Choosing the Best Portable Generator: 5 Great Choices

Portable power generators are convenient tools to have around when you need power immediately. The market for generators is at an all-time high. This makes it an ideal time for those looking for a wide array of choices. Whether you are looking for a camping generator to power your new RV, a reliable machine to power your tools out on a remote job site, or a dependable portable power source when the next storm knocks out your power, there is a generator out there for you. But what is involved in choosing the best portable generator?

Your generator should give you the capacity to run your lights, TV, refrigerator, sump pump, or other essentials with ease. It is important to look at a generator as an investment because while they can be pricey depending on the size and style you get, they are definitely worth every penny when you really need one and have one available to you. There are many portable generator options out there and we have researched and tested a variety of styles to determine the current top generators out in the market today.

For more information about portable generators, we recommend our articles Grounding a Portable Generator and Generator Won’t Start – What to Do.

Before diving in individually, here are our selections for the best portable generator:

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Westinghouse WGen 7500

The largest generator model we have on our list is the Westinghouse WGen 7500. It is a heavy duty powerhouse that easily provides more than enough power to get you through an emergency.

The WGen 7500 is powered by a 420cc Westinghouse 4-stroke engine that has an automatic low oil shutdown and digital hour meter. It is a beefy machine that runs at 7500 watts and surges to 9500 watts. It has a remote start with an included key fob as well as electric and recoil start.

You can power your generator on from up to 109 yards away. You will have up to 16 hours of run time on a 6.6 gallon fuel tank. It is super easy to maintain and is conveniently designed to make it easier on you. There are four 120/240V standard household outlets included.

The WGen 7500 is also transfer switch ready with convenient twist-lock outlet that allows you to connect to your home through the transfer switch. This is hands down the best machine on this list but it is also the most expensive. The WGen 7500 is a worthwhile investment and will pay for itself with each use.

Pros of the Westinghouse WGen 7500 

  • Transfer switch ready
  • Remote start
  • 16-hours runtime
  • 6 gallon fuel tank capacity

Cons of the Westinghouse WGen 7500 

  • Heavy compared to other generators
  • Price point is higher

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Champion 3800

If you are looking for a workhorse back-up power source then look no further than the Champion 3800. It is a powerful and dependable generator that will outlast the competition and provide you with a range of options to meet your needs. The Champion 3800 is both gasoline and propane compatible, without requiring adjustments or attachments to alter the fuel source. This is an extremely versatile generator for that exact reason because if you run out of one fuel you can switch to an alternate fuel source with ease.

The Champion 2800 offers a massive run time of 9 hours on gasoline and 10.5 hours on propane. It also packs a punch running at 3800W and surging to 4750W. This is more than enough power to run multiple appliances at the same time. If you are an avid RV camper you will rest easy knowing this generator is RV-ready, equipped with plenty of power for your entire camping trip. A convenient and favorite feature is the push-to-start button that you didn’t even know you needed.

Pros of the Champion 3800 

  • Dual fuel – gasoline and propane
  • Push-to-start button
  • Powerful and efficient

Cons of the Champion 3800 

  • Can be difficult to maneuver due to size

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DuroStar DS4000S

The DuroStar DS4000S is another powerful machine that you can rely on to get the job done. It has a 7hp engine that provides you with plenty of power. The average run time is 9 hours for a 4 gallon tank of gasoline. It operates at 3300 W and surges at 4000W so you can definitely plug up appliances without hesitation. The DuroStar DS4000S comes equipped with a full power panel with oil warning capabilities, volt meter, circuit breaker, and power outlets. In addition, it has an automatic low oil shut off which provides preventative care for the motor life.

It is known for its smooth and quiet operation thanks to a heavy duty steel frame with isolated motor mounts. It does have an EZ-Pull recoil start instead of the convenient push-to-start button though. If you don’t care about that minor setback, this is a great generator to have when you need one. It weighs 90lbs but can be transported with ease thanks to its optional wheel system available for purchase separately. This is easily on our list of the best portable generator for personal or RV use.

Pros of the DuroStar DS4000S 

  • Built in voltage meter
  • “Low Oil” indicator

Cons of the DuroStar DS4000S 

  • Wheel system is sold separately
  • Not CARB-compliant

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Champion 3500

The not-so-little little brother to the Champion 3800 is another great option for a portable generator. This is perfect when you aren’t necessarily looking for something that is super bulky but can still power all your necessities. The size of the Champion 3500 may cause you to think twice about it but we assure you that you don’t have to. It delivers 3500W and surges to 4000W when needed. One of the biggest perks of the Champion 3500 is that it gives you a 12 hour runtime off a 3.8 gallon tank. That’s more than the 3800 and on a smaller tank.

The power is where you may be compromised in some situations but that’s why it’s best to know what you will be powering before you make your purchase. Like its older brother, the 3500 comes with an RV ready outlet without needing extra attachments or converters.  It also has a relatively quiet operation with its noise measuring at 68dB. This is the perfect generator to have around the house when you don’t have that much room to store one. It easily made our list of the best portable generator options.

