There is one thing that any off-grid campers who prefer to travel off the beaten path deem as an absolute necessity: a portable generator. Having the best RV generator means you can enjoy the comfort of your electrical appliances while camping in far-off places without the power outlets offered at conventional RV campgrounds. Even RVers who have solar panels installed would bring along a generator as a secondary power source, or to power the air conditioner at night without overloading their system.
While your rig might come with an existing built-in generator, you might find that it is not sufficient for your higher-than-average electricity consumption. Whether you are looking for generators for RV use to replace your built-in unit or getting one as the primary power source while boondocking, you’ve come to the right place.
We have handpicked the most well-rounded models on the market, with something for every wallet and every particular camping need. You will also find everything you need to know to pick out the best RV generator here, all explained in beginner-friendly terms, including answers to frequently asked questions and maintenance tips.
If you’re in a hurry, take a look at this quick list of RVing Trends‘s top picks for the best RV generators or continue scrolling to check on our full list with in-depth reviews.
- Best Overall: Champion 3400-Watt Dual Fuel
- Best Portable RV Generator: DuroMax XP4400E Gas Powered
- Best Built-In RV Generator: Cummins Onan 2.8HGJBB-1120 RV QG
- Best Solar Powered RV Generator: Jackery Solar Generator 1000W
- Best Inverter RV Generator: Briggs & Stratton P2400 PowerSmart Series
- Best Quiet RV Generator: A-iPower SUA2000iV 2000 Watt
Generators For RV Use: The Basics
What It Is
Campers often rely on the utility hookups at conventional RV parks and campgrounds to charge their RV house battery as well as powering the lights and other electrical appliances or accessories in their home on wheels. But if you travel somewhere with no power outlets, what are your options? You have three choices: installing a solar charging system, buying the best RV generator, or both, depending on how you typically travel and your daily power consumption.
As its name suggests, a ‘generator’ is a power source that generates electricity to run all the electrical appliances and accessories in your rig. An RV generator also charges your RV house battery, as well as acting as a direct power source for your 120V AC outlets so that you can plug in your laptop or an electric grill for cooking outdoors.
How It Works
In essence, an RV generator works somewhat similarly to the internal combustion engine in your car. It is also a mechanical machine that generates power by continuously creating tiny combustions to keep its motor turning. For such combustions to happen, an optimal ratio of air and a type of fuel is required at precise moments in time, much like your car’s engine. While your car’s engine either uses gasoline or diesel, an RV generator uses gasoline or diesel or propane, or in the case of a dual use generator, a combination of two types of fuel.
Let’s take a look at a gas-fueled generator with the simplest motor design. There are two cylinders, each with a piston attached to a crankshaft. A precise mixture of air and gasoline enters the cylinders via the air input port and fuel input port. Then, a spark plug ignites the flammable mixture, generating energy, and the exhaust generated from the combustion escapes via an exhaust port.
To ensure that the generator can continuously supply power, the two cylinders are designed for constant firing: when one cylinder ignites, the other will let the air and fuel mixture enter. In the case of a diesel-motor generator, the diesel is highly compressed and thus easily ignited, so there is no need for spark plugs.
Why You Need One
For Above-Average Power Needs: If you travel in a Class B minivan with absolutely minimal power needs, like some LED lights and perhaps a mobile phone or laptop, your house battery might be sufficient. However, if you want to power even just one more item, you will need the best RV generator so that you can power everything you need without interruptions.
For Comfortable Off-Grid Trips: If you are the type of travelers who always park at conventional RV campgrounds that offer electrical hookups, you might not need an RV generator. However, if you are the adventurous travelers who like to stay away from the crowded RV campgrounds and enjoy the quiet, unspoiled locations farther off, you won’t have convenient access to power outlets.
While you can install RV solar panels to stay self-sufficient, most seasoned RVers still make a point to get the best RV generator as a backup on cloudy days with little sunlight, or for use at night or on hot days when you want to turn on the A/C without overloading the solar system. Having the best RV generator can make your trips so much more comfortable, especially in case of more extreme weather conditions.
For More Camping Possibilities: Being more self-sufficient and having to rely less on available power outlets at conventional stops means more traveling options for you. You can drive anywhere and set up camp in more isolated areas, and quiet, private and unspoiled nature is all yours to enjoy.
Best RV Generators: In-depth Reviews
Without further ado, below is handpicked list of the best generators for RV by RVing Trends. Each one is the most well-rounded, tried and tested model of its category, so there is something for every camping need and wallet. If you’re unfamiliar with RV generators, you can learn all about different types of RV generators as well as crucial criteria for selecting the best RV generator in the next two sections.
1. Best Overall: Champion 3400-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Inverter Generator
At a glance:
- Fuel type: gasoline or propane
- Fuel tank: 1.6 gallon
- Wattage: 3,400W starting, 3,100W running
- BTU: 15,000 BTUs
- Run time: max 7.5 hours (gasoline), 14.5 hours (propane)
- Parallel capacity: yes
- Weight: 95.7 lbs
- Noise Level: 59 dBA at 23 feet
- Included in kit: Propane Hose, USB Adapter, Battery, Oil Funnel
- Warranty: 3-year limited warranty with lifetime technical support
What it’s best for:
- If you have high power demand: This unit is powerful enough to run a 13,500 BTU A/C unit plus a few other appliances.
- If your power demand will likely increase in the near future: This unit is parallel-able, so you can run two units at the same time.
