The 8 Best Portable Generators of 2021

Don't be left out in the dark without one

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

When you own one of the best portable generators there is, then you know that you never have to worry about running out of power. Portable generators supply electricity when there is a power outage. These devices can have appliances plugged into them or extension cords to power the items you need running the most.

When researching portable generators, a rule of thumb is that the more watts it produces, then the more appliances that can plug into it at a time. So knowing how much power your items need will help you decide on the number of watts your generator should have to be able to handle them all. Also, knowing if your product needs more power to start then run will contribute to the wattage amount desired. 

After figuring out how many watts is ideal, it is time to look into fuel-efficiency, portability, and affordability of the models out there. Having one of the best portable generators out there inside of your smart home will put your mind at ease next time the power goes out.

The Rundown
The DuroStar DS4000S is a fantastic choice for a general-purpose generator.
An outstanding choice for easy transporting.
Ideal for the outdoorsman or for use when a storm strikes.
Best for Quietness:
Westinghouse iGen2500 at Amazon
Fortunately, softer doesn’t mean less powerful.
Best for Long Run Times:
Westinghouse WGen7500 at Amazon
The unit can run for 16 continuous hours.
Best for Whole-Home Emergency Backup:
Generac 5735 at Amazon
A powerful, reliable machine capable of running all your home's essentials.
Best Splurge:
Honda EU2200i at Amazon
Running at 57 dB, the Honda EU2200i is lightweight, durable, and user-friendly.
The lightweight and portable WEN56200i is a generator with low volume, but more than enough power to keep you going on a camping trip.

Best Overall: DuroStar DS4000S

WEN 56200i
What We Like
  • High-quality product at an affordable price

  • 4,000-watt capacity

  • Reliable brand

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy

  • Maintenance requires regular oil changes

The DuroStar DS4000S is a fantastic choice for a general-purpose generator, whether it’s for camping, emergency preparedness, or for working outdoors. It’s one of the most affordable products reviewed here, but the DuroStar brand is known for its reliability and quality, making the DS4000S one of the best value products on the market.

With 4,000 starting watts and 3,300 running watts, the DuroStar has the power to run multiple electronics at one and has multiple outlets—two for 120V household appliances and one for 120V 30A twist lock outlets. This gas-powered generator is approved for use in all states and has a run time of approximately eight hours, at 50% output.

Being gas-powered, it does require regular maintenance, which includes oil changes. It’s also heavier at 94 pounds, so consider purchasing the optional wheel kit for maneuverability. As long as you’re willing to look after it, it’s a top choice that will last for years to come.

Outlets: 120V (2), 240V (1) | Size/Weight: 24x17x17 in. / 94 Lbs. | Fuel Capacity: 3.96 Gal. | Starting Watts: 4000W | Running Watts: 3300W

Best Design: Briggs & Stratton P2200 Portable Generator

What We Like
  • Smart, clean design

  • Built-in cigarette lighter outlet for versatile accessory connections

  • Relatively quiet at 64 decibels

  • Easy to carry with H-style handle

  • On/off switch also activates fuel shutoff


What We Don't Like
  • No built-in USB port

  • Not quite as powerful as some competitors

  • Louder than advertised

Powerful and versatile, this 55-pound Briggs & Stratton generator is a clear winner for portability. The H-shaped handle makes it easy to be picked up by one or two people. Powered by a 111cc motor, the 2,200 starting watts and 1,700 running watts of power are good for up to eight hours of operation on the 1-gallon tank of gas at a 25% load. Capable of running most 120V household appliances, the Briggs & Stratton includes inverter technology to help power portable electronics like smartphones and laptops.

The control panel itself includes three total outlets (one DC and two household), plus a USB adapter. Additionally, you can plug it into a second unit to create an even stronger power source. At 59 dB of operating power, it’s fairly quiet—several users have compared it to the sound of a running car engine. The one downside? It can't be shipped to California because it doesn't meet certain emission laws.