Pros of the Champion 3500

  • RV ready outlet
  • Smaller size
  • 12 hours of runtime

Cons of the Champion 3500

  • Optional wheel assembly
  • Lower power rating than larger models

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WEN 56475

Rounding out our best portable generator list is the WEN 56475. It is another great option that can provide you with all your emergency or portable power needs. Running off a 223cc engine, the WEN 56475 operates at 3750W and surges at 4750W. This is enough for major appliances or several small ones. It comes with an RV-ready outlet and can handle all of its appliances. Complete with a digital readout, the WEN 56475 helps manage oil changes and checkup routines.

The WEN 56475 sports an electric start and comes with a low-oil shutdown, automatic voltage regulator, and overload protection. It meets all CARB and EPA III requirements. You have 11 hours of run time at half-load off a 4 gallon fuel tank capacity. It also comes with a digital hour counter to keep track of run time. Unlike some of the other models on this list, the WEN 56475 comes with a wheel kit that allows for smooth-rolling and space-saving fold-down handles.

Pros of the WEN 56475

  • Electric push-to-start
  • 11 hours of run time
  • Hour counter

Cons of the WEN 56475

  • Can be loud
  • Viewed as heavy and bulky

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How We Tested the Best Portable Generator

In order to see how each of these best portable generator picks stacked up against the other we put them through a series of tests and compared their performance. We ran each generator on a full tank of gas to verify how much run time they each had. Then, we also powered tools and appliances with each generator to see how they handled the electrical requirements.

We used the max amount of outlets and power output and confirmed how well the tools or appliances operated as the generator reach full capacity. The top generators from our testing have been added to this list with a description of their specifications, pros, and cons.

Things to Look For in a Generator

Before you go out and spend a bunch of money on a generator it is important to know exactly what you should be looking for.

  1. What do you need it for? The first thing you should do is think about your overall reasoning of wanting a generator. What kind of appliances are you going to sourcing power to? This is important because you need to know what the required output the generator will need to have.
  2. How many hours will you need it to run? In certain cases you may not have a maximum number of hours you will need it to run but you should be able to determine the minimum number. You want to have plenty of run-time available to you so it will be best to consider generators that offer at least 6 to 8 running hours.
  3. What are your deal breakers? There are certain perks that some generators will have and others won’t depending on the price point. Some people may desire features such as a built in voltage meter, digital control panel, or a push-to-start button. Whatever your needs are, it is best to make your list and stick to it when you shop around.

Care and Maintenance of the best Portable Generator

It is imperative that you provide the proper care and maintenance for your portable generator if you desire to extend its operating life. You should also only be operating your generator outdoors. For safety reasons, you should never operate your generator indoors because they produce carbon monoxide which can put you at risk if there is not proper ventilation in the area. Other tips for care and maintenance of your machine include the following:

  • Check the oil: Your machines oil level should be checked every 8 hours of use. The oil should be changed every 50 hours of use.
  • Only add fuel when the generator is turned off and cooled down: When refueling your generator, make sure it has been turned off and given enough time to cool down. If the generator is still how when you refuel you run the risk of spilling the gasoline and starting a fire.
  • Clean or replace spark arrestor: The spark arrestor located inside the muffler should be cleaned or replaced every 25 hours of use.
  • Drain the fuel: If you are going to store your generator for long periods of time make sure you drain the fuel. If you use your generator more frequently, add fuel stabilizer to fresh fuel to prevent buildup in the carburetor.
  • Clean the air filter: The air filter should be cleaned every 25 hours and replaced after 100 hours of use.

Which generator is best for you?

Deciding what is the best portable generator for you simply comes down to what your needs are. If you are looking to power larger appliances in an emergency or power tools at your job site, you will probably want to head straight to the heavy duty machines. The power output of your generator is going to determine what you can supply power to. It is always better to get something that you could potentially need in an emergency situation rather than getting just the bare minimum. Remember, a cheap generator is not always the best generator.

Run time is the next most important factor in your decision. You won’t want to keep having to refuel your generator every few hours because you will have to extend that time waiting on the engine to cool down before doing so. In emergency situations you don’t have time to spare. We recommend opting for a generator that can power your heaviest appliance, while also being able to support it for a solid run time.

The best portable generator choices include the Westinghouse WGen 7500, Champion 3800, DuroStar DS4000S, Champion 3500, and the WEN 56475. The highest rated best portable generator is the Westinghouse WGen 7500. Its beefy appearance is backed by a high class motor that can handle anything you throw at it. The Champion 3800 and DuroStar DS4000S are comparable models that are more than capable of supplying power to large RVs and appliances.

They are dependable workhorses that you can count on. The Champion 3500 is another great option if you are looking for power in a smaller body. Finally, the WEN 56475 is a straight forward option that gives you exactly what you ask of it. All in all, any of the five can easily be the best portable generator to meet and exceed your needs. The pinpoint recommendation will come down to personal needs and preference.

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