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How We Pick A Suit Portable Power Station

A portable power station is the best option if you need to juice up common personal electronics and small appliances while spending long periods of time away from household AC outlets, or if you want to have backup power ready to go in case of an emergency.

These devices are basically large batteries in protective boxes, with AC outlets and other ports built in. They’re much bigger, heavier, more powerful, and generally more rugged than our power bank and portable laptop charger recommendations. That gives them more versatility for activities like camping with lots of electronic gear, working in a remote corner of your home, screening a movie in your backyard, or staging a scenic photoshoot.

 

In an emergency, they offer some major advantages over gas-powered portable generators, despite not being as powerful. Portable power stations are silent and free of emissions, which means you can use them safely inside a house during a blackout. And since there’s no motor, you don’t have to keep gas handy, or perform the oil changes or other minor maintenance a combustion engine requires. Battery-powered generators are a good alternative for projects requiring heavy-duty power tools, but they tend to be bigger and heavier (and have much lower capacity) than the top contenders in this guide.

 

With one of these being roughly the size of a standard plastic milk crate and weighing up to 50 pounds, you’re probably not going to be carrying it around in a backpack or briefcase. But you can charge your portable power station overnight on a wall outlet (charging most of them from empty to full takes 12 to 24 hours), pack it into a trunk with the rest of your gear, and bring it with you—keeping your phone, laptop, camera, projector, GPS unit, breast pump, drone, or other electronic device powered for hours at a time. Portable power stations usually offer more output options than just AC and USB, too, such as 6 mm DC ports and car power sockets, to support a wider range of devices.

 

Although a high-wattage portable power station can be a great backup in an emergency, even the best of breed have limitations compared with gas generators. These units can’t keep refrigerators or other large appliances powered, and anything that generates heat is likely to overload them or drain the battery too fast for them to be useful. A high-quality generator can power space heaters and hair dryers safely, but otherwise you should only plug them into an indoor wall outlet.

 

Some people use portable power stations to run CPAP machines (which treat sleep apnea) and other electronic medical devices while camping. If that’s your situation, we advise getting one of our high-capacity picks to keep your device running smoothly for as long as possible.

 

If you plan to travel, keep in mind that in most cases, portable power stations have to travel by ground. The FAA doesn’t allow passengers to bring batteries rated for more than 160 Wh in carry-on or checked luggage, so you can’t fly with any of our picks.

A battery capacity of at least 300 Wh

A watt-hour (Wh) is literally the measure of watts per hour, so a battery with a 300 Wh capacity offers the equivalent of running a 300 W device for one hour. (For a variety of reasons, less than 100% of a battery’s designed capacity is actually available for use.) Put another way, that’s like running a 60 W device—such as a MacBook Pro, projector, or tabletop fan—for five hours. We made this a requirement for our main picks, and strongly preferred it for our budget and lightweight contenders. When it comes to batteries, capacity is king.

 

A maximum weight of 50 pounds

Most portable power stations are too big and heavy for the average person to carry them for long distances on foot. But even so, we set a weight limit at 50 pounds, a heft that one (strong) person or two people could reasonably carry. Anything heavier than that can be hard to load and unload from a car, or to carry around a house in a blackout.

 

A rugged and portable design

We assessed the quality of each portable power station’s exterior materials, as well as any extra features like wheels or handles. Handles are a necessity to lift something this bulky, and since in some cases you’re going to be moving these around quite a bit and using them outdoors—in a backyard or at a campsite, for example—we wanted them to be resistant to scuffs and scratches.

 

At least a one-year warranty

This is not an everyday-use kind of device. A one-year warranty ensures that you actually get to use the thing before its warranty expires. We also took brand reputation into account, and studied online customer reviews to rule out models that were likely to break or die right after the warranty is up. No battery lasts forever, and the capacity will usually diminish after the first year, but our picks should keep working well after the warranty has run out.

 

An output rating of at least 200 W

To separate the portable power stations from their smaller, less powerful counterparts (USB power banks and portable laptop chargers) we required each of our main and budget contenders to be rated for at least 200 W, and we wanted the lightweight (under 5 pounds) contenders to be rated for at least 100 W. Lower outputs are fine for charging phones and most other electronics, but if you want to charge a few devices at a time (especially if one is a high-powered device like a laptop), you need 100 W or more.

 

An informative display

Though most portable power stations have a battery meter so you can see how much charge you have left, we preferred displays that provided an estimated percentage of the charge over vague displays that consisted of just a few line segments.

 

At least one AC outlet

A single AC outlet is a bare-minimum requirement, since the majority of gadgets—from desk lamps to baby monitors—run on AC power. None of our picks for the best USB power bank have an AC outlet, and our favorite portable laptop chargers have just one outlet that can power only lower-wattage gear. Though we considered some models with a single AC outlet for this guide, we preferred models with at least two, allowing you to power two AC-powered devices at the same time.

 

At least two fast-charging USB-A ports

Any USB-A port worth its salt should support 2-amp (10 W) charging or higher. Anything less, and you’ll notice just how slow your phone, tablet, and other devices charge up. Some USB-A ports also have faster Quick Charge technology, which we preferred but didn’t require. Having these ports means small devices such as phones, tablets, and portable Bluetooth speakers won’t take up an AC outlet that you could use for more power-hungry items.

 

At least one USB-C port, 6 mm DC port, and/or car power socket

We didn’t require each model to have all three, but we did prefer those that offered one or more USB-C ports, 6 mm DC ports, or car power sockets (what my parents, former smokers, incorrectly call “the cigarette lighter”) to let you charge a wider variety of devices.

 

Charges from an AC wall outlet

At minimum, we required that each model be chargeable via an AC wall outlet—USB-only charging is much too slow for batteries so big. You can charge some portable power stations via car power sockets or solar attachments, which is a nice bonus, especially if you’re frequently off the grid for more than a couple of days.

 

Contains a pure sine-wave inverter

A battery’s sine-wave inverter turns its direct current (DC) power into alternating current (AC) power, which is necessary to power most devices. We required each model to contain a pure sine-wave (PSW) inverter, which produces electrical waveforms as clear and smooth as the AC power coming out of any wall outlet. Modified sine-wave (MSW) inverters, such as the ones found in some of our favorite portable laptop chargers, are typically less expensive but produce choppier waveforms.

These are generally fine for charging other gadgets or running most devices with a power brick on the cord, but you shouldn’t use them to run anything with a powerful motor. MSW inverters can cause inconsistent speeds, heat buildup, or damage to appliances like corded drills, vacuums, and blenders. By requiring our picks to have pure sine-wave inverters, we aimed to expand the range of devices you can safely plug into them. (We preferred, but didn’t require, a PSW inverter for the smaller contenders, since they aren’t powerful enough to run the appliances that would need one anyway.)

 

Readily available customer support

We contacted each company anonymously to gauge how difficult it would be to get in touch with someone and obtain help should a problem arise.

 

Good value

Instead of setting a hard price cap, we looked at capacity (in Wh) per dollar. While prices can fluctuate, this helped us quantify the bang-for-your-buck factor using hard data.

 

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