Packable Off Grid Helium Miners

How small can you build an off grid min­er? Can every­thing fit in one back­pack? How light can that pack be? Final­ly, why would you want a tiny off grid miner?

And yeah, those are Pup­pies Make Me Hap­py sunglasses. 

I’ll start with the last ques­tion. Why would you want a tiny off grid min­er? The short answer is “weight”. If, like me, you are super stoked on the idea of hik­ing in an off grid min­er to a place deep in the wilds, you will even­tu­al­ly get over the idea of car­ry­ing in heavy equip­ment. I did that on my first off-grid, car­ry­ing in awk­ward­ly loaded 60+ lb rucks over 6 miles of rugged ter­rain with 3k’ of gain. 

It was the hard­est thing I’ve done since run­ning a hun­dred miles back in 2015. Fun once, and rad to share with a friend (we EACH had huge, awk­ward loads to car­ry), but not some­thing I was des­per­ate to repeat.

Still, being gen­er­al­ly unafraid of phys­i­cal work, I did the same thing a few more times, just to be sure it was­n’t just a one-time suck­fest. One off-grid took 6 (SIX!) trips in to install.

By that time, I fig­ured out that while I real­ly like hik­ing heavy shit long dis­tances out in the moun­tains, I’d prob­a­bly enjoy hik­ing in a light ruck even more. So I set about build­ing one. I also want­ed to re-mea­sure my ini­tial pow­er draws because I was see­ing off grid setups that seemed much small­er with no more sig­nif­i­cant load.

After a con­ver­sa­tion with @BFGNeil on Dis­cord about using a Pi Zero and a RAK 2245 hat to put togeth­er just the pack­et for­warder (from a DIY Alpha code I received way back when they were still avail­able), I decid­ed to try it out. The enor­mous advan­tage of hav­ing just a pack­et for­warder (and not the full fat min­er) is the low­er data plan size I can use for the cell backhaul. 

I can’t over­state this advan­tage. Please do NOT think you’ll be able to use a small data plan (100MB or less) on your pro­duc­tion Heli­um com­pat­i­ble Hotspot. You’ll need 50 GB MINIMUM, and will be much safer with 100 GB.

Let’s start with a gear list. 

PLEASE NOTE: This is MY gear list. It will prob­a­bly not fit exact­ly what YOU are try­ing to do. My goal is to have a tiny, light­weight, right-on-the-edge of pow­er require­ments for a “light hotspot” in a high sun area. Make SURE you mea­sure your pow­er draws before just blind­ly order­ing what I used and think­ing it’ll mag­i­cal­ly work for your area. Your chal­lenges will be mak­ing sure you have enough pow­er, and mak­ing sure you have enough data. 

OptionsItemQtySourceCostNotesLink
5052 alu­minum for brack­et, 48″ x 12″ x .01251local met­al shop$40–300cost depends on how much of your own work you do
solar pan­el, 30 watt1Renogy/Amazon$60check your local win­ter sun hours!Check Price Here
*solar charge con­troller, option 11Victron/Amazon$120more expen­sive, more featuresCheck Price Here
*solar charge con­troller, option 21Ren­ogy$20cheap and simpleCheck Price Here
*DC buck con­vert­er, 12–5v1Ama­zon$14get the right pow­er connectorCheck Price Here
*DC buck con­vert­er with dis­play, adjustable volts1Digikey$6you’ll need a pow­er connectorCheck Price Here
bat­tery, 20 Ah1Bioen­no Power$200size your bat­tery for YOUR sun region, not mineCheck Price Here
enclo­sure1Ama­zon$60check your bat­tery size, this one is tight!Check Price Here
*cell modem, option 1 — RUT2401Ama­zon 176Check Price Here
*cell modem, option 2 — IBR20015G Store/Amazon$300–400Check Price Here
*SIM card for Pack­et For­warders (Light Hotspots1Olivia Wire­less$6less than 100 MB/monthCheck Price Here
*SIM card for Reg­u­lar Hotspots1T‑mobile$20$55 for 100 GB/monthCheck Price Here
HNTen­na1HNTen­na$150best on the mar­ket, oth­ers will workCheck Price Here
anten­na cable for HNTenna1USACoax$15can use LMR240 as wellCheck Price Here
anten­na cable for cell anten­na, box inte­ri­or, $30 ea2Mouser$60check anten­na con­nec­tor types
anten­na cable for cell anten­na, exterior1Mouser$15check anten­na con­nec­tor types
*vents, $12 ea2Ama­zon$24Check Price Here
*hotspot anten­na connector1eBay$5more secure bulk­head fittingCheck Price Here

The great news is that pack­et for­warders are what “light hotspots” will be, so it’s like­ly that you’ll be able to do this same thing and in a clean­er look­ing pack­age by the end of 2021. 

