Many preppers seem to think that a catastrophe would automatically cause society to revert to the 1800’s and that no electronics will survive. This unspoken assumption is not necessarily accurate, since there are a number of ways in which electronics can survive a crisis and play an important role in a survival or SHTF situation, particularly for short- and medium-term or local situations, such as storms, fires, or when forced to evacuate or go mobile. This article explores the advantages of some devices in various categories: physical needs, information, communications, and morale.
Understanding Modern Lithium-ion Batteries
Before we delve into specific devices, a word on modern Lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion or LIB) is in order. These batteries run most modern electronics, because they are very powerful and hold their charges extremely well. I have one that is used for jumping cars that loses almost no charge after being stored in a metal cabinet for months. That particular gem, an Antigravity Micro-Start, actually jump started a marine motor on a 32-foot boat once and then, several months later without recharging, jump started a Ram 2500 V-8 hemi. At the end, it still showed half of its power remained. Gone are the days of huge, heavy jump-packs with their own long terminal cables and clamps. The whole Antigravity package is slightly larger than a paperback book, contains adapters for every conceivable connection, and is only a touch heavier at 14.1 ounces, including the case. If you want to have a backup for batteries, to charge laptops, run 12v gear, and more, this 12000mAh beast fills the bill and has a built-in flashlight so you can see what you’re doing at the same time. The Antigravity can itself be recharged from a wall-plug or cigarette lighter socket. This one has a permanent place in both my everyday toolkit and my medium GOOD bag, because you never know when you need that kind of power to move stalled cars or do some of the other things described above.
All of the amazing performance of Lithium-ion batteries is contingent, however, on the proper treatment of the battery. They must, must, be fully charged prior to the first use. Failure to do so will mean that your battery will never reach its full potential. Lithium-ion batteries should also not be stored where the temperature will exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit (50 Celsius) or lower than -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius). You don’t want to store them with a 100% charge either. Use the device for a while until it is around 40%, then store it in a cool, dry place. This rules out leaving these devices in your get home bag in the trunk of a car. Don’t do that. Put them into your get-out-of-Dodge bag or your long-term evacuation/retreat bag that sits in some climate-controlled area, like a basement or storage area, and make a note or calendar entry to charge them and use them every six months. There is a lot of information and disinformation online regarding the safety of Lithium-ion batteries. One good source is batteryuniversity.com, which explains why the first generations of the batteries were problematic along with the science of how really low-charge Lithium-ion batteries can form bridges which can be a problem. (Below 2.00 v/ cell charge for more than a week can cause copper shunts in the cells that can cause shorting, heat, or anomalies.) If the batteries do not reach this point, the problems should not occur. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow those instructions. (Yes, read the manual; it is necessary for this technology.) If you’re like me, you’ll store them in an ammo can anyway, so in the highly unlikely event that the battery does become a problem, it cannot harm anything else.
Powering and Protecting the Gear
The following items are all small, compact, light and mobile, powered by Lithium batteries, and rechargeable by USB (computer and android cell phone) charging cables and connections so that the user can be mobile, discreet, or operate as the situation dictates. It is not intended to be a substitute for an extensive compound in a remote location. If you have that kind of setup, you’ve already got generators, solar arrays, or other means of powering normal tools, and you undoubtedly have the tools in place and need read no further, unless you have a proper fallback plan that involves going mobile.
The astute reader will note that many of the items listed are expensive and all are potentially vulnerable to EMP. They should be stored in anti-static bags and then in larger metal containers or Faraday cages to protect against EMP. I use stainless steel Lunchbots available online to enclose small items in a crush-resistant and solid, electrically conductive shell, and I also picked up a .50 caliber ammo can that someone had thoughtfully lined in closed-cell foam slabs, which shield the contents from shocks and keep them from touching the metal can. Most of the devices listed in here fit handily within that single ammo can. A very few others are stored in a steel safe or within their protective bags in a lined metal cabinet. In summary, the devices should be protected so they are able to survive any catastrophe that I can survive because they will contribute substantially to getting me through the following days.
Mobile and Emergency Charging
The heart of a mobile or emergency rechargeable USB system is a hand-crank dynamo charging a battery or, where feasible, a small solar charger with integral battery so that the charge can be stored and used whenever or wherever needed.
Eton makes a basic hand-crank charger in the Eton Boost Turbine 2000 that has a 2000mAh battery. Larger sizes are available for a higher price, but the basic one is less than $20 on Amazon and less expensive as the holidays approach. They are all very compact, measuring only 5″ long, 2.2″ high, and 1″ thick, and weighing between seven and nine ounces, depending on the model. Cranking is not difficult, but it is repetitive. On the upside, however, you can do it while sitting, standing, walking, hiking, or pretty much any normal activity that doesn’t involve your hands. Here’s a nice touch: the turbine battery is itself capable of being charged by a micro-USB, so you can start your journey with a full battery without cranking and when there is sunshine you can also use a solar charger to bring this battery up using the same micro-USB. When the battery is full, the manufacturer says it is capable of charging most cellphones two times from a full charge, and most of the devices in this article take less power than a cell phone. Your mileage may vary, of course, but if you have a larger battery on your phone or device, you may want the larger turbine model.
Once you start exploring, you’ll realize there is an incredible array of USB-rechargeable Li-ion battery-powered devices these days: water purifiers, lighters, tactical lights and lasers, e-readers, phones, radios, and even some shavers and powered toothbrushes. The last ones are luxuries to be sure, but we’ll talk about why they can be important below.
First, let’s start with basics, such as light in the darkness. Headlamps like the Petzl Tikka RXP are USB-chargeable. This particular model has white and red lighting mode, wide light and beam light out to 200+ yards, depending on the power setting, and both the wide and beam light can be used together. At the lowest settings, it is rated to last for 12 hours, while on the most powerful settings it will last up to three hours. Should you choose to run on AAA batteries, there is an adapter that allows that too. It is water-resistant, shock resistant, and designed for gloves-on use. About the only thing I dislike about this light is that the USB cable supplied with it is ridiculously short (about 10″), so a longer charging cable will be handy.
Tactical flashlights are also now being made in USB-rechargeable formats by reputable manufacturers such as Streamlight, Nitecore, and others. Besides the standard light, eye-searing light, and blinding strobes, the devices themselves are nearly indestructible. Other (much) less expensive devices include the USB rechargeable Streamlight ClipMate, which has a flat battery portion designed to clip onto a pocket, strap, harness, or even a hat while the light portion is on a flexible neck to focus red or white light where it is needed, say, on a map or under a car hood.
There are even a handful of USB-rechargeable laser sights available online (disclaimer: author has not used any of those sights and cannot comment on their reliability). For those who are extremely well-heeled, FLIR has a small infrared imaging device and moisture meter that uses USB-rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries, the FLIR MR160 as well as some other thermal imaging devices but so far their top-tier thermal imaging rifle scopes still require CR123 batteries. Other night-vision devices do not appear to have adopted Lithium-ion technology at this point, but it is an area that should be monitored for new developments.
Whatever your choice, any reasonable nighttime, underground, or emergency lighting need can be met through USB-rechargeable devices.