The Top 5 Best Portable Generators For An Emergency, Camping, and Your RV
Find out which is the best portable generator for your situation. Read expert and owner reviews and see which models are the most efficient and affordable.
If you’ve ever been without power for more than a day then you know how horrible it can be. I live in Virginia on the east coast of the US and we get hit by severe thunderstorms in the summer that knock down power lines and blow out transformers. In the winter we can expect at least one big ice storm every year that will pull down even more lines from the weight of the ice and knock the power out.
I respect the power crews who work 24/7 to get the lines back up and the power back on in my neighborhood. Despite their hard work though, it can sometimes take days to restore electricity depending on the severity of the storm and the conditions in the area. It’s very frustrating, but you can’t really blame anyone, except maybe Mother Nature.
After a particularly bad winter storm this past year, when the power was out for about 3 days, my wife and I decided we had just had enough. You can only take but so many cold showers in the middle of winter with no hot water, or burn candles at night for light, or even just miss your favorite TV shows.
So I started researching portable generators. My neighbor is a contractor and has a big ‘ole 8,000 watt generator to power his house during blackouts. So I started with him to get the basics down. Then I moved on to doing my own in-depth independent research to find out all I could about portable generators. Generators can be fairly complex with lots of different features and things to know before you buy. I put together a handy Buyer’s Guide on Choosing A Portable Generator to help you learn more about what features you should be looking for when generator shopping.
I like to be really detailed when I buy something as expensive and important as a portable generator. So I also read through all of the major magazines and journals that cover electronics, like Popular Mechanics and Consumer Reports. Plus I looked at any news articles I could find on the topic from sources like the NY Times and LA Times.
In addition to magazine and newspapers, it’s really helpful to look at owner reviews. Rather than just use my own opinion about a generator, I’m just one guy, I like to get other people’s opinions as well. And it’s good to see a cross section and not just a few opinions. If a generator has over 100 reviews written about it, with an average rating of 4 out of 5, all from people who have owned and used the machine, then you know it’s pretty darn good.
So after all that work I’ve been able to put together the following list of the best portable generators. I’ve broken the list out into categories based on wattage capacity. You need to decide what wattage you need before you go out and buy your generator. Doing an energy inventory can help you decide.
Just go through and add up all of the running wattages of the appliances you would like to use when a blackout occurs, or while you’re out camping, or in your RV. You will also need to add in the starting or surge wattage of your largest appliance. Many appliances with motors, like your refrigerator’s compressor engine, take 2 or 3 times as much energy to start up and they do to run. So your fridge may run using 600 watts but need as much as 1,800 watts to start. You only need to add in the surge wattage of the largest appliance because it’s very unlikely that 2 motors will cycle on at the exact same time. You can get wattage information from the Owner’s Manuals of each appliance and many devices even have it printed on their motors.
After you’ve added up the running or rated wattage of all of your appliances that you plan to run simultaneously and the surge wattage of the largest appliance, then you have the figure you need to determine the portable generator wattage capacity that’s right for your situation. Just pick out the size that matches your needs from the list below. The features comparison grid I’ve constructed lets you easily compare different models. Below the grid you’ll find more detail about each wattage capacity category and each generator model.
The Best Small Capacity 2,000 Watt Portable Generator
Small capacity portable generators are excellent to have around and can be used for so many different things. Most are really light weight, under 60 pounds, and very compact, so that you can easily move them around by yourself and pack them away in the trunk of your car or bed of your truck or in your RV to take on the road with you. They are ideally suited for camping as well because they are generally pretty quiet and fuel efficient so you don’t have to worry about bringing a lot of gas with you. In emergency situations, like blackouts, they are perfect to power some of the essentials items around your home.
The best small capacity portable generator is the All Power America APG3014. This fantastic little generator is less than $200, which makes it the least expensive model on my list. It is capable of producing 2,000 surge watts of power and 1,400 rated watts. During a blackout, you can easily run your washing machine, television, fridge, and a few lights using this machine.
It’s only weighs 55 pounds and has easy grip handles so that you can tote it around with ease. It’s perfect for those outdoor outings like a tailgate or a camping trip, and it’s great for jobsites. I read one review where a guy that owns a construction company would pull the APG3014 onto the roof at some job sites so that he could power a few roofing tools. He didn’t have to worry about it sliding off either because of its rubber grip feet that keep it steady.
The unit also comes with battery charging cables that you can plug into the 12 volt DC outlet on the machine. Use it to charge your car or truck batteries as well as your marine batteries if you decide to take the APG3014 out on your boat.
