Super Powered: Battery Basics for Firearm Accessories

Batteries-600x400

It's hard for me to wag my finger at other shooters for not having a basic understanding of the batteries that power their shooting accessories without feeling like a hypocrite. Until I started delving into the various facets of battery selection and function, I had only the most basic understanding of the various power sources that kept my rangefinder, optics, lights, lasers, thermal camera, chronograph and other shooting accouterments working properly.

Like many shooters, my basic knowledge consisted of what type of battery I needed to power each of these accessories and where I could purchase them. But when you stop and consider just how much of the stuff we shooters use runs on batteries, it makes sense to take a closer look at these power sources.

Understanding how batteries work can help you save money in the long run. Start by purchasing a battery that offers you the longest run life and then learn how to handle it properly to prolong its life. That doesn't just mean finding the cheapest batteries; in fact, several of the experts I interviewed made it very clear that trying to scrimp on batteries can cost you a whole lot of money in the long run if your selection damages a very expensive item like a tactical flashlight or a laser.


Most of us who simply dump a fresh pair of AAs in a flashlight now and then don't have an appreciation of the complex nature of batteries or the advanced physics and chemistry that goes into battery production. Here are some battery basics that will help you understand your options when it's time to power up.


Lithium vs. Alkaline vs. Silver Oxide

firearm-batteriesLithium batteries have a number of advantages over standard alkaline batteries. According to Joseph D'Ambrosia from LaserMax, "Lithium batteries provide a higher charge longer and weigh 40 percent less than alkaline of the same size. That's the reason they cost more."

Aaron Moore from LaserLyte says that their green Center Mass lasers use Lithium batteries because, "the power demands required to run a green laser is high, so it meets those power requirements."

In addition to packing more power into a smaller package, Lithium batteries have an improved shelf life. Burris' Lori Yunker said that another important feature of lithium batteries is that they do not expand and contract as much as alkaline batteries, and that results in fewer problems with leaking and more consistent contact points. In fact, Yunker, as well as Aimpoint's Kristi Drawe and Crimson Trace's Director of Engineering Eric Petterson all listed the lithium battery's ability to withstand wider variations in temperature as an important factor (This is why the military uses lithium batteries in several applications). Alkaline batteries are, of course, cheaper and more widely available.


LaserLyte products take a variety of batteries from CR123 down to hearing aid batteries.

Another option is silver oxide batteries. LaserMax's Joseph D'Ambrosia says: "We use silver oxide batteries in our products. They have a 10-year shelf life and will reconstitute themselves a little when shut off. Silver oxide batteries are viewed as superior to lithium or alkaline because they will not corrode. They're fully encased in metal, whereas Lithium and alkaline are coated with paper and foil. That is why they can leak. With our products we can't accept any potential for battery leakage. Moreover, silver oxide batteries can easily provide the high voltage in a small package needed to fire a laser."

energizer-rechargeable-batteriesRechargable vs. One-Time Use


Some products, like FLIR's Scout thermal imaging equipment, can use either rechargeable or one-time use batteries, and this is largely a matter of personal preference.

According to Surefire's website, you can expect about half the runtime from rechargeables that you'll get from disposables, but rechargeable batteries don't require you to have a bunch of extra batteries on hand at all times. Also, if you're really out in the boonies, you may not have electricity to recharge batteries, so that means that one-time use batteries are the best options.

There's also a question of internal versus replaceable batteries. FLIR's Haley Ellison says that's largely a matter of personal opinion:

"The first (and most important for some users) advantage to replaceable batteries is that they can be readily changed in the field. Second, the camera can be freely used while spare batteries are being charged. Internal batteries have a number of benefits as well; battery connection is usually more robust. There's less chance of a disconnect due to mechanical shock (recoil, etc.), fewer sealing surfaces in the enclosure, reducing the number of potential leak paths, more efficient use of battery power, less energy lost due to weak contact points and the internal charge circuitry is optimized for the battery. There's no need to carry spare batteries, and fewer batteries going into landfills (compared with disposables). You can also use external charge devices like solar chargers if there is no access to AC power for extended periods of time."

Manufacturing rechargeables requires the use of harsh chemicals, and for that reason, the bulk of rechargeable batteries are made in places like China. According to D'Ambrosia, disposable batteries don't require these same chemicals and can be made in the USA.

Some devices like those from Viridian, are optimized for use with specifically compatible batteries.

Preserving Battery Life

Changing batteries more often than necessary is a hassle and can be expensive. There are a number of ways that you can improve battery runtime, and this starts before the battery is even off the store shelf. Not all batteries are created equal, so buying a premium brand battery truly does offer serious advantages, and it is money well spent.

"The capacity of the batteries can vary between manufacturers," says Nick Leininger, electrical engineer for Viridian. The resounding advice that most of the experts polled shared regarding improved battery life was to buy batteries that are of a high quality.

