Do you like to camp off- grid?
Do you often need emergency backup power at your home or residence?
Do you like to tailgate and camp at sporting events, festivals, or music concerts?
Have you ever blown a fuse on your RV because you’ve plugged in too many appliances at once?
If you answered “yes,” to any of these questions, you may find a portable power station a helpful piece of gear to add to your tool kit.
If you’ve been considering purchasing a portable power station but have found yourself confused by all of the technical specs and jargon, we’re here to help. We have some suggestions on things you should look out for when choosing a model of your own, as well as tips on how to get the most out of these eco-friendly power sources.
What is a Portable Power Station?
A portable power station is a rechargeable battery pack that stores power for use when a traditional energy source, like an electric grid hookup, isn’t available.
Equipped with an array of power ports, these battery packs can supply enough energy to recharge electronic devices, run appliances, or even power an entire home.
Portable Power Stations vs. Gas Generators
Unlike a traditional gas-powered generator, a power station doesn’t generate a lot of noise or harmful emissions.
One of the major advantages of using a portable power station is that most can recharge using a solar panel. In theory, this means they can provide unlimited power, even when living entirely off the grid.
However, the reality of solar energy is it can be slow and unreliable at times. Because of this, many users only charge their units by plugging them into a standard 120V AC wall outlet at home. Most power stations can also charge using the 12V DC port in a car, truck, or RV.
What Are Portable Power Stations Good For?
There are a number of use cases for portable power stations, including serving as an emergency backup power supply during a blackout. Here are a few more use cases. Can you think of more? Tell us in the comments below.
- At construction sites providing energy for power tools.
- At campsites for backup power, or as main sources of power for off-grid camping.
- At tailgating events, for powering lights, TVs, fans, or e-bikes.
- At art festivals or outdoor shows for powering electronic devices and fans.
- At home in the event of a temporary blackout due to severe storms.
Portable power stations, depending on their size, can provide enough electricity to run electronic devices, appliances, and power tools.
Why Buy a Portable Power Station Now?
When the first portable power stations arrived on the market more than a decade ago, there were only a handful of options to choose from. Today, things are much different as there are now dozens of models to choose from for almost any energy need.
Increased competition in the power station market has been good for consumers, driving down prices and pushing battery and charging technology forward. But it has also made buying one of these devices more complicated, as it can sometimes be challenging to distinguish the advantages of one model from another.
Some power stations are small enough to carry, while others are so big that they come with built-in wheels to help move them around. The higher the energy capacity of the device’s batteries, the larger and heavier it will be. Most weigh approximately 25-35 pounds, although there are plenty of smaller and larger models to choose from.
What to Look for When Choosing a Portable Power Station
Picking the right power station for your adventures depends on several variables.
- How long do you intend to stay off the grid?
- What kind of devices and appliances you want to plug into it?
Smaller power stations tend to be lighter and more portable but have less battery capacity. On the other hand, larger units increase performance but get heavier and more ponderous in the process.
Finding the right balance to meet your needs is essential. Here’s how to choose the right power station for you.
Understanding Battery Capacity
One of the most important specs for any portable power station is how much energy it can store in its battery packs. This is measured in watt-hours (Wh), which represents how long the unit can continue to operate while supplying one watt of power for an hour. As you would expect, the higher the number, the better.
For example, a power station with a capacity of 2000Wh can run for up to 2000 hours, provided it is only supplying one watt of electricity. The reality is electronic devices and appliances require much more energy than that, so they’ll end up depleting the battery at a faster rate. As an example, a typical smartphone uses just 5 watts of juice to charge, while a refrigerator requires between 100 and 250 watts to operate.
Understanding the power requirements of the gadgets and appliances you use will help you know how much capacity you need from a power station. Just remember, those needs can change over time, so it may be a good idea to purchase a unit that provides more power than you currently need so you have some room to grow.
Type of Battery
In addition to battery capacity, you’ll also want to pay attention to the type of battery used in the power station. In the past, lead-acid power cells were common throughout the industry, but in recent years they have been phased out in favor of lithium-ion. This style of battery is more energy efficient, can store more power, and is lighter and safer too.
Most new power stations now use lithium-iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. This type of power cell is lightweight, offers excellent energy storage, and has a much longer lifespan. With a LiFePO4 battery, users can expect their power station to continue functioning properly through 3000+ recharge cycles, a substantial upgrade over previous generation devices, which often had issues after being recharged just 500 times.
Some power station manufacturers also offer replaceable battery packs. This allows the user to replace a worn-out power cell with a new one without purchasing an entirely new device. It also makes it easier to recycle the depleted battery in an effort to lessen the impact on the environment.
