You might think that a power station is just a really big portable battery pack, but they offer so much more. Other than recharging your devices, a portable power station can light a room by powering lamps, or in some cases keep a fridge running during a power outage. They can also be a major convenience on camping trips, or a means to a backyard movie night as an outdoor power source for a projector and speakers.
Why you should trust us: Here at PCWorld we love our electronics, and a big part of that enjoyment is knowing how to always keep our gadgets running. This is where a backup power source comes in. We’ve tested numerous portable power stations under a variety of conditions, with strict standards for performance and reliability. Our picks for the best portable power stations are based on our extensive portable power station reviews. Below our recommendations you can find helpful buying advice on what features matter most.
If you’re in the market for a more modest power source—one you can use to charge a laptop or phone—see our roundup of best power banks for our top picks in that category.
RAVPower Portable Power Station 252.7Wh Power House – Best small portable power station
Small form factor
Plenty of ports
Comes with a case and built-in flashlight
Built for quick trips, not for extended use
Whether you’re looking for a power station for weekends off the grid, or you want to be prepared for a power shortage at home, RAVPower’s 252.7Wh portable power station can meet the demand. That is, if the demand is mostly recharging phones, laptops, and other lighter-duty items. It features a pure sine wave AC inverter for sensitive devices but is largely limited by a 253 watt-hour capacity. The good news is that for most people, that’s plenty and it makes it ultra-portable and relatively light. It’s got a nice complement of ports, as well as a carrying handle and a case, and it’s affordably priced.
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RAVPower Portable Power Station 252.7Wh Power House review
Aukey PowerTitan 300 – Best small power station runner-up
Big bright display
Plenty of ports
Solar panel accessory is a miss
Aukey’s PowerTitan is in a close tie with RAVPower’s power station above. It also has high-efficiency, a nice array of ports, a fairly fast re-charge time, and an affordable price. Like the RAVPower, its best purpose is for charging of phones, tablets, and laptops or other lighter tasks as it is still limited by its 300 watt-hour capacity. RAVPower’s option is the less expensive of the two, giving it a slight edge.
Read our full
Aukey PowerTitan 300 review
Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro – Best power station for preppers
Excellent weight to capacity ratio
Very fast charging
No phone app support
Battery chemistry not the best suited for full-time off-grid users
Price When Reviewed:
Whether your idea of prepping is anticipating an unreliable grid, an extended camping trip, or just running a video projector in the backyard, Jackery’s Explorer 1500 Pro has got you handled thanks to its very good efficiency, relatively light weight, and 1,500 watt-hours of capacity. That’s enough power to get your fridge through the night, and with its fast AC charging, you can actually easily move the Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro somewhere it can be charged and back to your home before the steaks have thawed out. The only odd missing feature is the lack of an app to customize the unit and monitor output from your phone, but we’ll overlook that for all of the unit’s other outstanding features.
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Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro review
Bluetti AC180 – Best for preppers runner-up
Very efficient AC operation
Plenty of connection options
Price When Reviewed:
Bluetti’s AC180 bumps our previous runner-up for preppers based on its price-to-performance ratio, which largely comes down to its class-leading efficiency. Despite it being a 1,152 watt-hour unit, it’s able to convert an impressive 87 percent of the stored energy into electricity to run your fridge or electronics.
Combine that efficiency with its long-service life lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries and the company’s recognized name, and there isn’t much to dislike. The AC180 also has a feature-rich app that even lets you access the unit’s settings without access to the internet. That’s a feature long-requested by serious off-the-grid preppers, who bitterly complain that an app has no use if you effectively can’t access it because you’re forced to log in to the app every month or two (*cough* Ecoflow). So yeah, preppers, Bluetti has heard your griping.
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Bluetti AC180 review
EcoFlow Delta 2 – Best high-tech and expandable power station
Lithium Iron Phophate batteries for longer duty cycles
Companion app is handy
Impressive recharge rate
Can be expanded by adding secondary battery
Loud fans under heavy and even light loads
Expansion battery kinda pricey
The new Delta 2 is now one of the most high-tech portable power stations available, with good app support for remote control and the option to augment the unit with a secondary battery. With one of the fastest charge rates around, an 1,800-watt output, a 2,700-watt surge output, and “X-Boost” output of 2,200W, the Delta 2 is robust and powerful. Our only major complaint is fan noise, which gets excessive under heavy use. We’re hopeful EcoFlow will address that in a firmware update.
Read our full
EcoFlow Delta 2 review
What to look for in a power station
Not all power stations are created equal. For example, some stations have the ability to power a microwave, while others can maybe deal with the power requirements of a desktop gaming computer. When shopping for a power station, there are some important aspects to keep in mind. In the list below, we try not to get too technical.
