Table of Contents
- What is a Lithium Power Station?
- The Benefits of Lithium-ion Batteries
- Lithium Power Station Buying Guide
- Review of the 5 Top-Rated Lithium Power Stations
- Final Word
Lithium power stations pack more power in a small, light battery, which makes them fabulously portable. They require no maintenance effort and are especially convenient for outdoor excursions.
Smaller, lighter portable batteries are the new arms race. Soon public buses and freight trucks will be electric and autonomous. Our mobile devices are getting more powerful and power-hungry. Robots are slowly taking our jobs. And drones will soon be zinging through our skies delivering everything from Amazon orders to prescriptions.
All those things need electrical power to run. We should presumably be able to generate that energy from the sun and the wind if our goal for a net-zero carbon grid materializes. To ease pressure on the grid during peak hours, we need a way to store power for later use.
An efficient portable power storage device is also of great utility to those that can’t plug into the grid but can generate electricity from weather-dependent sources like the wind and the sun.
A portable power station is an obvious solution where you need to harvest electricity and store it for later use. But for a long time, before lithium-ion batteries hit the mainstream, that bit about portability was a claim rather than a lived reality.
Today we want to talk about how lithium-ion battery cells have made portable power stations better. Later, we will review the best lithium power stations on the market today.
Ready? Let’s go.
What is a Lithium Power Station?
Lithium portable power stations are devices that use lithium-ion batteries to store electrical power for use when you need it. These devices can be recharged in a variety of ways, but most commonly by plugging into a wall outlet or by connecting a solar panel.
Since electricity isn’t always generated at the same time it is used, it is essential to have a way to store it so we can use it when we need it. While we may still be far off from using batteries for grid-scale energy storage, at the household level we are already living the dream – thanks to lithium-ion batteries.
We will not go into the specifics of how lithium-ion batteries work. But what we can say is that lithium-ion batteries have many benefits over lead-acid and other battery cell chemistries.
Because of their superior benefits, lithium-ion cells are now used in everything from consumer electronics, mobile phones, cordless power tools, to electric vehicles. Since Jackery first used them, li-ion batteries are now the standard on portable power stations.
But what makes lithium-ion batteries so special?
The Benefits of Lithium-ion Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries have made portable power stations better. In a very BIG way. Literally speaking, they made portable power stations smaller and even more portable.
As a result, they have made it easier to go out camping and enjoy some fresh air outside our smoke-filled cities without giving up the convenience of our favorite mobile devices.
We can now more confidently go and test our limits on hiking trips without fearing about phone batteries dying and getting cut off from emergency help if the mountains prove a challenge too high.
The secret lies in two portable power station qualities that matter so much for adventurers, campers, off-grid contractors, and emergency preppers. That is portability and power density (or power storage capacity).
Lithium-ion batteries are lighter
Thanks to lithium-ion batteries, now we can say out the ‘portable’ in portable power stations without feeling awkward. Power stations are now portable as in you can put one in your backpack and go hiking, not as in you can lift it but can’t carry it for a few hundred meters without straining.
Lithium-ion batteries are 50 to 60 percent lighter than lead-acid batteries. That’s because they are made from lightweight lithium and carbon. This weight advantage is a big deal for adventurers and hikers for whom traveling light is essential.
Lithium has another important advantage over other metals used in battery cells.
Lithium-ion batteries have a high energy density
Portability has a lot to do with weight as it has with bulk. However light your power station is to carry, it isn’t really portable if it’s bulky. Lithium-ion batteries fix this problem by their ability to store more power per weight unit than other battery types.
Li-ion batteries have high energy density because lithium is a highly reactive element that can store more energy in its atomic bonds. Just how much more energy can these batteries store?
Lithium-ion batteries store 150 watt-hours per 1kg of their weight. In comparison, a lead-acid battery can only store 25 watt-hours per every 1kg of its weight. So, with a lead-acid battery, you will need 6kgs of battery weight to store the same amount of electricity as a 1kg lithium-ion battery. That is staggering, but the benefits don’t end there.
