Portable Generators: A Short Introduction
Portable generators come in all shapes and sizes these days. Some are aimed at campers and construction work, while others are designed for folks needing backup home power in emergencies. With so many options, it can be hard to figure out what you need and what features to focus on.
In this review, we’ll take a look at some of the best options on the market for each of these different use cases. Portable generators also vary in size quite a lot, so there’s plenty of space for overlap between different requirements too.
We’ll also talk through all the essential features in detail, so you can understand what to look for. Towards the end of the article, we will also help to answer some of the most common buyers’ questions.
Best For RV, Camping & Tools
1. Honda EU2200i
⤍ Exceptionally quiet at 47-58db
⤍ Superb reliability from a market leader
⤍ Very lightweight and easy to use
Honda have a well-established reputation for producing some the world’s finest and most reliable engines. This is especially true of their generators, which are loved by owners the world over. You might argue that they are almost too good – as these machines continue to work well 10 or 20 years after they were originally purchased.
Taking a look at the EU2200i more closely, this generator is aimed firmly at the portable tools and RV/Camping type of buyer. It’s highly portable, and features 2200W of power output, which is plenty for your mobile home needs. A full inverter is included, so you get clean 120V power that is safe to use on your more sensitive appliances like laptops and cell phones.
Honda’s own GXR120 motor powers this machine, and does so exceptionally quietly. Coming in at just 47-58db, it sits amongst the quietest generators in the category. What does that mean in practice? Well, it’s less noise than a normal conversation – so this machine really does “work in the background”.
Starting the EU2200i is a breeze due to Honda’s assisted pull start and a fuel shutoff valve which helps to reduce stale fuel in the system. A number of other clever innovations make this unit a true standout – including an automated throttle which helps to reduce emissions.
For buyers who occasionally need more power, you can also chain two generators together to produce an additional boost.
While it isn’t the cheapest option on the market for this category, the EU2200i is a clear leader in the category and a worthy investment. You need a generator to work when required, and with thousands of happy buyers behind it, the EU2200i won’t let you down.
Best For Home Backup Power
2. Westinghouse WGen7500
⤍ Good for home emergency power needs
⤍ Large 16-hour fuel tank
⤍ Exceptionally reliable & easy to start
Next up, we have a larger powerplant, in the form of the Westinghouse WGen7500. This machine is aimed at more demanding buyers who are looking for an emergency home power supply, or have above average mobile power requirements.
Designed to produce plenty of power for extended periods, the WGen7500 is rated to 7500W with a peak power of 9500W. What does that mean in practice? It means plenty of power to maintain your fridge, A/C and some lights during an outage. Buyers who have used the machine during hurricane Irma have been thrilled with the results – and reported plenty of power on tap to help them recover from the disaster.
Ease of use was high on Westinghouse’s list when designing the WGen7500 – which is clear from the push button start system. This can be operated directly on the machine or via a wireless key fob for extra convenience. Plugs are easily accessible on the control panel, and the fueling point is very easy to reach.
Durability and reliability are also an important part of this machine, which features a large tank with a 16-hour run time. There is a backup pull start system in case the battery is dead (you can never predict an emergency!), and the included tool kit and oil make sure you have everything you need right there with the machine. This machine will also work well to provide an external power source to electric tools, but at 192lbs it is quite large.
If you are looking for a great portable generator for your emergency needs, then this machine is an excellent choice. It ticks all the boxes for turn-key performance, and comes at a fraction of the price of a full-blown permanent backup generator system.
3. Champion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Generator
⤍ Dual Fuel: Gas or Propane
⤍ 3800W of power
⤍ Electric start & auto oil shutoff
When it comes to a great value all-rounder, it’s hard to find a better choice than the Champion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Generator. This machine comes fitted with many of the premium features you’ll find on more expensive models in a package that won’t break the bank.
Beginning with the motor, this 224cc powerplant features an electric start with a coil backup in case the battery is flat. You can also use either gas or propane with the Champion, and easily move back and forth between either option. With a 3.4-gallon gas tank, this machine will run for about 9hrs on a full tank of gas.
From a power perspective, the 3800W available works well for everything – from RV duty to job sites and light backup home power work. An oil shut off valve is included as standard, so the machine will automatically shut itself down if it overheats or runs low on oil. The entire unit is wrapped in a sturdy steel frame, which is supported by two robust rubber wheels for easy maneuvering.
While it’s not a standout in any one area, this machine is a solid performer, and is available at a very attractive price point. For buyers who need a portable generator to cover all their bases, then this is a great choice.
