Low hassle, weekend warrior power solution

What are the pros/cons of going with a laptop power bank like an:
Omni 20+ 20000mah AC/DC/USB-C/Wireless Power Bank over a portable power station like a Jackery 240?

Unless I’m missing something, they can both be charged via AC and DC, and both output 200Ah-hours.

But, I’m very new to all of the electrical terms, so maybe there’s something I’m missing?

Some more back story:

We are about to purchase a older conversion van and begin to slowly convert it into a camper van. Starting out, it’s going to be more of a weekend warrior vehicle, so we’re not looking to do any electrical work and we won’t be off-grid for too long.
What I’m looking for is something we can:

  1. Run the van fan on all night
  2. Charge up to 6 devices (cell phones, work phones, kid’s iPad and the like)
  3. Charge a couple of (older, inefficient) laptops for the day

I was thinking of something we could charge before we left, but then plug into the van’s cigarette lighter while we’re driving so we could do a 4-5 day trip, with some driving in-between locations and not worry about staying at a location where we need an electric hook-up.

Any advice on the above dilemma about those two power source options, or general advice on solutions I may be missing would be useful. Thanks!

Greetings & Welcome!

The problem I’m seeing with this is that you’re confusing watt hours (wh) with amp hours (ah).

Watt hours divided by volts = amp hours. So 200wh/12v=16.66ah. 240wh/12v=20ah.

Next we need to consider that possibly only half of those amp hours are actually usable without damaging the battery, so in the end we’re talking about 8-10 amp hours actual capacity. I don’t think that’s enough for your needs.

I have a 100ah deep cycle battery, which will charge my energy efficient laptop & few minor other things for a week. 100ah = 1200wh. A 1200wh power station looks like it will cost upwards of $500. The good news is that you could build one for much cheaper.

Let’s begin with a simple question, that can make a big difference. Is everything you want to run 12 volt? If it is, everything just got simpler & easier.


"It is always cheaper and easier to conserve power than it is to make it." ~ Road Warrior

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You need to look at your batteries very carefully

If you use lead acid or AGM you only really get half of the stated power IE 100AH, in reality, is only 50AH this is because you can’t run those batteries down past 50% otherwise you risk damaging them.

You could go for 3 x 100 AH batteries that would only give you 150AH but the dreaded weight issues are against you here.

My advice is ultimately you need to use Lithium batteries they can be discharged down to 20% and poss more.
Yep, they are expensive but in the long run it’s the best option.

Here are some I found on eBay https://www.ebay.co.uk/b/Rechargeable-Batteries/48619?Amp%20Hours=100%20Ah&Battery%20Size=12%20V&Chemical%20Composition=Lithium&LH_ItemCondition=1000&rt=nc&LH_PrefLoc=1

Forget about using an inverter full time it’s not very efficient and will cause more problems than it’s worth keep that for essential charging only.

You do need to keep the van 12v look into Renogy solar briefcase solar panels they will keep the battery topped up if there is sunlight.
Buy a cheap generator to run your AC needs, dig a hole line it and cover it with something to deaden the noise, or make a “box” and line it with sound-deadening materials.

Run all the appliances in your van on 12v its the best option.

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For the goal zeros and jackerys, I have seen both used with the same amount of success as a standard setup.

The one thing there is they don’t charge though the cigarette lighter as well as an isolator would work in a normal setup. Basically due to amperage limitations of the cig input itself. An extra one could likely be hooked up though.

Either way we run about the same amount of stuff. Fan all day, fridge, lights, laptops, phones ,iPad.

We have 200ah total capacity (100 useable) and when we didn’t have solar, power was always an issue in the morning. And we always ended up driving somewhere so the van would charge it. Invest in the solar. It’s well worth it. With 3 panels we have plenty of juice and we even upgraded to a larger fridge recently.

We also upgraded our laptops. It’s really nice to just charge them off usb-c. It eliminates the need for an inverter altogether. That is a costly expense though.

