Best Portable Generators of 2018

Danny Chadwick ·
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Our team of expert reviewers spent more than 80 hours researching, comparing and evaluating the best portable generators on the market today. At the end of our analysis, we chose the Honda EM6500S as the best model overall. This is due to its excellent fuel efficiency, long running time, fully array of outlets and outstanding safety features. It also has the longest warranty period of all the portable generators we reviewed. It is the heaviest generator we evaluated, but that’s the tradeoff for the raw power this machine produces.  

Best Overall
Honda EM6500S
On a full tank, this portable generator produces power for up to 10.4 hours on a 50-percent load. It also has a full safety feature set and ample outlets, which make it perfect for a jobsite, camping trips or emergency backup.
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Best Value
Generac GP550
Quality portable generators can cost thousands of dollars, and the Generac GP550 is a fraction of the price. Even so, it's powerful and fuel efficient enough and has enough outlets to make it a great deal.
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Best Mini Generator
WEN PowerPro 56101
For portability and convenience, you can’t go wrong with this small generator. It’s light, compact and relatively quiet. On a full tank, it lasts about five hours.
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Best Overall

Honda EM6500S

We picked this portable generator as the best overall choice because it has almost all the features we look for.
The control panel has all the outlets you need: four household outlets, two industrial locking outlets and a car charger outlet. Those should cover almost any situation you need a portable generator for. It also comes with an exhaustive array of safety features. For example, it has ground-fault circuit interruption, which protects you against electrocution in the event the electricity takes an alternate path. The generator also features low oil shut down, which keeps the motor from seizing, and outlet circuit breakers that stop the current if the outlet becomes overloaded. Its 6.2-gallon tank isn’t the largest we saw, but the generator’s fuel efficiency more than makes up for it. The EM6500S runs for a little over 10.4 hours on a 50-percent load. If you intend to take this generator to a job site, it can likely last you all day without needing to be refueled. While it has most of the features we look for, like electric ignition, a fuel gauge and voltage selector switch, it lacks a voltage and hours meter. However, that’s the only complaint we have about this model.
  • Its steel frame makes it very durable.
  • It can generate up to 5,000 watts of power.
  • A tank of fuel lasts more than 10 hours on a 50-percent load.
  • It’s the heaviest generator we reviewed – 232 pounds.
  • The generator doesn’t have voltage or hours meters.
  • It’s expensive – expect to pay more than $2,000.
Best Value

Generac GP550

The best portable generators can be very expensive, sometimes running $2,000 or more. The Generac GP550, is inexpensive by comparison – you can get one for about $650.
But that doesn’t make it an inferior machine. It has a powerful OHV gasoline engine that produces a generous 6,875 starting watts and 5,500 running watts, which is perfect for homeowners who need an additional power supply. This portable generator’s overall design is outstanding. It has a durable, heavy-duty steel frame, making it resistant to damage. In addition, its never-flat tires make it safe to take where regular tires might get punctured and go flat. The GP550’s fold-down handle also make it more portable and easy to store than other generators. It features a 7.2-gallon fuel tank, which is the largest we saw among the models we reviewed. You can expect it to deliver power for seven hours on a 50-percent load. This is short of our top pick’s run time, but the Generac GP550 performs well for the price. Other things you sacrifice for the savings include a car charger outlet, electric ignition, fuel gauge and a voltage selector switch. Nevertheless, you can get a lot of use out of this inexpensive generator.
  • It costs a fraction of the top generator’s price.
  • This model produces as much or more power than our top pick.
  • The fold-down handle makes it portable and easy to store.
  • It lacks ground-fault circuit interruption.
  • There isn’t a car charger outlet.
  • It doesn’t have a voltage selector switch.
Best Mini Generator

