaline batteries.

Now, I’m not saying you should not buy regular batteries; I’m not saying that at all. You will need some standard, non-rechargeable batteries on hand in the event you can’t get to your battery charger to recharge your rechargeable batteries. Maybe your generator is down, or you ran out of fuel and can’t get those batteries charged back up, or perhaps, you’re in a situation, where it might not be a good idea to run your generator for whatever reason.

Let’s take another look at battery chargers for a moment. As I mentioned, a lot of rechargeable batteries actually come with a charger, but it can take as long as a day to recharge those batteries once they lose power. That’s not a good thing, and you sure can’t afford to run your generator for a whole day to recharge some batteries. Shop around, and get one of the 1-hour battery chargers. They don’t cost very much, and in most cases they actually will recharge your dead batteries in a hour or maybe a little longer. So, you don’t have to run your generator in a grid down situation all day long, wasting what little fuel you may have stored up. Plan to recharge your batteries in a grid down situation so that the generator is not just charging batteries. Maybe you need to run your refrigerator once or twice a day for an hour. That’s a great time to recharge your batteries, too. The thing is not to waste all that precious fuel just to recharge your batteries. Time it to coincide with other generator uses.

When you head out to purchase some rechargeable batteries, DON’T go and purchase ten packages at one time. Purchase one or two. Then in a couple of months, make another purchase. This way you’ll be getting fresher/newer batteries each time you make a purchase and as you start using and recharging your batteries, try to keep track of the number of times you’ve recharged those same batteries. It’s easy enough to do. Remember, don’t expect your rechargeable batteries to recharge as many times as the battery maker claims, and don’t expect them to have a five or ten year life. It ain’t gonna happen. Make sure you mark on the packages of batteries the date you purchased them, too.

One more thing to think about is the barter uses of rechargeable batteries. You can certainly barter away rechargeable batteries, assuming you have a good supply on-hand. Then you can barter once again with the same people, if they need those batteries recharged later on. It’s a win-win situation, if you ask me. Or, perhaps, you tell those folks that you gave four batteries to in exchange for a carton of soup that when those batteries are dead they can bring them back and you’ll exchange them for freshly recharged batteries in exchange for something else, and then decide on what barter items they need to bring with them if they want freshly recharged batteries. To be sure, batteries take up very little space, so over time you can build up a good supply of rechargeable batteries for barter use. While you can certainly use standard, non-rechargeable batteries for barter, it’s much better (for you) to have a good supply of rechargeable batteries that you can barter away and then barter again and again when those batteries run down. Think about it!

Let me touch on one more thing, as long as I’m discussing barter items. How about stocking up on some of those cheap flashlights from the local dollar store? Talk about a wonderful barter item. You can use the flashlight for barter as well as the rechargeable batteries. If someone is in the dark for any extended period of time, they will give just about anything for a source of light; even a cheap flashlight is better than no flashlight at all.

In the final analysis, it just seems like a good idea to stock up on rechargeable batteries, at least for devices that use AA and AAA batteries, which are the most commonly used batteries these days. Standard, non-rechargeable batteries are a waste of your money in the long run, in my humble opinion. You wouldn’t buy a gun that you could only use one time and when it was empty you had to throw it away. So, why purchase batteries that can only be used once and then must be discarded? Think about it.

In the end, make sure you purchase a good battery charger, too. Don’t depend on those little cheap ones that come with many rechargeable batteries. Also, remember that one is none, and two is one; buy a backup battery charger.

– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio