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Portable generators are an efficient way to supply power to devices large and small in the event of a power outage. Unlike standby generators that are generally installed in a permanent location, a portable generator is ideal for occasional home use or on-the-go applications, like camping, tailgating, and more.
You’ll find small portable generators with just a few hundred watts of power up to large high-power models with 12,000 or more max watts. Many are somewhere in between, with popular portable generators for home use offering 3,000 to 5,000 watts of power. To tap into this power, consider the type and number of outlets the generator is equipped with. You should look for a mix of 120V household outlets and heavy-duty 120/240V outlets if you plan to operate both large and small appliances. Portable generators usually operate on gas, but some dual fuel models give you the option to utilize propane. Regardless of which type of generator you choose, be sure to check the decibel level to determine how noisy or quiet the generator will be.
Don’t get left in the dark during the next power outage or off-grid occasion. Check out these top portable generators on the market now.
Best Budget: Champion 1200-Watt Portable Generator
For light-duty or occasional use, a budget portable generator makes the most sense. The Champion 1,200-Watt Portable Generator isn’t as powerful as larger generators on the market, but it’s well-suited for its purpose and is affordable. This small generator runs on gasoline and features a 120V 20A outlet, a voltmeter to monitor power output, and a low-oil shutoff sensor. It can put out about 1,500 starting watts and up to 1,200 running watts to keep a limited number of appliances running. With a full tank of gasoline, you can expect this budget compressor to give you up ten hours of power.
Customers find the noise to be as expected, with a manufacturer’s rating of 65 dBA from 23 feet. This generator's compact size means that it's easy to take camping or out to a job site. At about 60 pounds, it’s possible for one person to carry—though it’s even easier for two people to pick up using the built-in handles.
Best for Home: Ryobi 6,500-Watt Portable Generator
If you’re looking for the best portable generator for your home, the Ryobi 6,500-watt Portable Generator checks all the boxes. If you want to keep your fridge running and your lights operational, this model has plenty of power—along with useful safety features that will give you peace of mind.
To run large household appliances, you’ll want a generator with 3,000 to 6,500 watts of power, depending on the size and number of appliances you’re planning to operate. This best-selling model from Ryobi cranks out up to 8,125 starting watts and 6,500 running watts for operating everything from fridges and freezers to sump pumps and hot water heaters. You can also rely it on for powering smaller appliances like televisions and supplying power to your recharge your electronics. The unit has two 120V 20A outlets plus a single 120/240V 30A outlet.
With a full tank, this unit will operate for up to ten hours (depending on wattage use). It includes an EasyStart system to make a cold start a snap and also features sturdy wheels with a handle frame that make maneuvering this generator into place much easier.
Best for RV Camping: Sportsman 3,500-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Generator
Go off-grid without losing power with this portable generator, designed for RV camping (or glamping). This capable camping companion runs on either gasoline or propane and offers up to ten hours of run time before refueling.
This model of Sportsman generator is equipped with 4,000 starting watts and 3,500 running watts. Tap into the power using the four 120V outlets, the single 120V 30A RV-ready outlet, or the 12V DC outlet. RV enthusiasts and campers appreciate that this portable generator can run on propane and find it to be suitable for many applications. However, a few people noted that it is noisier than some other more expensive portable generators, so this model might be better for solo wilderness adventures than in an RV park.
Best Inverter: Ryobi Bluetooth Inverter Generator
Inverter portable generators are popular for their quiet operation and compact size. One of the best portable generators of this type is the Ryobi Bluetooth Inverter Generator. With 2,300 starting watts and 1,800 running watts, you can use this inverter generator for tailgating, camping, on a job site, or around the home.
This model has a Bluetooth feature that enables you to monitor the status of the generator right from your smartphone. You can even shut the generator off remotely using the app. In addition, this small portable generator includes safety features like a low oil shutoff and carbon monoxide shutdown.
While this portable inverter generator offers more limited power compared to larger models, you can power a single major appliance (like your fridge or microwave) or use it to operate several smaller devices simultaneously (phone charger, lamp, fan, etc.). One of the most common gripes with this generator is that filling it with oil is tricky due to the way the unit is designed. However, with a little patience and the right funnel, the job can be done.
Best Battery-Powered: EGO 56-Volt 3,000-Watt Nexus Portable Power Station Generator
While most generators rely on a fuel source like gasoline or propane, power stations take the concept of portable generators to a new level. The EGO Nexus Portable Power Station relies on a pair of powerful 7.5 Ah lithium batteries to provide up to 3,000 watts of starting power and 2,000 watts of running power to your home or RV. Unlike fuel-burning generators, battery-powered generators can be used indoors and are very quiet.
