Are you looking for a portable generator to provide off-grid power for your RV? We combed through generator reviews, ratings and specifications to find the best models offered by the top generator brands in the market. These are the 7 best models we found, fitting every need from affordable electricity for small travel trailers to units that can double as home backup systems. Not sure what type of generator you need? We have tips for finding the right model and keeping it running.
1. Champion 3400 RV Ready Portable Inverter Generator
The 100263 is a dual fuel RV generator, which means it can run on either gasoline or propane.
When the engine is running on gas, it produces 3,100 watts of electricity, and can reach 3,400 watts for reactive loads. Switch to LPG, and output drops to 2,790 watts of electricity with short bursts up to 3,060 watts. Champion includes a 3/8 inch propane hose with a built-in regulator that will fit standard 20 lb. LPG bottles. Owners can expect the 100263 to run up to 7.5 hours on 1.6 gallon tank of gas or 14.5 hours on one 20 lb. propane tank at a 25% load.
Champion includes an electric start with a backup recoil starter. It’s also parallel capable, so you can link two of these generators together to double your power. Champion quotes a noise rating of 59 dB at 23 feet. However, this is at the same 25% load they rate the generator’s run time. Expect this generator to be louder in real world use.
A pure sine wave inverter provides power that is safe to use with electronics. The front of the unit has four sockets. A TT30R outlet makes it easy to power your RV directly. For outside power, there are a pair of 5-20R 120 volt household outlets and a 12 volt DC cigarette lighter outlet. Champion includes a two socket USB adapter for the 12 volt outlet.
This dual fuel generator measures 25.1 x 17.3 x 18.3 inches and weighs 95.7 lbs.
Champion guarantees this generator for three years of residential use or 270 days (9 months) of commercial use.
2. WEN 56500 RV-Ready Portable Generator
If you want to have maximum flexibility without having to buy a high output generator, you should consider the WEN 56500. It doesn’t have an electric starter, but it does come with two type of high amperage outlets. It’s also transfer switch ready, so it can be used for household backup power when you’re not camping.
This generator can sustain an output of 4,500 watts, going up to 5,000 watts temporarily to handle starting loads. The built-in 3.4 gallon fuel tank can keep this unit running for up to 7.5 hours at 50% load. The 56500 only has a recoil starter, and it has a manual choke that must be adjusted as the engine warms up. However, WEN does include a digital display to keep track of voltage and run time for maintenance.
The WEN 56500 comes with a 120 volt TT-30R outlet to connect to your RV. There’s also a 14-30R outlet designed to connect the generator to household wiring for emergency power backup. By flipping the mode selector switch, you can change the output of this plug to 120 or 240 volt power. Add an adapter that will plug into your motor home or trailer, and you have an inexpensive way to get 240V power. There are also a pair of 5-20R household outlets and a 12 volt cigarette lighter outlet.
The 56500 is quiet for an open frame generator, making 68 dB of noise at 22 feet under 50% load. It measures 26.2 x 17.7 x 19.7 inches and weighs in at 121.2 lbs.
WEN guarantees the 56500 for two years and 500 hours of residential use, or 90 days of commercial use.
3. Westinghouse WGen12000 Ultra Duty Portable RV Generator
This is the most powerful generator on this list, cranking out a whopping 12,000 watts with a peak output of 15,000 watts. A massive 10.5 gallon fuel tank can keep the engine running for 11 hours at 50% load. A built-in gas gauge lets you keep track of fuel usage.
The big V-twin powering the generator is electric start only. It can be started at the control panel, or remotely using the included key fob. The digital display only functions as an hour meter.
A low oil shutoff prevents engine damage. Westinghouse includes a battery charger to keep the starting battery topped up during storage.
A pure sine wave inverter provides clean power for all of your devices. For RV shore connections, there’s a 14-50R outlet that operates in both 120 and 240 volt modes, as well as a 120 volt L5-30R outlet. There’s also a GFCI 5-20R duplex outlet with two sockets for household appliances and a pair of USB ports for portable devices.
This generator delivers twice the power of most portable RV generators, and it’s also twice as loud at a rated 74 dB. Don’t expect to be able to lift this unit into your truck bed: it weighs over 400 lbs. and measures 34 x 31 x 35 inches.
