There are a lot of external chargers, or power banks, out there. A power bank serves as an extra battery for your phone or other electronic device in case the power goes out or you’re ever in a situation where you can’t charge your devise as your normally would. How do you know what to look for to make sure you’re getting a good one? Here are some qualities of a good external charger that you should look for.

First of all, price is difficult to pinpoint. Most of these chargers are made overseas and are not expensive. We bought one that’s simply called “Smart Power Bank” (made in China) and it was only $17. It works pretty well, but there are some things about it that would have made it even better.

1. Rubberized exterior. The power bank we bought feels flimsy. It feels like if we dropped it if would simply crack apart. There is a protective case on the outside but it’s hard plastic that is not going to protect it in a fall. It would have been a lot better had they rubberized the outside like an Otter Box or some kind of phone case protective material.

2. Manufacturer. Not sure if you’ll actually be able to find one that’s not made in China, but if you can, it will likely have better use instructions. The one I got was riddled with mistakes.

3. Charging options. It should have more than one USB port (which allows you to charge more than one smartphone or device at a time), and you should be able to charge it via the charger that came with your phone or computer USB port. Check for compatibility with other charging ports you may already have. A good one will also allow you to charge it via a solar panel.

4. Know your smartphone’s battery capacity. This might be printed on the battery itself, but was also probably in your manual.

5. Amperage and Real Capacity. The higher the amperage the better, but make sure it really has the amperage that is advertised, as sometimes these items are mislabeled. The capacity of the power bank is measure with mAh, which means milli Ampere Hour. The larger the real capacity, the longer the charging time that may be required. A 2800 mAh power bank can charge a smartphone with a 1,400 mAh battery one time. The only way to test some of these outputs and inputs is with electronic equipment. Without that, a good rule of thumb is to divide the mAh of the power bank by the mAh of your device battery, realizing that a device is not going to be 100% as efficient as it is advertised, for a variety of reasons, such as loss of energy inside the circuit.

6. Lights to indicate remaining power. The power bank should show you visually how much power is left in the device, so you know if the charger itself needs to be charged. Many power banks achieve this by using a series of LEDs that light up or turn off as the power in the device changes.

7. Charging time. Charge speed is determined by the output current, not the capacity. A high capacity power bank will be able to provide more charge than a low capacity power bank over time. A wall charger will charge a device at a faster rate because computers have a smaller charging output. Most computer USB ports provide 500 mA (less than 1 amp). Charging time depends on the battery capacity of the power bank as well as the battery capacity of the device you are charging.

Hopefully this info is helpful to you as you seek out a power bank!

When the ground starts to shake, a tornado blows through or a line of wildfire sweeps through, your first thought will likely be to call your loved ones and ask how they are or let them know how you are.

When everyone is doing that though, the phone network may be overloaded. There are some strategies for planning out your communication in an emergency that minimize phone calling, both to reduce anxiety and conserve battery usage.

Create a message. 

If family and friends are calling you repeatedly, potentially from all over the country, you may not want to answer the phone and talk each time. Change your greeting message to indicate how you are, what your plan is, and who else they can talk to. For instance, here’s a sample greeting that might cover all these bases:

“Randall here. I’m ok. I’m at work and heading home. I’m keeping my phone turned off to conserve my battery. I’ll be in touch with my Aunt Martha so please get in touch with her to get updates. I’ll update this message if something changes.”

Anyone who calls you will hear this message and be reassured that you are ok, and that you will be in touch when you are able.

Limit non-emergency phone calls.

Reserve cell phone use only for life-threatening or immediately dangerous situations. If everyone in your household knows the emergency plan . . . where to meet, whether to head home or to a relative’s house, which person is getting the kids, etc. . . there may be no need for phone calls in the first place.

If you don’t get through the first time, wait a few seconds before calling again. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says immediately redialing can “clog” up the network because the data from the handset that is being sent to the cell tower doesn’t have time to clear before the same data is sent again.

