Updated Jun 28, 2022 3:31 PM
A windstorm hits and the power goes out—bet you wish you had a generator. You’re camping and want to charge up your lantern, phone, and other devices—a generator sure would be convenient. Or perhaps you’re van-living your way across the country and you need to work on the go and keep your conversion electrified—yet another solid case for a solid generator. Whatever the case, few things are as useful in today’s tech-driven world as a source of reliable, renewable power. The best solar generators can reliably and sustainably meet a variety of energy needs, and we’re here to help you find the right one for you.
How we selected the best solar generators
As an avid outdoorsman, I’ve had the opportunity to test an extremely wide range of outdoor gear, including mobile and off-grid electrification equipment like solar power generators. These became particularly essential when the pandemic forced my travels to become domestic rather than international, which prompted me to outfit a van for long-term road-tripping.
To bring my work along for the ride, I needed a constant power source to charge my laptop, a portable fridge, lighting, and a myriad of devices and tools. As a result, I’ve tried all of the leading portable power stations (and plenty that aren’t leading, too) so I know precisely what separates the best from the blah. I’ve written all about it (and other outdoor tech) for publications including the Daily Beast, Thrillist, the Manual, and more. There were cases when my own opinion resulted in a tie and I, therefore, looked to reviews from actual customers to determine which solar generators delivered the most satisfaction to the most users.
Things to consider before buying a solar generator
Over the past few years, solar generators have exploded onto the market. There are now dozens of different brands that largely look more or less the same at a glance. The fact is there are only a few standouts amidst a sea of knockoffs. Here’s what to look for to ensure you’re getting a great one.
How much power can it store?
Portable solar generators come in an extremely wide range of sizes, but a generator’s size doesn’t automatically make it capable of storing a lot of power. In fact, most are disappointingly limited and unable to store much more juice than a portable charger.
To properly check a generator’s storage, you need to look at its capacity, measured in watt-hours (Wh). One watt-hour is the equivalent of 1 watt flowing over the course of an hour. The best solar generators offer capacities of several hundred and in some cases several thousand watt-hours. That doesn’t mean, however, that it will provide power for several hundred or several thousand hours. Any generator will ultimately last a different amount of time, depending on what’s plugged into it.
It’s easy to predict how long a generator will last when you use it to power one thing. For example, if you were to power a 100-watt bulb using a power station with a capacity of 500 watt-hours, it would stay lit for 5 continuous hours. Add a portable fridge that requires 50 watts per hour, your phone which uses 18, a mini-fan that uses three … you get the picture. The more capacity, the better.
No solar generator will hold a charge forever, so you want one capable of charging as quickly and easily as possible. This is where we put the “renewable” into “renewable energy.”
All of the power stations included in this roundup can be charged by connecting them to solar panels (hence the designation “solar generators”), but you also want to look for the ability to charge via other sources like wall outlets and your vehicle’s 12-volt plug. This ensures that you can charge up whenever you’re off-grid in the sun, plugged in while preparing at home, or while on the go via your dash socket.
You also need to keep an eye on a model’s charging input capacity, which is measured in watts (W). A solar generator with a max input of 100W, for example, can take in a continuous flow of up to 100 watts, which is about the minimum that you’ll reasonably want to look for. Most of the generators included below have input capacities of at least a few hundred watts when charging via solar, so a few 50- to 200-watt solar panels will max them out.
Solar generators need to keep the power coming in and going out. The best solar generators are capable of charging all your intended devices simultaneously via whatever plugs are necessary.
Any portable power station worth your money will have a high output capacity so you can charge many devices, even if they require a lot of juice. A generator’s maximum output should be much higher than its max input. While a particular model might only be capable of taking in a few hundred watts at any given moment, it will usually put out exponentially more. At a minimum, you’re going to want a generator that can put out 300 watts at a time, though for larger tasks you’ll want at least 500.
The best solar generators should also offer a variety of output plugs, including AC outlets, USB-A, USB-C, and even 12-volt DC outlets like the one in your vehicle dash. This ensures that you can charge several devices at once no matter what plug they use. The number of ports you’ll need will vary depending on how many devices you need to power, but it should have at least a couple of AC outlets and a few USB-A ports.