Westinghouse guarantees this generator for three years or 1,000 hours of residential use, and one year or 1,000 hours of commercial use.
4. Champion 4000-Watt RV Ready Generator
The Champion 100302 uses a “hybrid” design, combining elements of a closed and open frame generator. That means it has shields around louder parts of the engine, quieting it down without having the weight penalty of a fully enclosed design. Noise is at the higher end of the segment at 64 dB, but it’s also lightweight at just 81.6 lbs. Comparable enclosed inverter generators in this segment usually weigh over 100 lbs.
Output for this generator is a sustained 3,500 watts, peaking at 4,000 watts for temporary loads. The 2.9 gallon fuel tank can keep the engine running for up to 17 hours at a ¼ load.
A pure sine wave inverter ensures electricity from the 100302 is safe for electronics. Shore power is available from a single 120 volt TT-30R outlet. There are also a pair of L5-30R outlets for household appliances and a 12 volt cigarette lighter outlet. Champion includes a battery charging cable and a USB port adapter that works with the 12 volt port. There’s no digital meter on this model, but there are three lights that let you check the running condition at a glance. This includes a low oil warning light, an overload light and an “OK” light for normal operation.
There’s no electric start or digital display, but Champion did include a low oil shutoff. When assembled, this generator measures 20.5 x 17.9 x 17.7 inches. The frame is designed to be easy to lift with large top rails. A wheel kit is included to add wheels and handles, making it as easy to move about as any other cart-style generator in this segment.
Champion guarantees this generator for three years of residential use or 270 days (9 months) of commercial use.
5. WEN 56380i Super Quiet Portable Inverter RV Generator
WEN markets the 56380i based on its low noise level. A fully enclosed design limits noise to 60 dB at 22 feet, but it’s also a little heavier than similar RV generators. Despite measuring just 23.2 x 18 x 20.1 inches, it weighs 99.2 lbs. A small door in one of the side panels gives easy access to the engine’s oil drain. For more in-depth work, the main panels can be removed with a Phillips head screwdriver.
Output for this RV generator is a sustained 3,400 watts and up to 3,800 starting watts. The 2.2 gallon tank can keep the engine running for 8.5 hours at 50% load.
WEN came up with a novel solution to reduce the chance of stale fuel from gunking up the fuel system. Using the normal shutoff closes the fuel valve, letting the engine use up remaining fuel in the carburetor before stopping. There’s also a manual shut-off that breaks the electrical connection to the spark plug, turning the engine off immediately in case of an emergency.
A pure sine wave inverter delivers clean electricity for TVs, computers and other electronics. For RV shore connections, there’s a 120 volt TT-30R outlet. It also comes with a pair of 120 volt 5-20R outlets for appliances, as well as one 12 volt cigarette lighter port and one USB port. This generator has a parallel connection, so it can be used in tandem with a second 56380i. A built-in digital meter keeps track of operating hours and current output. This display includes lighted gauges indicating the fuel tank level and current load.
WEN guaranteed the 56380i for two years and 500 hours of residential use, or 90 days of commercial use.
6. Champion Power Equipment 100555 RV Ready Portable Generator
Are you looking for a top rated generator that won’t break the bank? The 100555 doesn’t have a pure sine wave inverter, and it uses an open frame design. That means it shouldn’t be used with electronics, and it’s loud for its size. However, this low cost portable generator is a perfect compliment for RV solar systems, giving you the electricity for power-hungry devices like air conditioners and coffee makers.
This unit delivers 3,500 watts of electricity with short bursts at 4,375 watts for starting power. The 4.7 gallon fuel tank can keep this generator running for up to 12 hours at a 50% load.
The 100555 has built-in surge protection, but no sine wave inverter. This is fine for regular appliances and air conditioners, but electronics should be powered elsewhere. It comes with TT-30R and L5-30 sockets for RV shore connections. It also has two 5-20R outlets for household appliances. This model is also parallel capable, so you can hook two of these generators together to double output.
It should be no surprise that this low price unit only comes with a recoil starter. However, Champion did include a low oil shutdown and a digital display that lets you keep tabs on operating hours, voltage and frequency. This unit measures 24 x 18.5 x 18.9 inches and weighs 110 lbs. This is the only generator on this list that doesn’t include wheels. Don’t want to lug around a heavy generator? You’ll also need to buy Champion’s 2800 to 4750 watt generator wheel kit.
