Best Portable Generators For RVs And Camping In 2017
Camping. It's the epitome of human relaxation and serenity. It's the best for discovering new places and 'getting away'. Whether using an RV, a car, a camper or a tent, people love to get out into nature to replenish their soul.
However, sometimes we don't want to TOTALLY leave the niceties of modern society behind, and we need POWER. That's where a small portable quiet RV generator can come in handy!
Read on for our best portable generator reviews. We only review the best inverter generators and the quietest RV generators.
2000 Watt Portable Generator Reviews
We found the best of the best of the super quiet generators. You won't find any Generac portable generators in this best portable generators list. Nope. Here are our portable generator reviews:
Best 3000 Watt Generators
Camping Generator Guide
There is a lot to know when it comes to camping generators. How much do they cost? What decibel level is considered acceptable? Can I just get a construction generator? Here we answer all of your questions so you can make the right purchasing decision.
How Quiet Should My Camping Generator Be?
This can be a big topic of debate and sometimes is a point of contention among campers, with good reason. It seems that you, and almost every camper you have met has been victim to the jerk at the campground who uses a god-awfully loud, peace-killing, 'contractor' generator such as a Generac portable generator. Why do some people insist on using them?
Because they’re cheaper than the quiet generators.
Camping etiquette 101 requires that you get the quietest generator for camping that you can afford.
Inverter Generators- The Only Way To Go!
Listen up folks. We are NOT considering any generator for review here that are not appropriate for camping.
There are plenty of affordable inverter generators out there now with very low decibel ratings. These quiet generators are the only type you will find here. Conventional generators are arguably just too noisy and simply do not belong in camping areas.
Out of respect for all campers, including our numerous camping friends and RVers, no way are we going to recommend a generator for camping use that is of the obnoxious variety. There are plenty of affordable inverter generators out there now with decently low decibel ratings. Only quiet generators for campgrounds, at the very least.
Inverter Generators Explained
What Does An Inverter Generator Do?
It does a few things: It charges your RV's batteries. It can replace solar charging on cloudy days. It can run high wattage appliances such as your microwave and air conditioning unit that your batteries can not provide power to.
(These items run off A/C power only... provided only by generator power, or shore power. If you happen have a large enough battery bank and an inverter (you'd know if you did), you MAY be able to run your microwave and POSSIBLY your air conditioner.)
An inverter generator provides power to your interior 120 volt A/C (alternating current) outlets. If you are unsure what a 120 volt outlet is, it's the same kind you find in homes to plug a lamp, etc... into.
If you are not plugged into power at a campground, or you don't have a generator on, or you don't have an inverter, these interior outlets DO NOT work. This concept usually takes a while for newbies to digest.
Your RV batteries only provide D/C (direct current) power. You will have no A/C (alternating current) power without an inverter or a portable generator.
Things in your RV that typically run off D/C (battery) power are your lights, propane fridge, any other electronics that came with your RV and are wired to the batteries. These 12 volt appliances in your camper or RV are made specifically to run off of D/C power for RV use, so that your batteries can power them. They also supply power to any D/C receptacles in your RV such as a USB port or 12 volt (cigarette lighter style) outlet.
These items will slowly drain your batteries. Unless you are always connected to electricity, or 'shore power', you will need a power source to charge them up. That's where a generator comes in to save the day.
Do I Need A Portable Camping RV Generator?
Generators are used mostly by RVers but also are sometimes used by tent campers and truck campers as well. If you plan on always being in a campground and hooked up to power, you do not really need a generator.
If you use batteries to power things in your RV, you don't have solar panels and you aren't going to be connected to power in a campground or anywhere else, you will need to find the best quiet RV generator.
If you have equipment you need to use or charge and you don't have enough battery power to make it through your whole camping outing, you may need a generator.
How To Charge Your RV Batteries
You can get power to charge your batteries in three different ways:
1. Solar Panels
2. A Portable Generator
3. 'Shore power'- connecting your rig to an outlet in a campground.
If you plan to boondock (aka dry camp), or to stay in state or national parks where there are no utilities available, you need a generator unless you have ample solar. Even if you do have solar, there can be times when your solar won't be enough, such as rainy days or when you are parked under shade. Therefore, a generator is still a good idea to have for backup.
Solar is an awesome way to charge your batteries provided the conditions are on your side. Some people use portable panels which they can move around their rig to follow the sun. Others have panels mounted on top of their rig. Portable panels allow you to point them directly where the sun is and to avoid a shady patch. But they require more work.
Roof-mounted panels are less work but you have to watch how you park so that your panels are pointed south to best catch the sun, if they are of the tilting variety. Rainy, cloudy days are going to diminish their effectiveness. If you have 2+ rainy days, you are going to run into lack of power issues if you aren't hitting a campground or don't have a generator.