Lithium-ion batteries last longer
The best large-capacity portable power stations will set you back a couple of thousand dollars. That is a lot of money to part with for anybody. The least you want is for the power station to give you a few years of trouble-free service.
Lithium-ion power stations are known to last upwards of 500 charge cycles. To translate that into measurable time, that’s five years and over, and up to 10 times longer cycle life than lead-acid batteries.
A charge cycle is a period of battery use from when a battery is fully charged, through full discharge, to when it is fully recharged again. That charge cycle can be a few hours to days or weeks depending on how frequently you use your portable power station.
Lead-acid batteries last two years on average, store less energy, and are less efficient.
Lithium-ion batteries charge faster
Nobody wants to wait days for their portable power station to charge, whether you are plugging into a wall outlet at home or you are recharging with a solar panel. There’s no convenience in that.
Li-ion batteries charge and discharge at a higher rate than other batteries. Fast charging means less machine downtime, but what about quick discharges? How is that a good thing?
A high discharge rate for a battery means it can supply more power at the same time, which is important when running power-hungry appliances and tools. It adapts your lithium power station to more uses, making it more versatile.
Lithium-ion batteries have a longer shelf life
Rechargeable batteries have long had the annoying weakness of draining out even when not in use. Li-ion batteries will only lose 5 percent of their charge per month, unlike other battery types that lose as much as 20 percent.
To keep it in the best shape, you should, however, not go more than three months without using and charging your lithium portable power station.
The low self-discharge rate means your power station can lie idle for longer without draining out. This is good news for occasional users, like those that only use their portable power stations in power outage emergencies.
Lithium-ion batteries require no maintenance
You will never have to crack your lithium power station open to service the battery. No worries about corrosion issues or monitoring the water level. The reason is that lithium-ion batteries don’t need any maintenance. Unlike lead-acid batteries, they don’t need to be watered. All you need to do is to charge the power station after using it.
That you don’t have to service the battery means you won’t have to open it, which is great from a safety standpoint. Not that you have to worry about any toxic discharge or emissions. Li-ion batteries don’t produce any fumes. Lithium battery power stations hardly make any noise, too.
Ability to supply constant power
One of the biggest weaknesses of lead-acid batteries is that they aren’t as efficient when running power-hungry tools and appliances. They don’t perform as efficiently at high discharge. This weakness robs them of the versatility you would need in a portable power station.
Lithium battery power stations, on the other hand, are remarkably efficient at high discharge, giving them that all-important versatility. Li-ion batteries don’t seem to get affected too much by temperature fluctuations, too, meaning they are an upgrade on lead-acid batteries in every way.
Lithium Power Station Buying Guide
How to Choose the Best Lithium Power Station For You
Portable power stations, whether they use lithium-ion batteries or not, come in different sizes. They are typically sized for inverter capacity, which is measured in watts. They are also sized in watt-hours, which measures battery strength. A watt-hour is a unit of measurement for the electrical energy a battery can supply per hour, for example, 100 watts per hour.
You will commonly find lithium power stations in 150W, 240W, 500W, 1,000W, and 1,500W size categories. Goal Zero Yeti is one of the few brands that market 3,000W and 6,000W capacity portable power stations. It has to be noted also that the larger the capacity of a lithium power station the heavier and less portable it is going to be.
Here are questions you have to answer to get the best lithium portable power station for your needs.
What are your portable power needs?
So the first thing you have to decide on when you start the process to shop for a lithium power station is what size you should buy. And the best way to determine that is by considering your needs. Specifically,
- what are your portable power needs?
- what does the portable power station need to supply?
Too often people run into problems with their portable power stations because they force them to supply an appliance or tool it has no battery capacity to supply. A 240W portable power station, for example, does not have enough power to run a microwave oven. Most power stations will simply shut off when you overload them.
So get a pen and paper and list all the devices you will need to supply. Check each one for its wattage needs and write the value beside it. For the average camper, you may need portable power to charge your phone, iPad, laptop, drone, GoPro, and a few speakers.
