For many of us, camping is an escape from the media and technology that dominates our everyday lives. It’s a way to engage with nature and quiet our minds, but that doesn’t mean we want to shed our electronics entirely while we do so. Whether they’re for navigation, emergency communications, or even running a CPAP machine at night, powering devices in the backcountry can be a necessity. Thankfully, that’s easier to do than ever these days. Not only are plug and play portable power stations readily available, but there’s a variety of options to choose from. That’s why today we’re looking at the power station I feel offers the most bang for your buck, the Jackery Explorer 500.
For the summary of our review, skip to the bottom.
Price and Power
The first thing most people compare when shopping power stations is the usable power and the price, and in these two categories, it’s clear that the Explorer 500 delivers. The lithium-ion battery has a peak capacity of 24 amp-hours at 21.6 volts, which equates to 518 watt-hours on hand for your charging needs. With that, you can run a 5-watt LED light for 45 hours, charge an iPhone 30+ times, recharge a camera battery 60 times, or run a CPAP for over 13 hours. Their website claims it can operate a mini-fridge for 8 hours, but we didn’t test that claim. Regardless, the Explorer 500 packs a good deal of power. In fact, it’s 90 watt-hours more than Goal Zero’s Yeti Lithium 400, and 84 watt-hours more than the Anker 400.
But why compare two 400-watt-hour batteries to the Jackery? That seems unfair, right? Well, not really, because at the time of writing this story, the Jackery is selling for $424, which is $175 less than the Goal Zero, and $75 cheaper than the Anker. That’s a lot of power for not a whole lot of price.
The Explorer 500 boasts three 5-volt 2.4A USB ports, a 12-volt 10A DC output, and a 110-volt 500-watt pure sine wave inverter rated to a 1,000-watt surge. That has been enough power to run any electronic device we’ve used on the road, including a household hair-straightening iron. Still, it’s worth noting that the Explorer 500’s surge capacity falls short of the Goal Zero Yeti 400’s, which is rated up to 1,200 Watts. So if you have a specific electronic device you HAVE to run, be sure to check the label to ensure the Explorer 500 is up to the task.
To charge the Explorer, Jackery includes an AC charge kit, a DC charger, and sells either 60-watt or 100-watt folding solar panel. On AC charge it takes a little under 8 hours to bring the battery up to 100% from “empty”, while solar charging on the 100 Watt panel takes around 14 hours. I have yet to charge the battery from the zero percent mark on solar, but I find that when starting from our usual 60-70% range we’re able to charge the Jackery back to 100% during our days in camp. That’s using our first-generation 100-watt solar pane that pulls in 40-55 watts, however we’ve heard that owners of the new 100-watt panels are seeing roughly 60 watts of incoming power during peak lighting.
Quality, Design, and Durability
When I first opened the Jackery, I have to admit that I had mixed feelings. It lacked any soft-touch points, which made the exterior a bit too plastic for my liking, and the whole thing felt too light for its size. But I quickly realized I was falling for a classic trap of associating weight with quality. There’s a reason some brands literally put metal weights in their electronics. It’s because people perceive heavier objects to be well-built, but the point of a lithium battery is to be light, and the Jackery certainly is. The Explorer 500 weighs 13.32 pounds, less than the Yeti 400’s weight of 17 pounds, though more than the Anker 400’s 9.3 pounds.
To be sure that the Jackery’s weight wasn’t an indication of weakness, though, we let it rattle around in our Excursion and the back of a Sprinter while driving around the US and Canada for several months. We used it to charge drones, laptops, and cameras on a daily basis, plus threw in a handful of oddball challenges like a blender. Throughout the trip, we never experienced any issues with charging our devices, and the case survived without cracking or breaking of components.
What we did experience was a bit of frustration with the handle. We aren’t sure why Jackery decided to build a fixed carrying handle (maybe it’s cost savings?), but it makes the unit a little annoying to store. You can’t stack anything on top of it, and it makes it more difficult to slip it inside a cabinet or a cargo area. It’s certainly not a huge deal, but it’s mildly annoying.
I was also sort of confused by the integrated flashlight. The Explorer 500 is clearly too large and inconvenient to carry around camp, and the light isn’t that bright in the first place, so it all just seemed a little gimmicky in the end. I guess in an emergency, or when the power goes out, some light could be better than none, but outside of that, I can’t see any practical purpose.
Longevity and Warranty
The Explorer 500 is rated to 500 or more cycles down to a discharge of 80 percent, which is an identical rating to that of the Goal Zero Yeti 400. Where the Jackery has a leg up is the two-year warranty as opposed to the Yeti’s 12-month one.
When it comes to portable power, the Explorer 500 seems to deliver the most bang for your buck. It packs more power than its competitors with a lower price tag, a lighter total weight, and longer warranty. I don’t love the feel of the plastic case or the fact that the integrated handle makes it impossible to stack things on top of it. Yet, overall, the Jackery has exceeded my expectations, and I would definitely recommend it.