My PowerTraveller Tactical Extreme stopped working during my 2020 expedition in Spain. Until then, it was a really solid solar charger – with a rugged panel and power bank. I’d taken it all the way down the Rhine, to South Africa… pretty much anywhere I went for more than a couple of days. But when the panel started beeping instead of charging, I knew something was up.
I got in touch with support, sent it back and they confirmed there was a fault. Although, I never did find out what the fault was or what caused it (I didn’t drop it or anything, to my knowledge). So I had a brand new unopened PowerTraveller Tactical Extreme. Then 2021 did one on me and I only got around to opening the pack in 2022. I opened it and the power bank showed no signs of life. I tried to charge it via laptop USB and even a fast charge phone plug and neither produced any red charging dots. It was dead.
So, I got in touch with support again, expecting an “oh that’s really strange, we’re so sorry have another one”. But instead, they said:
“Unfortunately it does sound like the battery has turned negative. All rechargeable batteries slowly lose capacity from the moment they are made (we use a technology with a slow rate of this but it does still happen), and eventually they can no longer store a charge or charge other devices. Unfortunately this is caused by an irreversible chemical change within the battery, my apologies. This can be exacerbated by factors such as high storage temperatures or long periods without use, so it is likely that if it’s been unopened for over a year, this is what will have happened.”
Better still, a year is exactly the warranty. I was more than a bit disappointed. Why isn’t that written in big red letters on the box? Anyway, the lady was quite apologetic and offered me a discount code for 20% off another one… Except it turned out that you can’t just buy a power pack, you have to buy a new panel too. And they didn’t have any in stock anyway.
After looking glumly at my power pack for some time, I decided that that simply wasn’t good enough. How can the solution be to simply buy a new one when something stops working? So I cracked out a screwdriver and took matters into my own hands. Better still, it worked. Here is how to fix your solar power bank that won’t charge.
You will need
There’s only a very small kit list for this one. The main thing you might not have is a multimeter to measure the voltage across your battery.
- Screwdriver to fit
- AA batteries
- Fast charge phone wall charger (or equivalent way of charging from AC)
I have a small screwdriver set with all the small/tiny screws fittings as interchangeable heads. Pretty sure I got it from Screwfix. If you have other ways to connect AA batteries and power leads than sellotape, that works too. I did try a rubber band initially, but that didn’t work very well. Magnets would work, or the inside of a torch.
How to Resurrect Your Power Bank
In four simple steps, we shall bring your PowerTraveller Extreme power pack back to life. Of course, I don’t know what’s wrong with yours – there are probably many ways to make it not charge. But if you’ve just left it a while and now it won’t work, this might be the solution.
Step 1 – it’s not dead, it’s just resting
Unscrew the back of the power bank. You’ll notice that there’s a friendly notice on the back, politely discouraging you from doing so. It may break all my warranties, but when the other option is the bin, I’ll take my chances. Turns out it is a very simple interior. The only thing you need to be careful about is not breaking the waterproof seal somehow.
Use your multimeter to test the voltage across the battery. If you look closely, you’ll see where the battery is soldered onto the circuit board. If you look even closer, you’ll see a plus and a minus. Connect your multimeter up like mine in the picture (the 20V setting is ideal, since the battery is meant to be under 5V). Then put the red wire to the plus and the black wire to the minus, on the solder or the tiny bit of exposed wire between it and the solder and battery.
Mine was showing 2.08V – it lives! You can see in the picture that the label on the battery is telling us it should be at least 3.7V. Not dead, just asleep.
Step 2 – create your battery defib
Next, we need to create something to top that voltage back up. Something that will essentially give the power bank a jump start and wake it up. (Sort of, it’s not my best analogy.)
Tape AA batteries in series (+ to -) until you get to a voltage close to but not more than the correct voltage of your battery. Each AA battery is 1.5V, so in my case I just taped two together. Then, because I don’t own electrical leads or magnets, I just taped the leads from my multimeter onto the end of the batteries. This does mean you have to destroy your mini defib every time you want to test whether it worked, so if you do have cables handy, it’d probably be better.
Step 3 – administering shock
Carefully connect your defib to the power bank battery, making sure you put plus to plus and minus to minus. It is a big problem if you get this wrong so make sure you check. If you’ve thought about it, that’ll be red lead to plus and black lead to minus. Hold it there for 10-20 seconds. Dismantle and see if voltage has gone up. Mine was now at 2.7V (actually, this might have been after a couple of goes, so feel free to hold it in place up to a minute.)
Step 4 – will it charge?
Was it enough voltage to make the power bank charge properly? I plugged it into the wall on a phone fast charger, with the back still off. No lights came on. Nada. But I checked the voltage across the battery and it was going up: 2.8V. Then a few minutes later: 2.9V. So it looked like my battery was slowly coming out of its coma.
I left it on charge for at least an hour. When the voltage got up to around 3.7V, the first red dot charging light came up and it was charging properly. My battery was back!
To be thorough, I then took it off mains charge to check it still worked with the panel. (Yep, all still functioning there.) Then I plugged it into my laptop via USB and slow charged it that way. Oh, and of course screwed the back on again, making sure to fit the waterproof seal properly.
Ha, take that throwaway society.
Okay, I jest (mostly). But it’s madness that we are so quick to dismiss something as broken and just buy a new one. Can you tell I come from a family where we would dismantle the toaster every time it stopped working? Anyway, I hope this has helped you fix your power bank. May you have many more happy adventures together (and make sure to store it mostly charged between adventures, to try to stop this happening again.
Like the outdoors and fixing/making things? Check out my DIY gear series. Or maybe just have a mooch around while you’re here, I write about everything from bikes to via ferrata. (I’d start here if you’re new – hello!) Oh and you can get letters-via-email about what I’ve been up to in real time by joining my adventure squad. Thanks for stopping by!