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Published Sep. 29, 2021

When you’re in a lurch with no electricity for your home or camp, having the best portable generator to get things running is a godsend. These powerful machines are lifesavers after storms knock off electricity, or if you need a boost to run equipment. Ever been at your hunting or fishing camp and need to do some work? Without power, you’re out of luck for running saws, tools, and appliances. With a good portable generator, though, you’ll be able to run tools, refrigerators, and other equipment for as long as you have fuel.

A portable generator is an engine running on gas or diesel fuel that creates temporary electrical power. The engine turns a small internal alternator that creates electricity. You can use a portable generator to run large items, such as a refrigerator, furnace or freezer, or smaller ones such as a microwave or television. Giant generators are used in large buildings for backup electricity; these are larger versions of the portable ones used by homeowners and outdoors enthusiasts. Portable generators, and fuel to run them, often are in demand after natural disasters. For safety reasons they should be set away from structures, if possible, while in operation.

Best Portable Generator Overall: Generac 5735 GP17500E

Key Features

  • Steel cage design and wheels make it stable and relatively easy to move around
  • Offers 17,500 running watts and 26,250 starting watts, more than enough for appliances
  • The 16-gallon fuel tank runs for up to 10 hours at 50-percent load

Why It Made the Cut

This portable generator is the beast, and the one you want if you need ultimate electrical output for days to run a house, camp, or other big items.

Pros

  • Powerful output is more than enough to run several appliances including a fridge and freezer
  • Generous fuel tank for peace of mind while you’re handling chores or sleeping
  • It has an electric start with the included batter and a plug-in battery charger jack

Cons

  • Weighs a hearty 390 pounds (put those wheels — and your legs — to use)

Product Description

Generac’s 5735 GP17500E portable generator is the best overall portable generator available. The design includes an hour meter, low-oil level shutdown to preserve the engine from damage, and an idle control to save fuel and reduce noise during operation. The OVHI engine is designed to provide full-pressure oil lubrication and the filter helps preserve engine life. This model is designed to power a 5-ton home air conditioner, and other appliances.

Despite the overall weight, this is the unit you plan for and purchase ahead of time. You may want to lock down at your hunting or fishing camp if you’re off the grid yet need power. It probably couldn’t be stolen very easily but creating a space and securing it would be great for when you need it. Maybe the same at home, too. Generac has a strong reputation for tough, dependable equipment. This model provides more than enough power from a portable generator to get the job done.

Best Portable Generator for Home Use: Westinghouse WGen7500

Key Features

  • 420cc 4-stroke engine with electric starter
  • Generous run time of 11 hours
  • Remote start key fob and easy controls to get operational in a hurry

Why It Made The Cut

If you don’t need a larger portable generator, the Westinghouse WGen7500 should be quite enough to run your appliances and tools in an emergency or for work days at camp.

Pros

  • Digital readout of run time, voltage, and other critical data while in use
  • Supports 30A transfer switch for home use
  • Weighs less than 200 pounds and can be moved easily thanks to durable wheels and design

Cons

  • Smart switch to help operate home appliances is sold separately

Product Description

Westinghouse WGen7500, the best portable generator for home use is a compact engine designed to power critical needs. It has a 420cc 4-stroke engine with an air-cooled overhead valve design for more efficient operation. The automatic low-oil shutdown technology protects the engine when low oil level is detected, saving the engine from damage. It also meets EPA and CARB emission standards, which is better for the environment. The push-button key fob starter allows you to get the generator operational from up to 260 feet away.

When you need a durable, efficient portable gas generator but don’t need a monster, this model should be a consideration. It’s well designed with numerous features for home or camp use, and relatively easy to load on a trailer or in a truck bed. The easy digital readout is solid for keeping up with run times, fuel and oil levels, and updates for maintenance.

Best Portable Generator for Camping: Joyzis Portable Power Station

Key Features

  • Lightweight at just 1.87 pounds
  • Multiple outlets for powering phone, LED light, laptop, TV, drone, camera, CPAP machines, and more
  • Three charging modes: solar panel, car charger, and AC wall adapter

Why It Made the Cut

When you need power for a weekend camping trip or short getaway, this power station will keep things humming.

Pros

  • Safety system to save or prevent power supply, overvoltage, undervoltage, short circuit, overcurrent, overload, and overheating during the charging process
  • Easy to pack for short trips and doesn’t take up much space
  • 3 LED flashlight modes: strong, SOS, and fast light

Cons

  • Solar power charger panel is sold separately

Product Description

The Joyzis Portable Power Station is powered by a lithium-ion battery that needs about six hours to fully charge. It has one AC outlet, four USB outlets, and a DC5.5 output for small items such as phones, lights, and drones. It can be used to power devices while charging. The compact design fits in a backpack or stores easily in vehicles for transport. That’s why this generator is the best portable generator for camping.