The sec­ond advan­tage is the low­er pow­er con­sump­tion. Com­pared to a reg­u­lar min­er, with a pack­et-for­warder-only set­up you can shave off enough watts to real­ly drop both bat­tery size and solar pan­el size.

Here’s the pow­er it’s pulling. Note the size of that “hotspot”. It’s MUCH small­er than cur­rent pro­duc­tion hotspot, and pulls about ½ to ? of the power.

Remem­ber, volts x amps = watts, so this is right around 1.5 watts. It jumps around a bit, but in any event, that ain’t much. 

Add in a cell modem and the solar charge con­troller with the pack­et for­warder on a Pi Zero and you’re look­ing at about 3.4 watts total. For com­par­i­son, a RAK V2 by itself pulls around 2.3 watts.

Want more data on pow­er draws? Here ya go!

DeviceVoltsAmpsWatts
Pi Zero w/ RAK 2287 Hat & Concentrator5.3131.565
Pi Zero & RAK 22455.3231.615
OG Heli­um Hotspot5.4212.105
Pi4 & 2287 (~RAK V2)5.4652.325
RUT 240 (cel­lu­lar modem)12.1351.62
IBR200 (modem)12.141.68
Vic­tron 75/15 (Solar Charge Controller)12.017.204
Ren­ogy Wan­der­er (Solar Charge Controller)12.007.084

Of course, it also depends on the win­ter sun hours in your area. If, like me, you live in Amer­i­ca’s Finest City (San Diego), you have more win­ter sun hours than just about any­one in the US. That means you can use a much small­er solar pan­el (30 watts is what I chose) as well as a small­er bat­tery (20 Ah in my case.)

I put those togeth­er in an enclo­sure with the pack­et for­warder, a small­er cell back­haul (IBR200 instead of the 650C I’ve used before), the same charge con­troller I’ve used, and had a tidy lit­tle package.

Still, you’re left with mount­ing the thing, which can be a real bear. The solu­tion I came up with was inspired by some­thing I saw over at MP Anten­na, plus the fact that I love to hand bend metal. 

I start­ed out with a sheet of 12″ x 48″ .0125 5052 alu­minum. 5052 is a good mix of tough­ness and rigid­i­ty. 6061 will crack when you bend it, and 3003 will flex too eas­i­ly. I marked out the holes for cut­ting and the lines for bending.

I want­ed to be able to mount this brack­et any­where, eas­i­ly. One of the chal­lenges of an off grid set­up is actu­al­ly mount­ing the thing. Though you can’t see ’em in the above pic, the lat­est ver­sion has slots for worm dri­ve (hose) clamps as well as the screw/bolt hole mounts you see here. This will eas­i­ly mount to a round object, like a pipe or a pole or a tree. It’ll mount to a flat sur­face as well, like a rock wall or the side of a building.

Next up is drilling & cut­ting ’em out. Alu­minum is pret­ty easy to work with, which makes this a nice project.

Next up was cut­ting the “win­dow”, which allows you to reach in with a drill and mount on the back holes before putting the solar pan­el on. Here’s the plate drilled and cut, ready for bending.

When I go into pro­duc­tion I’ll use a press brake and water jet, but for pro­to­typ­ing you can’t beat a bar clamp (as long as you don’t mind a lit­tle phys­i­cal work). You put the plate in the bar clamp, make sure your bend line is straight, tight­en every­thing up, and start ham­mer­ing. Hand bend­ing takes patience; you don’t see a lot of progress at first, but over time you’ll end up with a beau­ti­ful­ly bent line.

As you can see, I set up a lit­tle card­board angle mea­sure­ment device which gives me an angle of 148, or a 32 degree bend. 32 is our lat­i­tude, and gives your solar pan­el the most sun rays dur­ing the short­est days of the year. Here’s what it looks like with the first bend finished.

From there you just slide the plate up and ham­mer out a 90 degree angle. I’ll usu­al­ly go back and forth a few times with the bends. On a press brake you don’t need to, but when hand bend­ing I always find a lit­tle extra love makes for a clean­er job.

It’s not uncom­mon to have “extra” bends in there, which you’ll need to flat­ten out on an anvil. In this case the “roof” had a slight arc to it. I leap at any chance to use my Nim­ba Titan, here she is already to assist in the flat­ten­ing process. Man, the right tools make the job easier!

