More Power to You

How to Charge Your Gadgets Faster and Save Packing Space on the Road


Buying Guides By Photo by Chase Pellerin
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It took me nearly a decade of considerable travel before I realized that packing the standard chargers and cables that come prebundled with gadgets is a waste of wall outlets, bag space and, most importantly, time. The charging kits below can help you avoid a decade’s worth of mistakes. They’re designed for the common gadget combinations most of us bring on the road, and they’re tailored to meet my three personal goals for what constitutes the ideal charging setup.

The Perfect Charging Kit Must…
1. Charge all devices at the same time if necessary, as fast as possible.
2. Use a minimal amount of cables and power converters.
3. Need a max of only two free outlets.

But before moving on to the gear, it’s important to know what separates the best third-party charging accessories from the rest of the field.

The basic thing to know is this: more amps equals faster charging, up to a point. A proper schooling on this topic would dive into the technical definitions and relationships between voltage, current and power, as well as the importance of battery “C-rates,” but that knowledge isn’t fully necessary to leverage quality charging. Thankfully the tech industry has standardized the USB specification enough now that the risk of melting your gadget by mating it with the wrong USB charger is essentially zilch. So, we’ll skip the full physics lesson and take on the role of gym teacher instead (no offense, coach).

And What About Quick Charging?
Many newer Android devices like the LG G5 ship with some form of “quick,” “rapid” or “fast” charging feature. All of the standards operate on the same principle outlined in this guide. Newer phones are capable of drawing higher current levels from power supplies, allowing them to charge faster when paired with power supplies that are certified to output higher currents. Plenty of third-party chargers on the market today support these standards, but I chose to ignore them for now given how quickly these features are evolving and improving. If you’d like more details on chargers that support quick-charge technology, make sure to check out The Wirecutter’s suggestions.

The speed at which a battery charges depends on the amount of current delivered to it (measured in amps) via the power source. Generally, the more amps a charger delivers, the faster a battery can charge, within limits. That’s because all devices have a maximum current they’re capable of accepting. The goal of any perfect charging setup is to pair your device with a power supply that’s capable of outputting a gadget’s maximum acceptable current.

For example, any iPhone since the 6 can draw power at a variety of current levels ranging from .5 amps up to 2.1 amps. The same rough range holds true for basically every other modern smartphone, too.

The thing is, the charger included with your phone outputs only 1 amp of current. The bigger charger included with the iPad, on the other hand, provides either 2.1 or 2.4 amps (depending on the model of iPad and the year you bought it), meaning it’s capable of juicing your phone at a far speedier rate. Just how much faster depends on your device, but tests using the first-generation iPhone 6 Plus found that using the iPad charger shaved off a whopping two hours of time.

Luckily, there are plenty of other charging solutions on the market that offer multiple USB ports, each of which are capable of outputting 2.4 amps*. This means not only that you can bring one power supply instead of several, but that each of the ports will typically charge your devices faster than the included stand-alone chargers would.

*Be wary of multiple-USB port chargers that “share” 2.4 amps across ports. This indicates that 2.4 amps is the maximum current outputted across all ports in total, so if you connect more than one device to charge at the same time, each will receive less current than if they were charging alone. Instead, look for devices that offer 2.4 amps of current per port to ensure that every device connected charges in the fastest possible time.

Smartphone + Battery Pack

A Handy Charger, Tidy Cables and a Backup Plan

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If your smartphone is the center of your tech universe, this setup will provide all of the charging capabilities you need with the least amount of bulk and clutter. The RAVPower Dual USB wall charger is only slightly bigger than the standard iPad charger, but it offers the ability to output 2.4 amps to two devices simultaneously. Monoprice’s retractable USB 2.0 and Lightning cables also offer a tidier alternative to standard charge and sync cables. The Travel Card Charger is also one of the most convenient backup battery solutions I’ve found if you’re in need of a few extra hours’ worth of power, largely because it’s only slightly thicker than a standard credit card and also ships with either an integrated Lightning or USB cord to connect with your phone.

There’s also plenty of charging cases to choose from if you prefer that route, including solid options from Anker ($40), Tylt ($54) and Mophie ($89).

RAVPower 24W 2.4A Dual USB Wall Charger $10
Monoprice USB 2.0 Retractable Cable $3
Monoprice Apple Lightning Retractable Charge & Sync Cable $17
The TravelCard Charger $30

Smartphone + Tablet / E-Reader

Add Switch-Hitting Cables and an Easy Solution for Wrangling Them

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The same benefits from the accessories above apply here, but adding a tablet or e-reader introduces another complication to the wiring puzzle. Picking up a set of Mophie switch-tip cables, which offer a micro-USB tip as well as Apple’s Lightning connector on the same cable provides added flexibility to your charging needs, since either can work with Lightning or USB devices. If paying $30 for the that kind of versatility is too rich for your blood, Monoprice offers a similar solution for half the price. If you already have a few Micro USB cables lying around, you can also build your own version by following the tips outlined below. Whatever you decide to go with, using a set of BlueLounge’s Cableyoyos is an easy way to avoid tangles.