When you are done listing the items you need to power, tally the wattages to get the total watts your power station must supply. Now, find a power station with enough battery strength and inverter capacity to meet your combined power needs.
Preferably, choose a lithium power station with some power to spare. Jackery power stations combine high battery capacity with great prices for probably the best value you can get on the market right now.
How many devices will you charge at the same time?
Having a portable power station with enough capacity to charge all your devices is a good starting point. Just as important, however, is knowing that you can utilize all that charging capacity when you need to.
It may be that you need to charge your phone, laptop, and camera at the same time. To do that, your portable power station needs to have sufficient outlets.
You will need an AC port for your laptop, a couple of USB-A ports for your small devices, and a USB-C type port for your iPhone or iPad, at the very least. Not all lithium portable power stations come with all these output options, which is why it is important to do your research.
With the small power stations especially, you will notice that quite a few will lack a USB-C port. If you have high-end mobile devices that you will need to charge on the go, it is critical that you choose a power station with a USB-C output, otherwise, what’s the point? Goal Zero Yeti power stations are among your best options for this.
How will you charge your lithium power station?
After charging your phones, drone, and laptop, and supplying your lights all night, the power station’s battery will deplete. To charge your devices again, you will need to recharge the power station.
Thankfully, you have a few options to charge your lithium power station. You can use a wall outlet, car charger, or solar panel. So if you are away from home and can’t plug into the grid, you will still have options.
Solar is the most exciting option. While you will have to invest in a solar panel, which is an extra expense, the sun is free and abundant. In the long term, using solar will prove to be the most cost-efficient input option.
Solar charging is great for the environment, too, as you won’t have to burn any fuel nor put any pressure on the already stretched power grid. If you are on a long drive, you can simply plug into your car’s power supply and charge your power station on the go.
The biggest question people ask about portable power stations of any size is how many charges you can realistically get per each of your devices.
The obvious limitation is that if you connect your laptop, phone, CPAP, and camera at the same time, the power station will be drained out within a few hours. The solution for this is pass-through charging, which is a feature that allows you to charge your devices while the power station itself is charging.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Lithium Power Station
Here are a few tips to protect both yourself and your lithium portable power station:
Consider your safety
When using your lithium power station, it is important to think about safety. Fortunately, portable power stations don’t produce any fumes, neither do they make any noise.
Since they don’t use any flammable fuel, there is almost no fire risk to worry about. For these reasons, lithium power stations are safe to use indoors. With that said, lithium power stations are still electrical devices that can cause hazards if used improperly. Treat them as you would any other power device.
Charge your power station regularly
Lithium power stations don’t require much maintenance. But you do need to exercise some care in how you handle, store, and use it. The most important tip we will share is not to overload your power station.
Just as essential is to keep it charged so it is ready when you need it. Speaking of that, try not to let your power station lie idle for too long. Lithium-ion batteries perform at their best when you use them periodically and charge them regularly.
Avoid using your lithium power station in cold weather
Lithium-ion batteries do not do well in cold weather. Below 32 degrees F, lithium power stations will struggle to charge. And at below -4 degrees F, they may stop supplying power.
According to Goal Zero, a simple solution is to insulate your lithium power station in a cooler. The heat the power station will produce will help it maintain an ideal temperature.
Review of the 5 Top-Rated Lithium Power Stations
To give you a more apples-to-apples comparison, this article focuses on the best lithium power stations in the 240W category. While they aren’t the most powerful power stations you will find, they are perfect for you if you don’t need to run high-drain electronics. You should be able to comfortably charge your laptop, phone, drone, and other small electronics.
There is no good reason to buy a 500W portable power station if your total portable power needs do not exceed 240W. So if you are looking for the best portable power station for camping, van life, CPAP machine, or a modest work-from-home setup, you will find it on this list.
The biggest compliment that’s been paid to this lithium power station is that it is ‘powerful for its size.’ But seeing the price for this power station, we think it should be ‘powerful for its price.’
