Power Delivery systems for bikepacking

USB Power Delivery (PD) 3 is a relatively recent power standard that charges devices much more quickly than older systems. Cache batteries can be fully re charged in a few hours (2-4) and partial charges can be done in well under one hour. Wall chargers are lightweight and can typically charge devices and cache batteries simultaneously. Lighting systems are also being released with PD resulting in long runtimes and short recharge cycles.

The four images immediately below are an attempt to portray the combination of the Fenix HM65R (handlebar mounted) and the Petzl Swift RL (helmet mounted) being utilized for backcountry bikepacking. Given the capabilities of both these light sources it’s difficult to capture the usability of the illumination in a static image, and even more difficult in a video! Based on the field-testing so far I’m expecting to be able to ride through two consecutive shoulder-season nights (9-10 hours of darkness) without recharging either light. In the examples below both lights were run for about four hours and recharged very quickly from the 26,800 mAh cache battery outlined below.

Updated March 2021 to incorporate several more recent LED lighting systems including rapid-charging options, and some minor usage updates on the PD cache batteries. Both of the battery packs outlined below continue to perform extremely well. For long day rides and overnighters where the temperature will be above -20 deg. C (0 F) the 10,000 mAh pack gets the nod. For colder temperatures and/or longer trips the larger 26,800 mAh pack is excellent, including charging Lenz heated sock batteries. This single battery is adequate for 3-5 days* of lighting, navigation, and communications without recharging. * I really appreciate the multiple ports on the larger battery, it makes device recharging while riding very easy. The performance boundaries of the lighting systems are still being explored. So far, somewhere between remarkable and astonishing. (This is NOT a paid endorsement, and is not a technical review of product performance.)

Lighting Systems – After a number of years of using three 650 lumen bike lights that all started to suffer from diminished performance (approximately 500 grams combined weight, with each taking 6-8 hours to recharge). The experience with PD charging led me to look more closely at lighting systems that leveraged PD charging capabilities and were powerful, durable, and waterproof. In Q2, 2020 I started purchasing and field-testing different options at various price points. The Fenix HM65R and Petzl Swift RL were two lights that quickly emerged as providing high-quality illumination with excellent battery performance, and light weight (230 grams for the pair). Both are marketed as headlamps, and neither light is intended to be directly mounted to bicycles or bike helmets. No worries, interlocking Velcro attachment systems cover this off (details in the picture gallery below). A few caveats, not the most powerful, not designed for bikepacking, the Swift is not recommended for cycling in Reactive Lighting mode. Taken in isolation all of these statements are accurate. However, combining these two lights together is a game-changer for both forward & peripheral illumination, and battery longevity. At the highest settings the combination of the two lights is rated as 2,300 lumens. The pair of these lights and their simple DIY custom Velcro mounts are less than half the weight of the predecessors and are MUCH more capable. The quality of all four light sources (2 on each light) is exceptional! I’m still trying to shift my lighting management paradigm from how-many-hours, to how-many-nights of riding without battery re-charge. Both lights have removeable rechargeable batteries that each weigh 50 grams. Petzl spare battery, and Fenix spare battery. So, if desired, you could carry 100 grams of spare batteries and roughly double longevity. The Fenix light has a USB-C port and recharges quickly (2-3 hours) from a PD source. NOTE: The light can be used on all but the highest settings while recharging. The Petzl Swift RL has a micro USB port on the removable battery and typically takes 4 or 5 hours to fully recharge. Perhaps Petzl will offer a battery pack that more fully leverages PD standards. I’m finding that the PD charge times for the Pixel 3 XL (phone & tertiary navigation), Wahoo Bolt (navigation and HRM), InReach Explorer (backcountry communications and secondary navigation) and these lights are quick enough that I can top up all devices while riding in daylight and then only have to deal with recharging a cache battery when stopped at a power source.

  • Details of both lights

The locking systems and controls on both lights are excellent with the Fenix having independent switches for the flood and spot lights. For the snow covered winter riding that I’ve done the 400 lumen flood is very good when combined with the full-power (900 lumen) Reactive Lighting of the Petzl. Being able to look up and around and have the “right” quality and quantity of light is very useful.

