Inverter generators are a fairly new entry into the RV and camping marketplace, but they have quickly made a large impact. What is the difference between an inverter generator and a traditional model?
An inverter generator uses an alternator, like your car, to produce alternative current (A/C) power. This is then converted to direct current (D/C) power via a rectifier before being converted to usable A/C power through an inverter. While this may seem like a circuitous method, this process results in increased efficiency, quieter operation, and significantly more reliable power.
Unlike older generators that risked damaging delicate electronics, inverter generators properly regulate their power output to better simulate power from the grid.
However, among the field of inverter generators, there can be a huge number of models, features, and variables. Here are some of the best models available.
Products Reviewed in This Article
Last update on 2023-09-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Our Top 3 Best Inverter Generators Compared
Last update on 2023-08-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Inverter Generator Reviews
If you are looking for a generator that incorporates nearly every imaginable feature, the WEN 56380i is a hard model to overlook. At 3,400 watts (3.8kW surge), the WEN has about 1.5x the capacity of the smaller “suitcase” generator models. This bump in output can give you a lot of flexibility. One of the primary uses of generators is for running air conditioners while camping. While a smaller model may be able to run a 13k BTU air conditioner, that arrangement does not leave you with a lot of surplus overhead. In contrast, the WEN should provide enough power to run a moderate air conditioner and still keep your batteries charging and TV entertaining.
Beyond the impressive power output, WEN did not skimp on features. One of the most prominent luxuries that this model offers is electric start. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not a must-have. However, if you find yourself cycling your generator on and off throughout the day, not having to pull the cord can quickly become a life-saver. Further, having an electric start allows you more flexibility in where you place the generator. If you want to leave the unit in the bed of your truck or a generator compartment, it is nice to not have to worry about the placement of the pull start.
Fuel management is another feature that the WEN gets right. Beyond having an automatic fuel switch, WEN also incorporated a “shut down” mode. This mode has the generator continue to run until the fuel is emptied from the fuel bowl of the carburetor, preventing stale gas from harming the engine if the unit is stored for long periods. It is a small detail, but a very helpful inclusion. Past these novel features, WEN also incorporated a laundry list of niceties that anyone should look for in an inverter generator. Thus, the 56380i has a pure-sine inverter, an eco mode, a parallel kit, and a full complement of outputs including USB, 30 amp, and 12V DC. Despite this myriad of features, the WEN still maintains an imminently reasonable price, costing less than some lower-performing competition. This is an impressive model all-around.
- Higher capacity
- Excellent feature list
- Somewhat heavy
Champion is a relatively new brand in the inverter generator market, but the reviews so far have been positive. Like the WEN above, the Champion 3100 packs a higher output capacity than the smaller models available. While these larger units are slightly heavier and can be more awkward to maneuver, most campers will find that the higher capacity makes for a worth-while trade off. Beyond the higher capacity, the Champion has a lot going for it but is still missing a few features that prevent us from giving it a no-reservations recommendation.
In terms of output options, the Champion has the basics, but nothing more. The front panel features a 30-amp socket, two 15-amps, and a 12V DC. Although a power strip is not an expensive accessory, having additional 15-amp plugs built in would have been a nice convenience. Further, the lack of USB ports is a slightly questionable oversight. Again, it’s an easy issue to circumvent, but you shouldn’t have to.
The most surprising oversight of the Champion 3100 is the lack of a parallel kit. While other models allow you to gang together multiple generators for increased capacity, there is no accommodation for this here. The party piece of the Champion is the remote start. I’ll admit, this is a great idea that I have not seen in other units. This model comes with a small wireless keychain-remote, allowing you to turn the generator on without being near it. For anyone who has ever camped in the rain, the usefulness of this is immediately apparent. Finally, the price point of this generator is excellent for the capacity. Thus, it is frustrating that a few oversights hold this model back. That said, the benefits may still make this a great choice for some.
- High capacity
- Low price
- Remote start
- Limited outputs
- No parallel kit
Every generator has a focus and a selling point. For the Westinghouse iGen2500, that selling point is the price. Unfortunately, some compromises had to be made to get it there. Truthfully, the iGen2500 is a solid little generator. For most people, it provides solid performance at a best-in-market pricepoint. It simply lacks a lot of the bells and whistles that we have come to expect.
In terms of capacity, the Westinghouse can output 2200 watts, with a 2500 watt surge. This is fairly standard among the compact suitcase generator models. This is an excellent compact unit for running a small air conditioner or keeping your campsite lit. However, it is not going to be an excellent multi-tasker. That said, the lack of capacity is somewhat offset by the sheer portability of this unit. Even a smaller person should have no issues lifting its 48 lbs into a truck.