While portable battery sources have been around for a while now, over the past several decades they’ve been pretty heavy, unwieldy things. One of the most exciting aspects of the latest generation of solar generators involves the fact that they’ve become much more physically compact.
If you plan on taking a generator camping or will be working it into a van conversion where every square inch matters, size and weight become major considerations. All of the products we’ve recommended are about the size of one or two shoeboxes—three at the most. The lightest is about the weight of a 24 pack of soda while the heaviest is 100 pounds, or roughly the weight of an extra-large bag of dog food. Most fall somewhere between 30-60 pounds.
If you’re going to be using your generator as a more or less stationary source of backup power at home, portability isn’t a huge issue. Still, we generally recommend keeping weight and size in mind; You never know when you’ll need it for something other than a backup. (Plus, who wants to lug around something heavy and awkward if they don’t have to?)
Another consideration when it comes to portability involves the necessity for accessories, which can impact how easy it is to move and use your generator. Some generators, for example, require a lot of removable battery packs, which can be a hassle when you’re on the go or packing a vehicle. All of the inclusions on our list require some accessories—you can’t get solar power without connecting cables and solar panels—but they work well with minimal add-ons.
As with any product you expect to last, durability and all-around quality craftsmanship are essential. This is especially true if you plan on lugging your generator around on camping and road trips. A lot of subpar power stations are made from cheap components and flimsy plastic that doesn’t feel like it will hold up under the rigors of the road.
Durability isn’t something you can determine by reading a spec sheet off the internet. You’ve actually got to take the generator out, use it a bunch, and see how it holds up. I’ve verified the durability of these recommendations via a combination of my own actual field tests and reviews culled from countless real product owners.
The best solar generators: Reviews & Recommendations
The solar generators included on this list span a wide range of budgets, from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. They span a number of use-cases, from camping to a backup for your home. Only you know all the factors that make one of these the best solar generator for you, but we think that one of these will get the job done.
Best overall: Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it made the cut: The Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro delivers the best blend of capacity, input/output capability, portability, and durability.
- Storage capacity: 2,160Wh
- Input capacity: 1,200W
- Output capacity: 2,200W (4,400W surge)
- Dimensions: 15.1 x 10.5 x 12.1 inches
- Weight: 43 lbs
- Fast charging and outstanding capacity
- Durable and easy to use
- Plenty of ports
- Can connect to six 200W solar panels
The biggest portable power station from Jackery, a leading solar generator manufacturer, the Explorer 2000 Pro offers a tremendous 2,160 Watt Hours of power, making it capable of charging a full camping set up for a few days. When plugged into six 200W solar panels, an upgrade over the four-panel setup available on the Jackery Explorer 1500, you can fully charge this portable power station in just 2-2.5 hours. That’s less than half the time of the smaller model.
On top of all that, it’s extremely user-friendly. Numerous output ports ensure that you can plug in a wide range of devices and electrical equipment. Its functions are highly intuitive, and the digital display is easy to understand. Like other Jackery generators, it’s incredibly durable, too. The one potential downside is its weight: At 43 pounds, it’s a bit heavy for its size. Even so, for all the power you can store and the rapid-charging time, the Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro will keep the lights on wherever you need power.
For more on the Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro, check out our full review.
Best for camping: Goal Zero Yeti 1000X
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it made the cut: Thanks to its outstanding portability, high storage capacity, and Yeti’s famous durability, the Goal Zero Yeti 1000X is great for packing along for camping or van-living.
- Storage capacity: 983Wh
- Input capacity: 600W
- Output capacity: 1,200W (2,400W surge)
- Dimensions: 9.86 x 15.25 x 10.23 inches
- Weight: 31.68 lbs
- Highly portable
- Incredible durability
- Rapid recharge rate
- Plenty of plugs
- Expensive for its size/capacity
Yeti is long-renowned for making some of the best outdoor gear money can buy, so when the company launched its Goal Zero line of solar generators, it was no surprise that they turned out to be awesome. While the whole line is great, the 1000X model’s balance between capacity and portability makes it perfect for taking on the road.
While the 1000X has a third less capacity than our top pick, it charges up faster, making it a great option for rapid solar replenishment. That said, its capacity is no slouch, offering 82 phone charges, 20 for a laptop, or upwards of 15 hours for a portable fridge (depending on wattage). Suffice to say that it’s more than capable of powering your basic camping gear.
