I Plugged My Phone Into My Voltair Airbag Backpack

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | September 23, 2016      
My Galaxy Note ONE (no recall) connected to the Voltair battery.

My Galaxy Note ONE (NO RECALL) connected to the Voltair battery.

If an Arc’teryx Voltair backpack has enough battery power for more than 14 balloon inflations at room temp, it clearly has enough electrons for a few hours supplying low-demand ski touring accessories (provided ambient temps are not ridiculously cold). After a little time on Amazon and help from Electrical Depot, I lashed up this wiring harness for a USB connector mod. I tested extensively and it works fine, powering my phone while the pack is armed, and not interfering with inflations. (For the curious, I could also use the battery as a stand-alone charger for the phone if I ignored the warning lights the battery displays if it’s left switched on while disconnected from the pack.)

DISCLAIMER: This is of course only a proof-of-concept. We are in no way advocating modifying your ski touring safety equipment.

On the bench, testing.

On the bench, testing. That’s the USBbuddy to left, it works with a broad range of DC voltage supply levels, in this case around 22 volts from the Voltair battery. Delphi Metri-Pack ‘jumper’ setup to right, and the Arcteryx battery.

Hooked up. Final build would have more wire protection.

Hooked up. Final real-world build would have more wire protection.

Harness parts and layout, connection to 10awg silicon wire is done by soldering the smaller wire toa 'tap' between the Metri-Pack connectors.

Harness parts and layout, connection to 10awg silicon wire is done by soldering the smaller wire to a ‘tap’ between the Metri-Pack connectors. Liberal use of shrink tubing and silicone ‘rescue’ tape completes the build. While the USB components are protected by the in-line blade fuse, the high amperage ‘jumper’ between the Metri-Pack connectors needs to be built ultra-reliable. I soldered everything, insulated well, then taped up with silicon tape finished with some small wire ties. Testing in freezer for behavior while stiff completed the project. If you built this for real-world use you’d pay much attention to cold temperature wire performance. You don’t want your wire insulation cracking when flexed. Igniting your backpack due to an electrical short is considered poor form in some circles — though the video would most certainly go viral.

Parts List

Following Delphi connectors from Electrical Depot
Delphi 480 12-10 Male Terminal (2 required)
Delphi 480 12-10 Female Terminal (2 required)
Delphi 480 2 Way Female Metri-Pack (housing, 1 required)
Delphi 480 2 Way Male Metri-Pack (housing, 1 required)
Delphi 480 housing seals (optional, 2)
Delphi 480 male housing snap-on wire cover (optional 1)

Waterproof Electrical Connector Plug with Wire AWG Marine (low current connector, water resistant, use any type)

10 AWG Gauge Silicone Wire, red and black

Single USB connector USB voltage converter, USBbuddy is lower amperage, or use the motorcycle USB linked below as an Amazon item, it’s a 3 amp which will charge fast but probably draws too much power for efficient continous operation. The Amazon item is less weight, it’s what I ended up using.

Mini blade fuse holder and 3 amp fuse.

Assorted wiring supplies such as heat-shrink tubing, silicon tape, soldering iron and solder

Robust USB silicon or nylon braid charge cable, test in freezer for flexibility.

To do this right you need a Metri-Pack crimper. I didn’t have one so I hand-crimped the connectors and soldered them. In my opinion, even when properly crimped I’d probably give the connectors a touch with the solder. While this project is only proof-of-concept, it was useful in real life as it got me thinking about electrical safety with a battery pack this robust. Definitely, when using these electric airbag packs take care with the wires. Keep sharp metal objects far away, and inspect packing for stress on the cables. An electrical short could ignite you! Likewise, as with any LiPo battery charging I’d advise taking care with where the battery and charger are located, e.g., away from easily ignited materials and perhaps not left entirely unattended. Same precautions you should take with virtually all higher capacity rechargeable batteries, actually.

I slapped my in-line amp meter on the harness, the USBbuddy draws about .2 amps with the phone connected and less on standby.