All that ham­mer­ing attract­ed my wife’s atten­tion. She knew the best fuel for any endurance event is the cake from Paleo Treats, so she brought some out. Damn, that Key Lime is good!

Fueled with cake and ready for the next step, I assem­bled the box, the pan­el, and the antenna. 

This next part may be con­fus­ing, as I’m using pic­tures from a few dif­fer­ent builds here. The parts you see in this build on the inside of the enclo­sure are the RUT240 cell modem (NOT the IBR200), a Ren­ogy Wan­der­er 10, and a Bioen­no Pow­er 20 Ah LiPoFe4 bat­tery. The hotspot itself is a Pi Zero cou­pled to a 2287 con­cen­tra­tor and Pi hat from Par­ley Labs. 

Here’s just the RUT240 and the DIY Hotspot.

I print­ed up lit­tle red PETG brack­ets for the RUT240 and the Pi Zero on my Prusa 3D print­er. At about $800 for a kit, they’re a very use­ful thing to have if you get into this off-grid world.

If you don’t have (or want) a 3D print­er, go to the Prusa World map page and look for folks near you who are will­ing to print them up for you. That’s how I did my first 3D prints. Here’s the Pi Zero nes­tled into its brack­et. Brack­ets make it very easy to attach com­po­nents to the “perf board” that comes with most enclosures.

Wait, you want every­thing labeled for ya? No prob:

Here it is mount­ed on the near­est avail­able space (my work­bench) as a test run. Please note that you’re not lim­it­ed to mount­ing on workbenches. 😉

The box still needs vent holes cut and vents mount­ed along with the holes & glands for anten­na cables, but this gives you an idea of how the thing works. It is WAY eas­i­er than any oth­er off grid mount I’ve built. Here’s a quick video of it with the HNTen­na and a cell anten­na mount­ed, though no cables run yet.

The next step is break­ing it all down and see­ing if I can fit it in my back­pack. One of the real beau­ties of this set­up is how small it is. Most back­packs on the mar­ket are way too small to fit a large enclo­sure. This back­pack is built for elk hunters to car­ry out their meat, but I fig­ured Stone Glac­i­er would­n’t mind if I repur­posed their EVO 3300 as a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions pack. To be clear, this is not (by far) the cheap­est pack you can buy to do this job. I just like nice things.

From left to right you’ve got the pack, the solar pan­el, below the pan­el is the HNTen­na, then the enclo­sure with a GK tool roll on it, and final­ly, the bracket.

Now, that brack­et has some sharp edges, so if you’re going to strap it on a pack you’ll want to cush­ion those. I had some left­over foam lay­ing around the shop, so I taped it on with painters tape (comes up off eas­i­ly) and set up the pack.

You can’t see it in that pic, but I’ve also padded the solar pan­el, which is against my back in the pack. While the pan­els don’t scratch super eas­i­ly, they’re not the tough­est thing out there, and any scratch can decrease the effi­cien­cy. That’s some­thing you want to avoid when you’ve got such a small pan­el. Here’s the pack with every­thing in it, all ready to go.

I’m guess­ing the whole thing weighs less than 35 lbs. If you’ve ever got­ten into pack weight and how it can effect your abil­i­ty to per­form under pres­sure, you know that this is right at the lim­it of what saps courage over time. I’m not expect­ing to engage in any fire­fights while mount­ing this thing, so I feel pret­ty safe, even if I’m slight­ly over S.L.A Mar­shal­l’s rec­om­mend­ed weight.

After load­ing the pack up I decid­ed to re-wrap the brack­et with a clean­er look­ing foam set­up using pipe insu­la­tion. Here’s what that looks like, just for reference.

The gear is pret­ty straight­for­ward (aside from the brack­et). This is a slight­ly dif­fer­ent set­up than the one I’ve shown you. Try to iden­ti­fy the com­po­nents on your own, hit the com­ments if you need help.

IBR200 cell modem, Ren­ogy Wan­der­er charge con­troller, 12–5v buck con­vert­er, and then what­ev­er your hotspot is. Here’s the inte­ri­or lay­out with almost noth­ing hooked up. The two pink/orange cables go out to the cell modem anten­nas. You can see the vent up at the top right. There’s also one at the bot­tom left. Because the PiZe­ro does­n’t have a native Eth­er­net con­nec­tion I picked up a con­vert­er for it. Every­thing else is pret­ty straightforward.

If you’re look­ing to do this same thing, keep in mind that this enclo­sure may NOT fit your hotspot, at least as I cur­rent­ly have it laid out. RAK V2s will be fine, but oth­er hotspots may need to be mount­ed on the door, or just require a reshuffling.

