Portable generators are one of the most important tools in a home safety plan for when power outages occur. In the event of a natural disaster, the backup power produced by a generator can keep your refrigerator and air conditioner running, the lights on, and other electronics running. It can do all this while hardly being noticed, even at full electrical load.
Inverter generators are a different breed than the open-framed conventional generators most people are familiar with. While both use fuel (gasoline, diesel, or propane), open-framed generators use an alternator to make usable power for homes, campers, and job sites. Similar to their open-framed counterparts, inverter generators come in different models and sizes, which means they lend themselves to some uses better than others.
Inverter generators use a computer-controlled inverter to provide usable power. This makes inverter generators lighter, quieter, and more efficient than open-framed models. The addition of an inverter ensures less fluctuation in the current of the power generated, somewhat like a regulator. This inverted current is considered “clean electricity,” which is important for safely charging sensitive devices, especially handheld electronics like phones and laptops.
Understanding the hallmarks of a high-quality product and getting to know the pros and cons of various models will help you find the best inverter generator for your needs.
- BEST OVERALL: Briggs & Stratton P4500 PowerSmart Inverter Generator
- AFFORDABLE FAVORITE: WEN 56203i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Generator
- MOST PORTABLE: Westinghouse Outdoor Power Equipment Generator
- BEST FOR CAMPING: Champion Power Equipment 4500-Watt Inverter Generator
- BEST FOR ELECTRONICS: WEN 56380i 3800-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
- ENERGY EFFICIENT PICK: WEN 56225i 2250-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Inverter Generator
A variety of important factors go into selecting the best inverter generator for your backup power needs. The info below will help narrow down a unit that provides enough power, portability, and convenience for you.
Wattage should be the most critical factor as you shop. Inverter generators, like their open-framed counterparts, come in different wattage ratings. The higher the wattage rating, the higher the power output. Higher wattages usually mean larger, more expensive units, so here’s a guide to choosing the right size for your needs:
- Light-duty (tent camping, tailgating, etc.): 2,000 to 3,000 watts
- Medium-duty (RV camping, emergency home use, job site, etc.): 3,000 to 4,500 watts
- Heavy-duty (powering an entire home, powering a welder, etc.): 4,500+ watts
A compact portable generator may be feasible if you’re only using it to power a radio or a small refrigerator. However, you’ll have less flexibility for plugging in other devices with a low-wattage model. A case could be made that generators under 2,000 watts aren’t worth the investment.
Fuel Type & Capacity
Inverter generators typically use gasoline as a fuel source, and dual fuel generators can run on propane as well. This is a big advantage, as it allows you to choose the fuel you use based on your needs, such as power output requirements, fuel availability in your area, and the fuel type that you have on hand.
Inverter generators have an isolated gasoline tank with a fuel capacity that ranges from as small as 2 gallons to more than 10 gallons. The larger the fuel tank is on the generator, the longer it will be able to provide gasoline-based power, but the size of the generator itself also increases.
Fuel capacity has no bearing on how much propane you can use with the generator; propane gas is stored under pressure in canisters, which attach to the generator with a hose and pressure regulator for direct fuel consumption.
Recoil vs. Electric Start
Inverter generators feature an electric start switch, recoil cord, or both ignition methods:
- Electric Start: Generators with an electric start store extra electricity in an internal battery, which starts up the device automatically. Users either press a button on the keypad, FOB, or by flipping the switch. This method of ignition is much easier than using a recoil cord, but it does require stored electricity in the generator. Without a charged internal battery, you cannot use the electric start.
- Recoil Cord: The recoil cord is an old but reliable technology used in many fuel-powered tools. This startup method requires you to quickly and steadily pull the recoil cord to kickstart the engine. While it will take some effort, and possibly more than a few pulls, there’s no reliance on electricity. You can start up the generator any time, even after long-term storage in the garage or shed.
Purchasing a set of like-branded generators will often give you the ability to wire them in parallel, also known as load sharing. This means that by using a brand-specific kit, you can plug one generator into another. This safely combines their wattages to produce even more power.
Additionally, owning two generators provides a fail-safe if one stops working. You’ll still have power-producing capabilities, just at a lesser output. Load sharing can be a less expensive way to produce enough wattage to run a whole house or power everything in an RV at once.
The most noticeable difference between inverter and open-framed generators is the amount of noise they produce. Open-framed generators are unrefined and loud, producing decibel levels far exceeding the 100 dB mark. Inverter generators are roughly half as noisy compared to open-framed models, often in the 50 to 60 dB range. To better understand generator noise output, consider these common sounds and their equivalent operating dB level:
- Refrigerator: 50 dB
- Hairdryer: 70 to 90 dB
- Motorcycle: 95 to 110 dB
Inverter generators also use sensors to detect how much power they need to expend, throttling down for smaller loads and producing lower noise levels. Your neighbors, either at home or a campground, will appreciate that you purchased a quiet inverter generator over a noisy, open-framed model.
Size and Weight
Physical size and weight will be a factor for some shoppers. As the name suggests, suitcase inverter generators are top-handled units that can be picked up with one hand and carried with ease, as they’re typically lightweight at about 40 to 50 pounds. The drawback is these units are usually 2,200 watts and under for power output.