Outlets: 120V (2), 12V (1) | Size/Weight: 22.4x14.4x19.9 in. / 55 Lbs. | Fuel Capacity: 1 Gal. | Starting Watts: 2200W | Running Watts: 1700W

"In terms of performance, Briggs and Stratton actually undersold the P2200." - Nick Jaynes, Product Tester

Briggs & Stratton P2200 Portable Generator

Lifewire / Nick Jaynes

Best Features: Champion 5000-Watt Portable Generator

Champion 5000-Watt Portable Generator
What We Like
  • Wireless remote operation

  • Motorhome direct hookup outlet

  • Easy-to-read ‘Intelli-gauge’

  • Free lifetime technical support

What We Don't Like
  • Louder than the competition

  • Lots of assembly required

  • Bulky and heavy

The Champion Power Equipment 5000 is ideal for the outdoorsman or for use when a storm strikes and lights go out. Featuring 6250 starting watts and 5,000 running watts, the 3.8-gallon generator includes a wireless remote start that works from up to 80 feet away, in addition to a backup pull-start lever. It can run up to 9 hours at 50% output. There's an RV receptacle for a direct connection to a motorhome AC and two additional 120V outlets, including a 120-volt duplex outlet and a 120-volt twist-lock

Its output is just 68 dB, but some customers note this is a bit louder than some of the competition. Features like the low-oil sensor and Intelli-gauge for quickly glancing at voltage, hertz, and operating hours make this an all-around top choice. Online reviewers rave about the customer service and the free lifetime technical support you'll receive in addition to the three-year limited warranty.

Outlets: 120V (4), 240V (1) | Size/Weight: 30.1x25.7x25.2 in. / 152.1 Lbs. | Fuel Capacity: 5.7 Gal. | Starting Watts: 6250W | Running Watts: 5000W

"For around $599, it’s comparable to—if not significantly cheaper than—other generators in its class."Nick Jaynes, Product Tester

Champion 3500 Generator

Lifewire / Nick Jaynes

Best for Quietness: Westinghouse iGen2500 Generator

What We Like
  • Relatively lightweight at 48 pounds

  • Efficient with 10 hours of runtime at 25% power output

  • Impressively powerful with 2500 watts of peak surge power

  • Guess-free LED data center that shows estimated runtime and power output levels

  • Easy setup, one-pull firing


What We Don't Like
  • Louder than advertised, at 61 decibels at idle

  • Relatively expensive


Quietly efficient, the Westinghouse iGen2500 is rated at 52 dB. Fortunately, softer doesn’t mean less powerful. With 2,200 watts of output and peak watts at 2,500, the Westinghouse is more than capable of powering your essentials—whether you need it camping, hunting, or after a storm. Perfect for sensitive electronics like a smartphone, as well as microwaves, televisions, and refrigerators, the generator is only somewhat limited when it comes to certain heavy-duty power tools. Five DC USB ports and two 120V AC ports offer more than enough space for a multitude of devices at once. 

Weighing 48 pounds, it's lightweight, but it doesn't have wheels for easy transporting. It can handle up to ten hours of power at a 25% load. When pushed to a 50% load, battery life diminishes slightly but it remains equally quiet. Nationwide customer service and a three-year warranty are among the best in the industry.

Outlets: 120V (2), USB (2) | Size/Weight: 19.8x11.4x17.9 in. / 48 Lbs. | Fuel Capacity: 1 Gal. | Starting Watts: 2500W | Running Watts: 2200W

"The Westinghouse iGen2500 is a powerful, lightweight, and easy-to-use portable generator with a quick setup process and guess-free operation." Nick Jaynes, Product Tester

Westinghouse iGen2500 Generator

Lifewire / Nick Jaynes

Best for Long Run Times: Westinghouse WGen7500

What We Like
  • Remote start

  • Easy setup

  • Can run up to 16 hours

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy

With an electric push-button start and a remote start feature, the 7500-watt (9,500 peak watt) Westinghouse unit is convenient and easy to use, but its major selling point is the run time. At a 25 percent load, the 6.6-gallon unit can run for 16 continuous hours (or 14 hours at 50%), powering all your home's essentials. The generator is EPA-, CARB-, and CSA-compliant and runs a 420cc OHV engine that is equipped with an automatic low-oil shutdown and digital hour meter.

