Lion Energy Safari LT Solar Generator – Off-Road/Overland Fridge Test With AC & DC Power
We all demand power, and some more than others. When it comes to traveling, off-roading, and overlanding, power is among one of the most important essentials next to food, water, and shelter.
We need power for a wide variety of reasons when away from home. From charging your cell phone to your laptop and even powering a refrigerator, power is an essential off-grid and Overland necessity.
Without power, we lack the things we all like to do best when outside; photography, listening to music, cooking, editing some photos on the laptop, and even powering life-saving devices such as oxygen pumps or CPAP machines.
There are a wide variety of power stations and power banks available for the general outdoor enthusiast. From small pocket size power banks to larger more feature-driven power stations and power generators, the options are virtually endless.
Power Banks are typically referred to as smaller units that are designed to charge your phone.
Power stations and solar generators on the other hand are designed to power much larger items such as laptops, refrigerators, and those commonly used medical devices. Your travel style will determine which unit is better for you.
Today we’re looking at the Lion Energy Safari LT Portable Solar-Powered Generator. The Lion Safari LT is going heads up against some of the biggest power stations provided on the market today; Dometic PLB40, Goal Zero Yeti 400, Jackery 500, etc.
Portable Power Stations & Solar Generators
Before we jump in, let’s back up.
What is a portable power station?
They feature lithium-ion batteries packed into well-designed user-friendly housing that offers multiple inputs and output ports. Most of the units are Lithium-ion batteries as opposed to lead-acid batteries for weight-saving characteristics and dependability. Lithium-ion is much lighter and can store energy for much longer. You can charge these batteries from standard wall outlets, from your car’s cigarette lighter, or from portable solar panels.
Most portable power stations and solar generators will offer at least one AC (Alternating Current) 110V outlet, a DC (Direct Current) cigarette lighter port, along with multiple USB ports. These units can typically be charged from an AC 110V input, a 12V DC input and some offer solar charging capabilities such as this Lion Energy Safari LT.
What is a solar power generator?
Solar generators are power stations that can be charged using a solar panel. The input voltage and overall wattage will range with different models but some are higher than others which is a plus.
Portable power stations have advanced quite a bit over the years with more and more features being added as the years go on. The main differences that separate them are usually input and output ports along with design and most importantly; charge rate.
Introducing the Lion Energy Safari LT
The Safari LT features some pretty impressive specs. To start, the unit is built to be fast, compact, and light. With a 140W MPPT (maximum power point tracker) charge controller built-in, that makes it one of the fastest solar charging power stations on the market. Compare that to the Goal Zero Yeti at 120W.
The unit weighs in at only 11lbs and is compact enough to fit on the side of the cargo area just next to our AC/DC ports, a perfect spot for an additional power station in the 5th Gen 4Runner.
Find it online:
- Amazon.com: Check Price
- LionEnergy.com Safari LT (15% OFF): Check Price
- LionEnergy.com Solar Panels (15%OFF): Check Price
- LionEnergy.com Off-grid Camping Kit (15%OFF): Check Price
- Battery Capacity – 450Wh (Watt-hours – how much energy it can store)
- Battery Output (500w pure sine wave inverter) – 500W (Watts – how much power it can output at a time)
- Weight: 11lbs
- Dimensions: 11.8 x 6.5 X 7.3 Inches
- Lifecycles – 1000+ (how many charges it can take)
- Charge Retention: 1+ Year (battery can hold a charge for 1+ years)
- Warranty: 1 Year
- Battery Type – Lithium-ion
- Charge from a solar panel (100W)
- Charge from the wall outlet (110V)
- Charge from a car cigarette lighter (12V)
Charge this unit at home, on the go, or 100% off-grid with their direct plug-in 100W briefcase-style monocrystalline solar panels.
Lion Energy provides two wall chargers. One is a fast charger that can charge the unit in under 3 hours and one is a slow charger that will take around 9 hours.
Using their fold-up solar panels, you can connect them in parallel with their Anderson power pole connectors. Each solar panel has a long cable and then a short cable that connects to the panel next to it. The Lion 100W Solar Panel can charge the power station in 5 to 7 hours with one panel or about 3.5 hours using two panels depending on direct sunlight.
