The team at Jackery has helped us up our game by generously sending us their Explorer 1000 portable power station as well as two of their SolarSaga 100W solar panels for us to test and review. At the time of this writing, we have spent about a week and a half on the road with the Jackery products, testing them in a variety of conditions and by charging nearly every electronic device we have in the bus.
My boyfriend Aaron and I live full-time on the road in our bus conversion, and we get all of our power from the sun. Our two 160W roof-mounted solar panels and three 100Ah house batteries power our fridge, water pump, composting toilet fan, lights, and all of our many devices.
This setup has worked well for the last 2.5 years, but there were definitely some instances where we wished we had additional power reserves as well as movable/portable solar panels.
I’ll detail exactly how and what we tested later in the article, but let me say right off the bat, this Jackery portable power setup is a major game changer!
A Portable Power Station With Solar Panels by Jackery
Jackery was founded in 2012 by Z. Sun, a former senior Apple battery engineer with nearly two decades of lithium ion battery technology experience. Based in Silicon Valley, Jackery launched its first lithium portable power station in 2015. The company specializes in eco-friendly portable power stations, solar panels, and portable chargers. All of their products are designed with outdoor adventure in mind.
Jackery Explorer 1000
Jackery sent us their largest portable power station, the Explorer 1000. It features a 1002Wh capacity with a 1000W continuous power rating and a 2000W surge power rating. It has a total of eight output ports: three AC outlets (normal household outlets), two USB ports, two USB-C ports, and a 12V (car cigarette lighter style) port.
You can choose to power either the AC side or the DC side or both at the same time, simply by pressing the corresponding buttons.
The Explorer 1000 has two input ports (a standard port for the charging cable as well as an Anderson port that’s specifically for charging with two solar panels at once) and an LCD screen that displays input and output data as well as the battery charge percentage.
There is also a flashlight on one end of the unit and a convenient handle on top for carrying it. The whole thing weighs just 22 pounds, which makes it fairly easy to move around. It measures about 13 x 9 x 11 inches and can operate at temperatures ranging from 14 to 104 degrees F.
The power station has a built-in MPPT charge controller, so you can safely charge the lithium ion batteries via solar panels without risking overcharging or damage.
Since the batteries are lithium ion, they can be fully discharged to empty without damaging them – unlike sealed AGM and some other types of 12V batteries which should never be discharged more than about 50% to maximize their lifespan. It’s also got a pure-sine wave inverter built in, which converts the DC power to AC.
Jackery SolarSaga 100W Solar Panels
The Jackery team also sent over two of their largest 100W solar panels. These portable panels fold in half and have a protective canvas backing as well as a plastic handle for easy carrying. Two kickstands fold out from the back of the panel to hold them at an angle towards the sun, and you can adjust the angle slightly for optimal positioning.
Each panel weighs 9.1 pounds and is designed to handle even very high temperatures, although the panels are not waterproof. When folded closed, each solar panel measures 21 x 24 x 2 inches, and it opens to 21 x 48 x 1 inches. The panels can function at temperatures between 14 and 150 degrees F.
The monocrystalline panels are exceptionally efficient at 23%, whereas typical solar panel efficiency is currently between 15-20% on average. These panels also offer something that I personally have never seen before, which is built-in USB and USB-C ports directly on the panel so you can charge portable devices like phones, tablets, cameras, and so forth straight from the panel.
These ports as well as the main output cord for charging any of the Explorer series power stations reside in a zippered pouch on the back of the panel, which conveniently protects them from dust and debris.
Benefits of a Portable Power Station
In just the last week and a half, we have discovered so many benefits of the portable power station beyond what we initially expected. Let me start by outlining a few benefits that are specific to van/bus/RVers:
Parking In The Shade
As a generally heat-averse person, this is huge for me. Based on the charge level of our house batteries, we have had to shorten our stay at or entirely pass over several beautiful shady forest camp spots. Or even more frustratingly, we’ve been forced to park in the blazing sun to charge up the batteries even when there’s a delightfully shady spot just feet away.
Now, we can charge up our Explorer 1000 in advance or find a nearby sun spot to charge it up and use that to power our most energy-thirsty appliances like laptops or the fridge if necessary, while conserving the house batteries to run our other essentials. We could also even use the Explorer 1000 to charge up our house batteries, which could allow us to stay parked in the shade virtually indefinitely (more on this later).
Easily Have Outdoor Power
While I personally wouldn’t go hiking with an Explorer 1000 and/or solar panels, they are quite portable for around camp. For instance, you could power your laptop to have a leisurely workday in the hammock or at the beach, you could run a projector for outdoor movie nights, or you could power an amp and have an outdoor jam sesh.
A portable power station isn’t just useful for buslife. Here are some other, more widely applicable benefits:
Great Addition to Car Camping
I know, I know, camping is supposed to be about unplugging and disconnecting. But imagine running a portable fridge on your weekend camping trips instead of dealing with a cooler, buying ice, and having soggy food and lukewarm beer.
