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Best portable generators 2019: Don't let power cuts stop you

In the always-connected world of today, we rely on a constant supply of power and electricity, whether at work or in our homes. While power contingencies are fortunately taken care of in most workplaces, we have only ourselves to rely on when it comes to planning for power cuts at home. 

While a temporary power cut may be little more than a slight convenience for many, some people rely on a constant supply of electricity in their homes, especially when their home and work mixes. We may work from a home office, or run a small bed and breakfast, or even have a farm. In those cases, a power cut could be more than a nuisance; it could directly affect our livelihoods. 

Which is where portable generators come in. In the event of a power cut, a portable generator can keep the power flowing, ensuring you don't lose out, have your frozen food stores thaw out, lose your B&B guests to a rival or have produce from animals go bad. 

As the name suggests, you can also use a portable generator on the go, whether its for mobile tasks related to your job (powering tools or similar) or providing electricity for a mobile caravan on a camping trip.

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 Generac GP5500 as the best model overall. This is due to its excellent fuel efficiency, long running time, plentiful array of outlets and outstanding safety features. It delivers 5,500 running watts and 6,875 surge watts – which is more than the most expensive generator we reviewed. And at just 170 pounds, it is much lighter than all the other high-powered generators we evaluated.

1. Generac GP5500: Best overall

Generac GP5500 best portable generator overall

Generac GP5500

Running watts: 5500W | Max starting watts: 6875W | Outlet type: 120V 20A | Power type: Gasoline | Engine displacement: 389cc | Fuel tank capacity: 7.2 gallons

Produces 5,500 running watts
Lasts 10 hours on a full tank
Has a variety of outlet types
No ground-fault circuit interruption
No car charger outlet
No voltage selector switch

Our best overall choice for portable generators provides amazing power at an unbeatable price. More expensive generators can cost more than $2,000 and produce less power. At around $700 the Generac GP5500, is inexpensive by comparison.

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 GP5500’s fold-down handle also make it more portable and easier 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 value 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.

2. Westinghouse WGen2000: Best value

best cheap portable generator Westinghouse WGen2000

Westinghouse WGen2000

Running watts: 2000W | Max starting watts: 2500W | Outlet type: 120V 20A | Power type: Gasoline | Fuel tank capacity: 4 gallons

Affordable 
20-hour runtime
Large fuel tank
Relatively low power output
Limited outlet choices
No voltage selector switch or hour meter

Of all the portable generators we reviewed, the Westinghouse WGen2000 delivers the most value for your dollar. It provides a decent amount of power, a fair amount of power outlets and runs an astonishingly long time.

At the time of this writing, you can pick up this model for about $300, which is a thousand dollars less than the most expensive generator we reviewed. That said, it doesn’t deliver as much power. 

The most powerful generators we reviewed produce 5,500 running watts and 6,875 surge watts – compare that to the 2,000 running watts and 2,500 surge watts delivered by the WGen2000. Nevertheless, unless you need a generator capable of powering an RV or be a home power backup supply, this should work just fine.

This portable generator will run continuously for 20 hours on a full tank. This is double the run time of our top pick. This is due to its large fuel tank and lower power generation.

You get four common household outlets on this generator. Which is great for small appliances, televisions, game systems and other smaller electronics. However, you don’t get a locking industrial outlet for appliances like refrigerators and washers.

3. WEN PowerPro 56101: Best mini generator 

Best small portable generator WEN PowerPro 56101

WEN PowerPro 56101

Running watts: 900W | Max starting watts: 1000W | Outlet type: 120V 7.2A | Power type: Gasoline | Fuel tank capacity: 1 gallon

Lightweight, only 42lb with full tank 
Quiet, only producing 60 dB
Low-maintenance and stores easily
Fuel tank is very small
Only two power outlets
Produces far less power than full-size generators

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, although it is a great generator for camping, day trips and just-in-case scenarios.

4. Champion Power 75531i: Best camping generator

Champion Power 75531i best generator for camping

Champion Power 75531i

Running watts: 2800W | Max starting watts: 3100W | Outlet type: 120V 30A | Power type: Gasoline | Fuel tank capacity: 1.6 gallons

Lightweight 
Enough power to keep your smaller devices and appliances going
Array of outlets isn’t as comprehensive as other models we reviewed

If you love camping and need power on your trips to the great outdoors, the Champion Power 75531i is worth considering.

It’s a 1.6-gallon gasoline powered model that’s lightweight, portable and offers enough outlets to keep your devices charged throughout your trip.

It’s 171cc engine can generate up to 2,800 running watts, which is more than enough for basic items like small televisions, air compressors and even some power tools. It’s also great at keeping devices like smartphones and tablets charged.

You shouldn’t expect it to handle heavy-duty things like full-sized refrigerators or washers. For that you’ll want something a little heftier, like our top pick.

