Buyer’s guide to choosing a camping generator

Generators for camping

A Buyer’s Guide to Choosing the Right Generator

Camping is becoming more popular, and increasingly difficult to book a pitch with an EHU connection. Portable generators are a great way to enjoy your holiday with the benefits of charging your devices, watching TV, cooking and making your camping trip more comfortable.

With that in mind, what do you need to consider before buying your first generator?

  • Budget – How much you can spend
  • Portability – Can it be lifted, transported easily
  • Noise – DBS must be suitable for outside usage
  • Power source – Diesel, petrol, hybrid, dual, solar or mains power
  • Energy purity – Quality of electricity generated to run sensitive equipment
  • Generator size – It needs to be able to run your devices without tripping

Buying your first generator can be confusing, as several factors must be considered. You will need a generator that produces pure energy to run more advanced items such as portable TV and sound systems. Pure energy is not as crucial if you want a generator to charge standard phones or boil a kettle. However, I do not recommend a generator that does not provide a pure energy outage.

What is a portable generator?

A portable generator is a device that is powered by solar, diesel, petrol, propane or mains charged before travel that will power electrical devices. They can be used either for camping, car camping, or, if powerful enough, can power devices in the home.

Each type of generator will have a maximum wattage output to electrical power devices. It is not the case that one generator supplies power to all devices at once. They are rated on the kW (kilowatt) and Wh (watts per hour).

Generators are available in different sizes, either in a frame with wheels for easy transporting. Or smaller with a handle. Ideally, for camping, you want a lightweight, compact generator.

How to choose the best portable generator?

Generators are not cheap, so it is essential to set a budget and be realistic about usage. If you only camp several times a year, it may be more cost-effective to book a pitch that supplies EHU. If you like to camp in more remote areas, car camping, investing in a portable generator is an excellent solution to making your trip more comfortable.

The generator should also have specific charging points such as USB, 12V and AC sockets. This will ensure you can charge or use multiple devices simultaneously.

The DBS on a generator should be between 50-60 DBS for outside usage. A 60 DBS generator is the maximum noise allowed on a campsite to avoid disturbing other campers. Always check the rating before purchasing; otherwise, you may not be allowed to use it during your camping trip.

I purchased my Jackery Explorer 240 generator because we camp at least once a month during all weather. Plus, camping with EHU is becoming more expensive, and investing in a generator was the cheapest option over time. I only have a 200kW as I only need it to provide heat during colder nights, charge phones and run my coolbox if we stay longer than a few nights. It can be charged via solar panels, or you can charge it in your home on an electrical main. It has ample charge to last us for a week.

I purchased my Jackery from Amazon, or you can buy it from Jackery direct. If you purchase from Jackery on registration, you will often receive an additional 15% discount. Check both Amazon and Jackery sites before buying.

Diesel and petrol generators need maintenance before use and during regular intervals. Petrol generators require more maintenance than diesel generators. However, diesel generators are more robust. Before buying, consider if you can maintain your generator yourself and have a local professional body that can carry out a full-service year. Find out more about the different types of maintenance schedule per generator type, what tis involved and if you can carry it out yourself.

What are the different types of generators?

There are 5 different types of fuel generators

  • Solar
  • Petrol
  • Diesel
  • Propane
  • Hybrid

When deciding on the type of powered generator, it is important to consider ventilation. Petrol, diesel and propane generators are not suitable to use inside a tent and must be kept outside due to exhaust fumes.

It is also vital to consider the flammability of the fuel and how quickly fuel will be consumed by the generator, as you will need to have additional fuel available to avoid running dry.

What are the pros and cons of the different types of generators?

Fuel TypeSuitable forPositivesNegatives
Solar ChargedCampsite
Car Camping
Semi Wild camping
Solar panels can be used as a separate charge to the generator.
Compact for transporting.
No fumes and can be kept inside a tent.
Solar panels need to be purchased separately.
They are expensive compared to other generators
Less powerful.

