6 Best Portable Generator Reviews of 2020 – (Comprehensive Buying Guide)

There are a lot of reasons why getting a portable generator is a great idea. It could be that you live in an area typically plagued by hurricanes or other natural disasters and want to protect you and your loved ones from power outages. You might want one to take to your next tailgating party. Or you own an RV and don’t want to depend on your propane generator all the time. Whatever the reason, you know that a portable generator is a great option for you. But you have no idea where to begin.

That’s where we come in. We’ve got an entire lineup of carefully researched and curated reviews to make portable generators comparison easy. There are also buying guides, and helpful stat sheets to make your decision easier than you thought it would be. Whether you’re looking for a gas powered, propane, dual fuel or even solar generator, we have you covered. This review and buying guide is going to give you a few portable generator reviews and then show you an in-depth buying guide that will help you drill down and figure out what is most important to you.

Portable Generator Reviews

Contents

Products

Top Rated!

Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator

  • Watts: 7500 Running/9500 Peak Starting
  • Tank Size: 6.6 Gallon Fuel Tank Power
  • Source: Gas-Powered
  • Dimensions: 27.32 x 26.18 x 26.2 in
  • Weight: 200.62 lbs
  • Warranty: 3-year

Champion 100302 Portable Inverter Generator

Watts: 3500 Running/4000 Peak Starting
Tank Size: 1.0 Gallon Fuel Tank
Power Source: Gasoline-Powered
Dimensions: 20.5 x 17.9 x 17.7 in
Weight: 81.6 lbs
Warranty: 3-year

WEN 56475 Portable Generator

Watts: 3750 Running/4750 Peak Starting
Tank Size: 4.0 Gallon Fuel Tank
Power Source: Gas-Powered
Dimensions: 26.6 x 17.1 x 17.3 in
Weight: 112.5 pounds
Warranty: 2-year

Good Value

DuroStar DS4000S Portable Generator

Watts: 3300 Running/4000 Peak Starting
Tank Size: 3.96 Gallon Fuel Tank
Power Source: Gas-Powered
Dimensions: 24 x 17 x 17 in
Weight: 94 lbs
Warranty: 3-year

WEN 56105 Portable Generator

Watts: 900 Running/1000 Peak Starting
Tank Size: 1 Gallon Fuel Tank
Power Source: Gas-Powered
Dimensions: 15 x 12 x 14.5 in
Weight: 36.9 pounds
Warranty: 2-year

Briggs & Stratton 30651 P2200 Portable Inverter Generator

Watts: 1700 Running/2200 Peak Starting
Tank Size: 1.0 Gallon Fuel Tank
Power Source: Gas-Powered
Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.4 x 19.9 in
Weight: 55 lbs
Warranty: 2-years

Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator

Best Portable Generator ReviewsThis powerful generator pushes the limits of what portability means, but thanks to its solid wheels and fold down handle, this 200 pound beast is fairly easy to move wherever you need her to be. It generates a whopping 7500 running watts and can handle a peak 9500 starting watts if your gear needs a little boost every now and again.

This is a gasoline run 420cc 4 stroke engine that combined with the 6.6 gallon fuel tank can get you a run time of up to 16 hours (depending on load of course). And you’ll always know where you sit when it comes to how much gas is left thanks to the fuel gauge on board.

This generator comes with an electric start and a remote starting key fob. If you forget and the battery for the electrical starter dies, you can also use the manual pull recoil starter in a pinch.

Because this is such a powerful generator, it’s ready out of the box to be plugged into your transfer switch. The L14-30R outlet will allow you to easily connect and give you on demand power when you need it. If you’re not plugging it into your home, you still get 4 GFCI protected standard household outlets. There’s also a battery charging port to allow you to directly trickle charge your car or RV battery.

Read Full Review: Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator

Features:

  • 7500 Running Watts
  • 9500 Peak Starting Watts
  • 6.6 Gallon Fuel Tank
  • Plug Set:
    • (4) Standard Household 120V/20A
    • (1) L14-30R 120V/240V @ 30A
    • (1) Battery Charging Port
  • 27.3 x 26.2 x 26.2 inches
  • 201 pounds

Champion 100302 Portable Inverter Generator

Best Portable Generator ReviewsThis Champion generator is a relatively quiet inverter generator that weighs just over 81 pounds. As it comes, it has two raised bars that can be used as handles on either side. You can also get a mobility kit from Champion that makes this a truly portable generator. The kit comes with two solid never flat wheels and a folding handle.

This generator makes 3500 running watts with a peak output of 4000 starting watts. Even with a small 1.0 gallon gas tank, you’re still getting up to 17 hours of run time thanks to the Ecomode that lets the generator flex according to the load requirement. While running, even with the 224cc OHV motor, it’s still only making about 64 decibels at 1/4 load when you are 21 feet away. That is extremely quiet.

Because it is an inverter generator, you know that it’s going to be safe to directly plug in all of your electronics, from your cell phone to your laptop. It has a full featured plug set, including a three-prong locking L5-30 and two standard outlets. You also get a DC car adaptor so you can use a USB adaptor to charge your electronics and not take up precious outlet space.

The starter is a manual pull recoil starter with the handle right in the front. The display uses LED lights to show you important features and warnings. Make sure you read the manual so you know what your portable generator is telling you.

Read Full Review: Champion 4000-Watt RV Ready DH Series with Quiet Technology

Features

  • 3500 Running Watts
  • 4000 Peak Starting Watts
  • 1.0 Gallon Fuel Tank
  • Parallel Compatible
  • <3% Total Harmonic Distortion
  • 64 dBA @ 21 feet at 25% load
  • Plug Set:
    • (2) Standard Household 120V/20A
    • (1) L5-30R 120V/30A
    • (1) DC Car Adaptor 12V/5A
  • 20.5 x 17.9 x 17.7 inches
  • 81.6 pounds

WEN 56475 Portable Generator

Best Portable Generator ReviewsThis WEN portable generator comes with never flat wheels and fold down handles to make maneuvering this 112 pound generator a snap. It produces 3750 running watts to power nearly everything you can think of on the work site or at a tailgate party. And for those periods of running compressors, it can handle up to 4750 peak starting watts as well.