Carrying more devices also means you’ll need more backup power. While it’s definitely far more expensive than most portable power banks and holds less juice, Mophie’s Space Station is one a top recommendation since its additional integrated 32 or 64GB of storage can be a lifesaver should a photo and video taking binge max out the space on your device. It packs enough power to charge your iPhone several times over and can top off most iPad models. If you prefer to spend less, the Amazon Basics line of portable battery banks are also a great value option.

RAVPower 24W 2.4A Dual USB Wall Charger $10
Mophie Switch-Tip Lightning and Micro-USB Sync and Charge Cable $30
Mophie Space Station $150
BlueLounge Cableyoyo $10
How to Build Your Own Micro USB and Lighting Charge Cable

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Add versatility to existing Micro USB cables by purchasing Monoprice’s Lightning to Micro USB Adapter ($8). Amazon also sells their own version for $11. Then pick up a Lightning cozy $10 from Cozy Industries so you don’t lose the bundle.

Laptop + Smartphone + Tablet + Backup Battery

Add a Clever Adapter for Mac Power Supplies

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The addition of a laptop can complicate matters depending on how you prefer to charge your devices and how light you want to pack. One way to spare yourself from needing an extra accessory is to simply bring the same setup from above and connect one device or more to your laptop’s integrated USB port(s). The amount of current they provide depends on the port’s version of USB. USB 2.0 is the baseline for essentially any laptop made in the last 15 years or so. These ports offer a max current of 0.5 amps. Newer models equipped with USB 3.0 ports can offer a max current of 0.9 amps. In either situation, these levels are much lower in current than the best third-party chargers, so you’ll have to accept slower charge times in exchange for this streamlined setup.

If, on the other hand, you’d like three separate USB points not connected to your laptop and faster charge times, Twelve South’s PlugBug World Adapter ($45) is a solution that can get you there. It adds an integrated USB port capable of 2.1 amps to your MacBook power brick, as well as the ability to swap in plug adapters for every kind of outlet, making it super convenient for international travel. Just make sure you use the the PlugBug’s included 2.1-amp USB port for your phone and leave the other two 2.4-amp ports offered by the dual-USB wall charger for an iPad (if you own a newish model) or backup battery, since they have higher max current ratings and will charge faster on the dedicated third-party USB adapter.

If you prefer carrying along the extension cable for your Mac power supply, use Bluelounge’s large cable clips to minimize the space this bulky cord takes up in your pack.

RAVPower 24W 2.4A Dual USB Wall Charger $10
Mophie Switch-Tip Lightning and Micro-USB Sync and Charge Cable $30
Bluelounge Cable Clips Size Medium $9
Bluelounge Cable Clips Size Large $10

Laptop + Smartphone + Tablet + Camera + Backup Battery

Add a Smart Portable Surge Protector to Handle It All in One Go

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Bringing a camera in this scenario usually means finding another wall outlet if you need to charge everything at once. The trouble is, many hotels sadly don’t provide more than one empty set of outlets for guests to use, or if they do, they’re in awkward places like the bathroom, which isn’t exactly an ideal environment for tech products. Tripp Lite’s three-outlet portable surge protector with dual USB ports solves this outlet crunch by offering connections for charging up to five different devices at once, along with 540 joules of surge suppression. Its integrated wall plug also folds down when not in use, making it easily one of the most space-conscious surge protectors available.

Unfortunately, its included USB ports only offer a total of 2.1 amps, which means you’ll have to put up with slightly slower charge times if you want to travel as light as possible and charge a tablet and phone at the same time. Or, you can pack the RAVPower 24W 2.4A Dual USB Wall Charger if that’s not a compromise you’re willing to deal with.

RAVPower 24W 2.4A Dual USB Wall Charger $10
Mophie Switch-Tip Lightning and Micro-USB Sync and Charge Cable $30
Bluelounge Cable Clips Size Medium $9
Bluelounge Cable Clips Size Large $10
Tripp Lite 3 outlet Portable Surge Protector $20
Bluelounge Pixi Cable Ties $10
Own an iPad Pro? Charge It Faster With These

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Both the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and its bigger 12.9-inch brother are easily the most power-hungry mobile devices Apple has ever made — so much so that even the standard iPad charger included doesn’t optimize their charging times. The good news is that the 29W USB-C Adapter that ships with Apple’s ultra-portable MacBook can deliver enough current to both iPad Pro models to cut their charging times down by almost half. Besides the USB-C power adapter, you’ll also need a USB-C to Lightning cable ($25) to complete the fast-charging setup.