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A Beginners Guide to the Best Batteries for Disaster Preparedness


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Last Updated: September 30, 2020

When it comes to preparing for disasters like power outages, batteries are one of the most important items to stockpile.  But it isn’t as simple as getting a bunch of batteries and throwing them in a drawer.

There are lots of types of batteries, and not all are suitable for long-term storage. They can go bad quickly or lose their charge even when not in use.

If you want to stockpile batteries, here’s what you need to know about plus the best batteries for emergency preparedness and bug out bags.

The Quick Answer

For disaster preparedness, you’ll need to stockpile NiMH LSD batteries and non-rechargeable lithium batteries.

NiMH LSD batteries can hold 70-80% of their charge for up to 10 years in storage, so will be ready to use when you need them.  Some can be recharged 2,000+ times.  Just make sure to get a good-quality smart charger and alternative energy source like a portable solar panel.

Lithium primary batteries aren’t rechargeable, but they have larger capacities and hold almost all of their charge for up to 20 years.  You can toss them in a bug out bag and count on them even years later.

Recommended Battery System for Prepping

These supplies should cover 99% of the average preppers needs.


Rechargeable NiMH LSD (Choose one option)

  • Eneloop 2000mAh AA or 800mAh batteries: Rechargeable up to 2,100 times maintain 70% of their charge after 10 years – Check on Amazon
  • Fujitsu 2000mAh AA or 800mAh AAA batteries: Rechargeable up to 2,100 times and retains 70% of their charge for 5 years – Check on Amazon

Lithium (Non-Rechargeable)

  • Energizer 3500mAh Ultimate Lithium Batteries: These will hold almost all their charge for 20 years – Check on Amazon

Charger

  • Opus BT Smart Charger: This is one of the best battery chargers you can get; it will prevent your batteries from overheating and overcharging – Check on Amazon

Solar Panel

  • BLAVOR Portable Solar Panel Kit: For when there’s no power and you need to recharge your NiMH LSD batteries – Check on Amazon

Battery Terminology

Battery charge levels

Before we get into what the best batteries for disaster preparedness are, there are some important terms you need to know.

Capacity

Battery capacity is measured in mAh.  It refers to how much energy the battery holds.  Most household batteries range from 800 to 2,500mAh.  Higher-capacity batteries are becoming available.

Voltage

Most household batteries have 1.2 volts.  There are some specialty batteries (like CR123A batteries) which use higher voltages though.  You’ll need to make sure that the voltage of the batteries you use matches the device requirements.

Self-Discharge Rate

Even when batteries aren’t in use, they will lose some of their charge.  How much charge they lose over time is their self-discharge rate.

Recoverable Capacity

When rechargeable batteries are stored for a long time, they will self-discharge. You can recharge them to regain the lost charge.  However, not all of the charge can be regained.

For example, if batteries are left idle for months at a hot temperature, they might only retain 60% of their listed charge.  The amount of charge that can be regained is called recoverable capacity.

Battery Memory

Did you ever hear that batteries should be completely empty before putting them to recharge?

This was because of the “memory effect”: A battery would “remember” the previous discharge amount and wouldn’t give more than that.  Luckily, the memory effect only applies to older types of batteries such as Ni-Cad.

NiMH batteries aren’t usually effected and lithium batteries are never effected.

Charging Cycles

This refers to how many times you can recharge a battery before it can’t be recharged again.  In other words, the battery loses some recoverable capacity after each recharge cycle.

Shelf life

This is how long you can expect the battery to last when stored properly.  Note that the shelf life of a battery is related to its self-discharge rate and number of charging cycles.

Low-Drain Devices

This refers to devices which require batteries but only use a small amount of energy.  Examples include remote controls, smoke detectors and clocks.

Certain types of batteries should never go in low-drain devices because they could self-discharge and never recover.

Types of Batteries

Types of battery

Batteries are named by the type of chemistry used in them.

The chemistry matters greatly!

It affects everything from the capacity, performance, lifespan, and shelf life.  The main battery options are alkaline, Ni-Cad, NiMH, lithium, and li-ion.

