Best portable generator

Gear

Many appliances have an initial spike in power usage when first started. To avoid overloading your generator, start connected equipment one at a time.

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Which portable generator is best?

If you need a power source on the go, there is no substitute for a portable generator. They run on gas, propane or solar power, depending on the model, but they are lighter weight and more compact, so you can toss them wherever you go. Some models even fit in the trunk of a regular sedan.

Before choosing your generator, you’ll need to consider your power needs, what fuel source you prefer and what physical size and weight fits your lifestyle. You may also want to look at various other features of specific generators, such as the number and mix of outlets or the sensors or gauges it has.

If you try to balance portability with energy generation, the Honda EU1000i Inverter Generator is an excellent model to consider. It offers 1,000 starting watts and 800 running watts, which is enough for most coffee makers and power tools, some refrigerators, a couple of computers or several light bulbs. At roughly 30 pounds, it isn’t difficult for most people to carry either. 

What to know before you buy a portable generator

Propane generators vs. gas generators vs. solar generators

When it comes to portable generators, gas and solar models stand out as the best options. Unlike a gas generator, which has a reservoir you can fill with fuel, propane generators must be attached to a separate tank the whole time they are running. This means you’ll have to transport both the generator itself and the large propane tank, which cuts down on the overall portability. Also, gas is a more energy-dense fuel source than propane, so if you want to transport the maximum amount of energy in the smallest package, gas is the way to go.

The benefit of solar generators is that they are compact and completely silent. However, they can’t compete with either propane or gas energy, so they aren’t suitable for running demanding appliances. Also, while they have an internal battery that can store a certain amount of power for future use, you won’t be able to replenish that once it is depleted if the sun isn’t out. 

Power and run time

The amount of power a generator supplies is rated in watts. It is essential to understand how much wattage you need before choosing any model. Otherwise, you run the risk that it can’t produce enough energy for your needs.

For gas generators, manufacturers list their estimated run time at a specific load, usually 25% of the maximum. For example, the Champion Power Equipment 2000-watt Dual Fuel Inverter Generator has 2,000 starting watts and 1,600 running watts and has an 11-hour runtime at quarter load. That means this model can provide up to 400 watts for 11 hours on a full tank of gas. If running it at 1,600 watts, a full tank of gas would last considerably less time.

Jackery SolarSaga 100W Portable Solar Panel

On solar generators, you will see peak output and watt-hours ratings. The peak output refers to the highest amount of energy it can provide, and the watt-hours allow you to figure out how long you can run certain electronics. For example, the Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500 has a 518-watt hour rating and a 1,000-watt peak power rating.

This means it can power an appliance that uses 1,000 watts for roughly 30 minutes before depleting its stored energy. If running a 60-watt light bulb, it would last for roughly 8.5 hours. If it was connected to a 100-watt solar panel while running that 60-watt light bulb, it could run indefinitely as long as the sun continued to shine.

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Features to look for in a quality portable generator

Eco-mode

Eco-mode — also called an eco throttle on some models — allows a generator to adjust its engine speed to match the power demands automatically. This makes a more efficient operation and extends the run time.

Outlets

Generators have a different number and mix of outlets. Consider how many outlets you need and what types before picking out a model. All will have at least one AC outlet, with some offering two or even four. They may also feature USB ports and 12-volt outlets.

Dual-fuel capability

Generators with dual-fuel capabilities are more versatile because they can run on either gasoline or propane. Generally, gasoline is better when used in a portable capacity because it doesn’t require you to transport a bulky and heavy propane tank. However, unlike gasoline, propane won’t go bad even if stored for years. It is also a cleaner fuel source that creates fewer emissions.

Parallel connector ports

Generators with parallel connector ports can be daisy-chained together to increase the output when used in an application that has higher power demands. 

Low-oil indicator

Running a generator without enough oil can cause severe damage to the engine. To reduce the chances of this happening, some models feature a low-oil indicator.

Fuel gauge

When using a generator without a fuel gauge, the only way to check how much gas is left is by removing the filler cap and peeking inside. You’ll often need to slosh it around a little to get a better visual and feel for the remaining contents of the tank. This is an inconvenience that can be avoided by purchasing a generator with a fuel gauge.

Wheels

Even portable generators can weigh 50 pounds or more. If you want to make your life easier when it comes time to move it, consider buying a model that features wheels on the bottom. For some generators, you also have the option of buying a separate accessory with wheels.

How much can you expect to spend on a portable generator?

Portable gas-powered generators start around $300 and can cost upwards of $2,000 depending on the wattage and the build quality. Most solar generators cost between $100-$500, but this doesn’t include the cost of the required solar panels.

Portable generator FAQ

How do I know how much power I need?

Nearly all electronics have a label that states how much power they use. To determine your power needs, add up the wattages of all the items you plan on connecting and compare that to the generator’s listed wattage. The advertised wattage on generators is usually peak power, and the actual running wattage is usually 10%-25% lower.

Can generators be used to power laptops and other delicate electronics?

A. Generators can be used to power delicate electronics as long as they have an inverter. This allows them to create a stable sine wave with a steady output so they won’t damage laptops and similar items.

What is the best portable generator to buy?

Top portable generator

Honda EU1000i Inverter Generator

Honda EU1000i Inverter Generator

What you need to know: The Honda EU1000i offers just the right balance of power and portability for most users. 

What you’ll love: Though lightweight, it still features wheels, and it can run for eight hours on just 0.6 gallons of gas when at a quarter load.

What you should consider: The price is high for the wattage.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Top portable generator for the money

Champion Power Equipment 2000-watt Dual Fuel Inverter Generator

Champion Power Equipment 2000-watt Dual Fuel Inverter Generator

What you need to know: This is a versatile generator that boasts several useful features and can run on two fuel sources.

What you’ll love: It has a fuel gauge, so you can always tell at a glance how much time you have left before you need to refill it. You can also daisy-chain it to another unit for those times you need more power. 

What you should consider: It can be difficult to start when using propane.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Worth checking out

Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500

Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500

What you need to know: The Jackery Explorer 500 is ideal for use at the beach, when camping or in other locations where a traditional gas-powered generator would be too noisy.

What you’ll love: It’s environmentally friendly and completely silent during use.

What you should consider: You’ll need to bring along a solar panel if you want it to generate more power than it stores in the internal battery.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Brett Dvoretz writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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