What the Westinghouse lacks are a 30-amp plug and an approachable parallel kit. Regarding the former, it is somewhat understandable to not include a 30-amp output given the relatively small output capacity of the unit. However, this means that a series of adapters will have to be used to plug in most trailers. It is a surmountable problem but an annoyance. Further, the iGen2500 technically has a parallel kit that allows two generators to be run in concert. However, this uses a somewhat questionable splitter-plug that occupies two of the already scarce ports. It’s a solution, but not an elegant one.
Overall, the Westinghouse is a solid bargain for a wholly useable unit. Yet, if you have a few more dollars to spend, you can get some worthwhile features for not a lot more money.
- Very affordable
- Limited outputs
- Questionable parallel kit
When most people think of an inverter generator, the ubiquitous Honda EU2200i is probably what springs to mind. Honda was the first manufacturer to popularize this style of a generator, and they remained the best for many years. Yet, despite the history of the EU2200i powering countless food trucks across the plains, it has become akin to the Bose Wave Radio. It was the first, the best, and they’ve done nothing to improve it while the market has marched onward.
The EU2200i is a staggeringly well-made product. It is safe to say that anyone who criticizes Honda’s quality is, frankly, wrong. The issue is that Honda generators are still very expensive for the market segment they occupy. Despite its high price point, there is a fairly substantial list of features that Honda doesn’t include. There is no electric start. There is no 30-amp plug or USB outputs. There is not a fuel shut-down mode. There isn’t a digital (or even analog) voltage display. And although there is a readily available parallel kit, it relies on a bulky external controller that is both expensive and somewhat inconvenient. Thus, even with the quality and refinement considered, the price can be hard to stomach.
There is still a place for the EU2200i, though. It is still one of the quietest units on the market, and it will undoubtedly provide reliable service until the inevitable heat death of the universe arrives. I simply wish that Honda would use their engineering moxie to continue to improve on their excellent baseline.
- Incredible quality
- Very quiet
- Easy to start
- Lacking features
Based on the specifications and design of the Yamaha EF2200iS, it is readily apparent that the designers decided to ride the coattails of Honda’s original generator darling child. Unfortunately, similar problems arose. In our testing, the EF2200iS performed admirably. It started easily, ran efficiently, and the claimed power output numbers were easily verified. But, much like the Honda EU series, the feature list here is fairly short given the price.
Much like the Honda, this is a lower output unit. At 2000 continuous watts, this is a generator designed with portability in mind, rather than raw power. Of course, there are applications where this is a perfectly acceptable trade-off. However, there are still some niceties missing when you consider that this unit is no cheaper than the Honda. This model is still pull-start only and still lacks a voltage output. Minimalism appears to be the theme.
Unlike the Honda, the Yamaha did incorporate a 30-amp plug. However, its presence is somewhat misleading. Given the modest power output of this unit, the 30-amp plug cannot be used by itself. Rather, this plug only becomes active once another EF2200iS is paired to it via an optional parallel kit. To its credit, the parallel kit arrangement is significantly more affordable, and elegant, than the Honda’s. I understand that many people prefer to use two smaller generators rather than one larger one to maintain portability and flexibility. Although I understand it, the price-per-watt for that arrangement is still a difficult pill to swallow.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the Yamaha, it is also difficult to recommend. It lacks the reputation (and thus resale) of the Honda but costs the same. Unless the improved parallel kit is a significant factor for you, you would be better off choosing the Honda. And if the compactness isn’t a priority, you’d be better off buying one of the other options entirely.
- Elegant parallel kit
- Lacking features
- No voltage display
If you are looking for a powerhouse without paying a premium, the Briggs & Stratton 30675 is the unit you need. Compared to the other units discussed here today, the output of this model is a truly impressive 6500 watts. Thus, this single generator can produce two or three times as much power as the other units featured, and the price is not even significantly higher.
Being an inverter generator, the Q6500 still outputs a pure-sine power signal. Thus, it should be suitable for running even sensitive electronics. And luckily, there are plenty of output options for this wealth of power. In total, this model included four 120V 15-amp outlets, two USB ports, and a single 30-amp port. In other words, your campsite power needs are covered. With 6,500 watts to play with, this model shouldn’t have any trouble running an air conditioner or two while still powering a microwave, TV, or anything else a mid-size trailer may need.
Of course, there are a few compromises to be made. The first is noise. Although this is hardly one of the deafening buzz-boxes of yesteryear, it is still noticeably louder than the other units tested. This makes sense given the increased size of the engine and other components, but if quiet operation is your top demand, this might not be the best option. Further, it is not a hugely feature-rich model. The most notable exclusion is the electric start. In testing, our unit always started easily with a single pull of the cord. Yet, for a generator of this size, an electric option would have been nice.
Finally, the weight of this unit needs to be considered. For a 6,500 watt unit, it is actually very light at only 138 lbs. However, you aren’t going to be tossing it in the trunk of your car like some of the smaller options. The bulk is somewhat counteracted by the very nice wheels and telescoping handle, though, which makes it easy enough for a single person to maneuver on flat ground.