I slapped my in-line amp meter on the harness (it connects to the fuse holder, cool item), the USBbuddy draws .2 amps (photo is wrong, I had not zeroed the meter) with the phone connected and less on standby (meaning phone is turned off or disconnected but USBbuddy is operating. Correct me if I’m wrong but if the Voltair airbag backpack battery capacity is 3.7 amp hours, that means it would power my phone at .2 amps for about 18 hours? While this project is proof of concept, that that means in real life is you probably wouldn’t want to leave the USB transformer and phone constantly connected over the span of a long day of ski touring, but it would certainly power your phone for shorter days or for spot charging in the event you ran out of phone battery in the midst of a critical operation. Remember that colder temperatures will reduce the battery capacity, while on the other hand, placing a load on the battery does warm it to some extent. Also note that the motorcycle USB tap I linked to below as an Amazon item is a 3 amp “quick” charger type connection. I tested with my amp meter and it draws zero power when not connected to a device, which is nice, and still only pulled 0.3 amps when charging my iPad. Could be it’s not actually a 3 amp adapter, not a big deal, it’s light, water resistant, and said again draws no current when not connected to a device. Nice.

See our extensive Arc’teryx Voltair news coverage.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


19 Responses to “I Plugged My Phone Into My Voltair Airbag Backpack”

  1. Joe John September 23rd, 2016 10:04 am

    Pretty crafty Lou!

  2. Dan September 23rd, 2016 10:39 am

    Lou, you are sick…brilliant, but sick.

  3. Billy September 23rd, 2016 12:15 pm

    Can you charge your galaxy with that contraption while flying on a commercial airline?

  4. Lou Dawson 2 September 23rd, 2016 12:27 pm

    I don’t see why not. It would run your tablet as well. It’s basically a high quality laptop battery…

    Speaking of the Galaxy Note, it’s got a massive aftermarket battery on it. stress free traveling.


  5. Buck September 23rd, 2016 12:52 pm

    “Speaking of the Galaxy Note, it’s got a massive aftermarket battery on it. stress free traveling.”

    between this : http://www.reuters.com/article/us-samsung-elec-smartphones-india-idUSKCN11T1FC

    and the fact that the recent galaxy phones are exploding left and right, and airlines are leery of letting them onto flights, that’s just hilarious.

    let alone the fact that you’d be skinning with a literal ticking time bomb on your back.

    guess that set up gives you 2 methods to increase avy safety – explosive control, or burial minimization. bargain.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 September 23rd, 2016 1:01 pm

    It’s a Galaxy Note 1, been in use for about 18 months with the same battery, along with a couple million other people… Glad to get a laugh, but believe me if I thought it was a concern I’d have ditched it a long time ago, it’s a used unlocked phone off Ebay for about $90. I’ve also got a Galaxy note 2, but it’s a Verizon that doesn’t work in Europe so I don’t use it. Had a monster battery on it as well, used if for a couple years.

    Even the recent media fueled and no doubt lawsuit driven hysteria about the Samsungs is a bit overblown, in my opinion. Sure, good to return on the recall, but very few actually had a problem.

    But I hear you about the explosive control. I could probably figure out a way to get any lithium battery to explode on demand.

    Gotta watch these alert keywords on here, NSA is no doubt watching!


  7. See September 23rd, 2016 1:38 pm

    Great fun, but a 9000 mAh usb charger weighs less than 8 ounces, can be kept warm next to your body, and doesn’t require that the phone or other device be tethered to the pack. I don’t know what the USBbuddy, fuse/holder, connectors, wires, etc., weigh, but I guess it’s probably a few ounces. Also, (in the unlikely event that you aren’t familiar with it) adhesive lined shrink tubing is good stuff, in my experience. Just heat it from the middle out so you don’t trap air.

  8. Jeremy C September 23rd, 2016 1:39 pm

    I doubt a USB feed off your avalanche airbag, is something that any manufacturer would make available commercially, even for emergency use. As they know it would be abused by those dependent on technology.

    I can see applications for your Macgyver solution in emergency situation, if for example you needed to bring your SatPhone or GPS back to life.

    On a similar, but lesser theme, Therm-ic have long had a USB Power Strap Adaptor, that converts boot heater batteries into a general USB power source.

