There are a lot of reasons why getting a portable generator is a great idea. A generator can protect you and your loved ones from power outages, provide power for your next tailgating party, or save you from running the propane generator on your RV.
But choosing the best portable generator for your needs isn't easy. To help you out, we’ve reviewed some of the top generators out there, and put together a list of all the basic information you need. Whether you’re looking for a gas powered or dual fuel generator, or extra power with great safety features, we've got you covered. So let's get started!
Best Portable Generator Reviews
1. The Winner
This 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 it to be. It generates a whopping 7500 watts for running, 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
- 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
2. Runner Up
This 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 watts for running 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.
In summary, this is one of the best portable generators on our list for power, noise level and portability.
Read Full Review: DuroStar DS4000S Gas Powered Portable Generator
- 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
3. Best Budget
This 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. Among its safety features 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.
In summary, this is one of the best portable generators on our list for power and durability.
Read Full Review: Wen 56475 4750-Watt Gasoline Powered Portable Generator
- 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
4. Best Style
This 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 portable 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.
In summary, this is one of the best portable generators on our list for noise level and portability.
Read Full Review: Briggs and Stratton Inverter Generator
- 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
5. Other Great Option
This 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 power 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
- 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
Portable Generator Buying Guide
Things to Keep in Mind
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. In this section we'll run through the main things you should consider when narrowing down your shortlist of the best generators for your needs.
This is the basic question for portable generator buyers: how much power does it produce? Portable generators offer anything from a basic 900 watt power output 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.
In order to decide how much power you'll need from your generator, you'll need to tally up the wattage requirements of all of the various devices and appliances you'll plug into it. Once you've do that, add another ten percent on top of that, and you have your minimum wattage requirements.
The ten percent covers you for the difference between running power (i.e. the amount of power that it can produce on a continual basis) and starting power (the extra power demand that your portable generator can maintain for a short period of time to cope with the surge when an appliance starts up).
2. Noise Levels
All generators will give some indication of their noise output in the specifications. As a rough guide, portable generators in the 59-62 DB range are quiet enough to have a conversation next to. Regular traffic on a road rates at around 65 DB, and portable generators with noise levels above this will start to become bothersome if used over long periods.
3. Fuel Type
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, and we've outlined these later in this article.
4. Fuel Tank Size
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 portable 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.
Some of the smaller generators have molded plastic handles on the top, which makes it easy and convenient to carry. This is usually for portable 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.
It doesn’t matter how much power your portable 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 usually 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.
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, while off brand portable generators can be guaranteed for 90 days or a year. Obviously you'll need to take any cost savings into account and decide what makes the best sense for you.
8. Features (see more below)
Portable generators carry several features that are looking for. Some of them are quality of life improvements, like an electric start or a remote control. Others are safety features, such as automatic shut off when the oil gets too low. We’ve covered some of these features below.
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, it's true that you get what you pay for. 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 after a few power outages.
10. Size of Task
What are you going to be using your portable 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.
Professional heavy duty generators usually have a set of lifting lugs, basically loops of steel that allow you to lift the generator up or lower it down, and chain it to something to prevent theft.
Light Duty – For light duty, that’s pretty much every non-commercial need you could have. Whether you’re looking for portable generators 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 looking at portable generators for an RV, make sure that your model 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.
8 Important Portable Generator Features
1. Inverter or Conventional?
There are a few key differences between conventional and inverter generators, and what you need depends mostly on what you'll be using your generator for.
A conventional portable fuel generator produces only AC electricity, and this current is not stable enough to power sensitive devices: the fluctuations and power surges can damage electronics such as laptops and cellphones. Conventional generators are also generally noisier than inverter generators.
Portable inverter generators are not only usually quieter than an equivalently sized standard generator, they’re more powerful and fuel efficient as well, which makes them popular as portable generators. Inverter generators use a series of capacitors to change between AC and DC current. The power produced has a more stable current, so you can charge electrical devices 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. Some generators offer an automatic transfer switch, which means that the generator kicks in automatically to provide power to your home when the main power drops. Similarly it will cut out when power returns.
