Camping and the modern amenities sounds like an oxymoron and it offends the hardcore campers. This is a rare case where you can have your cake and eat it too. The smell of the campfire in the evening and a little juice for all the modern amenities. If that’s what you’re into.
Today you don’t have to leave all your toys from home when you go camping, with the best camping generator, you can have a reliable remote power source. There is a wide range of generators that vary in price, size, weight, and wattage and it can be confusing finding the right portable generator that fits your needs.
How Does a Generator Work?
Portable generators consist of a mobile AC power supply that is run by a gas-powered motor.
There are power outlets built into the generator for plugging in lights, cell phone chargers, or extension cords. The larger the generator the more power available for use.
A portable generator is a single frame unit designed to provide power in a remote location where electricity is not normally available. They all have more or less the same inner workings.
- Internal combustion motor
- Fuel tank
A portable generator is not designed or legally allowed to be permanently installed like a standby generator. They usually come with wheels or handles and are made to be mobile, compact, and easy to carry.
Check out this hilariously boring video on exactly how a generator/alternator work. Those terms are used interchangeably when we talk about generators.
Never use a generator indoors, ever. Again say it with me, never use a generator indoors, ever.
Taking your generator outside will protect you and your family from being exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year there are stories of a family getting sick or dying because they were not informed of the dangers posed by Carbon Monoxide. Carbon monoxide is dangerous because it is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, poisonous gas that works slowly, sounds terrifying. The carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in your blood cells and suffocates you slowly.
The symptoms are dizziness, upset stomach, vomiting, confusion, weakness, and headaches. Death is a possibility, and with carbon monoxide poisoning people often don’t understand what is going until it’s too late.
Types of generators
There are two types of generators on the market today, conventional and inverter generators.
A conventional generator is the older, less advanced model of the two. It is nothing more than a motor that is connected to an alternator that is set to run at one speed. This means if that motor has any fluctuations so does your output power source, and electronics don’t like to see fluctuations in the supply. In other words, these can fry your shit.
In terms of camping, a conventional generator would not be a feasible option, they are much louder and operate at one speed. They present a threat of voltage fluctuations that could damage anything plugged in that is not protected.
An inverter generator, on the other hand, is the 2.0 version of the conventional model. They have taken the modern technology of an inverter and incorporated it into the generator for clean power. It works the exact same way as the conventional motor, however, the power is run through an inverter to produce a constant sine wave, for clean power.
They are smaller and much more compact than conventional generators and are quite enough to bring into national parks. With the number of devices in the world having a clean power source is important so you don’t cook all your devices when there is a power fluctuation.
Important generator features
Choosing a generator gives you the freedom to enjoy power on the go. That being said, there are aspects of a generator to consider when choosing the right one for you and your family.
The main concern with a portable generator is how loud the motor sounds and how much it’s going to annoy the neighbors. The last thing you want to do is interrupt a peaceful evening camping with the sound of a loud motor starting up and having to scream over it to have a conversation. An easy way to think of decibels is that every 10 decibels is twice as loud. So 60 is twice as loud as 50, and 4 times as loud as 40.
Inverter models are the quietest generators and they range sound from 51-63 decibels, which means you can stand next to it and still have a conversation.
Decibel level measurement
The decibel level measured by the manufacturers is measured from 23 feet away, not standing right next to it. Some national parks have restrictions on portable generators so be sure to check ahead of time.
Conventional generators are louder because the motor runs at a constant speed of 3600 rpm’s and it is going to maintain the same sound throughout. Coming in at 70 decibels, they are not much fun to be around.
The power measurement for generators is watts, and what the hell is a watt?
For a typical camping generator under low consumption, you will only need 1000-2000 watts and you should be fine. If you plan on running multiple heaters, a grill, and a hairdryer at the same time you may want to consider parallel attachments. The cell phone draws 2-6 watts running time and electronics, in general, don’t have startup consumption.
This is going to vary on the size of the fuel tank and the manufacturer. An average you can expect is 8 hours runtime at 25% of the capacity of the generator. If you run the generator under full load conditions, it will say on the nameplate how many full load amps it uses. From there using a little math and you can figure out how many amps it draws.
The normal rated capacity for full load conditions is 30 minutes, there is a rare chance you will ever be running it at full load. A fair assumption for the average user is about 8 hours at 25%.
Inverter generators run on both gasoline and diesel fuels. There are DIY conversion kits available that look like you need a fully stocked garage to make any real progress.
The DIY route won’t be for everyone due to the tools involved, but maybe you have a friend or an uncle that can give you a hand?
Tips on picking your next generator
Invest in fuel stabilizer. This isn’t a requirement, however, if you are going to leave the generator sitting around for a few months it works to stabilize the stagnant fuel.
In the case you do let the generator sit idle for months at a time, it’s a good practice to start it once a month for 15 minutes. This will guarantee that when you need it, it’s ready and starts right up.
When you take this guy with you be sure to strap it down well, it tips over easily. If you let it tip by accident then on startup you get to see a white smoke show, oil burn off.
Understand the limitations of a 2000 watt generator. This is not meant to power appliances and power tools all day long, these are meant for the casual user camping or tailgating.