With an integrated 4.0 gallon gas tank, you’re going to enjoy up to 11 hours of run time at 50% load. And even though the generator is powered by a powerful 223cc OHV four stroke engine, it’s still only producing 68 decibels at 7 yards. That’s barely louder than your refrigerator.

Starting this generator uses a keyless push button system. There is no backup pull recoil starter, so make sure that you keep an eye on the battery charge. One key feature is that this generator has a spark arrestor, so you are safe to use it in wooded areas without fear of starting a fire.

For plugs, you have an RV plug that will accept any standard TT-30R shore plug. There’s also a three prong L5 locking plug and a pair of standard household outlets. The display panel has an engine counter to let you know how long the generator has been running. Keep in mind that you do need to ground this generator before operation.

Read Full Review: Wen 56475 4750-Watt Gasoline Powered Portable Generator

Features

  • 3750 Running Watts
  • 4750 Peak Starting Watts
  • 4.0 Gallon Fuel Tank
  • 68 dBA @ 21 feet at 25% load
  • Plug Set:
    • (2) Standard Household 120V/20A
    • (1) L5-30 120V/30A
    • (1) TT-30R 120V/30A
  • 26.6 x 17.1 x 17.3 inches
  • 112.5 pounds

DuroStar DS4000S Portable Generator

Best Portable Generator ReviewsThis DuroStar generator weighs in at 94 pounds and has a solid frame that doubles as carrying handles. An optional wheel kit will add a pair of never flat tires and a fold-down handle that helps maneuvering this generator much easier.

The generator produces 3300 running watts and 4000 peak starting watts. The 7.0 horsepower air cooled engine only generates 69 decibels when running at 1/4 load, so it’s quiet enough to not drown out the conversation at your shindig. The 3.9 gallon tank gives you about 8 hours of runtime at half load as well.

This generator has recoil starter. The control panel also has a low oil warning light and a volt meter to show you how much power is being produced. It also has an automatic shutoff if the low oil light is triggered. The generator does need to be grounded before use, so make sure you pick up a grounding kit.

The plug set on this DuroStar generator includes 2 standard household outlets providing 120 volts and a locking L5 three prong outlet that generates either 120 or 240 volts at 30 amps. And because DuroStar stands behind their generator, they are also offering a 3-year limited warranty against manufacturer defects.

Read Full Review: DuroStar DS4000S Gas Powered Portable Generator

Features

  • 3300 Running Watts
  • 4000 Peak Starting Watts
  • 3.96 Gallon Fuel Tank
  • 69 dBA @ 21 feet at 25% load
  • Plug Set:
    • (2) Standard Household 120V/20A
    • (1) L5-30 120V/30A
  • 24 x 17 x 17 inches
  • 94 pounds

WEN 56105 Portable Generator

Best Portable Generator ReviewsThis is the smallest portable generator you’re likely to find, weighing in at only 37 pounds; it’s extremely easy to move around. It produces a solid 900 running watts with a peak 1000 starting watts, making it perfect for an outdoor movie night or as a power supply while camping.

It has a pull recoil starter and a one gallon fuel tank that gives about 5 hours of run time on a half load. The 63cc engine is only a two stroke engine, so the fuel must be a gas/oil mixture at 50/1 ratio. This is convenient for such a small generator because you don’t have to worry about packing a bottle of oil in and out with you.

There is a single standard three prong outlet with 120 volts and 20 amp output. It is a little noisier when it comes to a pure wattage to decibel ratio, but with only 69 decibels out output, it’s not going to be a huge distraction unless you’re sitting right next to it. If you’re looking for a no-frills small portable generator, this is it.

Read Full Review: WEN 56105 Portable Generator

Features

  • 900 Running Watts
  • 1000 Peak Starting Watts
  • 1 Gallon Fuel Tank
  • 69 dBA @ 21 feet at 25% load
  • Plug Set:
    • (1) Standard Household 120V/20A
  • 15 x 12 x 14.5 inches
  • 36.9 pounds

Briggs & Stratton 30651 P2200 Portable Inverter Generator

Best Portable Generator ReviewsThis Briggs & Stratton portable generator weighs in at only 55 pounds. It has a handle molded into the top, and with its small size, there’s no need to attach any wheels to enhance its mobility. It puts out 1700 running watts with 2200 peak watts, so it has got enough power to run almost anything you could ask of it at a party or a camping or hunting trip. If you do need more power, this generator is ready to be put into parallel with another to give you almost twice the power.

It has an 8 hour run time on a single one-gallon tank of gas at 1/4 load from its 111cc OHV motor. And because it’s an inverter generator, not only is it safe for your sensitive electronics, it’s also super quiet, generating less than 60 decibels. That’s about as loud as your refrigerator as a reference.

When it comes to the plug sets, you get a pair of standard household outlets as well as a DC car adaptor to let you plug in another inverter or a USB adaptor to charge your cell phone. You start this generator with a pull cord. Briggs & Stratton also offer a 24-month warranty on this series of generator for residential use. If you plan on using it commercially, the warranty is only good for 12 months.

Read Full Review: Briggs and Stratton Inverter Generator

Features

  • 1700 Running Watts
  • 2200 Peak Starting Watts
  • 1.0 Gallon Fuel Tank
  • Parallel Compatible
  • <3% Total Harmonic Distortion
  • 59 dBA @ 21 feet at 25% load
  • Plug Set:
    • (2) Standard Household 120V/20A
    • (1) DC Car Adaptor 12V/5A
  • 22.4 x 14.4 x 19.9 inches
  • 54.6 pounds

Portable Generator Buying Guide

Best Portable Generator12 Things to Keep in Mind when Choosing the Best Portable Generator

There are a lot of portable generators available, and each has different features that might make it good for what you want to use it for. It’s essential that you think about what your planned uses are so that you don’t end up purchasing a generator that is either too powerful or not powerful enough. However, it’s not just what you intend to use your portable generator for that will play a part in determining which one you should get. To get the best top-rated portable generator for you, think about these 11 factors.

1. Power

This is the heart of every portable generator: how much power does it produce. Portable generators can produce anywhere from a basic 900 watts all the way up to 14 or more kilowatts. It’s important that you select one that is not only powerful enough for what you want to use it for now, but will also grow with you in the future.