- If you want more flexible traveling opportunities: This unit operates on either gasoline or propane. This gives you more options with regards to refilling, thus you will have more choices in planning your trip.
- If you want less frequent refilling: Propane lasts longer than gasoline, thus using a combination of the two can give you longer run time from your dual fuel generator than a typical gas-powered generator. This means less frequent refilling and more travel possibilities.
While another inverter generator from the best selling brands Honda or Cummins with the same wattage rating would demand a much more hefty price tag, this little powerhouse from Champion might offer better value for money. At $1,046, which is only about half of some of its competitors. This 3,400W dual fuel inverter generator is widely loved for its well-rounded performance and reliability, with proof being its impressive 4.7 stars rating from some 2,000 buyers on Amazon and similar ratings on all major online platforms. This is the best dual fuel inverter generator for RV for campers who don’t want to spend too much but don’t want to compromise quality.
For its asked price, it truly delivers an impressive amount of power. It is capable of 3400 starting watts and 3100 running watts, which means it can operate a 13,000 BTU air conditioner plus a few other appliances. Do note that while a 15,000 BTU A/C demands exactly 3,400W for starting and 1,500W for running, using this unit for such a power draw is cutting it close and not recommended.
The second major selling point that makes it the best RV generator is its ability to operate on either gas or propane. This gives you more flexibility for refueling, thus easier trip planning and more travel possibilities. Also, as propane lasts longer than gasoline, you will get longer run time and thus less frequent refilling. At half load, it runs for up to 7.5 hours on gasoline or up to 14.5 hours on propane. Also thoughtfully provided in the kit is a propane hose, so setting it up on propane is very easy.
This inverter generator comes with a 120V 30-amp RV outlet (TT-30R), plus two 120V 20A household outlets with clean electricity (less than 3% THD or total harmonic distortions) and 12V DC outlet with dual USB adapter. Other handy features that campers appreciate include a Low Oil indicator light, Cold Start Technology that ensures a quick start in cold weather and a Quick Touch Panel that allows you easy monitoring.
This generator has all the great features I was looking for. The ability to run on gas or liquid propane, RV ready, quiet, safe for my sensitive electronics, portable, light weight, and affordable, With dual fuel you have the option of gas or propone. The unit comes equipped with a 30 amp RV plug in. At 59 dba 23 feet away this is one of the quietest running generators in the industry. With the economy mode feature turned on it is truly amazing how quiet it is. I love the propane option since it runs cleaner for the environment and keeps the engine burning cleaner, which will mean longer engine life. Also, propane can run up to 14.5 hours on a 20 lb. tank. That’s almost twice as long as a full tank of gas. The dual fuel feature is a real game changer if either fuel becomes scarce in some power loss event.
Another great feature Champion includes are the never flat wheels already installed and the stowaway handle that make this unit simple to move around. The inverter makes it so I can safely charge my cell phone, laptops, and run my TV’s without worrying about power spikes damaging these sensitive electronics. A standard open frame generator with no invertor can have power spikes that these small electronics cannot handle. Weighing in at just 95-lbs. the unit can be lifted with confidence using the built in handles. The last feature that amazes me is how affordable this generator is. Backed by industry leading customer service and a 3 year warranty, the price of this unit compared to other brands like Honda and Yamaha was a big factor in my purchase. From lights, a fridge or freezer, electric blankets, space heater, modem/router, TV’s, to a 15,000 BTU window or RV A/C, this generator is the best in it’s class!Shared by David L Partridge
2. Best Portable RV Generator: DuroMax XP4400E Gas Powered 4400 Watt Portable Generator
At a glance:
- Fuel type: gasoline
- Fuel tank: 3.9 gallon
- Wattage: 4,400 starting and 3,500 running
- Weight: 122 lbs
- Included in kit: oil funnel, DC cables, spark plug wrench, tool set, wheel kit
What it’s best for:
- Extra high power demand: This is the best RV generator if you want to run a 15,000 BTU A/C unit and other appliances at a time, or if you travel as a big group and more than one person would likely be using something at the same time.
- Budget camper with likely higher power needs in the future: You might not need such a powerful generator now, but you think your power demand might increase in the foreseeable future. In this case, this unit with its unbeatable price would be the best RV generator for the budget campers or first-time RV owners.
If you are willing to sacrifice the benefits of being able to use more than one fuel type, you can still get excellent power output and reliability for half the price of the above Champion dual fuel generator. For less than $500, it’s hard to find a generator powerful enough to run a 15,000 BTU A/C plus a few other appliances, not to mention its reliability and resistance to abuse in harsh weather conditions, as testified by thousands of full-time, four-season campers. In the portable generator category, there are a few high performers, but this little beast might be the best RV generator of the pack.
With its unmatched 4,400 starting wattage and 3,500 running wattage, this beast can run the most power-hungry 15,000 BTU air conditioning units plus a few other appliances at a time. A 15,000 BTU A/C would demand 3,400W for starting and 1,500W for running, so the 1,100W difference in starting wattage means you can turn on the A/C even when other appliances are running. Such a power output is very hard to come by, especially at below-$500 price point, so it’s not a surprise that this unit is hailed as the best RV generator for a variety of camping settings.
And you can expect many years of reliable service from this rugged all-metal unit, which has been proven to withstand extensive use outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions. Many RVers have used this generator for powering a small house during outages that lasts between a few days to weeks at a time without any problems. Such stellar performance is why it has won a 4.5 stars rating from some 6,000 buyers on Amazon.