Noise is fairly low for an open frame generator, coming in at 68 dB as measured from 23 feet away.
Champion guarantees the 100555 for three years of residential use or 270 days (9 months) of commercial use.
7. Westinghouse iGen4200 Hybrid Open Frame Inverter RV Generator
The iGen4200 may not be the most portable, but it offers a good selection of features, making it a good option for small RVs. It can deliver 3,500 watts of electricity and 4,200 watts under temporary loads. Users can expect 15 hours of run time from the 2.6 gallon fuel tank at 50% load.
A pure sine wave inverter delivers steady power that’s safe to use with all devices. This generator comes with a TT-30 outlet for shore power. There are also a pair of 5-20R outlets for appliances and a pair of USB ports for small electronics. One USB port is rated at 2.1 amps for fast charging phones. The other outlet is limited to one amp, which is fine for lights and other low power devices.
The engine has a recoil starter and a manual choke, but it does include a low oil shutoff. Plan on taking a trip to the mountains? Westinghouse offers altitude carburetor kit for use above elevations of 7,000 feet.
A hybrid design combines an open frame with covers for the engine. The result is a surprisingly quiet noise rating of 62 dB. Owners report that this generator remains quiet under heavy loads. It’s also compact, measuring 20 x 20 x 20 inches and weighing 82 lbs. Wheels aren’t included, and Westinghouse doesn’t offer a wheel kit, so you’ll need to carry this unit when moving it in and out of storage.
Westinghouse packages the iGen4200 everything you need to get started including oil, a funnel and a small tool kit. They guarantee the iGen4200 Hybrid 3 years or 1,000 hours of residential use, 1 year or 1,000 hours of commercial use.
Buying Guide: Getting the Right Portable Generator for Your RV
If you’re shopping for a portable generator for your travel trailer or recreational vehicle, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the choices available on the market. How much power do you need? Which sockets will work with your RV? How do factors like noise and harmonic distortion affect performance? Here’s what you need to know, so you can find the perfect power unit for your needs.
What is the Difference Between a Portable Generator and an RV Class Generator?
RV Class generators are built to be part of your vehicle’s electrical system. They behave like a fixed generator system that would be part of a home or commercial backup system, cycling on and off when power is needed. They’re also extremely reliable. However, these features come with a hefty price tag, and there has to be a space to fit the generator into your rig. These units are often impractical for small RVs and trailers, and its hard to justify the price if you aren’t a full-timer.
Portable generators last about a third as long as RV Class models, but they’re also a lot easier to use. They use off-the-shelf parts for their engines available at any small engine or outdoor equipment shop. Since they’re movable, these units can be used to supply power outdoors for tailgating and barbecues, or double as a home backup power system. There’s also the option to use a dual fuel engine, letting you choose between gasoline or propane depending on current prices and availability. Manufacturers have responded to the demand of RVers by offering models designed specifically for their needs.
How Much Electricity Do I Use?
Power requirements can vary widely depending on your setup. To get a good estimate, you need to make a list of wattage requirements for everything in your RV.
Most appliances will have a watt rating printed somewhere on the device, or in the owner’s manual. If the appliance is rated in amps, it can be converted to watts with this formula: Watts = Volts x Amperage. Almost everything you’ll power with your generator will use 120 volts, so you can multiply the amperage by 120. Some heating devices like coffee makers and hotplates have a rating for heat output, not electric input. In this case, you can add 20% to this rating to get the electrical wattage.
If you can’t find this information, or you don’t want to spend your time looking for small labels, you can measure power draw with an electricity usage monitor. These devices plug in between an appliance and an outlet, displaying exactly how much current is flowing through the wiring.
A rooftop air conditioner is the highest draw device in your rig. Expect a 7,000 BTU unit to need at least 1,700 watts at startup and 600 amps once running. 15,000 BTU units will use somewhere around 3,500 watts at startup and 1,500 watts when running.
How Much Power Do I Need from a Portable Generator?