Or, you could use a portable power station to charge your phone, smartwatch, or camera; run an air pump to fill your air mattresses, inflatable SUPs, or inner tube; power a small fan or heater in your tent to stay comfortable, etc. The applications are endless, and all without annoying everyone in the entire campground by running a generator – yay!
Useful at Home
Especially if you live in an area where power outages are common, having an off-grid power source can be a lifesaver. Quite literally in fact, if you depend on a CPAP or other electronic medical equipment. It can also power your fridge (as long as it draws 1000W or less, which means most fridges would work) which will prevent your food from spoiling, recharge emergency lights and flashlight batteries, and so forth.
Get the party started by blending margaritas, slow-cooking some meatballs, and watching pre-game footage on the big screen TV – all of which can be powered by a Jackery portable power station.
FAQs and Testing Results
We’ve done a lot of field testing over the last week and a half with our Explorer 1000 and the solar panels in order to provide some real-world data and usage examples.
What can a Jackery Explorer 1000 charge?
The short answer is it can power anything or any combination of things that draws 1000W or less (with a surge of up to 2000W). In practical terms, this means it can power or charge essentially all small devices, desktop computers, fridges, and potentially even a microwave.
However, it can not power things like most large power tools, hair dryers, electric skillets, toasters, and so forth. Check the wattage of the appliance you want to run in advance – you can generally find this information with a Google search, in the instruction manual if you have it, or on the cord tag.
We tested to check that all of the ports worked and whether they could all be used at the same time, and the answer to both queries was yes. We plugged in a small 12V fan, a phone (USB-C), a smartwatch, a bluetooth speaker, a laptop, a DSLR battery, and an electric toothbrush.
We only had one USB-C cable so we could only do seven items at once, although I’m sure it would have worked with eight.
“The Explorer 1000 handled it like a champ, pulling about 90 W and using only about 8% of the battery capacity to charge everything.”
It was quite hot the other day so I ran the 12V fan for over an hour and it only used 1% of the Explorer 1000’s battery capacity. Without the power station, I would have felt guilty that I was stealing power away from other more essential things like the fridge and lights.
I also find it stressful that sealed AGM batteries like our house batteries do not function on a 0-100% capacity scale (it’s a matter of voltage, and completely draining the battery will basically kill it), but being able to see that I have only used 1% of the Explorer’s battery is much easier for my brain to grasp.
Also read: Dometic: The Best Fridge for a Campervan?
We also tested the power station by powering some larger household (bushold?) items to see how many watts they drew. For instance, we powered our chest freezer that we’ve converted into a fridge with a Johnson Controls thermostat, and that drew roughly 70 W.
We only let the fridge run for one cycle which is about five minutes, but since our fridge usually only cycles on about twice an hour, the Explorer 1000 could feasibly keep the fridge going for several days. We didn’t have a larger fridge available to test, although I have seen reviews in which standard home refrigerators are successfully powered by an Explorer 1000.
Next, we tested our West Marine 12V battery charger. We use this device to charge and condition our starter batteries when necessary and also as a workaround for shore power – we use an extension cord from available nearby outlets to power the charger, which charges up our house batteries when sun isn’t available.
This drew about 400 W and did drain the Explorer 1000 pretty rapidly, although it would likely have enough juice to charge dead starter batteries enough for a successful start or give us another few days of house battery life.
Aaron and I both work remotely online, so we charge our laptops a lot as well. In fact, my 2010 MacBook Air fossil barely holds a charge anymore, so I pretty much always have to have it plugged in.
When a laptop is charging and in use, the wattage jumps around a lot from about 50 to 60 W, and even now when my laptop is already fully charged and I’m simply word processing, it’s jumping around between about 10 and 20 W.
Finally, I tested the phone charging capability of both the Explorer 1000 and the solar panel direct charging method. I expected that the Explorer would charge the phone much faster, but in fact both ways took about two hours to fully charge my four-year-old iPhone SE (another fossil, I know) with equally moderate usage during both charging cycles.
If you have a newer phone with fast charging capabilities and/or USB-C connections, I would imagine that it could charge much faster than two hours. It drew about 5 W when charging on the Explorer 1000.
We found also that the Explorer 1000 draws about 1 W to power either the AC or DC port banks, even without anything plugged in. This is a very minimal draw obviously, but I’ll mention it for the sake of exactitude.
According to the Jackery website, on a single charge the Explorer 1000 can charge a smartphone 100+ times, a camera 180+ times, a laptop 12+ times, or a drone 17+ times. Alternatively, it can power a TV for 14+ hours, a small fridge for 66+ hours, or a blender for 13+ hours.
While I didn’t sit here nerdily and charge my laptop 12 times in a row, I am inclined to believe these numbers based on how much use we’ve gotten from the power station over a week and a half on a single charge.
