Who should get this
A portable power strip is great to have while you're traveling. Having additional outlets can be a (battery) lifesaver in airports and hotels, where wall outlets can be few and far between. A power strip that you can easily pack into a carry-on or bag can mean the difference between enjoying fully charged devices on the plane or trying to stretch the last 10 percent of your battery over an hours-long flight.
In many older houses and apartments that don't have a lot of wall outlets, a small power strip can be helpful to gain a couple of extra outlets, particularly in rooms where you may not have the space for a full-size surge protector (such as the kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom), or where it can be handy to have USB outlets to plug in your phone or other small electronics.
Generally, a power strip is a device that merely adds extra outlets; a surge protector also adds protection against—you guessed it—power surges. Most portable versions are surge protectors in name only, and don't provide a level of protection that we would trust long-term.
How we picked and tested
We didn't find many useful professional reviews of travel power strips, so we started from scratch with our own criteria.
Size and weight: When traveling, the most important factors to consider for whatever you'll be packing are size and weight.
Outlet placement: We tried to find models that position AC outlets in a way that maximizes the number of devices you can plug in, regardless of the size or shape of those devices' power cables or power bricks—we dismissed models with AC outlets that are too close together.
Plug design: If the power strip's own AC outlet plug retracts or folds into the body of the device when not in use, it not only makes the unit easier to fit into smaller packing spaces, but also helps prevent the plug from snagging on other items in the bag—damaging itself or those items.
Surge protection: Ideally, any power strip is also a good surge protector, but in practice, most portable versions are too small to include meaningful protection. The joule rating on the box will give you some indication of how long a given model will take cumulative hits, but not how much power could hit the gear you have plugged in.
USB charging: Finally, given the number of devices and accessories that charge via USB, we limited our search to power strips that also have high-current USB-charging ports.
Our pick: Accell Home or Away Surge Protector/Tripp Lite Protect It 3-Outlet Surge Protector
Accell's Home or Away Surge Protector mobile power strip (model name D080B-010K for the white version, D080B-011K for the black) edged out its competition in every category: size, design, and USB-charging capability. It's small, its USB ports charge connected devices as fast as any of the competition, and it's inexpensive. The Tripp Lite Protect It 3-Outlet Surge Protector is the same design with the same capabilities, so just buy whichever one is cheaper the day you order.
The Accell/Tripp Lite design is the only one we saw that keeps all three AC outlets easily accessible at all times, because they're placed on different faces. Because of this, the strip can accommodate an impressive variety of devices and plug sizes—we tried every size and shape of device charger and plug we could find, and the Accell/Tripp Lite handled them all easily (even simultaneously).
At 4½ inches long, 2½ inches wide, and just under 1½ inches deep, the Accell Home or Away and Tripp Lite Protect It 3-Outlet are the smallest of any of the power strips we tested.
Despite their small size, these power strips are very sturdy. Each stayed solidly in the wall outlet and didn't wobble around, even when it had three very large plugs and adapters plugged into it.
Also great: Tripp Lite Protect It 3-Outlet Travel-Size Surge Protector
If you want real surge protection on the go, or prefer a power strip with a cord instead of one that sits right on the wall outlet, the Tripp Lite Protect It 3-Outlet Travel-Size Surge Protector is the best choice. It has an outlet layout that's almost as good as the one on the Accell Home or Away and Tripp Lite Protect It 3-Outlet, but adds surge protection that's more than twice as good. But this Tripp Lite is slightly bulkier, which may be a dealbreaker for anyone who packs light.
Also great: PowerCube ReWireable USB
Though the power strips we tested are convenient for traveling, none are recommended for use outside of North America, because none are rated for use with the 220-volt outlets found in most European and Asian countries. In fact, many of the manuals included with these power strips specifically state that their warranties are void should you use the them outside of the US.
One option that will work abroad—and the only model we found that met our criteria—is PowerCube's ReWirable USB. This unit works with 100 to 250 volts, so you can safely plug it in pretty much anywhere in the world.
The PowerCube ReWirable USB is a 2½-inch cube and weighs barely more than 7 ounces. It has one outlet on each of its four outside faces, plus two USB ports on the face opposite its own AC plug. This design ensures full access to each outlet by almost any size plug without any of those plugs blocking the other outlets.
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