Reviewers say it's powerful, fuel-efficient, and a great value for the price. It comes with a 2V battery charger, oil, an oil funnel, and a toolkit. At 200 pounds, it's definitely a heavier generator, but you can still move it thanks to wheels and a convenient foam grip handle.

Outlets: 120V (4), 240V (1), ST Switch (1) | Size/Weight: 27.2x26.1x26 in. / 192 Lbs. | Fuel Capacity: 6.6 Gal. | Starting Watts: 9500W | Running Watts: 7500W

Best for Whole-Home Emergency Backup: Generac 5735 GP17500E

What We Like
  • Extremely powerful

  • Built to last

  • Includes battery, oil supply, and maintenance kit

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Very big and heavy

If you're looking for a powerful, reliable machine capable of running all your home's essentials as you wait out a storm, the Generac 5735 GP17500E is the model for you. This job site-proficient, 16-circuit generator can power multiple 120V appliances at once. With 17,500 running watts and a 16-gallon fuel tank, it can run for up to 10 hours straight at 50% load, or less if you opt to run it at its full 26250-watt capacity. However, while the generator is technically portable, it's a beast, weighing 390 pounds.

It comes with a 12VDC 365-CCA battery and your first oil supply, as well as a wheel kit and maintenance kit so you can keep it in tip-top shape should you need to move it. One customer who weathered Hurricane Sandy in 2012 said they used it for 11 days to power their entire house. They've used it ever since with no issues.

Outlets: 120V (4), 240V (1), ST Switch (1) | Size/Weight: 48.5x31x39.5 in. / 390 Lbs. | Fuel Capacity: 16 Gal. | Starting Watts: 26250W | Running Watts: 17500W

Best Splurge: Honda EU2200i Generator

Honda EU2200i 2200-Watt 120-Volt Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator
What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Can run overnight

  • Lots of features

What We Don't Like
  • No fuel gauge

  • Expensive

Running at 57 dB, the Honda EU2200i is lightweight, durable, and user-friendly. Weighing only 40 pounds and featuring a 0.95-gallon fuel tank, there’s enough power for four hours of operation at 100% load and around 6 hours at 50% load. The inclusion of two Amp outlets offers flexibility for different types of rechargeable items or for keeping a refrigerator, television, or laptop going. 

Features such as Eco-throttle and clean output make it a standout in this category (and help explain the steep price). The 2,200 watts of starting power and 1,800 watts of running power maintain excellent fuel efficiency. There’s also a standard oil alert for proper engine maintenance, as well as a circuit protection feature to prevent the generator from overloading. You can connect the EU2200i in tandem with a similar unit for twice the power.

Outlets: 120V (2) | Size/Weight: 16x20x11 in. / 46.5 Lbs. | Fuel Capacity: .95 Gal. | Starting Watts: 2200W | Running Watts: 1800W

Best Value: WEN 56200i Portable Generator

What We Like
  • Quiet 53dB operation

  • Lightweight and portable at 48 pounds

  • Two 120V receptacles, one 12V DC receptacle, and one 5V USB port

What We Don't Like
  • Won't last as long as bigger models

  • Some issues with warranty service

For a portable generator to tote on a camping trip or for emergency power outages, the WEN 56200i offers excellent value for its price and size. With dimensions measuring 18 x 11 x 18 inches, it comes with a 2000-watt gas-powered engine that can produce 2000 surge watts and 1600 rated watts. Despite the output, the noise level is a fairly quiet 53dB and the power is clean and safe enough to use for sensitive electronics. The portable generator works great for campgrounds, construction sites, tailgates, and power outages.