Generators have two power ratings: running watts and starting watts. The “running watt” or “continuous power” rating is the amount of power the generator can sustain while running, while the starting watt rating is the peak power output it can sustain in short bursts. Starting watts come into play when using appliances with electric motors. Small motors, like those found in power tools, need almost twice as much power to start as they do to run. The compressors in refrigerators, freezers and air conditioning units may need up to three times as much electricity to start as they do to run.
Look for a generator that has enough running watts to run all of your appliances at the same time. As for starting watts, add the highest reactive load of your appliances, usually your air conditioner, to the maximum running watts. You probably won’t have two or more reactive loads drawing from the generator at the same time, nor will you have all appliances running at the same time. This leaves enough of a buffer to avoid overloads.
Since air becomes less dense as altitude increases, so too will output. Expect to have 3% less power for every 1,000 foot increase in elevation. The highest RV campgrounds in America have an elevation of over 10,000 feet, which means you could be looking at a 30% power loss when you’re in the mountains. Low air density also throws off the air/fuel mixture in the carburetor. To keep the engine from running too rich, you may need to install a high altitude jet kit. These are usually recommended for altitudes over 7,000 feet.
Should I Get a Dual Fuel Portable Generator?
A dual fuel generator has an engine designed to run on either gasoline or propane. This gives you more options for fueling, but it also has some drawbacks.
Propane is less energy dense than gasoline, so the engine will make less power. As a result, generator output goes down by around 10%. When shopping for a generator, make sure the output ratings for propane still meet your energy needs.
Propane tanks are almost guaranteed to hold more fuel than the generator’s on-board gas tank. That means run times are longer between refills. If you have the right hose and connector, you can connect any size propane tank to your generator. However, realistically you’re limited to a 20 or 40 lb. tank. These tanks are externally mounted, so you’ll need storage for the tank plus your generator. This also makes them less portable, since you need to move the tank into place and connect it once you have set up the generator.
What Kinds of Outlets Do I Need?
AC outlets on portable generators are based on standards established by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). These sockets have a name divided into two parts by a hyphen.
The first part of the name is the socket design, and the second part is the maximum amperage it supports.
The two most common outlets used for shore power are 14-50R and TT-30R. A 14-50R outlet has four sockets, two of which are hot. It’s designed so that the two hot connections can be used separately for 120 volt power, or together for 240 volt power. Maximum output is 50 amps at 240V or 100 amps at 120V. When it comes to RV power, 240 Volts is almost exclusively used by clothing dryers. Most of the time, 14-50R is used to provide a high wattage connection for large generators. A TT-30R outlet has three sockets. Two of these are flat, while the third is shaped like the letter “D”. Manufacturers may fit this outlet with the D-shaped socket facing up or down. It only provides 120 volt current, maxing out at 3,600 watts.
The L5-30R outlet is mostly used to connect generators to household wiring, but adapters are available to use them with RV outlets. This outlet has one L-shaped socket and two curved sockets. It can handle up to 3,600 watts of current.
5-15 and 5-20 outlets are the same outlets used for household power. Portable RV generators almost always use higher amperage 5-20 outlets. These are usually wired in duplex, which means two sockets share the same 15 or 20 amp circuit breaker. Some portable generators include GFCI protection for these outlets. This shuts off the power if there’s a ground fault. This can happen if the wiring comes in contact with water, so it’s a good feature to have if you plan on using your generator for outdoor activities like cookouts. 5-15 outlets can deliver up to 1,800 watts, while 5-20 outlets deliver up to 2,400 watts.
There are also two types of DC outlets that are commonly found on portable RV generators. The 12 volt cigarette lighter/accessory port is the same one you’ll find in your car or truck. It can be used with the same adapters made for in-car power, as well as compatible battery charging cables. USB Type A sockets provide 5 volts of power for small devices, like cell phone chargers. These don’t support high voltage fast charging.
Your RV’s electrical management system (EMS) automatically shuts off power circuits to manage electricity demand. Some of these systems have issues with 14-50R connections in 120 volt mode. If the system only measures power from one of the two hot wires, it will act as if it’s only receiving half of the total available power. This is usually only an issue when using an adapter to connect a 14-50R socket to a different type of connection.
What is Harmonic Distortion, and Why is a Pure Sine Wave Inverter Important?
Alternating current from your home electrical outlets smoothly transitions between positive and negative electricity 60 times per second. However, the power from a generator will fluctuate due to slight variations in engine speed. This is harmonic distortion.
