no batteries

As we see the horrible photos of a monster storm hitting the densely populated Northeast U.S., it’s easy to imagine ourselves in that situation, as one of the millions without power. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably will someday.

At Practical Travel Gear we’ve reviewed a lot of travel items that are also quite handy to have around the house. As your neighbors freak out about the local Walgreens running out of batteries and bottled water ahead of a storm, you can get cranking. Literally.

There are dozens of flashlights on the market that work by cranking or shaking. The idea is that a coil/magnet system or a mechanical generator puts out energy that is stored in an internal battery. It takes a lot of shaking or cranking to get hours of light and it won’t be mega-lumens strong, but it’s good enough for basic needs. The shake lights look much like a regular flashlight and are often in the $15-$25 range. If you nose around on Amazon you can sometimes find one for five bucks.

The crank ones are either large ones with a real rotating crank (sometimes with a radio—see below) or are cute little ones that you squeeze on instead, sometimes shaped like animals. This 3-LED one from Energizer¬†pictured at the top is $11 at Amazon.

USB flashlightThe second-best option is one that you can recharge by USB, like this cute little Jolt USB light. Hey, your Internet is going to be down anyway, so you’ll have some juice to recharge from your laptop. Or see the solar section further down.

Water Purification

You probably have enough food to last a week. But a lack of water will kill you in a hurry. Do you have days’ worth of bottled water lying around? If not, that SteriPen you should be packing when you travel to developing countries is a good thing to have around the house when your city infrastructure takes a hit.

rechargeable water purifier

I like this new SteriPen Freedom one a lot in these circumstances because it purifies close to four gallons on one charge (15 liters) and it doesn’t take long to recharge by USB. This Camelbak All Clear bottle I reviewed a few months back accomplishes the same thing and can also be recharged by USB.¬†What, you think you can’t recharge by USB when the power goes out? Yes you can—see the solar section. Crank ones work too.

Just be advised these SteriPen products and the Camelbak bottle are for tap water, not muddy river water. You’ll need a pump-type purifier if things get that bad.

Meanwhile, there’s a more low-tech solution to the water issue too. Simple iodine tablets work fine but taste bad. The Micropur ones are better and can sit in a drawer for years before you need them. Getting sick from water-borne illness in the midst of a disaster would not be fun.

Solar Devices

Yeah I know, during a bad hurricane or other disaster there may not be much sun. But there will be before and after, plus some of these devices will charge up even when it’s overcast. It just takes longer. These solar charges will enable you to charge things like the flashlights and water purifiers mentioned above, but also your cell phones (if the service is still working). I’ve tried a whole bunch of these things and can recommend these two from Brunton as being more than toys.

The Explorer 2 fold-out panel is the more heavy-duty choice, catching a lot of the sun’s energy in a hurry and charging up your devices almost as fast as an outlet would. It works on cloudy days (just slower) and folds up to stuff easily into a backpack or the bottom of a closet when you’re not using it.

A more compact one that will also store the energy for later is the Brunton Restore solar charger device pictured above. It has a USB and mini-USB input and output and can charge your phone two times before it runs out of juice and needs more sunlight.

There are also some quality products out there from Goal Zero that you can get at gear stores and even Target. I haven’t used them personally, but I’ve heard good things about them from reviewers I trust.

If you’re willing to pony up more cash, Eton specializes in rugged outdoor items for campers and wilderness workers. They make a lot of devices that combine a crank, solar input, and USB charger (so you can build up the battery then charge your other devices) and a radio. Some even have an MP3 player input to lighten the mood. Like the Eton crank radio pictured here.

You can find other configurations from various companies at any Wal-mart, Target, or hunting/camping store. Some of them also have a flashlight, which is handy, and that radio can give you a dose of weather news or disaster updates.

There are some people who take all this to the extreme and would look at my little list here as a bunch of playthings. (See this great Preppers article from Outside magazine.) If you don’t think the world is going to end though and we’ll all be scavenging or fighting for our lives when society breaks down, a few basic items like this that don’t depend on your house electricity working can help you get through a natural disaster easier.

The bonus? They’re good for camping, hiking, and travel as well.