Send text messages when possible.

If you need to communicate with your spouse or children in your immediate area, a text message is more likely to be delivered in a time of true emergency. Texts, also called SMS (short messaging service) work through a network that is “parallel” to the wireless telephone network.

Your emergency contact shouldn’t be your neighbor.

Your neighbors are probably great people. Ready to help you out with loans of tools and rides around town when your car breaks down. They can always be counted on to bring great food to the barbecue or potluck. They may even be trusted enough to watch your kids when you need the help. But, no matter how close to your neighbors you are, they shouldn’t be your emergency contact in the event of a disaster.

Pick someone who doesn’t live on your street, or even in your state.

Your emergency contact in the event of a natural disaster should be someone not in your immediate area, because if there’s a widespread disaster such as earthquake or tornado, nearby people will be affected as well.

The person on your emergency contact list should know that they will be getting calls from all of your family members. When others call the contact, the contact can relay messages without everyone in the family calling back and forth. The emergency contact can also notify others in the less-immediate family to let them know what’s going on, again, without everyone making numerous phone calls.

The idea is that everyone can communicate by making one phone call to the contact. Multiple phone calls will not only wear out the phone’s battery but place a drain on the telephone network system.



These days, we use our smartphones for everything. They’re always with us, even when we’re in the backcountry. Smartphones are helpful but they shouldn’t be your line of defense if you’re out in the wilderness. Technology is never a substitute for knowledge, experience and safe planning.

When you’re hiking in the backcountry, cell phone reception is often non-existent. Even on hiking trails that are located close to cities, reception can be spotty due to the terrain. You should not rely on your cellphone to call for help or to guide you to safety. Many unprepared hikers have gotten themselves into more trouble by going further off trail in search of a cellphone signal, making it more difficult for rescuers to locate them.

The battery life on smartphones leaves something to be desired, and batteries can be drained quickly if the phone is constantly searching for a signal. To preserve battery life, turn your phone off or at least turn it to airplane mode while you’re hiking. By doing so, you will increase the chances that your phone will be available to use in an emergency.

While it is a good idea to carry your cell phone with you while hiking, you should not rely on it as part of your survival plan. Prepare yourself for unexpected circumstances and pack a map, warm clothes, a compass (make sure you know how to use it), a flashlight, extra batteries, a knife, signaling devices, shelter, a first aid kit, rain gear and fire-starting tools.

You should also carry more food and water than you think you’ll need, just in case you become lost or injured. Basically, you should be prepared to spend a night out in the wilderness, even if that’s not part of your plan.

Always let friends and family know where you’re planning on hiking and when they should expect you to return. Leave a note on your car with information about your itinerary. If you get lost or injured, stay calm and don’t make any rash decisions. Evaluate your situation and make smart decisions. If you have cell phone reception and you’re in an emergency situation, call 911. They will be able to track your location based on your call.


A personal locator beacon (PLB) is a portable device that will transmit your location in case of an emergency so that rescue crews will be able to find you.  A personal locator beacon must be activated manually, and it transmits data to a satellite system, allowing rescuers to track your location within about 2-3 miles. Some PLBs allow integration with GPS units, which can dramatically improve the ability to track your location.

Until 2003, PLBs could only be used in Alaska as part of an experimental program. After the experiment proved successful and helped save hundreds of lives, the FCC approved the program for use nationwide.

Alerts Rescuers to Your Location

If you spend a lot of time out in the wilderness, it is a good idea to carry a PLB for your safety. You are highly unlikely to ever need it, but a PLB is good to have with you in case you have exhausted all other methods of self-rescue and have run out of options. When activated, it will alert rescuers to your location, no matter how remote. It takes less than an hour for your location to be identified with a PLB. If your PLB is integrated with a GPS, it will take about five minutes to identify your location.

Initiates Search and Rescue Procedures

Personal locator beacons transmit powerful signals at 406 MHz, a distress frequency that is monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). When activated, PLBs communicate with a network of satellites that relay your information to AFRCC, which will initiate the search and rescue procedures.

