Camping is an almost universally loved pastime. It’s an opportunity to relax, create new memories with loved ones, and bond with nature. Whether you are an occasional camper or do it full time, you need access to certain basic comforts.
The problem is that most of those comforts require a reliable power source. So, how are you supposed to get power when living in a campsite out in the woods? No need to build your own hydroelectric dam.
And that’s why we’ve written this guide to finding the best portable generator for RV and camping!
With the right generator, you can power your Recreational Vehicle (RV) or campsite with enough amps to support any appliances you need. The ideal generator for your needs will depend on how you camp; are you a member of the RV crowd or the camping crowd?
The RV Crowd
Experiencing the outdoors from within the comforts of an RV is vastly different from roughing it in a tent. These vehicles with inbuilt living quarters let you take the modern conveniences of your home with you to the outdoors and enjoy the best of both worlds. This access to homey comforts is why an increasing number of campers are joining the RV crowd–according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), more than 10 million US households own an RV.
Whether your RV is a campervan, motorhome, pop-up camper, or caravan, you are still going to need a reliable way to power up appliances like
- water heaters
- satellite TV
- phones and laptops.
A portable generator for your RV can yield enough watts/amps to power all such appliances safely.
The Camping Crowd
The traditional camping crowd visits the outdoors to disconnect from the noise and hustle of modern life. All they want is the serenity of the wild without the distractions of the concrete jungle.
People in this group are often not fans of RV campers. They believe RV comforts like satellite TV, internet, and air-conditioning take away the entire point of being outdoors.
They have a point, but that doesn’t change the fact that even people living in tents need electricity. At the very least, you’ll need it to charge up your phone or light up your camp. These are crucial for security and emergency reasons.
Since electricity is essential for an enjoyable and secure camping experience, members of both the RV and camping crowd are going to need a good portable generator for camping.
Types of RV and Camping Generators
Knowing what portable RV and camping generator options are available to you is key to getting one that best suits your budget and overall needs. Your camping or RV generator must be able to generate at least enough watts/amps to power your stuff, cost-effective in terms of fuel consumption, easy to use and preferably as quiet as possible.
Portable generator options can be broadly categorized by the type of fuel they use. The most popular options are gasoline, diesel, propane, and solar generators.
Propane generators generate power by burning liquid propane. The average portable propane generator has a maximum power output almost equal to that of a diesel or gasoline-powered generator.
When it comes to noise and air pollution levels, though, propane generators perform better than diesel and gasoline generators.
It is also cleaner to use as there is no risk of spillage during generator refills.
Gasoline generators are very popular among RV and regular campers.
This is because of their ability to power a variety of appliances, including heavy ones such as air conditioners and heaters. On the downside, gasoline-powered generators generate a significant amount of noise and air pollution.
You can minimize the noise pollution by attaching mufflers, especially if you’ll be camping in an area with noise restrictions.
Diesel-powered portable generators are just as popular as gas-powered ones. Like gas generators, they are capable of powering heavy appliances. However, diesel generators burn fuel more slowly than gas generators and require less maintenance.
This makes them a more cost-effective option long-term.
These generators are also safer to use because diesel is less combustible than gasoline. On the downside, diesel engines generate more pollutants than gasoline-powered generators.
Solar generators are the quietest, lightest weight, and environmentally friendly option for camping.
Unfortunately, they usually can’t generate enough power to carry more substantial appliances for long. They are also not as reliable as gas, propane, and diesel generators because of their reliance on the sun as a power source.
They can be tricky because of all the components involved too. Most campers who use solar generators supplement with power from a gasoline, diesel, or propane-powered generator.
Now that you know what your options are, which is the right one for you?
What Type of Generator Is Right for Me?
Because each camper’s power needs differ, what counts as the best generator will vary from person to person. The best camping generator for your neighbor may not be the right one for you.
For example, your neighbor may prefer a generator that produces maximum power for all the appliances in the RV or camping site. If you choose to buy such a generator, you may regret it because of its cost, noise levels, and weight, especially if your campsite or RV is smaller and has minimal power requirements.
The key to picking YOUR best portable generator for RV or camping is to know what your needs are. Once you have this information, all that’s left is to find a portable generator that is within your budget and has features that comfortably satisfy your needs.
To help you with this, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of factors to consider when searching for the perfect generator for your camping goals.
What to Consider When Buying a Generator for RV and Camping
These details will help you better determine which portable camping or RV generator is the perfect one for you.
Your Specific Power Requirements
Are you going to be running air conditioning, a water heater, an electric grill, and other watt-gobbling appliances while camping? If yes, you are going to need a generator that can crank out at least 3000 watts.
On the other hand, if all you need is a generator to charge your mobile devices and power lights, a 2000-watt option will suffice.
