Ultralight Backpacking 101: Power Banks (Buyer’s Guide)

Power Banks: A backpacker is using a power bank to charge her phone while on the trail

In this post, we'll take a look at:

As you journey into the world of ultralight backpacking, there’s something crucial you need to know about – power banks.

These nifty devices can be your best friend on the trail, keeping your gadgets charged and your adventures on track.

But here’s the catch: it’s a balancing act between capacity and weight, and we’re here to help you make the best choice.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Balance power capacity and weight – more capacity equals more charges but adds weight. Consider trip length and recharge access.
  • Prioritize quality, compatibility, and multiple ports suited to your devices. Avoid cheap models that may be unsafe.
  • For 1-2 week trips with periodic charging access, 10,000+ mAh is a good capacity. But customize capacity to your unique needs.

Power Banks Explained

Backpacking Power Bank: Nitecore NB10000 Gen 2

A power bank is like a portable battery that fits right into your backpack. It’s most crucial aspect is capacity. Think of capacity as the power bank’s fuel tank – it determines how much charge it can store.

What is Capacity?

Capacity is measured in milliampere-hours (mAh), ampere-hours (Ah), or watt-hours (Wh). These are just fancy terms to tell us how much electricity the power bank can hold. The larger the capacity, the more charges it can provide for your gadgets.

To make things practical, consider your smartphone or GPS device. They have their own battery capacity, like around 3,000 mAh. Now, if your power bank has 6,700 mAh, it can provide about two full recharges for your device.

You can use this simple formula: (Device power needs) x (number of needed recharges) = (required power capacity).

But here’s the catch – power transfer isn’t 100% efficient. So, a 2,000 mAh power bank won’t fully recharge a 1,000 mAh device battery twice. That’s why it’s smart to add a little extra capacity to your calculations.

Power Output and Compatibility

Now that we’ve got a handle on power bank capacity, let’s shift gears and talk about something equally important: power output and compatibility.

The power output of a power bank, measured in volts, is indicative of its charging speed for your gadgets. Most power banks offer standardized outputs such as USB-A or USB-C, which are widely compatible with various devices.

Nevertheless, it is essential to take into account not only voltage but also amperage (current) as a crucial factor in determining charging speed.

Example: Consider two power banks, A and B, both with a 5-volt output. Power bank A delivers 1 ampere, while power bank B provides 2 amperes. Power bank B charges your device twice as fast as power bank A due to its higher amperage, despite both having the same voltage.

Choosing the Right Power Bank

Power Banks: A backpacker is using their phone to take a picture of a scenic view

Now that you grasp the basics of power banks, capacity, and compatibility, it’s time to tackle the big question: How do you choose the perfect power bank:

  • Trip Duration Matters: Think about how long your trip will be. For a quick weekend getaway, a small (5000 mAh) power bank may do the trick.
  • Quality Matters: A top-notch power bank is a device that supplies your smartphone with the correct voltage and wattage. It includes safeguards against overcharging, and its sturdy design reduces the risk of damage from drops or regular use.
  • Size and Weight: Decide whether you need unlimited power or if one emergency charge is enough. Bigger power banks provide more charges but add weight and take up space.
  • Suggested Capacity: Based on our experience, a good power bank with a capacity of >10,000mAh can be sufficient if you have access to an outlet every couple of days.
  • Check The Ports: Make sure the power bank has all the ports you need. Cheaper models might seem capable but could have limitations, like only one faster-charging port. Stay aware and choose based on your needs.

Furthermore, always choose well-known brands with international certifications. Cheap imitations may fail to deliver the correct voltage, putting your device at risk and even posing safety hazards.

For example, a recent test revealed that around 40% of power banks from China presented a potential fire hazard. Remember, if a deal appears too good to be true, exercise caution.

Just so you know, we’ve included the lightest power banks in our TOP 5 guide.

Maximizing the Life of Your Power Bank

Caring for your power bank ensures it stays reliable on future trips:

  • Avoid Complete Drains: Try not to let your devices’ batteries run completely empty before recharging them with the power bank. This helps prolong both your device’s battery life and the power bank’s.
  • Store It Properly: Store your power bank in a cool, dry place when not in use. Extreme temperatures can impact its performance.
  • Charge It Regularly: Charge your power bank every few months to maintain a healthy battery.
  • Use Reputable Chargers: Use a compatible charger when charging your power bank to avoid battery damage.


Choosing the right power bank isn’t a one-size-fits-all task. It’s a delicate balance between capacity and weight.

You’ve learned about the fundamentals of power banks, including capacity, output, and compatibility. We’ve even suggested a capacity of over 10,000mAh for those who can recharge every couple of days.

And it doesn’t end there. Maximizing the life of your power bank is essential. By following a few simple tips like avoiding complete drains and storing it properly, you can ensure that your power bank remains a reliable companion on your journeys.

So, as you embark on your next ultralight backpacking adventure, armed with the knowledge from this guide, you’ll not only stay connected but also make the most of your power bank.

Interested in an ultralight power bank? Check out our TOP 5 Guide for the lightest power banks on the market.


What size power bank do I need for backpacking?

For backpacking, the ideal power bank size depends on your trip’s duration and device needs. A power bank with a capacity of at least 10,000mAh is suitable for longer trips (a week or more) with limited charging options. Shorter trips may suffice with a 5,000mAh to 10,000mAh power bank.

How many amps should a power bank have?

For efficient charging of most smartphones and devices, the optimal amperage range for a power bank typically falls between 2.4 amps (2.4A) and 3 amps (3A). This range strikes a balance between charging speed and compatibility. However, it’s essential to check your specific device’s requirements, as some may benefit from higher amperage for even faster charging.

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Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

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