This generator comes with different outlets for maximum compatibility in your applications: two 120V household GFCI outlets and one 120/240V 30A twist lock outlet. You can choose to run the generator at both 120V and 240V simultaneously, or at 120V only at full power. The panel also includes 12V DC charging posts for charging external batteries and a voltmeter.
A handy feature is that this unit automatically shuts off when it senses that the oil is low. This helps maximize the generator’s service life as well as prevent depleting your RV’s gasoline tank and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. The kit conveniently includes everything you need, with an oil funnel, DC cables, spark plug wrench, tool set and wheel kit.
I have been living off the grid this summer in central Washington, and we have been enduring a heat wave with temps climbing in the mid-90s and above. This little generator has power my RV through all of that and more, I have no run almost 50 gallons of propane and not one issue with this generator, it always starts, and runs sometimes at maximum output for hours. I do frequent oil changes, about one a week. The power is clean and my computers, TV and monitors all run fine. The only thing I do not like is the oil fill but I have learned to live with it. I am a big guy and old and having to get that low to check the oil is a pain not just because it is low but because it is tucked under the batter and motor. Still I love this and it has save me and my wife from a very long and hot summer. As for quiet I live on about an acre of land and I can barely hear it operate on the edges of my property, you can hold a conversation next to it….Shared by Garman
3. Best Built-In RV Generator: Cummins Onan 2.8HGJBB-1120 RV QG 2800 Watt Gasoline Generator
At a glance:
- Type: built-in generator
- Fuel type: gasoline
- Wattage: 2,800W running
- Noise level: 68dB from 10 feet
- Weight: 125.6 lbs
- Warranty: limited 3 year warranty
What it’s best for:
- Average power demand: This unit can run a 10,000 BTU A/C unit, which demands 2,200 watt for starting but only 1,100 watt to keep running.
- If you want the ease of owning a permanent generator: No more worrying about leaving it outdoors in inclement weather or theft (although a generator is heavy, many campers have had theirs stolen overnight), and no more troublesome loading, unloading, connecting and disconnecting every time you set up camp.
This Cummins Onan gasoline generator is the only built-in generator in this list, and is one of the best RV generators in the permanent generator category for its longevity and ease of use. It is gas-powered, and while it does boast as high a wattage rating as the above two options, it is capable of running a 10,000 BTU A/C unit plus a few other appliances.
In general, it is ideal for RVs of a small to average size. You won’t ever have to trouble yourself with all the loading, unloading, connecting and disconnecting of a heavy machine weighing some 100 pounds each time you settle at the campground or in case of inclement weather and you need to haul the unit inside.
It’s praised for being easy to use, and one such thoughtful feature in this regard is the side hatch that makes it easy to refuel and maintain. This unit comes with an internal muffler, and is rated at 68 decibels from 10 feet on a 50-percent load, which means it meets National Park limits on noise level. However, note that many campers who own a built-in generator from Honda and Yamaha claim that this unit is noisier from similar offerings from these two Japanese makers.
4. Best Solar Powered RV Generator: Jackery Solar Generator 1000W
At a glance:
- Fuel type: runs on solar power
- Wattage: 1,000W running
- Included in kit: one portable power station, two 100W solar panels, solar parallel adapter. AC adapter, car charger cable
- Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
What it’s best for:
- The Earth-friendly travelers: This unit runs on solar power, which means no harmful emissions and almost no noise during operation.
- Low to Average power demand: This unit cannot run an A/C, but is sufficient for a mini fridge, microwave, mini cooler, electric grill, TV, fan, and more.
- If you want flexible traveling opportunities: As long as you’re traveling somewhere with a lot of sun, not having to drive anywhere for refilling fuel means more time exploring nature and more flexibility as to where to go and how to plan your trip.
If you are an environmentally conscious camper, this solar-powered generator is surely the best RV generator for your long term use. It has quickly won the hearts of campers worldwide and has amassed an unmatched rating of 4.8 stars from over 1,500 buyers on Amazon, despite being a more recent invention in the world of RV generators.
This unit cost a little over $1,500, but if you take into account the long term savings on fuel cost, it’s not that expensive. In addition to the fact that this solar generator produces no emission and almost no noise, it offers a unique benefit over traditional generators that run on fuel. There’s no need for fuel refilling and monitoring, thus you’ll have complete freedom in planning your itinerary.
There are quite a few notable engineering details and thoughtful features that make this unit stand out as the best RV generator in the solar-powered category. The solar panels are made from durable ETFE films, which enables higher light transmittance and a longer life cycle. It also features three standard pure-sine wave AC outlets, which are superior in powering and protecting more sensitive AC appliances. An extra bonus is unlike most portable generators, this solar powered unit supports pass-through charging, that is it can be charged while using without shortening its battery life.