The included batteries charge using a wall adaptor, and more batteries are available to purchase as a backup—but they’re pricey. However, shoppers find this battery generator to be very handy during short-term power outages. Instead of having to store fuel, just keep the batteries charged up and ready for instant power. Keep in mind that this isn’t a high-power generator; it’s better suited for small appliances and charging electronics than keeping your fridge chilled. It's also been used by camping enthusiasts looking for a quiet portable generator that lets them appreciate the silence of the great outdoors.
Best High-Power: DuroMax XP12000EH Portable Generator
If you're shopping for a portable generator to run major appliances, charge devices, and power electronics, you’ll need a high-wattage model. The DuroMax XP12000EH, named the Beast by the manufacturer, delivers 12,000 starting watts and 9,500 continuous watts of power. This unit packs about as much power as you’ll see in most portable generators, so you'll have to do less picking and choosing when it comes to what you power.
Customers say they've used the Beast to power central air conditioning units, full-size refrigerators, televisions, and coffee makers—all at once. In fact, some people have even installed this portable generator to a fixed location outside the house and installed a transfer switch for instant power in the event of an outage. It can run on gasoline or propane, whichever you prefer.
Best Solar: Jackery Explorer 500 Solar Portable Generator
If you’re looking for a small but mighty solar generator, the Jackery Portable Generator is a good option. This model offers a maximum of 400 watts of power, so it’s best suited for charging small devices when you're tailgating or camping, or for keeping electronics juiced up during power outages.
The lithium-ion battery can be charged on the go using the car adaptor. It’s also well-suited for solar charging, though you’ll need to purchase a solar panel to make the most of this off-grid portable generator functionality. This portable generator has pure sine wave power, which means it's safer for small electronics.
Buyers consistently praise this small generator and are often surprised by how much power it can supply. One person reports that this unit has enough to power a 10,000 BTU A/C unit. It also can handle many small tasks, like a power strip loaded up with a shop light, stereo, string lights, and a fan. Plus with the addition of a solar panel, you can charge this portable generator anytime, anywhere, and also have power!
What to Look For in Portable Generators
The wattage of a portable generator indicates how much power it's capable of producing. You should choose a generator with plenty of wattage for the appliances and devices you plan to operate in the event of a power outage or in an off-grid situation.
There are two important metrics to know when evaluating a generator's power: running watts and starting watts. Running watts indicate how much power the generator can continuously produce. Starting watts are also known as surge watts or peak watts, since these are a measure of how much power a generator can produce in short bursts—such as when turning on a major appliance connected to the generator, like a refrigerator.
The type and number of outlets on a portable generator will vary, but typically include a combination of 120V 20 amp household outlets, 120/240V 50 amp receptacles, and 120/240V 30 amp twist-lock receptacles. Some may have GFCI-protected outlets.
Portable generators rely on fuel to produce power (with the exception of battery-powered options). Gasoline is the most common fuel type for portable generators, though some models offer dual fuel flexibility and can run using gas or propane. Diesel portable generators are also available on the market and offer greater fuel efficiency but these models tend to be more expensive.
An alternative to diesel, gas, or propane portable generators is a battery-powered generator. This is the only type of generator that can be used indoors but it's also popular for camping or off-grid use. Instead of filling it with fuel, a battery portable generator must be charged up using electricity or solar energy.
Portable generators have a reputation for being noisy. For the sake of your own sanity (and that of your neighbors), check the operational volume (measured in decibels) for any portable generator you consider purchasing. A quiet portable generator may register at about 60 decibels, but many models are between 70 and 80 decibels.
How do you hook up a portable generator to a house?
If you want to connect a portable generator to your home's electrical panel, you will need to hire an electrician to install a manual transfer switch. If you are looking for an easier way to use a portable generator for your household needs, then stick with using a grounded extension cord to bring power into your home from the portable generator located outside.
What size portable generator do you need?
To find the right size portable generator for your situation, start by making a list of which appliances and devices you want to run using generator power. For each item, note the running watts and starting watts from the manufacturer, or use general guidelines found online. Now it's time to do some math. Add up the running watts of all items you want to plug into the generator. Then, look for the item with the largest number of starting watts. Add this starting watts figure to the total running watts you calculated. This is your peak wattage number and should guide you in selecting a generator that produces enough energy for your needs.
How do you use a portable generator?
Set up the generator outside of the home, at a distance of at least 20 feet. It's important to consider safety when using a portable generator, so be sure that the exhaust is positioned in a way that won't enter the home through a door or window. Check that the generator has sufficient fuel. Then, plug the generator into a heavy-duty extension cord. Run the extension cord into the house via a door or window. Plug the appliance that draws the largest electrical current into the extension cord first, then you can add other appliances or devices, being mindful of the generator's power capacity.