  9. Lou Dawson 2 September 23rd, 2016 2:10 pm

    See, good points. My UsbAir wiring harness indeed weighs less than yet another battery, but it could be made a bit lighter, first iteration is 3.9 ounces, too much copper wire and the USBbuddy could probably be had in a smaller version. The smaller connector I threw on there is optional, probably not necessary and would save 1/4 ounce. Leaning out the system and trimming weight are for later… main thing is I wanted to get proof of concept, and show that having one main “soldier power” battery is doable. Bear in mind it looks like Lithium batteries may undergo a quantum leap in energy density within the next few years — that’ll make this sort of thing a no-brainer. Lou

  10. Lou Dawson 2 September 23rd, 2016 2:14 pm

    I found what’s possibly a better, lighter weight converter, ordered it.


  11. See September 24th, 2016 12:50 am

    I am in no way trying to detract from your project here, Lou. I’m totally into it. But I’ve been thinking about a “civilian power” setup for a while, and I think the way to go (if you don’t need to power an electric balloon pack) would be a big 12v lithium ion battery. Amazon has one for $65 with a claimed capacity of 11000 mAh, a claimed weight of 1.6 pounds, and 12v, 9v and usb ports. Throw in a solar panel and an inverter, hire a porter and you’re all set.

  12. Lou Dawson 2 September 24th, 2016 6:24 am

    Hi See, I didn’t feel like you were detracting from anything, but thanks for being supportive. As it were, any criticism or critique of content here on Wildsnow is welcome and considered a gift (other than hate, personal attacks, and that sort of thing). Your input has been valuable, please keep it going.

    Speaking of accessory batteries for “citizen power” indeed you can find hundreds of options. Main thing to remember is they wear out with use and may have an obvious drop in useful capacity if allowed to get very cold.

    Where the best smaller form factor batteries are being used is probably in arenas such as RC helicopters. The LiPo batteries those guys are using are as compact as possible, with sophisticated external chargers that optimize the battery to the greatest extent possible. The Arcteryx battery obviously has all the charging copper and logic inside the battery case, as the charging power supply is just a “dumb” brick. That’s as it should be. On the other hand, one has to wonder if the Arcteryx battery is being optimally charged, and if it’s way oversized for most skiers.

    This stuff is evolving fast. Tough for shoppers. Saving grace is the airbag packs tend to be excellent quality, making them viable on the pre-owned market.


  13. Crazy Horse September 25th, 2016 8:28 am

    I’m not impressed. — Until you hack an adapter to power an espresso machine.

  14. Lou Dawson 2 September 25th, 2016 8:48 am

    Hah! The gauntlet is down. Should be easy, I’ll get on it.


    Moment. (smile)

  15. DavidB September 25th, 2016 4:29 pm

    Ha classic. Never let a fully charged battery go unused ‘eh.

  16. Joseph September 26th, 2016 2:49 am

    I’ve switched to using high quality 18650 LipO cells for everything. You can get a simple plastic battery holders for it that has USB out from DX.com. They are only a few dollars.

    The latest Panasonic 18650’s are much higher quality and amps than your typical powerbank, and you can use them for everything from high powered flashlights to headlamps or powerbanks.

    I’ve even converted my Petzl Nao to run on these. I bring one in the Petzl, one in a small flashlight and one in a powerbank on multiday trips. You can simply swap them out if one goes flat.

  17. Lou Dawson 2 September 26th, 2016 7:08 am

    Joseph, those 18650 cells look really nice, though would be hardware hackers should be advised they do not have built-in battery protection circuit. Also, building an electric airbag fan high current pack with them that provides 22 volts and 45 amps would require some expertise — if it was even possible.

    I’m clear they are lithium ion but are the polymer? You call them LiPo but I don’t see anywhere that they are actually lithium polymer.


  18. Bill H September 28th, 2016 10:03 am

    Hey once we can sell a ski clothing brand on including panels of power generating fabric integrated into touring pants, the charging issue can become nil for uphill-minded skiers (and maybe the few old school bumpers still left in the lift-access world?).

    As an added bonus, we’ll be able to smugly pat ourselves on the back and justify even more skiing to our partners as a moral-environmental imperative to ‘offset our carbon footprints’.

    Don’t know if the link will come through…short article on triboelectric fabrics… charge as you skin? http://newatlas.com/triboelectric-clothing/36544/

  19. Lou Dawson 2 September 30th, 2016 12:35 pm

    I got an espresso maker that’ll most likely run off the Arcteryx battery. Stay tuned. Lou

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