Typically, generators with lower wattage are lighter, more fuel-efficient, and less pricey. You’ll want to ask yourself which is more important to you, maximum power or other benefits?
The bigger and more powerful your camping generator is, the louder it will be. Fortunately, technological advancements have resulted in portable generators with minimal noise levels of 50 to 60 decibels. This is a marked improvement over past designs.
Note that the type of fuel your generator consumes will influence its noise output. Gas- and diesel-powered generators are noisier than propane-powered generators. Inverter options make the least noise.
If quiet is important to you, make sure to opt for a generator with a noise output that you are comfortable with. 10 Power Up recommends that campers choose generators that produce less than 65 decibels.
The weight and size of a generator are critical to its suitability for camping. A portable generator that is too heavy or bulky will make transporting it to and from a campsite extremely tedious. It also adds the risk of possible injury.
For your convenience and safety, go for a generator that’s as light as possible without compromising on other features you need. It’s also helpful if your camping or RV generator has wheels or at least a handle for secure handling and relocation.
You don’t want a generator that needs re-fueling every hour. Not only is it a hassle, but it’s also expensive and can turn the prospect of camping into a real bummer.
Also, consider that, while camping, you could be miles away from the nearest gas station. If you run out of fuel for your generator, getting more might be a problem.
There are portable camping generators that can run for five hours on 1 to 2 gallons of fuel. Of course, the more powerful your generator is, the more fuel it’ll consume. Try to get a generator that balances delivering the most power with the least fuel consumption.
Ease of Use
You shouldn’t need an engineering degree to operate your camping generator. The best portable generators for RVs and camping are easy to use and require nothing but the push of a button to start.
These generators also have an automated system that regulates power output based on the appliances in use. They also have warning systems or shut-off systems for when they’re low on fuel or oil. This minimizes the risk of damaging the engine and lets you know what needs to be done to keep the engine running optimally.
The best portable generators for camping require only minimal maintenance. A generator that requires frequent maintenance may leave you stranded right in the middle of your outdoor adventure. Constant maintenance also means more costs.
You need a generator that you can rely on to remain in optimal working condition for the duration of your camping trip. Typically, diesel-powered generators require maintenance less frequently than gasoline-powered ones.
Storage and Carrying
Storage and carrying are considerations related to portability. The more portable it is, the easier it’ll be to store in the vehicle you are taking to the camping site. Again, built-in handles or wheels are an excellent option to make it easy to carry to places of installation or storage.
Protection for Your Electronics
Don’t buy a camping generator without overload protection, Smart Protection, surge protection, or something similar to safeguard your appliances. Without such a feature, you risk a power surge from the generator destroying any connected appliance. It can even lead to a fire, which is particularly problematic when camping in the middle of nowhere.
There’s a reason campers go for generators from Westinghouse, Honda, Yamaha, and Champion. These brands have a track record of delivering reliable and quality products. If you prefer to go for a less popular brand, that’s okay. Just make sure to do your research and verify that the brand you have in mind has reliable and proven products with the features you need.
Cost is probably the most important factor to consider. Bear in mind, though, that the key to getting the right portable generator for camping isn’t buying the cheapest generator. Instead, you should aim to buy a generator that’s within your price range and possesses all the best qualities to satisfy your camping needs.
Also, when considering cost, don’t focus solely on the purchase price. Other considerations include long-term costs like fueling and maintenance. A cost-effective generator is fuel-efficient, requires less maintenance, and is durable. You can get useful information on this by researching portable generator reviews.
Any of the above factors that are important to you should be what influences your buying decision, but make sure not to compromise on other features by fixating on one element. As we’ve said many times, the best generator is one that satisfies your primary needs without compromising on other essential functions.
Be sure to shop around and compare different camping generators before buying. Read any reviews from people who have actually purchased the Generator to get an idea of the quality of the product. This will let you know which the best ones on the market are and will enable you to make a better-informed buying decision.
Inverter Generators: The Way to Go
Gas, diesel, and propane generators each have different benefits for camping, but what if there was another option? What if you could find a generator that takes the best of each of these three camping generator types and adds on a bit extra?
That’s exactly what an inverter generator does.
A quality inverter generator delivers power, versatility, and cost-efficiency with as little noise as possible. Sade might have had something like this in mind when she sang “Smooth Operator.”
Aside from lower noise levels, you can look forward to an inverter generator having fewer moving parts and better fuel efficiency. Fewer moving parts minimizes the likelihood of components being damaged. It also means these generators require maintenance less frequently than other generator types.
Depending on your camping needs, you can get a solid portable inverter generator that generates between 2000 and 3000 watts at very low decibel ratings. This way, you get to be the responsible camper who doesn’t bother other RV owners or campers with a noisy generator.
What Does an Inverter Generator Do?
Aside from powering up your TV, mobile devices, and other small appliances, an inverter generator’s amp yield can run power-hungry devices. For example, you won’t have trouble running your RV’s hairdryer, electric skillet, microwave, or air conditioning.