4. DuroStar DS4000S
⤍ Great value mid-sized 4000W powerplant
⤍ No electric starter
⤍ Lacks easy mobility compared to others
Another great value all-rounder, the DuroStar DS4000S is similar to the Champion, but comes with a slightly more basic set of features.
Powered by a 7hp 208cc motor, the DS4000S produces 4000W of power, making it a good choice for RVs, job sites and light home emergency power usage. The output panel features two 120V standard outlets and a single 120V twist lock outlet, all protected by a surge protector. These devices help to protect your devices from damage in the event of an unexpected power surge, and are similar to those you would find in a home. With a 4-gallon tank, you should get about an 8 hour runtime on this machine when it runs at 50% load.
In terms of mobility, this machine comes without wheels as standard (although they are available as an extra). Although it is easy to carry, it does weigh in at 94lbs, so it’s not as mobile as some of the more expensive models of a similar power. It’s also a little louder, coming in at 69db, but by no means excessively so.
Backed up with a 3-year warranty, the DuroStar DS4000S is definitely a good option for buyers working with a more restricted budget. Although you don’t get wheels or an electric starter on this model – all the key features are there to get the job done.
5. DuroMax XP12000EH
⤍ Huge 12,000W power supply for home backup
⤍ Includes options to power 50-amp devices
⤍ Runs on propane or gasoline
For buyers looking for huge amounts of power, the DuroMax XP12000EH is a good pick. This machine is aimed at homeowners who want a backup power supply or demanding construction users on large job sites.
With some 12,000W available from a 457cc OHV motor, this portable generator is easily the most powerful in our test. It comes equipped with 2x 120V standard sockets, one 120V twist lock, a 240V twist lock and 240V heavy duty outlet. One of the advantages of this setup is that you can both voltages simultaneously, rather than having to pick just one.
In terms of power output, this machine is designed to power lights, home AC and refrigerators. Compared to a built-in home backup generator, this machine comes in at a fraction of the price, and is still easy to roll around with the included handles and tires.
As a dual fuel portable generator, you have options to run this machine on either liquid propane or gas. The dual fuel option is fairly common on large generators like this, as propane runs cleaner and doesn’t gum up the engine like gasoline.
The XP12000EH is equipped with all the features you would expect on a generator like this, with an electric start, low oil light, circuit breakers and surge protection. You also have an idle control, which will idle down the generator when it isn’t loaded. This helps to reduce your fuel consumption on long jobs.
Although this is a newer model on the market compared to established brands like Honda or Yamaha, it is backed up by a strong 3-year guarantee. With thousands of happy buyers’ reviews, the machine offers huge amounts of power at an affordable price.
6. Westinghouse iGen2200 Portable Inverter Generator
⤍ Compact, lightweight generator
⤍ 1800W rating & 2200 Watts peak
⤍ Easy to start and very efficient
Another great small portable generator for RVs, tailgates and small job sites, the Westinghouse iGen2200 offers many of the features found on the industry leading Honda at a slightly lower price point. This compact little machine is very easy to use and can be paralleled up for more power.
Rated to produce 1800W or 2200W at peak power, this little machine is equipped with two 120V, 20 Amp outlets and a pair of USB sockets. Efficiency is the name of the game with this machine with a 80cc motor. Having such a small, yet decently powerful motor means the unit is very light and easy to handle at just 46lbs. It is gas-powered, and also CARB compliant.
Ease of use was a top priority in the design of the iGen2200, and Westinghouse have put together a simple and easy to understand control panel. Although it does require a pull start like all the generators in this category, the switches and startup procedure is color-coded so you can’t go wrong. In addition, the choke setting is located on the “on” switch, to help prevent over choking. Like the Honda, the iGen2200 is also very quiet, and runs at only about 52db.
For buyers looking for a reliable, quiet and easy to use portable generator in the small size category, the iGen2200 certainly won’t disappoint.
7. WEN 56380i
⤍ Great mid-sized portable generator
⤍ Includes TT-30R RV receptacle
⤍ Electric start system
Another strong candidate in the mid-sized category, the WEN 56380i offers simple usage with plenty of power available. This compact machine is available in a closed frame or open frame version for buyers who aren’t concerned with portability and who want to save some money.
Powered by a 212cc 4-stroke motor, this portable generator can produce 3800W of power, and works at a noise rating of just 57db. Run time is very good, at 8.5hours when running at half load. The control panel features a variety of outputs, with two 120V sockets, a NEMA TT-30R RV receptacle, and even an extra USB port.
One of the main advantages of this particular generator is that it includes many of the more modern features typically reserved for the premium manufacturers. One example is an electric start system, which makes starting a breeze. Another is the automatic fuel shutoff, which helps to reduce carburettor gumming and prolongs the life of the generator.