This power station has a compact design and weighs just 4.4 lbs, which is perfect for travelers and campers. It is handy to carry, thanks to a collapsible top handle.
The lighting features on this power station will appeal to campers especially. There are two front LED light panels that you turn on with a double click of the light button. Subsequent clicks activate the flashing and SOS modes.
On the side of the unit is a brighter flash flight that you turn by clicking the light button once. These lights should keep your tent fairly lit and dispense of the need for a separate light, which will preserve your power (and pocket).
DBPower claims this unit will fully charge in 5 or 6 hours, but tests by several users have shown these numbers to be off. Charging times as slow as 8 hours have been reported.
Speaking of charging, this power station has a claimed lifespan of 3,000 charging cycles, which no users have yet verified. Then again, power station lifespan depends on many factors.
In terms of safety, the overload protection function will shut off the power station if you overload or short circuit it. To protect your sensitive electronics, like your CPAP machine, this unit has a Pure Sine Wave output.
We mentioned that this DBPOWER lithium-ion 240W portable power station is cheap. That does imply that you shouldn’t expect the world in terms of premium features. The display panel is a notable weakness you have to budget for. The lack of a smart digital display means you will not know how much power is left in the battery and how much charge it has.
Jackery portable power stations are very popular. And the Jackery Explorer 240 is probably the most desired of the company’s models. It averages 4.8/5stars out of over 10,000 reviews on Amazon. That is some serious endorsement. But what makes it so popular?
Before we talk about the Jackery 240 in particular, we must acknowledge that Jackery introduced the world’s first lithium power station back in 2015. That means prior to 2015, we wouldn’t be writing this very article. It also tells you this is a company that knows more than a thing or two about lithium portable power stations.
The Amazon listing says that the Jackery 240 has been featured as the best portable power station for the outdoors by Digital Trends. That makes it a great choice for campers and cabin dwellers. If that’s you, you will likely be buying the SolarSaga 60 solar panel so you can charge this from this sun.
An in-built MPPT charge controller ensures that solar charging is fast and efficient. By the way, you can also charge this unit from a wall outlet or your car.
If you have to charge your devices while the power station also charges, you will be glad to know pass-through charging is supported. On the outlet side, we like the Pure Sine Wave AC port that protects your sensitive equipment. Your output options also include two USB-A ports and a 12V DC car port. The lack of a USB-C port is an obvious handicap.
The Jackery Explorer 240’s inverter has ratings of 200W and 400W for continuous and peak output. That is enough to charge most small devices and run lights on a standard camping night.
The device is lightweight and packs well, thanks to its compact size. We also like that it displays the battery level and both the input and output wattage. Overall, the Jackery 240 has a nice, solid feel and that does what it promises.
Goal Zero has positioned its portable power stations on the premium end of the market. Whether the high price matches the product is a matter of debate, especially when you put it against the well-made lithium power stations from Jackery.
What is undeniable about Goal Zero Yeti power stations – which is true of the Yeti 240X – is that the technology is better. The Yeti 200X, though it has a less powerful AC inverter than the Jackery 240, has better output options. It has a USB-C PD output/input port that the Jackery power station lacks.
The USB-C Power Delivery port moves power both ways and can be used for charging your phones and laptops that accept USB charging. Because this is a 60W port, you are guaranteed very fast charges. Goal Zero Yetis also in general deliver faster charges with a solar panel, though Jackery power stations charge faster when plugged into a wall outlet.
As to looks, the Yeti 200X looks all of its high price. The handle design is well-thought-out, too. The handles pull up when you have to lift the power station and drop flush with the top of the unit when not in use. This is a smart design feature that saves space in a cramped car trunk.
The EcoFlow River portable power station has not been on the market for a long time, but it’s already quite popular. In fact, it was popular before it even hit the shelves having been crowdfunded in an over-subscribed Indiegogo campaign. On first impressions, it must have something to do with the sleek design and ergonomic handle.
