If you’ve followed my reviews over the last decade, you know I’m a big fan of portable power stations, which are basically big rechargeable batteries with an inverter to allow the user to power gadgets and appliances that normally plug into an AC outlet.
I think my penchant for preparedness comes from experiencing a hurricane after my parents moved us to Houston in 1980. I vividly remember that storm, which left us without power for almost a week.
Everyone’s situation is different when it comes to being prepared for an emergency, but at the very least, you should think about how you’d deal with the power going out at your house for a day or two or three.
What would you do, and what could you reasonably expect to be able to power during such an outage?
Back in the 1980s in Houston, we didn’t have to worry about cellphones. My mom’s biggest worry back then was not being able to vacuum.
I think everyone should at least have a way to keep their cellphone charged for a week if the power goes out. That’s done easily enough with an external battery that can charge your phone half a dozen times.
What if you rely on a medically necessary devices like CPAP machines? How would you keep that going if the power was out?
You’d want a portable power station like the Goal Zero Yeti 500X ($699.95) that I’ve been testing.
What is it?
The Goal Zero Yeti 500X is a midsized power station that can provide power in almost any form you’d need to keep your devices powered up when the electricity is out or you’re just not close to an outlet, like on a camping trip or spending the day at a soccer tournament.
You might see the term “generator” used for a power station like the 500X, but that’s not correct. The 500X isn’t generating any power. It stores power in its battery and uses an inverter to provide that power to your gadgets.
The 500X is the size of a small cooler and it has a built-in handle for easy carrying. It has a 505-watt-hour Lithium-ion battery and weighs 12.9 pounds. I didn’t have any issues hauling it around.
You need to charge it before you can use it, and obviously you’ll need to be able to recharge it after you’ve used up the battery charge.
One of the best features of a Goal Zero power station is that you can charge it from a variety of sources, like from a USB-C charger, a solar panel (more about this below) or from the included 60-watt wall charger.
If you have access to electricity, keeping the 500X charged is easy.
If the power is out, it gets more challenging. If your neighborhood is hit by a tornado and the power is out, you may be able to take the power station to your office or somewhere out of the area that still has power to charge it. Otherwise you can charge it from solar panels.
The battery should still have 80% of its rated capacity after 500 charge cycles. You can keep it plugged in and charged, but you should use it and charge it every few months to keep the battery healthy.
You can use it to power your stuff while the battery charges.
The 500X has an inverter with two 120v AC plugs with a maximum capacity of 300 watts (with a 1,200-watt surge capacity).
There are two USB-A ports and two USB-C ports to power your gadgets. The USB-A ports can provide up to 2.4A (12 watts).
There is one “regular” USB-C port with up to 18 watts and one USB-C Power Delivery port that provides up to 60 watts. This port is also an input to charge the internal battery.
Finally, there is a 12-volt accessory port like you can find in your car. We older folks still refer to this as the cigarette lighter.
Each type of port has its own on/off button, so after you plug in a USB cable, you have to press the little button to turn on power to those ports.
You can use all the power outputs at the same time.
The 500X has a very nice LED display that clearly shows the amount of power coming in or out and the amount of time before the battery runs out.
How long to charge it?
The 500X has something called an MPPT charge controller, which helps the unit collect the maximum power from its various sources. You can charge the 500X from more than one source at a time. You can plug in the included wall charger (120w) and the USB-C charger (60w) for a maximum input of 180w and charge it completely in three hours.
Using just the wall charger will take 4.5 hours.
Solar charging will take longer, depending on how big the panels are and whether you’re using more than one panel daisy-chained together.
A 100-watt solar panel can charge the 500X in 6 to 12 hours (depending on the amount of direct sun).
Run times for gadgets is where the 500X is impressive, but remember, this is a medium-sized power station, so it isn’t going to run your full-size refrigerator for days.
You can charge your cellphone around 42 times and a tablet 17 times. You can get 10 charges for an average laptop and 28 charges for a typical DSLR camera. You can get 8 hours for that CPAP for a good night’s sleep (I can vouch for this).
It will also power a 42-inch LED TV for five hours, a portable refrigerator for 20 hours and an electric pellet smoker for nine hours.
I also got to check out the Nomad 50 Solar Panel ($249), which folds up to just 11- by-17 inches so you can carry it like a brief case.
You fold out the four solar panels, unzip the pocket on the back and connect the cord to the 8-millimeter input on the 500X. The panels have loops to hang them, but I found placing the 500X behind it as a prop helped me aim the panels at the sun.
You can daisy chain several panels together to increase your charging time. The Nomad 50 also has one USB-A port so you can charge your phone or tablet or any other USB-powered device directly from the sun.
Goal Zero sells a bundle with the 500X and a Nomad 50 for $899.95.
The Goal Zero Yeti 500X is a nice combination of light weight and decent power output. There are larger and heavier power stations that can last longer (and take longer to charge back up). And there are smaller and lighter batteries that don’t last as long.
It’s up to you to figure out the best power station for your needs.
The 500X has a strong battery, but it is light and has a small footprint. If you need a battery with AC outlets and the ability to charge from the sun, the 500X is a good choice.
Pros: Small, light, good-size battery and plenty of outputs.
Bottom line: Good to have before you actually need it.