Best Portable Power Station for Van Life

power station for van life
power station for van life

What is the best portable power station for van life? First of all, you have to understand some knowledge about portable power stations and some needs of RV travel.

Portable power stations are essentially miniature versions of generators.

It allows you to keep vital appliances and electronics running during a power outage and can be a lifesaver during camping trips.

When combined with a solar panel, you have a completely off-grid portable solar generator.

Whether on a long trip, camping, or at home, these power stations and generators are very convenient and may even save lives.

Even replace expensive recreational batteries and complicated camper van electrical setups.

How many watts of solar energy do I need for my camper?

Average your power needs with Boondocking

To understand how many watts of solar energy your camper needs, you have to understand how much electricity you use. The most enjoyable way is to play it a few times.

Get your camper out and use all your equipment, as usual, to get your batteries fully charged. Use the battery monitor to track your power usage in amps. Ideally, you should do this a few times, as each RV trip will have different power needs (eg, cold days, times when you need to use your mobile device more, etc.).

After your trip, you can work out your numbers to see how much power you need. For every 30 amps you use, you need 100 watts of solar energy. Your solar panel’s wattage is cumulative, so if you need 300 watts, you can use one 300W panel or three 100W panels.

Use an online calculator to determine your electricity needs

If this method is not an option, you can also use an online calculator to estimate your electricity needs.

First, decide to use a solar generator to power all the electronics. Then find the wattage of each device. This is usually listed on the back, bottom, or power supply of the device.

Next, estimate how much time you use each device each day. From here, you can do the calculations manually. You multiply wattage by time to get watt-hours, then divide that number by voltage to get amp-hours.

(Total Watts x Hours of Use per Day = Watt Hours) / Voltage = Ampere Hours

However, it is much easier to use an online calculator. There are many solar calculators online and it’s easy to find. Most will ask you to enter the following data:

  • Watts per device
  • How many hours do you need to use electronic devices
  • Solar panel wattage
  • What is the storage capacity of your battery/solar generator
  • Other relevant information

After adding the data, the calculator will calculate the numbers. You may want to use 2 or 3 calculators for the first few times until you are sure you are using them correctly and working well.

What to look for in a good portable power station

There are many ways to compare and review portable power stations, but these are the most important factors we think you should consider finding the best one:

  • Battery Capacity (Wh)
    Battery capacity is measured in watt-hours (Wh) and tells you how much power your device can get in total. Many products have the capacity in their name, but you can always read the technical specs to find out. Depending on what you’re using them for, Wh will roughly tell you how long your portable power station will last.
  • Rated power (W)
    Power rating (in watts) simply refers to the maximum power output your portable power station can produce. It does this through its onboard power inverter. A higher number means your power station is more powerful, so you can use it to run more heavy equipment like a blender or coffee maker.
  • Charging time
    It’s always nice to have a portable power station that charges quickly, especially if you’re on a road trip and don’t have a lot of time to stop and charge your devices. Depending on the power source you use, the charging time for a portable power station can vary widely, from 1 hour to 8 hours or more. and the billing method you choose (more on that below).
  • Portability
    A key element of any great portable power station is its portability. So don’t forget to compare the dimensions and weights of various products to find the one that is most convenient for you.

3 Ways to Charge Portable Solar Generators?

One of the great things about solar generators for van living is their flexibility!

Solar generators for van life can generally be charged in three different ways. This gives you plenty of flexibility to recharge no matter where you are or what the weather conditions are.

  1. Solar
    The first and most obvious way to charge a solar generator is solar energy. You can connect solar panels or arrays of them to a solar generator to refresh the battery.

It’s a great way to charge your generator with clean, renewable energy anywhere there’s sunshine.

  1. Charge the car through the DC socket
    Another way to charge the solar generator is through the car’s 12V DC outlet. The “cigarette lighter”, or circular socket, draws power directly from the vehicle’s battery. These chargers are either standard or available as accessories.

This method allows you to charge your generator while on the road. This is a great way to power a solar generator in your camper while traveling.

  1. AC charging
    The final charging option for solar generators is AC charging via a shore connection or other AC power source. This method allows you to charge your generator at home or at a campsite by plugging it into a standard 110v outlet. This is also usually the fastest way to charge a solar generator.

In addition to these three separate methods, many solar generators will let you combine charging methods to charge faster. By combining solar power and DC car charging, your battery can be charged in less time.

Pros and Cons of Portable Solar Generators

Like anything else, portable solar generators have their pros and cons. Let’s look at all the advantages and disadvantages of solar generators.

Advantages of Portable Solar Generators

  • Buying a solar generator is much easier than installing a complete solar system. It has everything you need except solar panels, in one simple package. Just connect a solar panel or other charging source and you’re ready to go.
  • You can carry a portable solar generator with you. The charging power source is stuck in the camper’s battery pack, while the solar system is installed in your van. But with a solar generator, you can take that power with you even when you leave your Class B motorhome.
  • Because of their portability, you can also use solar generators as emergency power sources in traditional homes. So even if there is a power outage in your home, you can still use electricity.
  • Solar generators are very flexible. You can charge them with solar power in sunny conditions, using the vehicle’s battery or shore power. You can charge your solar generator no matter what power source is used.
  • Solar generators are easy to use, require little maintenance, operate quietly, and require no fuel. This makes them a more convenient power source than traditional gas generators.

