The best portable power stations of the year
This story is part of Road Trip 2020, CNET’s series on how we’re preparing now for what could come next.
Portable power stations are the smaller, lesser-known cousin of generators. These versatile, lunch-box-size devices can go with you on camping trips, to construction sites — wherever else you need electricity — to keep your phone, power tools and other electronics charged and running smoothly.
I picked seven power stations to test for this list, ranging in price from $270 to $1,200. Here, I focused exclusively on rechargeable battery-powered models, although gas models are available, too. While each power station does the same thing — provide power on the go in a compact design — each one has a different design and range of features.
Keep in mind that the prices I note below for each portable power station may change as retailers introduce sales and other updates. I’ll do my best to check in regularly so they reflect the most recent pricing.
The Jackery Explorer 1000 is by far the most well-rounded portable power station of the bunch. At 22 pounds, this powerful generator is fairly compact, especially compared with the 44-pound Ego Nexus model. Despite this Jackery portable power station’s smaller size, it manages to make space for three three-prong outlets, two USB-C ports, two standard USB-A ports and more to use for your power supply and for charging your devices.
Its display is easy to read, too, and it dominated the performance tests, exceeding its expected run time of 3 hours and 2 minutes (with three work lights connected to it) by an average of 8.5 minutes.
- Price (Amazon): $1,000
- Watt hours: 1,002
- Weight: 22 pounds
When you don’t need something quite as powerful as the Jackery Explorer 1000, the Klein Tools KTB5 is an excellent option. While it has roughly half the battery capacity watt hours of the Jackery generator, it’s still a solid portable power station performer with a lot of power.
Complete with two three-prong outlets, two USB-C ports and two USB-A ports, you can charge pretty much anything you’ll ever need with this midrange portable power station from a CPAP machine to small appliances to your computer. Bonus: It did well in my performance tests, averaging just 2 minutes less than its expected 2-hour and 29-minute run time (with two lights connected to it).
- Price (Amazon): $500, currently on sale for $465
- Watt hours: 546
- Weight: 12 pounds
The Rockpals 300W is my favorite affordable portable power station. Not only did this portable power station average 2.5 minutes over the expected 2-hour 33-minute run time (with one work light connected), it’s only 7.5 pounds and has a ton of options, ranging from one three-prong outlet to four USB-A ports and a handful of other features to use for your portable power supply.
I know $270 isn’t exactly budget, but it’s the most affordable model I tested — and its strong performance and solid lineup of features give it even more value.
- Price (Amazon): $270, currently unavailable
- Watt hours: 280
- Weight: 7.5 pounds
How we test
Before diving into how I tested these things, here’s a list of the models I looked at:
Every company that sells portable power stations provides the expected number of watt-hours its products are supposed to last. For the Goal Zero Yeti 200x, it’s 187 watt-hours; for the Paxcess 300W, it’s 288 watt-hours. The Jackery Explorer 1000 claims 1,002 watt-hours.
That means if you run a device with a 1-watt output on the Yeti 200x, it should last for about 187 hours. You get 288 hours on the Paxcess model and a whooping 1,002 hours on the Jackery generator. For reference, a USB-C iPhone charger draws up to 18 watts, a 3-quart Instant Pot draws 700 watts and a standard microwave draws around 600 to 1,200 watts, depending on the model.
Since I didn’t have a 1-watt device to test (wait, are there any 1-watt devices out there?) and because I don’t have over 187 hours to test a single power station, our labs manager, Steve Conaway, devised a clever plan: I’d use 110-watt 10,000-lumen portable LED work lights (here are the exact ones I used).
For example, if you divide the Yeti 200x’s 187 expected watt hours by 110 (the number of watts in one of the work lights), you get 1.7. Then my accountant husband helped me convert each decimal into each power station’s expected run time. 1.7 equals an expected run time of 1 hour and 42 minutes from fully charged to zero (when the light turned off).
I plugged a work light into the Goal Zero Yeti 200x, Rockpals 300W and Paxcess 300W. The higher-watt-hour Blackfire PAC500 and Klein Tools KTB5 each ran two work lights, again, to reduce the test time. And the two largest generators, the Jackery Explorer 1000 and the Ego Nexus 3000 PST3042 each ran three work lights per test.
I ran two identical tests on each of the seven power stations to track consistency and rule out any anomalous results. In the end, each one performed pretty close to the expected run time.
|Price||Watt hours||Expected run time||Actual average run time||Actual vs. expected run time||Number of lights|
|Goal Zero Yeti 200x||$300||187||1 hour, 42 minutes||1 hour, 33 minutes||9 minutes less than expected||1|
|Rockpals 300W||$270||280||2 hours, 33 minutes||2 hours, 35 minutes, 30 seconds||2.5 minutes more than expected||1|
|Paxcess 300W||$300||288||2 hours, 37 minutes||2 hours, 19 minutes||18 minutes less than expected||1|
|Blackfire PAC500||$500||546||2 hours, 29 minutes||2 hours, 19 minutes, 30 seconds||9.5 minutes less than expected||2|
|Klein Tools KTB5||$500||546||2 hours, 29 minutes||2 hours, 27 minutes||2 minutes less than expected||2|
|Jackery Explorer 1000||$1,000||1,002||3 hours, 2 minutes||3 hours, 10 minutes, 30 seconds||8.5 minutes more than expected||3|
|Ego Nexus 3000 PST3042||$1,200||840||2 hours, 33 minutes||2 hours, 14 minutes, 30 seconds||13.5 minutes less than expected||3|
As you can see, all of them got pretty close to the mark, with the Paxcess and the Ego models performing the worst. But only the Jackery and Rockpals power stations consistently ran longer than expected, a definite advantage when you’re logging long hours at a worksite, camping off-grid — or need to keep your phone charged at home following a storm that knocks out your electricity.
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