Anecdote:  This is not intended to be sensational, merely instructional.  Recently I was on a solo fatpacking trip in the backcountry of Banff National Park.  At dusk I saw at least three wolves approaching along the lakeshore towards my camp.  I was able to watch them being wolves for about 10 minutes before the wind shifted and they caught my scent. After a brief conference they split up around my campsite. On the east, one commenced howling (<200 metres away) while the others worked around to the west side.  Nothing to be unduly concerned about.  My issue was that my tent was at least 200 metres away to the west and with the wind driven snow-transport that evening I’d have to wallow through new thigh deep drifts to reach my sleeping location.  Over the next 4+ hours I was able to both enjoy the natural light and warmth of the fire with the Swift RL light on a 20 lumen setting, watch the moonrise, and brace from the building winds, while regularly glancing up having the light automatically switch to high brightness and carefully scan the perimeter for unwanted visitors.  At bedtime I manually switched the light to high, carefully checked the brush adjacent to my planned route, and trudged through the snow to my tent.  When checking things for the night the RL still showed an 80% charge.  Ambient temperature -5C.

The bike as a Cane Creek Viscoset head set. It takes some force to move the handlebars.

Updated June 7, 2020 with additional observations for a 10,000 mAh Power Delivery (PD) 3 battery pack. This battery weights 190 grams, which compares very favourably with 4,000 mAh packs weighing 140 grams. So far the PD 3 system is working extremely well for rapidly charging a Pixel 3XL, Wahoo Elemnt Bolt, HRM, fitness watch, and InReach as required.  The recharging of fully or partially discharged PD battery packs is fast, taking between four hours to less than one hour.  During a recent bikepacking trip the phone was partially charged twice from 60% to 100% with the 10,000 mAh pack.  This pack then only took 45 minutes to be fully recharged.  It was purchased due to its advertised 3-hour recharge time.  Happy to report that the full recharge time has been slightly less than 3 hours over a trial of ten discharge/charge cycles.

Ravpower cache battery (inside Salsa top tube bag) charging a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt on the fat bike

The majority of my bikepacking is at speeds too slow to utilize a dynamo hub, leading to exclusively using cache batteries and occasionally a solar panel since 2016. These batteries are of various sizes from 3,000 to 14,000 mAh. While the batteries have performed well, slow device charging speeds, inability to recognize and charge some devices, and the 10 to 14 hours taken to recharge these packs can be limiting or result in the weight and expense of carrying extra cache batteries and multiple chargers.

PD 3 allows for the rapid charging of devices such as compatible smartphones, GPS units, InReach units, heart rate monitors, lights, and cache batteries.

The Ravpower 26,800 mAh cache battery was selected for the following reasons;

  • ability to be fully recharged in less than 5 hours,
  • the highest currently available compact battery capacity with the PD standard,
  • USB C 30 watt and two 2.4 A USB iSmart output ports that negotiate the fastest available charging speeds,
  • separate micro USB input for direct charging from a solar panel, (could also be used with a dynamo hub)
  • ability to pass-through charge while being recharged,
  • included two USB to micro USB cables and a USB C cable,
  • The Aukey charger was selected based on its 60 watt PD output, having both USB C and USB A 2.4 A iSmart outputs, and relatively small size and weight.

Results so far:

  • Continuously powered a Pixel 3 XL smartphone (with cellular, wifi and location enabled, but not logging or navigating), Wahoo Elemnt Bolt (navigation and tracking enabled), and Wahoo Ticker Fit (heart rate monitor) for ~100 hours of run time with all devices still fully charged at the end of the period. Also took about 25 pictures during the test period.
  • fully recharged the cache battery in 4 hours after the above discharge period. Partial charges can be very quick, which should be useful when making shorter stops at locations with power.
  • cache battery is able to detect and charge small devices such as USB rechargeable headlamps, tail lights, and watches.
  • Recharges a Galaxy S7 or Pixel 3 XL in ~1.5 hours, versus 6+ hours for charging from non-PD batteries.
  • Recharges a Bolt in ~ 1 hour.
  • Recharges a Ticker in ~40 minutes
  • There has been no discernible difference in charging or recharging times using an Anker USB C 3.1 cable or the included Ravpower USB C cable. All of the supplied cables are appear to be of high quality. The Anker cable is shorter and weighs ~50 grams versus ~30 grams for the included cable.
  • Total weight of cache battery, 3 supplied cables, and padded bag is 520 grams. The Aukey charger weighs 160 grams.
  • The quality of the Ravpower cache battery appears to be significantly better than any batteries previously purchased.
  • The four blue lights briefly display charge/discharge information when the power button is pressed. The speed of the flashing varies based on connected devices.
  • When registering the product with Ravpower the warranty was extended to 30 months from 18 months, for purchases made through Amazon.
  • With cables connected the cache battery fits comfortably in a Salsa EXP top tube bag.
Top left Aukey 60 watt charger, bottom left to right Google Pixel 3XL, Ravpower cache battery, Wahoo Elemnt Bolt, bottom right heart rate monitor.