Travel Gear & Cameras Travel Tips Traveling with a Drone Winter

Travel Drone Tips: Flying a Drone in Cold Weather

Travel Drone Tips: Flying a Drone in Cold Weather

The snow-dusted landscapes of winter will certainly inspire you to capture the chilly season’s magnificence from the sky. And with so many winter travel destinations to choose from, why not? We’ve already gone into detail about traveling with a drone, and the best travel drone bag to accomplish such a task. But flying a drone in cold weather to capture these winter wonderlands introduces a whole new set of issues and concerns you’ll have to attend to before packing up your DJI Phantom (or other drone, such as the snazzily portable DJI Mavic pr GoPro Karma) for the winter road. Flying a drone in cold weather brings denser air, reduced battery efficiency, and increased potential for battery shutdowns, as well as a whole additional set of procedures to follow and accessories to pack. After traveling with a drone ourselves to the coldest city in China for the Harbin Ice Festival, the world’s largest ice sculpture festival (and flying in a whopping -2 °F), we’ve compiled our own essential travel drone tips for flying a drone in cold weather.

Here’s everything you need to know about flying a drone in cold weather!

Traveling with a Drone in Winter

Battery Life is Diminished

One of the most essential travel drone tips I can give you when flying a drone in cold weather is to pay close attention to your battery life, as cold temperatures will shorten flight times. Our DJI Phantom, for example, will go from a typical 20-25 minutes to anywhere between 10-15 minutes when flying in cold temperatures.

 

The subzero temperatures at Harbin’s Ice and Snow World limited our flying time, but we still had long enough to capture this magnificent aerial view!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT5d_qqJn_c

 

And what’s the culprit for shortened flight times?

 Most drones use lithium-polymer (LiPo) batteries, and LiPo batteries drain like nobody’s business in cold temperatures. Chemical reactions are slowed, blah blah blah—it’s science, and it can start at 15°C (59°F).

To keep your LiPo batteries working in cold temperatures, you’ll want to try to warm up your batteries as much as possible. And some stellar travel drone tips for keeping your batteries warm? Use hand warmers and wrap your drone batteries in scarves around your LiPo Safe Bags to keep them ready for use. And if you don’t have a hand warmer hot and ready for you, pop a wrapped drone battery in your armpit until it’s warm enough to fly with. Remember, a DJI Phantom will not start its motors unless the battery is 15°C. For extra caution, try to warm your batteries to 25°C before attempting to fly.


The Secret to Cheap Flights
 

Additionally, avoid putting your quadcopter directly on the cold ground, as we’ve noticed this drops the drone’s temperature, bringing the drone batteries’ temperature down with it. For us, this means we only launch off of our Think Tank Airport Helipak drone bag or by hand. For a thorough review of the bag, make sure to check our our guide to the Best Travel Drone Bag! This works for us, but exercise caution and perform any hand-launching or -catching at your own risk. We do not endorse hand-launching or hand-catching and we will not be held accountable for any accidents resulting from these activities! 

Now remember, drone batteries are not the only batteries you’ll be using, nor are they the only ones affected by the cold temperatures. Your phone or tablet will also experience a reduced quality in battery life, and the proper measures should be taken to ensure your device doesn’t shutdown in the middle of a flight.

St. Sophia Church, Harbin, China, Drone travel

St. Sophia Church in Harbin, China

While flying a drone in cold temperatures at the St. Sophia Church in Harbin, China, this is exactly what happened to us. Our phone shutdown in the middle of a flight, and though I was able to fly the drone just fine using the remote controller, I wasn’t able to take any photographs or video, forcing me to land. Once the phone shut off, it wouldn’t start up again until I got it plugged into a power outlet. Avoid this annoyance by following these travel drone tips and keeping an attachable hand warmer strapped to the back of your phone. It’s an easy fix, and it will keep your phone or tablet functioning properly.

Flying Drone Winter Travel: Harbin, China, Ice and Snow World

Flying our drone at Ice and Snow World in -2°F in a required several additional travel drone accessories

You’ll Need to Pack Extra Things

Here are some travel drone tips for you: bring stuff, and for cold weather, bring more stuff.

Just as you’d need to pack several things to protect your body in cold weather, you’ll also need to bring some extra gear to protect your drone. Though we’ve already mentioned some of the extra items you’ll need to pack when flying a drone in cold weather, we’ll go ahead and make a nice little list so you don’t forget any essentials.

