Stocking extra batteries goes hand in hand with prepping like backyard chickens and bug out bags. These days however it’s not as simple as going to the grocery store and stocking up on disposable batteries. With the advances on battery technology there are better options when it comes to considering which batteries are best for emergency preparedness and storage.
Recommended Reading: Creating a Lights Out Kit
Primary cell (Alkaline and Heavy Duty) batteries are fine for your everyday electronics like TV remotes and equipment that gets used regularly. When it comes to long term emergency storage, alkaline batteries shouldn’t even be considered. If you have them that’s great, but you shouldn’t be dependent on alkaline batteries in an emergency.
I cover why alkaline batteries shouldn’t be stored long term later in the article, as well as a few different types of batteries to consider. Rechargeable batteries are great for emergency preparedness, but there are a few factors that need to be considered before making a purchase.
In this article I’ll also go over what a few of the most commonly used rechargeable batteries that can replace the disposable batteries you might have in storage. I’ll also cover how to choose the best battery for emergency preparedness.
Before I get into the different types of batteries, lets go over a few of the details that need to be considered as you decide on what the best battery is for your situation. Just because a battery fits in your device doesn’t mean it will work. Understanding the batteries capacity, discharge rate, and recharge cycles will help save you money in the long run.
Most disposable batteries (Primary Cell) are 1.5 volts, and the most common types of disposable batteries are Heavy-Duty and alkaline. Most small electronics like radios and flashlights require AA, AAA, C, or D batteries are usually designed to run on 1.5 volts.
There are some batteries that are the same size as these batteries but are 3 or more volts, such as the lithium ion battery. Larger Lithium Primary batteries can also be found in medical devices and military equipment.
Rechargeable batteries like the Eneloop are 1.2 volts but work fine in most electronics. Non-rechargeable batteries list the “fresh” voltage while rechargeable batteries list the “nominal” voltage. Rechargeable batteries maintain their voltage for a longer period of time, whereas the primary cell batteries lose their voltage under load and slowly degrade.
In short, don’t just look for a battery with the longest lifespan and capacity, make sure it will work in the device you need it to. It’s also important to have as many different devices that use the same type of battery as you can.
With all batteries mAh (Milliamp Hour) is used to measure the energy capacity of that battery. While there is more that goes into how long a battery will last, in general the more mAh a battery has, the larger the battery capacity or battery life.
The average disposable primary cell AA battery will hold around 400 to 900 mAh, but really depends on the manufacturer. Rechargeable batteries can have double or triple the mAh of a primary cell battery, but again, it depends on the manufacturer.
Self discharge is the rate at which a battery loses it’s stored charge, and Unfortunately all batteries are susceptible to this. The rate at which batteries self discharges depends on the type of battery, how charged it is, storage temperature and other factors.
In the chart below you’ll see that nickel based batteries (NiCD) suffer the largest amount of self discharge, while Lithium batteries have the least. One exception to this is the Eneloop LSD (Low Self Discharge) batteries which are ideal for long term storage.
Battery Memory Affect
Some rechargeable batteries are affected by what is called the memory affect. Particularly the nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries. This happens when the battery is only partially discharged before recharging. This can also be caused by a badly designed budget battery charger.
The memory affect in batteries should be considered but isn’t the issue it once was. Especially if you have a good battery charger. In fact, it’s probably not a good idea to completely discharge most rechargeable batteries anyway.
Unfortunately rechargeable batteries don’t last forever. Every battery has a limited number of times it can be recharged before it loses capacity or fails completely. A charging cycle is the number of times you can discharge and recharge a battery.
This is where the different between shelf life and a batteries actual lifespan come into play. If the battery is being stored long term, the shelf life is more important. If a battery is being used regularly, the number of charging cycles might be more important.
Alkaline Batteries in Storage is a No Go
Not so long ago alkaline batteries were the only option we had for batteries. You’ve probably opened up a flashlight or radio battery compartment at one point or another only to find everything destroyed by corrosion. This is cause by alkaline batteries sitting in a device for long periods of time.
While lithium batteries are a little more expensive than alkaline batteries, they last much longer, do not leak, and are even a little bit lighter. When you do the math, you actually get more bang for your buck from a lithium battery.
This doesn’t mean stop buying alkaline batteries, it just means don’t add them to your emergency storage. While they are great because of their low self discharge and affordability, it’s just not worth the risk.
Rechargeable Battery Comparison
The chart below shows a few of the most common battery types you have to choose from, and how they stack up against each other. This chart lists the averages for AA type batteries.
Low Self Discharge Nickel-Metal Hydride ( LSD NiMH)
- Up to 20 year shelf life.
- NiMH batteries have no memory effect.
- Very low self discharge when not in use.
- Compatible chargers are easy to find.
- Can replace alkaline batteries in most devices
- A little more expensive than disposable batteries.
- Only comes in AA and AAA
Nickel-Metal Hydride ( NiMH )
The NiMH is a relatively new type of battery which started to gain traction in the late 90’s. These are a safer non toxic alternative to the NiCd rechargeable battery. The Energizer Power Plus is one of the best on the market today.
- NiMH are non toxic and don’t require special disposal.
- Can deliver the same voltage as NiCad batteries but with a much higher capacity.
- Are a good replacement for Alkaline batteries in most electronics.
- Has a high number of charging cycles.
- Have a high rate of self discharge.
- Long charging times.
- Not good for low load devices.
- Higher priced.
Lithium Iron Disulfide (LiFeS2)
Most lithium based batteries normally deliver 3+ volts while the LiFeS2 delivers 1.5 volts making it compatible with most electronics. While there are a few manufacturers out there, stick with the well known Energizer brand.
- Improved performance compared to alkaline batteries.
- Great for long term storage.
- Very low self discharge
- Not rechargeable.
- Higher price per mAh
With the rise in popularity of the NiMH and Lithium batteries the NiCd batteries are not used as often as they once were. While they do come in many different shapes and sizes, there are better option out there for emergency storage.
- Can be revived even when completely discharged.
- Comes in AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V sizes.
- Very inexpensive.
- Low number of charging cycles.
- Very high self discharge rate.
- Low Storage lifespan.
- Environmental concerns.
- Suffer from the “memory affect”.
Get a Battery Checker…
While most battery chargers will show you how much charge a battery has, it’s also a good idea to have a battery checker on hand.
The battery checker we have was about $5, doesn’t require electricity, and tests AA, AAA, C, D, 9V as well as lithium Ion batteries. It might even be a good idea to get a couple because you will use use it more than you think.
This may go without saying, but if you store rechargeable batteries you need a way to recharge them. There are a number of good battery chargers out there, but make sure you get one that is higher quality.
We use the XTAR VC4, and it still works great after 3 years. Another thing I like about the Xtar is the fact that I can attach it to my Goal Zero external battery and transfer the power from that to my AA or AAA batteries.
Regardless whether the power grid fails for an extended period of time, or it’s just a basic power outage it always good to have alternative energy sources available.
Batteries will be necessary for electronics like short wave radios, lanterns, hand held radios, and flashlights just to name a few. Making sure those batteries aren’t dead when we need them is equally important.