A power station’s output is measured in watts, which indicates how much electricity it can supply to the things that are plugged into it. The higher the wattage, the more devices and appliances it can power simultaneously. Higher wattages also allow the unit to handle more energy-hungry appliances like an air conditioner, a space heater, or an electric grill.
For example, a portable air conditioner may require 3000 watts to run but could potentially require as much as 4500 watts when first turned on. A power station needs to be able to offer enough sustained output (3000W) to keep the AC unit running but must also have the capacity to hit the peak energy requirement (4500W) when the unit is first activated.
Once again, understanding the power requirements of the devices you intend to use with the power station will help you make a more informed purchasing decision. Most electronic devices—like smartphones, tablets, and laptops—won’t have much of an impact on a power station’s performance at all. On the other hand, power-intensive appliances will drain the battery very quickly if the unit isn’t equipped to handle the demand.
Most power stations come with a similar selection of charging ports, although they vary greatly in the number of outlets provided. The most common options include 120V AC wall outlets like those found in our homes, a 12V DC vehicle charging port, and a mix of USB-A and USB-C ports. Some units also include 12V DC5521 “barrel style” ports or an Anderson powerpole, although those are used less frequently by consumers. An increasing number of power stations also now include a wireless charging pad for use with smartphones and other gadgets that support that type of charging.
USB ports are perfect for charging mobile devices, laptops, and other small gadgets, while 120V AC wall outlets are handy when using appliances, TVs, or air conditioners. Look for a unit that allows you to plug in everything you need, with a few extra ports for those occasions when you require additional capacity.
There are three methods for recharging the vast majority of power stations on the market.
- You can plug them into a 120V AC wall outlet at home
- You can use the 12V DC port in a vehicle
- You can connect them to solar panels to harvest energy from the sun.
The fastest and most reliable of those methods is a home wall outlet, while the slowest is usually the DC port in your car, which can often take more than twice as long to top off the battery.
One of the most significant advances in power station technology in recent years is the addition of quick-charging capabilities. In the past, it could take 5-6 hours or even longer to recharge the batteries using an AC wall outlet. But newer models can replenish the power cells in less than half that time.
When shopping for your own unit, check the specs for charging times to get a sense of how well it will perform. A device that supports faster charging speeds means you’ll spend less time waiting for it to be ready and more time out doing the things you enjoy.
Manufacturers usually list how many watts of power a unit can accept when using this method of charging. A power station that can handle 400W versus 200W can theoretically charge twice as fast, provided you have the proper number and type of solar panels. Environmental variables can impact solar charging efficiency, like cloud cover, shadows, and the movement of the sun. If you’re not pressed for time, and in a sunny location, it is a viable way to keep the device charged.
Size and Weight
A small, lightweight power station will be easy to travel with but will store less energy and power fewer gadgets than a bigger unit. If portability is of the utmost importance, you may have to sacrifice performance in favor of size.
On the other hand, if you aren’t as concerned about having a model that is easy to move around, you can invest in a power station that is larger and more capable.
In addition to bigger batteries and more power output, larger units also tend to have more charging ports. That could be important if you plan to plug a lot of things into the device at the same time. Once again, it is all about finding the balance between portability and usability based on your specific needs.
There are other features that may or may not be important to your purchasing decision. For instance, many portable power stations allow users to monitor performance and adjust settings remotely using a smartphone app. If that is something that would be useful for your needs, then you’ll want to look for a device that offers that capability.
Similarly, nearly every power station comes with a built-in LCD screen for monitoring power input and output, battery charge levels, charging speeds, and so on. Some of those displays are bright, vibrant, and very easy to read, while others offer minimal information on a dim, monochrome interface. How important the quality of the LCD screen is up to you.
Other common features for power stations include built-in LED lights, fast-charging components, expandable battery capacities, and wireless charging pads.
Some units support connections to your home to serve as backup power during a blackout, while others can be used as an uninterruptible power supply for essential devices. Some models are rugged and built for the outdoors, while others have a more elegant design that favors form over function. How important those features are to you could have an impact on the unit that you ultimately end up buying.
Power stations can range in price from as little as $300 to as much as $6000 or more. Ultimately, the device that you purchase needs to fit into your budget while still managing to meet your specific needs. Thankfully, there are so many options to choose from these days that it is easier than ever to find a power station that is both affordable and powerful.
These are the most important things to consider when purchasing your own portable power station. You’ll find an excellent selection of options at Camping World online.
