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Best portable power stations of 2021

Get power wherever you want with a battery-powered portable generator.

This story is part of Road Trip 2020, CNET's series on how we're preparing now for what could come next.

As the smaller, lesser-known cousins of generators, portable power stations keep your power tools, phone and other electronics charged and running smoothly. These versatile, lunch-box-size power bank gadgets can go with you on camping trips, to construction sites or wherever else you need electricity and there is not a single wall outlet to be found. They also come in clutch as a backup power source during a power outage when you need to keep your phone or an essential appliance powered up and are without a generator or some other portable power supply.

I chose seven portable power stations ranging in price from $270 to $1,200 to test and review for this list. I focused exclusively on rechargeable battery-powered models, including one with a solar charging add-on, but gas generator models are also available. While each power station provides mobile power in a compact design, each portable generator has a different design and range of features. I put each battery pack device thoroughly through its portable charger paces and considered factors such as battery life, wattage, power output, type of charging ports the power station offered (at least one USB port was a must!) and more.

Keep in mind that the prices I note below for each portable power station may change as retailers introduce sales and other updates. I'll do my best to check in regularly so they reflect the most recent pricing.

That's it! It's time to find the best portable power station for your needs.

Editors' note: Due to the pandemic and recent power outages, demand for portable power stations has been outpacing supply. One of the models listed below, the Rockpals 300W, is currently out of stock and the Klein Tools KTB5 has been going in and out of stock. Keep checking back because availability at online retailers is subject to change.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

The Jackery Explorer 1000 is by far the most well-rounded portable power station of the bunch. At 22 pounds, this powerful generator is fairly compact, especially compared with the 44-pound Ego Nexus model. Despite this Jackery portable power station's smaller size, it manages to make space for three three-prong outlets, two USB-C ports, two standard USB-A ports and more to use for your power supply and for charging your devices. 

Its display is easy to read, too, and it dominated the performance tests, exceeding its expected battery power run time of 3 hours and 2 minutes (with three work lights connected to it) by an average of 8.5 minutes. For an additional $500, you can tack on a portable solar panel pack and use it as a solar generator for solar power when you're camping.

Fast facts

  • Price (Amazon): $1,000
  • Watt-hours: 1,002
  • Weight: 22 pounds
Megan Wollerton/CNET

When you don't need something quite as powerful as the Jackery Explorer 1000, the Klein Tools KTB5 is an excellent option. While it has roughly half the battery capacity watt-hours of the Jackery generator, it's still a solid portable power station performer with a lot of power. 

Complete with two three-prong outlets, two USB-C ports and two USB-A ports, this midrange portable power station will charge pretty much anything you'll ever need to, from a CPAP machine to small appliances to your computer. Bonus: This power bank did well in my performance tests, averaging just 2 minutes less than its expected run time of 2 hours and 29 minutes (with two lights connected to it). 

Fast facts

  • Price (Walmart): $500
  • Watt-hours: 546
  • Weight: 12 pounds
Megan Wollerton/CNET

The Rockpals 300W is my favorite affordable portable power station. Not only did this portable power station average 2.5 minutes over the expected 2-hour 33-minute run time (with one work light connected), it's only 7.5 pounds and has a ton of options, ranging from one three-prong outlet to four USB-A ports and a handful of other features to use for your portable power supply. 

I know $197 isn't exactly budget, but it's the most affordable model I tested -- and its strong performance and solid lineup of features give this power bank even more value. 

Fast facts

  • Price (Amazon): $197
  • Watt-hours: 280
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds

How we test

Before diving into how I tested these things, here's a list of the models I looked at:

Every company that sells portable power stations provides the expected number of watt-hours its products are supposed to last. For the Goal Zero Yeti 200x, that's 187 watt-hours; for the Paxcess 300W, it's 288 watt-hours. The Jackery Explorer 1000 claims 1,002 watt-hours. 

That means if you run a device with a 1-watt output on the Yeti 200x, it should last for about 187 hours. You'd get 288 hours from the Paxcess model and a whooping 1,002 hours using the Jackery generator. For reference, a USB-C iPhone charger draws up to 18 watts, a 3-quart Instant Pot draws 700 watts and a standard microwave draws around 600 to 1,200 watts, depending on the model. 

Since I didn't have a 1-watt device to test (wait, are there any 1-watt devices out there?) and because I don't have over 187 hours to test a single power station, our labs manager, Steve Conaway, devised a clever plan: I'd use 110-watt, 10,000-lumen portable LED work lights (here are the exact ones I used).

For example, if you divide the Yeti 200x's 187 expected watt-hours by 110 (the number of watts in one of the work lights), you get 1.7. Then my accountant husband helped me convert each decimal into each power station's expected run time. 1.7 equals an expected run time of 1 hour and 42 minutes from fully charged to zero (when the light turned off). 

I plugged a work light into the Goal Zero Yeti 200x, Rockpals 300W and Paxcess 300W. The higher-watt-hour Blackfire PAC500 and Klein Tools KTB5 each ran two work lights, again, to reduce the test time. And the two largest generators, the Jackery Explorer 1000 and the Ego Nexus 3000 PST3042, each ran three work lights per test.

I ran two identical tests with each of the seven power stations to track consistency and rule out any anomalous results. In the end, each one performed pretty close to the expected run time.

Test results

Price Watt-hours Expected run time Actual average run time Actual vs. expected run time Number of lights
Goal Zero Yeti 200x $300 187 1 hour, 42 minutes 1 hour, 33 minutes 9 minutes less than expected 1
Rockpals 300W $270 280 2 hours, 33 minutes 2 hours, 35 minutes, 30 seconds 2.5 minutes more than expected 1
Paxcess 300W $300 288 2 hours, 37 minutes 2 hours, 19 minutes 18 minutes less than expected 1
Blackfire PAC500 $500 546 2 hours, 29 minutes 2 hours, 19 minutes, 30 seconds 9.5 minutes less than expected 2
Klein Tools KTB5 $500 546 2 hours, 29 minutes 2 hours, 27 minutes 2 minutes less than expected 2
Jackery Explorer 1000 $1,000 1,002 3 hours, 2 minutes 3 hours, 10 minutes, 30 seconds 8.5 minutes more than expected 3
Ego Nexus 3000 PST3042 $1,200 840 2 hours, 33 minutes 2 hours, 14 minutes, 30 seconds 13.5 minutes less than expected 3

As you can see, all of them got pretty close to the mark, with the Paxcess and the Ego models performing the worst. But only the Jackery and Rockpals power stations consistently ran longer than expected, a definite advantage when you're logging long hours at a worksite, camping off-grid -- or need to keep your phone charged at home following a storm that knocks out your electricity. 

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More power for 2021