The best solar generators to keep the lights on in these dark times

In the digital age, reliable power has never been more important.

In yesterday’s guide we told you about the best electric bikes to escape the city, you know, in case of disaster. But the Input team wasn’t satisfied; they wanted to know what happens after you run out of juice. When the lights go out because of a decades long pattern of non-investment in safe power infrastructure (looking at you, PG&E,) or when you hit the road, what you’re looking for is the best solar generator, and we’re here to walk you through the options.

A solar generator isn’t actually a generator at all, it’s a gigantic battery. They’re called generators because they serve roughly the same purpose as gas generators: they power your stuff when the electricity goes out, or when you’re away from an outlet. The solar designation is there because most of them have built in circuitry to receive solar power and store it away, but you can also charge them with a normal wall plug.

See those solar panels? They charged my Goal Zero 1,000.

That’s actually what I do. After I finished my summer-long car camping trip last year, I decided not to sell my Goal Zero 1,000. Instead I have it plugged into the wall, and if the power goes down here in Brooklyn, New York, I’ll be able to charge my phone, laptop, and even heat up water in an electric kettle for coffee.

There are a few things to consider when buying a solar generator. The first and most obvious is the capacity. Most of the generators on the market advertise their capacity in “watt hours,” which is a measurement of power usage over time. My Goal Zero claims to have 1,000 watt hours, which means that it can power a 1,000 watt appliance for one hour, or a one watt gadget for 1,000 hours.

The next thing to consider is important but often overlooked: the maximum wattage of the inverter in your solar generator. Batteries store DC power, but most of our appliances use AC power, hence the need for an inverter. The problem is, cheaper generators come with rather anemic inverters. For example: my Goal Zero 1,000 can put out a sustained 1,500 watts of power, but its little brother, the Goal Zero 400, can only put out 300 watts.

So without further ado, here are the best solar generators for the coming apocalypse:

Big, but portable

Goal Zero Yeti 1,400

  • Price: $1,899.95
  • Capacity: 1,400 Wh
  • Inverter: 1,500 watts continuous
  • Weight: 43.7 lbs

Goal Zero is like Apple; its products are (for the most part) rock solid and its customer support is stellar, but you're going to pay a premium. The Yeti 1,400 model is just the right size: enough for a few laptop charges, many phone charges, and some power left over just in case. The nice thing about Goal Zero Yetis is the port selection. There are multiple inputs (which is great if you have solar and grid power), plus a slew of outputs like AC, USB, and a 12 volt cigarette port.

SUAOKI 1,183 Wh Power Station

  • Price: $1,299.99
  • Capacity: 1,183 Wh
  • Inverter: 1,000 watts continuous
  • Weight: 48.5 lbs

Suaoki is a relative newcomer in the lithium battery business, and it's clearly competing with Goal Zero with this new model. It does have a lower capacity and a lower max inverter wattage than the Yeti 1,400, but it costs way less and has more ports. One of those, the 60 watt USB-C port, is critical because if your laptop's regular wall adapter is in one of the AC ports, you'll be going from DC to AC and back to DC, which isn't very efficient.

Interestingly, Suaoki decided to go with a different chemistry than you'd usually find in these solar generators. This one uses LiFePO4, which doesn't hold as much power as lithium-ion, but has a longer lifespan. Something to consider if you're thinking of investing.

Inergy Apex

  • Price: $1,250
  • Capacity: 1,100 Wh
  • Inverter: 1,500 watts continuous
  • Weight: 25 lbs

Inergy's last power station, the Kodiak, was a battery that came up repeatedly in my research for car camping and vanlife, and now the company has a follow-up model called the Apex. Not only is it cheaper than the Goal Zero Yeti series, it's also expandable right out of the box. You can attach 12 volt AGM car batteries to it to expand your battery bank, something that requires a $399 adapter to do with Goal Zero generators.

Goal Zero, you should be ashamed.

Maximum portability

Goal Zero Yeti 400

  • Price: 599.95
  • Capacity: 400 Wh
  • Inverter: 300 watts continuous
  • Weight: 16 lbs

The Yeti 400 Lithium looks like the Yeti 1,400 had a small child. It retains much of the functionality of the bigger models, but 400 watt hours isn't that much. It's great for charging smartphones and powering lights in an emergency, but you won't get very many laptop charges out of the Yeti 400.

One important thing to consider, as mentioned above, is that the inverter can only provide 300 watts of continuous power. Also, the Yeti 400 doesn't have an expansion slot, so you can't add any functionality after the fact.

Suaoki G500

  • Price: $489
  • Capacity: 500 Wh
  • Inverter: 300 watts continuous
  • Weight: 15 lbs

Suaoki also has a new model in the 500 watt range, the G500, and it looks like a solid improvement over the old model. It's more than $100 cheaper than the Yeti 400, has 100 additional watt hours of capacity, and includes an Anderson connector for charging that the Yeti 400 lacks. Definitely a better bang for your buck than the Goal Zero, but I can't speak to Suaoki's customer service experience.

Jackery Explorer 500

  • Price: $499
  • Capacity: 518 Wh
  • Inverter: 500 watts continuous
  • Weight: 13.3 lbs

A couple years ago these Jackery power banks were everywhere. I have no idea why. Regardless, the Jackery is mostly the same as the other 500-ish watt generators on this list, but there are a couple of things to look out for. First, it only has one input, and it's an 8mm barrel connector that's kind of hard to find. To its credit, though, its internal inverter can provide up to 500 watts of AC power, which could be important depending on what you're doing.

These solar generators may be expensive, but they're legitimately good to have in case of emergency. The big ones can keep you going for multiple days if you keep the usage light, and the small ones can be tossed in the trunk. Plus, you can use these generators inside without worrying about gas fumes.

Can they top up your cyber bike as you escape the city? Probably, but are you really going to schlep a 40 lb box with you?