If you are in a hurry and just want to find out what the best portable solar generator is, then we recommend the Renogy Phoenix 210Wh Portable Generator as the best one.
Initially the Renogy Phoenix seems small for a solar generator. However, it is the most portable system we could find. It’s also the only “all-in-one” design we could find. Mainly due to its built-in solar panel. All other solar generators reviewed require you to grab 2 items, both the solar generator and the solar panel. This is the primary reason for the Renogy being our choice for the best portable solar generator available.
The Renogy also has a compact size that resembles a large briefcase. When opened up the generator looks more like your changing the DEFCON level then charging a phone. The generator is built with quality, backed up by a strong warranty, and has all the standard features the competitors have.
A solar generator is the superior choice for camping and prepping, over a gasoline generator. Solar generators are perfectly silent and do not draw attention. As long as the sun shines you will have fuel and can store up electricity. Finally, solar generators can get as small as just 12 lbs.
A portable solar generator in the simplest terms is a battery light enough to carry that can easily be charged by a solar panel. So, for portability sake we only compared solar generators that are under 30 pounds and that have a built-in solar panel or a solar panel designed to also be portable.
In this article we will review the following portable solar generators:
- Jackery Explorer 160 (+50W panel): 167Wh Solar Generator Kit
- Renogy Phoenix: 210Wh Solar Generator Briefcase
- Jackery Explorer 240 (+50W panel): 240Wh Solar Generator Kit
- Goal Zero Yeti: 428Wh Solar Generator Kit
- Jackery Explorer 440 (+100W Panel): 440Wh Solar Generator Kit
- ExpertPower Alpha: 444Wh Flexible Panel Solar Generator
Built-In versus External Solar Panel
A built-in solar panel dramatically improves the portability of a system, however is also limits the size of the solar panel. Having a solar panel separate, gives you the option of only having to carry the generator when you are not charging. This dramatically reduces your carrying weight. To compare, the Renogy (built-in panel) weighs 12lbs, where as the Jackery 160, with no panel, weighs 4.5lbs and the Jackery 240, with no panel, weighs about 7lbs.
Of the solar generators reviewed only the Renogy has a built in solar panel. To compensate for the limited size of the built-in solar panel, Renogy has added the option of adding an external solar panel.
You will want a model that uses Lithium batteries. Lithium-based batteries are currently the most affordable battery type for light weight, maximum storage capacity, and high continuous output. All the models reviewed use lithium batteries.
Measured in Watt-Hours (Wh), this rating tells you how much energy the battery can store. Its based on how many watts could be output for 1 hour. So a 16oWh battery can provide 160 watts for 1 hour. If you only draw 10 watts the battery should last 16 hours (10 watts x 16 hours = 160 Watt-Hours).
This specification gives you a way to estimate how long your solar generator will last. Take the wattage your device uses. Usually this value can be found on the power supply for your devices. If you have multiple devices, add up the wattage of each. Divide the wattage by the Watt-Hour rating of your generator. This will give you the hours. Since no systems is 100% efficient multiple your hours by .8, or 80%.
Portability – bugging in or out, on foot or by vehicle
If you plan on bugging out and carrying your generator by hand, you should stick with the smaller systems. For instance, the Jackery 160, the Renogy Phoenix, and the Jackery 240 all weight under 15 lbs, including the solar panel.
If you will be carrying the system in a vehicle or your plan is to bug in, any of the system reviewed here will work. Just remember if you leave your vehicle behind you will need to carry your generator.
Charge time is a function of the size of the battery and the size of the solar panel. To create the table below we simply took the size of the battery (Wh) and divided it by the solar panel watts. We then assumed most systems are around 80% efficient. We then double checked our number with the manufacturer specifications to verify the numbers.
For all the hours in the green boxes the manufacturer sells a solar panel to create the setup.
Extra Solar Panel
Only two of the systems allow for the addition of an extra solar panel, the Renogy and the Goal Zero. This gives these generators more flexibility in what their charge time will be and the overall weight of the system. Some system are only effective with the specific sized solar panel. Any smaller and it won’t charge the battery, any larger and the charger will shutdown due to being over powered.
Solar Panel Size
The exact size of solar panel isn’t as important as the panel being properly sized to the generator. A solar generator should charge to a level that is useful to you in around 6-10 hours, or 1 day. This way you can get a full charge each day and you are not carrying extra and unnecessary weight due to an over sized panel or generator.
Pass-Through technology, or intelligence as some manufactures call it, is the ability to use the solar generator while it is charging. This allows you to not only use electronics while the solar generator charges, but allows allows you to charge your electronics.
Generators with this technology and the ability to add an external solar panel gives additional options. The generator can become a power station during the day with an extra panel. If you don’t need that much power level the extra panel behind.
Pure Sine Wave
When the AC output has a Pure Sine Wave output it means the electricity is clean and comparable to utility power. The advantages of pure sine wave power allow motors to run faster, quieter and cooler, and fans, fluorescent lights, TVs, and radios have reduced audible and electrical noise. All the generators reviewed provide pure sine wave AC power.