Things to Consider When Comparing Small Portable Generators
- How Much Power Do I Need For My RV/Camping?
So how many watts do YOU need?
Oh boy, we could go into a lot of painstaking math right here about this subject. How many watts you will need depends on how much energy you consume.
However, unless you are a mega-nerd, we know you probably won't want to bother with the pain-in-the-butt process. Luckily, for the average camper, there's a pretty easy way to answer this.
To almost over-simplify it for you, you only need to answer one question:
"Do you want to be able to run your air conditioner?"
If the answer is NO, then you should be fine with a 2000 watt generator.
If the answer is YES, you will likely need a more powerful generator or two quiet generators.
So, if you have a typical travel trailer or fifth wheel and your needs are basic, such as charging a laptop, charging phones, using the lights, topping off your batteries, and your fridge runs on propane, you should do just fine with a 2000w generator.
Also keep in mind that you microwave needs A/C power (shore power or generator) to run, but will run fine off a 2000 watt generator as long as you aren't running other appliances at the same time.
However, you may be a very heavy user of devices and appliances in your RV. Let's say you have multiple computers/electronic devices to charge and want to be running a coffee maker, the water heater, a large plasma TV and the furnace all at once.
That's a lot of energy consumption. You're going to want to consider a bigger generator.
There are lots of websites out there with calculators to check to see what your power consumption might look like. If you are unsure, just Google the question.
If you are a minimalist as far as using energy, and don't need to run AC, you will likely be fine with a 2000 watt generator.
If unsure, it's better to buy more than you need as far as watts go than to skimp out and be frustrated down the road because you cannot run everything you would like to run.
- How Many Generator Watts Will I Need To Run My A/C?
If you do want to run your RV's air conditioner, you only need to know a couple more things:
- The size of your air conditioner unit.
- Your A/C's starting watts and running watts.
Be aware- it takes more watts to start your A/C unit than to keep it running.
Lets say you have a 13,500 BTU A/C unit. It needs upwards of 3000 watts to start and in the neighborhood of 1600-2000 watts to run. Therefore you will need at least a 3000 watt generator.
(Keep in mind that the larger wattage output a generator has, the heavier it is and the louder it will be.)
Also, know that your generator may be rated at 3000 watts, but that’s the MAX. It can put that out at the beginning of powering up an appliance but then it will have to scale back down to its running watts rating.
It all depends on which generator you have. So if you are running your A/C at 1600 watts using a 2000 watt generator, you will have 400 watts left to power other things at the same time.
- Decibel Levels Of Generators- What's Considered Acceptable for Camping Etiquette?
This is the biggest issue about generators. Seems everyone has a story about camping next to 'that guy'. You know, the extremely inconsiderate type who has an obnoxiously loud 'contractor' generator and then proceeds to run it at inappropriate times on top of their poor choice of generators.
Do this and you will quickly become the most hated guy in your campground or your boondocking area.
Luckily, there are quiet 2000 watt generators and decently quiet 3000 generators. The quietest of them are rated around 50-53 dB (decibels). However, on all generators, as power output goes up, so do the decibels. A Yamaha EF2000iSv2 ranges from 52 dB to 60dB. It all depends on the load you put on the generator.
We recommend only buying generators rated under 60-65 dB for camping purposes.
- Inverter Generators Can Protect Your Electronics
Most of today’s modern RV enthusiasts are likely keeping up with the digital age at least a little. Seems everyone today has a laptop, smart phone, gaming system, flat screen TVs and such. These items are sensitive little boogers and are expensive to break.
If you are one of the people using such technology, you should ONLY use an inverter generator.
An inverter generator uses a ‘cleaner’ type of electric current that won’t harm your sensitive electronics. If you use a non-inverter generator, you risk the uneven current harming your expensive electronics. Inverter generators are also much quieter than non-inverter generators.
The only drawback of inverter generators that we can come up with is that they are more expensive than non-inverter generators.
- Cost Considerations For Purchasing a Quiet Portable Inverter Generator
Quiet portable generators aren’t cheap. (Well the sucky ones are, as can be the ‘contractor’ generators.) The good ones range in price from about $500 to about $3,000.
There’s a mantra you have likely heard- “You get what you pay for”.
That rings fairly true here. However, manufacturers have worked hard to compete with the two unrivaled, but pricey, superstars of quiet portable generators- Yamaha RV generators and Honda RV generators.
These two brands excel in terms of product trust and reliability. Their followers are fiercely loyal, with good reason.
However, we have seen a 'catch-up' in terms of other makers such as Champion inverter generators. They are building good quality quiet portable generators that also compete with the low decibel levels that the two superstars. Their reputation is really starting to shine.