5. Pulsar PG7000W: Best diesel generator

best diesel generator Pulsar PG7000W

Pulsar PG7000W

Running watts: 5500W | Max starting watts: 5000W | Outlet type: 120V 20A, 120V 30A, 240V 20A, 240V 30A | Power type: Diesel | Fuel tank capacity: 4 gallons

Runs on diesel fuel
It’s heavy and difficult to transport

The Pulsar PG7000W is an excellent choice for a diesel generator for job sites or for use as an emergency power supply.

This generator produces up to 7,000 peak watts and 5,500 running watts. Its four-gallon fuel tank is a bit smaller than the other products we reviewed. However, a tank of diesel gas will last as long or longer than larger regular gasoline tanks. 

This generator has all the outlets you’ll need to power everything from RVs and campers to household appliances and corded power tools. It also has noise reduction technology that keeps it down to about 70 decibels. 

There are a couple of drawbacks - it is quite expensive and it’s a lot heavier and harder to transport than most of the other products we reviewed.

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.

We also reached out to portable generator users and experts for their advice on what to look for in a good model. Dan Carpenter, who runs Homestead Launch, a prepper planning website, tells us that “In disaster prone areas, generators are the lifeblood to keep basic home functions running when the power is out.”

He emphasized that picking the right one for you requires you to know exactly what you need in terms of wattage. “Most people have no idea how many watts are needed to run basic household appliances, tools, and other electrical components.” Suffice it to say that you need to check the power requirements of your electronics and appliances before you buy a generator.

Carpenter also emphasized the importance of considering how long you anticipate using it. “In most emergency situations, a portable generator will be tasked with running the lights, internet and communications equipment, and refrigerators (intermittently) for 1-2 days. During large storms and more regionally sized disasters, this number can be more like 7-10 days, although this is extremely infrequent.”

We also spoke with David Speer, an electrical engineer, who uses his personal generator frequently for camping as an alternate power source for his trailer. He said the most important buying decision for him was longevity. “When I buy a generator, I’m expecting it to last about 15 years,” and the model he currently owns has lasted 10 years so far. But he cautioned that generators for camping are becoming less of a necessity because camping sites are increasingly providing power supplies themselves “Our use of the portable generator has gone down over the years because when we show up at parks and locations, they’ve put in electricity so we don’t need the generator now, we just plug in.”

How much does a portable generator cost?

Portable generators are expensive. The cheapest one we reviewed costs $136, but expect prices to vary anywhere from $130 to $2,500 for generators. The average price is around $1,000 – still a serious investment.

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.

Can I use a portable generator in the rain?

If your portable generator gets wet, you risk destroying it or worse – hurting someone through electric shock or electrocution. Some portable generators have a GFCI outlet, which automatically shuts the device off if it gets wet. If you think you’ll be working in wet locations, we recommend purchasing a generator that has a GFCI outlet.

While it’s best to avoid using your machine during bad weather, sometimes it can't be helped. If you must use it on a rainy or snowy day, try to keep your generator dry by placing it on a dry, flat surface and covering it. Some companies even sell generator tents, like this Champion Storm Shield. Just make sure you get one that fits your generator. Many of these tent covers connect to your generator in such a way that they can resist strong winds up to 70 miles per hour, so they're good for all types of weather.

What to look for in 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.

ProductPriceOverall RatingPriceDesignPowerControl Panel FeaturesWarrantyFuel TypeRunning Time (hours)Fuel Capacity (gallons)Weight (lb)Operating Noise (dB)Engine Displacement (cc)Rated/Running WattsSurge/Starting WattsHousehold Outlets (120 volt AC)Industrial Locking Outlets (120/240 volt AC)Car Charger Outlets (12 volt DC)Fuel GaugeVoltage Selector SwitchVoltage and Hours MeterWarranty Period
Generac GP5500View Deal4/53.54341107.2170713895,5006,875412 Years
SUAOKI Portable Power StationView Deal4/52.553.552.5GasolineNot ListedN/A4.410N/A150N/A20418 Months
Yamaha EF5500DEView Deal4/5534.545Gasoline96.9243.774.13584,5005,500423 Years
Westinghouse WGen2000View Deal4/554.53.552Gasoline206.690.6682122,0002,500403 Years
Pulsar PG7000WView Deal3.5/53.5253.53.5Diesel9.54353704185,5007,000222 Years
Champion Power 75531iView Deal3.5/5786.93.510Gasoline81.696.6581712,8003,1002012 Years
WEN PowerPro 56101View Deal3.5/51.552.541513660639001,0001011 Year
Generac GP2200IView Deal3/53.5454.53.5Gasoline5.31.246.6Not Listed801,7002,200412 Years
WEN 56200iView Deal3/53.54.5340.561485179.71,6002,000202 Years
Honda EM6500SView Deal3/550543Gasoline76.2232733895,5506,500423 Years