This is perfect for seniors who camp a lot. We looked at the Jackery 500 because of concerns over price and weight. My son, who has both, brought them over and I tested the weight and the 1000 was fine. Given the things we plan to use it with, the 1000 was the best choice. It fits comfortably in the hold of our RV. The great thing is we can use our electric appliances away from our unit as say on the picnic table. The 1000 is much easier to set up than a 20-pound propane and a lot cheaper than buying the 1-pound canisters. When we were in Alaska, we ran out of propane a couple of times. If we had had the Jackery that would not have been an issue. The worst case is we could have charged it as we were driving. We even use the panels to top up the RV house batteries.Shared by Les Porter
I got this for off-grid living in my Class C RV. I love that it’s simple to use. Easy to carry. Lots of options to recharge. I’ve recharged with the 100w solar panels and plugged into regular power. (Haven’t tried charging while driving yet.) The 1000 w size is perfect. Keeps multiple devices charged. Fun to use to cook – and yes, even works for my hairdryer. I use it in addition to my built-in generator and a mini-solar that basically only keeps my house battery charged.Shared by Janice T
5. Best Inverter RV Generator: Briggs & Stratton P2400 PowerSmart Series Inverter Generator
At a glance:
- Fuel type: gasoline
- Wattage: 2,400W starting and 1,800W running
- Parallel capacity: yes
- Run time: 8 hours at 25% load
- Noise level: 58dB
What it’s best for:
- Average power demand with sensitive electronics: This generator can power a 10,000 BTU A/C unit and a few other appliances. This inverter generator can better protect and run sensitive electronics such as laptops and mobile phones.
- If your power demand will likely increase in the near future: This unit is parallel-able, so you can buy the connector kit to run two units at the same time.
- If you prioritize quiet operations: Thanks to its noise-reducing shell, many buyers claim that this unit is much quieter than other units with the same listed decibel level.
You might not have heard of Briggs & Stratton, but they are known for their efficient and reliable generator engines, as well as other positives. For one, their P2400 PowerSmart Series Inverter Generator is praised as one of the best RV generator in terms of fuel efficiency. Its run time of 8 hours at 25% load on gasoline is better than most of its competitors. Another important selling point is its parallel capacity, so you can simply buy the separately sold connector kit to run two units at the same time for double the wattage output.
With a decent 2,400W starting wattage and a 1,800W running wattage can power a 10,000 BTU A/C unit and a few other appliances once the A/C is up and running. A total 4,800W starting wattage and a 3,600 running wattage is more than enough to run a 15,000 BTU A/C unit plus a few other power-demanding appliances at the same time. An extra bonus is thanks to inverter generator technology, this unit is proven to better protect and run sensitive electronics such as laptops, phones and gaming systems.
This unit boasts a specially designed noise reducing protective shell, which, as many campers have praised, makes this unit quieter than other generators also claim a 58dB noise level. Other handy features include LED indicator lights for low oil and overload alerts and CO Guard Carbon Monoxide Shutdown Technology that automatically shuts down the unit when it detects harmful levels of carbon monoxide.
I am very impressed with this generator. It runs very quietly (about as loud as a new car engine) and was great for all my power needs while camping. It holds about a gallon of gas. I filled it and started it every night at 7pm and ran fans, some small lights, and chargers for phones/tablets all night and this finally ran out of gas at about 7:30am, so I was getting 12+ hours on about a gallon of gas under light load. I hope the video is helpful to show you how very quiet this is. Even right next to the tents, we didn’t need to speak loudly over it – just as quiet as having a car running. Super easy to start, always first pull. I couldn’t be happier and will always have this ready to go for camping and for power outages.Shared by Lee M Gordon
6. Best Quiet RV Generator: A-iPower SUA2000iV 2000 Watt Gas-Powered Portable Inverter Generator
At a glance:
- Fuel type: gasoline
- Wattage: 2,000W starting and 1,600W running
- Run time: 4 hours at full load or 7 hours at half load
- Noise level: 52dB
- Weight: 48 lbs
What it’s best for:
- Average power demand: This generator cannot run an A/C, but can run several commonly used appliances at a time.
- If you prioritize quiet operation: This is one of the quietest RV generators on the market by far, which means you won’t lose sleep at night while it runs.
- If you prioritize portability: Weighing in at merely 48 lbs, it’d be easy to load, unload and setting up this unit at the campground.
This gas-powered generator is another best selling model within the portable inverter category. Although it’s not as powerful as some other offerings above, its 2,000W starting and 1,600W running is still sufficient to power many commonly used appliances at the same time, including the more power-hungry fridge, microwave, oven, vacuum cleaner and hair blow dryer. Furthermore, this is quite a good deal at its super reasonable price.
Its low idle technology allows for improved fuel efficiency and thus an extended run time of 4 hours at full load and 7 hours at 50% load. Other handy features include a low oil alert light and low oil automatic shutdown feature, helping to maximize the unit’s operation and lifespan.
This unit from A-iPower is also by far the most lightweight and portable on the market, so moving it around would be less troublesome. It’s also perhaps the most quiet portable generator ever, which means you’re welcomed at any National Park and RV campground and a more peaceful time enjoying what nature has to offer.
Bought this to bring along with my RV to places that don’t have power available. It has a full power and low idle setting and you can hardly hear it 25 feet away on the low setting and unless you need to run several things at once the low idle is ideal. Additionally it saves a lot of gasoline on the low setting. I ran it for 8 hours with only a C-PAP machine and it used maybe a quarter of a gallon of gas. On the full throttle setting, I can run my whole RV (except the microwave when other appliances are also going) This isn’t a Honda, but the Honda has features that are seldom needed and this is about 35% of the Honda priceShared by Kennymac
Types of RV Generators
Built-In vs Portable RV Generators
Some campers prefer having their generators built permanently into their rig, as this means no more loading, unloading, connecting and disconnecting each time you set up camp. These generators are frequently tied into an onboard fuel source or backup battery for dry camping. In general, campers find that the best built in RV generator are easier to use than the portable units.