It used to be that when you purchased a portable generator, you had to be careful not to get one that was too powerful. That was because you didn’t want to send a large power surge toward your appliances for fear of burning them out. Now, however, modern generators have throttling technology, which lets them run at lower outputs if the load demand is lower. So while you might not want to get a super powerful generator for a small tailgate because of the size, you don’t have to worry about overpower anymore.

2. Noise Levels

If you want the quietest generator, the technology has come a long way. No longer do you have generators that sound like you’re camped out in the middle of downtown rush hour in the middle of Los Angeles. There are some portable generators that are so quiet that you’ll question whether you’ve even turned them on or if they’re still running.

Manufacturers have been able to do this thanks to more precise engineering, which results in less vibration noise. While they can’t do much about the noise that comes from the fuel actually exploding inside the engine, they can, and do, dampen it with soundproofing and better insulation. Some of the quieter portable generators have cases that surround the engine to make them even quieter.

If you’re heading out for a weekend camping in the woods, you probably don’t want a generator that’s going to drown out the sounds of nature. And that’s what these are good for.

3. Fuel Types

In general, generators operate on four different fuel types: diesel, gasoline, propane, and natural gas. For the most part, portable generators will be either gas powered or run on propane tanks. There are advantages and disadvantages to both kinds.

Propane makes for a quieter generator, but that comes at the cost of lower power output. And vice-versa, gasoline is more powerful, given the same size engine, but it will be a little noisier. There are other factors in propane vs. gasoline that we’ll cover later in this buying guide, but those are the primary concerns.

Of course, if you’re willing to spend a little bit extra, you can get a dual-fuel generator that lets you choose and switch between propane or gasoline on the fly. We’ll talk about dual fuel generators later as well, but for now, realize that this is also an option.

4. Fuel Tank Size

The size of the fuel tank will determine how long your portable generator is going to run. The larger the fuel tank, the more gas it holds, and the longer you get power. However, there’s more to it than that. Most generators also have oil tanks as well, and as the generator is used, the oil level will drop. Having a larger oil reservoir means that you can go longer between oil changes.

Some smaller generators use small engines and that means that they do away with the oil reservoir completely, and you have to mix fuel and oil manually to accommodate the machine. This fuel and oil ratio must be done fairly precisely, so that can be a consideration for your purchase as well. Who knows, a small engine generator like that could make it into your list of top 10 generators.

Fuel tank size shouldn’t deter you from getting a generator you absolutely love either. You can find fuel tank adjustment kits that let you increase the size of the onboard tank. These modification kits can void out the manufacturer warranty, so you have to be careful.

5. Portability

This is the key factor in portable generators. There are a couple of things you should look for when it comes to portability: Wheels and handles.

Some of the smaller generators will have molded plastic handles on the top, which makes it easy and convenient to carry. This is usually for generators that weigh less than 60 pounds. However, if you’re unable to carry 60 pounds of dead weight, then look for a portable generator with wheels and some form of telescoping or folding handles.

There are some heavier generators that do not come with any sort of mobility kit, and if you find one of those, then consider getting a dolly or cart to move the generator around. These models usually have sturdy frames around the generator, so it’s relatively easy to get the generator into place to get it where you want it.

6. Outlets

It doesn’t matter how much power your generator produces if you can’t get it to where you want it. You will usually find up to six different types of plugs on a portable generator:

Standard Household Plugs – These plugs are the same kind you find in your home. They provide 120 volts at 20 amps. Look for portable generators that have at least 2 of them.

L5-30 – These are three prong plugs that you plug higher wattage appliances into, like driers or more powerful stoves. They also twist to lock into place. They provide 120 volts and give 30 amps.

L14-30 – This is a four-prong outlet that provides either 120 or 240 volts and 30 amps.

TT-30R – This is a plug that provides 120 volts @ 30 amps. The plug is meant to provide power to RVs and will fit the shore plug for most RVs.

DC 12 volt Car Adaptor – These used to be called cigarette lighter adaptors, but since manufacturers stopped installing cigarette lighters in cars, they are now just car adaptors. They provide 12 volts at 5 amps usually. You can plug standard inverters into these or USB adaptors.

DC parallel poles – This type of plug is meant for charging a car or RV battery. A special plug will plug into each pole and provide power just as if you were charging or jumping the battery.

7. Warranty

A warranty is always nice, because sometimes manufacturing defects don’t show up until after your portable generator has been under load for a while. Most well-known brands will offer a 3 year warranty against manufacturer defects. That’s a great warranty, especially if you’re using the portable generator a bit.

You can save money by going with an off brand, it’s true. But some of these don’t have such a great warranty system. They usually offer 90 days or a year, which can be enough time to test out your generator, if you use it right away. Make sure you know the details of the warranty before you buy any particular brand, however.

8. Features (see more below)

There are several features you should be looking for. Some of them are quality of life improvements, like an electric start or a remote control. Others are features that lend more to safety, like automatic shut off when the oil gets too low. We’ll cover 9 of these features next so you can get a feel for them.

9. Brand Names

One big question is whether you should get a brand name generator or go with an off-brand. There are benefits to both. When you stick with a name-brand generator, you’re getting a sense of guaranteed quality and you’re also getting the brand name behind your purchase. However, you’re also going to pay a little extra for that name brand, especially with some of the more well-known brands like Champion or Briggs & Stratton.

On the other hand, an off-brand or generic brand portable generator can save you a fair bit of money if you’re willing to take the risk. Because they are an off-brand, they don’t have the requirement to produce a product that has a quality build. Some generic brands are only in it for a quick buck. And when you go to complain or get warranty service, you find that the customer service is lacking, or in some cases, completely non-existent. For a quick one-off usage, a generic brand might work as a combination of cost and expected longevity.

 10. Price

The budget for a portable generator is a large factor for most people. Don’t expect to pay less than a few hundred bucks for a good mid-range generator. Depending on the feature set and the number of plugs, you can see the price climb up to the thousands.

With portable generators, the old adage, you get what you pay for, is often true. If you’re looking for a portable generator that will serve as your home’s backup power in the case of an emergency, don’t be afraid to spend a bit more. That money will show its worth during the next power outage.

11. Size of Task

What are you going to be using your generator for? There are many different reasons why someone might want a generator, but they can generally be broken down into two different categories: Light and Heavy duty uses. Here are some examples and a few recommendations.

Heavy Duty – If you plan on using a generator in a professional setting, then you’re going to want a heavy duty professional generator. These generators are specially constructed to stand up to the longer running times that job sites require.