How do you charge it?
The Explorer 1000 can obviously be charged using Jackery’s 100W solar panels, but it can also be charged via an AC wall outlet or with a 12V car adapter.
How long does it take to charge?
This depends on which charging method you choose. With two 100W solar panels in full sun, the Explorer 1000 can charge fully in about 8 hours, or roughly 17 hours with a single 100W panel (this would have to be over the course of several days obviously unless you are in the Arctic in the summer). An AC outlet can charge the power station in about 7 hours, and a 12V car adapter will take about 14 hours.
Our Explorer 1000 was charged to 37% when we took it out of the box, but Jackery recommends fully charging it before using it. It took about five hours to get to 100% in full sun.
How long does a fully charged Jackery Explorer 1000 last?
This depends on what kind of devices you are powering and whether they need constant power or just periodic recharging. For instance, if you are blending margaritas non-stop, you’ve got about 13 hours of party time. But if you are just charging a phone repeatedly, you’ve got more like 200 hours of juice.
In the last week and a half, we haven’t noticed any power drain when we haven’t been using the Explorer 1000, which indicates that it holds power pretty well. We have also used it for all of the testing described above as well as charging laptops about 5 times and powering them during work sessions, and the battery has only dropped to 27%.
All in all, I would estimate that a fully charged Explorer 1000 could last us about two weeks of casual light duty.
How much does a Jackery portable power setup cost?
The Explorer 1000 retails for $999.99 and each SolarSaga 100W solar panel sells for $299.99. To get the exact setup I’ve tested, you’d be looking at around $1,600.
Is it worth the cost? In full disclosure, Jackery provided these products to us at no cost for the sake of this review, so I’m biased in this analysis. I’m honestly not sure that we would have pulled the trigger on spending $1,600 without seeing or trying out the products first, but after testing this gear I can definitely see that the price tag is justified.
Plus, this Jackery setup is $200-$300 cheaper than comparable products from other high quality brands.
On another note, if you are craving some off-grid power but can’t swing $1,600 right now, Jackery does offer smaller, less expensive options! Their Explorer line includes 160W, 240W, and 500W power stations and they also have a smaller 60W solar panel available.
How does the Jackery Explorer 1000 compare to the Goal Zero Yeti 1000?
Goal Zero is another big name in the solar and portable power station industry, so let’s look at their comparable Yeti 1000 next to the Jackery Explorer 1000. The Yeti outstrips the Explorer slightly in terms of AC wattage with 1500W and 3000W surge versus the Explorer’s 1000W/2000W surge, and it offers 1045Wh versus the Explorer’s 1002Wh.
However, the Explorer outshines the Yeti in several important categories. First, the Explorer has three AC outlets to the Yeti’s two, and it has two USB-C and two regular USB ports whereas the Yeti just has four regular USB ports and no USB-C options.
The Yeti is slightly smaller in size but weighs nearly double the Explorer at 40 pounds – not particularly portable in my opinion. There is also an overwhelming number of input ports on the Yeti whereas the Explorer has a cleaner look with just two input ports. Plus, the Explorer has a flashlight feature while the Yeti does not appear to have one.
The display readout of the Explorer is also less cluttered, with only the input and output wattage and the battery percentage, while the Yeti has an additional metric of “hours to empty,” which, as we’ve covered above is highly variable depending on exactly what you are powering and therefore not especially helpful to my mind.
The Yeti can be charged with 200W of solar panels in 8-16 hours, an AC outlet in 18 hours (or 4 hours using a separately sold fast charger), or a 12V car adapter in 9-18 hours. The Explorer charges in 8 hours with solar, 7 hours with an AC outlet, or 14 hours with a 12V car adapter.
Finally, let’s compare the costs. The Yeti comes in at $1,199.95 and Goal Zero offers two different types of portable 100W solar panels (a rigid framed briefcase-style option and a quad-fold frameless option), both of which are $299.95 per panel. So, for a 1000W power station and two 100W solar panels, you would spend about $1,800 with Goal Zero or about $1,600 with Jackery.
Cat’s Final Thoughts…
Before I tested out these Jackery products I was interested but not committed, and now that I have used them I’m a believer. In other words, can I live without the portable power station? Yes. Do I want to? No I don’t.
The manufacturing is excellent, the products are easy to use and intuitive, the design is efficient (and somehow sleek and rugged at the same time, kudos to the design team), and as I’ve mentioned above, we discover new uses for the portable power station almost daily.
This is especially important because when living in a 100-square-foot bus, each item we own must prove to be very useful if not downright essential in order to earn and keep its space. The Jackery Explorer 1000 and SolarSaga panels have passed the test and will be here to stay!
Interested in purchasing a portable power station, charging device, or solar panels? Head over to Jackery’s website to explore all of their products.
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!