WEN PowerPro 56101

If small and simple is what you’re looking for, the WEN PowerPro 56101 is worth considering.
It’s lightweight, just 35 pounds (42 when the tank is full); has an impressive run time for a generator its size; and has a standard 120V outlet that provides power for essential devices. The machine is also extremely quiet – it only produces 60 dB of sound when the motor runs. So, conversations won’t be drowned out and you won’t disturb anyone’s sleep on a camping trip. It’s also the least expensive of all the models we reviewed. You can expect to pay less than $150 for this mini generator. There are, of course, tradeoffs for the PowerPro 56101’s portability. For example, it holds a very small amount of fuel, only 1 gallon. It also doesn’t have outlets for full-size appliances like refrigerators, washers and dryers. As such, if you’re looking for a backup power supply for your home, this isn’t the one for you. This model also doesn’t deliver as much power as its full-size counterparts, just 1,000 surge watts and 900 rated watts. All these shortcomings are to be expected for a machine this size, and it is a great generator for camping, day trips and just-in-case scenarios.
  • It’s lightweight, just 42 pounds when the tank is full.
  • This is the quietest portable generator we reviewed.
  • It doesn’t require much maintenance and stores easily.
  • The fuel tank is very small, just 1 gallon.
  • There are only two power outlets.
  • It produces far less power than full-size generators.

Why Trust Us?
In the past year, we’ve put in 80 hours researching portable generators, evaluating dozens of models to find the best ones on the market. We compared power and performance, overall design, and compatibility. Value was also a major consideration, and we looked at the features and power you get for each generator’s price. 

How We Picked the Best
We researched the features, benefits and shortcomings of more than a dozen portable generators, studying their specifications, run time, fuel type and available outlets. We considered the needs of different types of users. For example, durable, heavy-duty generators with large fuel tanks and high fuel efficiency are great for regular use on job sites. Smaller, lighter, more compact generators are better suited for occasional use on camping or day trips. Models with a full array of outlets that can power common electronics, appliances and more are great backup power supplies for your home in the case of an emergency. We kept all these things in mind when selecting which models to feature.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Portable Generator

Power & Fuel Performance
Every generator has two power ratings: running wattage and surge wattage. The running wattage is the amount of power the generator can handle on a continuous basis, and the surge wattage is the amount it can handle in short bursts, usually about 10 seconds. The latter accounts for the surge created when appliances with electric motors start – their starting power can be two to four times the amount needed to operate.

Most portable generators use gas engines, though some use propane and others both. Propane generators have many advantages over gas generators: propane is cheaper, less toxic, cleaner burning and easily accessible during a power outage. Also, you can store it indefinitely because it doesn't degrade like gasoline.

Fuel efficiency is critical, especially if fuel becomes difficult to acquire during a natural disaster. The best generators burn less than half a gallon of fuel an hour and have a running time of more than 10 hours with a 50-percent load.

Safety Features
Safety features include things like circuit breakers, grounding methods, never-flat tires and spark arrestors. The most important one is ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection – a sensor that measures the alternating current going back and forth from the generator. If the returning current diminishes, it could mean the electrical current has found an alternate path to the earth. The GFCI cuts the power if this happens, protecting you from electrocution.

You should also consider the operating noise. Gas generators are combustion engines like the one in your car, and they make noise. A loud generator can cause your neighbors to complain or make it difficult for you to communicate with others while you use the machine.

Control Panel Features
Most generators have four standard household plugs and at least one twist-locking 120/240-volt AC outlet for large appliances or industrial extension cords. The best portable generators have electric ignitions that only require a flip of a switch or a push of a button to start. However, you should make sure the recoil ignition is still available so you can start the generator if the battery dies.

The best generators also feature a voltage selector switch, which allows you to isolate the voltage to whatever you're using at that moment. They also have readouts for voltage and hours operated, which are like odometers, gauging when you need to have the machine serviced.

Help & Support
The best generators come with a three-year warranty. While most manufacturers don't sell directly to consumers, you should still be able to receive excellent support. This includes adequate contact information and a service center network so you can get your generator serviced or fixed. You should also look for videos, maintenance tutorials, product manuals and FAQs pages.