You’re also going to find enormous fuel tanks that will get you up to 9 hours of run time on a single tank. And when they say 9 hours of run time, they mean at 100 percent load, so you know that even working at peak load, you’re getting that much time.

One key thing that professional heavy duty generators have that your average light duty residential generator won’t is a set of lifting lugs. These are loops of steel that allow you to lift the generator up or lower it down. They also make a handy place to chain your generator down in the case of high winds or for theft prevention.

Light Duty – For light duty, that’s pretty much every non-commercial need you could have. Whether you’re looking for top generators most suitable for camping and RV life, or something to have for your latest tailgate extravaganza, you can find something for every niche.

If you’re wanting an RV generator, make sure that it has a TT-30R plug; that’s the plug that is used to connect your shore plug to a power source. It’s handy to have other plugs as well, but the TT-30R is the most important.

For camping or parties, you want to look for something that is quiet and has a generous power output. After all, you don’t want everyone to have to shout over the noise of the generator. But even if you find one that’s a little noisy, you can use temporary noise baffling to reduce the noise pollution it produces.

12. Emission

Generators all have emissions, but some burn cleaner than others. If you’re concerned about emissions, look for a propane or natural gas generator. If you want a completely zero emission generator, you can always shift to a solar powered generator.

8 Portable Generator Features to Keep in Mind

Best Portable Generator1. Inverter or Conventional

Inverter generators are used when you need to power up sensitive electronics. That’s because of how portable generators create AC electricity. Generators naturally produce DC, or direct current, electricity, meaning that the power flows only in one direction.

Most modern appliances use AC power, or alternating current. This means that the power flows one direction and then flows the other. This directional shift is called a phase change.

When a generator changes DC to AC, it causes an abrupt phase change, so that the electricity doesn’t shift smoothly. This abrupt change causes a phenomenon called harmonic distortion. When the total harmonic distortion (THD) gets too large, it can cause sensitive electronics to short out. So your cell phone or your laptop should not be plugged into a normal generator.

On the other hand, an inverter generator uses a series of capacitors to make that transition and phase change much more smooth. Instead of being abrupt, the phase change begins to look like a sine wave instead of blocks. And as it smooths out, the THD drops. In some cases, inverter generators can get below 3% THD, so your computer and electronics can be plugged directly in without worry.

2. Automatic Start

When you set up your generator as a backup for your home, it’s nice when you don’t have to go out to start your generator manually. In some generators with an automatic transfer switch, your generator will kick on automatically to provide power to your home.

When the switch detects that the power company’s flow is gone or dropping, it will automatically cut off the utility and turn on the generator and start providing power from that. In most cases, a full transfer happens in less than a minute. And when it detects that power is coming back from the utility, it will automatically change back over.

3. Electric Start

Push button starters are great, especially if you have trouble pulling a recoil cord starter. Some push button starters are even remote control connected, so you can turn on the generator from the comfort of your RV or your home.

There is a drawback to some electric starters. They rely on batteries, and batteries can die. With some electric start dual fuel generators, you can’t start the generator while it’s fueled with gas without the electric start. So be sure that you have spare batteries for your electric starter, and ensure that there’s a backup starting method.

4. Alternative Fuel Capacity

Dual fuel or tri fuel generators give you more flexibility in your portable generator, which is a great feature. You aren’t tied to just gas or propane then. If you run out of one, you can automatically switch over without having to turn off the generator. That means you don’t miss a beat when it comes to your tailgate or your camping party. And it gives you the time you need to get a refill of your primary fuel source.

5. Fuel Gauge

There’s no worse feeling when your generator sputters and dies because you’re out of fuel. It seems like something so simple, but a lot of generators don’t have a fuel gauge built in. That may be because the fuel tank has a smaller capacity, but if you’re at a party or you’re relying on your generator to power your refrigerator, knowing how much gas you have left is important.

If you can, get a portable generator with a fuel gauge, but you shouldn’t refuse a favorite one just because of that missing feature. You can get gas caps that have a gauge built in if it’s really important to you. That’s just one of many useful accessories for a portable generator available.

6. Low-Oil Shutoff

This is a vital safety feature that hopefully will start becoming standard on every portable generator with an oil reservoir. It ensures that when you have a forgetful moment and don’t top off the oil of your portable generator that you won’t destroy your thousand dollar machine. Instead, it will just automatically shut off and give you an appropriate error code.

7. Multiple Outlets

Having multiple outlets is a blessing when you want to plug in multiple devices. At a bare minimum, any portable generator should have at least two standard outlets that give you 120 volts and 20 amps. Some will even give you four. If you’re planning to power your RV, make sure you have an RV plug (also called a TT-30R) for your shore plug set.

We’ve gone over other options for plugs, and if you plan on powering other things, you should keep those in mind when you go shopping for the perfect portable generator. Just remember that if you do need a 30 amp outlet, you can’t upgrade a 20 amp outlet to that. So, get a generator that has it to be sure.

8. Removable Console

Newer portable generators take the plug set and put it on a console that detaches from the generator itself. The console connects to the generator via an industrial rated cable, so you can move the plugs closer to the party while leaving the generator where it is.

That means that you aren’t forced to use an extension cord, which isn’t recommended. You should never use a traditional indoor extension cord with portable generators. If you must use one, then use a commercially-rated extension cord.

Why Choose a Portable Generator?

Best Portable GeneratorPortable generators have a lot of uses, and provide power whenever you need it, regardless of what the utility company is doing or where you are. Because of this, you’ll find it handy in numerous situations, including:

● Power Around the House

The loss of utility provided power to your house can have a lot of disastrous consequences. If you live in the South, your home may become humid, hot, and virtually uninhabitable. If you’re from up North, then you can get frozen out of your home; water pipes can freeze and burst, leaving you with thousands of dollars of damage.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however. Food left in the refrigerator can spoil, your cell phone battery will eventually die, and you can be left stranded with no way to communicate with the rest of the world.

A whole house or partial panel backup generator will save you from that by providing power to things that you need the most. When you install an automatic transfer switch that was professionally installed, your generator will automatically take over from the utility company in the event of a power outage, or a rolling brown out.

