Hand crank generators aren’t as popular as other generator types. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve never seen one.
However, you may still need one in case your grid power goes out or the torch battery goes flat. You can easily recharge the torch battery using a hand crank generator and even charge your phone as you seek more permanent backup power solutions.
Above all, hand crank generators are portable enough to bring on camping trips, travels, and other activities, so you always have a backup power solution.
Read on to learn more about hand-crank generators, how they work, and the pros and cons of owning one, as well as find out some of the best hand-crank generators.
What is a Hand Crank Generator?
Hand crank generators are electric equipment that generate electricity when you crank a lever or pedal attached to the device. Cranking the lever or pedal turns a rotor inside the generator, creating an electric current that is harnessed and availed for everyday use.
For instance, you can use the hand crank generator to charge your phone, laptop, or tablet. Many hand-crank generators also double up like torches. So, you can use it in the garage or outside the house to find your way in the absence of other power sources.
Overview of the best Hand Crank Generators
Before we review each product in the above overview, we will first explain how the generators work and what are the best features you might be interested in.
How the Hand Crank Generator Works
Hand crank generators work almost the same way as traditional generators. The only difference is that it relies on mechanical energy from your arm rather than fossil fuel. So you can also think of it as a more “hand-powered” dynamo.
The hand crank generator comprises a spinning coil placed between two permanently stationed magnets similar to the dynamo. The coil, made of conducting wire, is positioned right between the first magnet’s north pole and the second magnet’s south pole.
When you turn the lever with your arm, it rotates the coil, causing a changing magnetic field that, in turn, induces the flow of electrons.
It’s a slightly more technical process. However, if you’re familiar with the first law of electromagnetic induction, you’ll easily understand how this creates electricity. It says that “whenever a conductor is placed in a varying (alternating) magnetic field, an electromagnetic field is inevitable. Further, it states that if this happens in a closed circuit, an induced current will flow through the conductor.
Meanwhile, the second law of electromagnetic induction states that the magnitude of the induced current is equal to the rate of change of the EMF.
Hand-crank generators produce unstable direct current (DC). So, most hand crank systems have a built-in communicator that periodically reverses the voltage, resulting in clean, alternating current (AC) power. The communicator also serves as the original outlet for the hand crank generator.
Many modern hand-crank generators have built-in storage batteries so that you can store power for later use.
Pros and Cons of Hand Crank Generators
Hand crank generators can be incredibly beneficial at home, work, and on your travels. The following are common benefits and a few challenges to beware of.
- Extremely portable: Hand crank generators are the most portable type of generator. Indeed, some are so small you can fit them in your pocket. The extreme portability means you can bring your hand crank generator practically everywhere.
- Excellent for travels and camping: Hand crank generators can be vital if traveling to a location where you’re not certain about electricity supply. For instance, it can save your life when camping in the wilderness.
- No need for fuel: Hand-crank generators don’t operate on fossil fuels. This quality makes them invaluable if your primary backup generator runs out of fuel. You can use the hand crank unit to power the smaller devices as you seek other alternatives.
- Multi-purpose use: Hand crank generators are applicable in a wide range of applications. Although they’re primarily used to charge electrical devices, most hand-crank generators double up as flashlights, lighters, radios, and music players.
- Very affordable: Finally, hand crank generators are very affordable. Most units are priced below $100, meaning you can acquire one easily. They are also essentially maintenance-free. All you have to do is keep it away from excessively moist environments.
- Low power output: Unfortunately, hand crank generators don’t produce much power. Most units produce about 5.0 watts to 6.2 watts at two revolutions per minute, though bigger units can consistently put out 400+ watts.
- It’s tiring: You have to wonder how long you need to crank the unit to charge a phone, for instance. If the 120V from the power grid takes up to an hour to completely charge a phone, how long will the crank generator take?
Top Considerations When Shopping for a Hand Crank Generator
Suppose you’re completely convinced and prepared to go all the way and acquire a hand crank generator for backup purposes. In that case, the following considerations should help you pick the right one.