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Ah, typo! I meant that they both looked like 20ah.
That Omni 20+ was listed at 20,000mAh (that’s the same as 240 watts on a 12v right?)
I’m not allowed to post with links (first time post), but you can find them both on amazon pretty easily

They are both listed as lithium ion batteries, but after scouring the internet a little more I’m wondering if it’s that they aren’t single batteries, but a few run in parallel and that’s perhaps an issue for getting the full posted power out of it?

I believe everything I want to run is 12V… like I said: fan, cell phones, tablets, laptops, maybe a few LED lights

Thanks Bretly! That’s about what I was thinking… we’re thinking we’ll go solar eventually. I was just looking for something low-cost entry in the meantime (my husband is more nervous about the whole endeavor than I am and I wanted to do a trip or two to show him it’s all worth the investment).

I was looking at the Goal Zeros and Jackerys… there seems to be plenty of posts comparing similar “Portable Power Stations”. But my question was more… why not use a power bank similar to the slim ones that you use to charge your cell phone on the go, but strong enough for your laptop?

The more I look into it, it seems like the power bank solution is faulty because it’s not a single lithium battery like the Jackery-type solution.

I’m also going to look into putting together my own house battery. Everyone seems to think it’s REALLY easy. Any suggestions for a DIY post to follow along at home?
I was concerned with putting together a short-term system with an isolator or whatever if we were going to go solar eventually…

We use an isolator and solar in combination. I have a hookup for shore power if we really need it as well. There is nothing wrong with backups.

12v electrical wiring is about as simple as it gets. I don’t have a tutorial on this, but there are probably a million on YouTube. Think about looking at marine 12v electric as well. A lot of boats are wired the same way as you would wire a van or rv.

I would start by reading through this entire guide.


It’s 3-4 parts and is a great resource.


I used a DIY portable power system for many years, in many different rigs, with total success, that was charged via the dash ciggy lighter port. The only difference between my current system and that system, is that my current system is charged with an isolator instead.

Charging via the ciggy lighter might have taken a little longer, I can’t really say, but it was very dependable and reliable. Just like my current setup, I can go about a week without driving before I’m out of power on my house battery.

I currently have a dual system that gives me about 2 weeks without driving. I replaced my starter battery with a deep cycle battery, 100ah just like my house battery. Both batteries have low voltage cutoffs on them, which still gives me plenty of power to start my rig, but prevents over discharge of the batteries to prolong their life. So I just have a 4 port accessory plug that plugs into my dash ciggy lighter. One of the ports has an adapter in it which converts it to 2 USB ports, just like I have on my house battery.

I feel like a separate house battery is optional for you. The house battery option will cost slightly more, but only slightly. The most expensive parts are the batteries and the low voltage cutoffs. I’m currently using used deep cycle batteries from junkyards for under $20 each, and they last me 5-7 years, and I’ve been very happy with them.

I no longer use solar panels, my $99 no name generator is a far better, far more efficient, and far more reliable choice. Combined with my $29 automatic battery charger, I can charge my batteries day or night, as needed, and have portable shore power too. A good inverter would have cost me more than this generator… This generator was right there in front of me, on sale, and I would have had to gone hunting for an inverter. I’m extremely happy with my choice, and the generator gives me many more choices than just an inverter would. I learned the convenience, versatility, and advantages of generators from the motorhomes I’ve owned. Beats solar hands down, and I can park in the shade during the summer.


"It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice." ~ Nature Lover

@Van_Dweller - I do not agree with the statement that a generator is more reliable and efficient than solar panels. For one it requires refueling, two has to covert power twice when coupled with a battery charger, three is likely considerably more obnoxious and noxious as any generator you pay $99 for is going to be louder than sin. Even our $700 Yamaha efi2000 is louder than I want it to be for any neighbors. Even when we have it on eco mode. It’s just inconsiderate if I’m being honest to run anything that loud near people.

We also have no problem parking in the shade and charging. We don’t have a problem on a rainy day either. You are still making power. We also aren’t trying to make 20 amps consistently. As far as a $29 battery charger goes, where does one even find something like that, that is efficient and charges the battery properly in stages? How about battery type selection? Even a cheap battery tender from Walmart costs more than $29 and at that cost they might provide ~0.5 amps and hour?

