Guide to Buying Generators for RVing and Camping

Introduction

Buying a generator for camping or RVing might seem like a straightforward task, but there is a lot to consider, including where and for how long you want to use it, reliability, features and of course the price. A generator becomes a necessity for people who frequently go on vacations or weekend trips on their recreational vehicles and don’t want to lose power.

RVing can be exciting and perhaps one of the best experiences in life, allowing you to enjoy your time with family/friends away from the urban jungles. Although it might not be possible to have all the comforts and conveniences of a home when camping, a generator minimizes the gap by providing you with a constant supply of power. 

While the main purpose of all generators is supplying power on the road, not all generators are created equal. Let’s have a look at some important factors to consider before moving on to some of the best generators money can buy.

Things to Consider when Buying a Generator for RV

In simple words, a perfect generator for RVing and camping is the one that can keep all your appliances and electronic accessories powered for the time you want to spend outdoors, while still being fairly portable. The two most important factors to consider are how much power you need and for how long. Portable or solar generators might be good enough for emergency backups or short outdoor trips. But you need more power and runtime when RVing and being on the road for a long time period.

Power Output

The power output of a generator shows how much total power a generator can produce and is mostly represented in Watts. You need to take into account the appliances/accessories you want to power and buy a generator that can supply a little more than the total power you need. 

There is no point in spending extra money and traveling with a bulky and noisy generator if you only need to power a few basic appliances. Most appliances and electronic devices mention the power they need to operate. Just add those power requirements up to get a general idea of the kind of generator you should buy. 

For example, if you want to power two fans (2 x 100W), a mini fridge (300W), lights (50W) and some accessories (100W), that totals to 650W. This means you need a generator that can output 800-1000W power to keep everything running. If you also want to power an AC, the power requirements would instantly jump up and you might want to consider multiple generators running in parallel.

Portability

Power output is directly related to portability as the more power you need, the bulkier and heavier a generator would become. A very large generator is difficult to move around, produces a lot of noise and consumes buckets of fuel. You have to decide between a permanent (attached to the RV all the time) or a portable unit (lightweight and easier to move around). Most RV owners prefer portable generators over fixed ones as not only they can be moved from one place to another, they can also be used at home during power outages or emergency situations.

Fuel Type and Consumption

Gas/diesel, propane and solar generators are the most common type of generators and each type has its own pros and cons. A generator should have adequate fuel storage capacity so you don’t have to travel a long distance to refuel. It should also allow you to control fuel consumption as there is no point in running a generator at full capacity when all you want is to power up some lights.

Gasoline/Diesel Generators

Gasoline/diesel generators are more suitable for RVs as they provide more power, while the fuel is also readily availably from almost anywhere. Diesel generators are a better choice if you have a diesel-fueled RV, allowing you to refuel from a single source. Diesel generators are non-explosive, produce more power and are safer to store, but tend to produce more noise than gas or propane powered generators.

Propane Generators

Propane-only generators are more environment friendly and fuel efficient than gas/diesel generators. However, these generators usually come with a small fuel tank and provide a limited runtime, which can be a real issue when you are far away from the modern civilization.

Solar Generators

Most RViers prefer not to solely rely on solar generators as they take a lot of time to recharge and are more of a wildcard in long trips. That’s why they are usually used in a hybrid system or as a backup system. They can also be used to run small electronic devices and appliances, while the heavier equipment draws power from the main fuel-based generator.

If you have a diesel-fueled vehicle, chances are good that it is loaded with many appliances so buying a diesel-powered generator is a better option in this case. Gas generators are suitable for mid-sized RVs that need a moderate amount of power to keep appliances running. Propane-powered generators are suitable if you don’t need a lot of power and want a cleaner, quieter power source.

Noise Level and Emission Ratings

The thumping sounds produced by generators can be a real concern, especially when you are trying to sleep. A majority of campgrounds and national parks also have restrictions on noise levels (up to 60-decibels from a distance of 50-feet). Many manufacturers offer generators that produce less noise and market them accordingly.w

If you are concerned about loud noises and don’t want to disturb other campers and neighbors, investing in a quieter generator would address most of these concerns. Residents of California face increased emission restrictions than rest of the country. This limits the choice as you need a CARB compliant and EPA certified generator for use living in California.

Inverter vs. Conventional Generators

Inverter generators involve more electronics than conventional generators that use an alternator to generate AC power. Inverter generators convert AC power to DC power and then again into AC power. This might seem like a tedious process, but inverter generators are actually more efficient than conventional generators.

The advantages of inverter generators over conventional generators include better portability and fuel efficiency, quieter operation and the ability to adapt according to load (the engine speed adjusts according to the load). Although Inverters are much more expensive, they are worth the extra money in the long run.