Disadvantages of Portable Solar Generators

  • Solar generators are quite expensive. You have to weigh the full value of a larger solar generator versus a low-level installed solar system. Depending on your RV lifestyle, if the cost is the same, would it be better to have a solar generator in your van life or install a solar system?
  • Solar generators are not as powerful or scalable as a full solar system in a camper. Your battery capacity and power output will be limited compared to options for a full solar system.
  • Unlike gas generators, which can provide electricity on demand, solar generators must be charged first. Depending on how you charge it (and the weather conditions you use with solar power), a full charge can take a long time, up to 24 hours in some cases.

Jackery Explorer 1000

Overall Best Portable Power Station

The Jackery Explorer 1000 is the most comprehensive portable power station to date. At 22 pounds, this generator is fairly compact, especially compared to the 44-pound Ego Nexus model. Despite the smaller size of this Jackery portable power station, it manages to make room for three three-pin sockets, two USB-C ports, two standard USB-A ports, and more for charging your power and devices.

Its display is easy to read, too, and it dominated the performance tests, beating the expected 3 hours, 2 minutes (with three work lights attached) of 8.5 minutes of battery runtime on average. For an extra $500, you can install a portable solar panel pack and use it as a solar generator while camping.

Main features

  • Rated maximum output: 1,000 W
  • Rated capacity: 1,000 Wh
  • Weight: 22 lbs
  • Body Dimensions: 12.5 x 8 x 8.5 inches

Blackfire PAC505

Best Mid-Range Portable Power Stations

When you don’t need something as powerful as the Jackery Explorer 1000, consider a mid-range portable power station with a capacity of about 500 watt-hours.

Klein Tools’ KTB5, its performance, and variety of sockets and ports (two three-pin sockets, two USB-C ports, and two USB-A ports). The model has since been discontinued. However, Klein Tools owns the Blackfire brand, which makes a model with similar specs: the Blackfire PAC505.

Main features

  • Wh: 505
  • Weight: 12.1 lbs

Rockpals 300W

Overall Best Budget Power Station

Rockpals replaced the original 300W portable power station with a new model, also known as the Rockpals 300W.

The original Rockpals 300W are affordable portable power stations. It performs well, is lightweight, and has multiple port and socket options.

The updated Rockpals 300W has similar specs, including the same 280-watt-hour estimate. But this iteration adds a USB-C port for more charging options. I know $286 isn’t exactly the budget, but if it’s similar to the previous generation model, the new Rockpals 300W is well worth considering.

Main features

  • Wh: 280
  • Weight: 7.7 lbs

SOUOP Portable Power Station 2400W

Overall Best Large Portable Power Station

SOUOP portable power station 2400W is currently the largest power station in SOUOP. It has certain advantages in the entire market. It is the most powerful product in the same price range. With the use of high-power 220W solar panels, the charging time is greatly shortened.

Moreover, SOUOP 2400W portable power station integrates the advantages of all our SOUOP products, tries to correct the usual deficiencies, and constantly upgrades the system and accessories. The charging cycle can be up to 3000 times. When you need to go out for a long time camping, this is the most suitable convenient power station, especially when the family travels together, low power is not suitable for this situation at all, only this kind of high power can store electricity more lastingly.

And although it is very heavy, it has also introduced a suitable trolley for auxiliary transportation, which is very convenient and convenient, and there is no need to worry about carrying it at all.

Main features

  • Rated maximum output: 5,000 W
  • Rated capacity: 2,232 Wh
  • Weight: 45 lbs
  • Body Dimensions: 12.3 x 10.6 x 16.5 inches

Portable Power Station FAQs

How many years can a portable power station last?

How many years a portable power station lasts depends on two key factors – how well the product is maintained and how often it is used.

I contacted Jackery, Blackfire, and Rockpals customer service specifically about the Jackery Explorer 1000, Blackfire PAC505, and Rockpals 300W that I recommend above. All three responded quickly with “about 500 cycles.” But SOUOP 1200W is 2500+.

A cycle refers to using the product from full charge to zero charges. So if you use your portable power station a few times a week, it may only last a year or two. But if you don’t use it often, it may last longer.

What can you run on a portable power station?

Portable power stations are often designed to power smaller electronic devices and appliances, from phones and desk fans to heavy-duty work lights and CPAP machines. Pay attention to the estimated watt-hours each brand provides in their specs to determine which model is best for what you want to power.

If a company says its portable power station is 200 watt-hours, it should be able to power a device with an output of 1 watt for about 200 hours. I go into more detail on this in the “How We Tested” section below, but consider the wattage of the device you want to power, and then the watt-hours your portable power station needs.

Can a power station run a refrigerator?

Possibly, depending on the refrigerator and portable power station.

For example, the annual energy consumption of this standard LG refrigerator is estimated at 608 kWh. This equates to 1.67 kWh per day or 1,670W t hours per day.

Consumes 1,670 watt-hours per day and less than 70 watt-hours per hour. If you have a short-term power outage, just power your refrigerator, and a 200-watt-hour power station can keep it running for nearly three hours. You need a power station with a higher estimated watt-hour to keep your refrigerator running longer. Mini refrigerators last much longer than larger refrigerators.

Be sure to confirm the electrical requirements for your specific refrigerator and portable power station before trying it, especially the peak/starting power of the refrigerator.

Review results

Which convenient power station to choose should be selected according to your actual situation. Each brand has different models of portable power stations, but they have different advantages and disadvantages. Among the brands mentioned above:

  • Rockpals is cheap, but the overall function is not as good as other brands
  • Jackery is undoubtedly the best seller on the list, but the overall price will be on the high side
  • Blackfire is quite satisfactory, overall it is on the mid-range
  • SOUOP is a brand that is popular at the moment. It not only has retail but also looks for partners as a manufacturer. Under the same power, the price is relatively dominant, and under the same price, its power is more dominant.
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