Long-Lasting Battery

Each PLB has a long-lasting lithium battery that remains dormant until the PLB is activated. The batteries will typically last at least 24 hours, although the battery life may be somewhat diminished in cold temperatures.

No Recurring Fees

You must register your PLB with NOAA, but you do not have to pay any recurring fees to maintain your PLB. You will be given a Unique Identifying Number that is linked to your personal information including your name, phone number, address and any medical conditions rescuers should be aware of.

Only Use as a Last Resort

A personal locator beacon should only be used as a last resort when all of your other attempts to be rescued have been exhausted. Your survival kit should include equipment to help rescuers find you, such as a signal mirror, fire-starting tools, a whistle and an emergency blanket.

Let’s face it, many of us prefer convenience. Today’s technology has bundled our needs together into compact devices. We’re now able to call, read mail, news, and even navigate from one item in the palm of our hand.

But all tools have limits, and our smartphones are no different. They’re relatively delicate, expensive to replace and may not excel where we need them to in certain functions. There is a particularly popular feature on smartphones that’s essential for everyday use, but it wholly insufficient.

The flashlight feature on phones can be handy for finding your keys when you drop them in a movie theater, but the usefulness stops there. The flashlight feature on most smartphones is simply an extension of the camera’s flash. The effective range is limited to a few feet, and is part of a fragile platform.

The simple and effective solution to this is to carry a flashlight on your person.

Lighting technology has come a long way since your dad’s Maglite. Lights the size of a pinky finger can cast intense beams of light over long distances.

The construction of modern lights also allows them to be used for self-defense.

Many lights are built from aluminum with bezels carved out to be more effective blunt striking weapons. Some also come with strobe functions that can allow the user to disorient an attacker or signal for help.

They’re quicker to operate and function far better than cell phone lights for clearing a room, finding your car in a dark parking lot, or navigating the office during a power outage.

Today’s light market offers near endless options for users.

The main things to consider with lights are the power source, output and run-time. CR 123 type batteries will generally provide more power and longer battery life, but AA and AAA batteries are more common and less expensive.

For run-time, look for a light that has a high power function that runs for more than an hour and a low function that lasts for more than 24 hours. How bright you need your light to be depends on what you’re doing on a daily basis.

Having a proper flashlight on your person allows you to be ready for a variety of scenarios.

If the power goes you in your workplace, you’re a pocket away from lighting up the room and servicing the outage or making your way around in the building (this has happened to me on a few occasions). You also have another self-defense tool at your disposal with the light working as a blinding and striking tool.

A light can also prevent an attack by making it known that you’re aware and actively looking for threats that may be around you in a dark environment.

Remember, there’s no app for being prepared. Don’t get left in the dark.

A day hike nearly turned deadly for an Idaho man who fell down an icy slope on Indian Mountain in Southeast Idaho.

According the the Idaho State Journal, the hiker has been identified as Gary Fitzgerald Jr. He was hiking alone on March 2 when he fell about 200 feet down the icy slope. He says his backpack helped slow him down as he fell down the slope.

“My backpack is what actually stopped me from going all the way down,” Fitzgerald said.

He sustained knee and shoulder injuries during the fall.

“I had a lot of pain in my knee and I was just trying to figure out what to do next,” he said.

Thankfully, he was within cell phone range and was able to call 911.

However, he was trapped on the slope for nearly five hours before rescuers were able to get to him. Meanwhile, the temperature was dropping quickly and Fitzgerald did what he could to stay alive.

“I knew it was going to take a while for them to get to me,” Fitzgerald stated. “I hunkered down by a bush and did what I could to make a small fire.”

Due to the rugged terrain, the Portneuf Medical Center helicopter was unable to land on the ridge. The pilot circled around and made the decision to land below Fitzgerald.

