As our lives get more and more digitally connected, our need for electrical power seems limitless. But we all occasionally find ourselves without power and with devices that need to be charged. Whether it’s a camping trip or a state of emergency, we need some tools in our tool kit in case we need to make an important call or zap off a text to let loved ones know we are safe.
There are quite a few different ways to accomplish this, but they all have limits. Portable battery banks can self-discharge and be dead when you need them. Solar panels are great, but they need strong overhead sunlight. Even then, they charge big batteries slowly. When all else fails, a hand crank charger can give you the little bit of power boost you need.
Best Solar Powered Hand Crank Charger
Best Pocket-sized Hand Crank Generator
What Is A Hand Crank Phone Charger?
The physics behind hand-crank chargers is the same simple principles that make wind turbines work. By spinning a magnet inside a copper coil, an electromagnetic field can be induced. That can be output in the form of electricity. Do hand-crank chargers work? There’s absolutely no reason that they shouldn’t.
But just because the theory behind them is sound, the truth is that there is more to consider. As with any battery and electric system, it’s essential to understand the fundamental variables to ensure you are getting what you think you are getting. Manufacturers use various measurements to rate their hand-crank charger, so figuring out how much power a hand-crank generator produces is challenging. Many manufacturers don’t publish any information at all.
The primary electrical equation in question is voltage multiplied by amperes equals watts (Volts x Amps = Watts). The voltage is dictated by the device you want to charge. Nearly all standard USB-chargeable devices are five volts. Laptops can range anywhere from 12 to 20 volts or more.
Figuring out the amperage and wattage is more complicated. Most devices have batteries rated in milliamp-hours (mAh), which gives you an idea of how must power it can hold and how long it will last. If your hand crank emergency cell phone charger is rated at 1 amp (or 1,000 mA), you know that if you constantly cranked on it for a full hour, how many amps you could add to your battery in a perfect world. In the real world, some power is lost to friction and heat. This number could be indicated in watts instead, in which case you can solve for amps.
Most models you find will include other charging sources. The hand crank is generally inefficient and reserved for true emergencies. If the unit has its own battery, its size will likely be indicated in mAh. The battery bank size divided by the size of the battery in your device will tell you how many charges you might get out of it. You can charge the battery at home from an outlet before you set out. Many devices also include a small solar panel. These panels can help charge the internal battery, which might save you some cranking in the long run.
The Best Hand Crank Phone Charges with USB Ports
Best Overall: Eton American Red Cross Clipray Crank-Powered
Eton makes several hand crank charger models, and the American Red Cross-branded Clipray is by far the simplest. They know what the best hand crank cell phone charger is. This unit is dead simple, which is also why it gets top marks. And even the tightest gear budgets can appreciate the low price tag. It’s perfect for bug out bags and emergency preparedness.
Bells and whistles it does not have. The unit consists of a hand crank flashlight that also happens to have a USB outlet. No information is available about how much power the crank makes, though, so we have to assume that it isn’t much. Chances are you can add a few percent to your phone after ten or so minutes of cranking, enough to get off one emergency call.
Unlike most of the other units on our list, the Eton Clipray doesn’t have a built-in battery bank. So the only real power output you get is what you crank. Without an internal battery, there’s no way to put in power without cranking. While most of the other crank chargers on the market offer the crank as a last resort, this entire unit is the last resort. But for that purpose, it’s priced right and will last forever in your ditch bag.
Best Seller: FosPower Emergency Solar Hand Crank Portable Radio
For not a lot more money, you can get significantly more functionality. Take, for example, the FosPower multi-function device. It brands itself as an emergency radio, but it also includes a flashlight and a reading light, plus it has a 2,000 mAh portable battery bank with a solar panel. If the internal battery dies, you can also use three AAA batteries. All of this comes in a rugged, water-resistant package that isn’t much larger than your phone itself.
The unit is rated IPX3 and labeled rugged and water-resistant. That’s not a great rating, so expect that it could take a very light drizzle. The 2,000 mAh battery pack is one of the larger sizes of crank chargers in this price range. The battery is about the size of the average small cell phone, so you can expect to get one full charge out of it. But it will power the unit’s radio and lights for hours of playtime.
Most Versatile: RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank Self Powered Charger
If you like the looks of the multi-function FosPower, but looking for something a little less expensive, check out the Running Snail charger. Like its competitor, it features and radio and flashlight and a battery bank with a solar panel. The two main differences—its battery bank is half the size, at 1,000 mAh, and the unit is not water-resistant.
RunningSnail’s crank charger has all the right options, and the low price makes it a bargain. But as the adage says, “You get what you pay for.” The 1,000 mAh battery is much smaller than most phones have. So while it will power the unit’s radio and flashlight for a few hours, it’s not going to do much more than give you a few minutes of call time.