Ok, that wraps up most of the details on this project. If you’d like help get­ting your Heli­um Hotspot off grid, con­sid­er hir­ing me to walk you through the best ways to both build and place your hotspot. Rock on!

46 thoughts on “Packable Off Grid Helium Miners”

  1. Hey Nik that’s pret­ty impres­sive! I wish I lived in an area where I could go off grid like that. I bet that will def­i­nite­ly be worth all the hard effort you put forth into this project. Rock on!

  2. Hi Nik! That’s awe­some what you achieved here! What about the net­work? How did you con­nect the hotspot to the net­work? Are you using 4G with a ded­i­cat­ed plan?

  3. Yep, that’s a Cradle­point IBR200 in there, which is a cel­lu­lar modem. Cell modems allow your hotspot to con­nect to the inter­net. Because this is just a pack­et for­warder I can use a much small­er plan than a “full fat” min­er. Once Light Gate­ways start to be sold, you can do the same thing. In the mean­time, you’ll need on the order of 40–50GB/month, although that may not be enough. One off-grid I know is on track to use 90GB this month!

  4. Hi Alan, most­ly because this is the most fun way for me to deploy a Heli­um min­er. I like the mix of design­ing, build­ing, assess­ing a place­ment, then get­ting it deployed. There are cer­tain­ly eas­i­er ways to do this. For the first test run on this min­er I’ve just got it deployed on a moun­tain top you can dri­ve up to; easy to test that way, and great coverage.

  5. Brandon Kling

    Nik why only 3dbi? Is it because you are deploy­ing this in a place with vary­ing elevations?

    Also why HNten­na? I’ve seen RAK/CalChip anten­na’s also.

    thanks.
    ‑bran­don

  6. Hi Bran­don, 3 dBi because most of the time a high gain isn’t the right choice. HNTen­na because I think it’s the best anten­na on the mar­ket. I’m see­ing it rou­tine­ly hit oth­er gate­ways 170+ km out.

  7. This looks great but I won­der­ing, what will make it secure from van­dals or from peo­ple com­ing around your set up and mess­ing with it? Of course it will be locked but don’t you think off grid min­ers can be some­what risky?

  8. Yep, that risk def­i­nite­ly exists. Aim to mit­i­gate by putting it behind fences or some oth­er “pri­ma­ry” form of protection.

  9. Nik- great piece! On the secu­ri­ty ques­tion, I know Heli­um Explor­er will show that a min­er is in a hexa­gon, but that is a pret­ty large area. Is there a way for some­one to iden­ti­fy exact­ly where the set­up is locat­ed if they want­ed to go out and mess with it?

  10. Yep, any of the cur­rent paid ser­vices (Helium.Vision, HotspotRF etc) will report your assert­ed loca­tion. That infor­ma­tion is pub­lic, you just can’t see it on Explor­er. One way to hedge against being found is to assert in the mid­dle of the near­est street inter­sec­tion with­in about 150m of your loca­tion. Close enough that you’re still accu­rate re. cov­er­age stuff, far enough away to main­tain pri­va­cy. If you’re way off in the back of beyond with no min­ers (or street inter­sec­tions) close by, it’s just tougher to hide it, though you *prob­a­bly* have some more wig­gle room with distances. 

  11. This is epic!!! Quick ques­tion, how much data does a min­er con­sume per month? 10gb? 20gb?

  12. Hi Marie, plan on 90 GB/month and you should be fine. At the begin­ning it was 20–30GB/month but that has slow­ly crept up.

  13. Love the enthu­si­asm about build­ing ful­ly off grid min­ers. I want­ed to do this but could­n’t fig­ure out where to start until I read this arti­cle and your pre­vi­ous one. Can you tell me the process as to how you get per­mis­sion to place the min­ers on top of a moun­tain or hill­side? For instance, do you just find a piece of pub­lic land and post it where ever you please or do you have to call the City/County and request per­mis­sion and pay any fees asso­ci­at­ed to it?

  14. Hi Man­ny, I had a rela­tion­ship with the land own­ers on the moun­tain; I’d placed a weath­er sta­tion on there the year before. If you can find pri­vate land own­ers they’ll be far eas­i­er to deal with than the city/county.