● Emergency/Backup Power

If you don’t use a portable generator as a backup source for your entire home, they are still handy to have as an emergency backup generator. Think about how many power outages you’ve been in and how inconvenient they were for those few hours. Now imagine if you could go about your normal business during a power outage, thanks to your portable generator.

Your internet would still be on, provided that the cable line or phone lines aren’t disconnected or stopped. You can plug in your router and that gives it the ability to still receive and send the signals for internet. At the very least, you can keep one or two emergency lights on and keep your personal electronics charged. You might not have everything powered on, but you’d have enough to make sure that you could stay home and ride out the power outage in style.

● For Hobbies and on the Road

If you enjoy tailgating, then you know that nothing makes a tailgate quite like watching the game while you’re cooking, eating, and drinking. If you’re having a party at the park, having a steady supply of electricity for the music to keep jamming is a great relief. You can use your portable generator to power a coffee maker, a radio, a television, or whatever you could possibly want.

Some portable generators are able to power your RV so you can keep things going without having to rely on your onboard propane generator. That can be a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient in a lot of situations. Whether you’re camping, or just in your backyard throwing down a shindig, a portable generator is a great way to keep your party going for a long time.

● At Work

It doesn’t matter if you run a construction business or you have an office; having a backup power source can be just as vital for work as it is for home. When it comes to construction, the last thing you want are extension cords running everywhere. And likewise, you don’t want your employees to be tethered to a wall outlet. Having a portable generator frees your carpenters, electricians, and other specialists to move around the job site and do the work that needs to be done where it is needed.

If you’re in a business situation, having an emergency backup generator can save you from costly lawsuits and lost business. With an automatic transfer switch, emergency lights can come on in seconds, helping employees and customers get to exits safely without injury. Additionally, a backup generator can keep a central computer powered so you don’t lose sales data or vitally important company metrics.

3 Portable Generator Terms You Need to Know

Best Portable GeneratorThere are quite a few portable generator specific terms that you should know so you can shop correctly for a portable generator. Here are three that are pretty essential:

● kW (Kilowatts)

The wattage that a generator can provide is usually given in kilowatts, which is essentially, thousands of watts. The shorthand abbreviation for kilowatt is kW. When you see a generator that is able to provide 14 kW, which means it can push out 14,000 watts.

A watt can also be called a volt-amp, because to figure out how many watts a device uses, you multiply voltage by the number of amps. So a standard household plug that gives 120 volts at 20 amps can provide up to 2400 watts, or 2.4 kilowatts.

But when a generator says it can produce 1400 kW of running power with 1600 kW of starting power, what exactly do they mean?

● Running/Continuous Power

A generator’s running power is the amount of power that it can produce on a continual basis. That’s the true measure of how much a generator can supply to your appliances, as opposed to surge, starting, or peak power.

● Surge/Starting Power

This is a measure of the amount of power that the generator can kick out for short periods of time to supply power during higher demand. An example of this is when your air conditioner’s compressor kicks on. Your generator is designed to accommodate this higher demand for a short period of time. However, if it exceeds a certain time threshold, the breaker will kick in and shut everything off.

That’s why we suggest when you calculate up your total wattage requirements, you add on another 10 percent and shop in that category. That way you don’t have to completely depend on the starting wattage to handle your appliances with higher demand periods. As an example, here are a few things that will have a higher surge demand:

o Air conditioners

o Heaters

o Fuel Pumps with Fans

o Refrigerators and Freezers

When you’re shopping for a portable generator, make sure that you take into account the starting wattage demands as well as the normal running demands. Otherwise, you could find yourself sitting in the dark unexpectedly when your refrigerator kicks on at the same time as your air conditioner.

Who Makes the Best Portable Generator?

Best Portable GeneratorPeople always ask who makes the best generators. But because there are so many factors, there’s no way to really make a generator ratings chart to find the exact best one. But there are certain manufacturers who have made a name for themselves when it comes to being the best generator brands. Here are six of the best for you to consider:

● Westinghouse

Westinghouse has been around since 1886 making energy-related products. Since they worked with Tesla in 1888 to produce the first AC motor, to the present day, they are always on the cutting edge of innovation. They have recently released a line of generators that are able to be controlled via Wi-Fi from mobile smart devices.

Their line of generators runs from the iGen1200 which produces 1000 running watts and up to 9 hours of runtime on 0.8 gallons of gas all the way up to the iPro4200 which gives you 3500 running watts and 18 hours of runtime on 2.6 gallons.

● Honda

Honda is best known in the small engine market for the efficiency of design and the cleanliness of their lines. They’ve been in business since 1953 with over 100 million power products under their belt. They strive to create highly efficient and low emission 4-stroke engines.

Their line of generators range in output from 1 kilowatt all the way up to 10 kilowatts for residential and commercial applications. Their smallest 1kW generator weighs less than 29 pounds and can run for 7 hours on 0.6 gallons. Their largest 10 kW generator has the best fuel efficiency and is the quietest in that entire class of industrial generators.

● Yamaha

Another proven name in small engines, Yamaha has been around since 1887, when it started as a piano and reed organ maker. That began Yamaha’s work in the musical industry, but it wasn’t until 1955 when Yamaha branched out into motors. Since then, they’ve become a world leader in small engines, making smaller and more efficient engines for use in various applications worldwide.

Yamaha generators also begin with a small 1 kW generator that offers nearly 12 hours of operation at 1/4 rated load on only 2/3 gallon of gas. All that in a package that only weighs 28 pounds. On the other end of the Yamaha spectrum is the 6kW rated generator that only produces 74.5 decibels at load. It is able to give you a full 8 hours of run time at full load on just under seven gallons of gas.

● Champion

Champion is a relative newcomer to the generator and small engine manufacturing game. They were founded in 2003, but since then have built and sold over 2.5 million generators in North America alone. They build their generators in the United States with facilities in Tennessee, Wisconsin, and California. They have been instrumental in driving innovation in the V-Twin engine line as well.

For portable generators, they offer four different 1200 watt generators, each with10 to 11 hours of running time and only 65 decibels. Their largest model puts out an impressive 12 kW with 15 kW of starting wattage from a 717cc V-Twin engine that still only produces 78 decibels of sound.

● Briggs & Stratton

From lawn mowers to small engines, Briggs & Stratton is a constant presence in the top names when it comes to making generators. They are headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and have been there since 1908 when Stephen Briggs and Harold Stratton collaborated to bring the company together. In 1953, after years of successful military engine manufacturing, they built the first lightweight aluminum engine for home use.

