Hurricane season is here and we only need to look to last October to see the type of destruction one can bring. If you're starting to stock your hurricane kit, first check out the National Hurricane Center's checklist and make sure you're prepared. Once basic needs are covered, you may want to start thinking about how you'll stay in contact with others and the outside world. With no power, you'll need ways to keep cell phones, laptops and radios going, as well as fans (or heaters) and lighting too.
Below we've gathered the best gadgets to keep you charged, connected and well-lit in case of an emergency and we've included a couple that you can make yourself for the DIY-inclined.
1. Voltaic Solar Charger Kits
These customizable kits allow you to get the right amount of solar power for your needs. From the smallest 2-watt panel at $25 for charging a smartphone to the biggest 16.8-watt kit at $161 that can keep your laptop and larger gadgets topped off. The company offers an array of battery storage and hardware options depending on what you need to power. Even better, the company is known for charitable programs like donating a solar kit to Sandy victims for every one bought last year.
2. K3 Wind and Solar Mobile Charger
This charger is great if you have a bike and can strap the K3 on the handlebars and go for a ride. The charger also works by just standing it up, hanging it upside down or lying it on its side outdoors, allowing it to harness wind and solar power simultaneously. A fully charged battery can charge your cell phone five times and at $90 on Amazon, doesn't totally break the bank.
3. LuminAID Inflatable Solar Powered Light
This ingenious light is actually an inflatable, waterproof bag that contains an LED bulb and a solar cell on the outside. Perfect for an emergency kit, it folds up compactly until needed and then inflates into a larger bright light. The light can be hung up or laid outside to charge all day and then brought inside for use at night. Because it's waterproof, there's no need to worry if it gets left outside in another round of rainstorms. The LuminAID goes for $19.95, but you can buy one and donate one to women in crisis regions for just $27.95.
4. K-TOR Hand-Crank Power Generator
The K-TOR generator is a great option for people wanting a simple charging device for phones, radios, flashlights and more. The hand-crank can be turned clockwise or counter-clockwise for right and left-handed users. The device delivers 10 watts of power at 120V with a two-prong outlet interface for your gadgets. It also can charge AA and AAA battery chargers to keep flashlights and other items full of juice. It retails for $59.95 on Amazon.
5. Goal Zero Yeti Solar Power Generator
If you need more than just a little help powering your gadgets and something more like a full back-up generator, Goal Zero has three sizes of impressive solar generators that pump out clean power. The Yeti 150 pairs with a 13 or 15 watt solar panel and is capable of charging smartphones, tablets, laptops and lights. The Yeti 400 pairs with a 27 or 30 watt solar panel and can also handle TVs and multiple devices at once. The Yeti 1250 is the off-grid generator model that pairs with two 30 watt solar panels and can power all your gadgets and some of your appliances, including a refrigerator. The prices range from $359 for the smallest kit to about $1800 for the largest.
6. Eton American Red Cross Hand-Crank Radio
One of the most important items in an emergency preparedness kit is a NOAA weather radio that can keep you up to date with the latest weather alerts and warnings. This hand-crank radio from Eton goes way beyond just that, providing AM/FM and all seven weather band stations. The radio can be powered with the crank or by the solar panel on the back and the power produced can run the radio, charge a smartphone via USB or power a small connected LED flashlight. One minute of cranking gives you 10-15 minutes of radio and flashlight use.
There's also an AUX-input to play your own tunes and a headphone output for individual listening to keep boredom at bay when the power is still out. The radio goes for $53.50.
7. WakaWaka Solar Powered Light and Charger
The WakaWaka Power is not just an ordinary solar charger. It contains advanced solar technology that lets it charge quickly and replenish the batteries on a smartphone or USB enabled cell phone in just about 2 hours. Eight hours in the sun also provides a nice 40 hours or more of bright LED light from the other side of the device. Another great thing is its size. At just 4.8 x 4 x 0.8 inches and weighing 7 ounces, it easily fits into an emergency kit and is a breeze to carry with you. It has a rugged construction and is water-resistant. The device sells for $79 on Amazon.
8. Kaito Solar Powered Emergency Radio
Another great solar-powered radio option is the Kaito Voyager. The solar panel powers the seven-band weather radio and charges the built-in batteries as well. To maximize the solar charging, the solar panel tilts with the sun's position to receive the most energy during the day time. On the bottom side of the solar panel is a 5 LED reading lamp for use at night. It also comes with an LED flashlight that can also be used as a red flashing emergency signal. It costs $69.95.
9. DIY Fire and Water Powered Emergency Light
If you're more inclined to make a renewable energy charger than buy one, here is a cool project that lets you make a charger powered by fire and water that can run an LED light or add a little bit of power to your gadgets. The project by Instructables user Joohansson requires easily attained materials -- some food tins, tea lights, and a few electronic components.
10. DIY Hand-Crank Cell Phone Charger
For the slightly more experienced tinkerer, you can make your own hand-crank generator with an old cordless drill and some common household items like a mixing beater, salad fork, aluminum foil and tape. The MacGyver-like device, created by Instructables user The King of Random can provide a direct charge to a cell phone or other small device with a bit of physical labor turning the crank.