7 Ways to Charge a Phone When the Power's Out

Keep your phone charged during a power outage with these suggestions.

solar powered phone charger

Artur Henryk Bialosiewicz / Getty Images

When the power's out, things can get a little scary. There's the ever-present danger of knocking your knee into the coffee table (though, at least this time, you can blame the lack of lighting).

Perhaps most horrifying of all, however, is that there's no way to charge your cellphone. It can be vexing for those who are usually tethered to their phones. But it can also be a matter of life and death if the phone is the only way to reach emergency services or help of any kind.

With that in mind, here are a few ways to charge your phone when there's no power. The most obvious is to look around at what options already exist in your home.

1. Use Power Sources That Are Already Around You

A cellphone plugged into a laptop
Your laptop could just be a big shiny battery for your cellphone. LTim/Shutterstock

If there's no power, your fully charged laptop isn't going to do you much good for communicating with the outside world. In this situation, your laptop basically becomes an overpriced battery for your phone. Plug your phone in using a connector. Remember to keep your phone on low power mode so it doesn't use any more power than necessary.

Your car is also an option. If you have a charger that plugs into your car—many relatively new cars have USB ports—you should be able to charge your phone when just the battery is turned on. If you do have to turn the car engine on, it is important to do this safely. If your car is in a garage, drive the car out to avoid building up carbon monoxide in the garage and near the home. Just opening the garage door may not be safe enough.

2. Keep a Portable Charger Handy

A cellphone connected an external battery pack
A portable charger is great for both power outages and traveling. JEONGHYEON NOH/Shutterstock

Buying a few portable chargers—and making sure they're fully charged in advance of a storm—will keep your phone juiced. These are also great for when you're traveling and don't want to battle people for outlets and public charging stations at airports and the like. Depending on what you're willing to pay, these external battery packs can recharge a phone between one and seven times on a single charge, depending on the phone.

3. Buy a Solar Charger

portable solar charger on beach

Diy13 / Getty Images

You can buy solar banks with built-in USB ports that allow you to charge phones and other devices. One such product is this beautiful origami-like power bank from Solight that doubles as a waterproof lantern and a charger—both handy during outages. Ten hours of sun exposure can provide 48 hours of lighting. The power bank is said to have a capacity of 4,000 mAh—"enough to charge your smart Phone 1.5-2 times."

4. Use a Wood-Fired Charger

You may be scratching your head at that, but it's a real thing—a wood-fired camp stove that generates electricity and has a USB port for charging a phone! The BioLite CampStove 2, for instance, just requires some twigs to get a fire up and running. Its fan will generate electricity and, presto, your phone gets charged from a 3,200 mAh battery. You can also cook food and boil water on the flame, which is doubly useful when there's no power. (Naturally, you'll want to use this outside, lest you accidentally start a fire inside the house.)

5. Try a Hand-Crank Charger

Hand-crank chargers are obviously not the most efficient way to charge your phone, but they can come in handy in emergencies, particularly if you're deep in the wilderness and do not have access to a power bank. Ten minutes of turning the crank may only get you a single call, but that could be a matter of life or death, so in that case it's worth it.

6. Eight D-Cell Batteries, Paper Clips, Some Tape, and a Car Charger

D batteries
Batteries are the key to a pretty crafty phone-charging hack. Arne Beruldsen/Shutterstock

Posted to Reddit by user BowTieBoy, this hack, created by the user's cousin, uses eight D batteries, paper clips and some tape to generate enough power for a phone charger to do its task. The paper clips connect the positive and negative terminals of the batteries, and this is done on both sides. The charger is connected to free terminals at the end to get the power. (Another user, tysoasn, provided a quickly drawn schematic where the lines represent paper clips.) Basically, the user's cousin created a battery pack.

But if you really want to MacGyver it up, you'll need...

7. Plastic Bottles and Plates, Some Wiring, Rods, Other Odds and Ends (And Lots of Running Water)

This one requires more work than the battery solution, but it does also look a lot cooler. While it's filmed in the woods, you're more likely to have some of the other components, like the stepping motor and the rectifier circuit, in your house—unless you're just a very prepared camper. And if you have running water, you should be able to generate the water flow necessary to create the hydro-electric generator.