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High-quality product at an affordable price
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 lbs, 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.
Easy to carry
Won't ship to California
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 percent 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 reviewers 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.
Wireless remote start
Great run time
Excellent customer service
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 percent 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.
LED display shows helpful data
Super quiet 52 db of noise
Won't work with some power tools
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-percent load. When pushed to a 50-percent 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.
Can run up to 16 hours
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 percent), 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.
Built to last
Includes battery, oil supply, and maintenance kit
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 ten hours straight at 50 percent 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.
Lightweight and compact
Can be tricky to start
The Pulsar 1200W portable gas-powered generator is the ideal combination of portability and low power—perfect for camping trips and other outdoor activities. Though it runs on 900 watts of power (up to 1,200 peak watts), dual 120V outlets and a single 12V DC output will power a variety of devices, tools, and appliances. Running for 8.5 hours on a half load, the generator only consumes around 1.1 gallons of fuel. A power panel features an AC reset button, circuit breaker, and DC reset button.
A durable carrying handle makes transporting the 35-pound unit easy. Activated by a single pull recoil, starting the generator proved a little difficult for some reviewers, but most said they got the hang of it. Once operational, the noise level isn’t overbearing as it only puts out around 65 dB.
One of the quietest options out there
Made for travel
best suited for recreational use, rather than as a household emergency power source
No fuel gauge, which would be useful
The loud hums from a generator can be a huge nuisance when you’re camping or relaxing, which is why we like the Briggs & Stratton 30651 P2200. The company’s Quiet Power Technology works to automatically adjust the engine to work quieter and increase efficiency, with noise levels at 59 decibels at 25% load use.
Being an inverter generator, it works well for delicate goods, so perfect for charging phones, laptops, and cameras. It’s also designed with maneuverability in mind, with a carrying handle and compact size. At 54 lbs, it’s much lighter than some of its competitors.
The wattage on this generator isn’t as strong as some, at 2,200 starting watts and 1,700 running watts. This is more than enough for recreational use or for short-term emergencies, but for powering a household, it probably won’t be enough. However, for camping, backyard fun, or a quick solution while you wait for the power to return, it should be ok. Note that this product can’t be shipped to California.
Need to beef up your emergency preparedness kit? Take a look at our list of the best walkie talkies on the market.
How many watts does my 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 my 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.