We researched the features, benefits and drawbacks of more than a dozen portable generators, studying their specifications, run time, fuel type and available outlets. At the end of our research we determined that the portable generators below are the best you can buy based on your needs. Whether you’re looking for a backup power supply for your home, a unit to take camping or one to take to a jobsite – there’s a high probability that one of these models is right for you.
Top-rated portable generators will keep power running a long time on a single tank of gas or propane – whatever fuels your generator. The two overall best generators in our review last nearly 12 hours on a single tank of gas. They even go into idle mode automatically when you’re not using any power. This helps save fuel so you can use your generator longer.
Power generators should also come with some standard safety features. One of the most important is a ground-fault circuit interrupter. This is a circuit breaker designed to prevent you or others from being electrocuted if the current takes an alternate path. Additionally, the best generators feature low oil shutdown to prevent overheating and damage to the engine. Other safety features include an automatic voltage regulator that allows the generator to maintain a consistent level of power. They also have circuit breakers in case an outlet becomes overloaded.
The Honda EM6500S portable generator is dependable and safe, and that's what matters most when you need emergency power during a natural disaster or a power outage. It is also durable enough to handle everyday use. It doesn't matter if you're a general contractor who'll use it every day or a family that only needs a generator for emergencies – the Honda EM6500S is one of the safest, most reliable and quietest gas generators available.
Most of the portable generators in our lineup are medium-sized units that fit nicely in a shed, bed of a pickup truck or a car trunk. But there are times when you won’t have that much room. And you may not need all the power that those generators provide. For these situations, there are small or mini generators that are smaller, lighter and require less fuel to operate. The tradeoff is that they run out of fuel more quickly and don’t generate as much power as their larger counterparts.
The WEN PowerPro 56101 is a great portable generator because it’s small, lightweight and powerful. It has a 1-gallon gas tank that will last about five hours on a half load. You get two electrical outlets on this generator: one 120V outlet and one 12V. It’s very quiet putting out just 60 dB of noise while running. It’s also one of the least expensive portable generators you can buy. You can pick one up for around $125 – other portable generators we reviewed can cost thousands of dollars.
Most portable generators use one type of fuel, whether it be gasoline, propane or natural gas. However, there are models available that allow you to pick which type of fuel you want to use. This greatly increases the portable generator’s flexibility for use in situations where your preferred fuel is not available.
The Sportsman GENTRi9K Tri Fuel Generator is a high-powered, durable and versatile portable generator. It not only provides more than 9,000 surge watts and 7,200 running watts of power, but also allows you to choose what kind of fuel you want to use. Other portable generators are powered exclusively by propane, natural gas or gasoline – the GENTRi9K can use all three, making it much handier in situations where your preferred fuel type is not available. It also features a control panel with a total of eight power outlets, allowing you to connect devices, appliances, RVs and more. It is also very efficient, delivering 10 hours of uninterrupted power when using gas and five hours using propane on a 50 percent load. And it will run indefinitely when connected to a natural gas supply.
Portable generators that use diesel fuel offer several advantages over those powered by gasoline, propane and natural gas. They have superior fuel efficiency, run quieter and require less maintenance. But it comes at a cost – portable diesel generators are generally much more expensive than models that use gasoline, propane or natural gas.
The Pulsar 7000W is a portable diesel power generator that has a lot going for it. It puts out a lot of power: 7,000 peak watts and 5,500 running watts. It has a 4-gallon fuel tank, which is smaller than some gasoline generators but lasts just as long or longer. Its 418 cc OHV engine offers better design qualities than a conventional piston engine. And it has five electrical outlets of various types, so you’ll be able to hook nearly anything to it. While it’s a portable generator, it’s not as convenient to move around as many other generators – it is bigger, heavier and harder to transport. It’s also more expensive than gasoline or natural gas models, but it’s worth the extra cash if you want a superior generator.
One of the main reasons to buy a portable generator is to take it camping with you. Having power on a campsite is invaluable to making your experience more comfortable. Camping generators are light – under 45 pounds – but still powerful enough to produce electricity to power multiple devices and appliances. Camping generators should also be able to provide power for RVs and other recreational vehicles.
The Champion Power 25537i 3100W Invertor Generator is one of the best portable generators you can take on a camping trip. It’s small, light and durable and provides enough power and outlets to make sure your devices and appliances stay charged and working. It’s also very quiet, only putting out about 58 dB of sound. Its gasoline powered and has a 1.6-gallon fuel tank – so it will last about eight hours on a full tank with a 25 percent load. This means it is not ideal for a home backup supply but will be invaluable for camping trips, tailgating parties and daytrips.
An exciting, but still emerging class of portable generator is powered by solar panels. Solar generators store energy from sunlight in a battery for later use. However, they won’t recharge when disconnected from solar panels. So, you’ll need to make sure that the battery is fully charged before you take it with you. The best solar powered generators, like the Paxcess 100-Watt Portable Generator Power Inverter and the Suaoki Portable Generator Power Source, also allow you to charge the battery via a regular wall socket or through your car’s 12V outlet.
There are dozens of portable generator models to choose from. The one you pick should provide the electricity you need to power your devices, appliances, tools and more. The best generators are light, don’t produce a lot of noise and use fuel efficiently. They should have multiple outlets of different kinds so you can hook up whatever you need when you need it. Whether you intend to use your portable generator as a backup in case the grid fails, take it to a job site or even bring it on camping trips, you’ll be able to find one that suits your needs.
Contributing Reviewer: Danny Chadwick