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These portable power stations keep your tech juiced during power outages and off-the-grid camping adventures. Portable Power Inverter
Camping looks a little different these days than it used to. Sure, you can still head into the woods with nothing more than a backpacking tent and go completely analog, but the rise in overlanding and glamping in recent years suggests many people like to bring at least some of the comforts of home with them, be it a portable fridge, lights, camera equipment, or a laptop for working remotely.
The advancement of lithium battery technology in recent years means keeping all of those gadgets charged is a lot easier, safer, and quieter than it used to be. Campers no longer need noisy, smelly diesel generators to keep the lights on in their RV or their mobile office up and running (a good thing when you’re at a campsite that enforces quiet hours). Solar-powered generators, or portable power stations as they’re often called, have gone down in both price and weight since their introduction to the market several years ago, all while increasing their charging capacity.
If you’re unfamiliar with them, imagine a supersized version of the power bank you likely already carry to charge your phone while traveling, except these typically have built-in inverters and standard 120-volt outlets so you can easily charge a computer, run a CPAP, or plug in an electric cooler or portable washing machine even if the power goes out or you’re at a dispersed campsite with no amenities.
Before you begin comparing portable power stations, you’ll first need to figure out exactly what you want to power while you’re off the grid or during a power outage. Recharging your phone and camera a couple of times requires far less power than running appliances or powering a camper. If you like numbers, make a list of everything you’d like to use and try to get a rough idea of the power draw of each item. Or, simply look at a power station manufacturer’s website—companies typically estimate the number of times you’ll be able to charge various devices and list those figures in the specs section.
The most important thing to consider when looking for a solar-powered generator is its capacity. You’ll pay more for higher capacity, but in general you’ll want to consider generators with a minimum capacity of around 40 amp-hours, or 500 watt-hours, which is enough juice for most people for a weekend of camping. If you’re looking for a solar-powered generator to power a camper or act as a backup in your home during a blackout, we recommend looking for one with a capacity of at least 100 amp-hours and pair it with 200 watts of solar panels. With any solar-powered generator, it’s best to buy one with more capacity than you think you’ll need, and a larger solar panel so you can recharge it quickly. Solar panels are usually not included with generators, so be sure to budget for this additional expense.
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Lithium-ion batteries weigh less than traditional deep-cycle batteries and are smaller, so most solar-powered generators are lightweight and fairly portable. That said, most still weigh upward of 10 pounds, and if you need a lot of capacity, they get heavy quickly. If you have a small vehicle or camper and are tight on space or just don’t want to lug around a really heavy generator, it might be worth opting for less charging capacity.
To recommend the best solar-powered generators, we compared the charging capacity, price, and weight of several models. We sought to include a variety of options for people with different power needs, and we also considered portable power stations we have direct experience using. We’ve made sure all of our selections have at least four or more stars on Amazon, along with great reviews from trusted sources like Wirecutter and Business Insider.
The Jackery Explorer 1000 is a highly rated portable power station with a max capacity of 1,002 watt-hours. Despite its lower capacity rating, the Wirecutter found that the Explorer 1000 powered a tabletop fan for 4.25 hours longer than the Ecoflow Delta (review below), all while being cheaper (at the time), lighter, and rated at less capacity. That being said, the max output of the Explorer 1000 is 1,000 watts, so you can’t run higher-wattage appliances and tools like you can with the Ecoflow Delta.
The Explorer 1000 has three standard AC outlets, two USB-C ports, a 12-volt car outlet, and two USB-A outlets. Jackery says it will power a mini fridge for 17 hours, charge a laptop eight times, and run an electric grill for 50 minutes. Like other portable power stations, it can be recharged via solar panel, AC outlet, or your vehicle’s 12-volt outlet, and takes 6.5 hours, 5.5 hours, and 11.5 hours to recharge, respectively.
If you can get by with less capacity, the Jackery Explorer 500 is nearly identical to the 1000, just with a smaller battery.
If you’re looking for a high-capacity power station with a fast solar charge time, this beefcake generator is a solid bet. The EB240 comes with a built-in MPPT (maximum power point tracker) that helps optimize the energy flow between the solar panels and the generator, allowing it to fully charge via solar panels in less than 10 hours. Granted, this is taking into account optimal solar charging conditions, but still. It’s pretty impressive for the power capacity.
