They are not built for overlanding!
Portable power stations are not built for our style of overlanding! Over the past 10 years I’ve owned three vehicles with dual battery setups. In my 4Runner I wanted to avoid the headaches of wiring, the cost of dual batteries, and the time commitment to build out a system. I’ve owned a Goal Zero for two years and can now honestly say that power stations don’t work for various types of overlanding.
How much power do you need? It is important to understand the draw of power related to your accessories. My ARB 50 quart draws approximately 50 watts. My ARB 73 quart draws approximately 73 watts (see a relation here?). On hot days my fridge is on for 9-12 hours per day. Therefore my fridge + minor accessories consume on average 1000 - 1200 watts per day.
It’s all about charging speeds. I need to get at least 1200 watts of power into my system daily. And that is where these units fall short as my option are limited as follows:
AC Power: You can charge a power station at home and hit the road. However, based on conditions (watts used and temperatures) you will most likely get only 1-2 days of use from your power station until your out of power. Therefore, you need to keep charging while on the road.
Solar: This is the route I expected to take with my Goal Zero and why I purchased it. Most power stations can absorb 200+ watts of solar power. This is plenty to keep your battery charged throughout any trip as 4-8 hours of direct sun per day should keep you going for 24+ hours. But 200 watts of solar panels take up 70% of your roof rack space and require your vehicle to be in direct sunlight as often as possible. Or it will require you to pull out foldable panels and hang out at camp for hours while the sun is out. And what happens on the cloudy or rainy days?... No charge!
(Photo is one 100 watt panel)
This works great if your style of overlanding is to drive to a campsite and park there for several days on a sunny day. For us, overlanding is daily exploring in our vehicles rain or shine. This required us to be driving around for most of the day and therefore we do not have the ability to wait at camp until our battery is charged. When we are at camp, we try to park in the shade to avoid the sun. I quickly learned that foldable solar panels do not work for our style of overlanding. It was also difficult to justify 70% of my roof rack space to solar panels that only work when I am in direct sunlight while I am often navigating through canyons and forests.
Car charging: Most power stations can only charge from a vehicles DC port (or even AC port) with a maximum draw of 50-100 watts. This means if your 73-quart fridge is drawing 10 hours per day, your car needs to be on for about 10 hours per day. If you plug in a laptop or drone battery to charge; your car needs to be on for 12-14 hours per day. This will drain precious fuel if you planned on driving for only 8 hours that day as you need to keep the car running at camp for a few more hours just to keep the fridge on.
Goal Zero sells a $400 “Link” system which will allow you to draw power directly from the alternator. After realizing solar and DC charging doesn’t work well for my style of overlanding, I purchased the Link. The link has two modes. In car mode it will keep your alternator and battery safe by only drawing power when voltage is about 13.6V or higher. However, with newer vehicles (all late generation
Toyota’s) we have smart alternators that often do not provide that much voltage. In car mode the Link would not work 50% of the time or more. In draw mode it would get up to 500 watts of power input and charge my Yeti fast… by draining my starter battery and/or overworking my alternator.
Ecoflow can fast charge from AC power at a rate of over 500+ watts. This system works well with a large inverter and allows you to power up your station fast. However, a large inverter drawing that much power is heavily overworking your alternator so prepare for an eventual alternator upgrade. Also, make sure you are properly ventilating this setup as it will get very hot during charging sessions and will cause your lithium ion battery to stop working.
Conclusion: If you charge your power station at home, pre-chill your fridge before loading it, take 100 watts of solar, and use an inverter for charging while driving… this may work for longer trips. In my experience I was dedicating 1 hour per day during my trips on finding ways to get my power station juiced up to keep my fridge going. And I was burning more gas parked at camp to keep the fridge going. In the end I ended up spending as much money as a well-built dual battery setup and lost precious time on trips. I am not building a dual battery system to replace my power station.
Other considerations: I cannot speak for all power stations, but my Goal Zero Yeti 1000 was not able to withstand 5000 miles of off-road driving. After 5000 miles off-road, the power station started falling apart. Every other trip it would stop working and I would have to take it apart to constantly fix loose connections.