We may earn money when you make a purchase via links on this page. Learn more

Camping Generator Guide: Finding The Perfect RV Generator

(Camp Addict does NOT accept payment from any company to review or endorse their products.)

Camping.

It's the American epitome of human relaxation and serenity.

It's the best for discovering new places and 'getting away'.

Honda EU3000is portable generator in front of RV

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.

We need ELECTRICITY.

That's where a camping generator can come in handy.

A portable generator allows you to power all the things while you are enjoying those beautiful camping spots.

Ready to get that camping generator to power your next outing? Click the button below to read our reviews.

Guide to Camping Generators

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?

How do I plug my RV into it?

Will I need an adapter?

How do I use it?

Here we answer all of these questions and more so you know how to use your generator safely.

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 have 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?

We aren't sure, but maybe because they’re a little (not much) cheaper than the quiet generators.

Camping etiquette 101 requires that you get the quietest generator for camping and boondocking that you can afford.

Sorry, but it's true. 

Inverter Generators - The Only Way To Go!

Listen up, folks.

We are NOT considering any generators for review here that are not appropriate for camping. (I.E. no contractor generators)

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 are acceptable 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 cannot provide power to. (These items run off A/C power only... provided only by generator power, or shore power.
  • If you happen to have a large enough battery bank and a house inverter, you MAY be able to run your microwave and RARELY, 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 WILL NOT work.

This concept usually takes a while for newbies to digest.

Your RV batteries only provide D/C (12-volt) power. 

You will have no A/C (120-volt, like in a house) power without an inverter or a portable generator.

Things in your RV that typically run off D/C (battery) power are:

  •  Lights
  • Propane fridge
  • Water pump
  • 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 need a power source to re-charge your batteries.

That's where a generator comes in to save the day.

Do I REALLY Need A Portable RV Generator?

Generators are used mostly by RVers but sometimes tent campers and truck campers need them as well.

If you plan on always being in a campground and hooked up to power, you probably don't 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 the 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.

Yamaha EF200iSv2 inverter generator

How To Charge Your RV Batteries

You can get power to charge your batteries in three different ways:

1. Portable 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.

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 solar 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 RV solar panels are less work.

If they are of the tilting variety, you have to watch how you park so that your panels are pointed south to best catch the sun.

Rainy, cloudy days are going to diminish their effectiveness.

If you have 2+ rainy days, you are going to run into a lack of power issues if you aren't hitting a campground or don't have a generator.

Ready to get that camping generator to power your next outing? Click the button below to read our reviews.

Considerations When Comparing Small Portable Generators

How Much Power Do I Need For My RV Or 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?"

Honda EU3000i Handi Transport

If the answer is NO, then you should be fine with a 2000 watt generator.

If the answer is YES, you likely need more.

So, if you have a typical travel trailer or fifth wheel and your needs are basic, you should do just fine with a 2000w generator.

Also, keep in mind that your microwave needs A/C power (shore power or generator) to run.

It should run fine off a 2000-watt generator as long as you aren't running other appliances at the same time.

High Altitude Operation

The higher in elevation you go, the less dense the atmosphere is.

This means there is less oxygen for any engine to 'breathe', including the engine in your portable generator.

If you go high enough, you may need a high altitude kit.

This generally means that the generator's carburetor gets a new fuel jet that allows for less fuel flow. 

Less fuel is required when there is less air in order to have the correct fuel/air mixture.

If you don't use a high altitude kit at elevation, you will experience reduced performance and increased emissions.

Check your specific portable generator's owner's manual to see what elevation a high altitude kit is recommended.

It will vary depending on the manufacturer and/or the generator.

For example, Yamaha recommends a high altitude kit above 4,000 feet for the EF200iSv2, whereas WEN recommends one above 3,000 feet for the 56200i.

Wen further says that even if you do use a high altitude kit above 8,000 feet, you may still experience reduced performance.

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.

Maybe you 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 your 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:

  1. The size of your air conditioner unit.
  2. 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.

Let's say you have a 13,500 BTU A/C unit.

It needs upwards of 3000 watts to start.

Yet it only needs about 1600-2000 watts to run.

Therefore, you 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.

Soon after, it will have to scale back down to its running watts rating.

It all depends on which generator you have.

Keep in mind that if you are running your A/C at 1600 watts using a 2000 watt generator, you will only have 400 watts left to power other things at the same time.

Can You Run Your AC With a Portable Generator?