But there are other things you can do to preserve battery life as well. Advanced circuitry like Aimpoint's ACET system will get more battery life out of standard batteries, so battery life can be affected by the product itself. Lithium batteries can also improve battery life, and Lori Yunker says that lithium AAs can last up to 5,000 hours in the company's AR-1X prism sight, while disposable AAs last only 900 hours.

Temperature also plays a major role in battery life, so avoid extremes, especially heat.

"Consumers can prolong battery life primarily by keeping them stored in a cool, dry place," D'Ambrosia says. "Temperature extremes are never good for any product, but batteries in particular are highly susceptible to heat damage and must be protected from heat and direct sunlight. Using batteries when you need them, and being sure to turn them off when you don't, is a no-brainer way to ensure their life is prolonged."Aaron Moore says that batteries have a life span and need to be changed annually in many cases.

Battery Safety

Batteries can be dangerous if handled improperly, so be absolutely certain that you are using the right battery for your equipment. According to Surefire's website, using batteries that are not intended for use in a specific product can result in damage, fire or even explosion.

surefire-cr123-batteriesAlso, be sure not to purchase counterfeit batteries (For many, it's best to stick with major name brands), and never leave batteries loose in pockets, bags or purses, especially if there are metal parts or other batteries, as this can cause a variety of problems like overheating. Never attempt to recharge disposable batteries, as this can result in the batteries exploding or catching fire.

It's amazing just how much technology is packed into every battery we use. Likewise, it's amazing how little most of us actually know about these power sources. Shooters and hunters rely on a wide array of electrical equipment — trail cameras, chronographs, lasers, flashlights, illuminated optics and more — so it makes sense to familiarize yourself with the most basic functional element of those products.

Having just a basic understanding of how batteries operate will help you preserve battery life, select the best power source for your equipment and prevent injuries and damage to valuable gear.

Common Battery Types

DL 1/3N

Uses: Cameras, lights, optics, laser devices

Advantages: Small size, high weight/output ratio

NiMH (Nickel-Metal Hydride) AA Rechargeable

Uses: Rangefinders, lights, cameras, thermal imaging

Advantages: Rechargeable, affordable, less waste

AA Disposable Alkaline

Uses: Cameras, rangefinders, thermal imaging

Advantages: Inexpensive, commonly available

CR2032 3V Button Cell Lithium

Uses: Lasers, optics

Avantages: Long shelf life, compact size, high power output

CR123A Lithium

Uses: Cameras, Lights

Advantages: Long shelf life, compact size

9 Volt

Uses: Chronographs, Radios

Advantages: Inexpensive, widely available

Silver Oxide 377/392/393

Uses: Compact handgun lasers

Advantages: Extremely compact, low weight, long shelf life, high output.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The SAINT' Victor Rifle delivers a lightweight and agile rifle solution while maintaining effectiveness at extended engagement distances.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Burris has expanded its top-of-the-line Veracity hunting riflescope line with new 2-10X 42mm and 3-15X 50mm RFP (rear focal plane) models. Optics

Burris Veracity RFP Riflescopes

Jake Edmondson - June 04, 2019

Burris has expanded its top-of-the-line Veracity hunting riflescope line with new 2-10X 42mm...

A half-century in the making, the new DGX Bonded is Hornady's best-ever dangerous-game bullet. Ammo

Danger Tamed: Hornady DGX Bonded Hunting Ammo

Joseph von Benedikt - May 23, 2019

A half-century in the making, the new DGX Bonded is Hornady's best-ever dangerous-game bullet.

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver is back in production after being on ice for nearly two decades. Handguns

Smith & Wesson Model 19 Classic Revolver Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - March 08, 2019

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver is back in production after being on ice for nearly two...

True Velocity is exploring options to make its distinctive ammo available to civilians. Ammo

True Velocity Rifle Ammo

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

True Velocity is exploring options to make its distinctive ammo available to civilians.

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

New rifle cartridges are introduced just about every year. Some struggle to find acceptance, and others rocket to the top of the charts. The short fat magnums, especially the Winchester Short Magnums, were rockets. How-To

The Technical Pedigree of the Short Fat Magnums

Allan Jones - December 12, 2018

New rifle cartridges are introduced just about every year. Some struggle to find acceptance,...

Regular readers of Shooting Times know that I often get questions from fellow readers. One that I How-To

Accurizing the Model 1911

Reid Coffield - November 30, 2016

Regular readers of Shooting Times know that I often get questions from fellow readers. One...

If looking for a way to pass the time or seeking more cost-effective ammo for range shooting, reloading presents shooters with a viable solution, and it all starts with cleaning brass. How-To

How to Get the Most Out of Brass Cleaning Equipment

Eric Conn

Sponsored By
Berry's Manufacturing
Every serious rifleman has his own procedure for accuracy-testing rifles. Here's how our match-winning, worldwide-hunting, venerable field editor does it. How-To

How to Shoot for Accuracy

Layne Simpson - July 22, 2016

Every serious rifleman has his own procedure for accuracy-testing rifles. Here's how our...

See More How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now