Alkaline

Alkaline batteries used to be the only choice for household batteries.  Now, there’s no reason to buy alkaline batteries anymore. They might seem cheaper up-front, but you’ll pay much more over time for poorer performance.

To put this in perspective, you might only get 100-200 camera shots with alkaline batteries (compared to 800+ with lithium batteries).  This breaks down to about 70 cents per 50 shots. Since you can’t recharge most alkaline batteries, the cost adds up quickly.

There are some rechargeable alkaline batteries but their performance is very bad.  You will get just a few recharge cycles out of them at best.

The only good thing about alkaline batteries is their low self-discharge rate.  This makes them suitable for low-drain devices like clocks.  A single alkaline battery can power a clock for years whereas a battery with a higher self-discharge rate would quickly die.

Pros

  • Can be found in common sizes (AA, AAA, C…)
  • Cheap initial cost
  • Suitable for low-drain devices like remotes and clocks
  • Decent shelf life (7 years) when stored properly

Cons

  • Much more expensive over the long run
  • Die very quickly
  • Can’t be recharged
  • Prone to corrosion

NiCad Batteries

NiCad refers to nickel cadmium batteries.  They are rechargeable alternatives to alkaline batteries.  However, NiCad has mostly been replaced by NiMH batteries.

Like with alkaline, there’s really no good reason to get NiCad batteries anymore. The main downside is that they self-discharge very quickly – around 10% per month!  Their shelf life is also pretty bad. While some can last for 5+ years, they generally lose a lot of their capacity within 18 months.  So, these are NOT suitable for disaster prepping.

NiCad batteries also suffer from memory effect, so you need to drain them completely before recharging.  This makes them completely unsuitable for situations where you might need to use the battery a bit, recharge a bit, and then use it again (such as recharging with a portable solar charger on the go).

Pros

  • Rechargeable
  • Cheap

Cons

  • Terrible capacity
  • Suffers from memory effect – you should let them completely drain before recharging
  • Very high self-discharge of up to 10% per month
  • Only about 100 to 300 charging cycles
  • Poor shelf life (18 months to 5 years)

Standard NiMH Batteries

NiMH is the most common type of rechargeable battery you’ll find.  They have better capacity and performance than NiCad batteries.  However, there are a lot of downsides to these batteries.

The main downside is that NiMH batteries have a huge self-discharge rate.  Within the first 24 hours they will lose about 20% of their charge.  Afterwards, they lose about 10% per month.  This high discharge means they are terrible for low-drain devices like smoke detectors.

Another big issue is that NiMH batteries shouldn’t be allowed to sit idle.  They need to be regularly charged and recharged. If you don’t do this, they can discharge beyond a recoverable point.  This makes them unsuitable for stockpiling for disaster preparedness.

Pros

  • No memory effect – can recharge at anytime
  • Easy to find

Cons

  • Highest self-discharge rate
  • Not suitable for low-drain devices
  • Sensitive to overcharging and heat
  • Capacity decreases after around 100 recharges
  • Realistic shelf life is only 2-3 years or 500-1000 charge cycles
  • Should recharge every 1-2 months

NiMH LSD Batteries – Best for Disaster Prepping

This is a newer type of battery which solves the problems with standard NiMH batteries.  Also called “hybrid” or “ready to use”, the LSD stands for “low self-discharge”.

As the name implies, NiMH LSD batteries don’t have a high self-discharge.  When stored properly, they will retain up to 85% of their charge after 1 year of storage and 70% of their charge after 5 years.  Lower-quality NiMH LSD batteries might only retain 80% of the charge after 6 months, but this is still better than standard NiMH batteries.

A weird catch about NiMH LSD batteries though is this: The higher the capacity, the fewer times you can recharge it.

For example, a 2500mAh NiMH LSD battery might only get 500 charging cycles.  By contrast, a 2100mAh battery could get 2,100 cycles.  This means that the lower capacity batteries pay off over the long run.

Of course, there are situations where you don’t want to constantly recharge or carry lots of spare backups, so it still might make sense to buy some high capacity NiMH LSD batteries too.

Beware of Overheating and Overcharging

Note that NiMH LSD batteries are sensitive to heat and overcharging. You’ll need to get a good smart charger to use with them. We recommend the Opus BT smart charger.