Beyond its charging capabilities, the Goal Zero 1000X excels at camping thanks to its hearty build quality. Built super tough—like pretty much everything Yeti makes—its exterior shell provides solid protection.
The biggest issue it presents is the cost. Like pretty much everything Yeti produces, its price tag isn’t small. But while there are other 1000-level solar generators out there for less, few to none offer anywhere close to the same craftsmanship.
Best for off-grid living: Bluetti AC200 Max
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it made the cut: Thanks to its high solo capacity and ability to daisy-chain with additional batteries, the Bluetti AC200 Max is perfect for bringing power off the grid.
- Storage capacity: 2,048Wh standalone, expandable up to 8,192Wh
- Input capacity: 1,400W
- Output capacity: 2,200W (4,800W surge)
- Dimensions: 16.5 x 11 x 15.2 inches
- Weight: 61.9 lbs
- Massive capacity
- Daisy-chain capability
- Lightning-fast input capacity
- 30A RV plug and two wireless charging pads
- Surprisingly affordable for what it offers
- Pretty heavy
- Fan can get loud, especially in hot weather
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a solar generator better suited for living off the grid for an extended period of time than the Bluetti AC200 Max. It boasts a substantial 2,048Wh capacity, which allows you to power your whole life off of it longer than most portable generators. Even better, you can daisy-chain multiple Bluetti batteries, expanding its capacity to a massive 8.192Wh. That’s flat-out enormous and translates into the ability to power a full-sized fridge for over a day or several hours of air conditioning. For the more modest needs of people who are used to living off a generator, it will last for a very long time.
At the same time, the AC200 Max has an outstanding input capacity of 1,400W. That means that if you can plug in a pretty hefty array of solar panels to replenish its stores fast. This allows you to keep your off-grid setup going with little to no interruption. It also features some specialty charging options, including a 30A plug, which lets you plug it directly into an RV, and multiple wireless charging pads for smaller devices.
Best for homes: EcoFlow Delta Pro
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it made the cut: The EcoFlow Delta Pro delivers the standalone and expandable power capacity necessary to power your entire home.
- Storage capacity: 3,600Wh standalone, expandable up to 25,000Wh
- Input capacity: 6,500W
- Output capacity: 3,600W (7,200W surge)
- Dimensions: 25 x 11.2 x 16.4 inches
- Weight: 99 lbs
- Enormous capacity
- Daisy-chain capability
- 30A RV plug
- Lightning-fast input capacity
- WiFi and Smartphone connectivity
If you’re looking for a solar generator capable of powering your whole home in the event of a power outage, the EcoFlow Delta Pro stands apart from the pack, thanks to an unrivaled power and output capacity. The Delta Pro alone packs a 3,600Wh wallop, and you can expand that to 25,000Wh by chaining it to extra EcoFlow batteries and generators. That’s a ton of power and it has the substantial output capacity necessary to power an entire house worth of electronics when you need it to.
The Delta Pro also offers a companion app for iOS and Android, which allows you to monitor energy usage, customize its operation, and monitor and manage a number of other elements.
While it’s not overly large for what it does, the Delta Pro is a heavy piece of equipment. It has wheels so it is technically portable, but this is meant to be put down in a home or other semi-permanent site. Given its size and power, it’s also a much more expensive device, especially if you’re springing for the add-ons. As a reliable source of backup power for your entire home, however, it’s worth every penny.
Best portable: Anker 545
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it makes the cut: If you’re looking for highly portable power, the Anker 545 delivers.
- Storage capacity: 778Wh
- Input capacity: 240W
- Output capacity: 770W
- Dimensions: 11.81 x 8.03 x 7.28 inches
- Weight: 18.2 lbs
- Lightweight and compact
- Plenty of capacity
- Built-in lights
When portability is a priority, the Anker 545 not only offers the compact size and reduced weight that you’re looking for, but it packs fairly substantial power to boot. Roughly the size of a shoebox and lighter than a case of beer, it’s easy to pack along with camping gear and move around without too much effort.
To get something so light, though, you do have to compromise on power. The Anker 545 has a capacity of 778Wh and an output capacity of 770W, which is plenty of power for keeping your devices charged. Specifically, that should provide about 55 phone charges, 10 for a laptop, or 38 for a camera. Unfortunately, the outlets only output at up to 500W, though, so it cannot power more demanding devices like hair dryers or electric stoves.