So, when you get Honda or Yamaha, you pay more, but you are paying for the assurance that you won’t be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way to charge your batteries back up because your cheaper generator broke. You're paying for peace of mind.
Still, some people have had wonderful experience with other brands and don't want to dish out the extra dough for the more expensive Yamaha or Honda quiet portable generator.
Thoughts on Small Portable Generator Use With an RV
Camp Addict Co-Founder
I have lived full-time in my 24’ travel trailer since April of 2015. I have boondocked ever since January of 2016.
I use a 100w portable solar panel to charge my 2-12 volt batteries, and as backup, I have a Yamaha EF2000iS portable generator. I don’t use my A/C. I rarely need to use my generator at all when the sun is good!
My Yamaha quiet generator is very light (44 lbs) for a generator. Weight was important to me to be able to carry it from my truck to the trailer. If I had a typical 3000 or 3500 watt generator, I would not be able to carry it. The larger units tend to weigh over 100lbs. Having a smaller generator saves weight, gas, and my back!
Remember that you can stagger the times when you run energy-sucking appliances. With my 2000w generator, I know I cannot run my microwave and water heater at the same time. There's a very simple solution. Don't use your microwave when the water heater is on! (Duh.)
We don't recommend buying a bigger generator just so you can run both at the same time.
I consume power very minimally. I have two 12v batteries. I don't use my LED lights very often, just at night. The only things that pull 'vampire power' from my batteries are the ambient light from my built-in stereo, the lighting mechanism for my propane fridge, and my CO2 detector.
I have a few 12 volt DC outlets that I use to charge my cell phone and Ipad. I don't use much power at all. So, I use my generator mostly to preserve my batteries when I am charging my laptop and to top off my RV batteries on bad solar days.
I LOVE having solar! However, my Honda quiet generator has saved my butt and made life easier in many cases. It's always good to have a backup plan!
How Do I Connect A Generator To My RV?
Most generators are not made specifically for RV's (unless they are specifically RV ready such as the Champion 75531i). Therefore, when you bring it home you may find that there is no plug on the generator that fits your power cord coming from your RV. What do you do now? All you need is an adapter.
If you purchased a 2000 watt generator:
Your 2000 watt generator will come with a standard 120-volt 15 amp outlet, like those found on the inside of your RV (or a house). You will need to purchase an adapter so that your 30 or 50 amp shore power cord will plug-in and you can provide power to your RV.
How do you know if you have a 30-amp or a 50-amp power cord? Easy! Just look at how many male prongs it has. A 30-amp cord has three prongs and the 50-amp cord has four prongs.
These adapters either come in the 'hockey puck' style (30-amp only) or the 'dog bone' style. See below for suggested products:
30 Amp 'Hockey Puck' Style
30 Amp 'Dog Bone' Style
50 Amp 'Dog Bone' Style
If you purchased a 3000 watt generator:
A 3000 watt generator will typically come with a 30 amp 125 volt outlet that isn’t compatible with your RV’s power cord. The exception to this rule is the 'RV ready' Champion 75531i.
Unless you have an 'RV ready' generator, you will need to buy an adapter that plugs into the 30 amp 125 volt outlet on your generator. This allows you to plug in either your 30 amp or 50 amp power cord that powers your rig.
How do you know if you have a 30 amp or a 50 amp power cord? Easy! Just look at how many male prongs it has. A 30 amp cord has three prongs and the 50 amp cord has four prongs.
The fancy name for this type of generator power cord adapter is either L5-30 to TT-30 adapter (for 30 amp service) or L5-30 to TT-50 adapter (for 50 amp service) L5-30P is the funky 3 prong female plug on the generator and TT-30 is the standard female 30 amp RV power plug, while TT-50 is the standard female 50 amp RV power plug. There will be test later! 😉
These adapters either come in the 'hockey puck' style (30 amp only) or the 'dog bone' style. See below for suggested products:
30 Amp 'Hockey Puck' Style
30 Amp 'Dog Bone' Style
50 Amp 'Dog Bone' Style
For all generators:
Your RV comes with a long power cord stored somewhere in an outside door. Pull it out, attach the female end to your rig (unless it is hardwired to your rig) and connect your adapter to the RV power cord's end. Then you simply plug-in the other end of the adapter to your generator. Simple!
Manufacturers recommend not plugging your RV in until your generator has warmed up for a couple of minutes.
Once your RV is connected, you will be able to use the household plugs that are inside your RV, as well as your microwave. Of course, running your A/C depends on which size generator you decided to go with.
While your generator is running, it is also now charging up your batteries via your RV’s built in charger, as well as powering the 120 volt (household) outlets in your rig.
Portable generators are a wonderful tool to have for camping power needs. You should be armed with the information you need now to buy the proper generator that fits your style or budget. Now, get out there. Nature is waiting.
Camp on, Addicts!