Camping Generator Buyer's Guide
How to Pick the Best Generator for Camping
If you’re a camper like me, you cherish the peace and tranquility of sleeping under the stars as the sounds of nature echo in the distance. I love spending a weekend away from civilization to relax and recharge.
Often, it’s not just me camping, though. I may have my family or friends with me, and not everyone appreciates completely giving up the modern world. Even I see the need to keep devices like my phone and radio powered in case of emergency.
That’s why I always carry a small camping generator with me on my trips. I want to share with you my tips on finding the best portable power for camping.
Why You Should Have a Portable Generator for Camping
I recommend having a portable camping generator for the following reasons:
Emergency Power Supply
Any number of emergencies can happen while you’re out camping. Someone might get injured. You might get lost on a hike. The weather may not cooperate with your campfire cooking goals. In these instances, a phone, GPS, and small microwave would come in handy.
Having an electric generator for camping is, quite simply, convenient, especially if you like camping without all the hard work. Instead of dealing with melting ice, you can bring a mini-fridge. Too hot in the tent? Get the electric fan running. Like I said, even if this doesn’t apply to you, you might be camping with someone who wants their modern conveniences.
What to Look for in a Camping Generator
When it comes to picking the best generator for camping, there are numerous factors to consider.
The first question to ask yourself is, “how much do I want to power?” Everyone's camping electricity needs will vary. If you’re only looking to charge your phones, computer, and maybe power a fan, then a small solar camping generator could be right for you.
These are low-cost options that will power a few critical devices without requiring any kind of fuel. They are also completely silent, perfect for the still of the night.
If you’re looking to power more appliances continuously, you’ll want to choose a larger recreational camping generator. Add up the starting watts of everything you want to power, then find a portable generator that produces enough juice to meet your needs. Always oversize the generator by about 20 percent since you never want it consistently running at 100% load.
If you own a camping RV, you may be interested in an entirely different class of generators that are built into your RV. A generator for camper will provide constant power, day or night, including for your RV air conditioner.
You don’t want to be that person with the super loud generator that everyone hates on the campground. Beyond this, there might be specific decibel limits where you’re camping, and you could get kicked out or heavily fined for not following them.
When it comes to the quietest camping generator, no gas-powered unit beats an inverter. They are typically enclosed and run at varying speeds to reduce noise. Some can run as low as 52 decibels, which is about as loud as a normal conversation. See the video below for a deeper explanation.
The quietest camping generators are solar camping generators, which don't have an internal combustion engine and don't make any noise. These truly noiseless generators act more like battery packs and are sometimes called portable power stations.
Camping generators can be gasoline, propane, or solar powered. When deciding between them, check fuel price and availability in your area to see what makes most sense.
- Gasoline/propane generators offer more power and you don't have to wait for a recharge as long as you have extra fuel. Certain dual fuel generators even allow you to switch between gasoline and propane for added flexibility. However, rising fuel prices, loud engine noise, and pollution are starting to make gas-powered units less desirable for camping.
- Portable power stations or solar camping generators are clean, quiet, and lightweight. They can even be run inside your RV because they don't release any combustion gases. However, they are not as powerful as gas generators and won't power as much. If they run out of power, you'll need to wait to recharge them.
Some of the most important devices you would want powered on your camping trip—like your phone—operate using clean power. Such devices need a generator with a total harmonic distortion (THD) of less than 5 percent. Anything higher could fry your equipment.
Only inverter and solar generators can guarantee this clean power. They’ll let you use your smartphone, laptop, tablet, etc. worry-free.
If you have major power needs on your camping trip (like an RV air conditioner), you can parallel or combine two inverter generators together with a cable. You’ll get increased power, fuel efficiency, and quiet operation.
Please note that you can’t simply combine ANY two inverter generators with a generator parallel kit. Capability varies by manufacturer, and you can find more info in our parallel generator guide.
By now you might be noticing a theme that inverters are the best portable generators for camping and other recreational activities. Another benefit is they are highly efficient, able to match engine performance to the power load. As demand goes up, engine speed increases for improved fuel economy and runtime.
This energy efficiency helps offset some of the extra upfront costs of inverter generators because you will have to refuel less often over the generator’s lifetime.
Power Under the Stars
Sure, there's a reason you go camping, and it's probably to get away from technology. At the end of the day, though, a camping generator can be turned off.
Just knowing that you have available power in case of emergency can offer amazing peace-of-mind as you gaze up at the starry night sky.