How to keep your smartphone running if SHTF.
The ascension of Donald Trump to the presidential hot seat is enough to worry even the calmest soul that the apocalypse is nigh.
Be it nuclear armageddon, a Russia-sparked world war, or a plague of tangerine zombies, such disaster scenarios somehow now seem plausible. With the inauguration looming, there's never been a better time to turn “prepper” and follow the lead of survivalists making ready for apocalypse by storing food supplies and preparing a “bug-out bag” for when the shit hits the fan (SHTF).
There are a few items common on bug-out bag lists – rope, knives, rain poncho, long-lasting food, water – that you should surely include, although there's debate over exactly what to bring, as it depends on where you live and your own personal preferences. But alongside keeping fed and fending off thieves, we'd also like to stay connected – life without the internet simply isn't worth living, and if Trump is going to spark a real-life disaster movie, we'd like to monitor the end of days via his Twitter stream (“Zombies made up. FAKE NEWS spread by the LYING media. Russia says they don't exist. Sad!” And so on).
But it's not only soft metropolitan elites that value connectivity – even self-styled survival expert Peter Stanford plans to carry his iPhone when SHTF. “Say there was a news blackout on TV, I could still use my mobile phone to get on the internet,” he pointed out when I spoke to him, saying he'd leave the laptop at home in favour of a smartphone that does everything with less weight and power requirements.
That said, Stanford isn't planning on half-filling his backpack with electronic devices. “I don't want to rely on technology… as a last resort I want to be as manual as possible. It's being more independent: the less technological stuff you have, the more knowledge you have, the less kit you need. That tends to be a survival statement,” he told me. “The less I have to rely on technical stuff, the better.”
With only a bare minimum of tech to work with, you'll want to make sure what you do have tucked away doesn't break down, seize up or run out. So, without further ado, here's a guide to keeping yourself powered up during the apocalypse.
Don't forget the batteries
Depending on the nature of the disaster, mobile networks may stay up indefinitely, be knocked out immediately, or stay up for a few days. If it's the latter, you'll still want your smartphone for mapping your escape route, as well as to get in touch with loved ones.
Perhaps the best start is simply to have a phone with solid battery life. Options to recharge it include a power bank, although that will also run out eventually, as well as solar-power panels and hand-crank chargers.
Stanford favours one specific power bank: the ThruNite C2. It's tiny – he described it as "lipstick sized" – and can be charged over USB, plus its battery is replaceable, so you can bring several with you. Other versions use standard AA batteries. “If you've got half a dozen batteries, once it gets discharged, you take that battery out and put a new battery in it, and you can still charge [...] your phone,” he said. That will keep you going until the crisis is over, or until the networks fail and the new world order begins, rendering your iPhone nothing more than a memorial token of the good old days.
Exactly which battery pack is best for you depends on the devices you plan to carry. “It's really horses for courses. It depends how long you're going to be out for, the type of kit, whether it's an iPhone or iPad or even a computer,” Stanford said, advising that you should know “what your kit is first, what you would expect to need to use it for if you have a bug-out scenario, and then look at what you need in terms of a power unit. Find out what's relevant for your specific use and items that you actually have.”
Stanford warns that temperature affects power banks. If you're dodging zombies in a winter wilderness, make sure your recharging unit of choice isn't too cold. “Any sort of battery unit in general, the colder temperature environment that it's in, the less power it's going to have and the longer it's going to take to charge or actually reduce its charge,” he said. “It's always really important regardless of whether you've got a crank or solar panel to charge up a battery unit, that you always keep it thermally clad and protected because the energy and power will last for longer.”
Solar and hand crank power
If solar appeals – us liberal losers love that environmental stuff – you can pick up portable panels or even recharging rucksacks with solar panels built in, so you can power up while on the run, weather permitting. Combination devices offer the best of both worlds: the Hiluckey Solar Charger is a waterproof 10,000mAH power bank that you can charge over USB for immediate power, but the top is a solar panel for when you're away from the mains. The panel's sensitive enough to charge when left on a window sill on a dull London afternoon, and it also features a flashlight on the rear and a carabiner, so you can clip it to your bag to harvest the sun as you wander the desolation of our once great nation.
If you're concerned the sun's light may be obscured by the dark clouds of nuclear winter, hand-crank units not only offer power as long as you have the strength to turn them, but many manual chargers have been combined with built-in torches, radios and solar panels. Such a combination device might make a good EDC – your “everyday carry” that you bring everywhere, always, because this is life in 2017 and anything could happen.
(Above: SUNVP Solar Backpack)
The AngLink Dynamo is one such device. In a small package, it features a flashlight, radio and can recharge gadgets over USB, via a hand crank or solar power. Cranking with my weak wrists – RSI'd from too much typing, as is often the case with us urban elites – easily lit up the torch and ran the radio, but took ages to shift the HTC One's battery by a single percentage point. Of course, come the apocalypse, you won't have any better entertainment than twirling the plastic widget anyway.
Plus, the radio makes a handy backup communications device in case your phone dies or the networks fail. “If you needed to have comms to know what was going on, if information sources have gone down, at least you have a radio source,” Stanford said. He recommends finding one with walkie-talkie capabilities, and ensuring whoever you want to stay in touch with does the same. “If you've got a radio, you've got that as a fallback,” he said. “It's good to have two forms of comms.”
You've got a powered-up smartphone and a comms backup, but you don't want to waste your battery life trying to Google “can I eat this plant” or begging first-aid assistance from whoever's in radio range. Instead, consider loading up a Kindle, as an ebook reader's month-long battery life will give you a Hitchhikers' Guide-worth of help without much recharging. Prep it with maps (the options aren't great, but there are some that could be useful), as well as first aid, survival and other guide books – plus whatever you'd like to read when you're bored without access to Netflix.
Alternatively, download ebooks or apps to your smartphone, and consider storing an offline version of Google Maps for your local area, to help you find the best escape routes or in case you get lost.
(Above: SAS Survival Guide app)
To start, Stanford suggests the free St John's Ambulance app for first aid and the wide-ranging SAS Survival Guide for everything else. The latter is based on a classic survivalist book by John “Lofty” Wiseman, and covers everything from first aid to building a shelter, natural remedies, foraging and more – the tips on forecasting weather from cloud patterns and which insects are best to eat (termites are "nutritious and tasty") were particularly compelling.
“If the stuff does hit the fan and you've got the app or book, it'd be really good as it has a whole cross-section of stuff for the average person to deal with a variety of scenarios,” Stanford said.
A variety of scenarios indeed. With a man as consistently inconsistent as Trump as leader of the free world, there's no way of knowing exactly how he'll spark the end of it all. Best to be prepared, then.