Disclosure: Man Makes Fire is reader-supported. When you buy gear using retail links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission that helps pay for our work. Learn more.
If you’ve gone backpacking, camping, hunting, bike riding, or fishing, odds are, you took your smartphone with you. Sure, if you’re lucky, you got yourself so far off the beaten track that you were out of cellular service range — but there’s more to packing an iPhone into the forest than keeping up with email or Twitter.
Like maps. Most smartphones have both maps and built-in GPS. On my iPhone, my favorite maps app is Topo Maps by Phil Endecott. To use this app, you preload the quads from the areas you will be in on your iPhone. Then, you can pinch and zoom all over the map, as well as find your location using your iPhone.
Damn handy, of course.
Case in point: Once while backpacking with one man, two women, and one 3-year-old child, we took a wrong turn on a mis-marked trail and ended up in a backcountry mess of old logging roads, game trails, and the footprints of other misguided travelers. Had we continued on, we would have ended up far away from our destination. And someone would have been crying, I’m certain of it. Probably me.
Of course, Topo Maps and my iPhone saved the day, showing us where we were — and where we were supposed to be.
All good so far; however, because I was using my iPhone nearly constantly with GPS as we attempted to understand the maze of trails — with the screen on full brightness to combat the sunshine — my battery was draining fast. No way it was going to last an entire weekend, and I hadn’t even used it yet to take photos and video, much less play cartoons for a kid who could get stuck in a tent in an afternoon thunderstorm.
I needed more battery power.
And this is the dark side of bringing a smartphone into the backcountry — you need to have more battery power than you think you’ll actually need. The first reason? To be safe. You never know when your buddy is going to break a leg, leaving you to hike out within cellular service range and call for help. To lose this small safety net because you had fun shooting video of mountain goats all day is just plain stupid. (And yes, yes, I know that dedicated, rugged GPS units are better for off-the-grid navigation, not to mention a printed map and a compass. Smartphones are just too damn handy to ignore or leave behind these days.)
Enter the TYLT ENERGI Power Case
In the past, I’ve packed along a simple rechargeable battery case, which I could plug my iPhone cable into to recharge my iPhone. Works pretty good. Now I’m convinced that an integrated battery case system is the better way. Why? With a battery case you can use your smartphone while you’re charging it, which is handy, but more importantly, a heckuva lot easier than trying to keep track of cables and connections while you’re in the middle of an emergency.
Personally, I use the TYLT ENERGI Power Case for the iPhone 5/5s. There are other options on the market, but I like the TYLT because of its slider feature — it comes with a thin basic shell case that slides neatly into and out of the battery portion of the case. It works great, has excellent build quality, and it looks good. Each case ships with a black slider case as well as your choice of a bright green, blue, or red thin sliders. These little shell-like cases are perfect for when I don’t want the extra bulk of a battery case — you can just slide out your phone and go light instead.
Dirt simple awesomeness.
Through its 2500mAh rechargeable battery, the ENERGI Power Case gives you up to 9 extra hours of talk time, and it will completely re-charge an iPhone 5 or 5s.
Not only is this safer, it lets you get a lot more use out of your smartphone — more photos, more video, and more ebook reading late at night in your tent.
An External Charger for Even More Backcountry Power
While I take my iPhone into the woods with the TYLT ENERGI slider, I also usually take along an extra battery pack — again, from TYLT. Did I say I like the build quality of their products? (I do.) I’ve currently been using the ENERGI 5K+, which is a slim battery pack that comes with a built-in Apple Lightning connector as well as a built-in Micro-USB connector. I can add a charge to an iPhone (or any new iOS device) without needing a separate cable, plus I can charge a buddy’s smartphone that uses Micro-USB. In addition, there’s a standard USB port in case you have some other USB charging cable for some other device.
With the ENERGI 5K+, I can get nearly three full charges onto my iPhone. Oh, one more thing: the 3 Amp circuit can charge up to three devices simultaneously. The footprint is slightly larger than an iPhone 5 or 5s, and it’s surprisingly light. (Note: The ENERGI 5K version skips the Lightning cable but offers the same charging power for about $20 less.)
All-in-all, if you aren’t using a battery case solution for your smartphone yet, consider it for your outdoor adventures. At the very least, take along an external battery pack like the ENERGI 5K+ — and because you’re in the backcountry, just make sure it’s a quality, trustworthy product.