  15. Nice work! Do you know if a Mul­ti­tech Mul­ti­Con­nect could be used instead of the RUT 240? If so, any drawbacks?

  16. Hi Ray, sort of. This is a bit con­fus­ing. For about a month and a half in late 2020, Heli­um opened up a DIY pro­gram, where you could buy your own hard­ware, receive an “alpha code” from Heli­um, and build your own Hotspot. They quick­ly turned it off as they learned how sus­cep­ti­ble to gam­ing it was, but any­one who had received a code was able to build a work­ing hotspot with it. I had a few friends do that, and fun­ni­ly enough they aban­doned the project and gave me their alpha codes. This is a hotspot I built that uses one of those alpha codes. It does­n’t pair with a phone or app.

  17. Great! Exact­ly what do I need to deploy on tow­ers with­out ISP ser­vice. Can get the min­er just don’t know did­dly about all the oth­er equip­ment. I am versed in PV and asso­ci­at­ed equipment.
    How are you dump­ing your excess PV har­vest? A dc light bulb etc?
    Thanks

  18. Hi Glenn, if you have access to a tow­er you’ll need both pow­er & inter­net con­nec­tion, the lat­ter of which can come via cell modem; a RUT240 is a good option there. Not sure about excess PV har­vest, am let­ting the charge con­troller han­dle that. 🙂

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  20. Hey Nik, I am actu­al­ly real­ly want­i­ng to do an off-grid sys­tem because I live in Utah and a hotspot up on the side of the moun­tain would do incred­i­bly well. But my only fear is hav­ing some­one steal all the equip­ment because the loca­tion is all seen on the app. have you run into that yet?

  21. Hi Mason,
    Yep, I’ve heard of hotspots get­ting stolen; one of those risks you run. Mit­i­gate it with plac­ing on pri­vate prop­er­ty, ide­al­ly behind a fence or oth­er­wise dif­fi­cult to get to (obvi you need to ask for permission.)

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  23. Hi Nick.
    I think the solar pan­el will vibrate in strong winds.
    It would be good to fin­ish two struts between the pan­el and the main sup­port plate on which there is a box with a hotspot. This pre­vents vibra­tions and pos­si­ble break­age of the solar panel.

    Ivo — Czech republic ?

  24. Hi Ivo, it might. I like the idea of struts, though it makes it hard­er to pack. I’ve got a new way of putting it all togeth­er with the solar pan­el & box mount­ed sep­a­rate­ly on a pole. The idea came from a client and I’m dig­ging it, although I still have improve­ments to make regard­ing secur­ing the box & pan­el to the pole so they don’t slide around. Hose clamps are fine for “nor­mal” weath­er, but heavy winds will rotate a panel.

  25. I’m afraid that the alu­minum will crack when strong vibrat­ing with­out sup­port from below.
    I have one more ques­tion for you.
    I can use a cable with an imped­ance of 75 ohms instead of a 50 ohm cable ?

    cable : Televes T100 PE 215501 Cu / 100m / 6,6 mm (75ohm)
    — atten­u­a­tion ‑16dB — 100m
    inner con­duc­tor, braid and foil — pure copper
    Will this cable work just like a 50 ohm cable?

  26. where do you get that pow­er injec­tion come from does the modem give off pow­er to pow­er the min­er, from what i under­stand a poe pow­er injec­tor is need to pow­er up that poe splitter

  27. Hey Nik,
    Is it still pos­si­ble to cre­ate a DIY hotspot miner?
    Not espe­cial­ly for off grid, but for home or office use as well.
    I would love to explore this since there is such a short­age of device available.
    I also want to explore the off grid instal­la­tions soon, but with no devices avail­able It real­ly isn’t too fea­si­ble for me to do much exploring.

  28. Hi Matt, you can cre­ate one, but it won’t earn any­thing. The DIY pro­gram was closed very quick­ly after it opened up due to vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties to gam­ing that are still hav­ing reper­cus­sions today.

  29. Hey Nik love the post. Was won­der­ing if you had any rec­om­men­da­tions on wire­less con­nec­tion (cell modem) since set­ting up your off grids. AKA would you rec­om­mend any­thing dif­fer­ent now that you have set some up?
    Thanks!

  30. Hi Spencer,
    Yeah, I think I’m going back to the Cradle­point cell modems. The RUT240 just isn’t as reli­able in my experience.

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  32. Good ques­tion. I’m run­ning the equiv­a­lent of a Light Hotspot, so my plan will not work for you. Right now (Nov 27, 2021), the off grid com­mu­ni­ty is get­ting hit by a Heli­um anti-gam­ing mea­sure and no one has a great way to fix it. Since that update, I’ve heard of many peo­ple using a bog-stan­dard T‑mobile card with 2GB data/month at 4G then unlim­it­ed at 3G and that works for them. No sta­t­ic IP, just a reg­u­lar old SIM card. Still, that’s not a guar­an­tee. More over here.

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