The capacity of the fuel tank is 1 gallon, so it won't last as long as bigger models, but the runtime is estimated to last 9.4 hours with a quarter-load of gas, so you should be able to keep going for a full day and night with a tank. Port options include a 12V DC receptacle, a 5V USB port, a 120V AC port, and a parallel connection to two other generators to increase total wattage.

Outlets: 120V (3), 12V (1), USB (1) | Size/Weight: 18x11x18 in. / 48 Lbs. | Fuel Capacity: 1 Gal. | Starting Watts: 2000W | Running Watts: 1600W

"To know how much fuel you have left, you’ll have to guess, or estimate based on the fuel load and time you’ve spent running it." — Nick Jaynes, Product Tester

WEN 56200i Portable Generator

Lifewire / Nick Jaynes

Final Verdict

Our favorite portable generator for most people is the DuroStar DS4000S (view at Amazon). Unless you need a generator for industrial or commercial applications, this generator is the ideal blend of portability and utility. However, if you're in the market for a generator that can handle larger loads, we'd recommend taking a look at the Generac 5735 GP17500E (view at Amazon) instead for its ability to handle larger loads for greater lengths of time.

About Our Trusted Experts

David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. He has written and managed content for tech companies like T-Mobile, Sprint, and TracFone Wireless.

Nick Jaynes has been writing for Lifewire since 2019. He specializes in tech gadgets, especially those related to the automotive market. He has previously been published in Mashable, Digital Trends, Cool Hunting, and Travel + Leisure.

FAQ
  • How many watts does your portable generator need to be?

    Wattage refers to the total power your generator will be able to produce at once. To determine how many watts you’ll need, factor in the devices you’re looking to power. A wattage chart with a list of common household appliances and electronics can help you add up all your power needs. You don’t necessarily need a generator that can produce power for everything all at once, either. Consider when and how you will be using your generator. It’s important to note that older appliances typically need more power than what’s listed since they become less efficient over time. If a device doesn’t list watts, use the formula watts=volts x amps. You can also purchase a load tester that will help you determine the exact watts needed for individual devices if you are unsure.

  • What is the difference between starting and running watts?

    Running watts refer to the amount of power a device needs to function. Devices like light bulbs and coffee makers, for example, use the same amount of power to start up and continue to run—so you only have to worry about running watts in their cases. Some devices, called reactive loads, have electric motors that require additional power to start up and then less to simply stay running. Refrigerators, air conditioners, and power tools are examples of reactive loads. If you want to power reactive loads, you’ll need to factor in starting watts to how much total power you need from your generator. The amount of starting watts a generator has is the maximum watts it can produce.

  • Is it safe to use a portable generator with all of your electronics?

    Be sure to research your generator because certain models aren’t safe to use with sensitive electronics, like laptops and TVs. The power supply can be inconsistent and surges can cause permanent damage. Generators with inverter technology convert alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) voltage and then invert it back to clean AC voltage. The “inversion” leads to a constant flow to your devices. Inverter generators are often more expensive, but they are safest to use with sensitive devices.

What to Look For in a Portable Generator

While it’s pretty easy to make sure you have enough power when you’re at home or in your car, there are plenty of situations in which you might need some kind of power source on the go. Sure, a decent battery pack is probably fine for keeping your phone charged up during the day, but what about powering something more substantial when you're on a camping trip? Or, what if you’re facing some kind of natural disaster and the power is out? That’s where a portable generator comes in handy.

Of course, there are plenty of portable generators to choose from, and they’re not all created equal. When buying a portable generator there are dozens of features and considerations to keep in mind. 

portable generator
 Lifewire

Before diving into the features of a portable generator, it’s worth defining what a portable generator actually is. There are two main types of generator: a portable generator and a standby generator. Standby generators are powered by natural gas or propane and start automatically during a power outage. They generally start in the $5,000 range and are installed at least semi-permanently. Portable generators, on the other hand, don’t start automatically and can be powered a few different ways, though the most powerful ones are usually gas-powered. They’re quite a bit cheaper than standby generators, starting at around $500 and ranging up from there.