Their generators start with the P2200 series portable that we reviewed earlier and go up to a 420cc engine that powers an 8 kW generator that is integrated with Bluetooth technology. That lets you control your generator from your smart device, monitoring all the vital information from the comfort of your office chair or couch.

● Generac

Generac was founded in 1959 and was the first company to create affordable whole home standby generators. They are now the #1 manufacturer when it comes to home backup generators and are starting to make serious inroads into the realm of portable generators as well. They focus not only on the residential mobile generator market, but also the trailer mounted mobile generator market serving a larger demand.

Their generators start with the small iQ2000 which they advertise as being even quieter than a similar Honda generator. It gives you 1600 running watts with 7.7 hours at 1/4 load on a 1.06 gallon fuel tank. The largest Generac portable generator puts out an enormous 17.5 kW with 26.25 kW starting wattage. It has a 10 hour run time at half load on 16 gallons of gas.

How Many Watts Do You Need in a Generator?

Best Portable GeneratorCalculating your wattage requirement can be pretty intimidating at first glance, but we’ve got you covered. No need to go crawling around looking at the power stickers on all your appliances. We’ve got the average power needs for all of the major appliances you could think of, and maybe some that you didn’t. Let’s break it down for you by section:

● For Home

There are a lot of things in your home that you might want powered during an outage. Look around and think of what you might want running when nothing else is. Chief examples might include a space heater, or a couple of lamps; maybe even a laptop or your television and a DVD player or a game system. Here’s an example of what wattages those would typically require.

Item Running Wattage Starting Wattage (if any)
Lamps 60 0
Space Heater 1800 0
Window AC 12k BTU 3250 3950
LCD Television 50 0
DVD Player 350 0
Sony PS4 70 140
Nintendo Switch 11 16

● For Camping or RV

If you’re planning on using a generator as a power source for your RV, then you want a bigger generator. But how much bigger? That depends on what your RV has inside. Do you have a typical 13.5k BTU air conditioner? What about a stove or an electric oven? A television or a string of lights? Here are what those wattage requirements are:

Item Running Wattage Starting Wattage (if any)
Lamps 60 0
Space Heater 1800 0
Window AC 12k BTU 3250 3950
LCD Television 50 0
DVD Player 350 0
Sony PS4 70 140
Nintendo Switch 11 16

● For Work

If you’re working a home improvement site or a construction site, your wattage requirements are going to be much bigger. Whether you’re using work lights and a circular saw and a couple of electric drills, you’re going to have enormous wattage and peak wattage requirements. Here are some examples:

Item Running Wattage Starting Wattage (if any)
300 watt Halogen Work Light 300 0
Circular Saw 1200 2400
Disc Sander 1200 1200
Paint Sprayer 360 1080
Electric Drill 300 300
Cordless Hand Drill Battery Charger 70 150

● How to Choose the Right Size Generator

Now that you have some examples, you can probably guess how to choose the minimum sized generator you’re going to need. Remember, you can always go bigger, but you don’t ever want to go smaller.

Essentially, take a look at the complete list that follows and tally up the wattage requirements of all of the various devices and appliances you will plug into your portable generator. Once you do that, add another ten percent on top of that, and you have your minimum wattage requirements.

For example, let’s say that you’re going to be hosting a backyard gaming party and you want to use your generator. You look and see that you’re going to need to power four televisions and four PlayStation 4s. You also want a couple of lights to help the ambiance. You also want your friends to be able to charge their cellphones and maybe run your laptop for random browsing.

The total tally then is going to be, (50 (LCD television) x 4) + (140 (PS4 starting wattage) x 4) + (200 (laptop)) + (10 (cellphone chargers) x 6) + 40 for two sets of lights. That totals up to be 1060 watts. Add in ten percent, and you have a total of roughly 1200 running watts as your minimum.

This is the same whether you’re calculating wattage requirements for your emergency home generator, or if you’re working out how big of a generator you’ll need at your construction site.

● How Much Power Requirements Does This Appliance Need?

Here is a complete chart of all of the major appliances that you would probably need to power during a power outage or during a party or for your RV. This includes the peak starting wattage as well.

Category Item Running Wattage Starting Wattage (if any)
Tailgating 42-inch LCD TV 50 0
Box Fan 200 0
Cell Phone Charger 10 0
Electric Griddle 1200 0
Inflation Pump 50 150
Laptop 200 0
RV AC (13,500 BTU) 1600 2300
String Lights 20 0
Emergency Use
Lamp 60 0
Refrigerator 600 2200
Sump Pump 1/2 HP 1050 2200
Water Pump 1000 2100
Electric Water Heater 4000 0
Space Heater 1800 0
Humidifier 175 0
1/2 HP Furnace Fan 800 2350
Window AC 10k BTU 1200 3600
Window AC 12k BTU 3250 3950
Central AC 10k BTU 1500 3000
Central AC 24k BTU 3800 4950
Heat Pump 4700 4500
Iron 1200 0
Washing Machine 1120 2250
Microwave 625 Watts 625 0
Microwave 1000 Watts 1000 0
Coffee Machine 1000 0
Electric Oven 3410 0
Blender 350 500
Toaster 850 0
Microsoft Xbox One 112 0
Sony PlayStation 4 70 140
Nintendo Switch 11 16
DVD Player 350 0
LCD Television 50 0
Desktop PC 800 0
Printer 500 1200
Construction
300 watt Halogen Work Light 300 0
Circular Saw 1200 2400
Disc Sander 1200 1200
Paint Sprayer 360 1080
Electric Drill 300 300
Cordless Hand Drill Battery Charger 70 150
Electric Lawn Mower 1400 4320
Electric Pressure Washer 1200 3600
Electric Chainsaw 1200 2400
Electric String Trimmer 600 1500
Electric Weed Whacker 500 500

Portable Generator Accessories

There are a lot of accessories that you can get for your portable generator. These are going to make your generator work better, more efficiently, or just protect it. Whether it’s a generator cover, sound baffles, or an insulated enclosure, there are a lot of options available. If you’d like to read more, check out our complete write up on Portable Generator Accessories here.

