As an avid outdoor enthusiast, I had the opportunity to test an extremely wide range of outdoor gear, including mobile and off-grid electrification devices such as solar generators. These became especially important when the pandemic forced my trips to be domestic rather than international, which prompted me to equip a van for long-term road trips.
To carry my work with me, I need a constant power source to charge my laptop, portable refrigerator, lighting, and countless devices and tools. As a result, I’ve tried all the leading portable power stations (and many that aren’t), so I know exactly what’s the best and crap. I’ve written all about it (and other outdoor tech) for publications like The Daily Beast, Thriller, Handbook, and more. In some cases, my own opinion has led to a tie, so I looked at actual customer reviews to determine which solar generators provided the most satisfaction for most users.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Solar Generator
Solar generators have exploded in the market over the past few years. There are now dozens of different brands, which at first glance look roughly the same. The truth is, out of the vast number of knockoffs, only a few stand out. Here’s to make sure you get great content.
How much power can be stored
Portable solar generators come in a wide range of sizes, but the size of a generator doesn’t automatically allow it to store a lot of electricity. In fact, most are disappointingly limited and can’t store more juice than a portable charger.
To properly check a generator’s storage, you need to look at its capacity, measured in watt-hours (Wh). A watt hour is equivalent to 1 watt flowing in an hour. The best solar generators provide hundreds of watt-hours of capacity, and in some cases even several kilowatt-hours. However, that doesn’t mean it will provide hundreds or thousands of hours of power. Any generator will end up lasting different times depending on what’s plugged in.
When you use a generator to power one thing, it’s easy to predict how long the generator will last. For example, if you were to use a 500-watt-hour power station to power a 100-watt light bulb, it would stay on for 5 hours continuously. Add a portable refrigerator that takes 50 watts per hour, a phone that uses 18 watts, a mini fan that uses 3 watts… you get the idea. The bigger the capacity, the better.
No solar generator will keep charging forever, so you need a generator that can charge as quickly and easily as possible. This is where we turn “renewable energy” into “renewable energy”.
All of the power stations included in this roundup can be charged by connecting them to a solar panel (hence the name “solar generator”), but you’ll also want to look for 12-volt plugs through wall sockets and vehicles. This ensures that you can charge it off-grid in the sun, while preparing at home, or charging from the dash socket on the go.
You also need to pay attention to the charging input capacity of the model in watts (W). For example, a solar generator with a maximum input of 100W can receive up to 100W of continuous flow, which is about the minimum you would reasonably want to look for. Most of the generators included below have an input capacity of at least a few hundred watts when charged by the sun, so some 50 to 200 watt solar panels maximize them.
Solar generators are needed to keep power coming in and out. The best solar generators are able to charge all your intended devices at the same time through any necessary plug.
Any portable power station worth your money will have a high output capacity so you can charge many devices even if they need a lot of juice. The generator’s maximum output should be much higher than its maximum input. While a particular model may only draw a few hundred watts at any given moment, it’s usually multiplied. At a minimum, you’ll need a generator that can put out 300 watts at a time, but for larger tasks you’ll need at least 500 watts.
The best solar generators should also offer a variety of output plugs, including AC outlets, USB-A, USB-C, and even 12-volt DC outlets, such as those found in a car’s dashboard. This ensures that you can charge multiple devices at once, no matter what plug they use. The number of ports you need depends on how many devices you need to power, but it should have at least a few AC outlets and a few USB-A ports.
While portable battery power sources have been around for a while, they’ve been pretty heavy, bulky things for the past few decades. One of the most exciting aspects of the latest generation of solar generators is that their physical structure has become more compact.
If you plan to camp the generator or convert it into a van where every square inch counts, size and weight will be major considerations. All of the products we recommend are the size of a shoebox or two – up to three. The lightest is about 24 packs of soda, while the heaviest is 100 pounds, or about the weight of a king-size bag of dog food. Most fall between 30-60 lbs.
If you plan to use the generator as a more or less stationary backup power source in your home, portability isn’t a huge issue. We generally recommend keeping weight and size in mind, though; you never know when you’ll need it for something other than backup. (Plus, who wants to drag something heavy and awkward if it doesn’t have to?)
Another consideration in portability is the need for accessories, which affects how easy it is to move and use the generator. For example, some generators require a large removable battery pack, which can be a hassle when you’re on the go or packing your vehicle. Everything on our list requires a few accessories — you can’t get solar power without connecting cables and solar panels — but they work well with minimal add-ons.