Like most WEN machinery, the 56380i offers a very strong set of features and great performance at an exciting price point. For owners looking for a quality mid-sized portable generator, this machine is a good choice.
8. WEN 56200i
⤍ Compact, quiet and portable generator
⤍ 2000W power rating
⤍ Simple and easy to use
There’s no doubt that the small-sized portable generator category is very competitive, and although the WEN 56200i might not be our top pick, it’s still a great little machine. Small and portable, this unit is aimed at campers, tailgaters and less demanding construction buyers.
Rated to produce 2000W from a 4-cycle motor, this machine produces clean reliable power that can be used for everything from electronics to small appliances like coolers. Included on the panel are two 120V AC outlets, partnered with a USB 5V outlet and a 120V DC outlet. Like other generators in this category, you can also parallel this machine to produce more power.
Running the 56200i is a very simple affair, with a clean and intuitive control panel. An eco-mode helps to keep fuel consumption down by allowing the motor to automatically throttle down when power consumption is low. Although it doesn’t include a voltmeter or digital display, simple indicator lights are included for low oil, overload and output sensors.
Running at just 52db, this is a simple and quiet machine that will serve many buyers needs very well. The price-point is quite attractive, and with a 2-year warranty, buyers can be confident they will pick up a good machine for the long run.
9. Generac GP2200i
⤍ 2000W portable RV generator
⤍ Simple and rugged design
⤍ Lacks a fuel shutoff feature
Generac are a well-established name in generators, and are perhaps most well known for their residential backup generators. The GP2200i is their portable offering however, and like others in the category, it is aimed primarily at camping, light construction, and tailgating buyers.
The GP2200i comes with many of the standard features you’d expect for a portable generator of this size, with 2 AC 120V sockets, a 12V DC socket and a single 5V USB outlet. Rated to 2000W, this little machine also features an eco-mode which automatically reduces the throttle to reduce fuel consumption.
Starting the GP2200i is a simple routine, using a clean and straightforward dashboard. After filling it with fuel and oil, LED status lights will let you know when you are running low. As with almost all small generators like this, there isn’t an electric start, but with an assisted pull start system most buyers report firing on the first pull.
Although it runs quiet, this machine does lack a fuel cut off system, which helps to prolong the life of the generator. As a result, you’ll have to make sure the carburettor is clean by running it out of gas when storing it for long periods.
All in all, this is a solid little machine but perhaps not a standout in the category. Although that might sound like a bad judgement, with so many great offerings out there, it doesn’t mean it won’t serve most buyers needs very well.
10. Briggs & Stratton 30664 8000W Generator
⤍ Powerful 8000W portable generator
⤍ Simple & rugged design
⤍ Highly regarded engine manufaturer
Briggs & Stratton are well known for their engines, and produce them for different manufacturers all over the world. It comes as no surprise to find them in the generator market, with their wealth of experience.
With 8000W of power available, the 30664 is aimed at the most demanding portable generator users. Applications include large job sites, big RVs and even backup home power during emergency outages.
The 30664 is powered by a 2100 series 420cc motor, which features electric start and a large 7.5-gallon fuel tank. Running at 50% capacity, that gives you an impressive 9 hours of power, which is amongst the longest for generators of this size. Power is delivered by 4 120V AC outlets, and a single 30-amp outlet.
Although this machine doesn’t feature some of the more advanced systems like remote starting, it does have all the major features you would expect. Surge protection is included, and simple dials help you monitor output and fuel levels. It’s important to note however that this machine is only gasoline compatible, while other options in the category often come with dual fuel options.
In some ways, we would describe this as a simple and more stripped-down alternative to the more complex portable generators on the market. If you’re looking for a powerful, traditional design from a reputable engine manufacturer, then the Briggs & Stratton 30664 is a good choice.
What To Consider When Buying A Portable Generator
Power Output (Watts)
The most important thing to know when choosing a portability generator is your power requirement. It’s no good purchasing a generator that can’t produce the electricity you need.
In reality, figuring this out is not as complicated as you might think. For a simple tailgate, small camping trip, or light construction needs, a small generator in the 2000W range will suffice.
If you have a larger RV or run a bigger job site with multiple tools or lights, consider stepping up to a portable generator in the 4000W range. These can also do light backup power duty, and keep a freezer running and a few other appliances. For larger homes and more power requirements, something in the 7000-10,000W range will be great. As a reference, fully-functioned permanent backup generators are around 13,000W.
Size & Portability
Next up, you need to consider how portable you need your portable generator to be. For something like a tailgate or small camping trip, you can easily carry a small generator around. They typically weigh about 50lbs, and you’ll likely be near your car, so it’s not really an issue.