Best Portable Solar Generator
Renogy Phoenix Solar Generator Briefcase
Certainly the coolest looking portable solar generator. This is the only model we could find that is completely self contained. This makes the Renogy Phoenix a truly mobile generator and therefore our choice for the best portable solar generator.
It works well for powering small mobile devices up to laptops. Adding a second solar panel would allow the Renogy to function as a power source throughout the day and still have a full charge for over night. This makes it an ideal generator for prepping. Small enough to carry with you yet big enough to power any device you will like carry with you.
- Compact and lightweight back-up system weighs only 13lbs
- Build-in 20W solar panel
- Solar Panel is expanded up to 120W by adding a second panel
- Can be charged by solar, 120V AC home, or 12V car
- Maximum output of 150W
- Built-In MPPT Solar Charging Technology
- Several Outputs: 1 standard AC plug, 1 car cigarette, 2 DC outputs, 4 USB
- Lowest priced model
- The 20W solar panel can take up to 13 hours to charge. This is still good for most mobile electronics. Adding a second solar panel would negate this issue though.
Best Large Portable Solar Generator
Goal Zero Yeti 400 Solar Generator Kit
The Goal Zero Yeti 400 is the model for medium sized needs. This is the size for camping with several people or for a bug out vehicle. Its still light weight and small yet large enough to power medium appliances like a mini-fridge, a few laptops. or dozen of mobile devices.
It also allows for the addition of more solar panels and is equipped with pass-through technology. This allows it to act as a power station at night so when night time comes all your electronics and the generator itself can a full charge.
- Battery can be replaced by the user. The only model we reviewed with this feature.
- Large enough to power medium appliances with 300W of continuous output.
- Small enough to be portable. Generator is only 16 lbs.
- Very user friendly informative display with recharge time estimator, battery level monitor and an input/output meter.
- Capable of a 200W solar panel for fast charge time. As little as 4 hours.
- A good price point for a 400Wh+ generator.
- The weight of the generator (16 lbs) and a full 200W solar panel (42 lbs) means you wont be taking the entire package on foot, however still quite portable.
Best Budget Portable Solar Generator
ExpertPower Alpha 400 Solar Generator Kit
The ExportPower Alpha 400 is our choice for the budget solar generator. Its has good capacity at 444Wh for about the same price as the generators in the 250Wh range. If you don’t care about looks or a fancy digital interface you can save a few hundred dollars. Interestingly though, its the only model that comes with a very light weight, flexible solar panel.
- Very light-weight solar panel, just 4.4lbs.
- Flexible solar panel.
- Lowest priced generator in the 400Wh+ range.
- Lightest weight generator and generator/solar panel combo in the 400Wh+ range.
- Built in MPPT solar charger controller.
- Highest continuous output rating of 400W.
- No user interface, just a simple battery level meter.
- Limited to 100W solar panel input
- No Pass-Through technology
Jackery Portable Power Explorer Series
The Jackery Portable Power Explorer series of solar generators provide the most variety.
|Jackery 160 +50W Panel||Jackery 240 +50W Panel||Jackery 440 +100W Panel|
|The Jackery 160 combined with the Jackery 50W solar panel is the smallest solar generator reviewed, based on battery capacity and output. However, the power output and capacity is still plenty for most camping activities and prepping mobile devices like radios, laptops, and lights.||The idea of the extra capacity of the Jackery 240 sounds good over the 160 however the 240 is only capable of a 50W solar panel as well. This means it will take longer to charge. Since 50W is all the 240 can handle your stuck the charge time.||The Jackery 440 has plenty of storage for a portable solar generator and can handle the input from a 100W solar panel. This gives it a decent charge time. The problem is that its priced in the upper end of the 400Wh+ solar generators.|
- The Jackery 160 and 240 are the lightest generators (without panels) we reviewed.
- The Jackery 160 and the Jackery Solar Panels are the only models with a USB-C port.
- Generators are compatible with the PAXCESS solar panel (lower price than Jackery)
- All models have “Pass Through” technology and can be charged and used at the same time
- All models have a user-friendly display that provides input and output wattage as well as battery level
- Have longer charge times compared to similarly sized models.
- Generators and Solar Panels are in the upper price range compared to similar models.
Best Portable Solar Generator
We selected the Renogy as the best portable soar generator because of its features and benefits. It compact size means its easy to carry and light weight, about the size of a large laptop. Its quality and warranty means it will last over time as well as the being carried around. The built in solar panel means you don’t have to worry about multiple pieces in a rush.
The ability to expand the solar panel allows you to dramatically decrease charge time. Using the additional panel and built-in solar panel turns your solar generator into a decent power station throughout the day. This gives you the ability to charge devices and the generator battery at one time.
If you need more power we would recommend the Goal Zero. The Goal Zero has all the same benefit as the Renogy. In addition, the Goal Zero more than doubles the storage capacity over the Renogy.