The RIVER has an installed battery capacity of 288Wh that you can double by adding another battery, thanks to the power station’s modular design and proprietary X-boost technology. Heavier than both the Jackery 240 and the Yeti 200X, the power station is still quite compact and lightweight.
Let’s talk about build quality, which is what sets the EcoFlow River apart from many of its competitors. A water-resistant case isn’t something you would normally associate with a portable power station, which makes the RIVER a bit special.
While you can’t submerge the power station in water, it can handle a light shower, which isn’t totally unexpected when out camping. And don’t you just love that handle? Looks as good as it is sturdy.
What can this power station supply? You could say it has outlets to spare. You can connect as many as 11 devices, which blows the competition right out of the water. That also means the power station will drain faster than others, which perhaps is the point of the modular design and that X-boost sophistication.
Of the 11 outlets, three are 600W AC Pure Sine Wave ports. Three AC ports almost sound like overkill for power stations in this class. The Jackery 240, for one, has just one AC output. There are also two 12W USB-A, one USB-A fast charge, and one 100W max USB-C outlet.
Another area where the RIVER makes a big statement is with the charging speed, where it boldly claims to have the world’s fastest charging power stations. How fast?
The RIVER races from 0 to 80 percent in under an hour, and to a full charge in a quickfire 96 minutes. No other brand comes even close to those numbers.
Solar charging isn’t that slow either, achieving a full charge in just 3 hours. Surprisingly, though, there are some Amazon reviews where people complained of slow charging speeds.
The RIVER has multiple protections to guarantee a full life, with auto shut-offs that protect against overloading, over current, over-temperature, short circuits, over-voltage, and low temperature. At 800 charging cycles, the battery also lasts longer than the standard 500 cycles.
Overall, this is a cool-looking power station that will keep your laptop and mobile devices fully charged. It is perfect for what the cool kids would call glamping (glamour camping), as one Amazon reviewer put it.
The Progeny 280W portable power station is another that will be perfect for campers, hunters, and adventurers alike. Progeny also recommends this power station for powering CPAP machines. If you do that they also advise turning off the heater/humidifier function to get long runtimes.
With a Pure Sine Wave AC inverter, the Progeny 280 produces clean, stable power that protects your sensitive equipment. It also has auto shut-off protection against overloads, short circuits, and over-temperature.
You should have no problem hiking through mountainous terrain with this power station in hand or in your luggage. It is lightweight and compact. Charging times are good without being revolutionary.
One major wrinkle we have with the power station is that it lacks a USB-C output. We also feel, besides the obvious utility for something designed with camping use in mind, a flashlight would have complemented the general design of this unit.
So what sets the Progeny G280 apart?
Gazing at it for the first time, it has a look all its own. It looks different, which some people would describe as cool. Other than that, this is a fairly priced device that does what it’s designed to do.
Lithium-ion batteries have a high energy density, which makes them smaller, lightweight, and more powerful than other battery cells. They also hold a charge and require no maintenance. Those qualities are important for the portability and convenience of a power station.
The Jackery Explorer 240 is wildly popular and by far the best-selling option on our list. But ‘best’ is a subjective conclusion as people value different qualities and look for different features in a portable power station.
Different manufacturers claim different lifespans for their portable power stations. But from our research 500 charge cycles seems to be the average lifespan.
The general sentiment we can draw from the many buyer and editorial reviews is that Jackery makes the best portable power stations. The Goal Zero name also comes up when this question is asked.
Battery capacity is an important quality that determines how much power a lithium power station can supply. But just as important is to consider the build quality, portability, input and output options, and charging speed. The price also has to match the level of quality.
The future of power is green, rechargeable, and dare we say, portable. This is driven by our never-ending desire for adventure and mobility and the realization that we can only burn so much diesel before we can barely see beyond our windshields in our smoke-filled cities.
As lithium-ion battery technology improves, lithium-ion portable power stations will get more powerful, more portable, and cheaper. In the meantime, the options we have reviewed here will satisfy your light off-grid and emergency power needs.