While not a true portable generator, this tiny unit packs a punch for smaller items we like to carry for camping getaways or maybe a hunting or fishing trip. This is more of an upsized power bank. Still, for smaller needs such as keeping your phone charged, it’s more than enough. The solar panel charging option is a great addition, as well. Amazon reviewers gave it 4.4 stars (out of 5). If you’re in need of a smaller, powerful charging generator, the Joyzis Portable Power Station could find a home in your pack.

Best Quiet Portable Generator: Briggs & Stratton P2400 PowerSmart Series Inverter Generator

Key Features

  • The CO Guard Carbon Monoxide Shutdown Technology detects harmful levels of carbon monoxide and shuts off the generator
  • A noise-reducing protective shell helps keep things quiet while in operation
  • Consistently smoother electrical output so you can charge laptops, phones, and other gear

Why It Made the Cut

This is a good, solid generator with enough output for a long weekend truck camping trip or tailgate at the football game.

Pros

  • Quiet in operation thanks to the outer noise-reducing shell
  • Weighs about 56 pounds, so it’s relatively easy to move around and store when not in use
  • It’s not too big and is designed similar to a cool-looking box with a handle

Cons

  • 1,800 watt output isn’t enough to power several large home appliances at the same time

Product Description

Designed for camping and recreational use, the Briggs & Stratton P2400 PowerSmart Series inverter generator uses LED lights to alert low oil or overload. For simultaneous charging it has 120V and 20A outlets, a parallel port, and USB ports. The design facilitates easy storage and transport. The CO Guard carbon monoxide shutdown technology is a great feature.

Loading up with the P2400 PowerSmart would be fine for the camping trip, sports tailgate or maybe a long weekend fishing at the river. With 1,800 watts of output you could run a large appliance — say, a refrigerator or freezer — after a natural disaster, but not several big items at the same time. This would be the best quiet portable generator to have as a backup to another generator for bigger items.

Final Thoughts

Having lived in the Southeast all my life, I’ve seen the aftermath of natural disasters and how portable generators help get people moving again. After a tornado or hurricane, a portable generator can provide hours of electricity for power tools, appliances or even just lights at night for comfort or security. But you have to plan ahead. Finding a portable generator in that situation, not to mention fuel, could be challenging. A good portable generator also is great to have at your hunting or fishing camp if you need electricity to run a cooler or other items. They’re a great investment.

Methodology  

Choosing the best portable generator was challenging, thanks to the wide variety of models available today. I evaluated the available generators based on the following criteria:

  • Amount of power (wattage) produced
  • Amount of fuel the generator holds
  • Total runtime on a full tank of fuel (Full- and half-power runtimes are great to know, too)
  • Weight and portability (Does it have wheels? Handles? Could one person move it?)
  • Safety features (Does it have a carbon monoxide sensor? Low-oil sensor? Automatic shutoffs?)

The amount of power produced determines what the generator can be used to power. Some models can run a small lamp and charge your phone, while others can run your refrigerator, air conditioning, and other essential appliances. 

The amount of fuel your generator holds and it’s runtime will determine how long your generator will run before a refuel. It also impacts the portability of your generator. Other factors for portability include weight, wheels, and handles. If you are using your generator for home use or camping, safety features like carbon monoxide detectors, and automatic shutoff offer peace of mind. 

How to Choose the Best Portable Generator 

The best way to choose a portable generator is to consider what you need it for and how much you want to spend. Budget and needs first, right? My needs would be to power at least a fridge or freezer possibly for days in the aftermath of a devastating tornado, based on where we live. My budget? I’d spend whatever I needed to take care of my family in such a situation. Your considerations may be the same. They may be that you need one to restore or build a cabin in the woods. Or you camp frequently but enjoy having lights and a small fridge. When researching portable generators, look for the wattage output, safety features, amount of fuel it holds, weight, and the size of appliances or tools it can safely power.

FAQs

Questions you may have when buying a portable generator.

Q: What is the average lifespan of a portable generator?

The average lifespan of a portable generator is 10,000 to 25,000 hours, depending on your care of the unit. Given that most portable generators are used only in emergencies or for short periods of time for work chores, a dependable unit should last for years with proper maintenance.

Q: How many watts do I need in a generator for my home or camp?

First you must consider what you want or need to power with a generator. Most portable units offer 4,000 to 12,000 watts. Consider that appliances such as refrigerators, freezers or large items like those need 700-800 watts each, but that doesn’t count the startup wattage needed (usually double, or maybe triple). Smaller items such as televisions or a microwave may need just a few hundred watts. A natural gas furnace may need about 1,400 watts to get started. Home air conditioners need considerably more to start and power. Factor in these considerations before purchasing.

Q: How much does a portable generator weigh?

Portable generators usually weigh about 50 pounds for lighter models, to a few hundred pounds for larger and more powerful ones — obviously depending on size. Larger, more powerful models often are equipped with wheels for easy transport.

Q: What kind of fuel is needed to run a generator?

Gas or diesel are the most common fuels used to power portable generators. Models have different size fuel tanks. Run times for the generator to produce power depends on the amount of fuel and design of the engine’s efficiency. In a natural disaster, either planning ahead to purchase fuel or finding it in the aftermath are critical to keep your generator operational.

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