Generator Fuel Types

Best Portable GeneratorPortable generators can be fueled by many things. In general, there are three ways for a portable generator to run: Gas, diesel, and propane. Natural gas is also a common fuel source for a generator, but because it is plumbed in and fixed in place, a natural gas generator isn’t portable. You can also get generators that are solar powered, which we’ll discuss here as well.

● Gas Powered

This is the most common type of generator that you’ll find. Gas generators are designed to run on normal unleaded gasoline, but not gasoline with high ethanol content. In general, you want as low of an ethanol percentage in your gas as possible; no ethanol is best.

The reason behind this is that ethanol causes gasoline to spoil very quickly. The ethanol binds with free water vapor in the air, causing water to build up in the gas. And water in your generator’s engine can rapidly corrode the pistons and lines. Gasoline spoils quickly enough on its own. Remember that if you’re going to store your portable generator for longer than a month, empty the gas tank.

If you can’t empty the gas tank, then add a fuel stabilizer which will prevent the lighter hydrocarbons in the gas from evaporating out. This is especially true if you get gas during the winter, when it’s formulated to have a greater amount of those lighter components which make the gas easier to ignite.

Here are some pros and cons when it comes to using gasoline as your portable generator’s fuel source.

  • Pros:
    • Extremely easy to transport
    • Easy to find and obtain
  • Cons:
    • Short shelf life
    • Left alone, it will start to form gummy residue which can block lines or clog pistons
    • Dangerous to store long term
    • Relatively expensive and during prolonged power outages, extremely scarce

● Diesel Powered

Diesel is one of the best fuels for generators because of its stability and its many forms. Additionally, diesel has greater fuel efficiency than most other fuel types, so you’re going to get a longer run time for your dollar. There are three types of diesel that you can get: regular diesel, bio diesel, and emulsified diesel.

Bio diesel is vegetable oil that has been converted using a catalyst with oil and alcohol. You can get vegetable oil very cheaply from most fast food restaurants, but it has some disadvantages. First, the used fryer oil must be strained carefully to remove any impurities. Secondly, even after processing, burning biodiesel will make everything smell like fried foods.

Emulsified diesel is a mixture of diesel fuel and water. It is used because the water acts as a catalyst to remove a lot of the emissions associated with diesel engines. A study was done in 2014 on the effect of emulsified diesel on smaller engines and found a marked improvement in emissions and in engine performance.

Here are the pros and cons of using diesel as a fuel source for your generators:

  • Pros:
    • Diesel generators require less maintenance
    • Engines are smaller compared to gas engines with similar wattage output
    • Diesel is less flammable and easier to store
  • Cons:
    • Generator noise levels are greater with diesel generators
    • Actual pollution is greater with diesel generators as well
    • Only has a 2-year shelf life
    • Optimized to run at 75 to 80 percent of load; they don’t do well when running at low load levels

● Propane Powered

Propane is often the fuel of choice for many casual generator users. The propane tanks are easily obtainable and easy to transport. Propane can be used from the smaller tanks or stored near a home in underground tanks for long term storage. Here are some quick pros and cons about liquid propane as a generator fuel source:

  • Pros:
    • Clean burning
    • Long shelf life
    • Propane generators are much quieter than gas or diesel generators
  • Cons:
    • Propane generators have a lower energy output than gasoline or diesel on the same size engines
    • Propane begins to fail at very cold sub-zero weather because it begins to produce less pressure as it remains liquid.
    • Below -44 degrees Fahrenheit, propane no longer burns because it remains completely liquid.

● Solar Powered

A solar powered generator is an amazing piece of technical engineering. It is able to use solar panels to charge batteries, which then discharge energy to whatever you want to power. There are definite advantages to solar powered generators, but there are some very real drawbacks as well. Here are some pros and cons and some important things to keep in mind when choosing a solar generator:

  • Pros:
    • Zero emissions when producing or discharging energy
    • Costs nothing to charge; sunlight is free
    • Generator makes zero noise
    • Low Maintenance costs
  • Cons:
    • Power output is limited by battery size
    • Recharge time is extensive
    • Initial cost for solar generators is high

● Dual Fuel

A dual (or tri) fuel generator is a way of getting the best of both (or three) worlds. With a generator with multiple fuel options, you never need to run out of fuel. The most common dual fuel generators use propane and gasoline. When you run low on gasoline, you can switch over to propane immediately.

The huge benefit here is that when you switch over, you don’t have to turn off the generator or restart it. That means no unplugging all of your appliances. You just attach the new fuel source, flip the switch and the lights stay on. There are only a couple of downsides to a dual fuel generator.

First, they are more expensive than your normal single fuel generator. That’s to be expected, however, because of the extra parts necessary. Those extra parts are also the reason for the other disadvantages. Dual fuel generators are more costly to repair, and they are larger and heavier than equivalent models. But in many cases, those few disadvantages are more than outweighed by the plusses of a dual fuel system.

For more information about very effective dual fuel generators, check out our buying guide.

Let’s Talk Inverter Generators

Best Portable GeneratorWe touched briefly on inverter generators earlier, but we’re going to go a little bit more in depth here and explain why they are so good and should nearly always be something you consider when shopping for a portable generator.

Portable inverter generators are not only usually quieter than an equivalently sized standard generator, they’re more powerful and fuel efficient as well. But where they really shine are with modern electronic devices and appliances. That’s because they keep the total harmonic distortion (THD) low. But why is that important?

The reason your THD is important is because a high distortion causes higher peak currents and lower efficiency. Older generators that converted DC to AC used a linear power supply and that causes THD that can be as high as 30%. This high THD causes electronics to run at much higher temperatures and with much greater interference. Over time, this causes your sensitive electronics to break down much more quickly.

So an inverter generator limits the amount of damage that a non-inverter generator will do to your sensitive electronics. By using transformers, capacitors and other tools, they reduce your THD to acceptable levels. If you want to know more about the best inverter generators, we have you covered.

Important Portable Generator Safety Features

Best Portable GeneratorIt doesn’t matter what you’re using your generator for, you should always pay attention to the safety measures and features of your generator. Here are five things that you should especially be watching for and taking care of.

● How to run a generator safely

Running a generator safely is an easy proposition as long as you read the directions and follow them. The first thing you should do after opening your generator is to take out the directions and read them until you have them basically memorized.