PetrolCheaper to buy than other generators.
They are easy to use.
Have longer running time per tank of fuel.
Have to keep maintained, oil and air filters changes due to high running power.
They Can be dangerous due to flammable fuel.
Shorter life span if not maintained correctly.
They can be loud
Must be stored outside of a tent, RV or motorhome
DieselFuel efficient compared to petrol.
Longer lives span than petrol generators.
Do not need as much maintenance as petrol generators
They are more powerful than petrol generators.
Fewer fumes than petrol.
Run 20-30% longer than petrol generators.
More expensive than petrol generators
They are not as easy to purchase as petrol generators.
Must be maintained; fuel filters need changing.
One of the louder generators.
Flammable fuel.
PropaneMore fuel efficient compared to petrol or diesel generators.
Fewer fumes, although fumes are still immitted, care needs to be taken.
Fuel does not degrade over time.
They are more expensive than petrol or diesel generators.
Regular maintenance, such as propane fuel filters.
The propane tank is bulky for transporting.
It can be less powerful compared to diesel and petrol generators.
HybridIt can switch between two fuel sources (fuel and solar).
More cost-effective to run
Clean energy if using solar.
Ideal if you have restrictions due to a lack of ability to find fuel.
Ideal if fuel runs low as you can switch between
More expensive compared to fuel generators.
require specialised maintenance
Not as powerful.
Solar panels need to be maintained correctly.
Different types of generators pros and cons

Before buying any portable generator, you not only have to consider the type of generator you want to buy but also the pros and cons. Some generators are suitable for camping and will be allowed on-site. However, you also need to consider fuel transportation, so your generator does not run dry. Want to find out more to help you choose what to buy? Read our article on additional things you need to consider before buying.

What size generator should I buy for camping?

Portable generators typically have power outputs ranging from 1 kW to 7 kW. The general rule of thumb is to add all of the electrical item watts you will use together and divide by 1000 to determine the power size of a generator. This will provide you with a ballpark kW size of the generator you will need.

However, when an electrical device is first switched on, there is an electrical surge of up to 2 – 3 times the normal running electrical usage. Therefore you will need to include this in your calculations. For instance, a small 40-watt fan will have an electrical start-up of 120 watts, and to inflate your camp beds, you should expect a surge of 150 watts if the running is 50 watts.

If you are not sure of the running wattage of your device, there will be a label on the base. This will have the product serial number, model, voltage and wattage of the item.

If the wattage of the device is not known, you can work it out by the following:

Running watts can be calculated by: Amp x Voltage = Watts

To use a 1000w grill for cooking, you will need a generator between 1-2 kW. Giving you ample additional energy to operate multiple electrical devices at once.

A portable generator should have sufficient power to use an electric cooking stove, run your cool box and provide heating if the nights are colder. However, don’t restrict yourself to a standard hob stove when buying a cooking stove. We love cooking with a multi-cooker, which can easily be converted into an oven using foil. Please read our article on our recommended electric stoves, including induction stoves, air fryers and multi pan.

You can keep the cost of a generator down by only buying a generator for heating, lighting, boiling water or charging electrical devices. Removing the option of cooking on an electric stove provides you with the opportunity for a lower-powered generator. If you are unsure, read our gas or electric cooking stoves article. We walk you through the different considerations you need to think about before deciding on how you will cook.