- Consider what you plan on using the power station for to decide the ideal capacity and physical size of the power station. The stations are filled with batteries to keep your devices powered, and batteries are heavy. When shopping for something you want to take camping, for example, it makes sense to prioritize a lighter weight. But if you want something to use as a backup power source in your home, size and weight may not matter all that much.
- Check the capacity of the power station. Often the capacity of the station is included in its name, but that’s not always the case. For example, the Anker 535 PowerHouse may lead you to believe that its capacity is 535Wh, but in reality it’s 512Wh. Always read the fine print or spec sheet to see the exact capacity. For reference, a capacity of 512Wh is roughly 7x more than our top pick for best portable battery pack, the Mophie PowerStation XXL.
- While it’s not realistic to know how you’ll use the power station in the future, try to guesstimate the number of ports and outlets you’ll need.
- Here’s the technical part. Some power stations list modified sine wave or pure sine wave on their spec sheet. If you plan on using the power station to charge your phone, laptop, or even power a lamp, a station that lists “sine wave” is perfectly fine. However, if you’re going to use the station for medical equipment (like a CPAP machine), a microwave, or anything with a motor, you’ll want to opt for a station that can output a pure sine wave signal. These days, it’s actually hard to find a higher-capacity power station with anything but pure sine wave.
- Lastly, it’s important to check the watt output of the device(s) you need to power and compare it to the power station’s rating. Usually a power station will list two different outputs: a standard output and a peak output. The standard output is what it’s built to run at for extended amounts of time, while the peak output is what it can handle for brief periods of time — such as when you first power on a device and it draws more power. You can get a rough estimate of the wattage on a device by multiplying the voltage times the amps. For example, if the power brick says 20 volts at 3 amps, the brick can output up to 60 watts.
How we test
We use two methods to test power stations. Many of the units you see here were tested by connecting a PortaPow power monitor and DROK load tester to a standard USB port and let the battery completely empty. The results are recorded compared to the quoted capacity to get the efficiency of the power station.
Once that’s done, the station is charged with the included power adapter while the time taken is recorded. Some stations leave the screen on while charging so we use a Wyze Camera to create a timelapse of the charging process. Other stations include an estimated time to charge on the display, which times out and turns off after a few minutes. In that case, we check on the station’s progress roughly every hour, as well as near the original estimated time to ensure it’s accurate.
Finally, a 4W desk lamp is connected to the 110V wall plug on each power station while a timelapse is created of how long the lamp remains on.
In another test, we condition the unit by fully discharging it one cycle. The unit is then connected to a 200-watt incandescent lamp plugged into a watt meter, which is then plugged into the power station. The watt meter records the total power consumed by the light bulb expressed in watt hours. We then recharge the unit over AC at its fastest recharge rate with a logging watt meter recording the start and end time. For our final AC test, we also plug in an 800-watt space heater and again record the time it takes and the watts produced using the same watt meter. This gives us an idea of how efficient the power station is under a medium load of 200 watts (the range of many refrigerators) as well as a heavier load of 800 watts (multiple devices or a kitchen appliance.)
Because the AC efficiency of a power station can differ from its DC efficiency, we also fully discharge the unit using a USB-C load tester set to 60 watts (the typical power consumed by a small laptop on full load) with a USB-PD trigger set to 20 volts DC.
We also note any excessive fan noise while charging or discharging the unit as well as evaluate the unit based on its port selection, charging input options. We also subject larger portable power stations to a 1,500 watt load for 15 minute, examine the USB ports for charging protocols supported, and inspect the unit’s sine wave inverter under a load.
Is a power station the same as a power bank?
Yes and no. Both are batteries with ports you can plug your devices into. Typical power banks are very portable and used to charge phones, tablets, and even laptops sometimes. They usually only have USB ports but some do have the familiar AC ports, too, that can power very small devices. A power bank, however, is typically limited to a very small capacity of 100 watt-hours or less, which is the largest you can bring on a plane legally due to fire risks. A power station typically has AC plugs that can support everything from power tools to appliances and can range from petite 250 watt-hours to 3,000 watt-hours and can weigh 70 pounds or more.
Is a power station the same as a solar generator?
Yes. This is mostly a semantics discussion but some get irked at use of the term “generator” for a battery that stores power rather than generates it. The optional solar panels, in fact, generate the electricity, not the power station itself. All you need to know is they are the same and can be used interchangeably so long as you don’t mind the occasional brow-beating.
What’s the difference between a traditional generator and a solar generator, aka power station?