Part of this fast charging comes from the unit’s ability to accept a higher input voltage (500 watts) than similar units, and the generator has a safety shutoff when input voltage is too high. The EB240 can be charged at home with a standard wall outlet, in the car, and via solar, and has four USB outlets, one USB-C port, a car outlet, and two AC outlets. A unit with this much power is ideal for long road trips or at home to power a refrigerator during power outages. We recommend solar charging for this unit, as the included charger is the same as for Bluetti’s 1,500-watt-hour unit and takes around 12.5 hours to fully charge using the wall charger.
If you’re a serious camper who likes to spend several days or longer off the grid, has a lot of electronics to charge, or are looking for a solar-powered generator to run your camper or as backup power at home, the Goal Zero Yeti 1500X is worth considering. With 1,516 watt-hours of charging capacity, the 1500X provides plenty of power to keep the lights on. Some RV companies, like Scout Campers, are even using this exact model to replace traditional and more complicated camper battery and wiring setups.
The 1500X is Goal Zero’s best-selling large power station, and it can power a portable fridge for 61 hours. In fact, if the power goes out at home, it can power a full-sized refrigerator for 28 hours, which shows just how versatile this solar-powered generator is. It has enough juice to recharge a smartphone 127 times and a laptop 31 times and will power a CPAP for 24 hours. The display shows you how much output you’re using, as well as input and the time to empty, which is particularly helpful when you’re off the grid.
The 2,000-watt built-in inverter lets you power anything you would with a normal wall outlet at home, like a blender, hair dryer, or circular saw. It has a maximum input of 600 watts, which would allow it to fully charge in just three hours—provided you have the proper charging equipment. The included 120-watt charger ups the total time to 14 hours. Using just one of Goal Zero’s 100-watt solar panels would take you 18 to 36 hours to recharge it.
One of the best features of the 1500X is the ability to add additional components, like the Yeti Home Integration Kit, which allows you to hook it up to your home’s circuit breaker panel, or the Yeti Expansion Module, which gives you even more power options for camping by allowing you to recharge the unit from your vehicle’s alternator while you’re driving.
The EcoFlow Delta has the most ports, and therefore the ability to charge more things at once, than any other solar-powered generator on this list. If you’re counting, it has 13 ports, to be exact, including six AC ports on the back of the unit. It has a capacity of 1,260 watt hours, and a max total output of 1,800 watts, which is more than enough to power pretty much anything you would bring camping and is even capable of charging an electric vehicle in a pinch.
The Delta weighs just shy of 31 pounds, so it’s not the lightest portable power station, but with the ability to charge so many different devices at once, the extra weight is a small price to pay. Perhaps the best feature of the Delta, though, is its incredibly quick recharging ability. Connecting it to four 100-watt solar panels will fully recharge it in four to eight hours, and plugging it into a standard AC outlet at home will recharge it from 0 to 80 percent in under one hour.
Goal Zero’s Yeti 500X is a great choice for anyone with fairly minimal charging needs during a weekend camping trip. Goal Zero has been in the game a long time, and the beauty of its portable power stations is how easily they integrate with Goal Zero solar panels, as well as how simple they are to use. The 500X has a built-in solar charge controller, as well as a built-in 120-volt AC inverter, so you can plug standard household electronics into it. Goal Zero says it can recharge a phone 42 times and a laptop 10 times and power a portable fridge for 20 hours without having to charge it. You can recharge the 505-watt-hour Yeti 500X with one of Goal Zero’s Boulder 100 panels in 6 to 12 hours, depending on the sun, but you can also recharge it from your car’s 12-volt outlet in 4.5 hours.
Bryan used the predecessor to this portable power station, Goal Zero’s Yeti 400 Lithium, extensively and found it to be great for charging small devices like cell phones, camera batteries, and rechargeable lights. On longer camping trips, it would not power his Dometic CFX50 portable fridge as long as the Dometic PLB40 (review below). That said, it has built-in 120-volt outlets and accepts solar charging more easily than the Dometic, so it is slightly more versatile than the PLB40 and works great for most small-gadget charging needs. With dimensions of 7.5-by-11.25-by-5.8 inches and at almost 13 pounds, the 500X is also lighter and smaller than the unit Bryan tested. The 500X has a 2-year warranty.
