Power to Go: Power Stations and Solar Chargers for Campouts and Blackouts

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Portable electric and electronic devices enhance our work and play, but only when there’s electricity to power them. There’s a wide range of equipment designed to store power, or to convert solar energy into electricity, to extend the time we can spend un-plugged-in. Whether it’s an extra charge or two for your smartphone, a boost for a navigator in the back country, or portable power stations that permit the use of household appliances and tools during blackouts, B&H has the gear you need. Here are few examples of modern technology serving up power to go.

When the grid is down or when you’re off the grid, you can still plug in your electronics with the GOAL ZERO Yeti 400 Solar Generator Power Pack—an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional back-up generators. The Yeti 400 features two standard 110-volt grounded AC power outlets, two standard USB ports, a 12VDC car-style port and two 6mm 12VDC power ports. Keep it charged up (from house or DC current) and you’ll have 396 watt-hours of power to use when the lights go out. You can top off the lead-acid battery from solar panels if you need to. The power station’s front display panel provides readouts of incoming and outgoing power and battery status in 20% increments for precise power management.

GOAL ZERO Yeti 400 Portable Power Station

At 10 x 8 x 8" and 29 pounds, the Yeti 400 is reasonably compact, but it’s not something you’re going to toss in a backpack. For more compact portable power solutions, consider GOAL ZERO’s Guide 10 Plus and Nomad 7 Plus Solar Kit. It comes with a battery pack holding four rechargeable AA batteries, with an adapter for AAAs, and a solar panel small enough to carry inside your pack—or to hang on the outside of your pack to soak up that free solar energy. The Guide 10 Plus power pack is equipped with an LED flashlight, which is always handy, and the Nomad 7 solar panel has loops for hanging from a pack, tent, tree branch, or anywhere else it can catch some rays.

GOAL ZERO Guide 10 Plus and Nomad 7 Plus Solar Kit

A question for drivers: what’s worse, a dead cell phone, a dead car battery, or a flat tire? Any one of them could ruin your day. The WAGAN Power Dome LT can solve all three problems, and it’s easy to stow in your trunk. This power pack has a 300-amp jump starter with jumper cables, a 260 PSI air compressor for filling tires (or inflatables at home), with a USB port and a 200-watt inverter with a three-prong AC outlet, all running from a 12-volt lead-acid battery. The inverter will run small AC-powered appliances, such as a laptop or a power tool's battery charger. And, of course, it has a flashlight. The Power Dome LT can be recharged with your home's AC power or from your vehicle's DC cigarette lighter socket with the included adapters.

WAGAN Power Dome LT

One can find oneself in need of electricity even in the middle of civilization, with the grid perfectly intact. The problem is usually a dead or dying smartphone. Perhaps you’ve settled in for a day at the beach without having fully charged up at home. Maybe you’re at the mall and don’t want to waste shopping time sitting while your phone charges at a courtesy station (not to mention the dangers associated with plugging your cord into strange ports). Whatever the reason your battery icon is red, having a charging case at the ready will keep you in touch throughout the day. Consider the mophie juice pack line of iPhone cases with built-in rechargeable batteries. Most of the batteries have capacities or more than 2000mAh, which is plenty of juice to keep you in touch and online for hours. They offer sophisticated circuitry to charge your phone quickly, let you know the status of the battery, and decide when to turn on the supplemental juice. Some have wireless charging capability. They’re also perfectly good protective phone cases, with internal rubber bumpers that absorb shocks.

mophie juice pack access for iPhone 11

Of course, it’s not just iPhones in our pockets and packs. Handheld GPS navigators, bike computers, and action cameras all need electricity to function. For these and many more electronic gadgets, it’s worthwhile to own a general-purpose power bank, such as the RAVPower Deluxe 16,750mAh External Battery Charger. Like most power banks, it’s about the size of a smart phone, so it’s easy to toss into a purse, coat pocket, or glove box, and that 16,750mAh capacity will revive a lot of USB-powered devices. RAVPower says the Deluxe can recharge most smartphones completely up to six times. It has two USB Type-A ports, one with a 2.1-amp output and one with a speedy 2.4. It features intelligent charging, along with over-current, high temperature, and over charging protection—and yes, it has a flashlight.

RAVPower Deluxe 16,750mAh External Battery Charger

With the Renogy E.FLEX30 Portable Solar Panel, you can skip the storage function and download power straight from the sun. This folding panel boasts a conversion efficiency rate of up to 25% and has three USB ports for plugging-in devices such as phones, tablets, and action cameras for direct charging. If the charging is interrupted by passing clouds, the auto-optimization feature restores the connection when the sun comes back out. There are kickstands to aim the panels for optimal charging, and they fold down to 11.8 x 6.3" for storage or transport. For an even more compact option, take a look at Renogy’s E.POWER 20000mAh Waterproof Portable Solar Charger with Built-In Panel. Not much bigger than a cell phone, this combination power bank and solar panel holds enough energy for five smartphone charges. It is primarily charged via USB Type-C and micro-USB inputs, but the solar panel is great for keeping it topped off. Does it have a flashlight? You bet!

Renogy E.FLEX30 Portable Solar Panel

As battery and solar technology advance, we can have more confidence that the equipment we rely on will be available to us, even when the power grid goes down—or when we choose to leave it behind. There’s a green tint to modern portable power, too, as solar supplements grid power, and batteries (possibly charged with renewable power in the first place) replace noisy, fumey generators.

What’s your plan for portable power? Let’s discuss in the Comments section.

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