The traditional generator you see on a food truck or construction site generates electricity via a small engine no different than what is in your car. It requires gasoline, propane, natural gas, or diesel to run. A solar generator is a battery with a circuit to convert the stored electricity into DC or AC power that your phone or appliances can use, and can usually be charged via a wall outlet or by solar panels.
Is a power station better than a gas generator?
Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and it very much depends on how you plan to use the equipment and your requirements. A gas generator must be used outdoors in a well-vented area and can be deadly if not used properly due to the carbon monoxide output and fire hazards. While there are exceptions, gas generators tend to be far noisier. The benefits of a gas generator is in the ability to constantly generate electricity so long as you have the fuel to run it. Gasoline, propane, and natural gas are also very energy dense and a typical 2,200-watt inverter generator would be the equal of a 20,000 watt-hour power station storage, using just five gallons of gasoline. Gas generators tend to be far lower in cost as well.
The power station’s strengths come from the ability to be run inside your home with no carbon monoxide risks. That’s a boon for anyone who lives in an apartment, condo, or other place where outdoor space is limited. In stored capacity, the gas generator will win, but access to fuel and safe storage of that fuel can become an issue. This is especially true on an extended outing or during a lengthy outage—in which case you’re better off generating power from solar panel arrays. Fairly minimal maintenance and a minimal learning curve also favor a power station.
How long does a portable power station last?
How long a power station lasts largely depends on how much power you’re draining from it and how large it is.
The power station spec that’s most important here is the capacity, typically expressed as watt hours. Think of watt hours similar to your car’s capacity for gas. The larger the gas tank, the longer in between fill-ups.
In a power station, a 1,000 watt-hour power station would last roughly one hour if you ran a space heater that constantly consumed 1,000 watts. If you plugged a 100-watt incandescent light bulb into the power station, it would, in theory, last 10 hours. If you plugged in a CPAP device that uses 50 watts, you could potentially see 20 hours of run time.
How long it lasts is largely answered by what you’re running off it as well as other factors such as efficiency and even the age of the power station.
What can a portable power station run?
The other important spec is the output wattage the circuit that converts DC to AC power (the inverter) supports. This is also expressed in watts but relates to how much power the power station can provide to what is plugged into it. For example, on a Goal Zero Yeti 1000X, each AC plug is rated for 1,500 watts, or 3,500 watt surge (or momentary spikes).
This is enough to start or run most things found in a typical home: from a refrigerator or chest freezer to power tools to CPAP devices. Remember, when we refer to “run” this is strictly in reference to what you can run—it doesn’t refer to how long you can run it for. And as we learned earlier, that’s mostly influenced by how much capacity or watt hours that power station has.
Can a portable power station run a refrigerator?
One of the primary reasons people own power stations is to keep a refrigerator running so your expensive groceries don’t spoil. Unlike a light bulb that never uses more than its rated wattage, refrigerators have compressors that consume more power when started and then ease back down once started. For example, a refrigerator might use 1,200 watts for less than a second but then mostly consume 150 to 250 watts for the next 45 minutes.
If you’re looking for a power station to run a refrigerator, first you’ll want one with an adequate output on the AC ports to support the surge when it starts. Some very small power stations may only support a surge rating of 500 watts, which isn’t enough. Your refrigerator will typically have a label inside or on back that lists how many amps it requires. If it, for example, says it needs 9.5 amps, you can simply multiply 9.5 amps x 120 volts to roughly determine how many watts it needs to start, which is 1,140 for the example here. Remember it’s just 1,200 watts for a second or two while the compressor motor starts. Most fridges use far less power after the initial start.
The second important spec to look for is capacity or how many watt hours the power station has. This dictates how long the power station can last between charging.
We’d set the floor at no smaller than 1,000 watt hours if you’re intent on running a refrigerator, with a 1,500 or 2,000 watt-hour unit being strongly recommended a if you want to get a full day of use from it. Even then, we’d strongly encourage a plan for charging the power station via solar or by lugging it to an available power source if you’re expecting a longer outage.
How important is power station battery chemistry?
The vast majority of power stations today are based on lithium ion batteries, but not all lithium ion batteries are the same. Two popular chemistries today are Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) or Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP). NMC batteries’ main advantage is energy density, which means they can pack more into a smaller size. LFP batteries’ main advantage is in cost (although NMC can also be lower cost), but also lifespan. For example, EcoFlow’s original NMC-based Delta was rated for 800 full power cycles before capacity would drop to 60 percent. EcoFlow’s new LFP-based Delta 2 is rated for 3,000 full cycles before capacity drops to 80 percent.
That’s a huge difference, but it may be a little overkill depending on your use case. Since most power stations sit on a shelf 95 percent of the time, the average use during emergencies or camping trips is likely to keep an NMC battery lasting for years and years of service.
