Best Portable Generator Guide

Portable generators are the most popular type of generator. Coming in a huge range of power capabilities from approximately 1,500W to 13,000W, they suit a broad spectrum of uses. Whether you want a generator to power a few appliances at home, to power your entire home during a power outage, to take away for recreational uses or at to use at a work site, portable generators have you covered. Not only do they offer great flexibility and portability, they come at a great cost too. With many models on the market it can be hard to know what to look for, which is why we have prepared this best portable generator guide. Included you will find all the information you need to pick the best portable generator for you.

Jump to:
What is the best portable generator size for me?
What factors should I consider when picking the best portable generator?
How much do portable generators cost?
Our best portable generator reviews

What is the best portable generator size for me?

The easiest way to determine your wattage requirement is to write a list of all the appliances you want to power. You can then establish what each appliance will need in watts (this information should be displayed somewhere on every appliance), and then add it all together. Now you should have a total wattage requirement which is the minimum needed from your generator. Note that all generators will have two wattage ratings: ‘rated’ or ‘running’, and ‘maximum’ or ‘starting’. Assuming that you will not turn on each appliance at the same time, you can use the ‘rated’ or ‘running’ wattage as this is the amount the generator will produce continuously over a time period. The ‘maximum’ or ‘starting’ rating is just the additional power it creates at start-up which only lasts a few seconds. It’s always a good idea to pick a generator which will give you some extra power to allow for the ‘starting’ wattage requirements, as well as any other unforeseen power requirements.

If you decide that you want the ability to power your entire house you will need to reference your utility bill history or contact your utility company directly to establish how many watts you need. Keep in mind your watt usage will vary throughout the year seasonally.

What factors should I consider when picking the best portable generator?

While they offer the flexibility of being movable, portable generators come in a range of dimensions and weights. Low wattage models may weigh as little as 60 pounds; however the larger, high wattage models weigh over 300 pounds. Ensure that you will be capable of moving the generator without causing injury to yourself or others.

One of the more important considerations to make is the noise level of the generator. Portable generators are generally the noisier type of generators, however they vary in their individual noise levels. Each generator will have a specification as to what noise level it produces in decibels (dB). As an indication, a thunderclap produces a noise level of 120dB, conversational speech 60dB, and a pin dropping 10dB. Want more information on how the decibel scale works? It is explained nicely here. If sound level is a critical factor for you, see our quietest generators page.

Not all models run of the same fuel. While most portable generators use gasoline, some use propane. Some models even come as hybrid dual fuel generators meaning you can use either gasoline or propane. For more information on propane generators including the advantages and disadvantages of gasoline vs propane as a fuel source, see our propane generators page.

The starting procedure also varies between models. Some require a manual pulling start, whereas some come with a much more convenient and easy electric start.

How much do portable generators cost?

Portable generators have a comparatively low upfront cost compared to the other types of generators. This means you are getting a higher wattage per dollar. The price will vary according to the size and power capabilities. Generally, smaller models will cost around $200 whereas the larger models will cost up to $3000.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that each generator will also have a different running cost. You need to consider the individual tank capacity and running hours. For example, the Champion 3500W/4000W generator has a 3.8 gallon (14.4 L) fuel tank and will run for 12 hours at 50% load.