Last Updated: Sep 8, 2020 @ 10:32 am.

Need a generator for a RV trip? Camping? Backup power during outages? Inverter generators are the answer—but shopping for one can be confusing.

Yes, inverter generators are better than old-style generators for two reasons. First, an inverter generator throttles up or down depending on demand . . . that makes them more efficient (and saves on fuel).

Second, they are quieter and produce lower emissions. Bonus: inverter generators are portable—most are designed to be moved around easily on wheels. To find the best inverter generator, we asked camping enthusiasts among our parent readers for their favorites. Then we did another 11 hours of researching, pouring over lab test results to find the most quiet, best performing inverter generators. Here are the winners.

FYI: We've been reviewing and rating products for the home and families since 1994. We don't take money or freebies from the brands we review. Our work is 100% reader-supported!


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Best Generator For Camping

10 hour run time at quarter load
Lightweight, easy to use generator is quiet—50 decibels when running on eco-mode. Auto shut-off, 1 gallon fuel tank, 2000 watts great for electronics. Caveat: needs to be grounded.
$422.75

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Best Generator For Camping: WEN 53203i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator

Going camping? RV’ing? Tailgating?

A quiet inverter generator provides power for a few key appliances: a mini fridge, computers, cell phones, etc. In a blackout, a good inverter generator can keep your A/C or freezer humming.

This article recommends generators with different capacities (2000 to 4000 watts). The key question: how much power do you need?

A fridge for camping may need 600 to 800 watts. A window A/C unit is about 1000 watts. Portable heater? 1500 watts.

Before we get to the picks, let’s go over a few key things no one tells you about buying a generator.

  1. Pay attention to the break-in process. Yes, each generator has its own peculiarities . . . be sure to follow the break-in instructions to the letter!
  2. Storage is important! Follow the maker’s recommendations for storage. If you are buying an inverter generator for emergencies, you want to make sure it fires up when needed!
  3. Being handy is helpful. You may have to replace a pull cord or troubleshoot the unit, for example.

Yes, we know shopping for a generator can be confusing. Inverter generators? Portable generators? Solar generators?

To cut through the haze, we asked camping enthusiasts among the readers of our parenting books for their favorites. Then we did several additional hours of research, narrowing down the field of generators based on performance and durability.

For the best generator for camping, we decided WEN’s 53203i is the best bet for most folks. The key feature here: it’s QUIET. When you’re camping, generator volume can be an issue . . . especially if you are in a campground with other families nearby.

Even if you are alone, a quieter generator makes the world of difference in camping, in our opinion. Here’s more on why this model is a good choice:

What We Liked

• Eco mode is especially quiet. The lab tests we researched say this generator is about 50 decibels at 30 feet. That’s about the sound of a normal conversation . . . or the background noise of a quiet suburb.

• 2000 watt rating (2000 is start-up; 1700 running) is good enough for most camping needs.

• Lightweight at 39 lbs. It’s relatively easy to move this generator around (even though it doesn’t have wheels).

• Affordable.

• 1 gallon tank.

• Run time of roughly 10 hours with quarter load.

• Auto-shut off when low on oil or fuel.

• May require an altitude kit over 2000 feet. Why? The higher up you are, the thinner the air—and that affects the efficiency and running temperature of the generator. To solve this issue, WEN has two different altitude kits (one for 3000-6000 feet and another for 6000-8000 feet). These are separate purchases, however.

What Needs Work

• Must be grounded. And unfortunately, grounding wire/rod isn’t included.

• No fuel gauge. 

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Best Generator For RV’ing

17 hour run time at quarter load
We liked the generous run time and capacity of this generator—3500 running watts can handle just about any RV need (fridge, A/C, heater, etc). Easy on the wallet . . . even if it is somewhat loud.
$599.00

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Best Generator For RV’ing: Champion 4000-Watt RV Ready DH Series Open Frame Inverter

We asked the RV enthusiasts among our parent readership for their favorite generators and one name came up time and time again: Champion.

After doing some additional research comparing lab tests and customer satisfaction, we would agree: Champion’s open frame inverter generators are a good bet.

For this article (and for RV’ing), we’ll recommend Champion’s model 100302—a 4000-watt DH series generator.

