Tried to ruin a camping trip with 130 pounds of batteries

You’re probably familiar with portable power stations that you can take camping to charge your phone and power string lights. You’re probably also familiar with home backup systems like the Tesla PowerWall that can keep your entire home running when the electricity runs out. But you are probably not familiar with the Bluetti AC500, which combines the power of the second with the portability of the first. And it’s crazy.

The size of a cooler and just as heavy, the AC500 can produce a peak of 5,000 watts, more than double what your typical outlet in your home can supply without tripping a circuit breaker. If that sounds like way, way more juice than you would ever need in the woods, it is. That’s why I had to invent an absolutely absurd scenario to test it.

Sure, it could power lights, speaker, laptop. But can it power a refrigerator? A microwave ? Motor boat ? I had to know. With a group camping trip on the horizon, I decided to use the AC500 to power only silly indulgences that would annoy and confuse my friends. Could the AC500 handle them? Could my camp mates?

I filled my van with an obnoxious menagerie of gadgets and drove to eastern Oregon to test the capacity of modern battery chemistry and the bonds of my friendships.

Stupid thing to power: refrigerator

Power consumption: 88 watts

Group reaction: blind acceptance

My first choice of appliance was also my most pragmatic: a mini-fridge. While companies like Dometic sell compact and efficient 12 volt fridges for overlanding, the prodigious 120v output of the AC500 allowed me to pull the mini fridge from my back patio and drop it into my van. without even removing the beer. It was almost convenient enough to justify the damage it may have done to my back.

That was where the convenience really ended, as the fridge in question was way too small for the food, the door was dragging on the sandy floor, and everyone seemed to prefer beer picked from the icy bottom of a cooler. Or maybe they just hated the cheap beer I filled the fridge with. Regardless, it still seemed like an eminently reasonable thing to bring in 97 degree temperatures. Alas, the continual need for power from the refrigerator, combined with the idling power consumption of the Bluetti’s AC circuitry, made it my most thirsty electrical indulgence.

Stupid thing to power: Blender

Power consumption: 1501 watts

Group reaction: real enthusiasm

With the scorching weather of our campsite feet in the water, making mixed cocktails seemed downright obligatory. Yes, you can buy “cordless blenders” on Amazon, but with only 300 watts on tap, these glorified soup stirrers would be lucky enough to lacerate a stalk of celery. The excess juice from the AC500 allowed me to pack a 1,200-watt NutriBullet that was sure to make short work of the ice cream and frozen pineapple I needed for piña coladas.

The author uses a mixer to prepare cocktails at a campsite.

While my friends greeted the blender with frowns, their skepticism melted away with this beast’s first batch of piña coladas. Mugs, I concede, would have been a smarter accompaniment than the cocktail umbrellas I ordered last minute from Amazon, which looked less festive nestled in crispy coffee mugs. The real feat of the blender, however, was turning 20 pounds of fresh watermelon into pitcher after pitcher of watermelon juice, which went down like, well, water.

Stupid Thing to Power: Boat Engine

Power consumption: 120 watts and more

Group Reaction: Unrestrained Mockery

My sister-in-law once called my inflatable SeaHawk II a “boat made of air”, but I prefer to think of it as a minimalist yacht. Whatever you call it, mine has an electric trolling motor that I’m used to spending an entire day on the water. Not so with the AC500, which literally has eight times the capacity of the batteries I normally use. Full speed!

An electric trolling motor mounted on an inflatable boat.

Or so I imagined. After talking about the big B300S battery and hauling the 80 pounds of it to the boat, I confidently pulled away from the beach, only to rush in horror when the engine died five seconds later. Withstanding a barrage of heckling from shore, I realized the motor’s peak draw exceeded the 10-amp limit of the Bluetti’s DC output. There was nothing to do but row ashore in shame and nurse my wounded ego to the cheap beer no one else wanted.

Stupid thing to power: microwave

Power consumption: 1,849 watts

Group reaction: disdain, redemption

Camping brings back fond memories of soup simmered over the blue flame of a Coleman stove and hot dogs lovingly roasted over an open fire, which has made microwave by far one of my picks for most heinous campsite. “A microwave ?” my friends cracked up. I had simply gone too far. For 24 hours, the unwelcome box perched atop the fridge, neglected.

Until dinner on the second day. Like the Rudolph of camping appliances, it was simply biding its time to shine. The humble Panasonic seized the opportunity to quickly heat up two huge bowls of beans during the dinner crunch when stovetop space was at a premium. More importantly, in an environment where every crispy dish must be Brilloed by hand, it has achieved this feat without messing up extra pots or pans. The cooks rejoiced.

Stupid thing to power: Coffee maker

Power consumption: 961 watts

Group reaction: given props

Everyone loves a hot cup of coffee in the morning, but providing coffee for 12 people with a French press is like digging a post hole with a tablespoon. Step into my home coffee maker, which would brew 12 cups at the push of a button. But would anyone appreciate the humble machine?

Um yes. On-demand coffee for bleary-eyed campers is manna from heaven, and this machine pumped out carafe after carafe. My only regret was running out of coffee the second day as I didn’t plan on using that much. The warming feature also eroded my battery life quite aggressively, if I didn’t remember to kill it when the jar was empty.

Stupid thing to power: Kettle

Power consumption 1,501 watts

Group Reaction: Relief

Enamored as I am with the turbo boiling power of the isobutane Jetboil, electric kettles are even faster. And I had room for one, so why not? I packed it in the microwave to avoid breaking the delicate glass.

This proved to be a lifesaver when my ground coffee ran out as someone more farsighted had brought a large supply of instant coffee. Like the microwave, it was downright impressive to see the kettle’s high draw and relatively long runtime slaughter my battery, and it was this very device that caused my battery life to drop to 0% the third day.

Can we have too much power?

Look, maybe there’s a reason most powerhouses this size aren’t portable. Besides the weight and expense of hauling so much lithium through the woods, the herd of gadgets I dragged around took their toll. They gobbled up space in my van, made the campground look like a QVC set, and demanded constant babysitting for battery life.

Appliances and a Bluetti AC500 power station stacked on a beach.

But you have to hand it to Bluetti: this thing does what nothing else will. Other than the boat motor, which exceeded the limit of DC output on the battery alone (it goes up to 30A when paired with the inverter), nothing was even able to use the 5000 watts that AC outlets can supply. I mean, there’s an outlet on this thing that can power a clothes dryer.

If I have one key complaint, it’s the idle draw of the AC inverter, which eats away about 1% of battery life every hour or so, even without any power. That’s a lot of power for nothing, and with all the brains in this thing, it really should have an option to automatically turn that circuit off after enough idleness. The screen, barely readable in sunlight, is another knock, but the sleek mobile app is an easy fix for that.

Did this ruin my camping trip? No, and I think my friends would agree – if you caught them with a piña colada in your hand. The 5,000 watt novelty actually added a fun touch to camping, although I always find sand in my microwave.

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