Power has always been one of the biggest hurdles for the digital nomad. Even as personal power banks have grown in storage capacity, until recently, the majority offered only limited DC power.
That's fine for phones and small personal electronics needing a top off or two, but it doesn't take many devices before even a lean mobile office setup will require significantly more juice -- and probably a grounded AC outlet or two -- than those little bricks can supply.
Fortunately, a new generation of massive power stations are designed with true digital nomads in mind.
A manufacturer called Jackery makes a line of power banks in its Explorer line ranging from 160Wh capacity and go all the way up to a flagship 1,000Wh model, which is the centerpiece of this review. When paired with two of Jackery's SolarSaga 100W rugged, foldable solar panels (a package Jackery calls the Solar Generator 1000), this portable power solution offers a clean, mobile alternative to noisy, dangerous, and cumbersome gasoline generators for going anywhere AC and DC power.
I've had my Jackery Solar Generator 1000 kit for about a month, during which time I've had a chance to use it in the field. These are my first impressions.
- Capacity: 1002Wh (46.4Ah) lithium battery
- Outlet ports: Two USB-C, two USB, one DC carport, and three AC outlets (pure-sine wave)
- Solar charging: Two rugged foldable 100W solar panels; 23% peak efficiency at 18V solar charging with built-in MPPT charger; ~8 hours to full charge
- Charging (non-solar): Via included AC adapter
- Interface: LCD screen with charge/discharge data and battery life status
- Weight: 22 lbs (power bank)
Explorer 1000 Power Station
The hardware is as stylish as it is useable. The Explorer 1000 power station, which is the heart of the Solar Generator 1000 kit, comes in a sleek orange and grey body with an integrated handle.
It's about the size of a small 12-pack cooler. At 22lbs, it's hefty (lithium batteries, after all) but also plenty easy to carry up a 50-yard inclined path to a campsite without breaking a sweat. And it stows easily under a chair or on the floor behind the driver's seat in my 1997 4Runner.
On the face of the unit, there's a small LCD screen. A physical display button wakes the screen up and you see your current battery level as a percentage. You also see data for output and input, measured in watts, which is both easy to understand and incredibly useful for predicting the remaining runtime.
As DC output options, the Explorer 1000 has two USB-C, two USB, and one cigarette lighter-style carport. To turn on DC power, you press a physical button. A green light next to the button indicates the DC ports are live.
The Explorer 1000 also has three grounded AC outlets, which is an incredible convenience and elevates the unit to a completely different category of device than even high-end DC-only power bricks. To turn on AC power, you press a physical button and a light indicates the AC outlets are live. You can use AC and DC at the same time.
The unit feels very well made and durable, and during testing, I didn't break a sweat leaving it outside at our campsite all day. It isn't ruggedized, however, and with its heft, I wouldn't feel comfortable dropping it from even a modest height. All in all, however, this is a very well-designed and well-designed piece of kit, and there's no reason to expect it won't give years of service if treated with moderate care.
Jackery's SolarSaga 100W Solar Panels
The Solar Generator 1000 kit comes with two foldable 100W solar panels. Man, these things are cool. They have integrated handles and feel nice and durable, which is a departure from a lot of flimsy solar panels out there. Unfolded, the business side of the panels are protected by a nice dimpled plastic that feels rugged enough to stand up to wind-blown sand and the like without getting scratched.
The solar panels plug into a splitter input adapter that hooks up to the Explorer 1000 via a convenient port. None of the connections feel flimsy or fragile. During charging, the input wattage is displayed on the Explorer 1000 LCD screen. The power station can be charged while it's being used, and the display conveniently places input and output wattage next to each other on the same screen. If the input is great than output, you're getting net positive energy and the battery charge percentage will go up in real time.
How to test this thing?
I wanted to test the Jackery Solar Generator 1000 in the field, so I decided to take a social distance camping trip with my son and brother over the holiday break. I packed up my truck with standard gear and headed to Borrego Springs for some winter camping.
While packing up, it dawned on me I wasn't going to make a dent in that 1000Wh unless I really tried. My laptop, for example, has a 6330mAh battery capacity, or about 76W at 12V. That means I could fully discharge and charge my laptop around 12 times without recharging the Explorer 1000 -- and, since this was a holiday break, that wasn't an attractive option.
So, I looked around the kitchen and let my vision fall on a bread maker. Looking at the specs, the model of bread maker we have makes a small one-pound loaf in about two hours with a rating of 450W, which seemed just perfect for this test. I separated dry and wet ingredients into ziplock bags, grabbed a jar of yeast, and off I went.
After we made camp and tucked in for the night, I got the Jackery Solar Generator set up the following morning, which amounted to little more than placing the power station in a convenient spot near the mess.
I wanted to see how the system would handle charging while performing the test, so I set up the solar panels. It wasn't hard to find a good angle on the morning sun using the integrated fold-out back stand on each panel, which you release via a velcro clasp. The integrated charging cables on each panel, which are kept conveniently inside zipping pouches on the back, plugged into the splitter and then into the Explorer 1000. The literature recommends using two panels with this capacity power station, though with smaller stations you can use a single panel. With everything plugged in, I was getting about 45 watts input from the morning sun in winter.
Next, I set up my bread maker, added the ingredients, and held my breath. Something about making a fresh loaf of bread in a primitive campsite felt unnatural, and I was prepared for some calamity. But I needn't have worried. As soon as I pressed the AC button on the power station, the bread maker came to life. I set it for a quick two-hour cycle and the machine went into proof mode, which creates a warm environment for the yeast to proof and draws about 45W.
I checked on my setup every 10 minutes or so for the next two hours, and everything went like clockwork. The bread maker shifted from mixing the dough to letting it rise. When baking mode began, the draw peaked at around 425W. That's a lot of power, but the Jackery power station, which is rated for devices 1000W or less, didn't blink. Pretty soon the smell of fresh-baked bread drifted around our campsite and made the starkly beautiful desert around us seem downright homey.
When the alarm beeped, I plopped the loaf out, let it cool, and we rugged explorers complemented our hardy camp breakfast with fresh bread and jam. The display indicated the Jackery Explorer 1000 was only down to 74% capacity. With the solar panels plugged in, we climbed back to 100% by early afternoon.
The Jackery Solar Generator 1000 did exactly what it was it was supposed with room to spare. In addition to baking bread, we kept our phones and portable speakers charged all weekend with no appreciable dent in the battery. After being bitterly disappointed by gimmicky battery banks with tiny integrated solar charges, I had almost forgotten that solar technology is incredible when well-designed and well-deployed. The twin 100W panels in the Solar Generator 1000 kit did a phenomenal job keeping the Explorer 1000 charged in a practical amount of time (8 hours to full charge in good sunlight), making this kit a highly functional off-grid power system.
Currently, the Jackery Explorer 1000 retails at just under $1,000. Each 100W panel costs just under $300 each (there's also a 60W panel available for about $180 each for the smaller power stations). As a bundle, the Solar Generator 1000 kit costs $1,599.97.$999 at Amazon (Jackery)
So far, I'd say a resounding yes. While it's a shame there isn't more of a bundled discount, the kit is priced well for what you get. This is a top-of-the-line product and, for digital nomads, it represents a complete reimagining of where and when you can do real work. The Solar Generator 1000 would make a perfect complement to RVers and #vanlife nomads, to campers who refuse to let the workweek interrupt a good time, and to road trippers who don't want to be tied to the nearest bastion of civilization. It's also well-suited to specialized uses, such as robotics tests and various scientific pursuits in the field.
If you're in the market for a portable power solution, the Jackery Solar Generator 1000 should meet your needs and then some.