No matter if you’re an outdoors enthusiast who goes camping every weekend, or you simply like to be ready for anything, a portable generator can be an essential piece of equipment… but they’re also pretty pricey.
It’s possible to save some money by aiming for a machine with a lower wattage: whilst they might not be able to stump up enough power to fuel your entire home, they’re still capable of serving many other purposes, and can be just as effective.
We’ve rounded up five of our favorite budget-friendly options, each being a worthy investment in spite of their lower price points, to ensure you aren’t skimping on quality in order to save yourself some money.
When you’d rather know all there is to know before hitting that buy button, have a read through our Buyer’s Guide, which clearly and concisely lists everything you need to consider to make a well-informed purchase.
If there are still questions floating around and stopping you from adding to cart, we’ve put together a section of FAQs at the end of the article, where we’ve answered the most frequent queries from other customers seeking a generator.
OUR TOP PICK
Generac have served homes across the US for generations, so we don’t hesitate in offering out their budget friendly portable inverter model for any customer seeking a new gas-powered generator in a hurry, especially at this price!
Quiet and neighbour-friendly (so great when you’re in the wilderness, too!) its entirely enclosed design is proven to dramatically reduce those decibels for much more manageable noise levels, even economically, thanks to TruePower technology.
As well as being compact and lightweight, transportation is made even easier thanks to an ergonomic built-in handle, allowing you to carry it from car to campsite, or around your house as you need, with minimal effort.
Automatically adjusting engine speeds to save fuel and minimize sound emissions, the clever Economy Mode is excellent not only for preserving power when you need it most, but dampening that continuous buzz even further.
There’s no guesswork involved, as handy LED indicators will let you know when the unit is ready-to-use, low on oil or overloaded, so troubleshooting is as simple as taking a quick glance; outlets are also covered, protecting the fragile innards.
- 1200 watts of clean, stable power
- Noise-reduction design and outlet protection ideal for outdoor use
- Customers state it runs all night long with no problems
- 1.2 gallon gas capacity
- Cannot run on natural gas
Having provided green power solutions since its inception in California back in 2012, Jackery specializes in portable generators, and their Explorer 240 model is great for quiet, eco-friendly fuel with no need for fuel or gasoline.
Pack light for your next trip, as the 240-watt hour lithium ion battery produces 200 watts of power, with a 12V carport, 2 USB ports and a Pure Sine Wave AC outlet for charging, cooking and lighting up wherever you’ve pitched your tent.
Specially designed for providing juice to your smart devices, coolers and other outdoor technology, the plugs have inverter technology which not only protects your electronics, but ensures they are powered efficiently, too!
Weighing only 6.6 lbs with a built-in carrying handle, it fits in your rucksack or the trunk with plenty of room to spare - even one of the kids could carry it!
On a full charge you’ll have several days of power to recharge your phone up to 20 times!
Though sold separately, this generator is also compatible with solar panels, with the manufacturers recommending their own Solar Saga set, so you don’t even need access to electricity for recharging.
- Provides 40 hours of light or the equivalent of 3.5 full macbook pro charges
- Multiple ports for a variety of products
- Quiet, environmentally friendly power
- Solar panel compatible (sold separately)
- Cannot support devices over 200w e.g hair dryer, kettle, pressure cooker
At a feather light 3.5lb and with an ultra fast charging 155Wh lithium-ion battery, the iGen160s from Westinghouse boasts two 120V outlets, four USB ports and three 5mm DC outputs for the most versatile portable generator experience.
With a built-in side reading lamp and dual-mode front flashlight, there’s no need to take your own camping lights, as this baby will keep you out of the dark all night long and keep one of your hands free to carry something else.
Rugged and durable in its design, it’s purpose made for outdoor use e.g camping, tailgating or RV road trips, as well as being purposely functional indoors in emergency blackouts (though only for powering your portable devices).
Created specifically without an engine, there’s no need for fuel upkeep or general maintenance, nor does it generate any fumes; without the need for special care or the production of toxic gases, it's portable to the extreme.