As with any product you expect to last, durability and all-around quality craftsmanship are paramount. This is especially true if you plan on lugging your generator around on camping and road trips. A lot of the sub-par power stations are made of cheap components and flimsy plastics that feel unbearable on harsh roads.
Durability is not something you can determine by reading spec sheets from the internet. You actually have to take the generator out, use a bunch, and see how it holds up. I’ve verified the durability of these recommendations by combining my own actual field tests with reviews from countless real product owners.
The best solar generators: reviews and recommendations
The solar generators included in this list have a wide range of budgets, ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. They cover many use cases, from camping to backing up your home. Only you know all the things that make one of these the best solar generator for you, but we think one of them will get the job done.
Best Solar Generator: Jackery Explorer 1500
Why it’s on the list: The Jackery Explorer 1500 offers the best combination of capacity, I/O capability, portability and durability.
- Storage Capacity: 1,534Wh
- Input capacity: 500W
- Output capacity: 1,800W (3,600W surge)
- Dimensions: 14 x 10.4 x 12.7 inches
- Weight: 35.2 lbs
- Fast charging and great capacity
- Durable and easy to use
- lots of ports
- relatively light
- Certain vehicle plugs can cause the DC charging cable to overheat
When it comes to all-round delivery, the Jackery Explorer 1500 is almost universally accepted as the leader in solar generators and portable power stations. With a sizable 1,534Wh capacity, it’s capable of charging a phone 150 times, a laptop 8 times, running a regular mini fridge or TV for 21 hours, or powering an electric grill for 75 minutes. Its equally great input capacity means it restarts quickly: with all four of Jackery’s optional 100W solar panels in reasonably good sunlight, for example, you can fully charge it in 5 hours.
Best of all, it’s very user-friendly. Numerous output ports ensure that you can plug in a variety of devices and electrical equipment. Its functions are highly intuitive and the digital display is clear at a glance.
I’ve traveled with the Explorer 1500 for months on end, hauling it in and out of my van, moving it outdoors, and generally abusing it with lots of bumps and bumps. Through it all, it showed absolutely no signs of breaking down. If you’re looking for a power station that offers reliable power capacity and wide availability, this is it.
Best Solar Generator for Camping: Souop Solar Generator 1800W
Why it’s chosen: Thanks to its excellent portability, high storage capacity and renowned durability, the 1800W Solar Generator is perfect for camping or camping.
- Storage capacity: 1488Wh
- Input capacity: 1200W
- Output Capacity: 1800W (4,000W surge)
- Size: 385243340mm
- Weight: 15.0kg
- Highly portable
- Incredible Durability
- fast charging speed
- lots of plugs
- Expensive for its size/capacity
While 1800W has more capacity than our top pick, it charges faster, making it an excellent choice for a quick solar refill. That said, it’s no slouch in capacity, offering 100 phone bills, 30 laptop bills, or more than 20 hours of portable refrigerator (depending on wattage). Suffice to say it’s more than capable of powering your basic camping gear.
Aside from its charging capabilities, the Souop Solar Generator 1800W also excels when it comes to camping with its great build quality. Super sturdy – its case provides solid protection.
The biggest question it raises is cost. It’s also not cheap. But while there are other solar generators available at lower prices, few offer anywhere near the same craftsmanship.
Best Solar Generator for Off-Grid Living: Blueti AC200 Max
Why It’s Included: The Blueti AC200 Max is ideal for powering from the grid thanks to its high independent capacity and ability to daisy-chain additional batteries.
- Storage capacity: 2,048Wh standalone, expandable to 8,192Wh
- Input capacity: 1,400W
- Output capacity: 2,200W (4,800W surge)
- Dimensions: 16.5 x 11 x 15.2 inches
- Weight: 61.9 lbs
- Massive capacity
- Daisy chain capability
- Lightning-fast input capacity
- 30A RV plug and two wireless charging pads
- What it offers is surprisingly affordable
- Quite heavy
Fans can be loud, especially in hot weather
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better solar generator for living off-grid for extended periods of time than the Bluetti AC200 Max. With a powerful 2,048Wh capacity, it can last you longer than most portable generators. Even better, you can daisy-chain multiple Bluetti batteries to expand their capacity to 8.192Wh. That’s absolutely huge, translating into the ability to power a full-size refrigerator for a day or a few hours of air conditioning. For people who are used to living off generators, it will last a long time.
Meanwhile, the AC200 Max has an excellent input capability of 1,400W. That means if you can plug in plenty of solar panels to quickly replenish its store. This allows you to maintain an off-grid setup with little interruption. It also has some special charging options, including a 30A plug that lets you plug it directly into your RV, and multiple wireless charging pads for smaller devices.