You have to remember that you have a very minimalistic setup. Most of us want to run a fridge and more than that. And no one wants to start their generator just to plug in their 120v items. This is why an inverter is a necessity for some people.


@ Bretly - I respect your opinion, but let’s take a closer look at this…

I do not agree with the statement that a generator is more reliable and efficient than solar panels.

Are you suggesting that something that only works x hours per day at it’s best, is somehow more efficient or reliable than something that is

capable of working 24/7, 365 days a year?

We also have no problem parking in the shade and charging. We don’t have a problem on a rainy day either. You are still making power.

We also aren’t trying to make 20 amps consistently.

I have read this from others, but you’re the first person I can actually have a dialog with about this. I would love to see a thread about

this because I’m sure there are thousands of people who would appreciate details about this. Shade, clouds, rain, snow, ice, leaves,

dirt, etc. seem to all have a very negative effect on most people’s solar panels.

Price does not define quality or suitability for your needs. With research you can find high quality items at bargain basement prices.

Generators don’t have to be noisy, and everybody has the ability to be a good neighbor. Solar panels do not define a good neighbor, it is

much more complicated than that. Respecting others, and leaving no trace, is a better description. We are mobile, and can run our generators in places where they won’t bother anybody.


"It is always cheaper and easier to conserve power than it is to make it." ~ Road Warrior

@Van_Dweller - Yes I am saying that solar is more reliable and affordable than a generator. I would say that for anything that doesn’t have moving parts. Running one 365x24/7 would bankrupt anyone. Our generator being one of the most efficient on the market still hogs down a gallon of gas (at whatever it’s rated for - 25% - 50% load) every 12 hours. $99 plus a possible $3.50 per gallon would pay for your solar in less than half a year if you ran it that much. That’s with an ultra efficient generator that can’t run an AC unit and is only working at 50%.

The solar doesn’t need to work 24/7. You just need ample storage just as you do with a generator.

You also do state often that your are a city dweller. Do you really run your generator in the middle of a city or town and not offend the people living there? Forgive me but I do not see how that is possible.

As far as the solar on a rainy or cloudy day is also dependent on the number of panels you have. We have 3 panels that produce about 60v and an amp or two in full sun. When that is paired down to 12v it significantly increases the amps (insert math here). It’s the same in clouds and rain. The more panels the more sensitive and capable on overcast days is the way that I understand it as you are increasing the voltage with every panel you add.

The fact is every corner we’ve cut by buying cheaper non promoted items has eventually cost us money in the long run.

Our fridge - bought a cheap one off Amazon. 1/3 of the price, a third of the quality. We have a dometic now. Should have just bought it in the first place.

Our power - while we do have all three, generator, solar and an isolator, in hind sight we should have done solar first as we’ve come to realize we basically don’t need the other options. We’ve contemplated putting our generator into storage though that’s a death sentence for it. Not to mention most of the other van dwelling, plant based hippies we’ve met in our travels so far always appeared so offended and confounded when we fired it up.

Our throne - buckets, dog bags, kitty litter, shovels, DIY composting toilets. None of these are solid options. Sure they work (not the DIY toilet, don’t try that at home), but spending the money on a nature’s head is 100% worth it. You’ll never meet that quality or satisfaction that it is made with and brings to the table. Not to mention spending money on all the others was a complete waste. Literally and figuratively.

Our van - 84 tin top, then an 83 xplorer, now a 19 promaster. We should have just spent the money and got something practical and not something cool or hip that just consistently needed repairs. Waking up every day wondering if your house will start or not is stressful to say the least. Especially if you really want to log miles and capture views and experiences. Sure it’s fine to buy an old clunker if you don’t ever plan on going anywhere. Most of those unfortunately are not going to be able to pull 40k miles a year for very long.

Point is if you buy cheap things, you get cheap things. On a budget or not that is simply the way it is. Sorry to say, but I think anyone hoping to get into “vanlife” for under 10k is in for a rude awakening and not going to have the glorious adventure they think they will. I’m not a promoter, I do not or will not ever start a blog or what ever it is in an attempt to monetize my life style. These were my errors and maybe I’m wrong, but telling someone to buy a cheap $99 generator and a cheap $29 battery charger is poor advice.