Also compatible with any solar panel with the right DC plug, you’ll be able to harness the power of nature to fuel your devices on the go, so there’s no need to depend on a full charge from your outlet to last you your whole trip.
- Truly versatile with eight different ports for your device
- Two built-in lights - no need to take your own!
- Only 3.75lb, easily carried with the built-in handle
- No fuel or fumes - totally natural
- Slight rattle reported by customers (not entirely silent as promised)
With three easy charging methods (car, outlet or solar, the latter being sold separately), the Baldr portable station is powerful enough for use at home and in the great outdoors, and is fully ready to go within 5-8 hours.
Equipped with not only enough ports for your USB, AC and DC devices, it also has a built-in flashlight with multiple modes and even a wireless charger; it’s even able to signal for help when you need it with the LED SOS mode.
Producing zero toxic fumes and requiring no heavy gas canisters, being outside with power no longer requires packing your car to the brim - simply bring your Baldr unit and you’ve got everything you need to stay connected to the grid.
Using a BMS (battery management system) to improve and extend battery service, your unit is protected from short-circuit, over-current, over-voltage, over-load and over-heating, so it’s extra safe to use and should last for years to come.
The built in LED display shows you exactly how much battery you have remaining, as well as providing information about how many watts the generator is taking whilst on charge, which outlets are activated and how much power they’re drawing.
- Versatile machine with three different charging methods
- Holds its charge far longer than competitors according to customers
- Super easy to carry and store
- Wireless charger AND flashlight built in as standard
- Cannot support devices requiring more than 330 watts
Powerful enough to run a CPAP machine for several days, the FlashFish Portable Power Station might be one of the most affordable models on our list, but it certainly doesn’t show it, providing 300W of power (350 at peak) with no problem.
With three 20,000mAh lithium batteries, it’s capable of producing up to 60,000mAh of power, with built in safety precautions including low-voltage, short-circuit, over-heating and lock-on protection for safe usage every single time.
This unit can be recharged with a solar panel (not included), you can either charge it outdoors, in your car via the 12V port or using a wall outlet at home before you go, so you’ll be able to supply it with more juice in a pinch.
Super-light and comfortable to carry with the handle, you can take this generator anywhere with no struggle or fuss, keeping you connected and powered-on even in the most stressful situations - that’s one less thing to worry about!
Capable of fuelling a mini-fridge (at 40 watts) for more than seven hours, eighty or more hours of (30 watt) lights and even charging your phone over 20 times before it runs out of juice, it’s mini but mighty and friendly on your wallet too.
- Boasts three heavy-duty lithium ion batteries with solar capability
- 300 watts of output for hours on end
- Durable: built to withstand the outdoors
- Lightweight but still sturdy and resilient
- Cannot be charged and used to power devices simultaneously
Best Affordable Portable Generator Buying Guide
Okay, so we’ve found you some generators that won’t quite break the bank (although we’re not denying they’re still a considerable investment, even at the more affordable end of the spectrum). What else do you need to think about to make up your mind?
Size / Portability
The key is in the name, right? If it ain’t compact, it ain’t portable, so you want a space-saving generator that’s able to easily fit in the trunk of your car and won’t throw your back out when you’re unloading everything.
Ranging from under fifty pounds all the way up to several hundred, you want a machine you’re actually able to carry safely - what if you had to pack up and leave in a hurry? You don’t want to abandon hundreds of dollars of equipment!
A soft-touch handle is always a nice addition, too, as it will make carrying from car to campsite a whole lot easier: some generators even have wheels on the bottom, though these are usually at the pricier end.
You’ll find there are several different fuels for generators, perhaps the most popular being gas, typically propane or natural, burned by a motor with fumes released via an exhaust pipe at the back - their run time depends on how much gas you have!
Another popular, more contemporary power source is solar panels, which of course add some bulk to the machine and increase its size and weight, but prove much better for the environment after continuous use in the long run.