Overall, the Briggs & Stratton Q6500 is an impressive effort. Although it is slightly bare-bones in a few aspects, I was legitimately surprised that such a high-capacity inverter generator could be purchased at this price point. If running the most equipment for the least money is your goal, this is your best bet.
- Massive power output
- Lots of output options
- Great price
- Somewhat noisy
What to Look For in an Inverter Generator
We are long past the days when Honda was the only player in town. Now, almost every small engine manufacturer is producing an inverter generator for you to consider. Thus, navigating this market to find the best model requires some research. Here are the most important considerations.
Look for Pure-Sine Power
At the risk of being too technical, the wave-shape of your power makes a big difference. In the United States, power is transmitted at 120 volts, at sixty cycles (hertz) for second, using a pure-sine waveform. This means that the transmission between each peak and valley is smooth. In contrast, non-inverter generators will produce power in a saw-tooth or modified-sine wave-form.
Think about the difference between drawing a seagull and a mountain and you have a general idea. While simple devices like space heaters and fans will not notice the difference, electronic devices will. If you plan to charge your phone, power a laptop, or run a television, you need to make sure that the generator you choose produces a pure sine wave output.
Even modern HVAC systems or refrigerators in RVs often have delicate electronics, so always choosing the right generator can help prevent damage to components you may not even consider.
Consider the Capacity You Need – Don’t Be Fooled by Peak
One of the most misleading practices in the generator world is to advertise the “peak” power, rather than the sustained power. Peak power is the amount of power a generator can produce for a brief moment.
While this can be important for coping with certain short-term power draws like the inductive load of a motor in an air conditioner or refrigerator, it does not portray the actual capacity of the generator. For running a smaller air conditioner and a few lights, a 2,000-watt generator is normally sufficient. However, any more demand will require a larger generator.
Make sure you add up all of the devices you typically use while camping and choose a generator that can support your need.
Is a Coupling Kit Available?
Many campers prefer to use multiple generators running in parallel. This process was popularized by Honda and allows you to connect two smaller (and thus, easier to carry) generators together to do the job of one larger model.
However, not all generators support this feature. If this is a use that appeals to you, make sure to find a generator that supports it.
Are There Auxilary Fuel Tank Options?
Some generators allow the use of auxiliary fuel tanks to increase their run times. Typically, a small generator can run for about 12 hours on a single tank of fuel.
If your needs require a generator to run for a longer time without intervention, look for a model that has external fueling options.
Noise Level Can Make a Difference
Another important consideration when choosing a generator is the noise output. One aspect that originally made inverter generators more popular than the non-inverter models is that, in general, they are much quieter. However, it is important to understand how noise ratings are measured.
Noise output is typically measured in decibels, or “db.” This is a logarithmic scale, meaning that an increase in 10 decibels reflects a noise that is twice as loud. So, while you might assume a 60db generator would only be slightly noisier than a 50db model, it will actually be twice as raucous.
Further, generator makers often report the noise levels of their models at lower power levels. However, if you intend to use the full capacity of a generator, the noise output at 25% throttle is not a relevant number to you. Thus, if you need a quiet generator, do some research to find the noise level at each throttle position.
In general, any generator under 55db will be almost unnoticeable. At 60db, you will notice it but it likely won’t bother you in most contexts. At 70db, it is likely to become a fairly noticeable distraction.
With the long list of features and options offered in the inverter generator market, the process of choosing the right one can seem overwhelming at first. However, the sheer number of different models currently offered is a great benefit to the consumer. Competition has never been higher, and prices have never been lower. There are some truly fantastic deals to be had if you look in the right places.
Of course, the perfect generator depends on your needs. In our testing, the WEN 56380i truly impressed. It was quiet, packed with features, and offered at an extremely competitive price point. Beyond that, this model does an excellent job of balancing output with size and weight. For most applications, it is a great choice.
However, if you find yourself needing a little more wattage, then the Briggs & Stratton Q6500 should be strongly considered. Although it lacks a few of the features of other competitors, there is simply no way to get more performance for a lower price.
- Dimensions: 23.2" L x 18" W x 20.1" H | Weight: 99.2 lb.Dimensions: 23.2" L x 18" W x 20.1" H | Weight: 99.2 lb.Engine Speed : 3600 RPM. Spark Plug Gap : 0.7 - 0.8 mm (0.028 - 0.031 in).
- Extremely quiet operation minimizes noise;, EPA III and CARB Compliant
- 212cc 4-stroke OHV engine produces 3800 surge watts and 3400 rated watts with a half-load runtime of up to 8.5 hours
- Fuel shutoff maximizes the generator’s lifespan by using up the remaining fuel in the carburetor before shutting down
- Produces clean power to prevent damage to sensitive electronics such as smart phones, tablets and laptops
Last update on 2023-08-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API