Regarding power output, built-in generators win by a long stretch, making them the ideal choice for big-group travelers who camp in a large motorhome with many residential-grade, power-hungry appliances. While most RV generators produce between 2,000 and 4,000 watts of electricity, a built-in unit can put out as much as 10,000 watts.
That said, far more campers opt to buy the best portable generator for RV, for a number of good reasons. Firstly, built-in generators cost much more. Secondly, permanent units require costly professional installation, which would set you back by anywhere between $1,000 and $2,500. Meanwhile, portable models do not require installation or removal when it’s time for replacement, which is not very straightforward for the novice, plus it’s easier to inspect and repair.
Furthermore, due to their portability, it’s a more sensible choice when you’re renting RVs instead of owning one, and you can use it for other applications when you’re not traveling. When you sell your rig, you can take your generator with you for later use instead of selling your built-in generator with the RV.
RV Generators by Fuel Type
As mentioned before, RV generators these days can run on an assortment of fuel. Each type does come with some unique advantages and downsides, so you need to keep this in mind when deciding which is the best RV generator in terms of fuel efficiency as well as cost efficiency.
At a glance:
- Propane-powered generators: In case you own a small-size RV with below average power needs, a propane-powered generator might be the most cost effective option.
- Diesel-powered generators: In general, a diesel generator is the best option if you have a large-size luxury Class A or Class C trailer or a fifth wheel that already runs on diesel. This means you can tap into the existing diesel tank to run your generator.
- Gas-powered generators: Although it’s very rare, you might opt for a gas-powered generator even when your rig runs on diesel. A gas-powered generator generally boasts a higher power output than the other types, so you might prefer it for your large-size luxury motorhome packed with residential grade appliances, which consume a lot of power.
- If your rig falls into the mid-size category, either a diesel or a gas generator will be sufficient for your power needs. But of course, you need to take into account all the pros and cons of each type to determine which is the best RV generator in your case.
1. Gasoline Powered Generators
Affordability and convenience: Gas is very affordable. Plus, you can find gas stations anywhere, which means refilling your RV generator will be very convenient. For this reason, a gas-powered generator is the best RV generator with regards to convenience.
Power: This type of generator also produces more power than the other types, which means you can power more appliances at the same time. For this reason, the best generator for RV air conditioner are often fueled by gas.
Safety: As for the downside, stockpiling gasoline in big volumes as a reserve is not safe. This is because gasoline is highly combustible, so you need to be extra careful when handling it. Furthermore, gasoline contains more impurities, thus has a shorter shelf life compared to other fuel types.
Maintenance: Another important note is that while buying and refilling gasoline is the most convenient, you should not leave leftover gasoline in the generator because it might clog up the machine, causing it to malfunction or die prematurely. To prevent this, you need to run a gas-powered generator regularly to continuously cycle fuel in order for optimal performance and lifespan.
2. Diesel Powered Generators
Fewer choices: Many Class A motorhomes runs on diesel, so buying a diesel-powered generator means both your RV and your generator can use the same fuel source and this will save you a lot of trouble. There is a catch though: generators fueled by diesel are typically the most expensive of all types, and compared to the popular gas-fueled generators, diesel generators are quite limited in number.
Power and Safety: In terms of power output, this type of generator cannot compare to the gas-powered type, but it does produce more power than its propane counterpart. An advantage of using diesel is that it burns cleaner and is safer than gasoline: diesel is less flammable than, thus this type of generator is safer to handle and store away. Diesel also has less impurities, thus a longer shelf life, making it safer to build a fuel reserve.
Inconvenience: As for the downsides, diesel is smellier and much harder to find than gasoline and propane. This means if you want to make sure you’re never out of fuel, you will need to plan your trip and keep an eye on your daily power consumption.
Noise: Another drawback is that diesel-powered generators are generally noisier compared to its gas and propane counterparts. And while this might not be an issue for every RVer, diesel generators tend to come with heavier components and parts.
3. Propane (LP) Powered Generators
Affordability: A propane generator for RV is generally more affordable than the other two types, making it popular among the budget and/or first-time campers.
Earth Friendliness and Quietness: In addition, this type of generator is more earth friendly, as propane burns cleaner, lasts longer and is safer to handle as it comes in handy canisters. Propane generators are also quieter than units that run on gas or diesel, so you can enjoy the view in peace without disturbing wildlife.
Power: Propane-powered generators for camping pales in comparison with its gas and diesel counterparts when it comes to power output. Therefore, it is not suitable for full-time camping and for luxury motorhomes with high power demand. This also means that if you’re willing to compromise a little on power due to a limited budget, it is a must to always monitor your daily power consumption to make sure you are not overloading your generator.
Runtime: This might not be a drawback for campers who go on spontaneous short trips at a time, but this type of RV generator is not made for long trips and full-time camping. This is because your liquid propane tank is quite small while propane burns faster than gas and diesel, so you would typically use up a full propane tank within 24 hours. This means that if you are planning a trip that lasts over a day, you should carry as many gas cylinders as you can as extra fuel.
4. Dual Use Generators
As its name suggests, a dual fuel generator for RV uses two different types of fuel, most often diesel and natural gas, either mixed in a certain ratio or alone at a time. This type of generator most typically starts on diesel alone, since diesel has a lower ignition temperature than natural gas.