Best Solar Powered Hand Crank Charger: Givoust Emergency Weather Crank Radio and Solar Powered Charger
This top-of-the-line model has it all. This hand crank charger includes a flashlight, radio, and battery pack with a solar panel like those listed above. It really shines as a portable battery bank, though, holding an impressive 4,000 mAh of power reserve.
There are other nice touches, as well. The radio has digital tuning, which is a significant improvement over the dial and knobs of other budget options. And there is an AUX music port, which gives this functionality as a wired speaker. The radio and flashlight can also run off of three AAA batteries if the main battery is drained. It’s all put together in a rugged and compact enclosure, making it an excellent option overall.
Best Pocket-sized Hand Crank Generator: HUABAN Hand Crank Generator High Power Charger
If you aren’t looking for all the gadgetry and want the best hand crank charger, you’ve got to look at the Huaban High Power Charger. This unit looks like a piece of military kit, and not just because it comes in stylish olive green. The large crank puts out more power than any of the other options—up to 30 watts. It’s waterproof, and with its settable voltage regulator, it can charge just about anything. The wiring harness comes with adapters for 5 mm DC plugs, regular USB ports, mini USB ports, and even alligator clips to plug directly to batteries. Voltage is programable between 0 and 28 volts. What does all of that mean? It means you could theoretically charge anything, including your car, with enough cranking. That would be quite a stretch, but it certainly can power a laptop.
This unit does nothing but provide output power. It has no built-in accessories or batteries, not even a flashlight. But it does provide a useable amount of power that can actually charge a device. As a crankable iPhone charger, this unit can’t be beaten. For reference, the iPhone SE has about a 1,800 mAh battery. At the rated 30 watts this charger produces, it theoretically would be fully recharged in under 20 minutes of cranking. Of course, there will be some inefficiencies, so it likely takes a little longer. Still, some users report using this device to charge up sizeable portable power banks, which can then run laptops or phones.
If you want to charge the widest variety of devices, the Huaban crank charger is your best choice. It’s the only one on the list that can do anything other than USB. One word of caution, however. You need to check your device’s input voltage before you plug it in and start cranking. If the voltage knob is set incorrectly, it will damage your devices.
Buying Guide: Things to Consider When Buying a Hand Crank Charger
Choosing the best hand crank charger comes down to picking the best unit to suit your needs. Why are you looking for one, to begin with? For most people, a hand crank emergency cell phone charger is precisely that—for use in emergencies. You want it to be a last resort because they really don’t provide very much power.
With that in mind, some of the multi-use units make more sense for most people. If a unit has a large power bank battery, you can charge your phone several times from the battery before resorting to the hand crank. Having a solar panel to add a little bit of power into the battery bank also makes sense, especially if you’re keeping the unit for hurricanes or your disaster preparedness kit.
If you opt for a charger with an internal power bank, the battery capacity dictates how many times you can charge your device. Research online and find how many milliamp hours your cell phone battery has, then divide the total milliamp hours of the power bank battery by it. That will give you an idea of how many times you can charge your phone.
Solar panels will help keep the battery topped off, and if you’re in an emergency and can leave the unit in direct sunlight, it should help you keep your device leveled off. The solar panels aren’t designed to completely recharge the battery bank, though. You can buy larger panels that put out more power for that or make sure to keep the battery topped off using a wall outlet or USB charger while the power’s still on.
It’s important to remember that all batteries self-discharge at some rate. The larger the power bank, the longer it would take to drain completely. But all of them need a little charge occasionally, an important thing to remember if you’re stashing it away in your bug out bag.
When the battery is drained, the power is out, and the sky is cloudy, it’s time to start cranking. But the efficiency of these units is impossible to measure. Many don’t even publish the basics of how much power the system can create. It’s safe to assume that they aren’t very efficient and take a lot of cranking to make a single phone call. In short, they’re great for emergencies, but it’s not a way you want to spend your time.
If you’re in a situation where reliable power isn’t going to be available for days at a time, you’ll want to look at products that have much larger solar panels and battery banks. Higher powered hand cranks or even foot pedal generators are other options if there isn’t much sunlight. Unfortunately, as indicated in many a hand crank phone charger review, a small battery size is a real problem in these units. A larger battery bank may be more useful overall.
The features you want to get with your unit depend drastically on how you intend to use it. If it’s going in your emergency kit, a radio is a great idea. Flashlights are handy to have in any situation.
Nearly everyone can benefit from buying the most sturdy and waterproof unit. For emergencies, you might be in rain or floods. For hiking and camping, you never know when your pack gets damp from rain or puddles.
Unless you’re doing missionary work during the rainy season, a hand crank charger is the last resort for most people. Luckily, most options are inexpensive. For under twenty bucks, you can pick up a charger that will add a few percent to your cell phone, and it will always be ready for when things get that bad.