Micro-Air EasyStart™

Being able to run your air conditioner while dry camping is something that a lot of us want to do.

However, few of us can do so with a 2000-watt generator because of the electrical requirements of AC units.

Larger gennies capable of running ACs are bulkier, louder, and more expensive than 2000-watt inverter generators that are popular amongst RVers.

Therefore they aren't a practical option for many.

Micro-Air advertises their EasyStart™ system as a way to start an RV's air conditioner with as little as a 2000 watt portable generator.

But is this the case?

(It's the initial start of the AC's compressor that requires a high amount of amps - most ACs are capable of running off a single 2000-watt generator once they have been started.)

Camp Addict Co-Founder Kelly purchased an EasyStart™ 364 so we could install it in her rig's AC to test it.

Micro-Air emphasizes that their product is a STARTER that doesn't assist in running the A/C (once the compressor has been initially started).

It reduces the start current required to start the A/C compressor.

RUNNING an RV's air conditioner on a small generator requires active power management.

If your rig is like Kelly’s and you can't shut off of your battery charger/converter (more on this below in the 'gotchas' section), this idea may not work for you.

The install is fairly easy if you are comfortable working with electrical wires.

We did find a couple of gotchas when it comes to running your AC off a single 20000-watt generator.

One of the gotchas: Kelly's RV cannot shut off some power hogs (namely the battery charger).

Initially, Kelly tried running her air conditioner using just her Yamaha EF200iS generator but found out that it couldn't quite manage.

Keep in mind that her Yamaha is the first generation.

The v2 current version that you would purchase now may be able to do a better job at running the AC. 

However, the V2 is still just a 1600-watt continuous output generator, just like Kelly's.

So there is only so much the onboard tweaks that Yamaha has made can do.

There are two types of power in a generator.

  • Peak 
  • Continuous.

Peak occurs at the start of an appliance like an air conditioner and is only available for a limited time.

Continuous is what you get after that.

The EasyStart™ reduces the power in rush requirements at the time of start and peak power.

So she could use her AC, she ended  up purchasing a WEN 56200i generator that she could run in parallel with her Yamaha gennerator.

The combination of the two generators is enough to run her air conditioner.

Why wasn't the AC able to run off a single 2000 watt generator, as advertised by Micro-Air?

There are a few reasons (all of which are discussed on the Micro-Air website, so this is not huge shocker, but was a bit of a disappointment):

  • A 2000 watt generator can produce enough amperage to run ONLY the air conditioner. This means you cannot have ANY other electrical loads on the generator. JUST the air conditioner. Kelly's RV can't shut off the battery charger so it is charging the batteries while the generator is running. This pulls a decent amount of amps from the generator. Combined with the AC's electrical requirements, the amperage load is too much for a single 2000 watt generator.
  • Generators produce their rated power at sea level. Once you start gaining elevation, a generator's performance (power output) is reduced, as is the case will all non-turbo charged (or supercharged) engines. Above 5,000 feet in elevation, you are supposed to install a high altitude kit which causes the carburetor to run leaner (and helps increase the efficiency at elevation). We tried running Kelly's air conditioner off a single 2000 watt generator at 8200 feet without a high elevation kit. Even with the kit, the generator wouldn't be producing its rated power and couldn't run the air conditioner by itself.

Is it possible to run an RVs air conditioner off a single 2000 watt generator?

Many people say they can and Micro-Air claims it can be done.

Here are a few things that need to be accomplished to increase your odds that an EasyStart™ will work for you:

  • Have the ability to turn off electrical loads such as the battery charger when you are connected to your generator. If your RV doesn't have this ability, then you could, in theory, install a circuit breaker to do this (many RVs already come with this, but not Kelly's). This adds to the cost as you will need to hire someone to do this unless you know what you are doing.
  • Use a high altitude kit with your generator if you are running it at an altitude that requires it. This will help with the loss of power at altitude as it allows the carburetor to run leaner at altitude and therefore the engine can make closer to its rated power. The problem with this is, if you are like Camp Addict co-founders Kelly and Marshall, you are constantly going up and down in altitude, which means you would have to be constantly changing out the high altitude kit (and remembering to do so). Not practical for many people, including us.
  • Understand that you won't be able to run your microwave or other high power usage item while running the generator. To restate - a 2000-watt generator can only make enough power to run ONLY the air conditioner. A few lights (especially if they are LED) won't matter, but nothing else that requires a decent amount of power may be used.