Members of the Search and Rescue team used 4-wheelers to get close to Fitzgerald, but they still had to hike for half an hour to reach him. It was close to 9 p.m. when the rescuers finally got to him. According to the Idaho State Journal, the rescuers used a stretcher and ropes to lower Fitzgerald to the waiting helicopter.

Fitzgerald was airlifted to the Portneuf Medical Center, where he was treated for injuries that were not life-threatening.

Rescuers say he would have likely frozen to death if he didn’t have cell phone reception.

The situation could have turned out much differently for Fitzgerald, and he is lucky to be alive.

His story serves as a reminder that it is important to be prepared for the unexpected, even if you’re just going on a short day hike.

Before you head out on a hike, familiarize yourself with the area. It is easy to get disoriented in the wilderness, especially if you take a tumble down a slope and you’re unable to find your way back to the trail. Carry a GPS, map and/or compass to help you get your bearings if you get lost.

Let your friends or family members know where you’re planning to hike and how long you’ll be gone. Pack a survival kit that includes a knife, fire-starting tools, an emergency blanket, a first aid kit and a signal mirror. These basic supplies will provide the tools necessary to help you survive if you’re faced with unexpected circumstances.

Photo credit: skoeber via / CC BY-NC-SA

If you’re faced with an emergency, your traditional communication sources may not be available. What do you do if you need assistance? Consider using these communication devices to help you communicate with others and get the assistance you need.

1) Cell Phone

Because you probably have your cell phone on you at all times, it should be your first option–as long as you’re in cell phone range. You can use it to contact your friends or family to let them know about the situation.

However, you should never rely solely on your cell phone as your sole method of communication if you’re faced with an emergency situation. In true emergencies, cell phone towers can get tied up due to a dramatic increase in usage and you may be unable to make a call or send a text. Similarly, if you’re out in the wilderness, you may be out of cell phone range and you will need another method of communication.

2) Social Network

These days, nearly everyone is part of a social network. Most people also have smartphones that allow them to access the Internet or use an app. Posting a message on a social media network will let you inform a large number of people about your emergency. Unfortunately, this form of communication only works if you have a smartphone with a data plan or a computer that can connect to the Internet.

3) Two-Way Handheld Radio

Two-way radios, commonly called walkie talkies, are relatively inexpensive communication devices. It is a good idea to carry walkie talkies when you’re traveling with a group to communicate navigation plans or to find each other if someone gets lost. Two-way radios are also useful tools for situations in which you are unable to communicate by cell phone. The communication radius for a two-way radio depends on the type, but they are limited to a maximum radius of about 35 miles.

4) Satellite Phone

Satellite phones are a type of mobile phone that connects to satellites instead of cell phone towers. Satellite phones are expensive, but a satellite phone may save your life if you’re stranded in the wilderness or if you’re faced with a natural disaster. Because satellite phones don’t use local cell networks, they are unlikely to be affected by a drastic increase in cell phone usage.

5) CB Radio

Citizens band radios, commonly called CB radios, are great to have in case of an emergency. They allow people to make contact with others via radio communications, which can be transmitted within an approximately 25-mile radius.

6) Ham Radio

The ham radio has been used during emergencies in the United States for more than a century. There is some skill needed to be able to operate a ham radio, and you must take a test to obtain a license to operate a ham radio. However, many survivalists feel that the ham radio is the most effective communication method in case of a widespread disaster.

Prepare for the worst by knowing your communication abilities. Preparing for an emergency means taking every possible scenario into account, so test and practice using these communication devices regularly.

The use of drones to carry out strategic military strikes at various locations overseas has been well documented. The recent proliferation and innovation of drones here on American soil has yet to receive the coverage that it really deserves. It’s essential for people to know about the increase of civilian drone use and law enforcement use of drones for surveillance. The video below reveals an incredible new taser ability that some drones now have.

Civilian Drone Use Draws Attention from Technology Companies, the White House and the…NFL
Sometimes referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), drones have become so popular that they’ve been featured on several recent news reports. A small drone recently crashed upon the lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. The man operating it apparently worked for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, but was operating the drone in his off time for recreation. After seeing that the incident made national news, the man reported himself to the Secret Service.