When buying a portable generator, the first thing to consider is where you want your generator to draw power from. Some modern portable generators are solar-powered, but they aren’t able to provide as much power as a gas or a diesel generator. Then, there are a host of other features to consider, like the number of power outlets you want, whether you want USB outputs, how much noise your generator emits, size, weight, and more.

Whether you know exactly what you’re looking for from a portable generator or the concept is totally new to you, we’ve put together this guide to help you.

Types of Portable Generators

The first thing to consider when buying a portable generator is the type you want. There are gas-powered generators, which use unleaded gas, and diesel-powered generators, which use diesel fuel. There are also solar-powered generators, which are powered by the sun and tend to be significantly less powerful.

portable generator
 Lifewire

Gas generators are perhaps the most common type of portable generator out there. Gas generators have a small motor in them that burns gas to produce energy. This means you have to make sure that you have enough gas on hand to run the generator.

There are a few advantages to gas generators. While some aren’t necessarily built for continuous use, you could theoretically run a gas generator indefinitely, provided you have enough gas to do so.

Many of them are also more compact than solar generators because they don’t require solar panels to charge up—meaning that they may be a better option for packing away in the car. Even compact gas generators can output a lot of power.

Because of the fact that gas generators are so easy to set up, and are often more compact than solar generators, they’re best for backup in case of a power outage or natural disaster. 

Diesel generators use a type of fuel to run, but they actually work a little different than their gas-powered counterparts. We’re not going to go into the nitty-gritty of how diesel and gas generators work, but what's important to know is that diesel generators are usually much more fuel-efficient than gas generators. The result is that they’ll run a whole lot longer with the same amount of fuel—or run for the same amount of time, but require less fuel to do it.

There are some drawbacks to diesel generators, though. For starters, diesel portable generators are famously noisy, meaning that they may not be a great choice for those planning on using their generator in a tight-knit neighborhood.

"The same tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning can also help spell noise reduction. Don’t operate a portable generator inside, near an open window, door or garage door. Don’t operate it near an air conditioning intake area. Not only will all of this help to reduce noise in the home, but it will help prevent dangerous fumes from entering as well." — Joel Worthington, President at Mr. Electric

Other Features and Considerations

portable generator
Lifewire 

While determining the overall type of portable generator you want to buy is important, there is a range of other features to think about, too. Here’s a rundown of those other features, and how important they should be in your decision-making process. 

Battery

While many generators simply output power as they generate, sometimes it can be helpful to have a generator with a battery, too. When a generator has a battery, it can store the power that it generates until you need it, meaning you don’t always need to have the generator running to use it. Batteries are especially necessary for solar-powered generators, as they generally won’t be able to generate as much energy as you use. Instead, they'll need to store that energy so there’s plenty available when you need it.

Batteries in portable generators can range from around 8,000mAh, which is enough to charge a smartphone two or three times, to 50Ah or more, which is big enough to charge a phone as many as 15 times—though, of course, you’ll probably want to use it for more than just charging a phone. There are tradeoffs to larger batteries. For starters, generators with larger batteries are more expensive. Plus, they’re usually bigger in physical size, too—which may or may not be important to you.

Wattage

The wattage of a generator basically dictates how much power a generator can output at once. Different devices need different amounts of power to work properly, and if your generator doesn’t have a high enough wattage, it won’t be able to supply enough power to run those devices. 

So how much power do different products need? Well, it’s worth checking out a wattage charge to figure it out. Smaller devices, like a light bulb, only require around 60 watts to run, while a grill requires around 1,650 watts, and a coffee maker requires 1,000 watts. The more you want to power at once, the higher wattage generator you’ll need.