Electrical camping items Watts and Kilowatts

Foldable travel kettle 0.6L (220V)240w0.24kW
Kettle from home 1.8L – 2L2000w – 3000w2-3 kW
Toaster – 2 slice600 – 700W0.6-0.7kW
Toaster – 4 slice1200 – 1400w1.2-1.4 kW
Electric stove – 1 hob750w – 1500w.075-1.4kW
Electric stove – 2 hob2000w – 2500w2-2.5kW
Electric induction stove – 1 hob240 – 2100w0.24-2.1kW
Electric induction stove – 2 hob2800w2.8kW
Electric oven800w0.8kW
Electric oven and hoboven – 1500w
Hob – 600 – 800w
Grill hotplate1500w1.5kW
George foreman grill medium1850w1.85kW
Sandwich maker750w.75kW
Air fryer1300w- 2000w1.3-2kW
Fan heater1000 – 2000 w1-2kW
Slow cooker 1.5L163w0.163kW
Slow cooker 2.5L180w0.18kW
Air pump150w0.15kW
Air conditioner1500 – 2000w1.5-2kW
Mini travel hair straighteners100w0.1kW
Travel Hair dryer1200 – 2000w1.2-2kW
Portable TV 12V36w0.036kW
Projector50w – 800w0.05-0.8kW
Electrical equipment conversion from Watts to Kilowatts

How noisy are generators?

When buying a generator apart from the power source, purity of energy is vital to consider the noise levels. Noise levels are rated in decibels (dB). Portable generators can have noise ratings of 60-85 dB.

Not only will the decibels of a generator affect where you can use your generator, but the campsite also will not allow a generator due to disruption to other campers. Before using a generator for camping, check with the site’s owner, as it is often stated that generators are not allowed or have to be under a specification decibel.

  • 50 – 55 dBs – quiet and suitable for campsites
  • 56 – 60 dBs – medium noise suitable for outside but ideally not for campsites
  • 61 – 70 dBs – will cause a disturbance outdoors
  • 71 plus dBs – Very loud and not ideal for campsites

It is also essential to consider the effect on the environment, and wildlife, especially if you are camping near livestock. Many working farms are introducing camping, or if you are camping in a forest area, you do not want to cause harm to animals.

Inverter generators tend to be the quietest, with a noise level of 50-60 dBS. They are designed to run quietly compared to non-inverter generators. Also, consider the distance of the generator from your tent and other campers. However, this is not a factor when camping. You want to keep your generator near you and not at a distance.

Consider how you want to light your camping area. Generators are not just for cooking or heating. If you want to light your campsite, you do not need a generator. Plus, if you do not have a silent generator, you will be restricted when using it. Rechargeable lanterns are ideal for camping; not only can you charge them at home before your trip they can also be used for additional power. Many lanterns have power banks built in. Please read our article on the types of lanterns, as a 200-lumens lantern is ideal for the inside of your tent. However, for lighting the areas outside of your tent, you will need 1000 lumens.

How pure should the energy of a generator be?

Energy purity for a generator is the quality of electricity produced that will provide a stable current for more sensitive electrical. These items include the running of audio equipment, laptops and phones. Portable generator energy is measured in the output’s harmonic distortion (THD). The lower the THD percentage, the higher the energy purity is, with no power fluctuations.

Not all portable generators produce pure energy, so it is essential to understand before buying.

Related questions

What happens if a diesel or petrol generator runs dry?

It is essential to monitor the fuel levels of the generators as if they run dry; it can cause difficulties trying to restart. Not only will it damage the engine, but other components of the generator, such as contamination of oil, with particles and damage to pistons and cylinders due to lack of lubrication.

In diesel generators, the fuel lubricates and cools by fuel. Therefore if it runs dry, damage can cause the fuel injection system to stop working.

It is essential to monitor and keep fuel topped up. If the fuel level is low and no fuel is available, it must be switched off to avoid expensive repair bills or purchasing a new generator.

This is because the fuel pump in a diesel generator is cooled and lubricated by the fuel, and if the pump runs dry, it can become damaged.

Can you use BBQ propane fuel in a propane generator?

BBQs and propane generators use the same fuel. However, generators need larger cylinders and have different fittings, and they will potentially require higher pressure. The regulators must be checked for compatibility with both generators and BBQs.

If the regulators are the same, they can be exchanged between different equipment. It is also essential to check that the propane cylinder is compatible with both generators and BBQs.


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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