The last thing you want to do after a long night of camping is wake up with a dead battery. Technology has come a long way in recent years, and now you have options beyond finding another vehicle to help jump start your car or boat.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the best portable jump starters. We’ll explain how they work, what to look for in a jump starter, and how to find the best one for your camping trip.
What Is A Portable Car Jump Starter?
A Portable Car Jump Starter is a battery pack that can quickly discharge enough power to turn your engine over. These are relatively recent devices to the market because they rely on newer lithium technology to work.
Portable jump starters are small enough to store under your seat or tucked into a corner of your vehicle. They sit charged and ready to be used in emergency situations.
In the not so distant past, campers would have to use a trickle charger to revive a dead battery enough to start their car. This would either need to be plugged into a wall socket, which are surprisingly difficult to find in the wilderness or connected to a solar panel; which used to be quite expensive and slow to charge. Otherwise, you would have to find another vehicle and use jumper cables to get the engine going.
Why Do You Need One?
Portable Car Jump Starters are a useful tool for those who are traveling to remote locations or doing unconventional things with their vehicle.
They are cheap insurance against accidentally draining your battery. And can double as a backup charger in case you need emergency power for your phone.
While most people in the city can get by just fine with AAA or a friend with jumper cables in a parking lot, adventurers need to be prepared for extreme situations.
- Van life
- RV travel
- Off-grid camping trips
How Does A Portable Jump Starter Work?
Your vehicle uses a lot of instantaneous power to start the motor, especially when it’s cold. This goes double for larger vehicles and RV motors, and even more for diesel motors which have high compression. Those could easily reach a 1000 Amp draw! For reference, your cell phone charges at less than 1 Amp.
Portable Jump Starters are medium-sized lithium batteries that you connect to your vehicle battery when it can’t turn over the motor. They can discharge quickly enough to start your vehicle. Then, once the vehicle is running, the motor will be able to take over and continue powering the electric system (assuming everything else is running well).
Lithium batteries also store well, so you can leave them in your vehicle for several months without needing to top them off.
Most jump starters come with a plethora of accessory features. They can have USB chargers, flashlights, or air compressors. Some even have 110V inverters!
While these features can be useful in a pinch, keep in mind that the more you drain these jumper packs, the less starting power you have available in an emergency situation.
That said, portable jump starters do work great as auxiliary battery packs. You can use them to charge your phone for a few days while boondocking. Of course in this case, we would recommend buying two; one for emergencies and one for regular use.
Because portable jump starters are so small, they are ideal for car camping or people with a limited space who don’t need a full solar-powered generator.
Before You Purchase
It’s important to know that portable jumper batteries will get a car started with a mostly dead battery, but cannot revive a battery that is completely dead. For example, one that has been sitting for years.
They also won’t work if your electric system is otherwise not functioning properly. If you have a broken alternator, jumping your car will not get you back on the road.
The best way to avoid getting stranded is to stay on top of your preventative vehicle maintenance.
How Do You Use A Portable Jump Starter?
Portable jump starters come attached to a pair of jumper cables. Using them is relatively straight forward:
- Connect the red clamp to the red (positive) terminals of your vehicle battery.
- Connect the black to the black (negative) battery terminal.
- Turn the jump starter on.
- Turn the ignition switch, and start your car.
Most vehicles will start on the first or second try if the problem is simply a dead battery. Once the car is running, disconnect the cables in reverse order.
These starters can be re-charged in multiple ways; either with your cigarette socket (12V) or USB or wall socket.
Jump starters all vary a bit in the exact steps of the process. There will also be a variance in the number of times you can try to start your car before needing to let the battery cool off.
What Size Jumper To Get
Your main goal is to get the vehicle started. So you want a jumper that is compatible with the engine size.
Charges are rated in instantaneous Amps. Products with more amps are able to start a larger vehicle. Below is a chart for the minimum battery amperage to buy for your car:
|Motor Size||Min. Jumper Size|
|6L Gas / 3L Diesel||1000A|
|7L Gas / 4.5L Diesel||1500A|
|8L Gas / 6L Diesel||2000A|
|10L Gas and Diesel||4000A|
Features To Look For In A Portable Car Jump Starter
Portable jump starters all boast about the cool features that they offer, but the ones that you need to pay most attention to are peak amps and battery size.
This is the number of amps that the battery can output for short periods of time. It is the number that determines how much juice it can provide to a starter motor. More Amps means more power!
Battery size (Ah or mAh)
Because these jumpers all use lithium batteries, their sizes will be roughly comparable to their output amps. A battery with more mAh will have more available power to give to larger vehicles.
More mAh available also means more power for charging phones or accessories, which is why you often see larger units with things like air compressors or radios. The bigger your battery, the more space it will take up and the more it will cost.
Cables are all pretty comparable across the various units. A few devices have detachable cables with reverse polarity built into the connector rather than the charger. There doesn’t seem to be any real benefit to this and it’s just another connector that can break.
Most of these units can be charged through a wall plug or USB, and some can be charged with a dedicated 12V cigarette outlet. They also offer USB ports for charging your phones or accessories, and some have DC chargers for laptops.
Like we’ve mentioned earlier, simpler is often better with these things as there are fewer parts to break.
Most of these units come with an LED, most likely because they’re inexpensive to add and boost the “cool” marketing factor. The LED’s do function in a pinch and are good for working in the engine compartment or around camp as they offer more light than a cell phone.
Again, if you use the light too much at night, you may find that you have a bad vehicle battery and bad jump starter, which defeats the purpose of emergency equipment!
Most other accessories on these units are mediocre at best and don’t offer as much convenience over getting a dedicated unit.
For instance, you will have more flexibility in your trip if you buy a separate 12V tire inflation and jump starter than a combination of the two. LCD displays and analog compasses built into the units are really just fluff trying to make a simple battery more interesting.
The Best Portable Jump Starter For Camping or Boating
You’ll find that we are recommending a lot of NOCO products. We like these because they have the fewest gimmicks, and are a dedicated USA brand that doesn’t cut corners. (This article is not sponsored!)
In your search for a portable jump starter, you will find many knock-offs and re-packaged box brands. That’s because this is a simple product, and easy to replicate. Cheaper brands will often perform just fine, but you never know when something like an internal wire is undersized to cut costs.
At the end of the day, purchasing from a reputable company is only a few dollars more, but the product will be much more reliable.
Best For Cars: NOCO Boost Sport GB20
- 400-amp portable lithium car battery jump starter
- Up to 20 jump starts on a single charge
- Rated for gasoline engines up to 4 liters
Best For Full-sized Vans And Trucks: NOCO Boost HD GB70
- 2000-amp portable lithium car battery jump starter
- Up to 40 jump starts on a single charge
- Rated for gasoline engines up to 8 liters and diesel engines up to 6 liters
Best for RV: NOCO Boost HD GB150
- 4000-amp portable lithium car battery jump starter
- Up to 40 jump starts on a single charge
- Rated for gasoline and diesel engines up to 10 liters
Best Camping All-In-One: DEWALT DXAEPS2
- 2800-amp portable lithium car battery jump starter
- Lightweight air compressor to inflate tires
- 1000 watt power inverter
That’s A Wrap!
If camping or traveling off-grid is something you do on a frequent basis, it makes sense to invest in a portable jump starter. These devices are compact and will save you the hassle of finding a neighbor after you accidentally drain the battery.