Whether you are camping, enduring a storm, or just tailgating, it is no exaggeration to call electricity an essential item. Yet, there is a seemingly endless variety of sizes, styles, and brands of generators on the market. With this variety, it can become difficult to know what model will best suit your needs. We’ve gathered a large array of generators that are well-suited to several different uses, trying to find the top rated portable generators of each style. Let’s take a look at the best portable generator in each category.
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Best Portable Generator Reviews
Arguably, the primary purpose of a generator is to provide freedom and flexibility. Being able to produce electricity without relying on the grid or other supplies can open up a wealth of opportunities. Within this mindset, having a generator that can run on a variety of fuel sources can be a further boon to your self-reliance. For this, dual fuel generators are an excellent option.
In terms of dual-fuel generator options, the Champion 3800 is one of the best. Depending on where you use your generator, different types of fuel will be more or less convenient. For example, when using a generator for home-backup power, propane is often more convenient because of its longer stability. However, for camping or RVing, gasoline is often easier to come by. The Champion does not make you have to choose. Rather, this model can power up to 3,500 watts on either fuel at the flip of a switch.
That switch is an important aspect. Many generators are marketed as dual-fuel but require complicated adjustments like swapping fuel lines or replacing the jets in the carburetor. Not so here. Regardless of the fuel you want to use, you can simply flip a switch and be ready to go. The other features reflect this versatile nature as well. The front panel of the Champion features a variety of plugs, so you can use it for RV’s, home power, or even regular appliances with no adapters or strips. They amplified the convenience even more with electric start.
Compared to gas-only models, you will pay a slight premium for the Champion. However, the quality and quiet nature (only 62db) of this unit more than justify the price. If you’re searching for a great example of a dual-powered generator, the Champion is a fantastic option.
- Very versatile
- Good value
- Smaller gas tank
If you are looking for a lot of power that won’t break the budget, it is hard to go wrong with the DuroMax XP4400E. One of the most common mistakes that buyers make when choosing a generator is underestimating how much capacity they need. For example, if you intend to use a generator with your RV, a single air conditioner can easily max-out the capabilities of a smaller unit. In these instances, it is always better to have too much power than not enough. And with the DuroMax, that additional capacity comes at a surprisingly affordable price.
The XP4400E outputs 4,400 watts of peak output, with a sustained capacity of 3,500 watts. Thus, this would best be classified as a “mid-size” generator, making it excellent for construction sites, RV’s, and home backup power. This unit should have no trouble keeping an air conditioner pumping out cold air while simultaneously running a fridge or microwave. Despite the impressive capacity, this is a surprisingly affordable unit. It is a pleasure to see manufacturers finally producing high-quality units at continually lower prices.
Despite its budget-friendly price tag, the DuroMax still has a fairly comprehensive list of features. One of the nicest luxuries that this generator offers is electric starting. I used to think this was an unnecessary feature. However, having lived with both pull-start and electric-start generators, I hope to never return to the manual method.
Further, the XP4400E features a particularly nice wheel and handle kit. This is an area where a surprising number of manufacturers skimp. It is shockingly common to see poorly made wheel kits, or for a manufacturer to simply not include one at all. Thus, the wheels and handle were a nice addition to this unit and made it trivial to transport. Another issue with less expensive generators is often noise. It is not uncommon for “budget” models to be deafening loud. While you’re unlikely to forget that this unit is running, it is nonetheless acceptably quiet considering its size.
The only notable oversight of this unit is that it has relatively few outputs compared to the competition. It has one 30-amp port and two 15-amp standard outlets. This is sufficient, but it would be nice to see the inclusion of another port or two. That said, this is a minor complaint that does not detract from the unit as a whole. If you’re in the market for a budget-friendly generator with plenty of reserve capacity, this is a great place to look.
- Great value
- Easy to start
- Limited outputs
Historically, finding an affordable and portable generator over 5,000 watts was a difficult task. It seemed that there were plenty of compact “camping” generators and plenty of industrial units, but few options in between. Thus, it is nice to see attention finally being paid to the larger consumer end of the market. The majority of portable generators are roughly 3,500 watts. While this is sufficient for some tasks, it simply isn’t enough capacity for many modern situations. If you have a larger coach or fifth wheel with multiple air conditioning units, for example, you will almost certainly need at least 6,000 watts to be off-grid and self-sufficient. For those situations, the Westinghouse WGen7500 is a fantastic buy.