● Automatic CO Shutoff

This is a handy safety item, but it won’t function correctly at higher altitudes. That is because the CO detector is looking for less oxygen and the rarified air at altitude will set it off.

● Prevent Overloading

When you plug things into your generator make sure you know what their wattage requirements are and what their peak wattage is. As long as you keep track of that, then you won’t ever worry about overloading your generator.

● Start and Stop the Generator in a Safe Way

When you start your generator, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Here are some tips for starting and stopping your generator safely.

o Never have anything plugged into your generator when you’re starting it up.

o Always make sure that you have fueled the device or securely attached the propane tanks

o Press the electrical starter once. If your generator doesn’t start up, wait a couple of minutes and try again. Never repeatedly mash the button.

o If using a recoil cord starter, check your area so you don’t hit anyone as you pull the cord.

o When stopping the generator, give it time to cool down before refueling or moving it.

o Unplug things from the generator by grasping the plug head, not the cord. You can damage the cord and the generator plug set otherwise.

● Follow Instructions

There’s a saying that you should always read the manual, and that holds doubly true when it comes to generators. You want there to be no question in your mind about what you should do in the case of an emergency. You should know every step of the recommended start up instructions and how to properly turn the machine off.

Additionally, the manual will tell you other valuable information, such as how to read the display, what the various lights mean, and even if your generator needs any special considerations, such as grounding or a gas/oil fuel mixture.

Portable Generator FAQ

Best Portable GeneratorWith any new tech or toy, there will always be questions. Here are six commonly asked questions that we haven’t covered previously.

● Do You Need a Transfer Switch With Your Portable Generator?

Automatic and manual transfer switches should always be installed when you plan to use your portable generator as a backup power supply for your home’s native electrical grid. That is, if you want to plug something into the wall and have it work, then yes, you need a transfer switch. However, if you plan on just plugging things into your generator, then you don’t need a transfer switch.

Transfer switches do need to be installed by a certified electrician, so there is an added cost in place with them. That’s because they are designed to automatically cut the feed from the utilities when a power outage is detected. That’s so that power doesn’t come back on and blow out your fuse panel. That’s one of the advantages of a dedicated standby generator for home; it will always be there for you when you need it.

● Where to Place a Portable Generator and How to Store It

Portable generators should never be run while indoors or in a partially enclosed area. That’s because they operate on combustion and release carbon monoxide. Instead, operate them outdoors with the exhaust pointed away from people. If you’re worried about inclement weather, then they can be placed in an outdoor enclosure with the exhaust properly vented via hose or ductwork.

When it comes to storing a generator, make sure that they are placed somewhere flat and level. You also want to elevate them to keep them out of reach of insects and rodents that may seek to nest inside. Depending on the weight and size of the unit, you can get a couple of old tires and sheet plywood or 2x4s or 2x12s. Lay the wood across the tires and place the portable generator on the wood. That will keep it safe and elevated. Also cover the machine before you store it. If it’s long term storage, make sure to empty the gas can and change the oil beforehand.

● What Can You Run on a 2000 watt Generator

Assuming that this is a 2000 running watts generator, you can run a lot of appliances or just one or two. Earlier we had a complete chart of wattage requirements for appliances. For example, a coffee machine uses 1000 watts, but an LCD television only uses about 50 watts. An air conditioner with the compressor on demands over 3000 watts, so you couldn’t run one of them. But you could run a single 1800 watt space heater.

● How do you hook a portable generator to your house?

You should never hook a portable generator directly to your circuit box. If the power comes back on while your generator is connected to it, you can fry your generator, blow your primary circuit panel, and maybe start an electrical fire.

If you want to connect your portable generator to your home so that it can provide backup power, you need a transfer switch, which was the first question we discussed. Along with that, you should look at the best generators for home use, which we discuss here.

● Can I plug a Portable Generator in a Wall Outlet?

No. You should never do this. The primary reason why is because if you do that, your home’s entire electrical circuit is no longer protected. Additionally, extra power can creep back into the utility’s circuits and become dangerous to utility workers.

Only attach a portable generator to your home using a transfer switch. If you don’t, then your home’s wiring can become overloaded and start a fire. Never do this. If you’re interested in providing backup power for your home check out our whole house generator reviews here.

● How to Ground a Portable Generator

Grounding a portable generator is easy. Check your generator’s manual to see if you need to ground our generator. If your generator does need to be grounded, you will need a few tools.

  • Copper grounding wire
  • Grounding Rod
  • Sledgehammer
  • Pliers
  • Wrench
  • Wire Strippers

Once you have all of the tools, the steps to ground your generator are this:

  1. Put the grounding rod into the ground. Using the sledgehammer, pound the grounding rod into the earth at least 8 feet deep. You can install it at an angle if you have to, but it can’t lean more than 45 degrees.
  2. Connect the copper wire to the rod by stripping the end and wrapping it tightly around the grounding rod with the pliers
  3. Locate the grounding bolt on your generator, and attach the other end of the grounding wire to it. Tighten the grounding bolt.

Portable Generator Comparison Chart

GeneratorWattsTank SizePower SourceWeightRating
Westinghouse WGen75007500 Running/9500 Peak Starting6.6 Gallon Fuel TankGas-Powered200.62 lbs9
Champion 1003023500 Running/4000 Peak Starting1.0 Gallon Fuel TankGasoline-Powered81.6 lbs8
WEN 564753750 Running/4750 Peak Starting4.0 Gallon Fuel TankGas-Powered112.5 pounds 8
DuroStar DS4000S3300 Running/4000 Peak Starting3.96 Gallon Fuel TankGas-Powered94 lbs8
WEN 56105900 Running/1000 Peak Starting1 Gallon Fuel TankGas-Powered36.9 pounds 8
Briggs & Stratton 306511700 Running/2200 Peak Starting1 Gallon Fuel TankGas-Powered55 lbs8

Final Words

Portable camping and RV generators are a great thing to have when you’re on the road. They’re also a lifesaver when you’re in the middle of a winter power outage or summer thunderstorm blackout. But knowing what you should be looking for when it comes to a portable generator can be difficult. That’s why we’ve written this series of generator guides for you.

Hopefully with our help, you have an idea of what to look for in a portable generator and an idea of what they are capable of. Again, if you have any questions or want to peruse other types, such as standby generators for home, we have extensive resources and buying guides to make sure you get the best generator for home or for your lifestyle possible