The best portable generator is a neat contraption that buys you the freedom to stop relying on power grid all the time. It you have one, you won’t run out of electricity as often or as easily. As long as there’s some kind of fuel, a generator will take it up and convert it into power.
Everybody can do without electricity for heating or cooking. For that, you can use propane heaters or burners, or simply go the ancient way and build a fire to serve all or any of these purposes. But sometimes, you just need electricity – at least for a short while. As much as we like to go all natural, we are too hooked on our air conditioners, electric tools, refrigerators. Not to mention phones or tablets!
That’s why you should always have the best portable generator at home, but also in your off-grid cabin or bug out shelter. You’re not very fond of emergency preparedness? Then you’ll likely need a generator for camping. Even if you’re not an outdoor fan, it’s still good to have a portable generator due to power outages.
Maybe the world won’t end tomorrow. We don’t have to envision a dystopian collapse of institutions and their complete overtake by thugs fighting each other over oil like in Mad Max.
But there are hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods and other cruel pranks that Mother Earth is performing on us. The power grid is and always will be fragile. We may soon start camping on Mars, but we will probably never manage to send power outages to history. Even in the best of all worlds, they are and always will be a reality.
A portable generator will get you covered in such situations. Get one today and let it sit in your basement, along with a can of fuel. It doesn’t even need much maintenance. But when hard times hit, you’ll be glad to have it.
The Anatomy of a Portable Power Generator
Power generators – be they portable or stationary – are basically organisms that convert mechanical energy into electricity. You feed them with fuel (either liquid or gas), they gobble it up, digest and combust it, generating mechanical energy in the process. Then, this mechanical energy converts to electricity, which you further use to power your electrical appliances.
Since it doesn’t create electricity out of thin air, you will definitely need some supplies of fuel. That’s why power generators can’t be a permanent solution. But when the grid fails you, they’ve got your back.
Now, let’s take a look into the basic parts that every portable power generator has to have.
- Fuel system. This is not just the tank where you pour the fuel. It also contains pipes to feed the fuel into the engine, as well as optional widgets such as filters, selectors, flow controllers, etc.
- The most important part – the engine. It’s not like the other parts are less important. It’s just that the engine can make or break your generator. The engine initiates and performs the fuel combustion, producing mechanical energy in the process. It contains a carburetor that allows for combustion.
- An alternator. Just like its name says, it alternates – or rather, converts – this mechanical energy into electricity.
- Various protective parts responsible for greasing up the system, cooling it down, getting rid of toxic by-products, etc.
- Frame. This part isn’t just a case where your generator lives. It’s also a system responsible for grounding. That is, leading any remaining, unused electricity safely into the ground.
- Optional handle and a wheel kit. Obviously, these are what makes a portable generator – portable. Even smaller portable generators are typically very heavy, so these extras will definitely make your life easier. If your generator doesn’t come with them, get them separately.
The Most Important Safety Tip for Using Portable Power Generators
Before we present the best portable generators on the market, here’s a word of warning.
Most if not all portable generators can produce and release carbon monoxide as a by-product. This gas is highly toxic yet invisible and odorless, which means it’s very easy to get serious or even fatal poisoning.
So, whichever portable generator you choose, make sure to get a carbon monoxide detector alarm. It’s a handy and inexpensive little widget that may save your life. And, if you keep your generator inside, provide a lot of ventilation!
THE BEST PORTABLE GENERATOR – OUR TOP 6 PICKS
1. Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator with Remote Electric Start – Best for Home Use
If you’re looking for a gas-powered portable generator, this powerhouse should be your top pick. A great thing is the twist lock that you can hook up with a transfer switch and power just about every electric appliance in your home. The 6.6-gallon fuel tank is enough to keep it up and running for about 16 hours – often more. If you’re ready to dish out some more cash, get the WGen7500DF model which runs on both gasoline and propane.
The outlets are water resistant, which also makes this generator a perfect choice for outside – be it your camping site or a jobsite.
- Extremely powerful (9,500 starting and 7,500 running watts)
- Transfer switch ready
- Low oil shut-off system
- Burns little fuel for such a beast
- Very easy to set up even if you’ve never used a generator before
- EPA and CARB compliant – which means it doesn’t produce too many or too harmful gases
- Includes wheels
- Relatively loud in comparison with other models
- It’s pretty expensive – not for everyone’s pocket
2. DuroStar DS4000S Gas Powered Portable Generator
Its 4,000 starting and 3,300 running watts are plenty and suffice to feed three tools at once, with two household outlets and one twist lock. When the machine runs low on oil, the motor will shut off automatically to prevent itself from breaking. If you top up the 4-gallon tank, the generator will be able to run for up to 16 hours.
You know how noisy these beasts often are? For what it’s worth, this one has a noise muffler. It won’t exactly stifle it to inaudibility, but it does help a bit.
If you need it on wheels, you can buy a wheel kit separately.
- Rugged and durable (3-year limited warranty, but it’ll last way longer than that)
- On full load, it runs up to 16 hours (per manufacturer) – in reality, it may run even longer
- Automatic engine shut-off when low on oil
- Pretty quiet indeed in comparison with most other conventional power generators out there
- Compatible with DuroStar wheel kit for better portability
- No watt meter, which means you can’t tell how much juice your devices consume at any given moment
- The wheel kit isn’t included (though it isn’t very expensive either)
3. Champion RV Ready Wireless Remote Start Generator
I don’t think wireless remote start that works from 80 feet away is the first thing you’ll thank god for in emergency situations. But this feature, while fancy and convenient, is not the only benefit from this portable generator.
