If you’re one of those people who don’t think they could survive without their electronic devices while they’re out camping, then you’re not without options. Finding the best generator for camping will ensure that everyone can stay happy using their laptops and phones, as well as keeping you safe for when you do need power to keep lights and other forms of security on. But these generators aren’t the same things that you’d use in your home.
For one thing, your house requires a lot of electricity, requiring huge generators to power everything in your home, and lugging one of those with you to a campsite will be more than cumbersome. Thankfully, there are smaller, more portable generators that are more suited for the task, and are a lot kinder to your budget.
Choosing a generator
People go to the outdoors for peace and quiet, and you can’t have that if you’ve got a generator roaring all day and night, keeping you up when you should be resting. The market is being flooded with more and more quiet generators that people can take with them on their camping trips, so they can still have all that quiet along with the convenience and comfort of having their electronic devices working.
There are different types of generators to choose from, so buying the first one that you see is not always the best idea. They all serve different purposes and provide different wattages of power for your need. For instance, the most popular types are:
- Recreational: these are the generators that are designed to be used by campers, tailgaters, and those engaged in recreational activities. They are mostly small and portable, while others are much larger to be able to power the air conditioning unit of an RV.
- RV: these are much larger and are used in RVs to power electronic devices as well as cooling units. They are designed to be permanently mounted to the motorhome or trailer.
- Standby, PTO and towable: these are all generators that are much to big to be used at a campsite and provide a lot more power than you actually need. Standby generators are used to power homes when there’s a blackout or brownout. PTO generators are used on farms to power tractors, and towable generators are used at construction sites, carnivals, and concerts where a lot of power is needed.
How it works
Many people may have used generators before in their lives, but they’re not actually sure how they work. That’s why we are going to describe a basic generator model so everyone can understand.
They consist of two main parts: an engine and an alternator. The engine of a portable recreational generator is about 50 to 180 cc in size – about as big as a small motorcycle engine. Many of the portable units have four-stroke engines so that they produce electricity through gasoline without generating a lot of pollution.
The alternator is the part that produces the electricity that you’re using at your campsite. It converts the mechanical energy of the engine into AC electricity. Alternators can come in two modes: conventional and inverter.
Conventional is the original form of the alternator, and is similar to what is used in cars. It’s reliable, but it does require the engine to be running at full speed regardless of how much electricity is actually needed. This means that they also create a lot of noise and pollution while it’s running.
Inverter alternators, on the other hand, employ digital circuitry to maintain a steady outflow of voltage no matter how much is needed. These kinds of generators combine the engine and alternator into one unit, meaning that it runs much quieter and makes a lot less pollution. Inverter generators are also capable of producing both AC and DC power.
There are some other things to look for when you’re looking to invest in the best camping generator money can buy. That way, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth and a reliable generator that won’t give out on you when you need it. These features are noise level, power output, run time, and dry weight.
Generator noise levels
Many manufacturers don’t care much about the noise level of the generators that they make because they’re meant to be kept outside and separate from where you live and sleep. It can also be difficult to know how noisy a generator will work until you’ve already bought it, unless you go to the dealer themselves and have them demonstrate the generators for you.
One of the best places to do this is at a Camping and RV show, where many distributors bring their generators for people to see for themselves what these devices are capable of.
But don’t feel hopeless if these aren’t prevalent in your area. Some generators are labeled with their noise levels in dBA, or decibels. However, numbers only mean so much. To get a good judge of what a good dBA level is, 140 dBA is as loud as a shot gun fire, while 60 is about as loud as normal conversation with another person.
The more popular models of recreational generators run at about 50-60 dBA. Generators are usually labeled as have a range, such as 53-59 dBA, which is the range of the generator at 1/4 rated load and at full rated load. Some manufacturers only list the lower number in order to make their generator seem quieter, but the generator may end up being a lot louder than you expected when it’s running at full rate.
The outage of a generator is given by its wattage rating, usually in two kinds of output levels. Maximum power is the output that a generator can produce and is usually available for about 30 minutes. Rated power is what a generator can produce over extended periods of time, usually at about 90% of the maximum power. Portable generators especially are categorized into three sizes based on their power output:
- Lightweight: these generators usually provide about 1000 watts of power, and are ideal for providing power to portable TVs, electric razors, small lights and fans, and charging your cellphones. See our article review of the Kalipak 601 to guide you in your choice.
- Medium weight: these are slightly larger models that provide around 2000 watts of power. They are great for microwaves, hair dryers, electric grills, space heaters, and coffee pots.
- Heavy weight: if you have a lot of devices that require heavy amounts of electricity, then this generator will keep you satisfied with the over 3000 watts that it provides. They’re capable of powering anything that you bring with you on your camping trip, and are even capable of powering an RV AC unit. Keep in mind that these are a lot heavier, weighing at about 100 pounds, and will cost you a lot more money than you bargain for.
In order to figure out which generator is best for your needs, add up the wattage of the devices you’ll be bringing with you that you’ll want to be powered simultaneously. An alternative is to choose a much smaller generator and power your devices one at a time. The choice is really up to you in determining how much power you’ll really need.
The run time is how long a generator can run on a tank of gas before it needs refueling. This is determined by the load, the efficiency of the generator, and the size of the gas tank. Run times may be provided for both 1/4 and full loads, while others simply present the lower number. This can be misleading, as you could run out of fuel a lot faster on full rated load than you realize.
This is the weight of a generator when it is empty of fuel. This lets you know how much weight you’ll be carrying with you to your campsite. An added gallon of gas weighs roughly six pounds, which isn’t a whole lot, but can be cumbersome for much larger generators. Be sure to stock only the fuel that you’ll really need on your trip, as you want to travel as light as possible to your campsite.