Natural gas is cheaper than diesel, which means cost saving in the long run. Furthermore, natural gas burns cleaner than diesel, so a mix of the two will result in lower emissions. Another advantage of this type of generator is that since natural gas burns cleaner, it would require less routine maintenance than a diesel powered generator.
5. Solar-Powered Generators
Going green is the trend in every aspect of life, and this also applies to RV generators. The latest generation of generators for camping use run on solar power, so as long as you travel somewhere with plenty of sun, you can stay powered while being gentle to Planet Earth. Unlike the other types, this type of generator produces no emissions and almost no noise, so you’re not inhaling harmful gas and also not disturbing wildlife at your campground.
This type of generator typically comes with one or more solar panels and a solar station. While offerings in this category often cost more than $1,000, the savings in fuel cost and as well as the time spent on refilling fuel would more than offset this initial investment.
RV Generators by Power Generation Method
Another important categorization is inverter generators vs alternator generators, which is considered as the conventional type of generators. First, let’s see how they work, and then their pros and cons.
Alternator or Conventional Generators
Conventional generators use a mechanical alternator to produce alternating current or AC power that’s ready for use. Although this might sound more ideal, this single-phase mechanism results in harmonic distortions now and then, which distorts the shape of the voltage sine waves. All you need to understand is that harmonic distortions can cause permanent damages to delicate electrical components and are detrimental to sensitive appliances.
While an alternator generator produces electricity in a single phase, an inverter model does it in three phases. An inverter generator also uses an alternator to produce alternating current like a conventional model, but this AC current is converted into direct current or DC, which is then inverted back into cleaner AC power by a microprocessor. This AC-DC-AC mechanism allows for negligible harmonic distortions and more stable voltage sine wave, which means safer operations for your most sensitive electronics.
Power output: In general, an alternative generator would be the ideal choice if you own a large RV with loads of power-hungry residential-grade appliances, since they boast a bigger fuel tank and produce more power. Alternator generators often have a power rating of up to 10,000 watts, while that of an average standard inverter generator for RV often stays around 5,000 watts. So if you have moderate power consumption, an inverter generator would be optimal, thanks to its many advantages, apart from being less powerful than a conventional generator.
Efficiency: Although they produce less power, inverter generators are more fuel efficient. Higher efficiency you will need to refill the fuel tank less often. While a conventional alternator generator runs at a constant rate regardless of the power draw, an inverter model only works hard enough to meet the current power demand at any given time. This superior fuel efficiency is one reason why inverter generators are designed with smaller fuel tanks than alternator generators.
Portability: The first advantage of inverter generators is that they are much more compact and lighter than conventional units, making them easy to handle and more ideal in a camping setting. The best RV generator of the type often can be carried by hands, while you might need a helper to move a conventional model around.
Cost and others: The best RV generator in the inverter category are more expensive than its conventional counterparts, but if you’re a full-time camper, you will be saving money in fuel in the long run. Furthermore, inverter generators are generally very quiet and produce lower emissions, which also means a more pleasant experience in the long run.
Choosing The Best RV Generator For Camping: Criteria
Important Note: A common question is which fuel type is cheapest to run. Many people make the mistake of just looking at fuel price, but another measurement that comes into the equation is how much power one gallon of that fuel can produce. Propane produces 91,500 BTU per gallon while gasoline produces 116,090 BTU per gallon. Meanwhile, diesel is more expensive than both but produces 137,381 BTU per gallon, which means it’s actually not as “expensive” as it seems. Furthermore, more advanced, better engineered generators can be more fuel efficient than others.
There are also other crucial factors the come into play:
Diesel: Which is the best RV generator in terms of fuel type depends on your budget and preference, due to the unique pros and cons of each type. In general, a diesel generator is the most troublesome option if you have a large-size luxury Class A or Class C trailer or a fifth wheel that already runs on diesel, since you can tap into the existing diesel tank to run your generator. While this type burns cleaner and is safer to handle than its gas-powered counterpart, there are fewer models to choose from and are more expensive, plus refilling diesel is less convenient.
Dual – Diesel + Natural gas: Compared to a diesel powered generator, a dual generator for RV burns cleaner, requires less maintenance and is cheaper to run.
Propane: While diesel powered generators are sufficient for average power consumption, if you own a small-size RV with below average power needs, a propane-powered generator might be the most cost effective option. They are cheaper, burn cleaner and require less maintenance. The major drawback apart from limited power output is short runtime of 24 hours maximum, so they are only suitable for spontaneous weekend getaways.
Gasoline: A gas-powered generator generally boasts the highest power output, so it is ideal in case you own a large-size luxury motorhome packed with residential grade appliances, which consume a lot of power.
Solar power: Solar power offers a unique benefit: it cancels the dependence on a depletable fuel and thus offers more traveling flexibility.
Power Output vs Price
In general, the higher the power output of an RV generator, the higher its price. Below is what you can expect from different types of RV generators.
Alternator vs Inverter Generators: Alternator or conventional models can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000, depending on the model’s power output. Most models produce some 4,000 to 5,000 watts, while the best RV generator of the type can put out upt to 7,000 watts. At the upper end of the scale, you’ll get a big, powerful beast that will handle all your RV electrical needs, including air conditioning.
While conventional generators are tried and true machines, inverter generators boast more advanced technology for a generally more pleasant experience. That said, they are more expensive while producing less power than conventional generators. For the same price points at around $1,000, an inverter RV generator typically gives you a power output of between 2,000 and 3,500 watts, while an alternator unit would often produce twice that level.