In preparation for the Super Bowl, the NFL recently released a short video to remind fans that the use of drones near the stadium strictly prohibited. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently prohibits flying drones over NFL, MLB, and NASCAR events. Drones equipped with high performance cameras are now frequently used for cinematography and can provide dramatic views of events and environments.

Many drones used by civilians for recreation fall into the FAA’s Model Aircraft category and are supposed to stay under a height of 400 feet. Despite this, there has been an increasing number of incidents of drones being spotted by planes at heights much higher than that. A civilian-piloted drone conflicting with an airplane carrying passengers is becoming more and more of a concern.

One of the most talked-about new features of drone technology is what’s called the “Follow Me” feature. Drones equipped with GPS technology link up with your phone’s signal and follow you, recording all of your outdoor adventures. While the technology is certainly fun and exciting, abilities like the Follow Me feature promise that the future of drones will not always be just for fun.

How are Drones being used by Law Enforcement?
Cash-strapped law enforcement agencies across the country are showing a growing interest in the use of drones for activities like surveillance and pursuit. These unmanned aerial vehicles are much cheaper than helicopters and planes, not to mention much more versatile. Let’s take a look at how some law enforcement agencies are using drones.

While many people think of drones as strictly elements of warfare, these vehicles are actually more used for surveillance here on American soil. Many have the ability to hover over one particular location at a height of over 700 feet for time periods around 3 hours. Our nation’s borders and areas of suspected criminal activities are frequently covered by unarmed drones.

Unseen and unheard by anyone on the ground, the drones used by some law enforcement agencies are able to use their equipped cameras to take images and video of whatever is below. Some are equipped with infrared and thermal cameras that enable them to record in low light as well as take in images with a heat signature like firearms and footprints.

It’s easy to see why law enforcement agencies that use drones prefer them to using helicopter pilots or police and SWAT officers engaging or observing suspected criminal activity. Most drone models are small enough to be packed in a police cruiser and can be launched, guided by GPS, and landed all from one laptop computer.

No drone model currently used by law enforcement is armed (that we could find) but the ability of some to use grenade launchers and 12-gauge shotgun rounds in defense is not altogether implausible. These models can however, be armed with gas canisters and tasters and armored protective materials.

A concerned citizen would do well to research their home state’s regulations on the use of drones, when a warrant is required, and how any images are stored.

How to Protect Yourself From Drone Surveillance
There are plenty of reasons why we should investigate ways to protect ourselves from drones. We may not currently need to be dodging drone strikes by armed robotic aerial vehicles, but the recent increase in drone use by civilians and law enforcement should encourage us all to be better prepared.

Stay under cover with camouflaging techniques. When being pursued or observed from the air it is crucial to stay in areas with cover provided by trees and shelters as much as possible. To facilitate movement, tunnels and underground shelters are an ideal strategy.

Some of the drones models used by law enforcement are small enough and maneuverable enough to navigate hallways and doorways, eliminating the need for K-9 dogs and officers to be in danger. Using shelters either underground or with a variety of entrances and exits can be useful to protect against surveillance of this type.

Materials like aluminum, mirrors, glass and other reflective surfaces can help to disrupt the recording capabilities of surveillance drones. Using camouflaging techniques like smoke from fires can help to disrupt drones and cover movement. Burn materials like tires or large piles of green branches to create as much smoke as possible.

It is certainly clear that unmanned aerial vehicles, whether just for fun or for law enforcement surveillance, are not going to be flying away anytime soon. They’re here and there are just too many upsides for their use by police and government officials. Drones are cheaper and more maneuverable than traditional aircraft and they don’t require sacrifice the lives of officers and soldiers on the ground.

Being aware of how these drones can be used and just what their capabilities are is a good step forward in preventing drone surveillance of civilian activities.