I would also single out the cold start, which will allow you to better deal with cold weather. Priceless for winter time, when the last thing you need is a useless power generator that won’t start! It’s also a pretty powerful contraption, running at 3,500 watts and starting at 4,375.
Don’t hesitate for a moment to hook up your laptop or phone to this machine. It has a volt protector which will prevent sudden surges that could potentially damage your appliances. Plus, you’ll always be aware of its run time (per session and overall), frequency and volts, thanks to the LED gauge that reads all of these. This is an upgraded version of this model – you can take a look at their features and compare!
- A durable, heavy-duty piece of work
- Cold start technology
- Wireless remote start (works from up to 80 feet away)
- Built-in surge protector for safe handling and keeping appliances healthy
- Wheel kit comes included in the package
- Runs up to 24 hours on full load
- RV ready (can feed a 15,000 BTU air conditioner on your RV)
- You can’t remove the wheels – besides portability, they also account for the balance
- Even though it has a surge protector, the manufacturer doesn’t guarantee absolute safety for your appliances. It’s best to buy another protector
4. WEN 4-Stroke 1550-Watt Portable Generator
Portable generators tend to be heavy as hell. Well, this one will go relatively easy on your back. That is, if you don’t carry it that way! It’s a smaller and lighter generator than other, more robust models.
Of course, the lightness comes at the expense of performance. It runs on 1,550 surge watts and 1,350 running watts.
This definitely isn’t the best portable generator overall. But it might be one of the most convenient and user-friendly thanks to voltage regulator, fuel gauge, and other handy features. And it has one of the best price/quality ratios.
- Automatic voltage regulator
- Fuel gauge so you know exactly how much juice is left
- Low-oil shut-off prevents the engine from breaking down
- Compact and lightweight enough for your to carry it (most other generators are at least twice as heavy)
- CARB (California Air Resource Board) compliant, which means it’s green as green can be
- Relatively quiet when in eco mode
- The recoil tends to break pretty fast
- Not very powerful
5. Honda EU2200i Super Quiet Inverter – the Lightest and Smallest Portable Generator
A small disclosure before we dive in. This is probably not the smallest portable generator on the market. But it’s hands down the best in the inverter category and beyond. It’s so reliable that it can compete with much bigger and more powerful generators.
And now a word or two on inverter generators. It’s a relatively new technology that allows for cleaner electricity feeding into your devices. Converting AC voltage into DC and then back to AC, it also provides a more stable energy flow. Which is extremely important for fragile electronic devices such as phones or computers. These generators are also smaller, quieter, and more fuel-efficient.
Due to its capacity, I wouldn’t wanna rely on this cute little thing to power up my entire household during a hurricane. But it’s definitely the best bet if you’re only looking for some aid during camping trips. The specs say that it’s as quiet as human conversation. To my ears, it’s a bit of an exaggeration. But when you compare it to other generators big or small and not to human speech, it is damn quiet indeed.
The fact that it’s an inverter generator means you can be 100% positive that it won’t damage your sensitive electronics such as phones, tablets, or laptops.
Note that “eco” in “eco throttle” stands for “economy” and not “ecology”. It’s another layer that enables better fuel efficiency.
- It’s an inverter generator – produces clean energy
- Eco throttle enables great fuel efficiency
- Super quiet indeed, thanks to the muffler – your neighbors will thank Honda
- Fuel shut-off valve to let your oil out during passive periods
- Oil drain gutter makes oil changing very easy
- Low oil shut-off
- Has a USDA-approved spark arrestor, which means you can use it on camping. It won’t cause wildfire
- LEDs to warn you if you’ve used up your 2,200 watts or if the generator’s running out of oil
- Extremely durable, tested and proven
- Not very powerful or capacious
- Expensive in comparison with similar models
- No fuel gauge to let you know exactly how much juice is left
6. WEN 56225i Super Quiet 2250-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
Another little beauty, this WEN model is Honda’s closest competitor in more than a single aspect. They are very similar in size, portability, performance, features. But in our opinion, Honda is better by a hair because it’s lighter and quieter. (The price goes up accordingly.)
Unlike most other generators, this one even has USB ports, so you don’t have to occupy your outlets for the phone.
If the 2,250 watts it produces isn’t enough for you, the manufacturer proposes to get two of those and connect them together. There’s a connection kit that will allow you to use their joint power.
- Automatic low fuel shut-off
- Inverter generator = clean electricity = happy and healthy electronics
- Quiet (53 decibels) but not as quiet as Honda
- EPA and CARB compliant – good for you and the environment
- Two USB ports besides regular outlets
- You can get two units and the parallel connection kit to get double power
- Also has a spark arrestor
- More affordable model than Honda
- Not very powerful
- Taller than Honda
Conclusion – Is a Portable Generator Good Enough for You?
Even the best portable generator probably won’t suffice if you’re living in the backcountry or an area very vulnerable to storms, hurricanes or floods. In such cases, you may want to invest bigger sums (typically tens of thousands) into a stable, standby power generator. Such a system would readily supply your entire home with enough electricity to last for weeks. That is, of course, if your fuel supplies are maxed out. But it’s always better to rely on your own, carefully planned resources than on the unstable grid system.
However, most of us will do with smaller and much more affordable units that we can set up in half an hour, without a hired hand. They are also handy to carry out and about. Which is especially convenient for us preppers. Pack one up in your bug out vehicle (if there’s enough room left), and you’ll even have power in your shelter!