Permanent vs Portable RV Generators: The major considerations when it comes to choosing between a portable and a permanent generator are power output and price. A built-in unit can put out on average between 10,000 and 12,500 watts, and cost around $10,000. Meanwhile, the best RV generator in the portable category typically produces between 2,000 and 4,000 watts only, at the cost of some $1,000.
Other considerations are portability, the need for installation, and whether there is enough space on an older RV to fit in a permanent unit, which is often larger and heavier. So while a permanent unit is the best RV generator when it comes to power output, you should consider every aspect of your camping circumstances to arrive at a balanced option.
Campers who opt for built-in generators are often full-time or committed travelers who travel as a big family in a full-blown Class A or Class C motorhome or fifth wheel. This type of vehicle is typically fully equipped with the most power-hungry appliances made for use in the homes. Furthermore, when you’re traveling with other people, more than one person would be drawing power at the same time, so you would need an extra powerful built-in unit if you don’t want to overload your generator.
* Important Note: If you’re on a budget, the best RV generator for you need not be the most powerful one available. You will get a better deal with a unit that is sufficient for your specific power needs, but this requires you to do some math. The next section will detail how to go about estimating your daily power consumption.
If you like to boondock or often travel to far off locations, it would be less convenient for you to refill your fuel tank to keep your generator running. Trip planning is always a must, but to avoid a potential logistic headache, you should get the best RV generator with a reasonable fuel consumption rate.
Inverter generators generally are more fuel efficient than conventional alternator generators, since they don’t run at a constant rate but work just hard enough to meet the power demanded from it at a time. In addition, the best RV generator nowadays often features eco-modes designed to reduce fuel consumption. While in this mode, the generator throttles depending on the current power draw.
A side note: Open-frame generators, which have an exposed engine for easy maintenance, tend to burn fuel significantly faster than its closed-frame counterparts.
Surge protection: There are a number of useful features to look for if you wish to be free from worrying about potential electrical mishaps, which can be quite troublesome when you’re in the middle of nowhere. The best RV generator with a surge protection feature would prevent electrical overload that could damage your appliances. Another handy feature is built-in Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI), which prevents electrocution by cutting power in a fraction of a second.
Fuel Gauge: The best RV generator often includes a fuel gauge and a convenient oil-level warning light so that you can easily check if your generator tank has enough fuel to run on and refill it in time.
Paralleling Capacity: This is often overlooked, but might be highly desirable for RVers who travel as a big family and thus have high demand for power. Several generators might meet your power consumption now, but if you think your needs might grow in the near future, the best RV generator to get is one that can be run in parallel. In case you do need extra power output later down the road, you can buy another generator with parallel capacity and run the two at the same time. Note that not all RV generators have this capacity.
Outlets: RVs have specific outlets for your generator. However, you might want to run lights or speakers for lounging outside. Getting a generator with several outlets would be handy: 120 volt, 12 volt DC, USB. While you’re at it, consider buying a generator extension cord with household-type 120 volt sockets, so that you only need to run one cable to power other electrical equipment outside.
Noise and Emission
A noisy generator might ruin your peaceful time, plus remember that many RV campgrounds and typically National Parks have a noise limit of typically 60 decibels at 50 feet from the source. Meanwhile, an average RV generator typically runs at around 80 decibels. Therefore, getting the best RV generator that runs quietly means more travel opportunities and more enjoyable outings. In general, generators fueled by gas and propane are quieter than the diesel powered type. Also, powerful generators are typically noisier. The more they have to work at a given time, the louder they are.
As for emissions, propane powered generators and dual fuel generators that run on diesel and natural gas burns cleaner than those run on gasoline and diesel alone. The best generator for RV camping in this regard would claim CARB and EPA Compliance, which are tested and proven to produce much less air pollution than non-compliant units.
How To Determine Generator Size or Power Output
A common question regarding RV generators is “what size generator for RV do I need”. This depends on whether you travel with companions – which means more than one person would likely be drawing power at the same time, and how much and how many power-hungry appliances you have in your rig, including air conditioners, heaters, fridges, ovens, microwaves, and vacuum cleaners. The best RV generator with the highest power output are often the most expensive.
Estimate daily power consumption: To pick out the best RV generator that can sufficiently meet your power needs, the surest method is to estimate your average daily wattage drawn. Make a list of the appliances that you use on a daily basis, look for running wattage and starting wattage labeled on the stickers of each item, then add up the wattage.
Add up Starting Wattage: While you might think that the only number you would need is the running wattage, it is safer to get a powerful generator that can supply the total starting wattage of your appliances. This is because devices with electric motors typically have a much higher starting wattage than running wattage, as more electricity is required to get the motor up and running. These include the hair blow dryer, fridge, microwave, oven, dishwasher and the A/C.
For instance, a typical RV microwave convection oven only needs about 200 to 600 watts to run, but demands an average starting wattage of up to 2,200 watts upon starting up. A small refrigerator needs only 180-600 running wattage but some 500-900 starting wattage. A portable vacuum cleaner requires 400 running wattage but 1,000 starting wattage. Interestingly, a hair blow dryer needs 1,300 running wattage and 1,500 starting wattage, quite power hungry for something so small.
In your calculations, allow for the fact that you won’t likely run every appliance at once, but it’s still better to overestimate than to underestimate. You don’t want to be watching TV and lose power the moment someone turns on the bathroom light.