- Power output
How much power do you need from your hand crank generator? As we’ve seen, standard hand-crank generators only put out about 5.0 watts, though the biggest units can put out as much as 400 watts per hour. It’s best to decide based on the items you hope to power with the generator.
You must also consider how much output you get for each crank. Put differently, how much power can you generate by cranking the generator for, say, a full minute? The higher the value, the more efficient the generator. Incredibly, some hand-crank generators can put out up to 20 minutes of power from a minute’s crank.
- Output outlets
Another critical consideration is the types and number of outlets. Most hand-crank generators have at least one USB port to plug the devices you want to charge easily. But you should also check for DC and AC power outlets. More importantly, consider how many USB, AC, and DC outlets are on the generator.
Although the primary purpose of any generator is to provide energy to power external appliances and devices, hand crank generators may also serve other functions. For instance, some units have built-in flashlights while others have in-built radios. A few even have music players. This is another thing to consider.
Two things are essential here – the unit’s weight and physical dimensions. Both factors determine whether you can bring the hand crank generator wherever you want. Some units get around the size issue by creating a removable crank lever. However, remember that this creates a new risk of losing the lever.
- Alternative power sources
A few hand-crank generators support alternative charging solutions. Although you can crank the lever to recharge the unit, some units also support grid charging, effectively converting the unit into a power bank. Others also have solar panels on one surface to convert solar power into electrical energy.
Finally, never buy an item outside your budget. The good news is that hand-crank generators cost as little as $20. Some even cost less. However, the larger, more powerful models cost well over $100. Remember that you don’t need to spend over the odds if you can meet your needs with a more affordable option.
Now, let’s review some of the best hand crank generators based on the above factors. We’ve picked the best products from the top manufacturers.
1. Epica Digital Emergency Solar Hand Crank Generator
Let’s begin with the best budget hand-crank generator for camping – the Epica Digital Emergency Solar Hand Crank Generator. The first thing about this hand crank generator, as the name suggests, is that you can also charge it with solar. So, if you’re lucky enough to see significant sunshine on your trip, you can lay it in the sun for a while. Additionally, you can plug it into the home’s power outlet to charge it before going on your trip.
Besides solar and grid charging, the Epica Digital Emergency Solar Hand Crank Generator is a multi-function appliance that works as an AM/FM/NOAA radio, flashlight, and smartphone charger. This high level of versatility makes it the perfect tool when heading out for an adventure.
- Radio, flashlight, and charger
- Chargeable with solar or the home’s supply
- Intuitive LCD control panel
- Has carabiner clip for mobility
- It is a little bulky
It has a simple backlight with a digital liquid-crystal display so you can track usage metrics such as remaining power and charging levels. You can expect up to 20 minutes of power for a minute’s cranking.
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2. Qianson 4W Hand Crank DC power Generator
If you desire a smaller unit that’s also more portable, you should consider the Qianson 4W hand crank DC power generator. It’s a much more compact unit and much lighter than the Epica. It also generates a little less power. The manufacturer says you can expect about 15V per 1000 revolutions and 100 to 300 microamperes per 1000 revolutions. Meanwhile, it weighs 1.76 ounces. So, you won’t have any trouble bringing it along in a backpack.
The Qianson puts out 15V for every 1000 revolutions and 100mA to 300mA over the same period. Therefore, it’s best for small electronics only. We recommend it for outdoor adventures. It also doubles as a flashlight. The good news is that the long, easy-to-run crank lever makes it easy to use.
- Portable charger
- Lightweight at 1.76 ounces
- Long crank handle
- Fragile leads
- Low power output
This generator is built from durable parts, giving it a lifespan of up to ten years. The only downside is that the leads on the generator are fragile thus can break with ease.
