Camping, Batteries and CPAPs

Over the past year or so we have written several blogs about camping and dealing with electrical needs. From charging your cell phone or iPad to running a CPAP machine, we have discussed the use of various sorts of batteries and inverters, and how to figure out how much power your machine needs. Make sure that ANY system that you use for medical purposes is tested before you plan to use it camping. If you don’t have the skills to evaluate a design yourself, find a competent person to aid you. Make sure that you discuss your medical needs with your doctor.

At a recent week-long camping event I was approached by a camper. She thanked us for all of the articles…she had read them all, but now she had a new problem. The temperature. Now I know personally that I have to sleep with my current cell phone in my pocket in order to protect it from the cold. The battery in the new model is very cold sensitive, whereas the older version of the same model was barely affected by even the coldest nights (How is THIS new and improved?)

I know that some folks only camp during warm weather, but there are several events a year that I camp at which can be quite chilly. What exactly do I mean by chilly? The forties (Fahrenheit) and down as the very low 30’s. Yes, I have seen the water in the dishpan freeze overnight. It actually made me feel good – I thought I was getting soft in my old age!

I was aware of the effects of cold on batteries because I do a lot of nature photography, and when photographing outside in the snow I knew to keep my spare batteries in the inside pocket of my parka to keep them warm. If you are going to be camping outside in cold weather, you need to check your batteries ahead of time to make sure that they can take the cold. For easily transported electrical sources, generally alkaline batteries perform poorly in very cold weather, and lithium batteries are only a little better choice. According to the experts your best bet is the NiCad battery. But just as we recommended that you test your battery set-up before you used it while camping, you need to see how your batteries will respond to cold temperatures, too.

In addition to the problem of battery failure from low temperatures, the camper who stopped by to talk to me had another issue – the air from her CPAP was sooo cold that she couldn’t tolerate using it. So we talked about it for a while. The only thing that both of us could think of, that would be non-toxic, and not require additional electricity, was hand warmers. Her plan was to create a box around her air intake and put a hand warmer or two in the space to preheat the air. Larger “body warmers” were also available. For people who may not be familiar with these little camping gems, there are several types. I am aware of two different forms that do not involve any sort of combustion (we were concerned about toxic fumes). The most common form is a disposable pack, containing cellulose, iron, water, activated carbon, salt, and vermiculite. You unwrap the pack, shake it up, and it produces heat for one to ten hours. Another self-contained, and reusable form of the hand warmer uses a super-saturated salt solution, but it is usually only good for a maximum of two hours.

I have been thinking about using a small cooler with a hand warmer to keep our phones warm for a while. I would be interested in hearing about other people’s experiences with cold, batteries, and CPAP machines!

A pair of air-activated disposable hand warmer...

A pair of air-activated disposable hand warmers, US quarter to scale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)