Wheeled units provide much more power (3,000+ watts), but they’re large and heavy. These portable inverter generator models are more challenging to throw in the bed of a truck or a camper’s storage compartment. As such, it may be easier to use one of these units as a home generator.
Some users may struggle with the weight of larger, more powerful units. In recognition of this shortcoming, some portable inverter generators come with wheels so that you can tilt the unit back and transport it to whatever location you had in mind.
Wheel kits may also be sold separately so that you can add them to your existing generator, or replace an older wheel kit. Either way, having a wheel kit will make transporting a heavy portable generator much easier.
Our Top Picks
The following picks represent some of the best inverter generators for portable power. Explore reliable single and dual fuel generator units for home use, RV living, camping, and more.
From Briggs & Stratton, this model offers seven outlets, including an RV outlet; four 120-volt, 20-amp outlets; and two USB outlets. A convenient digital readout displays power usage, fuel level, and runtime, which can be up to an ample 16 hours on a full tank (3.6 gallons).
This generator produces up to 4,500 watts of power while emitting only 61 dB of noise, offering a nice blend of capability without being too loud. A telescoping handle and large wheels make rolling this 114-pound generator a breeze. And thanks to an electric start, firing it up is simple too.
For those on a budget with some flexible power needs, the WEN 56203i might just hit the mark. This suitcase-style generator is lightweight at only 39 pounds, making it super maneuverable. It has enough power (2,000 watts) to run a small campsite, or a small refrigerator and a few ancillary devices, on a full 1-gallon tank.
It’s super quiet as well, running as low as 51 dB with only a device or two plugged in. There are two 20-amp outlets, one 12V outlet, and two convenient USB outlets. This is a basic, affordable generator. The trade-off for the lower price is the lack of an electric or remote starter.
This Westinghouse Power Equipment suitcase-style generator offers 2,000 watts and runs at a super quiet 52 dB. The device weighs only 43 pounds, and it’s the ideal size to put in a pickup and take to a tailgate party or campsite. It has two 20-amp outlets that can also be used to wire two Westinghouse generators in parallel for increased power.
However, what this Westinghouse has in reliability and power, it sacrifices in flexibility. This model has no USB power outlets, opting for only two 120VAC outlets and one 12V. This not only limits the number of devices you can charge at once but also eliminates the convenience of being able to charge USB devices.
When it comes to getting in touch with nature, noise is typically unwelcome. Luckily, Champion Power Equipment’s 4500-watt inverter generator allows users to enjoy the comforts of home without drowning out the sounds of the forest. At 61 dB, its noise output is reasonable for campgrounds and remote getaways. Running for 14 hours on just 2.3 gallons of gasoline, it’s also an economical choice.
This inverter generator features an RV-ready 30A service, so users can run amenities in their campers wherever they might be. This model also features two 20A outlets equipped with clean power for electronics, a 12V automotive-style outlet, and two USB adapters. While it weighs 97 pounds, the oversize wheels make rolling it around a campsite a breeze.
When you’re looking for a backup energy supply that’s stable enough for sensitive electronics, invest in a high-quality inverter generator like this WEN model. Running on 3,800 watts, you’ll have ample power to run devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops—which won’t sustain damage from the current.
The WEN generator can run up to 8.5 hours on a full tank of gasoline (2.2 gallons). Operating at 57 dB, it’s only about as loud as the average conversation. The device includes two 120V, 20A household outlets; a 120/240V 30A RV outlet; a 120V, 30A locking outlet; and two 5V USB ports.
This WEN unit features an electric start and fuel shutoff, which uses remaining fuel in the carburetor before shutting down the generator, maximizing its lifespan. While it weighs in at a hefty 99.2 pounds, the generator is equipped with two wheels and a folding handle to make transport easier.
The introduction of clean air legislation started in California in the late 1960s, and CARB standards have now been adopted in 16 states. If a manufacturer’s machinery doesn’t comply—and many high-performance generators do not—they cannot be sold in those regions. This 2250-watt WEN model is both EPA and CARB compliant, offering one of the “cleanest” sources of generator power available.
The fuel efficiency of this unit lies in its Eco-Mode feature; this setting allows the motor to automatically adjust fuel consumption, which extends run time and engine life. It’s a very quiet generator at only 53 decibels and weighs just 48.5 pounds. The WEN has a 1-gallon fuel tank, two 120V household outlets, a 12V DC outlet, and a USB port.
FAQs About Your New Inverter Generator
Looking for more information on inverter generators? Consider the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this particular type of generator.
Q. How does an inverter work?
Inverters work by taking DC power, created by a gas generator, and converting it to AC power for household appliances.
Q. Why are inverter generators so quiet?
Inverter generators don’t use alternators, like typical open-framed models might and which require the engine to work harder and produce more heat. For that reason, inverter generator engines run more quietly. In addition, manufacturers can close them inside plastic housing for even better noise control without overheating.
Q. Are inverter generators worth it?
In general, inverter generators are easier to use, more efficient, and produce safer electricity for electronics. For those reasons alone, many users might find them worth it.
Q. Can an inverter generator run a refrigerator?
Most inverter generators will have no problem running a modern refrigerator, which only needs 1,000 watts maximum at startup.