If both of these stipulations aren't met (and we suspect they won't be in many cases), what can you do?

You can use a bigger generator, which can be a bit of a pain since they are larger, heavier, and louder.

Or do what Kelly did and use two 2000-watt generators running in parallel (combining their power output) when you need to run the AC.

This gives you the option to run a single 2000 watt generator when you only need to charge your batteries or run anything that isn't your air conditioner.

A single 2000-watt generator is a lot easier to carry/move than a larger generator, plus it is quieter (makes for happier neighbors).

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.

To add insult to injury, he proceeds to run it at inappropriate times or CONSTANTLY, even through the night.

Do this and you will quickly become the most hated guy in your campground or your boondocking area.

Champion 75531i RV

Luckily, there are quiet 2000-watt generators and decently quiet 3000-watt generators.

The quietest of them are rated around 48-53 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.

It seems everyone today has a laptop, smartphone, gaming system, flat-screen TV 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 is stable for your more sensitive electronics.

If you use a non-inverter generator, you risk the uneven current harming certain electronics.

Inverter generators are also much quieter than non-inverter generators.

The only drawback of inverter generators is that they can be more expensive than non-inverter generators. 

Yamaha EF200iSv2 inverter generator

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 classic 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 assurance.

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/their long-term reputation.

Still, many people have had wonderful experiences with other brands and don't want to dish out the extra dough for the more expensive Yamaha or Honda quiet portable generator.

How Do I Connect A Generator To My RV?

Most generators are not made specifically for RVs (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.

Ready to get that camping generator to power your next outing? Click the button below to read our reviews.

If You Purchased A 2000-Watt Generator:

Your 2000-watt generator will come with a standard 120-volt 15-amp outlet.

This is like those found on the inside of your RV (or in a house). 

You will need to purchase an adapter so that your 30 or 50-amp RV 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?

It's 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.

Suggested products:

30-Amp 'Hockey Puck' Style

Camco 55223 15 amp to 30 amp puck adapter

30-Amp 'Dog Bone' Style

Camco 55165 15 amp to 30 amp dogbone adapter

50-Amp 'Dog Bone' Style

Camco 55168 15 amp to 50 amp dogbone adapter

If You Purchased A 3000-Watt Generator:

A 3000-watt generator will typically come with a 30-amp, 125-volt outlet.

This won't be 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 RV power cord that powers your rig.

How do you know if you have a 30-amp or a 50-amp power cord?

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.

The TT-50 is the standard female 50-amp RV power plug.

There will be a test on these later, haha!

These adapters either come in the 'hockey puck' style (30 amp only) or the 'dog bone' style.

Suggested products:

30-Amp 'Hockey Puck' Style

Camco 55333 L5-30 to TT-30 adapter

30-Amp 'Dog Bone' Style

Camco 55272 L5-30 to TT-30 adapter

50-Amp 'Dog Bone' Style

Camco 55412 L5-30 to TT-50 adapter

For All Generators:

Your RV comes with a long power cord stored somewhere in an outside door.

(Or you have a detachable power cord.)

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.

Small Portable Generator Safety

Most manufacturers do not recommend that you leave your generator outside in the rain or snow.

You could get an electrical shock.

Also, it can cause corrosion if the generator's internal parts get wet.

We recommend packing your generator away during times like this.

Also, you can make a homemade lean-to out of plywood to lean against your truck or RV (just be VERY aware of where the generator exhaust is going if you do this!).

A better solution is to use a GenTent.

Be aware that generators put out carbon monoxide, a deadly gas.

Make sure the exhaust points AWAY from your rig.

Conclusion

Portable generators are a wonderful tool to have for camping power and battery charging needs.

You should now be armed with the information you need now to buy the proper generator that fits your style or budget.

We hope you have a blast out there if you are dry camping, and we sure hope you have an inverter generator.

Otherwise, don't park within 5 miles of us please, LOL!

Thank you.

To find out which camping generators we recommend, read our Portable Generator Reviews.

Camp Addict Kelly
Kelly Beasley

Kelly Beasley is co-founder of Camp Addict and loves sharing her enthusiasm for the RVing lifestyle. As a full-time RVer since May 2015, Kelly's playful writing style helps make learning about the sometimes dull subject of RV products a bit more interesting.


Marshall Headshot
Marshall Wendler

Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing since April 2014, Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
>
Scroll Up
Send this to a friend