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You know the feeling. Halfway through a trip, an outing, a day going from A-B, and your screens go dark, gasping for breath and juice. There’s a weird sense of bereavement in that moment – your connection to the wider world of the web, your ability to share a witty thought you had or saw, the gift of all the music you own, goes dark, breathes a few more minutes, and then with little more than a blip, it’s gone. The world goes on, but you’re not in it any more. It’s a kind of brief and digital death.
Sure, but not really wrong, either. We live in a world dependent on our portable electronics for connection, for community, for distraction and for the information richness of our day to day experiences. “Where are we going? I’ll look it up on my -”
No you won’t. Not if your phone’s died.
Of course, camping is supposed to be about engineering that kind of pause, that extended time away from tech and the hurly-burly pace of modern information-flow living.
Still though. Music. Phones. Games. There are things that have become a distinct part of the rhythm of our lives, about how we interact and connect as friends and family, and camping’s supposed to be about embracing nature, not necessarily embracing the Eighties. If you go off on a hike, you’re going to want to know you can contact your family or friends to come find you, or send you navigation details back to camp.
What’s the point?
The point is that you’re not likely to be able to function safely, calmly in the 21st century even when camping – or possibly especially when camping - if your electronics go blip and die.
And there’s not likely to be a power outlet in the nearest tree from which you can recharge them.
But what modern technology has taken away, fortunately modern technology has also provided, because there are now some great solutions that let you live off-the-grid, without reverting to cavepeople or wandering off into the wood to exist as Bigfoot.
While we still have a sun to orbit, solar power generators will always be among the most limitless, not to mention the cleanest sources of electrical power imaginable.
We have found some of the best solar generators to take with you on your camping trip, so you can do all the things you need to do as 21st century people, without relying on being plugged into a power grid. See how you might benefit from having each of them as an alternative energy option on your camping trip.
A solar generator is actually a miniature portable power station, with solar charging capabilities. Normally, you’d use it as a power reservoir to charge all your electronics, and charge it up using a reliable solar charger as necessary. You generally have to buy a solar charger separately, and that’s the case with two out of three of the generators on our list too.
Let’s see how three of the best solar generators do when compared side by side.
This is not by any means a comparison of equals – the Wattage figures make that plain from the outset. But these three are among the bestselling models when it comes to delivering solar-generated outdoor and emergency power. We hope to give you a clearer picture of the best that’s available for your particular power needs – and your particular budget.
Best Solar Generators for Camping - Comparison Table
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Best Solar Generators for Camping – Face-off
The Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Lithium sits in the middle of the Goal Zero Yeti range, between the Yeti 400 and Yeti 1400 Lithium. Its power output and price point mean it gets a lot of interest from both outdoor and camping communities, and even extends its appeal into the emergency prepper market.
The 1045Wh generator uses a powerful lithium battery of 96.8Ah @ 10.8V or 290.4Ah @ 3.6 V. That allows it to run up to seven devices at any one time, which is one of the major factors that makes it popular with camping families – there’s none of the usual waiting around for some else’s devices to get charged before you can plug in.
The Yeti 1000 Lithium comes with a variety of charging options, which means you can also charge devices of different kinds all at once, both big and small. That takes it above lots of smaller charging options, because while you can juice up your phones, tablets, MP3 players, laptops and the like, the Yeti 1000 Lithium can also power your TV, your oven, your mini-fridge – you name it, the Yeti’s got it covered.
That’s what makes it a viable solar-powered off-grid civilization store when you’re out camping. It can not only give you continued connection with the wider world, the web, your friends, your music and so on – it can also help keep you fed and watered in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed, while you commune with the more palatable face of nature.
In terms of its portability, the Yeti 1000 Lithium weighs in at 40 pounds, well within the carrying capacity of most campers.
Let’s break down the Yeti 1000 Lithium’s charging ports.
In AC terms, it’s got two 110V AC sockets. Matching that, it brings two DC ports and four USB ports to the party, all of which, assuming it’s charged, can run at the same time. It also includes a 12V Power Pole port. It will recharge from an AC source, from a car battery, or through a solar panel (a recommended route if you’re going on an extended camping trip).
Compatible Solar Charger
Solar panels are available from several manufacturers, but as part of a recommended set-up for the Yeti range, Goal Zero sells a line-up of Boulder briefcase-style solar chargers; the Boulder 100 Briefcase and Boulder 200 Briefcase. Those are 100W and 200W foldable solar chargers, from which the Yeti 1000 Lithium can draw charge, turning sunlight into off-grid power for all the electrics you need and want while you’re away from home.
If you’re not in the market for the briefcase panels, of course, there are two single-sheet Boulder panels to choose from, the Boulder 100 and Boulder 50. That means there are solar panels to suit any budget, all of which can feed the Yeti, and help keep you fed, watered, connected and entertained throughout your whole camping trip. The main advantage to the briefcase chargers of course is that they’re extra portable by design.
- The Yeti 1000 Lithium is a full-on portable power station boasting1045Wh.
- Charge seven devices simultaneously.
- Charges a range of devices through various sockets - AC, USB, and DC.
- Lithium-Ion Battery of 96,800mAh @ 10.8V or 290,400mAh @ 3.6V.
- Portable at 40 pounds, and relatively easy to plug-and-play.
- Boulder solar chargers at a range of power levels and price points to juice up the Yeti, off the grid.
Click here to get your own Yeti 1000 Lithium before setting off on your camping trip.
The Jackery Explorer 500, as a 518Wh solar power station, is never going to be a direct challenger to the Yeti 1000 Lithium in terms of power generation or charging options. But it does have several benefits that make it ideal for campers.