Cheaper portable generators use an inverter that converts DC power from the generator directly into AC current, outputting “dirty power.” Variances in power frequency and strength can cause problems with converters that turn AC power into low voltage DC power. These converters are used in all electronics. Small fluctuation can cause electronics to behave oddly, while large fluctuations will burn out circuitry. Sine wave inverters filter the power output, creating a smooth wave of alternating current that is safe for all appliances.
Generator manufacturers will often rate output in terms of the percentage of harmonic distortion. Generally speaking, electricity with a maximum of 5% distortion should be safe for electronics.
How Noisy is a Portable RV Generator?
Portable RV generators typically range between 55 and 75 dB, which is a bigger difference than you might think. The decibel scale is logarithmic, doubling every 10 decibels. That means a 65 dB portable generator is twice as loud as a 55 dB generator, and a 75 dB generator is four times as loud. That’s still far quieter than general purpose portable generators. For comparison, the loudest general purpose generators can reach 95 dB, which is 4-16 times as loud as a typical RV generator.
Manufacturers quote noise measurements at a distance of around 23 feet. This gives you a reasonable expectation for noise, since you won’t be sitting next to your generator while it’s running.
How loud are these ratings?
Getting a portable generator to be quiet is mostly a matter of adding sound insulation. All RV portable generators have an inverter, but an inverter generator is a specific type of generator that has a case. By shielding every component, noise is kept to a minimum. However, this also makes the unit heavy. Open frame generators bolt the engine, generator, inverter and other components to a steel cube frame. To keep the noise down, hybrid generators use shielding around the loudest parts of the unit. These aren’t as quiet as an inverter generator, but they weigh 25% less, making them more portable.
Is CARB Certification Important for an RV Generator?
California’s CARB emissions regulations apply state-wide, and several states adopt CARB regulations shortly after they’re released. This includes most states in the Northeast and on the West Coast, as well as Florida, New Mexico, Maryland and Quebec. While it’s unlikely that a small generator providing power for personal use will be checked for emissions, you are still breaking the law if you use a non-compliant generator in these jurisdictions. Non-compliant generators also can’t be shipped to or sold in California. Of course, federal land, including national parks, is outside of state legislation, so these regulations don’t apply, even in CARB-compliant states.
Manufacturers know portable generator buyers travel all around North America, so nearly every offering in this category meets CARB emissions regulations.
How Long Can I Run an RV Generator on One Tank of Fuel?
Manufacturers quote expected run times based on either a 25% or 50% load. Most models will have a run time somewhere in the 8-10 hour range using gasoline. On propane, this can increase to 12 or more hours from a single LPG tank.
How do you keep the generator running at that speed? You can expect any portable generator sold for RV use to have an automatic throttle that can be switched on or off. This feature will be labeled as an “eco throttle,” “smart idle” or something similar. When it’s on, the throttle adjusts to keep the engine running just fast enough to keep up with the current electrical load, maximizing fuel economy.
How Portable is a Portable RV Generator?
Unless you have very low power demands and don’t use an air conditioner, you can expect to need a unit that makes at least 3,000 watts. Even the lightest power unit that can provide that much electricity will weigh over 80 lbs. This makes it impractical to carry long distances. Instead, most manufacturers fit these units with a pair of wheels and a folding handle. When you need to move your generator, you simply flip up the handle and wheel it around like a cart. If wheels don’t come standard, there’s usually a wheel kit available that includes both wheels and a handle.
While there’s no problem moving the generator around on the ground, it can be an issue for storage.
Lifting the unit onto a cargo carrier rack isn’t too difficult, but you’ll need an extra set of hands to lift large generators into a truck bed or storage box. Be sure to check the dimensions of generators you’re considering, making sure they’ll fit in your planned storage space.
How Do Parallel Connected Generators Work, and Why Would I Want to Use Them?
A parallel connection links two RV generators together so they act as one single unit. Once connected, their inverters sync, delivering electricity at the same voltage and frequency.
Why would you want this? Two generators that are more portable than one large generator. You also have redundancy, so if one fails, you still have a way to make electricity. Smaller generators also tend to be quieter and more fuel efficient. Think you may upgrade to a larger RV? You can buy a second generator later on to double available electricity. However, it also means you have twice the components to maintain. Both generators also need to be identical. Different models will usually have problems syncing.
