February 2020

Product Review

Jackery Explorer 160

by Christopher Cunningham

The left side of the Explorer 160 has a 12-volt outlet used with the included adapter and socket. I bought a 12-volt-to-USB plug, which is shown here charging a headlamp and a flashlight. The right side has three USB outlets. The two USB-A ports are in use here charging camera batteries; the USB-C port is idle. As the unit charges these lights and batteries, the LCD screen is showing an output of 7 watts.

It has been a while since I could venture into the wilderness with all the electricity I needed supplied by a single battery for my headlamp. Now on my overnight boating trips I need to power cameras, a cell phone, a GPS, a VHF, running lights, weather radio, and often a small laptop. Some devices, such as my handheld depthsounder, get by with a single battery for the duration of a cruise, but devices used more frequently—running lights, smart phone, or cameras—require either backup batteries or recharging.

The right side has a 110-volt AC outlet, used here to charge a VHF radio. The onboard inverter, its cooling fan, and the transformer for the radio all consume a a lot of of electricity. I plan to find a plug and cord to connect the radio’s charging base to the 12-volt outlet on the front of the unit, thus bypassing the electrically demanding inverter.

In recent years I’ve carried a 12-volt deep-cycle battery wired to a cigarette-lighter socket. It worked well for recharging devices that had car chargers, but it weighed a cumbersome 50 lbs and was so often in the way that I made a foam-and-canvas cover for it to blunt the impact of my toes. When I stumbled across Jackery’s portable power stations, I quickly turned my back on my deep-cycle and bought the Jackery Explorer 160, the company’s smallest unit. Its bank of lithium-ion cells is rated to supply 167 watt hours, which is, if my calculations are correct, a 30 percent improvement over my deep-cycle battery. The Explorer 160 delivers that capacity in a 7.5″ x 4.75″ x 6.9″ package that weighs just under 4 lbs. The face of the unit has two ports for 12-volt power, one for charging the Explorer 160 with the included AC adapter or an optional solar panel, the other to supply power to electronic devices using the included cigarette-lighter socket and cord.

The built-in flashlight is useful on a boat or around camp. It can flash a programmed-in SOS signal in an emergency.

There are three USB ports, one USB-C and two USB-A. A backlit LCD screen in the middle shows input and output in watts, a graphic of a battery showing the level of charge, and the percent charge remaining. With each device being charged, the display screen shows how many watts are being drawn. When multiple devices are being charged, the display shows the total output. There’s an AC outlet at one end of the Explorer 160 and a built-in flashlight at the other. The outlets, display screen, and flashlight all have switches. The flashlight’s switch, if pressed and held, will make the light a flashing Morse SOS signal.

The Jackery power station isn’t waterproof, so it would need to be protected by a dry bag if carried in an open boat. It’s not meant to survive being dropped, so treat it as you would the electronics you charge with it.

Jackery includes a 12-volt socket for the charging of devices (top), a 12-volt plug for charging the Explorer 160 in a vehicle, and a transformer for charging the unit at home. The included pouch provides a place to store all the cables and adapters.

For my first trial with the Explorer 160 I charged my electronics for a weekend outing. Starting with 100 percent capacity, it charged a fully dead laptop battery, a dead VHF radio, four GoPro batteries (three 1,050 mAh, one 3,400 mAh), two DSLR batteries, a Bluetooth keyboard, a flashlight/power bank, a trailer back-up camera, and my phone, and still had 22 percent of its capacity remaining. The instructions advise recharging the Explorer 160 when it reaches 20 percent. If I head out with everything topped off, the Explorer 160 can keep me going for a three-day cruise, taking a lot of photos and video and spending evenings writing on the laptop.

Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.

The Explorer 160 is available from Jackery for $159.99. I bought mine on Amazon using a $40-off coupon that appeared on the listing there. Jackery offers two larger power stations, Explorers 240 and 500, as well as two sizes of solar panels for recharging.

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  • David Dawson says:

    I’m using a similar unit, the Rockpals 300w Portable Power Station in my CLC Autumn Leaves, reviewed in the December issue. I found that it was all I needed for four days on board, running cabin lights and recharging phone, tablet and hearing aids. Next step is to install a 20W solar panel, which this unit is already set up to take a charge from.
    Yes, this approach is far simpler, smaller and lighter than the electric setups I’ve had in the past, which have involved heavy AGM batteries, solar panel controllers, and a lot more wiring to link the battery to the necessary power points. The only negative I’ve found is that if the unit sits turned off for a couple of months, it loses its charge. This will not be a problem once it’s linked to the solar panel, but I did think that these types of batteries held a charge better.

  • Bob Harrison says:

    I have a 27′ simple sailboat with a 12-volt system that runs running lights and two LED cabin lights. It has a switch panel connected to a small golf-cart type battery by wire leads. How would I connect it to one of these power sources. They look great.

    • Christopher Cunningham says:

      The Jackery comes with a 12-v socket, automotive cigarette style. In the first photo above it is being used with the white USB adapter. Buy a plug to fit the socket (auto parts or electronics stores) and connect its wires to your existing wire leads. To be on the safe side, I’d make it an either/or system with switches or the wiring that allows only one power source at a time. I don’t know what would happen to the Jackery if its 12-v out plug were subject to current from your existing system.

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