Our Picks for the Best Generators for RVing

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
HONDA EU2000i Inverter Generator (A pricier, but reliable option)
WEN 56200i Inverter Generator (An affordable inverter alternative to HONDA)
DuroStar DS4000S Gas-powered Generator (Offers a great balance between price and power output)
Champion Duel Fuel Inverter Generator with Electric Start (The best of both worlds)
Champion Open-frame Inverter Generator (Powerful, quieter and lighter)
DuroMax XP4400E Gas-powered Generator (Affordable, powerful, with wheel kit)
Yamaha EF2400iSHC Inverter Generator (Quiet, reliable, fuel efficient)
Pulsar PG4000iSR Gasoline Generator (More power at an affordable price)
Westinghouse WGen3600DF Dual Fuel (Gas and Propane) Electric Start Portable Generator
Briggs & Stratton P4500 Power Smart Series Inverter Generator ( Electric Start, CO Guard, Quiet Power Technology)

HONDA EU2000i Inverter Generator (A pricier, but reliable option)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 1600 Watts starting, 2000W running
  • Up to 8 hours backup on 1 gallon of gas
  • Quiet operation
  • Portable, lightweight and easy to carry
  • 120V/16.7 AMP
  • Weighs around 46 lbs/20Kg
  • Can operate for up to 16 hours before requiring a cooldown period

WEN 56200i Inverter Generator (An affordable inverter alternative to HONDA)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 2000 Watts starting, 1600 Watts running
  • Up to 6-hour runtime from the tank (one gallon)
  • Parallel connection ports
  • Low-oil shutdown
  • Overload protection
  • Quiet operation
  • CARB/EPA III compliant
  • Two 3-prong, one 12V and one 5V USB port
  • Lightweight @ 48 lbs/22KG
  • Eco-mode, automatically adjusts power output/fuel consumption

DuroStar DS4000S Gas-powered Generator (Offers a great balance between price and power output)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 4000 Watts starting, 3300 Watts running
  • Big gas tank, 4-gallon capacity
  • Weighs around 90 lbs/ 40 KG
  • Up to 8 hours runtime on a full tank
  • EPA compliant, CARB approved
  • Low-oil shutoff
  • 2 x 120V outlets
  • All-metal construction
  • 120V/27.50 AMP

Champion Duel Fuel Inverter Generator with Electric Start (The best of both worlds)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 3400 Watts starting, 3100 Watts running
  • Gasoline + Propane powered
  • Electric + recoil start
  • Quick touch panel
  • Low noise (59 dBA at 23 ft)
  • Up to 7.5 hours backup time on full gas tank or up to 14.5 hours on propane (20 lbs)
  • Parallel-ready
  • Economy mode
  • Weighs 95 lbs/43Kg

Champion Open-frame Inverter Generator (Powerful, quieter and lighter)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 4000 Watts starting, 3500 Watts running
  • Economy mode
  • Up to 17 hours runtime on a tank full (2.9 gallon)
  • Parallel-ready
  • Low-oil shut off
  • CARB compliant

DuroMax XP4400E Gas-powered Generator (Affordable, powerful, with wheel kit)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 4400 Watts starting, 3500 Watts running
  • CARB/EPA approved
  • 120V/240V, better compatibility
  • Auto low-oil shutoff
  • Weighs 120 lbs/54 kg
  • Easily to move, with wheel kit

Yamaha EF2400iSHC Inverter Generator (Quiet, reliable, fuel efficient)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 2400 Watts starting, 2000 Watts running
  • CARB/EPA certified
  • Weighs 75 lbs / 34 KG
  • Smart throttle (automatically matches engine speed with load)
  • Up to 8.6 hours of runtime on a tank full

Pulsar PG4000iSR Gasoline Generator (More power at an affordable price)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 4000 Watts starting, 3500 Watts running
  • Up to 15 hours backup on 3.4-gallons gas
  • Wireless remote start for added convenience
  • Quiet operation, 63 dBA from 10-feet
  • Built-in wheels
  • Parallel capable
  • Weighs 93 lbs / 42 kg

Westinghouse WGen3600DF Dual Fuel (Gas and Propane) Electric Start Portable Generator

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 3600 Watts rated, 4650 Watts peak 
  • Runs on both gasoline and propane
  • Gas Tank Size: 4.0 Gallons
  • Run Time at 50% Load: 13.5 Hours
  • Start Type: Electric with Remote Key Fob
  • Engine Choke: Automatic
  • Weighs 109 Lbs.

Briggs & Stratton P4500 Power Smart Series Inverter Generator ( Electric Start, CO Guard, Quiet Power Technology)

Key features and specifications

  • Power output: 4500 Watts
  • Quiet operation
  • Run Time: Up to 16 hrs. @ ¼ load
  • Decibel rating – 61 Dba
  • Built-in wheels, luggage-style handle
  • Weighs: 114.8 pounds/ 52.07 Kg.