by | Jun 24, 2021 | Home Comfort, Z

Last Updated: Oct 15, 2021 @ 1:49 pm.

Going on a road trip and need to charge phones, tablets, laptops or small electronics? A portable generator is great for road tripping and also camping/RV'ing or as backup power in an outage. We asked the camping/RV enthusiasts among our parent readers for their favorite portable generator brands, to find what worked well in the real world. Then we did 8 hours of additional research, pouring over lab tests on durability and performance. After all that work, we narrowed down the best bets to these choices.

FYI: We've been rating and reviewing products for 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 Solar-Ready Generator

24 smartphone charges
We loved this lightweight (6.6 lbs.) solution for charging smartphones and tablets on long road trips. Solar panels (sold separately) can charge this unit in 7 hours—great for backwoods adventures!

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Best Solar-Ready Generator: Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240

Let’s talk portable generators!

We know—shopping for generators can be confusing. For now, let’s concentrate on portable models. These generators are essentially super-sized lithium batteries. They can be charged by an A/C outlet or solar panels–some can even be charged by your car battery. These aren’t the bigger generators that run on gasoline or propane.

So what’s best for you?

Ask yourself: what exactly do I want to power or charge?

On an extended road trip (or RV or camping), just about everyone needs to charge their phones/laptops or tablets. For small electronics, we’d recommend a portable generator that is powered by a lithium battery.

What about more robust power needs? If you are tailgating and need to power a TV or other small appliances, then an inverter portable generator is a better bet. We’ll recommend one inverter generator at the end of this article.

Looking for a solar-ready generator? After surveying the camping enthusiasts among our readers and doing 8 hours of additional research comparing performance and durability, we think this is the best bet: Jackery’s Portable Power Station Explorer 240.

Yes, this generator can actually be charged by a solar panel (sold separately). And it works.

One key to happiness when it comes to buying a generator: setting your expectations accordingly! This model is designed to charge small electronics (that is, your phone or laptop), not a hair dryer or microwave. Here’s more on why we recommend this model:

What We Liked

• Solar panels (purchased separately) can fully charge this generator in about 7 hours.

• Works for devices at 200 watts or less.

• Lightweight at 6.6 lbs.

• Excellent for charging smartphones or laptops. 

• Easy to carry around.

• Battery indicator.

• 1 A/C outlet and 2 USB ports plus 1 DC port.

• Pass through charging. Yes, this model can be charged (by solar panels or A/C) AND charge electronics at the same time.

What Needs Work

• Runs down too fast? We see some complaints this generator ran out of juice too soon for some folks. Part of this is setting your expectations—for example, this battery can run a TV for about 3 hours. Or fully charge a laptop 3 or 4 times.

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Best Budget-Friendly

12 smartphone charges
A great solution to keep a laptop or tablet charged while camping or hiking. At just 4 lbs. and 10" long/wide, fits nicely in backpack. Charges in 5 hrs with A/C, 8-10 hours with optional solar panel.

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Best Budget-Friendly: Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 160

Yes, portable generators can be pricey—but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good model for smartphone or laptop charging.

This super lightweight model, the Jackery Portable Power Station 160, is small in size but offers generous charging capacity—it can juice up a smartphone 11 times . . . or 5 charges for a tablet. Yet the price is easy on the wallet.

Here’s more on why we recommend this model:

What We Liked

• Great for small electronics that pull less than 100 watts.

• Excellent for camping or road trips.

 Lightweight: 4 lbs!

• 1 USB-C port, 2 USB-A ports, 1 12 volt power. 

• Built-in flashlight.

• Charges in 5 hours with wall outlet; optional solar panel (separate purchase) 8-10 hours.

• Affordable!

What Needs Work

• Not the best choice if you need to power a CPAP, rice cooker or hair dryer. Anything that draws more than 100 watts is a no go.

• Fan can be rather loud—it’s on while charging up with an A/C plug.

• Only lasts for 2 to 5 hours in the real world. That’s good enough for most uses, but you have to be realistic about how long it will last!

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Best Compact Generator

20 smartphone charges
This little powerhouse may be small on the outside (roughly 8" long and 5" wide), but it packs a punch. Charges in 4 hours. We loved the wide variety of ports (USB, 6mm, DC, A/C). Lightweight (5 lbs.).

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Best Compact Generator: Goal Zero Yeti 200X Lithium Portable Power Station

Yes, this generator is more pricey than similar models recommended above. Why is it worthy of consideration? First, it is very compact—the smallest of all the generators recommended here. The Goal Zero Yeti 200X is just 7.9 wide” by 5.1″ long.

And it is quiet. . . yes, there is a small fan, but we judge this model quieter than others based on reader feedback.

Another advantage: this unit is lighter than similar models. Example: the Jackery Explorer 240 is 6.6 lbs. This model weighs  just 5 lbs. Both have similar capacity and run times—yet this model is about 24% less in weight. That might seem small . . . except when you are lugging a generator around in a backpack or travel bag!

What We Liked

• Reliable, lightweight power source.

• Charges up in 4-5 hours (6 with a solar panel, purchased separately).

• Great for camping.

• LED indicator shows how much battery is left.

• 2 USB ports, 1 12 volt port plus 1 A/C port.

• Compact size.

What Needs Work

• Pricey.

Best More Power Portable

Great for tailgating, camping
To run small appliances, we'd recommend an inverter generator like this model. Easy on the wallet, yet enough power to run 1600 watts of gear. Lightweight, compact. Caveat: not for high altitudes.

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Best More Power Portable: A-iPower SUA2000i 2000 Watt Portable Inverter Generator

For camping or RV’ing, you may need more power than the smaller portable generators recommended above. Those generators are good for charging small electronics . . . but what if you want to run a larger TV for a tailgate? Or a hair dryer, mini fridge or rice cooker?

An inverter power generator is a much better fit for those power needs. Of course, they have some pros and cons.

On the plus side, you can run devices up to 2000 starting watts (1600 running watts). By throttling the engine up and down as needed, inverter generators are fuel efficient and relatively quiet.

What are the downsides? Well, most inverter generators run on gasoline. Plus they have break-in periods. And there is regular maintenance (oil changes, etc). Finally, you must properly store an inverter generator to avoid damage from cold or heat.

For the best more power portable generator, we’d suggest A-iPower’s SUA2000i generator. At 46 lbs., it can be carted around with relative ease. And it provides the power you’d need for the appliances mentioned above—at a price that is easy on the wallet.

Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Easy to use.

• Relatively quiet at 58 decibels. Notice we said “relatively” quiet. Inverter generators with gasoline engines are definitely louder than portable generators that run on lithium batteries.  Fifty-eight decibels is the volume of a conversation at a restaurant, for comparison.

• USB outlet.

• Overload alarm.

• Low oil alert.

• Multiple outlets: 30 amp outlet, USB, 120 volt household outlet. 

• Compact size (22″ x 13″ x 20″).

What Needs Work

• Doesn’t work well at higher altitudes. This, however, is a limitation with most inverter engines. Why? At altitudes over 2000 or 3000 feet, the air is thinner . . . and that affects efficiency and temperature of the generator engine. Yes, other inverter generators have high altitude kits—but this one doesn’t, as far as we can tell from our research.

• Can be challenging to start. You have to pull rather hard on the cord.

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do extensive research, tapping the readers of our parent books (2.1 million copies in print!) to find what works best in the real world. Then we do additional research, pouring over lab tests on performance and durability. We also look at surveys of customer satisfaction.

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!

Baby Bargains: Your Baby Registry Cheat Sheet is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and its related sites. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.