Pros

  • Low self-discharge rate
  • Suitable for long-term storage/disaster preparedness
  • No memory effect – can recharge at anytime
  • Up to 10 year shelf life when stored properly
  • 500 to 2,000 charge cycles
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Sensitive to overcharge and heat
  • Higher capacity versions have much fewer charge cycles and cost more
  • Only available in AA and AAA sizes

Lithium (Non Rechargeable) – Great for Bug Out Bags

In every single aspect – from capacity to shelf life – lithium batteries are the absolute best.  They come with huge amounts of capacity.  The weight to capacity ratio is also fantastic, which makes them great for situations like backpacking or bug out bags where you want to keep weight down.

The quality of lithium batteries is generally very high, so you can get a lot longer running life out of the batteries compared to other types like NiMH LSDs.

Lithium batteries also have a very low self-discharge rate.  They will hold 80% of their charge over 15 years.  So, you could toss them in a bug out bag and they’d be ready to power gear even years later.

But, yes, there are some downsides.  The main one is that lithium batteries are not rechargeable.  They are also pretty expensive, so the cost adds up quickly if you were to use only lithium batteries.

Until recently, lithium batteries were only available in specialty sizes.  Now you can find AA and AAA sizes of lithium batteries.  Just make sure you check the voltage of the batteries to ensure they match the device you are using.  High voltage lithium batteries could fry certain devices.

Pros

  • Very low self-discharge rate (1-2% per year)
  • Lightweight
  • High capacity
  • Functions well in high and low temperatures
  • Shelf life of up to 20 years

Cons

  • Not rechargeable
  • Expensive
  • Voltage might not match device
  • Few brands make AA and AAA sizes

Li-Ion

Li-ion are the rechargeable version of lithium batteries.  They have the benefit of coming in high capacities, so they are a good alternative to NiMH LSD batteries for high-drain devices.  Heck, Li-ion batteries are even used to power the Tesla electric car (it uses over 7,000 Li-ion cells)!

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of problems with Li-ion batteries that makes them unsuitable for most uses, not to mention unsuitable for disaster prepping.

The first issue is that Li-ion batteries shouldn’t go down to a zero charge.  If they drop below a certain capacity, the battery can be permanently ruined.

Since li-ion batteries have a fairly high self-discharge rate (15-20% per year), that means you can’t just leave them sitting around.  They could self-discharge to a point where they are beyond recovery.  So, obviously these aren’t an option for disaster prepping.

Li-ion batteries also have specific storage requirements.  They need to be at approximately 40% charge when stored.   If you store them at a full charge, they will actually self-discharge faster!

You also need to keep them around room temperature or they will get damaged permanently.  If kept at 77F for a year, they will retain almost all of their capacity.  At 104F, they will permanently lose 15% of their capacity.

Because of all these flaws, li-ion batteries are only suitable for electronics with high energy requirements and which get used every day.  You probably don’t need them for any of your emergency preparedness gear.

Pros

  • No memory effect – can be recharged at anytime
  • Available in high capacity
  • About 500 to 1,000 recharge cycles
  • Some come with built-in mini USB charger

Cons

  • If voltage drops too low, they are permanently ruined
  • Short shelf life of just 2-3 years
  • Need to make sure they are new when buying from the manufacturer
  • Should be stored with a 40% charge and not full or empty
  • Very sensitive to heat when stored
  • Self-discharge of 15-20% per year
  • Need to be recharged often
  • Should only be used with a quality charger
  • Can explode at temperatures higher than 140F
  • Not suitable for low-drain devices
  • Can’t be charged at below 32F

Which Batteries to Use with Emergency Gear

For emergency gear, we only recommend using NiMH LSD batteries or non-rechargeable lithium batteries.  Here are the guidelines:

Flashlights, Lanterns, and Other General Emergency Gear: NiMH LSDs with Lithium Backups

This gear tends to get used fairly often, so it will save you money if you choose rechargeable batteries.  However, you should still have some lithium primaries as a backup in case you can’t recharge, such as during a long-term power outage or while waiting for the NiMH LSDs to recharge with a solar panel.