All Power America has also designed this unit with safety in mind. There is a low oil shutoff function that will protect the engine in case the oil runs low. There is also a circuit overload switch that will shut the engine down to prevent any surge damage that could occur.
The APG3014 is also very fuel efficient. You can run it for about 9.5 hours at 50% load on one tank of gas. The tank will hold 1.3 gallons of gasoline so you’ll be able to run this baby pretty much all day and not have to worry about refilling the tank or having to store or transport a lot of gas.
I have a full All Power America APG3014 portable generator review on this site if you want to learn more about it. The APG3014 is really a fantastic machine and gets glowing reviews from many of its owners.
The Best Medium Capacity 4,000 Watt Portable Generators
Here we jump up in class, doubling the max wattage capacity. Medium capacity portable generators will really provide you with a lot of power for very economical prices. With 4,000 max watts of power, you’ll be able to power your TV, computer, washing machine, refrigerator, microwave, and other household appliances.
If you hook up your medium capacity generator to your home through the use of a transfer switch then you’ll be able to run your water heater. A transfer switch is a great option for medium and large capacity generators because you can use all of the items that are hardwired to your home’s main circuit breaker. Transfer switches attach directly to the main panel of your home and you can connect your generator to them using just one extension cord. You can read more about transfer switches in my article on Connecting A Portable Generator To Your Home.
Although prices vary greatly in this category, the two best portable generators that I found are both under $500. I decided to include the two top models here. They share many of the same excellent features with the primary difference between the two being that one is CARB compliant and the other is not. CARB stands for California Air Resources Board and products that meet their criteria must pass strict anti-smog emission standards. Portable generators that are not CARB compliant cannot be sold or used in California, but are fine to use in the other 49 US states and internationally.
So the two best medium capacity portable generators are the Champion 46534 and the ETQ TG32P12.
The Champion 46534 portable generator has multiple outlets for you to choose from to connect your appliances. You get a 120 volt 30 amp twist lock, a 120 volt 30 amp RV receptacle and a standard 120 volt 20 amp receptacle. The RV (Recreational Vehicle) receptacle is great to have and the Champion unit is already wired for your RV, so no need for adaptors and other plugs or accessories. The twist lock receptacle is also great to have because it keeps the connection between the generator and the cord plugged into it tight and secure.
The Champion 46534 weighs over 110 pounds but is very easy to move around. It comes with a wheel assembly kit and a handle that extends out so that you can wheel it around like a piece of luggage.
A big plus for the Champion is that it’s CARB compliant. The California Air Resources Board has certified that the 46534 has met their low emissions standards designed to reduce smog. This means if you live in California you can purchase and use the Champion with no problems. If you live elsewhere you can rest assured that the portable generator that you are using is environmentally friendly.
If you’d like to learn more about this model, I have an in-depth Champion 46534 portable generator review on this site. You’ll see in even more detail why this machine is one of the best out there.
The other 4,000 max watt portable generator to make the best list in this category is the ETQ TG32P12. What makes this machine different from many others in its category is that uses Clean Sine Alternator Technology to create clean power that can safely be used with sensitive electronics. Most portable generators, that are not inverter style, will need some type of surge protector, like a UL-1499 CSA listed surge protector or Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), if you want to connect devices that have sensitive circuit boards, like your personal computer. Without the use of surge protectors or ETQ’s specialized Clean Sine technology you run the risk of having a possible surge in the electrical power produced by a portable generator damaging your devices.
The ETQ TG32P12 also comes with two 120 volt 20 amp GFCI outlets and a 240 volt twist outlet. GFCI outlets help to prevent you from getting shocked if there is a current leak. They are ground fault protected. It’s great to see this many choices for outlets and you are sure to find one to suit your needs.
The TG32P12 is also over 110 pounds, like the Champion 46534, but comes with wheels and a handle for pulling or pushing it.
You get really good run time and fuel efficiency with the ETQ. Expect it to run 13 hours at 50% load or 9 hours at 100% load on a full 4 gallon tank. This is good because you’ll be able to run it all night while you sleep and not have to worry about it running out of gas.
For more detailed information, just check out my ETQ TG32P12 portable generator review and you can learn more about what makes this unit such a great buy.
The Best Large Capacity 8,000 Watt Portable Generator
Large capacity generators are real work horses, supplying enough power to keep your home running during a blackout as if the main power were still on. This is especially true if you use a transfer switch to connect the unit to your home. You’ll be able to power a 10,000 BTU air conditioner, your microwave, your water heater, your washing machine, refrigerator, freezer, and sump pump, all at the same time. Swap out a couple of things and you can get your clothes dryer and dishwasher going. 8,000 watt max capacity portable generators really put out a lot of power.