What Do I Need to Use a Portable Generator With My RV?
The generator must operate away from your RV to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide gas.
Even placing the generator under an awning can be enough to collect this deadly gas in concentrations that can be lethal. Plan on getting extension cords for every socket to reach your RV and your outdoor living area.
If you decide to get a dual fuel generator, you’ll need a way to store an LPG bottle and connect it to the generator’s fuel inlet. The included hose will usually work with a standard 20 lb. tank, but you should always double-check.
Portable RV Generator Maintenance
A portable RV generator is a major investment, so it pays to take care of it. While you may be familiar with working on other small engine equipment like lawnmowers, there are a few important differences you should be aware of. These tips will help you avoid common problems with these units.
Maintenance Intervals: Two Measurements of Time
While the wear and tear on your vehicle is measured in miles, the wear and tear on your portable generator is measured in hours of operation. Most models have a built-in hour meter that lets you keep track of how long the engine has been on. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to log the hours to keep on top of maintenance.
If you only take your RV out for short vacations, your generator can sit unused for weeks or months at a time. To keep age from affecting the engine, manufacturers will recommend periodic maintenance regardless of usage. For example, you may need to change the oil every 50 hours of operation or every three months, whichever comes first.
The leading cause of generator problems is stale fuel. If you aren’t in your RV full time, the fuel in your generator can sit for weeks or months. Engine manufacturers recommend using fuel within one month of purchase, or within three months if the fuel was treated with a stabilizer.
What happens if you leave gas in the engine for too long? If it contains ethanol, it will absorb water and eventually cause corrosion. If it doesn’t contain ethanol, the fuel will break down, thickening up and leaving varnish and waxes on components. Either way, if fuel is left too long in your generator’s engine, you’ll have a major mess to clean up before you can get it working again.
When you buy gas for your generator, add a fuel stabilizer to slow fuel degradation. While you’re on the road, run your generator at least once every couple of weeks for a couple of hours under load. This flushes old fuel out of the carburetor. When you’re ready to store your generator, empty the entire fuel system.
What about propane? It’s in a sealed container, and doesn’t age. However, you still need to make sure the gas side of your dual fuel portable generator’s fuel system is empty before storing.
If your portable RV has an electric starter, it also has a small battery. Like fuel, this battery will degrade over time if it’s not in use. During storage, the cells will self-discharge, and electrodes will crystallize. This both lowers the amount of charge in the battery, and limits the amount of charge it can hold. To prevent this, the battery should be charged periodically. Trickle chargers apply a small amount of current to halt breakdown and discharge. These can be left on the battery. A standard battery charger can rapidly charge the battery. These should be used sparingly. Check your owner’s manual for current limits and charging recommendations.
Oil burn off is a normal part of small engine usage. However, with the engine running for hours at a time, it’s easy for enough oil to burn off that it keeps the engine from being lubricated. This can rapidly cause major engine damage. Always check the oil level before using your generator, and keep some extra oil on hand to top off the crankcase.
Your Generator Buying Checklist
This may be a lot to keep track of, but if you keep these factors in mind, it’s easy to find the right generator for your RV:
- Aim for a wattage that is equal to your maximum sustained load plus the single highest reaction load of your appliances.
- Factor in how easy the generator will be to move about, whether rolling on the ground or lifting into storage. Make sure it will fit in your available storage space.
- Portable RV generators don’t make that much noise, but there’s a pretty big range between models. Quieter models tend to be heavier.
- Dual fuel generators are great if you have the storage space for an extra LPG bottle. However, the generator will produce less electricity on propane.
- If you don’t mind the extra wiring, consider a parallel setup with two generators. This lets you get the electricity you need, adds redundancy, and usually reduces noise and fuel consumption.
- If you travel, you’re going to end up in a place that requires CARB compliance. You should have no problem finding a generator that meets these emissions requirements.
- When it comes to outlets, go for the plug that matches your RV’s shore power connection. From there, you can pick the DC and 120 volt outlets that best fit your needs outside your rig.
- To keep your generator running, you need to keep track of operating time as well as time between maintenance intervals. This is especially true for gas, oil and batteries, which degrade over time.