When looking to buy a Portable Power Station, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information and technical jargon you come across. We get it!
In this article, we list some of the finer details and explain some of the features you should pay attention to as you are making the choice about which portable power station may be best in your situation.
The best portable power station in your case will depend on multiple things, and as you read through the article you will start to get a feel for the features that will be important for you.
When it comes to outputs, it is important to spend a few minutes thinking about all the potential devices that you may wish to power from your power station. Things such as phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, lights, camping fridges, CPAP machines, and anything else you think you are going to be wanting to power with your power station.
Then you need to think about which of those devices are you going to need to power at the same time. With that information on hand you can figure out what outputs you’ll need on your out-station.
Specifically decide if you need an inverter, to be able to power any household 240-volt appliances. Think about how many USB ports you will need to charge how many different phones and tablets throughout the day, and how many cigarette ports or 12-volt DC pin connections you need to power LED lights and other things.
Power Station Battery Chemistry
Nearly all portable power stations include a lithium-type battery nowadays, though this has not always been the case.
Lithium batteries are increasingly popular because they are lighter, and allow you to utilise a bigger percentage of the battery’s storage capacity with less risk of damage to the unit.
Previous to lithium batteries becoming more popular, most power stations came with a lead-acid absorbent glass matt (AGM) type battery, and though these have their own advantages, typically lithium batteries will provide you will with more overall benefits.
If you are planning any kind of multiple-day camping trip, or period of time away from home then your power station will need to be charged while you are away. So, think about the different charging methods that are usually available (240-volt wall socket, 12-volt car adaptor, and solar panel) and think about what is likely to be possible while you are away.
In most cases, the main ways people will top up the power station charge level is while they are driving from place to place (using a car adaptor), or using a solar panel while stationary at a campsite.
If you do plan to charge your unit with solar power, then you will also need to look at purchasing a solar panel and solar panel regulator, if you don’t already have those.
Australian Power Points
If you choose a power station with an inverter then it will have some power points included on the power station to connect your 240-volt appliances.
The majority of portable power stations are made overseas, and the units are often sold in multiple countries, so some of them do not come with Australian standard power points.
In most cases, the manufacturer creates an Australian version that has Australian standard power points, but just make sure the power you’re looking at has the Australian style power points, or be prepared for the fact that you will always need to use one of those travel adaptors to convert the international powerpoint to an Australian standard powerpoint
It’s often the cheaper power stations that do not include the Australian-style power points so that may be a trade-off to consider, in terms of saving some money, but then needing to use an adaptor. But there are some cheaper units that do include Australian-style powerpoint.
The other thing to consider in terms of the inverter of a power station is what 240v devices you expect your power station to support and how much current they draw. Different appliances draw different amounts of power, so get clear on how much current the appliances draw, and make sure the power station you are looking at can power them.
The main reason to consider the size and the weight of the power station is so you can determine whether you can easily carry it around.
There’s no point in buying a power station that is too heavy for you to easily get into your car and then out of your car to the location you are going.
The other reason to think about the size and the weight of your power station is because of the impact of the size and weight on your traveling setup.
For example, if you are in a car and towing a caravan, then there will be limitations to the amount of weight that you are allowed to be carrying with you.
So make sure that the addition of the power station and its weight, will not have an adverse impact on your overall driving safety, and that you have somewhere you can safely and easily store it while traveling.
It is not a critical factor, but give some consideration to the display of the portable power stations you are looking at.
Think about how big it is, how easy it is to read, and what kind of information it gives you.
In most cases, the display will provide a voltage readout of the battery, but others include some other useful information. Some displays give you a reading of how much power is currently being drawn, and how long the battery will last at that rate of discharge.
Some also include a reading of how much power is coming into the power station when charging (by solar etc).
Most units to come with some form of voltage protection inside the power station to protect it in case of high voltage spikes. This could happen via either a faulty appliance that you plug into the charger or an issue with the power source.
Though all power stations have a basic level of resettable surge protection, the advanced ones have better quality, more nuanced approaches to protection.
The speed at which your power station can charge can make a big difference.
Different quality batteries and different power station designs can facilitate charging at different speeds.
If you are planning trips will be for multiple nights, then the ability to recharge your battery to 100% during the day is important.
In part, your ability to charge will depend on how much power you get from your source, so the quality of your solar panel or level of voltage from your car will be important, but that aside, the quality of your battery and the way it is wired also makes a difference.
Some power stations make it possible to double the amount of power you are feeding into your power stations when you connect multiple sources, whereas other power stations have a maximum input voltage that is the same regardless of how many power sources you connect.
Power Station Battery Life
Different power station batteries are rated for different numbers of cycles.
The battery life will also be heavily connected to the battery size. As you read multiple portable power station product descriptions you will see varying battery amp hour (Ah) sizes. As you would expect the larger the Ah, the bigger the storage capacity of the battery.
In the description of each power station, they typically indicate how many charging cycles they are designed to withstand, and this number will vary depending on how low you discharge the battery.
For example, the Baintech Off Grid Freedom Power Pack can handle 5000 cycles if discharged down to 50% of capacity, but only 2000 recharge cycles if discharged down to 80% of battery capacity. Many other power stations only guarantee 500 charging cycles, so this particular product is outstanding in this regard.
The warranty provided for each portable power station says a lot about the confidence each manufacturer has in their appliances.
Most power stations come with a standard 12-month warranty, some provide a 24-month warranty, and very occasionally you will get a warranty longer than two years.
In some cases, the power station will include the full suite of cables and everything you need, and in some other cases, you will only get the basic 240v charging cord and will have to purchase everything else.
This reason should not typically sway you from one unit to another but do keep in mind as an overall consideration, so you can buy the extra cables you want/need, when they are not included.
Based on all of the above information, do your best to make an overall assessment of the value the power station you are looking for represents. Some brands try to promote themselves as premium and potentially better quality via their price, but it is not always the case that an expensive power station is much better than a cheaper power station.
If a certain power station is much cheaper than the rest, or much more expensive than the rest then dig into the details to try and figure out why. In some cases it has come down to the battery size and the output included on the units in some cases it could be due to the quality of manufacturing could just important to keep in mind.