Invest in a lock and chain, or a cable lock. Portable generators can get pricey and they tend to grow legs and walk away, protect your investment.
Best invertor generators for camping
Here are our picks for the best inverter generators for camping.
WEN 56180 Gas Powered Portable Generator
- EPAIII and CARB compliant generator allows for operation in all 50 states
- Rated amperage 12.5 A.1800 surge watts and 1500 running watts provides power for both times of emergency and recreation
- Operational volume (decibel): 63. Lightweight and compact generator runs at half load for 7.5 hours off of 1.1 gallons of gasoline
- Includes two AC120V three-prong wall outlets and one cigarette-lighter-style 12V DC outlet
This generator is on the low end of the price range and the high end of the performance when it comes to camping generators. It has an EPA-3 and CARB-compliant engine which delivers 98 cc and an internal cooling system to prevent damage to the motor.
The surge wattage sits at 1800 while the running wattage is 1500, you’ll have plenty of power for your next camping trip. The runtime by the manufacturer states that it has a 7.5-hour runtime with 1.45 gallons of fuel if the generator is running at 50%. The WEN 1800 feels like it was designed to be camping generator, it weighs in at 50 pounds making it manageable for one person to move around safely.
WEN 56200i Portable Inverter Generator
- Dimensions: 18" x 11" x 18" | Weight: 50 lbs
- Noise Level: 53 dB operation
- EPA III and CARB Compliant 79.7 cc 4-stroke OHV engine produces 2000 surge watts and 1600 rated watts
- Great for campgrounds, construction sites, tailgates and power outages
The Wen 2000w Inverter Generator gives us a step up in wattage from the first generator we looked at. It maintains 1600 running watts and tops out at 2000 starting watts. This unit is both lightweight and compact. Before you put gas in it or think about starting it you have to add oil. It comes with a funnel and the oil to get you started.
It comes parallel ready, which translates to it is set up to add another generator wired in parallel for extra power. Parallelling equipment is usually sold separately from the generator set. It runs quietly at 51 decibels measured at 23 feet which is quiet enough to have a conversation next to, and quiet enough to not piss off everyone around you.
Yamaha EF 2000iSv2
- 1600 watt rated AC output, 2000 watt maximum AC output, 13.3/16.7 amps @ 120V
- Super-quiet muffler with USFS-approved spark arrestor - 51.5 dBA at 1/4 load
- Smart Throttle varies engine speed based on load - improves fuel economy and reduces noise
- Inverter system with Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) control
The Yamaha 2000 is very lightweight inverter generator, weighing in at 44.1 pounds it is manageable for most people to carry around by the handle. This unit doesn’t need wheels because of how lightweight the design is, a handle does the job.
In terms of clean power, this unit has you covered with its Pulse Width Modulation system. This keeps voltage stability within 1% and frequency stability within .1%, cleaner power than you have at home. The way that this generator is designed it doesn’t even resemble a generator, it has clean design and lines giving this generator curb appeal.
This unit is a bit pricey but as the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” This is lightweight, compact, and very quiet. It comes with an overload breaker which is going to protect your electronics in the instance of a fluctuation in the power source.
It has a low-oil shut-off in case you forget to check the oil, and who hasn’t?
Honda EU 2000i
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Honda is known for making quality products and they hold themselves to the same high standard as this portable generator. This generator starts with a pull start mechanism that has very little resistance, everyone should be able to start this with little to no help. At 53 decibels this generator is no more than a quiet hum when standing 20 feet away. You can have a conversation without raising your voice standing next to this portable generator.
It has a low oil shutoff valve that will prevent damage to the unit by shutting down the generator once the oil hits a certain level. The maintenance required on this generator beyond adding and changing oil is minimal. You have to change the filter, spark plugs, and other parts Honda placed them right on top, easy to find.
Briggs & Stratton 30651 P2200
- Quiet and fuel efficient 111 cc OHV engine produces 2,200 starting watts and 1700 running watts
- USB port allows charging of portable electronics in order to stay connected. Muffler : Super Lo-Tone. Start Type : Recoil
- Produces less than 3% total harmonic distortion making it safe for laptop computers, TVs and game systems
- 1-gallon fuel tank for up to 6.5 hours of continuous operation at 25% load
The Briggs and Stratton P2200 has a computer controlled engine that is constantly adjusting the speeds for longer fuel life and the quietest noise level possible. It has a smart handle design with two handles on either side of the top of the molded case. This makes carrying it with someone else a breeze.
Flip the switch, and the Quiet Power Technology will automatically adjust the engine speed to reduce noise levels and save fuel. It comes with parallel capabilities so you can run two together for added ampacity if the standard wattage is not enough. The price point is right in the middle, at $629 it’s in the mid-range price for portable generators and this has 1700 running watts.
Your next camping trip can be electrified, no more waiting in the bathroom to charge your phone. The design of a great camping generator is lightweight and easy to carry and you can easily have a conversation while standing next to it.
When making a large purchase like a generator take your time and look around, we took a look at the best camping generators that we could find. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better options out there. Good luck on your camping generator endeavors!