That said, the Anker 545 has some bells and whistles, including an integrated flashlight and ambient light. All told, it’s a solid option if you need a generator that’s highly mobile.
Best budget: Jackery Explorer 300
Buy it used or refurbished: Amazon
Why it made the cut: With its reasonable capacity, compact size, and solid build quality at a low price, the Jackery Explorer 300 is a great budget pick.
- Storage capacity: 293Wh
- Input capacity: 90W
- Output capacity: 300W (500W surge)
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.2 x 7.8 in
- Weight: 7.1 lbs
- Reasonable capacity
- No flashlight
- Slower input capacity
Though it isn’t quite as impressive as our top pick for best solar generator, Jackery’s smaller Explorer 300 solar generator is super compact and lightweight with a decent power capacity for its price. Less a mobile power station than an upscale power bank, the Jackery Explorer 300 provides plenty of portable recharges for your devices when you’re camping, on a job site, driving, or just need some power and don’t have convenient access to an outlet. Its modest 293Wh capacity isn’t huge, but it’s enough to provide 31 phone charges, 15 for a camera, 6 for the average drone, 2.5 for a laptop, or a few hours of operation for a minifridge or TV. A built-in flashlight would have upped its camping game somewhat, but at $300, this highly portable little power station does a lot for a little.
Q: What size solar generator should I get?
It’s easy to underestimate how much capacity you need. A 1,000 watt-hours might sound like a lot, but if you’re going to, say, power a converted van with a portable fridge, lights, and occasional phone and laptop top-off, that 1,000 watt-hours will go faster than you expect. I used a setup like this and know from personal experience that you should always overestimate how much power you’ll need.
A generator with a capacity under 1,000Wh can keep electronics charged. A larger one with 1000-1500Wh should be the minimum for road trips where you’ll need it to last multiple days between full charges. For a house or worksite where you expect to use some serious energy—like a full-sized refrigerator or power tools—you’re going to want to start looking at the biggest possible power stations that can be daisy-chained to external batteries.
If you want to get precise, there is an equation:
1. Estimate how many hours you’ll need to power various devices. For example, if you want to power two light bulbs for 2 hours: you need 4 hours of operation.
2. Add up the total wattage necessary: the two bulbs are 60 watts each, so you need 120 watts.
3. Multiply these together to find the total watt-hours needed: 4 x 120 = 480. So, in this case you’d need at least a 500Wh solar generator.
That might sound like a lot for two lightbulbs, but keep in mind that in most situations you won’t really be powering 60-watt light bulbs for hours on end. You’ll be charging phones and laptops for an hour here or there, cooling a fridge that kicks on and off every once in a while, using power tools in short bursts, and whatnot.
Q: How many years will a solar generator last?
Most modern generators are rated to last upwards of 25 years. The best-designed power stations are pretty sturdy, with few to no moving parts, so they should likely keep kicking for a long time, provided that you care for them properly. I’ve been pretty rough with a few of mine, and they show no signs of stopping.
Q: Can I run my house on solar power only?
Yes and no. While it’s absolutely possible to power your house with solar power, you’re unlikely to do so with a portable solar generator unless you use several at once while limiting your power usage. The largest of our recommendations—the EcoFlow Delta Pro—will come fairly close when bolstered with extra batteries. If the power goes out, you’ll be able to keep your fridge cold and use basic electronics for a couple of days without recharging. With quality solar panels, good sunlight, and smart energy usage, your power should theoretically go uninterrupted.
Final thoughts on the best solar generators
We’re living in a “golden age” for portable solar generators. When I was a kid and my family was playing around with solar gear while camping in the ‘90s, the technology wasn’t capable of charging many devices so it wasn’t all that practical.
By contrast, the solar generators we’ve recommended here are incredibly useful. I’ve relied on them to power my work and day-to-day needs while road-tripping all over the country. They’re also great when the power goes out. When a windstorm cut the power at my house for a couple of days, I was still working, watching my stories, and keeping the lights on.
We haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the potential offered by portable, reliable, renewable, relatively affordable power. What we can do now is already incredible. The potential for what may come next, though, is truly mind-blowing.