Westinghouse has quickly become a staple of the high-end generator market. They use in-house engines which ensures that their generators are consistently well-engineered and well-matched units. The WGen7500 does an excellent job of providing ample power for the vast majority of jobs while being packed with convenience features as well.
One of the most common complaints I have with generators is a lack of ports. Westinghouse outdid themselves here, though, providing a 30-amp plug, four 15-amp sockets, and a 5V DC port for USB charging. Beyond this, the WGen7500 has electric start, remote starting, and is transfer switch ready. That last feature is a particular luxury, as it makes it possible for this unit to be used as an automatic home backup generator. Thus, one generator can do the job of keeping your home secure and powering your camping adventures.
- Ample ports
- Great value
- Remote start
- Transfer switch ready
- No carry handles
Read our full review of the Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator.
Briggs & Stratton P3000 Power Smart Series Inverter Generator with LCD Display and Quiet Power Technology
I make no bones about being a big Briggs & Stratton fan. I have used their equipment for years and have essentially no complaints. That said, the P3000 is a bit of an odd duck. In terms of capacity, it occupies an awkward place in the market because it’s not small enough to be compact and not large enough to have a lot of extra capacity. It is rated for 3000 peak watts, but its sustained rating is 2,600. Therefore, it can’t quite pass the test of running multiple large devices at the same time.
However, that is not to say the Briggs & Stratton P3000 is a bad device by any means. Throughout my testing, I was continually impressed by it. It is one of the quietest generators I have ever tested, and it never failed to start easily and provide clean well-regulated power. Further, this is an inverter generator. In basic terms, that means that the power generated from this generator is much more controlled and precise than from other more primitive units. For some devices, such as power tools, this may not make a large difference. However, if you intend to run delicate electronic devices, having the clean pure-sine power of an inverter can go a long way towards protecting your gear.
Beyond its inverter attributes, this is a well-equipped unit. For a smaller model, they went to town providing an ample selection of ports for the front panel. It has a USB port, a 12V DC plug, four 15-amp sockets, and a 30-amp. Further, the P3000 supports parallel charging. This means that if you purchase two similar models, you can “gang” them together to double your capacity. This is a nice convenience feature that a surprising number of companies overlook.
Thus, my only critique of this generator is that it’s not-quite small and not-quite medium. It’s a physically larger unit than a “suitcase” model, so carrying it will likely require two people. However, despite the heft, it lacks the power capacity to run two air conditioners or a large RV. However, if your needs align with the capacity of this generator, it is still a great buy. It’s reliable, incredibly fuel-efficient, quiet, and well-made. Just make sure it provides enough capacity for your purposes.
- Extremely quiet
- Very fuel efficient
- Good value
- Clean power
- Slightly underpowered for some uses
Honda is who popularized the inverter generator concept, and they have had plenty of time to perfect their craft. When shopping for generators, it is tempting to try to purchase the most power output for the least cost. Yet, doing so misses the point of generators in a lot of contexts. The Honda EU2200i is admittedly somewhat more expensive than other generators, especially if you are comparing it to non-inverter models. However, the cost is justified.
If you’ve never been around a Honda “suitcase” generator, a few things will immediately surprise you. The first is how small they are. Honda’s darling child is not a lot larger than a case of beer or a small cooler. It’s light, too. At under 40 pounds, this generator can easily be slung into the back of a car to provide power whenever you need it. In essence, this generator redefines the contexts in which you think to use a generator. I even use mine around the house to do yard work and other projects, because carrying this generator is simpler than finding an extension cord.
The other remarkable aspect of the EU2200i is how quiet it is. At just 48db, it is likely the most silent generator on the market. You can hear it running, but even standing next to it is not enough to disturb a conversation. This is one of the few generators that can be used in close-quarters camping without the rest of the park hating you.
Of course, it is important to also acknowledge the limitations of this unit. At 2200 watts, you won’t be plugging your 40-foot diesel pusher into this generator and expecting it to power all three ACs along with the margarita blender. However, it is hard to imagine a smaller or more convenient source of electricity.
- Extremely light
- Very quiet
- Clean power
- Relatively expensive
As previously discussed, different situations call for different generators. If the Honda EU2200i above is for when you need a comparatively small amount of power in the most elegant way possible, the DuroMax XP12000EH is for when you need to power the world. At 12,000 watts of peak power, there is very little that this beast won’t be able to handle. If you need this amount of capacity, it is hard to go wrong with the XP12000EH.