Those who use a battery in a full-time off-the-grid situation, however, will likely want as many full cycles as possible, which a properly built LFP battery can provide.
Why don’t I get the “full capacity” of the battery?
If you buy a portable power station with a 1,000 watt-hour rating, you probably expect to get 1,000 watt hours of capacity but that simply isn’t true and it isn’t some marketing sleight of hand (at least most of the time.) Portable power stations state the actual capacity of the batteries such as 1,024 watt hours. When you plug in your fan or fridge, the energy in the battery must be converted to usable AC through an inverter that wastes some of the energy during the conversion. Depending on the design of the inverter in a portable power station, as well as the load put on it, the efficiency can vary dramatically. One final reason you’ll never get 100 percent of what the label says is to preserve the battery. Lithium ion batteries can suffer damage when stored without any charge so each power station maker will cut off power well before it is empty to preserve battery longevity. Each vendor has different reserve levels, which also means your 1,024 watt hours of power is less than what you expect. So yes, it may seem like false advertising for a power station to state that you have 1,000 watt hours while only giving you 800 watt hours of usable capacity under a 200-watt AC load, but the reasons are technical, not marketing.
How important is efficiency?
This might be one the more important categories to look at if you really want to stretch your dollar. Most companies will market on total capacity of the batteries such as 1,000 watt hours or 2,000 watt hours, which you can think about as the size of the power station’s gas tank. If the watt-hour capacity of the battery is the size of the fuel tank, the efficiency is akin to the MPG you get out of it. A higher efficiency means more power for your money. In our testing, under medium load of 200 watts, most units range from 80 percent to 83 percent but we have seen one unit reach 87 percent efficiency, too. Under heavier loads of 800 watts, we’ve seen a range of 71 percent to 84 percent. So what does that mean? A 1,024 watt-hour battery with a 71 percent efficiency under an 800-watt load gives you only 725 watt hours out of that 1,024 power station you paid for. A different unit with a 1,152 watt-hour battery and 84 percent efficiency means you can extract an impressive 970 watt hours from it. These results, however, will vary based on the load, as how each power station reacts under a 100-watt, 200-watt, or 500 watt load will be different.
Can I leave my power station plugged into the wall all the time?
While guidance varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, we’d say most units don’t recommend being left plugged into the wall long term. It’s actually one of the features we appreciate about the Goal Zero’s Yeti 1000X and 1500X: The company actually wants you to keep it plugged in all of the time to maintain the battery. This means when the lights suddenly go out, the unit will be at 100 percent capacity and ready to go.
Brand-name portable power station versus no-name
In the six years since Goal Zero introduced the first lithium-ion portable power station, the competition has exploded with probably a half-dozen “big name” brands and dozens and dozens of unknowns companies all hawking feature-rich, powerful portable stations that all the look the same to the average consumer.
While you probably recognize Goal Zero, Jackery, EcoFlow, and Bluetti, we’re almost certain many of the small brands won’t be on your radar. For many consumers, a confusing list of results on Amazon could give the impression that portable power stations “are all the same.” In some ways, they are indeed. For example, the batteries inside of the units aren’t actually manufactured by even the biggest of the brand-name power station makers. Instead, they are sourced from much larger multi-billion dollar battery companies that make them for everyone from power tool companies to EV car manufacturers as well as other electronics makers.
Since those battery companies make and sell them to everyone, aren’t they all the same? Yes and no. Like all commodity products from diamonds to wood, batteries are also sold in grades. A larger brand may pay for a top-grade battery while a smaller brand may not. That can mean a battery that actually achieves its claimed 3,500+ duty-cycle life in the next 10 years and one that won’t.
Larger brands also offer the promise of better engineering support in their power station design, as well. That can mean everything from the charge circuit, to the cooling and durability of the portable power station in addition to the safety designs.
The rub in buying higher-grade batteries and having more resources for engineering means the company must make more money to cover those costs, which means higher prices. This is where smaller brands are extremely appealing.
For example, a 2,000 watt-hour power station from a larger brand maker may cost you $2,000 while a smaller brand might charge you $1,000. That’s a significant increase in capacity at a significant savings. Smaller brands also benefit from the fact that off-the-shelf parts to make portable power stations are so common today, it’s very easy for small companies to actually make very decent portable power stations while charging significantly less.
One area big-brands lead small brands though is in support. As you know, a warranty is only as good as the company that stands behind it. The odds are that a larger well-funded company will still be around for the next five years versus a small no-name brand that could decide to exit the business after two years.
Ultimately you need to weigh your comfort level against your budget to make a decision, but there are pros and cons to both big and small brands.