If you’re traveling with and flying a drone in cold temperatures, here are some additional things you’ll need to pack:

  • Hand warmers. These babies should be kept around the batteries and even strapped onto your phone/tablet to keep them as warm as possible.
  • Warm scarves or beaniesWhen storing your batteries, keep them wrapped in warm scarves and beanies (along with the hand warmers). Keeping a scarf-wrapped battery in your pocket is even better!
  • Touch-screen gloves. Protect your hands from the cold while operating your drone. Make sure they have grip on them so you have a firm hold on the RC and phone/tablet. The more skin-tight the better! Loose-fitting gloves will make handling the RC and app significantly more difficult.
  • Back-up portable charger for phone/tablet. Even more necessary in very cold temperatures! Bring more than one if you can!
  • A protective drone bag with rain coverThis is always a necessity, but even more essential when trekking through extreme winter temperatures and snow.

 

Harbin, China: Ice and Snow World, Drone Travel

You’ll Need to Follow Additional Travel Drone Procedures

In addition to those extra accessories you’ll want to pack, be extra careful when launching, flying, and landing in cold temperatures.

Follow these travel drone tips for flying a drone in cold weather:
  1. Use only fully charged batteries, and try to warm them to at least 25°C before you fly.
  2. Avoid launching on the damp, cold ground, and check your props for icing before flying a drone in cold weather.
  3. Hover for a solid minute after launching to warm up the battery
  4. Be wary of any battery shutdowns! Monitor your battery’s temperature and voltage in your flying app.
  5. Avoid flying at high speeds. Pushing your battery too hard, especially early in your flight, can result in a sudden voltage drop. Also, remember that cold temperatures may affect the drone sensors, which can result in drifting and reduced responsiveness to control inputs.
  6. Avoid flying your drone once your battery goes below 30-40% capacity. Waiting until there’s no battery power left is extremely risky when flying in cold temperatures.
  7. Keep your phone or tablet attached to a back-up portable charger and a hand warmer.

And if it’s snowing? You probably shouldn’t fly.

 

 

Avoid Flying in the Snow

A DJI Phantom simply isn’t waterproof, as well as most other drones (no, not even the DJI Mavic). And yes, it may be beautiful and dainty, but snow is still precipitation, and it can certainly do some damage to your drone, remote controller, motor, camera, or gimbal.

 

The Best Travel Deal App Download
 

When flying your drone in cold weather, watch out for rain or snow, and land immediately if you get any. Dry off your drone and props well before they have a chance to freeze, especially paying close attention to your camera and gimbal.

 Harbin, China: Traveling with a Drone

Always Keep Your Eye on the Battery Voltage

Of all the travel drone tips for flying a drone in cold weather, I’ll go ahead and reiterate this again. In cold temperatures, a drone is working overtime in the dense air with reduced battery life, so make sure to keep a close eye on your battery’s performance whie in the air.

For extra caution when flying a DJI Phantom, turn on the “Show Voltage on Main Screen” on the Aircraft Battery page of your DJI Go app, and land immediately if the battery voltage goes anywhere below 3.2v.

Travel with a Drone in Cold Temperatures

When in Doubt, Check Your Manual

Even with all our travel drone tips for flying a drone in cold weather, you should always consult your manual as the final word for safely operating your quadcopter. Since most drones are built to fly anywhere between 32°F – 104°F (0°C – 40°C), you’ll likely be able to fly even in sub-optimal weather conditions. Still, your drone’s user manual will have every instruction you need to ensure the ultimate safety of your drone, as well as that of your battery and gimbal.

 

Travel Drone, Winter Cold Temperatures

Though flying a drone in cold weather brings its own additional set of procedures and required materials to do safely, it’s often worth it for those magical winter wonderland shots. Even with reduced flight times and increased risk of flying in cold temperatures, a healthy dose of preparation and caution can help you ensure a safe flight to the best of your ability. By following these travel drone tips for cold weather flights, you’ll be able to limit the cold weather’s negative effects on the drone as much as possible, and do everything in your power to work towards smooth sailing.

 

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Flying a Drone in Cold Weather: Travel Drone Tips


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Do you have any other tips for flying a drone in a cold weather?

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Maartje
    February 11, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Great tips Lauren & your photos are so beautiful, thanks! I wish I bought a drone to Mongolia in October. Will definitely use your tips when I finally buy one 🙂

  • Reply
    Silvia
    February 12, 2017 at 2:41 am

    I live in Norway and recently got a drone so this post was SO helpful. Thanks for all these tips!

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