Reliable power stations for emergencies or camping
Power when you need it. (Persnickety Prints via Unsplash/)
If you enjoy camping, or you just want to be ready when a blackout strikes, portable power stations are an excellent investment. These large batteries reliably power many devices with AC plugs, USB connectors, and more. Unlike smaller battery packs that output enough juice to charge cell phones and other small devices, power stations are designed to handle anything from your phone and camera to TVs to laptops to, at the higher-end, appliances like blenders and even refrigerators (for a short time, at least). Unlike gas generators, which are noisy and give off harmful fumes, power stations are nearly silent and completely safe to run indoors. They’re also relatively small and light, making them easy to take to a camp sight or stow in your home in an out-of-the-way closet.
There are two main factors to consider when looking at power stations: Power capacity and maximum output. If a power station has a 300 what-hour (Wh) capacity, it can run a 300-watt device for one hour. Or three 100-watt devices for an hour. Or one 100-watt device for three hours—you get the idea. Maximum output determines how much power it delivers to a device. If the maximum output is 60 watts, you’ll be able to power a laptop, but not a refrigerator. All power stations will list their power capacity and maximum output, and many include charts to help show which devices it’s most suited for.
There are downsides to power stations, however. For one thing, they don’t put out as much continual power as a gas generator, and usually aren’t recommended for powering things like heaters, freezer units, and other similar appliances. Perhaps their biggest drawback compared to a gas generator has to do with charging. Most power stations can take many hours to fully charge—sometimes needing to be plugged in overnight. If they run out while you’re in the woods or in the middle of a blackout, there’s no way to charge them up again. Even power stations that connect to solar cells still require daylight and an unobstructed view of the sun for maximum charging speed. Finally, power stations aren’t cheap, though for what they offer, the investment often makes sense.
Despite these drawbacks, portable power stations are useful tools for anyone who wants to stay connected in situations when their wall outlets aren’t available. Here are four units that we like.
The six-pound device is perfect for a day at the beach. (Amazon/)
The 200-watt-hour Powerhouse 200 isn’t designed to run all the appliances in your party tent. It only features one AC port, two USB-A ports, and a DC 12V port, and can’t power devices requiring more than 100 watts. However, it’s absolutely perfect in emergencies when you need to keep your family’s cell phones or tablets charged, or when spending the day in the park with your laptop. It can recharge using USB-C, AC, or Solar energy, and at a mere 6 pounds, it can easily fit in a bike basket or backpack.
Safe to use indoors. (Amazon/)
This 1,000-watt power station can power blenders, pellet smokers, small household ice shavers, and TVs for hours, as well as the usual assortment of cameras, phones, and laptops. It includes three AC outlets, two USB-A ports, and a USB-C port, and it can accommodate two Jackery solar cells for faster outdoor charging. An LCD screen provides current power capacity levels. At 22 pounds, it’s relatively light on your back—and the price-tag is a bit lighter on your wallet than the EcoFlow Delta 1000.
Unit weights less than 30 pounds. (Amazon/)
The Goal Zero’s 396-watt-hour battery can charge phones over 30 times, laptops five times, and can run small appliances for several hours. It features two AC, two USB-A, and three 12-volt outputs, and can be charged from AC, 12V, or solar panels. The lead acid battery is heavier than lithium ion cells, but the compact, 8 x 10.25-inch unit still weighs under 30 pounds. It also costs half the price of the larger units, making it a budget-priced alternative that won’t leave you in the dark.
Twelve outputs including AC and USB. (Amazon/)
EcoFlow’s Delta 1300 has rated capacity of 1,260 watt-hours, and a maximum output rated at a whopping 1,800 watts. This means you can reliably power laptops or small lights all day, a freezer for 10-20 hours, or a high-heat appliance like a toaster for up to an hour. It features six AC, four USB-A, and two USB-C output ports. The Delta 1300 has a solar input for outdoor charging (solar cells not included), and an easy-to-read screen and simple controls. At 30 pounds it’s light enough for one person to carry, though dual handles help split the load. Unsurprisingly, this much power comes with a hefty price tag, but the Delta 1300 delivers a maximum bang—or buzz—for the buck.