Bear in mind that, without a generating set, you’ll be able to power only the lights, fridge, and other appliances that came preinstalled in your RV. Other appliances that aren’t preinstalled use only alternating current (A/C) power.
Your RV’s battery only yields direct current (D/C) power, which means you’ll need an inverter or another generator type to send power to the 120-volt A/C outlets installed in your RV. Without a generator, these outlets won’t work.
Beyond powering the RV’s A/C outlets, an inverter generator will also recharge your RV’s batteries, which are constantly being drained by the devices or appliances using the RV’s D/C power.
Why Should I Buy an Inverter Generator Instead of a Regular One?
Depending on the brand, model, and size, you can get a good inverter generator for between $500 and $3,000. It’s a worthwhile investment when you consider the benefits.
For example, the electrical current from a regular generator can be quite shaky. That’s why you see the brightness of bulbs rise and fall with the noise of the generator’s engine when using regular generators.
A flow of electricity that is this unsteady can wreak havoc on sensitive devices such as smartphones, TVs, home theater systems, video games, and computers. Inverter generators provide a steadier electric current that minimizes the risk of damage to sensitive electrical equipment.
In addition to an inverter generator’s steadier electricity supply, there’s also the reduced noise benefits. These are just some of the reasons inverter generators are a better investment than regular generators for camping.
If you are worried about the higher purchase price of an inverter generator beyond that of a regular one, remember that the fuel-efficiency and minimal maintenance needs of an inverter generator make it a more cost-effective investment in the long run.
How to Connect a Portable Generator to Your RV
Only a few portable generators are designed to be plugged directly into an RV. (Some examples are the Champion 3100 Watt Inverter or the Champion 388 Watt Dual Fuel.) Most generators require an adapter before they can become RV-ready.
To identify if your portable generator is ready for use with your RV, check if it has an outlet that is compatible with the plug of the power cord coming from your RV. If it doesn’t, you just need to buy an adapter. Note, though, that different generator types require different adapters.
For instance, a 2000-watt generator will need a 120-volt 15-amp adapter that’s compatible with the 30- or 50-amp cord from your RV. To identify if your RV’s cord is 30- or 50-amp, check the prongs on the plug. A 50-amp cord has four prongs while a 30-amp cord has three prongs.
A 3000-watt generator will also need an adapter. It will be plugged into the 30-amp 125-volt outlet on the generator so that it can take the RV’s 30-amp or 50-amp power cord.
Once the proper adapter is installed and your RV is connected, you can use any of the A/C outlets in your RV.
What Is the Ideal Location to Set Up Your Generator When Camping?
You don’t want to install your portable generator too close to your tent or RV. If it’s too close, you’ll have to deal with the noise, which is annoying, and generator fumes, which are deadly.
To be on the safe side, don’t install your generator indoors, under a window, or close to the door. Instead, install it at a reasonable distance from your tent or at the rear of your RV. If your RV has a built-in generator tray, you can use that, but if your generator is especially noisy or smoky, consider installing it further away.
If setting up your generator on the ground, make sure it’s in a level, solid, and dry space. It has to be dry to avoid electrocution accidents and level to prevent the generator from falling over. You can place a flat board on the ground for a more even surface for the generator.
Protecting Your Generator from Thieves and the Weather
Your generator is valuable and, as such, should be protected against theft and weather elements. Exposing a generator to rain or snow increases the risk of electrocution or a surge. It also damages the generator’s body and components.
Minimize such risks by installing your generator where it’ll be protected against rain or snow while camping. The shelter should be open enough to allow the generator’s exhaust fumes to escape.
To protect against theft, consider bolting down the generator. For instance, you can bolt your portable generator to a steel plate, then pack your vehicle with one tire on the plate. This will render the generator immovable without also moving the vehicle.
Alternatively, use a hardened chain and hardened lock to secure your generator to a sturdy object. Most thieves are opportunists, and any of these security measures will make stealing your generator unattractive.
Small Generator Safety
No matter how small your generator is or what sort of fuel it burns, do not run it indoors. When running it outside, keep the exhaust pointed away from your RV, tent, or where people are gathered. This is important because generators release carbon monoxide, which is a deadly gas. Stay safe!
Also, keep your generator dry. A wet generator can electrocute a user, and moisture can damage internal mechanisms.
Lastly, don’t smoke or have any open flames around your generator, and keep your mobile phone away when re-fueling your generator. The gasoline, diesel, or propane used to fuel your small generator is highly flammable. Avoid a possible fire accident or explosion by keeping away anything that may ignite the fuel.
That’s everything you need to know about portable generators for RVs and camping. Don’t go on your next outdoor adventure without one—they may not be a necessity in all cases, but they certainly set things up for a good time.