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 portable 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 portable 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 your favorite generator doesn't have a fuel gauge, you can get gas caps that have a gauge built in.
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.
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.
Portable Generator Brands
There's no such thing as the absolute best portable generator brand, but there are certain manufacturers who have made a name for themselves in the business. Here are some of the best for you to consider:
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 runs up to 18 hours on 2.6 gallons.
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.
Their line of generators range in power 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 has been around since 1887, when it started as a piano and reed organ maker, but it wasn’t until 1955 that they 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, and arguably some of the best portable generators in the business.
Yamaha generators also begin with a small 1 kW portable 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 power at full load on just under seven gallons of gas.
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. Champion build their generators in the United States with facilities in Tennessee, Wisconsin, and California.
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 which lets you control and monitor your generator from your smart device.
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.
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.
Portable 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.
● Gas Powered
This is the most common type of generator that you’ll find, as gas is easy to transport and obtain. 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, and zero ethanol is best. The reason is that ethanol causes gasoline to spoil very quickly.
Gas fuel has a short shelf life, which means you have to empty your generator if storing it for any length of time. Gas is also relatively expensive, and can become scarce in emergency situations.
● Diesel Powered
Diesel is one of the best fuels for portable 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. It's also easier to store compared to gas.
The disadvantages of diesel generators are that they produce more noise than gas generators, and don't do well running at low load levels.
● Propane Powered
Propane is often the fuel of choice for many casual generator users. Propane tanks are easily obtainable and easy to transport. Propane burns cleanly, and can be used from the smaller tanks or stored near a home in underground tanks for long term storage. Propane generators are much quieter than gas or diesel generators.
Propane has disadvantages in very cold weather, as it slowly turns to liquid as the temperature drops. Below -44 degrees Fahrenheit, propane no longer burns because it's completely liquid.
● Solar Powered
There are definite advantages to solar powered generators, but there are some very real drawbacks as well. Solar generators cost nothing to charge, make zero noise, and are obviously environmentally friendly. However, they are also expensive, take a long time to charge, and have a limited power output.
● Dual Fuel
A dual (or tri) fuel generator is a way of getting the best of both (or three) worlds. With a portable 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're more expensive than your normal single fuel generator, because of the extra parts necessary. Dual fuel generators are also more costly to repair, and 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.
Portable Generator FAQ
● Do I need a transfer switch?
If you want to plug something into the wall and have it work, then yes, you need a transfer switch, and this is one of the most important safety features you should look for. 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, so your fuse panel doesn't blow.
● Where should I place and store a portable generator?
Portable generators should never be run while indoors or in a partially enclosed area, as they operate on combustion and release CO, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Instead, operate them outdoors with the exhaust pointed away from people.
When it comes to storing a portable generator, make sure that it's placed somewhere raised, flat, and level, and out of reach of rodents that may seek to nest inside. Cover the machine before you store it, and if it’s long term storage, make sure to empty it and change the oil beforehand.
● How do you hook a portable generator to a 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.
● 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.
A portable generator is a great thing to have as backup power for winter power outages or a summer thunderstorm blackout. Some of the smaller models on our list, especially the portable inverter generators, are also quiet and portable enough to take on a camping trip or to an evening tailgating party.
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 are thinking of buying something else, such as a standby generator or portable inverter generator for your home, we have extensive resources and buying guides to make sure you get the best generator for your home and lifestyle.
- 1 Best Portable Generator Reviews
- 2 Portable Generator Buying Guide
- 2.1 Things to Keep in Mind
- 2.2 8 Important Portable Generator Features
- 2.3 Portable Generator Brands
- 2.4 Fuel Types
- 2.5 Portable Generator FAQ
- 3 Final Words