First, this model continues the Duromax tradition of providing fantastic value. Until recently, a 12kWh generator would typically cost three times this amount. In terms of cost per watt, this is about as good as I’ve ever seen. Further, this is a staggeringly well-equipped model. It features electric start, 12V battery charging, and remote start capabilities. Beyond that, it has every outlet you could ever want. It has both styles of 30-amp outlet, so whether you need a twist-lock for your RV or a straight-pin for your welder, Duromax has you covered. This unit even has a 50-amp plug for powering large RV’s or as a house backup.
The versatility continues for the fuel. Much like the smaller Champion above, this is a dual fuel generator meaning it can run on propane or traditional gasoline. This is a bonus that greatly increases the functionality and versatility of this model. The propane option is particularly convenient given the high capacity of this generator. Because it can produce so much power, this is an ideal candidate for a home backup generator. Thus, you can wire this generator to a transfer switch and plumb it into your home’s propane or natural gas system for a truly automatic arrangement.
If you need to power a lot of equipment for a great price and have versatility to spare, it is hard to do better than the DuroMax XP12000EH.
- Huge capacity
- Every possible outlet
- Dual fuel
Best Portable Generator Buyer’s Guide
What To Look For In a Generator?
When reading portable generator reviews, what constitutes the “best portable generator” is subjective. Ultimately, it depends on what you need the generator to do. Here is what you need to consider to make sure you find a model that suits your needs.
Be Honest About the Capacity You Need
When shopping for generators, people are often less than accurate about how much power they need. But purchasing a generator that is too small can be a frustrating and expensive experience.
It is best to take the time beforehand to make sure you know the capacity you need. If you aren’t sure, simply take the number of watts that all of your devices require and add them up to get the total. Keep in mind, however, that some devices require a surge of current when they first start.
For example, a mid-size air conditioner only needs about 1,500 watts to run, but it needs twice that for the initial starting period. In short, build in the buffer you need.
Is Portability a Priority?
In the world of generators, you often pay a premium for particularly compact models. While having an incredibly compact or lightweight generator is a nice convenience, it is unnecessary if you rarely need to move it.
Thus, make sure you consider how you actually plan to use your new generator. If you plan to sling it in the back of your truck every weekend, having a small model may be worth it. Yet, if it will sit in the corner of your garage until the next power outage, having a larger model might not pose a problem.
How Loud is Too Loud
Beyond size, the noise level is another factor that often distinguishes expensive generators from cheaper ones. Many modern generators, like the Honda EU2200i above, are shockingly quiet. Being able to have a source of power without the raucous noise or annoying fumes can be a revelation. However, it is not always needed. There are a few factors to consider here.
First, when looking at noise rating, remember that the decibel scale is logarithmic. Without giving you flashbacks to high school algebra, simply remember that for every ten-decibel increase, a generator will be twice as loud. So while you may think a 50db model is only slightly louder than a 40db one, the actual distinction will be double.
Next, you don’t always have to live with the stock noise rating. There are many kits available on the market to add aftermarket mufflers to generators. So, if you’re willing to do a little bit of research, even a noisy model can be tampered down.
What Are You Planning to Run?
In the world of generators, power can be measured both by quantity and quality. Many basic generators can produce a lot of electricity but do so in an unregulated way. When running lights, power tools, or other basic equipment this will not matter.
However, if you intend to run delicate electronics from your generator, you will want a cleaner source of power. In these cases, pay particular focus to inverter generators. They produce power in a slightly different way that more accurately creates the pure-sine nature of what comes from the grid.
Portable generators are a fantastic way of allowing you to be off the grid without sacrificing comfort or convenience. However, portable generator reviews often try to simplify the matter of the “best portable generators” too much.
The truth is that different generators are best suited for different tasks. And that is precisely why we have arranged this review as a look at the top rated portable generators in different categories, rather than trying to pinpoint a specific model.
Yet, despite this approach, favorites do still emerge. While each of the models reviewed today does a great job of fulfilling its niche, the Champion 3800-Watt managed to impress us more than expected. Its combination of build quality, quiet operation, and great value made it a surprising front-runner in this comparison, and an excellent candidate for anyone in the market for the best portable generators.