Compared to bygone eras you don’t have to work too hard to convince most preppers to include electronic devices of all kinds in their survival plan. This is largely due to the availability and affordability of portable, completely self-contained off-grid sources of power.
Two of the most popular are solar and hand-cranked chargers, with an increasingly vocal contingent of proponents recommending the hand crank to the exclusion of all others.
Are hand-cranked chargers really better than the ubiquitous solar charging arrays? Yes and no, as hand crank chargers definitely have advantages that solar chargers lack, but conversely solar chargers have advantages all their own. The biggest advantage of a hand-cranked charger is that it’s not dependent upon clear access to the sun to harvest electricity.
If you’re one of those preppers who isn’t planning on giving up your electronics when the time comes to bug out, you are in luck because, through the rest of this article, we’ll be taking an honest look at and comparing hand-cranked chargers against solar chargers.
I will tell you up front that both are totally viable, and both potentially deserve a place and your gear cache. You just need to decide which one is best for you.
Go Hand-Cranked for Power on Demand
Hand-cranked chargers have one considerable advantage over their solar charger cousins: So long as you or someone else has the time and can supply the elbow grease your hand-cranked charger can generate electricity for any device that needs it, or just to store in its internal battery or a separate power cell.
Hand-cranked chargers are never fast, but the faster you crank it, the faster you can fill up.
In tandem with this advantage, solar chargers are completely independent of considerations like weather, being indoors or underground, or the time of day. This might sound like a convenience feature, but it is more than that.
What if you desperately need to charge your devices before heading out at first light? What if the outside is dangerous due to something like nuclear fallout, a chemical leak, or some other hazard? The ability to create power without any dependence on the outdoors or the weather can be huge in certain circumstances.
Even better, many of the more modern hand-cranked chargers are more than just a method of power generation.
They often include additional options and features such as flashlights, onboard power storage so they can function as a battery bank, and even emergency radios able to receive NOAA and government broadcasts.
If you are like me, and I would say most other preppers, having multi-function tools that save weight and save space in your BOB is a boon that you cannot pass up.
Disadvantages of Hand Crank Chargers
Despite all the benefits they have to commend them, it isn’t all good news with hand crank chargers. Their single biggest drawback compared to solar charging arrays is that they require you or someone else to be continually invested in operating them.
Whereas a solar cell or some other passive form of power generation will operate completely independently so long as it is positioned correctly, with a hand crank charger, if you aren’t turning the dynamo, you aren’t making any juice.
In most circumstances, this means you are turning that crank and not doing anything else. Sure, you can walk straight ahead on more or less even, level terrain and turn the little crank, but anything that is more involved or requiring more attention is probably going to be out of the question.
Whether or not this will be a problem for you is largely dependent upon chance. What other tasks do you need to accomplish? What else needs your attention?
How much time do you have to spare for turning the crank and filling your batteries? Is doing that the best use of your time or are you neglecting something even more important in a desperate effort to gas up your gadgets?
Hand crank chargers are excellent so long as you have the time and or the manpower to spare to operate them.
Lacking either of those two things you probably will not be producing enough power quickly enough to keep your devices charged. The trade-off in being able to produce power on demand is convenience.
Solar Charging for Multi-Tasking Convenience
Solar chargers seem to grow more capable, more portable and less expensive every day. No wonder they are such a popular option for preppers who want to supply their own off-grid power!
The single biggest advantage of a solar charger is it enables you to effortlessly harvest power from the largest and most plentiful power source in our solar system, namely the nearest star: our sun!
All you need to do is find a clear spot where you can see the open sky, unpack and unfold the solar charger, activate it if required and then aim its panels directly at the sun.
From there it will harvest the sun’s radiation before converting it to electricity stored in an onboard or attached battery pack ready for use.
On a good day with a wide open sky, a solar charger can quickly fill up a battery pack, while you are busy doing other things.
Your solar array can be busy gobbling up power from the sun while you are setting up or breaking down camp, procuring food, or doing any one of innumerable other tasks required to survive.
Disadvantages of Solar Chargers
The biggest disadvantages of solar chargers are probably what you are already thinking, namely the fact that they are completely useless without an open view of the sky, and that they’re efficiency is greatly degraded by bad weather, overhead cover, or just the approach of nightfall.
Anytime the sun is not out or is concealed your solar charger will not work as well or even be made useless
This could be a major showstopper if you are forced underground or indoors for any reason. If you had a hand-cranked charger in the same situation you’d still retain the capability to generate electricity even if you must invest directly in procuring it.
The other disadvantage of solar chargers is that they still require a modicum of babysitting because they need to be aimed to face squarely at the sun, and the sun moves throughout the day, meaning you’ll have to reposition your array at regular intervals.
Though this is a minor inconvenience compared to the necessity of running a hand crank charger, it must still be attended to, and if you forget you might not be setting off with a full tank using your solar charger.
Also a solar charger is hardly what you would call a viable option while you are on the move. Though you can strap the panels to your backpack and allow them to gather what solar radiation they can while you are walking, this is nowhere near as efficient as properly in placing it unless you are traveling through an area that is bombarded by copious full value sunlight.
Hand crank chargers are definitely a viable option compared to their solar charger cousins and both have advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage of a hand-cranked charger is that you will not need to depend on good weather, daytime hours or open sky in order to generate your own electricity.
The trade-off is that you or another member of your group will have to invest in actually generating electricity by turning the crank that runs the dynamo in the charger.
So long as this sounds like a good trade to you and adequate for your purposes you would be wise to invest in a hand crank charger!