How to create a modern-day tech survival kit with an old iPhone

Almost 50 percent of old phones are kept stored away somewhere in the house, MarketWatch reported earlier this year. My own family employs a trickle-down approach where a new iPhone is brought into the house each year, and everyone ends up getting an upgrade. So by the time the oldest phone, which is presently an iPhone 4, is no longer in use by someone, it is only worth about $65 in good condition on gazelle. These phones still have their uses around the house and are can be worth more than their trade-in value if used properly.

One idea is to create a tech survival kit when traveling. It could be used to replace a lost or stolen smart phone, kept in the car during a long drive, or stored securely in a family vacation house. This kit would include an iPhone, some means of calling for help, the ability to find yourself on a map as well as a means of maintaining a decent charge.

Here is how you can put together your own iPhone tech survival kit:

Basic communications

Basic communications

GoPhone SIM activation and setup – Keeping the phone as part of your family plan would not be cost-effective. Instead, you can swap out the SIM card and turn your iPhone into a pay-as-you-go iPhone without any monthly reoccurring charges. You can go through the trouble of buying a replacement SIM card onlineand trying to activate it on your own, or you can simply bring your old iPhone into a AT&T retail store and have them do it for you like I did.

The whole process took about ten minutes. A representative from AT&T checked to see if the phone was still under contract or if it had been reported stolen before switching out the SIM card. There was one complication we ran into that prevented the phone from connecting to the network that was rectified by performing a “Erase All Content and Settings.” This may not happen to you, but it is a good idea to back up your device and remove anything on the device that is important to you. When all was said and done, I had a pay-as-you-go iPhone 4 with a GoPhone Refill SIM Card installed.

Refilling your Go-Phone – To get things started, I paid just $10 for 100 minutes that will expire in 30 days (there are other refill options available). I can refill the card whenever and however I want going forward. There is an Auto Refill option that is basically like having a monthly bill without a contract. You can also log on to your account over the internet and add minutes online or dial 611 from your wireless phone or 800.901.9878 from a landline and say “add money.” But for the survival kit, perhaps the best thing to do is to purchase a GoPhone Refill Card and keep it stored with the phone. With most refill cards, you can add the value on the card to your account using your wireless phone keypad by entering 888Pin#. You can check your balance this way as well by entering *777#. Presently my iPhone 4 is not associated in any way to any sort of credit card, auto-renewal, or hidden charges.

Keeping a charge

Keeping a charge

Batteries that have a long shelf life – Over time, any rechargeable battery will eventually lose its charge, even if it is not being used. When planning to store a phone for a long period of time, it is a good idea to keep a charger nearby that is capable of holding its own charge for extended periods of time. A good option to consider is buying off the shelf AA batteries as they typically hold their charge for years rather than weeks. An eight pack of Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA Batteries costs about $16 on Amazon and the company claims they will last up to 20 years when not in use. When storing batteries like this, a good practice to get into is it to write the date of purchase on the package when you buy them.

USB chargers that use AA batteries – Verbatim has an AA Power Bank Charger for just $16 on Amazon that uses four AA batteries at a time. It has a standard USB charging port that you can plug any USB charging cable into. Energizer has two similar chargers, the Instant Charger for Micro USB Mobile Phones and one for iPod/iPhone, at $25 each. The Verbatim is a little more versatile with its USB port rather than a dedicated cable, and it costs $10 less. Just be sure to include a charging cable in your kit if you do opt for the Verbatim. The Micro USB charger from Energizer will need a Lightning to Micro USB Adapter to use on more recent iPhones.

Charging in the middle of nowhere – Another option to consider is a charging device that comes with a built-in power dynamo. The Ambient Weather Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/NOAA Digital Radio, Flashlight, Cell Phone Charger for $40 on Amazon is one such device. It does have its own internal 800 mAh rechargeable battery that you can charge from, but it’s real power comes from the solar panel and a hand crank that you can use to charge your iPhone. The one downside is that it comes with a proprietary cable that you must use to connect to your USB device. Ambient has addressed this in a recently released new model, the ADVENTURER2 WR–335, that is a little more expensive but has a standard USB port built-in.

Finding Your Way

Finding your way

Know your location’s coordinates – The iOS 7 compass that comes installed with your iPhone is one way of determining your exact GPS location. It also serves a a good way to establish a sense of direction. What may be a better choice is Pavel Ahafonau’s Spyglass ($3.99 Universal). It can convert your GPS coordinates into several different formats and can be used as a sextant that aligns with the sun, moon and stars. It has a HUD mode that uses the iPhone’s camera which will allow you to select a landmark in the direction you need to head towards. It does so much that it comes with a 36 page manual that explains among other things how to measure the distance and height of an object.

Detailed maps stored locally – There are several really good navigation and map apps in the app store to choose from. One choice that has been a long-time favorite of mine is CoPilot Premium HD USA – Offline GPS Navigation & Maps ($14.99 Universal), which installs offline maps with lifetime updates for pretty cheap. And you won’t need to connect to the internet to see where you are or create a route to where you need to be. For times when you are going off-the-beaten-path, TrailBehind’s Offline Topo Maps ($9.99 Universal) will allow you to pre-download highest resolution USGS topo maps. With either of these two apps, just be sure and download the included maps you need before you pack your iPhone away.