Boasting two AC 110V Outlets, one DC 12 volt port, three USB ports, and one USB-C port, the Safari LT features more than enough charging outputs for most users.
Size, Weight, and Intended Use
The unit fits perfectly next to the inverter in the rear cargo area. This is one of the features I like most about this unit specifically for the 5th gen 4Runner.
You can fill your entire cargo area from edge to edge and run this power station off to the side with more than enough room and clearance for cables, chargers, and any lines you’re running to charge accessories. The dimensions (11.8″ x 6.5″ X 7.3″) complement the back of the 4Runner quite well and to top it off the unit is incredibly light-weight (11 pounds). I’m comparing that to the other power station that we’ve been running, the Michelin XR1 weighing in at over 18 pounds. For more reference, compare this to the Dometic PLB40 at 16lbs and then the Goal Zero Yeti 400 at a whopping 29lbs!
If a light-weight station is what you are looking for, consider the Safari LT.
We plan on running a fridge and to charge other accessories like our laptops, cell phones, off-road communication radios, and much more.
This thing is a beast charging from the wall. You have two different charging options directly from the wall, and this is one area where the Safari LT really shines.
For its battery size, this station has one of the fastest charge rates on the market. It can charge at an impressive 140 Watts! We tested the unit charging from the wall on the fast charger and it was consistent at around 138 to 140 Watts.
The unit was fully charged in around three hours. Optionally, you can charge the power station with a slower wall charger that pulls around 50 Watts and takes 3X as long. The faster charger is included in orders placed directly on Lion Energy’s website. No guarantee with 3rd-party sellers on Amazon or from other distributors.
Solar Power Charging
We connected both solar panels (pictured with only one above) to charge the Safari LT and we were able to pull 139-140 consistent watts in order to power the unit. Given you have direct sunlight, this will give you the ability to fully charge your power station from 0 to 100% in around three and a half hours. Again, this is one of the areas that the Safari LT really stands out from the competition. This is great if you are out exploring the backcountry for more than a few days and really need to depend on the sun to power your setup.
Eventually, we plan on mounting these solar panels to the top of our rooftop tent but for now, we have been carrying them with us in the back of the 4Runner. One thing that would make transporting the solar panels more convenient would be carrying cases. If you plan on running these solar panels on top of your roof rack or rooftop tent, you should be fine. However, if you plan on packing these for each trip, then consider casing them to prevent damage.
- AC (110V Outlets) X 2: You have two 110V outlets on the side of the unit. These have been nice for charging our phones, laptops, HAM radios, and other accessories. We actually have been using the AC ports to run the fridge over the DC (more on that later).
- DC Cigarette lighter adapter (single outlet – 12V 10Amp) X 1: One unregulated 12 volt DC port (not recommended for a running fridge but it does work).
- USB (5v 2.4amp) X 3: These have worked as expected for direct phone charges, LED lights and smaller GPS accessories.
- USB-C QC3 (quick charge) X1: Have not tested this port yet but it’s great to have a USB-C when we need it.
- 12 Volt 5Amp: Have not tested this port yet.
- Mini Fridge – 55w: 6.5 Hours
- iPhone – 5w: 72 Hours
- Laptop – 45w: 8 Hours
- 55″ LED T.V. – 75w: 4.8 Hours
- LED Reading Lamp – 4w: 90 Hours
- Drone – 40w: 9 Hours
The Fridge Test
We tested the fridge on both the AC and DC ports. This was actually one of the most important tests for us as this is the sole reason for running this power station.
We initially tested our fridge with the DC port and everything was fine until the temperature of the fridge drops and the fridge compressor kicks on. Once our fridge needed to cool back down to a certain temperature, the compressor turned on and caused a high amperage draw.
For the full fridge test we need to look at two areas:
- Higher amperage draws
- Unregulated 12V DC
Higher amperage draws
The 12V DC output is protected from over-current draws by a computer that monitors the output which causes the power to shut off. Every time the compressor kicks on to start cooling, it creates a power spike (typical with refrigerators). If these spikes are small enough or fast enough, then they won’t be noticed by the output protection on the Safari LT computer. However, if the spike lasts long enough or is big enough, then the computer will think that it is a short circuit, and it will cut the output to protect it from getting damaged. This started happening to us with our China fridge (KaCooler.cn) we were sent as a test unit.