First of all, it’s a compact alternative to something like the Yeti 1000 Lithium. Strongly built and durable, it lends itself to camping trips with a useful handle for transportation, giving it a more actively portable feel.
While the Yeti 1000 Lithium sits in the middle of that firm’s range of generators, the Explorer 500 is the high-end example of Jackery’s range, topping off the likes of the Explorer 240 and the Explorer 160. As such, the Explorer 500 has some well juiced lithium power cells, and uses a 500W pure sine wave inverter, with surge power of double that at 1000W.
Sure, if you’re looking in terms of pure power generation, the Yeti will eat the Jackery for breakfast, every day and twice on Sundays. But there’s more to a camping power station than…well…power. As mentioned, the Jackery Explorer 500 gains from the ease with which it’s portable – it weighs in at just 13.32 pounds, less than a third of the Yeti’s heftiness. We’re not actually suggesting you carry three Jackery units into the woods, but if you’re doing more traditional ‘everything on your back’ camping and hiking into a camping spot, rather than driving in, we know which unit we’d rather be carrying.
With dimensions of just 11.84 x 7.59 x 9.2 in, it’s also less obtrusive in those deeper camping areas where we’re not entirely sure of all the things that attract potential predators. Just saying – a smaller footprint and a smaller power signature might well be your friend if you’re going into a less human-friendly environment.
In terms of charging ports, of course its size and portability mean the Explorer 500 has fewer bells, and barely a single whistle. It comes with just the one AC socket – though that can still power all the devices that need that sweet, sweet AC power, like laptops, some lights, even some medical tech.
Apart from which, the Jackery comes with a respectable three USB-A ports (phones! Music! Civilization!), two 12V DC outlets and a 12V carport. That means the Jackery will still handle the juice for some of your bigger, most luxurious home tech – fridges, ovens etc, as well as things like dedicated cameras, laptops, tablets and the like.
Compatible Solar Charger
Any solar charger will do its job and charge the Explorer 500. But getting in on the dedicated panel game, Jackery, like Goal Zero, recommends its own range of folding solar chargers, the SolarSaga range.
Coming in 100W and 60W versions, the 60W three-fold solar charger might well be the better option if you’re doing long hikes as part of your camping holiday, because it folds down quickly and adds less weight to your gear. Like the Explorer 500 itself, the panel comes with a thoughtful carrying handle to help you have a truly portable power station-enabled camping trip.
That handle’s useful when you set up camp too – you can simply hand it on your RV or tent to lift it off the potentially damp ground. Be aware though, it’s in no sense waterproof, so solar charging in a rainstorm’s unlikely. Again, the weight of the panel charger is a big benefit of this smaller powered range – it adds just 3.3 pounds to your carrying weight, so you can absolutely afford to take the charger with you.
- The Explorer 500 is a 518Wh solar power station.
- It uses high-capacity lithium-ion batteries
- It’s a great solution for hiking, camping or emergency situations.
Click here to pick up your own Jackery Explorer 500.
We said at the start that the stations we’d be highlighting weren’t in any real sense direct competitors, but offered different options for your camping trip.
The Renogy Phoenix power station brings us even further down the power generation scale, but adds a couple of neat portability options to make it worth considering for general outdoor use as well as shorter camping trips.
Its 246.24Wh capacity is pretty respectable for a portable unit, though it’s worth noting that it generates just 150W, which, when you read it in comparison to the lifestyle-maintenance that the Yeti 1000 Lithium can bring, or even the campsite comfort provided by the Jackery Explorer 500, might seem weak and inconsequential.
The key thing about the Renogy Phoenix station is that it’s not just portable, it’s all-in-one. It’s effectively a briefcase solar power station, with 20W mono-crystalline solar panels built in, which can be expanded up to 100W with additional panels.
While obviously not a competitor for the Yeti 1000 Lithium, the suitcase-sized solar power generator comes with a reasonable stack of ports - 4 USB ports (5V 2.4A), two 12V ports (3A), a 12V 12.5A cigarette socket, and a standard 3-prong 110V AC outlet (150W max continuous output).
You can charge the Phoenix via an AC plug (for use with the included cord), a 12V input for charging from a car socket, or through solar power. The unit has a 1-year warranty, and the solar panels in the Phoenix have a 25-year transferable power output warranty and a 5-year material and workmanship warranty.
Compatible Solar Charger
Naturally, the case with the Renogy Phoenix is somewhat different from the other power stations in our list, because its solar panels are built-in. However, to boost its charging capacities, you can add additional Renogy panels, up to 100W in power.
Click here to get your own Renogy Phoenix briefcase charger.
- 246.24Wh briefcase-portable solar power station, delivering 150W.
- Impressive number and variety of charging ports.
- Briefcase design
- In-built solar panels
- Additional panels available for recharging
- Ideal for outdoor and camping delivery of your power needs.
Best Solar Generators for Camping - Buyers Guide
We hope this list has been useful in giving you options for your camping solar power generation needs, whatever your preference for size and power. From the Yeti 1000 Lithium, which delivers lots of power for lots of devices, but is, at 40 pounds, the least portable of our options, suitable more for RV camping, through the handy Jackery Explorer 500, with its separate charging panels, which gives you more freedom to use it on hiking-inclusive camping trips, all the way down to the ultra-portable briefcase option, the Renogy Phoenix, which has such convenience of size and output built in that it can even be useful in smaller outdoor situations like backyard barbecues as well as delivering the recharging juice you need when out on a lightweight camping trip. Choose the option that best suits your camping habits, obviously – or mix and match and be ready for any great adventure when the wild calls.