Portable Power Stations We Love
Camping World has a wide variety of portable power stations to meet every customer’s needs. These devices come in a variety of sizes and offer different levels of performance at affordable prices. Here are our top models by brand:
EcoFlow Portable Power Stations
EcoFlow makes some of the best power stations on the market, ranging from options that are small enough to go anywhere to models that can power your entire house. These are the models on sale at Camping World.
- EcoFlow Delta Mini: With an 882Wh battery and 1400W output, this model can power 90% of household appliances, while remaining highly portable.
- EcoFlow Delta Max 2000: Big and powerful, Delta Max 2000 has a large 2000Wh battery that can be expanded to 6000Wh as needed. This power station can run devices requiring up to 3400W of electricity, making it a great option for home or the RV.
GlareWheel Portable Power Stations
Portable power stations from GlareWheel are affordable, portable, and accessible. They pack a lot of features and performance into a small package.
- GlareWheel Portable 500W Power Station: Lightweight and compact, this unit weighs just 15 lbs. but offers 518Wh of capacity and an output of up to 500W.
iDeaPlay Portable Power Stations
Customers looking for a mobile charging device that is small, lightweight, and affordable will appreciate what iDeaPlay brings to the table. This company’s products put the emphasis on portability over power.
- iDeaPlay BP300: This model weighs just 10 lbs., but stores 250Wh of power and has an output of up to 300W. That makes it perfect for tent campers who need to keep their smartphones and other small devices charged while on the go.
Jackery Portable Power Stations
Jackery has been a leader in the portable power station market for more than a decade, deliver a wide variety of innovative products. It sells a number of different models to meet the needs of nearly an customers.
- Jackery Explorer 290: Weighing in at 7.5 lbs., the Explorer 290 is one of the lightest power stations on the market. Despite its size, it comes with a 290Wh battery and a sustained output of 200W, making it small but mighty.
- Jackery Explorer 880: With a battery capacity of 880Wh and an output of up to 2000W, this power station packs a lot of features into its compact frame. It also has an excellent array of charging ports, including three 120V AC outlets and two USB-C ports.
- Jackery Explorer 1000: The Explorer 1000 gives buyers a 1002Wh battery with a sustained output of 1000 watts. It includes an expanded array of charging ports too, making it a great addition to any campsite.
- Jackery Explorer 1500: RVers looking for the ultimate in performance will find the Explorer 1500 to be a great choice. This fast-charging model has a battery capacity of 1534Wh and a sustained output of 1800W, peaking at 3600W.
Pulsar Portable Power Stations
Pulsar focuses on delivering a lot of value with their line of portable power stations. These unique and well-equipped models are perfect for casual users who don’t want to break the bank to keep their personal devices charged while on the go.
- Pulsar PPS200: This 200-watt power station weighs 5.5 lbs. and can charge up to nine devices at once. It also has an attractive price tag, making it one of the most affordable options for keeping your favorite gadgets charged.
- Pulsar PPS500: Pulsar’s 500W model takes the same winning formula found in the PPS200, and gives it more battery capacity and power output. This model is still very light and 11 pounds and includes a wireless charging pad.
- Pulsar PPS1000: With its eight charging ports and two wireless charging pads, the PPS1000 can power as many as ten devices at once. The unit has a 1000W output, keeping all of your gadgets functioning at the campsite.
Southwire Portable Power Stations
Durable construction and outstanding performance are the hallmarks of the power stations made by Southwire. These products are built for use at the campsite, job site, and at home, making them highly versatile options for on-the-go charging. Best of all, they have price tags well below most of the competition, putting them in a class all their own.
- Southwire Elite 200 Series: With a battery capacity of 222Wh and the ability to charge nine devices at once, this lightweight power station performs well above expectations. It can even go from a completely depleted battery to a full charge in about 1.7 hours.
- Southwire Elite 300 Series: If you need a step up in power from the Elite 200, this model has you covered. It has many of the same features as its smaller sibling but comes with a larger battery (296Wh) and an 8-in-1 DC adapter set to ensure every gadget you own can plug in.
- Southwire Elite 500 Series: Southwire’s winning formula continues with the Elite 500, a 515Wh power station that adds capacity and increased power outputs over the previous two models. This unit can charge up to ten devices at once and comes with a bright built-in LED light.
- Southwire Elite 1100 Series: Southwire’s largest and most powerful charging solution, this device has a 1166Wh battery and enough ports to power 12 different devices. Despite its higher capacity, the unit fully recharges in under five hours using a 120V AC outlet, 12V DC vehicle charger, or a solar panel.
To shop for these devices, power stations, or any other items you need for your RV, visit the Camping World website.