I have read that this has happened to other people but it typically happens with random refrigerators or accessories that are not very commonly run. This makes sense because I am running a fridge that a random company from China shipped to me that has very few settings, and no known documentation. So, I’m going to give Lion energy a pass on this one, and more than likely the main challenge is stemming from high amperage draws when the compressor kicks on from our Chinese fridge. Perhaps these draws are lower or more consistent on Dometic, SnowMaster, ARB, Etc – time will tell.
Unregulated 12V DC
The only downside of using this specific DC cigarette lighter adapter on the Safari LT is that the receptacle is unregulated.
What does this mean in a real-world scenario? Lets’ look at refrigerators for example.
Unregulated DC Powering Fridge
An unregulated DC output in this case means that the projected 12-volt rating will not always stay at 12 volts. It may drop down to 11 volts or even lower (10 volts, 9 volts, etc) depending on battery life, amperage draw, etc.
This is not good when you are running a fridge that requires AT LEAST a certain amount of volts to run. Most compressors and fridge computers will shut down around 10 volts to protect your vehicle battery, for example. In a perfect world, you want a battery to maintain that 12 volts or at least 11 volts to keep your fridge powered throughout the battery’s charge cycle – until it dies.
On the popular Dometic line, most of their units have high, medium, and low settings that you can program to shut your fridge off when the battery output voltage drops below a certain point. You can set that to high/11.8 volts, medium/11.2 volts, or even low/10.1 volts. Not all refrigerators are programmable and selectable though.
What if you are powering a fridge with a pre-set power shut off at 10 volts? That means if your charging battery drops under 10 volts, your fridge will shut off.
Running Fridge from AC power
Because the DC cigarette lighter adapter on the Safari LT is not regulated, I would not recommend this outlet for powering your fridge. With all that said though, it works just fine on AC power.
Running the Fridge on AC Power
Seeing how running the fridge to the DC port was not doable for our situation, we had to think about something else. Our current setup is running the fridge to the AC port on the Safari LT and then charging the Safari LT directly from the DC cigarette lighter adapter in the cargo area – directly from the 4Runner.
Before we head out for the weekend, we fully charge up the Safari LT and the fridge. Then plug the fridge into the AC outlet on the Safari LT. At this point, the fridge runs directly from the AC port on the Safai LT.
When we turn the 4Runner off/on the DC cigarette lighter adapter kicks on and charges the Safari LT until its fully powered. You may want to double-check it triggers on though. It’s worked a couple of times when we turn the truck on and others have not triggered the unit.
We’ve run this setup on a few trips now and it has worked out quite well.
Yes, the AC outlet is going to be a higher amperage draw over the DC draw but since I am running the truck for most of the day (powering the unit) and resting the unit for 10-12 hours at night (pulling from the unit), it has proved to be plenty of power through a night with about 15% power remaining on the Safari LT in the morning.
For reference, Goal Zero also has an unregulated DC receptacle on their units, and because of this, they make a 12V regulated cable adapter.
It’s so nice to have a fridge on the trail! Seriously a game-changer. The beer, sandwiches, and everything else stayed super cold. I love my flexible YETI coolers, but they just don’t compare to running a refrigerator when out for a day.
For anyone looking at power options for the back of your 4Runner, the Safari LT is literally a perfect fit. The only downside is that the 12V DC output port is not regulated but if your goal is powering a fridge then that 110V outlet will work.
This is a really Universal Power Station that can be used for more than just off-roading, powering your fridge/accessories, and Overlanding. This product can be a good go-to power solution in the garage, or even in your garden shed. I am actually thinking about running one of their batteries through a solar charge controller and inverter to run a light switch in my Tuff Shed.
Lion Energy makes some nice stuff. I am stoked to finally have a flexible solar power station in the back of the 4Runner. It’s been great for us so far. For full lake days and weekend trips out on the trail, this unit, and the solar panels have been solid. I am running their Ultimate Safari LT kit and have to say I am pretty impressed with the build quality, design, weight, and functionality. It’s not cheap but when you deal with power the good stuff usually isn’t.
Questions or comments? Leave them below!