- It is the flashlight Portable Charger Accessories
- Can use to be mobile lighting tool
- It is the hand crank motor for DIY hand crank flashlight
3. ZXMT Portable Crank Generator for Emergency Survival
However, if you want something slightly bigger and more powerful, the 20-watt unit ZXMT would be excellent. It’s a little bigger than the other units on this list at 6 x 4 x 4 inches though it’s still very lightweight at 1.6 pounds. But the ZXMT generates 20 watts per 1000 revolutions and up to 110V over the same period.
Other features you’ll like about this generator include the USB ports, USB night light, and USB fan. It also functions as a power bank. Not many crank generators have so many features. In addition, the durable metal housing, an anti-slip foot pad for increased stability when cranking, and high-quality bearings ensure a long life of excellent service.
- Powerful generator at 20 watts
- Durable metal housing
- Long crank handle for easy cranking
- It takes a long time to generate much power
This generator is best suited to field operations, field trips, emergency communication, rescue operations, and survival training. The only downside is that you must turn the lever for a while before you start getting power.
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4. HUABAN 30W 0-28V Hand Crank Generator with Power Charge
An even more powerful hand crank generator is the 30-watt unit from HUABAN. Interestingly, it’s an even more compact unit than the ZXMT above. It measures 4.17 x 2.52 x 1.54 inches and weighs a mere 1.05 ounces. However, it puts out up to 30 watts per 1000 revolutions and delivers 28 volts.
Also known as the Anti-Rain IP65 portable hand crank generator, the generator comes with a regulator, 12mm aviation socket, and alligator clip 5.5mm plug so you can begin to use it right out of the box. The crank lever is easy enough to use, allowing the user to turn the unit as fast as possible for maximum power output.
However, beware that the unit doesn’t come with a battery. So, you cannot store power for future use. Additionally, you need to adjust the converter voltage to 5.0V when charging. It cannot charge your phone at 3V or less or 6V or higher.
- Powerful power output at 30 watts
- Lightweight at about 1.05 ounces
- Sturdy, durable build
- Highly portable
- No in-built battery
- Requires fast cranking
- Portable Hand Crank Generator(Anti-Rain)
- Max Power:30W ; Output Voltage:0-28V ; Rated Current:1.5-2A ; Max Current:3A
- Size: 106*64*39mm ; Generator Net Weight: 560g
5. Running Snail MD-090 Emergency Crank Generator with 4000mAh Battery
Finally, you should also strongly consider the 2021 Running Snail emergency generator. For one, this unit has a massive 4000mAh battery. The battery is replaceable too. So, you don’t have to worry that it may lose its capacity to store charge.
The other thing we love about the MD-090 is that it has four operating modes. First, it has the standard micro-USB port to plug common devices such as your phone, radio, etc. Secondly, it boasts a 3-mode flashlight and a motion-sensing reading lamp. The furthest lighting mode reaches more than 10 meters away. Meanwhile, the monitor-sensing reading light automatically goes off, so you don’t wake up others when reading at night.
- Supports crank power and solar power
- Powerful 4000mAh battery
- Flashlight with three modes
- AM/FM/NOAA radio
- 18-month manufacturer warranty
- It’s a tad expensive
The best part is that the unit also has a solar charging system! This means you don’t even need cranking on sunny days. It comes with an 18-month manufacturer warranty.
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- Are hand-crank generators any good? Yes, hand crank generators are a great source of power that you can use to charge your phone when far away from a grid power source.
- How much electricity can you generate with a hand crank generator? Most hand-crank generators create between 5W and 15W. However, a few units produce up to 30W or more.
- What should I look for when buying a hand crank generator? You need to consider the power output and portability mainly. After that, consider multifunctionality and whether it supports other charging methods, such as grid and solar charging.
- How much does a hand crank generator cost? Hand crank generators typically cost between $10 and $50, though more powerful models can cost $100+.
Though not as common as other generator types, hand crank generators can be invaluable in certain circumstances. For instance, the hand crank generator can prove a lifesaver when trapped in the woods on a camping trip with no gas/fuel and no means to charge your devices.
So, it’s something you should strongly consider purchasing. Fortunately, a hand crank generator only costs $10 to $50.
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