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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 (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 120v outlets so you can easily charge a computer, run a CPAP, or plug in an electric cooler even if you’re at a dispersed campsite with no amenities.
What to Consider
Your Electricity Needs
Before you begin comparing portable power stations for camping, you’ll first need to figure out exactly what you want to power while you’re off the grid. Recharging your phone and camera a couple of times will require far less power than running a portable fridge 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 the power station manufacturer’s website—they 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. 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. If you’re looking for a solar-powered generator to power a camper or act as a backup in your home during a blackout, I recommend looking for one with a capacity of at least 100 amp-hours and pair it with 200 watts of solar panels.
Solar-powered generators vary in price depending on their capacity, but you’ll also want to budget for a solar panel, as well, which usually isn’t included with the generator.
Weight and Size
Lithium-ion batteries weigh less than traditional deep-cycle batteries and are smaller, so most of the solar-powered generators are lightweight and meant to be portable. That said, they’ll still weigh upwards 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 may be worth opting for less charging capacity.
How We Selected
I’m a longtime outdoorsman, camper, and overlanding enthusiast with extensive experience reviewing camping and overlanding equipment for Outside, Gaia GPS, Popular Mechanics, and other publications. I’ve spent countless nights dispersed camping off the grid in the bed of my truck, rooftop tents, travel trailers, and just about every type of tent imaginable. I’ve installed a solar charging system in my off-road teardrop trailer and have tested various portable power stations for Outside. For my selections, I considered the charging capacity, price, and weight of the units, as well as solar-powered generators I have direct experience using. I’ve made sure all of my selections have at least four or more stars on Amazon, along with great reviews from trusted sources like Wirecutter and Business Insider.