Additional features to consider
Though the above-listed features are very important, there are some other options to take into consideration when you’re buying a camping generator. For example, you may want a generator that has parallel capability, where you can combine two generators together in order to get double the power you need. This option is possible with generators that have inverter technology. Having a low-oil-monitor can also be beneficial so that you know when more oil needs to be added.
Circuit protection prevents the generator from being overloaded and will turn itself off when the load is too much. A fuel petcock is a manual valve that is used to control the flow of gasoline. By turning it off, you can allow the carburetor to run dry and reduce contamination from occurring.
These may seem like seem like small insignificant features, but they’re definitely worth looking into if you like to have all of the features at disposal to ensure the safe and enjoyable use of your generator while you’re camping.
Why not try making your own generator? Our piece on DIY hydroelectric generator is an easy project – check it out.
Finding the best generator for camping
Now that you know what to look for, there are some great portable generators on the market that will help you make the best choice for your needs.
This small portable generator has 1600 running watts and 2000 starting watts, allowing you to power many of your common electric devices. It has an extremely quiet muffler, at only 51 dBA at 1/4 load rate. And, at only 44 pounds, this little generator won’t take up a lot of space in your camping gear.
This is definitely one of the most portable generators that you can have with you in cases of emergency, and although the output is on the low end in comparison to other portable generators, it’s great to take with you if you don’t plan on carrying a lot of devices with you. The price for this unit, however, leaves much to be desired, as it costs around $955.
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This heavy-duty steel generator packs a bigger punch in terms of power, with 3300 running watts and 4000 starting watts. That’s enough to power just about anything you bring with you on your trip. It has a four-gallon gas tank with a running time of about eight hours at 50% load rate. It has a 69 dBA rating because of the quiet muffler, and has automatic oil shut-off to protect the engine (this can be very useful if you can’t check the oil meter very often).
The EZ-pull recoil system makes it very easy to get this generator started, but at around 94 pounds, the generator doesn’t come with wheels, which can make it very easy to get out of your vehicle and move around. In fact, if you want wheels with this model, you’re going to have to pay extra for them. At $300 without the wheels, that may be a cost some people are willing to make.
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Champion Power Equipment 46539
This wheeled model of generator produces 3500 running watts/4000 starting watts for your use. It does come with an electric remote control start, saving you the time and effort of having to start it up yourself manually. Weighing at about 126 pounds, this generator is a lot noisier than you expect, but it definitely delivers the most value for your money at only $419.
It runs for 12 hours on a full tank of gas at 50% load rate, which is definitely a lot of power when it’s being run constantly on four gallons of gas.
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This tiny 36-pound generator has 900 running watts/1000 starting watts, and has everything that you’re looking for in a tiny portable power supply. It uses oil and gas mix for fuel, so there’s never the need to perform an oil change.
At half load, the one-gallon tank generator can run for about five hours, which is enough to charge up the majority of your electronic devices. It operates at 60 dBA from 22 feet away, so you might want to keep this generator running away from your tent if you plan on taking a nap in the afternoon. The spark arrestor, which prevents errant sparks from being created during its use, makes it safe to use in any park, as there’s no risk of having a forest fire start, especially during the warmer months of the year.
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Goal Zero 23000 Yeti 400 Solar Generator
Do you want to be even more environmentally conscious? This solar power generator won’t have you lugging around those containers of fuel that you’ll need to refill it once it runs out of juice. It runs off the power of the sun and provides enough wattage to charge your cellphones and laptops.
It only weights about 12 pounds, making it easy to fit into any bag for easy storage. After 17 hours of full sunlight, it’s capable of charging a dead laptop twice over. And if you happen to have a spell of cloudy days or rain, the generator can also be charged by connecting it to your car’s 12V power adapter. It comes with 2 USB ports, 2 12V ports, an AC port, a charging indicator light, and a battery display telling you how much juice is left. It can be a bit pricy at $404, but you’ll have to spend extra for the solar panels that you’ll need to make full use of it.
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With 1600 starting watts/2000 starting watts, this fifty-pound generator is great at providing you with the power that you need. At a quarter rate load, it runs at about 51 dBA, providing you with the peace you need after a hectic day of hiking.
Even the gas tank is efficient: its one-gallon tank can provide six hours of power at 50% half-load run time. And if you need more power than what it can provide, it is also parallel connection capable, allowing you to get more for your buck. The WEN Eco-Mode also allows you to save on your fuel by adjusting its fuel consumption based on the devices that are plugged in and charging. That allows you to get the most from every drop of fuel, so you can end up extending your run time even longer than you thought.
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This nifty portable generator runs at only $136, and provides 1000W rated/1200W peak for the majority of your small devices. At a half-rated load, it runs for a steady eight hours on only 1.5 gallons of fuel mix. And at roughly 38 pounds, it may just be the smallest portable generator you can find.
It has a quiet mode system that creates noise levels of around 65 dBA, and it is EPA-approved, meaning that it doesn’t create a lot of pollution. This makes this generator perfect for the environmentally-conscious camper who just needs to charge his phone or power some small lights every now and again.
The best camping generators are only going to get you so far as long as you maintain them properly. Allowing the interior workings of your generator, especially ones that use gas and oil, can lead to malfunctions and even the destruction of the parts themselves.
For more options, read our article reviews of the best portable generators to power-up your home or camp.
Performing a regular maintenance routine on your generator will help it to last longer and provide you with all the benefits you’ve received since day one. If you’re not sure of how to maintain your generator, you should contact the manufacturer or go over the manual for better details on making sure it’s kept in peak condition.
Tap into solar energy! Check out our reviews of the top portable solar generators to give you more options.