You can also find generators that are powered by a gigantic rechargeable battery, though of course you’ll have to keep this plugged in and charging up for a significant amount of time before you can even switch it on, never mind use it fully.
Our intention here is to provide you with affordable and portable options for generating power, which means that they aren’t going to be as supercharged as some of the bigger and more expensive options out there.
However, it’s still possible to get a substantial wattage on a smaller, sleeker generator, enough to power all of your camping gear or the most important and essential household appliances in the event of a surge or outage.
For a house, 3000 and 5000 watts is a good aim, as this should be able to cover all of your basic needs and then some, whether you’re indoors or outdoors.
When you need to, for instance, pump your own water, more power is required.
It doesn’t matter if you’re roughing it in the great outdoors or your portable generator is kept in the basement, only coming out for emergencies: you want one that’s going to last, and that means a well-built machine made from quality materials.
Whether that’s the exhaust pipe, the control panel or the casing of the battery itself, if it’s not been built well, it won’t be able to stand up to the tests of time or take the beatings that Mother Nature can sometimes offer out.
Waterproofing is another consideration when you’re camping; though it’ll be pretty difficult to find a generator that’s entirely hydro-resistant, looking for a model that’s going to withstand more unpleasant weather conditions is your best bet.
Continuous Run Time
In a power outage, it’s pretty difficult to guess how long you’re going to need your generator for: could be twenty minutes, could be two days.
To prevent your freezer from melting and avoid sitting in the dark, a long enough run time is essential.
Some generators can only go so long before they need some more juice, whether that’s gas, solar power or a recharge from the outlet, but others will need a rest to avoid overheating, regardless of how much power they have left.
Quality portable generators can last several days, provided they aren’t running at full power or providing watts to too many sources, but we’d recommend between 7 and 12 hours of continuous runtime at minimum to get the biggest bang for your buck.
We’ve already written quite an extensive piece about how to reduce the noise of your generator - unfortunately, as they’re producing power for you, they’re also making quite a racket in the process, which can be anything from irksome to heinous.
More contemporary models have usually been fitted with inversion technology, which uses magnetism as part of the power production process, reducing the noise produced by the motor as it burns through fuel.
Likewise, higher-quality manufacturers will also make sure their generators have been equipped with noise cancelling features like ventilation ducts and a quality exhaust pipe, which helps minimize the background sounds significantly.
So long as the generator you choose ticks all of the above boxes, you’ll be good to go, but if you’re after some additional fun and flair, you may be intrigued by the following add-ons some models have built in.
An LED flashlight is an especially useful provision, particularly if you’re looking at using your generator at night, in the middle of the woods, or expecting to experience plenty of power outages. You’ll free up a hand as well - no more using your phone!
More modern devices tend to have USB ports, for instance, which allow you to plug in and charge your smart devices amongst other things and free up outlets for more important appliances, like your cooking equipment!
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I get a portable or standby generator?
That depends on your circumstances! A standby generator is powered by natural or propane gas and will kick in automatically as soon as a power outage occurs, making them a semi-permanent fixture that you can keep on standby. Get it?
Portable generators are either powered by diesel, gas, solar power or a huge rechargeable battery, and they’ll typically be much cheaper than a standby generator, but won’t start up autonomously.
How much wattage do you need to run a house?
Obviously everybody’s home is different, and we all have different appliances and equipment to run, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what wattage you’re going to need personally in order to run your home.
A general estimate suggests that critical household electrics like a refrigerator, freezer, lighting and heating, even a well-pump, can manage with between 5,000 and 7,5000 watts, potentially at the same time depending on each appliance’s demands.
If you want to be able to power absolutely everything in your home, the easiest and most successful way is to manually calculate the wattage of all of your appliances and buy a generator with enough power to run them all.
How can I make my generator sound quieter?
As we’ve discussed, whilst generators are incredibly useful, they can also be loud enough to disturb you when running, producing a rumble or buzzing sound that is difficult to block out at the best of times.
You’ll find some quick tips and a full guide to building your own soundproofing box.