The 9 Best Portable AC Power Supplies
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Take The Power Back
Powerlessness is an agonizing feeling. If you’ve ever had your car towed, you know a thing or two about how powerlessness feels. I once had my car impounded due to a communication error between the state to which I had moved and the state in which my car was financed. Neither DMV claimed to have the title, and both told me I had to get it from the other one. If not for a stroke of luck involving an old roommate and a mistakenly released title some years prior, I might have had to take legal action, all the while living in Los Angeles without a car (the equivalent of living in New York City without any legs).
When it comes to literal cases of powerlessness, the last thing you want to do is leave the acquisition of power to chance. When you need juice for your devices — whether you’re on the road or in the wilderness, or the power in your town or city has been out for a while — every second can count. We’ve seen a variety of emergency situations in recent years, from floods and earthquakes to wild fires, in which power grids were put in danger in the best cases, and utterly destroyed in the worst.
In an emergency situation, you’ll take your power from wherever you can get it, and old-fashioned, gas-powered generators are a reliable option if you happen to have access to gasoline. If you don’t have a store of reliable gas in your garage or camping backpack, and all the local pumps (which are now, quite stupidly, electronically controlled) are empty or out of service, you’ll need another source of power. That’s where a portable AC power supply can be a dream.
Compared to gas generators, which create power from scratch by the combustion of gasoline, portable AC power supplies charge up like giant batteries and provide a ton of power to anything with a traditional plug. Many also provide DC conversion, as well as USB and other common plugs to power a more significant number of devices. They’re smaller, lighter, and more versatile than gas generators, as well.
When To Use Portable AC Power Over A Gas Generator
None of the above is to say that gas generators have no place in your life. Quite the opposite is true. A thorough emergency plan will include both forms of power for a number of reasons. Gas generators can create far more power than most AC power supplies can store, making them the better choice when gas is readily available and you need as much power as possible for an undefined period of time. If you have a better defined energy need that falls within the charge capacity of an AC power supply, however, it is the best possible choice.
For example, many film sets have for years relied on gas powered generators to run lights and other equipment on location. Traditional movie lights draw a ton of power, so this was a good solution, but the noise they created was awful. Most productions found that they had to place their generators far away from the shooting location and isolate them in custom-built enclosures to try to cut down on the sound. Fortunately for today’s independent filmmakers, LED lights can perform as well, if not better in many cases, than traditional film lights, and they require so little energy that they marry perfectly with a portable AC power supply. These units run in complete silence, are incredibly lightweight and easy to set up, pose no fire or explosion risk on set, and can keep a pair of LED lights running for hours on a single charge.
If you do a lot of camping in cabins or tents without power, a portable AC power supply can provide you just the right amount of juice in the wild. Obviously, you head into the wilderness to escape the hum of the grid, but a little power can provide enough light to keep yourself safe, as well as warmth through small electric heaters if the temperature unexpectedly drops. Campers are also among the greenest people around, and they’ll be pleased to learn that many portable AC units can charge via solar panels, operating end-to-end with zero carbon footprint.
Some portable AC power supplies can also combine their peak power output with a pair of jumper cables to provide your car with a much-needed jumpstart if its battery ever fails. Since they don’t store gas or any other volatile chemicals that could leak or burst into flames, these units can safely live in your trunk or back seat.
How To Choose Your Portable AC Power Supply
Given the array of portable AC power supply units on the market, you might need a little assistance figuring out which of the models on our list is right for you. The most important thing you can do to narrow down our list to fit your needs is to assess what you want to plug into your AC unit.
If you merely want a little extra power for your phone and tablet while spending a weekend at the beach or in the woods, then a slightly smaller unit should suffice. If you need to power devices with a more consistent draw, you’ll want a bigger unit.
But what makes a unit large or small? It has less to do with physical dimensions, and more to do with capacity as measured in milliamps per hour, or mAh. Very simply put, the bigger this number, the more a juice a unit can hold.
Another important consideration is the decision whether or not to go solar. If you classify yourself as a prepper, or you know you spend extended periods off the grid, the ability to recharge your supply with nothing more than the power of the sun is exceptional, indeed. Just be aware that solar panels are often sold separately, and unless you’re willing to pay top dollar, AC units that can charge via solar power often store less juice.