If you’re on a tight budget and don’t have a lot of power requirements, the Jackery Explorer 240 is a good choice. At $220, it’s one of the cheapest options on this list, but it also has a max capacity of 240 watt-hours. You can power five devices at once, and Jackery says it can recharge a phone 24 times or a camera 10 times, so it likely has enough capacity to keep your gadgets recharged if you like to keep things simple when camping. It has one USB-C port, two USB-A ports, and one 100-watt AC outlet. Weighing just 6.6 pounds, it’s also the lightest option on this list, making it easy to carry and very travel-friendly.
If your primary goal is to power a portable fridge while camping and perhaps recharge your phone or other devices that charge via USB, we like Dometic’s PLB40. Bryan has been using this portable solar generator for several years and has found it to be the longest lasting battery of this size of the ones he has tried. It’s rated at 512 watt-hours, which is enough to run a Dometic CFX3 45 fridge for 40 hours or long enough for a weekend of camping on a single charge.
The biggest difference between this and some of the other models we recommend is that it’s specifically a 12-volt portable power station and does not have a built-in inverter. Let us break that down: If you’re running 12-volt appliances, like an electric cooler, they will be more efficient when powered from a 12-volt source versus being plugged into and converted to a 120-volt source, like you’d need to do with the Goal Zero 500X. That’s how this little unit gives you more run time for powering a fridge than the similarly sized Goal Zero 500X.
The PLB40 weighs 16 pounds and can be charged from a solar panel, AC outlet at home, or a 12-volt car socket. If you plan to power a portable fridge in your vehicle, connecting the PLB40 to your car’s 12-volt outlet and then the fridge to the PLB40 is one of the simplest ways to keep the PLB40 topped up, especially if you’re driving a lot.
This compact little power bank weighs just 5 pounds, making it the perfect backup to stash in your car or van. It’ll fit under a car seat or tuck nicely into your car camping bin, and it also makes a good backup for power outages at home. We love this model for charging small items like headlamps, phones, and headphones, though it’s not our first pick for larger devices.
The Yeti 200X will fully charge in around eight hours via the 12-volt car-charging option and significantly faster (think three hours in good conditions) via a solar panel. As with the other models on the list, this will also charge in an AC wall unit. This power station has two USB ports, a 12-volt outlet, and one AC port. We’d like to see a few more ports on the unit, but given the limited capacity, you’ll be charging fewer items anyway. This is our pick for charging personal items, and you’ll never be sorry you stashed it (fully charged!) in your on-the-go car camping bin.
PM: What can a solar-powered generator power? MS: A solar-powered generator can supply power to just about anything that requires power to run—it just depends on the capacity. These generators can charge power tools in the shop, laptops for remote work, and personal devices like bluetooth headphones and speakers. A solar-powered generator with a higher power capacity can even power household appliances in the event of a power outage. And the fact that these are solar-compatible means you aren’t reliant on electricity to recharge them.
PM: What charging tips can you share? MS: Most units come with three charging options—solar, car, and wall—and each input method charges a generator at a different speed. Most units will have a simple readout display showing the remaining battery life, and it’s a good practice not to allow your battery pack to get below 20 percent.
I like to take advantage and charge up my power banks whenever I can. On the road all day? I plug it into my car charger. Stopped at a sunny overlook for the weekend? Pull out the solar panels. At home between trips? I keep mine stored with at least an 80 percent charge, and I always unplug them once they’re fully charged, as keeping them plugged in longer than necessary can degrade the battery over time.
Solar Tracking System PM: What criteria do you have when shopping for a solar-powered generator? MS: My background is light-and-fast, low-maintenance travel, so for me, a space-saving design and quick recharging matter most. I care less about a generator powering a portable refrigerator and campervan AC, and more about whether I can work from the road without worrying about my laptop dying. This won’t be the same for everyone, as every travel and car-camping setup is different, and many people are looking for solar-powered generators as backups in case of home power outages. But for plenty of people in the van-life (or truck life!) and remote-working world, a smaller unit with at least two USB ports, one AC port, and fast solar charging with the option for 12-volt car charging will be all they need.