A generator is a great option when there’s a power outage. Depending on which one you choose, it can be used to make important appliances operational, like refrigerators, stoves, and heaters. A portable generator is a good option for camping to give you a little more juice where you need it or for getting power to an outbuilding or workshop that isn’t wired like your home. We’ve rounded up the best gas and battery-powered options.
For off-the-grid and workplace power
With its steel frame and rugged exterior, the DuroMax XP12000EH is designed for on-site work or as a backup generator when the power goes out. With a whopping 12,000 watts of running power, you’ll find it handles most heavy-duty equipment, plus it’s enough to support high voltage appliances like refrigerators and home air conditioners. It’s gas-powered and quite noisy, but it does have a built-in starter motor rather than a pull cord. It also works with propane. The DuroMax isn’t an inverter generator, so don’t get this if you’re looking for something to power sensitive electronics like laptops, tablets, or phones.
Power in the great outdoors
The Champion Power Equipment generator works on either gas or propane. It’s lightweight, portable, and offers enough outlets to keep your devices charged throughout your trip. It produces up to 3,800 running watts, which is more than enough for basic items like small televisions, air compressors, and even some power tools. The Champion can run continually for nine hours with gas or over 10.5 hours with propane when full. It has an inverter that is great for keeping devices like smartphones and tablets safely charged.
Compatible with solar panels
The Goal Zero Yeti 400 portable generator includes a rechargeable battery that can be plugged into a wall socket or connected to solar panels. It boasts three USB ports and two 120-volt power outlets to give you plenty of options for charging, and it’s completely silent in use. Being able to charge via solar power is a big plus since it's free energy. However, the solar panels must be purchased separately and are expensive. Also, the Yeti is only compatible with Goal Zero panels.
2300 peak watts
The Pulsar generator is a basic but great value that will give you 1,800 running watts and 2,300 peak watts across two 120-volt power outlets and a USB port. Because it is an inverter generator, it has the protections in place to safely power sensitive electronic devices like laptops and cell phones. It’s gasoline-powered and needs to be started with a pull cord, but it’s a reliable performer and light enough to pick up with one hand.
Portable power option
It’s a bit unfair to compare the RYOBI 150 inverter to a fully-fledged generator that runs from gasoline since it has small power output. But it’s a handy machine that can be stored in your car or RV to charge devices when you’re out and about or at home in a pinch. This generator connects to any ONE+ battery from Ryobi so that you can plug devices into it directly using the 120-volt power outlet or two USB ports.
How to choose the right generator for you
When it comes to choosing the best portable generator, it’s worth deciding on a few factors first. The fuel source is one important consideration, gas and battery-powered generators are both common, and each has its own advantages. Gasoline models allow you to keep topping up the engine, but they can also be messy, noisy, and smelly. Battery-powered options are quieter than their gasoline counterparts.
The next thing to consider is the generator's actual portability. A heavy generator with a 9000-watt output isn’t actually going to be that portable, and you may need to sacrifice some power for convenience. Or, you could balance the two by choosing a model with wheels. That way you can have great power output with mobility. Generators that use a cord pull to start are often lighter but are also more difficult to start.
Wattage is the next factor to consider. When electronics startup they will use more power than they will while running, which is known as the surge or starting wattage before they settle into their running wattage. If the surge wattage is higher than the generator can handle, it will cut out. So, take a look at the rating for surge/starting and running wattage. Usually the higher the rating, the better. To calculate, determine the running wattage of all the devices you want to use simultaneously, then add on the single highest starting wattage of all the devices. This will give you a wattage number to look for in a generator.
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I wish I wasn't such an expert on generators, but when your power goes out almost daily you learn which generators are the best pretty quickly.