Why is it good for RV’ing? This generator has three outlets: a 30 amp outlet (common for RV’s) and two household-type 120 volt (2o amp) outlets. (Yes, you need a special cable for the 30 amp outlet).

This generator is also robust enough for RV needs—at 4000 watts and a 2.9 gallon fuel tank, it can run all night if you need it to.

Here’s more:

What We Liked

 Easy to follow instructions.

• Great size. And yes, there is an optional wheel kit if you need to move it around.

• 17 hour run time at 25% load.

• 2.9 gallon fuel tank.

• Low oil shut-off sensor.

• Eco mode for additional fuel efficiency.

• 4000 watts (starting) and 3500 watts (running) of power can run a refrigerator, space heater, microwave, or A/C unit.

• Affordable.

What Needs Work

• Loud. At 64 decibels, this generator is definitely louder than the WEN model recommended above. However, that’s a trade-off for the additional wattage and capacity. (Yes, Champion makes quieter models with more sound dampening . . . but they cost much more than this model).

• Heavy. At 81 lbs., you might want to get that optional wheel kit to move it around.

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Best For Power Outages

9.6 hour run time at quarter load
Perfectly sized, this generator is big enough to power a TV and other electronics . . . yet efficient (1.2 gallon tank) and quiet. Two outlets plus USB port. Lightweight at 46 lbs.
$1,089.00

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Best For Power Outages: Honda EU2200i 2200-Watt 120-Volt Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator

Let’s talk about using a generator for power outages.

After extensively researching generators used for backup power, we realized there are two basic types of outages: short and long.

By short, we are talking about a matter of hours. Example: you happen to live in California where the local utility is doing “safety power shutoffs.” These rolling blackouts may knock out the power to your home for several hours (or half a day).

Long power outages are more likely caused by natural disasters (think hurricanes, tornadoes). These outages last for days, not hours.

This article focuses on backup power for short-term outages. (Long outages require more robust solutions—typically a dual fuel generator).

For the best short-term outage backup power solution, we pick Honda’s EU2200i inverter generator.

Honda is probably the best known brand name in this space—they have good reliability, even if they are a bit pricey.

And let’s be real: when you are looking for backup power in an emergency, you really want that generator to work!

Here’s more on why this pick is a good choice for short-term power outages:

What We Liked

• Easy to use.

• Quiet when running in “eco-mode.”

• Runs 4 to 10 hours on a single tank of fuel (depending on the load).

• Better dependability than other brands, in our opinion.

• Clean signal = can run electronics without worries about power surges.

• Overload alarm light.

• Two household 120 volt outlets.

• Can be used as a stand-alone unit or paralleled with another generator.

• Efficient.

What Needs Work

• Changing the oil could be easier. It can be quite a mess—just a heads up!

• Louder than some folks expect. At full throttle, this generator runs at close to 60 decibels. That’s similar to the noise of a conversation in a restaurant. We think this model is still a quiet solution for most folks . . . but mostly when running in eco-mode.

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Best for Tailgating

10.75 hour run time at quarter power
Perfectly sized, this generator is big enough to power a TV and other electronics . . . yet efficient (1.2 gallon tank) and quiet. Two outlets plus USB port. Lightweight at 46 lbs.
$549.00

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Best for Tailgating: Generac 7117 GP2200i Watt Portable Inverter Generator

And now for something fun: tailgating!

What’s the best generator for tailgating? We suggest a compact, efficient and quiet generator that can power a TV, stereo and other electronics. The Generac 7117 fits the bill—with 1700 watts of running power, this model has the right amount of juice.

Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Quiet! Generac doesn’t publish decibel ratings, but we believe this generator is similar in volume to the Honda generator recommended above, based on our reader feedback.

• Lightweight at 46 lbs. (empty).

• Excellent for tailgating.

• Affordable (at least for this capacity and power!).

• 10.75 hours of run time at 25%.

• Eco-mode.

• LED status light for low oil and power.

• Two household outlets plus USB port.

• 1.2 gallon tank.

What Needs Work

• Can be harder to start than others, according to our research.

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We survey the readers of our parenting books (2.1 million copies in print!) to narrow down the field and then do extensive additional research. We evaluate products with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability.

Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Our work is 100% reader-supported!

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do hands-on testing—we buy the products with our own money and evaluate with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability.

Here's another key point: we don't take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no "partnerships." Our work is 100% reader-supported!

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