Recommended:


Emergency Radios: Lithium Batteries

We recommend getting an emergency radio with the S.A.M.E. feature this triggers an alarm when there is a disaster in your area.

For this feature to work, your radio must be constantly kept turned on.  You can keep it plugged into a wall outlet but the batteries will serve as a backup energy source so you hear the alarm even during power outages.

Because emergency radios are so important, you want to make sure the battery doesn’t go dead when you need it.  That’s why lithium batteries are a good choice.   They can sit in your emergency radio for years and still provide power when you need it.


Gear in a Bug Out Bags: NiMH LSDs with Lithium Backups

Even though it is good practice to check the contents of your BOB kit regularly, most people will forget to do this.

Since the gear in your BOB is so important, you want to make sure the batteries will be ready when you need the gear.   Thus, high capacity lithium batteries are the best bet.

It’s still good to have some NiMH LSD batteries in your BOB too though – but only if you are also bringing a portable charger.  Solar chargers and solar power banks are a good bet.  There are also hand-crank chargers which, while a pain to use, will work in any conditions.


Car Emergency Kits: Lithium Batteries

Car emergency kits usually get stored in the trunk of your car. The temperature there can quickly get to over 110F.

NiMH LSD batteries are much more susceptible to damage from heat than lithium batteries are, so choose lithium batteries for gear stored in your car.

NEVER store lithium-ion batteries in your car.  They can explode in high temperatures.


Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors: Lithium Batteries

These are two pieces of emergency gear that you don’t ever want to go dead!  If you are diligent about checking battery life at least twice per year, you could use NiHM LSDs.  However, NiMH LSDs have a tendency to keep their charge for a long time and then suddenly drop.  That means you might not realize that the batteries are dead until it’s too late.

To play it safe, it’s best to use lithium batteries on this sort of crucial low-drain gear.  The lithium batteries last a very long time because of their high capacity and low self-discharge.

Battery Tips for Emergency Prepping

#1: Use the Same Type of Batteries for All Your Gear

Whenever possible, try to choose gear that uses the same size of batteries.  For example, my headlamps, UV water filter, and emergency radio all use AAA batteries.  If one piece of critical gear dies and I can’t recharge, then I can just take the batteries from another device to use in it.

#2: Never Mix and Match Batteries

You shouldn’t use different types of batteries together, such as NiMH with NiMH LSD batteries.  Even if the batteries are the same chemistry, you shouldn’t mix different capacities.  Some say not even to mix and match different brands – even if they are the same type and capacity.

The reason for this is that gear will only perform at the level of the lowest-charged battery.  Adding a full battery with a half-charged battery will not help the device run at higher capacity.

#3: Get a Good Charger

Even good rechargeable batteries are susceptible to overheating and overcharge.  Unfortunately, almost all rechargeables come with really cheap chargers.   Invest in a smart charger that can let you know what the actual charge is and stops charging when full or at a certain temperature.  Otherwise, you won’t get the full lifespan of the batteries.

#4: Store Batteries Properly

Batteries need to be stored in a cool, dry place. Their ends should never be allowed to touch each other or metal.  Certain batteries should be stored at a specific charge level.  For more on this, read my post on How to Store Batteries Properly.

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Leave a comment

  1. Great info!! This was extremely informative, and dispelled a lot of myths and misinformation. “Thank you for the article”.

    Reply
  2. Ok, I’m missing something here. How does the solar panel work with the battery charger? Aren’t you missing something that needs to be in between the two, like and inverter?

    Reply
    • The solar panel outputs its energy to the battery charger – make sure they are compatible. We have a post coming soon on solar panels.

      Reply
  3. Another BIG drawback of alkaline batteries not mentioned here is the awful corrosion problem, which can ruin whatever device they are in. I have had to throw out several damaged devices that would not work, even after a thorough cleaning of the contacts. I bought a supply of alkaline AA’s on ebay and about 1/4 of them were already corroded and unusable. [yes, lessons learned! ARGHH!]

    Reply
    • Thank you for mentioning that! It’s been so long since I’ve used alkaline batteries that I almost forgot about that issue. As the saying goes, “I don’t have enough money to buy cheap gear.” In this case, to buy cheap batteries. 🙂

      Reply

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