The consideration comes when you have larger powerplants, typically aimed at construction work. If you need to move a generator in and of an area or load it onto a truck, something with good wheels will make a big difference.
It’s worth noting that not all portable generators come with wheels. Typically, it’s cheaper to buy one without them, and that’s fine for situations like RVs where you might not need to move the generator.
While most generators run on gasoline, some run on propane gas, and some can run on either.
Gas is obviously easy to come by, and you don’t have to deal with bulk storage tanks. However, gasoline can gum up some carburetors, particularly on cheap machines. This can make them hard to start. Some newer designs have automatic fuel cut-offs which do help to solve this issue, but it’s not common on every machine.
Propane burns cleaner but is harder to refill. If you have a propane tank already at home, or a good source to purchase tanks, then you might consider this alternative. Whichever fuel you choose, it’s important you always run your generator safely.
Manual or Electric Start
While most smaller generators still require a pull-start, as you reach mid-sized generators, some are available with an electric starter like a car. It’s true that good quality pull-start generators are do work well, but some buyers just prefer the simplicity of turning a key to start the machine.
Since your generator will run for hours at a time, noise is a key consideration. Generally, the smaller the generator, the quieter it is, but once you have chosen your power requirement, you want to look for the quietest possible option. Soundproofing your generator is a good idea if you plan to leave it in the same location.
Most generators will quote two numbers for run time, a tank capacity, and a run time at 50% load. This is how long the generator is expected to run when it’s operating at 50% power capacity or 50% of the rated wattage.
Finally, it’s important to check your generator has the correct outlets you need! Generators these days will come with 120V AC standard sockets, 12V DC, 5V USB, and then more specialist RV connections like NEMA TT-30R. Check your requirements and ensure you have a generator with the correct outlets for your needs.
You might also be interested in home garage air compressors.
Portable Generator Buyer’s Guide FAQs
When looking to purchase a new portable generator, buyers ask us all sorts of questions. Below, we’ve collected some of the most common and included our thoughts.
What is the best portable generator to buy?
It’s hard to say exactly which is the best portable generator to buy because really it depends on your needs. Sure there are hugely powerful machines out there, but if your power requirement is low, then you’re much better off with a smaller and more portable device. Let’s take a look through the most common uses, and our top recommended products.
For those looking for an RV generator, camping generator, or even a small job site generator, you should look no further than the Honda EU2200i. This machine is a clear leader in its class and has a very loyal following from owners. Why? It’s exceptionally quiet, light offers an automatic fuel shutoff, and Honda has a reputation for the best reliability in the business.
For mid-sized applications, the Champion 3800W generator. This machine is much more powerful than the Honda, but it’s also larger. It comes with an electric start feature, dual propane and gasoline fuel capabilities, and a host of other features.
For demanding use cases, like backup power, we recommend the Westinghouse WGen7500. This machine is packed with incredible features, including key-fob starting, and surge interruption circuits. To top it off it has a huge run time, and a great warranty to back up the build quality.
What can you run on a 2000 watt generator?
You can run various appliances using a 2000W generator. However, there is a limit to what you can achieve without needing to move up to a larger generator. The other consideration is that lots of devices have a higher “startup” power requirement than their running requirement. Small RV freezers typically run at around 600 Watts, and microwaves run from 500-1000W. So you can comfortably run those, along with some lights.
Things get more difficult with larger home appliances like a standard home fridge, which typically needs 1200W. Pair that with a typical heater of 1300W and the generator won’t work.
2000W generators work really well for small camping trips and light RV work. They are perfect for portable coolers, but they are not suitable for running houses as a backup power supply.
Should I get a portable or standby generator?
It’s true that these days you can get a portable generator with a similar capacity to a small standby backup generator. That said, although they are similar in terms of their power output, the two systems are actually quite different.
If you have regular intermittent power outages, then generally we recommend a standby generator. These units are wired into your mains power, detect outages, and then start up automatically. Almost like magic, you only experience a small drop in power, and in the more sophisticated systems, none at all.
That said, they are very expensive and require extensive installation. If power outages are not regular, then you are probably better off with a cheaper and more powerful portable generator. Sure, you’ll have to get out of bed, pull it out of the garage and fire it up. But they are a fraction of the cost of a standby generator.
Are portable generators worth it?
For so many buyers, a portable generator is a great purchase decision. Whether you are planning to use it in your RV, at tailgates, on a job site, or even for backup power, they are truly indispensable.
These days, the technology is so well developed that you can get really good quality portable generators for very reasonable prices. Almost all of these machines work very well and will provide you with power when you need it.