To get the highest wattage, you’ll likely need a gas or diesel generator. Solar generators are perfectly fine for powering phones and sometimes even laptops, but to power things like electric grills, multiple lights, and more, you’ll need the power that only a gas or diesel generator can supply.

Voltage

Generally, portable generators are aimed at supplying power to household electronics, and most of the time, depending on where you live, these electronics require either 110V or 220V to work properly. Therefore, your generator should be able to supply those voltages.

Often, portable generators have ways to adjust the voltage, which may come in handy if you’re powering specialized electronics—though we only recommend adjusting the voltage if you absolutely know what you’re doing.

Outputs

Besides the amount of power that a generator can supply, consider how you get that power from the generator to your devices. Often, generators have power outlets where you can plug your devices in, but you should pay attention to how many outlets are available. If you want to plug ten devices into a generator, you’ll need one with ten outlets—though you may be hard-pressed to find a generator that can supply enough wattage for ten devices. You could also use a power strip to expand on the number of outlets at your disposal, but again, keep wattage in mind when doing so.

Thankfully, many generators have other types of outputs, too. For example, many modern generators offer USB outputs for things like smartphones and tablets, which can seriously free up power outlets for other things. 

We recommend buying a generator with at least one power outlet and a few USB ports, though if you’re camping with more than a few people, more outputs can’t hurt.

Circuit Protector

Circuit protectors, or circuit breakers as they’re sometimes called, help ensure that you don’t do damage to your generator with a device that has a faulty circuit. When a device isn’t working properly or it exceeds the load of power that a generator can offer, the circuit protector will automatically switch off. If that happens, it’s worth checking to make sure your appliances and devices are working properly.

Most portable generators should have a circuit protector built into them, but if you see one that doesn’t, we recommend steering clear. Getting one that doesn’t have a circuit protector could result in your generator being damaged and could put you in a dangerous situation.

Noise

As mentioned, gas and diesel generators usually produce at least some noise, and because of that, the amount of noise that they produce is worth considering. It can be hard to determine how much noise your generator will emit before you buy it, but some companies list the amount of noise in decibels. If they do, normally those generators will be quiet in general, but we recommend looking for one that’s no louder than 60 or 70 dB, which is around the volume of a soft radio playing. 

Size and Weight

A generator could have a huge battery, high output wattage, and plenty of outlets, but if you’re buying it for camping and can’t fit it in your car, then it doesn’t really matter what kinds of features it offers. It's definitely worth considering how big of a generator you want, and how heavy you want it to be.

Portable generators can range in weight from well under 50 pounds to hundreds of pounds. For most users who want a generator for camping, you shouldn’t need a generator that weighs more than 50 to 70 pounds.

Brands To Consider

portable generator
 Lifewire

There are a number of companies that build portable generators, and they’re not all created equal. We recommend sticking with a well-known brand that has established itself as a leader. Not only are they likely to be more reliable, but they’ll also likely be more helpful in case you run into issues.

Honda is one of the better-known brands, especially when it comes to gas generators. Apart from Honda, Generac, Cat, Westinghouse, Briggs & Stratton, and Champion all build gas and diesel generators, and are all worth looking into. When it comes to solar generators, check out Rockpals, Jackery, and Goal Zero.

Conclusions

There are dozens of things to keep in mind when buying a portable generator, but hopefully, after reading this guide you have a slightly better understanding of what portable generators have to offer.

If you're still confused, however, we have a few overall suggestions. First, decide whether you want a solar, gas, or diesel generator. For charging small devices like smartphones and tablets, a solar generator will be perfectly fine, but any more than that and you’ll have to start looking into gas and diesel generators. After that, figure out how much wattage you need (and add a bit extra on top of that), figure out a price range, and try to find one that has a few power outlets and maybe a few USB ports, too. 

No matter what you need from a generator, the good news is that there are tons of options out there, and you should be able to find something that fits.

Was this page helpful?