Units this size are perfect for emergency use during blackouts at your home, but you can also use them on a job site to power tools and equipment. They are generally pretty heavy, over 200 pounds, so you’ll need help lifting one, but you should be able to easily wheel one around. The unit I recommend below even has a special bracket that lets you hook up a mini crane to lift it up into the bed of your truck. That’s pretty cool.
The ETQ TG72K12 is the best large capacity portable generator, coming in at 8,250 max watts and 7,250 rated watts. It is the second ETQ (Eastern Tools and Equipment) model to make my best list, the other model being the TG32P12 in the medium capacity category.
The TG72K12 will run for 10.5 hours at 50% load and 6.5 hours at 100% load, which means you’ll be able to sleep soundly all night knowing that your AC or heat won’t go out because your generator runs out of fuel.
The TG72K12, like most of ETQ’s models, uses its advanced Clean Sine Alternator Technology. This technology uses a unique alternator design that lowers the total harmonic distortion (THD) of the power produced by the generator. A lower THD means cleaner, better quality power is produced. This allows you to hook up your sensitive electronics like computers and DVD players without have to worry about a surge damaging their components.
You also get a push button electric start function with the TG72K12 if you buy a battery and hook up it. You don’t have to add this option if you don’t want as the ETQ works fine using just the pull cord to start it. But a push button start is a nice option to have.
Don’t worry about the TG72K12 blasting your eardrums out either. A 14 horsepower generator is not going to be quiet, but you can expect it to put out a reasonable 70 decibels from about 23 feet. 70 decibels is about like the street noise you would hear in the city; a little bit loud, but you can still carry on a conversation.
Overall the ETQ TG72K12 is a great buy for a large capacity portable generator coming in under $800.
If you’d like to learn even more, you can read my detailed ETQ TG72K12 portable generator review.
The Best Inverter Generator
Inverter style generators are really amazing technological advancements over conventional generators. They are more fuel efficient, produce cleaner power, making them perfect for sensitive electronics, and they run much quieter. They also have lower harmful emissions, making them better for the environment and they are lighter and more compact because they can produce more power in a smaller package.
Inverter style generators are able to work so efficiently because they can run at variable speeds based on the power demand at the time. Most conventional style generators will always run at 3,600 rpm to produce AC power, regardless of the power needs of the devices you have plugged in. Inverter style generators will adjust their speed and use energy to supply power only when it’s needed. That way the supply of power matches the demand.
So why aren’t all portable generators inverter style? Well unfortunately they are much more expensive than conventional generators, often 2-3 times as much depending on the wattage capacity. Because of this I decided to look at inverter style generators in the small capacity size, 2,000 max watts. It’s just not practical or affordable at this time, at least until the technology is perfected and prices come down, to purchase an inverter style generator 4,000 watts and up. You’re talking several thousand dollars for one.
The best inverter style 2,000 max watt capacity portable generator is, hands down, the Yamaha EF2000iS. It is an amazing little generator, pumping out 1,600 rated watts of power using an engine that has an “Extended Life Rating” from the EPA. This means that the EF2000iS has an engine with a 500 hour life. That doesn’t mean it will stop working after 500 hours, it just means that the parts will start to show some wear and tear at that mark. In one owner review I read, a guy was able to run his Yamaha for 832 hours without any problems. Now that pretty incredible!
The EF2000iS is also amazingly fuel efficient. You can run it for 8 hours at 50% load on a full one gallon tank of gas. Most other portable generators are only able to get about 3 hours of run time per gallon of gas. This makes the Yamaha over 2.5 times more fuel efficient than other portable generators in this class.
The other thing to note about the EF2000iS is its noise level. The unit features a specially designed muffler with a glass wool noise absorbing design. As a result, at full rated load, the Yamaha will produce 61 decibels of sound from about 23 feet. 60 decibels is about the level of a conversation. At 25% rated load, the sound levels go down to just 51.5 decibels, which is about like background noise in a quiet office. In owner reviews, many people talked about how they even forgot the EF2000iS was even running because it was so quiet.
You also get a 3 year warranty with this model, which goes to show that Yamaha really stands behind the quality of their design.
The EF2000iS can be used for any application, from power outages at your home to camping and boat uses. This model is very popular with RV users because it’s so quiet, easy to move around (it only weighs 44 pounds), and fuel efficient.
You can read all about the great features offered and even look at a couple of videos of this unit in action in my Yamaha EF2000iS portable generator review.