Start from the most power hungry item: Another important note is to start your calculations from the items that demand the most electricity, which is the air conditioner. A 10,000 BTU unit typically has a 2,200 starting wattage and 1,100 running wattage, while a 13,500 BTU unit requires 2,900 starting wattage and 1,300 running wattage. The most powerful A/C units are 15,000 BTU units, which demands some 3,300 starting wattage and 1,500 running wattage.
RV Generators Maintenance Guide
Install It Properly: This is a no-brainer, but it is still overlooked by many. Your RV might come with a convenient generator tray for setting up your unit, or you can make your own. Mount your generator somewhere it can sit level and stable, then secure it firmly in place with a few solid panels, some screws, clamps, straps and brackets.
Always Use Fresh Fuel and Fuel Cycling: For your generator’s optimal operation and lifespan, always fill it with fresh fuel, as old fuel can develop build-ups and clog the generator’s engine. Even one-month old fuel will deteriorate, which means you should get rid of old fuel before putting your generator in storage. One important maintenance tip is to run your generator regularly even when not needed as a way of fuel cycling.
Run It Often: In addition to fuel cycling, every machine needs to be turned on from time to time to stay in working order. A unit that’s put in storage for too long might encounter engine surging and starting problems. Schedule to run your RV generator for at least 30 minutes every 3 months, and it’s essential to turn on some appliances to draw power from the generator.
But Don’t Overwork It: Any mechanical machine will not last long if it is often overworked. One simple good habit to keep your generator healthy is to turn on devices one at a time, at least a few seconds apart. This is to avoid overloading your generator, as appliances that run on a motor typically draw much more wattage just to start up than to keep running.
Never Use Up The Fuel Tank: Generators produce power by constantly rotating the magnetic coils along each other. A generator with an empty fuel tank will continue to draw power from the coils despite not producing electricity. This will demagnetize the magnetic coils and you will need to repair them. Therefore, make a habit of checking your generator tank regularly, and keep track of how fast your different appliances are consuming fuel from the generator.
Invest In A Cover or Enclosure: While RV generators are made to be used outside, it’s always a good idea to shield your camping equipment from the elements to maximize their lifespan. Even the best RV generator would benefit from a purpose-design generator cover or enclosure.
Regular Inspections: It’s recommended by experts that you should inspect your generator once every month to make sure everything is in working order, including fuel tank, oils, coolants, and filters.
Periodic Servicing: While the recommended interval for servicing is at least once every six months, owners of the very best RV generator often have their unit serviced as often as once every four months. If you get an expensive generator, keeping it in good shape will allow you to enjoy many more years of service down the road.
Proper Storage : Before putting your RV generator away for the off season, change the oil/oil filter, drain the fuel tank and fuel lines to get rid of old fuel, add a fuel stabilizer, then run it briefly to work the stabilized fuel through the system. Schedule to run your unit at least 30 minutes every month to keep it running smoothly. Also wipe down the exterior and let it dry completely to prevent rust, then put it in a cool, dry place, and cover it to keep it free from dust buildups.
RV Generators: FAQs
1. How much does it cost to install a permanent generator?
The average installation cost for a built-in generator is around $1,000 to $1,200, but depending on your model, the cost can range anywhere from $600 to as much as $2,500.
2. What is the difference between an inverter generator and a normal generator?
Technicality aside, inverter generators are better at preventing electrical damages to your most sensitive appliances. In addition, while inverter generators pale in comparison when it comes to power output, they are more fuel efficient, which means less frequent refilling and lower fuel cost in the long run. They are much more portable than conventional generators, but they are more expensive.
3. Is it cheaper to run an RV generator on gas or propane?
Propane is cheaper than gasoline and generally lasts longer. However, propane produces fewer BTUs per gallon of fuel than gasoline, so while refilling would cost less, you would need more propane to power the same appliances compared to gasoline. Propane produces 91,500 BTU per gallon while gasoline produces 116,090 BTU per gallon (for context, diesel is more expensive than both but produces 137,381 BTU per gallon). Furthermore, certain generators are more advanced or better engineered and thus more fuel efficient than others.
4. How long do RV generators last?
As for the lifespan of RV generators, built-in models would last some 15,000 to 20,000 hours while the best generator for camper in the portable category would typically give you good service for 10,000 to 25,000 hours.
5. Can you run an RV generator all night?
Depending on the specific model, you can safely run your portable RV generator continuously for anywhere between 8 and 20 hours. Meanwhile, a properly maintained built-in generator can safely run for days on end.
6. Can you run an RV generator while plugged into shore power?
Yes, you can simply crank your generator and let it run, given that your RV has a built-in auto transfer switch (ATS), or you have one install to connect your generator to your rig. This is because the transfer switch is designed to recognize the generator as the only one single primary power source when there are two sources present.
When you’re connected to shore power and run your generator, you will hear a ‘clunk’ several seconds after the generator runs. This is the transfer switching switching over to the generator power. When you turn off the generator, you will hear the ‘clunk’ again as it switches to shore power. When you disconnect from shore power, you won’t hear the ‘clunk’ though because the transfer switch is already on the generator.
7. What size generator do I need to run AC in an RV?
What size generator to run RV AC depends on the BTU rating of your air conditioning unit:
10,000 BTU Air Conditioner: A window air conditioning unit, which is 10,000 BTU, typically demands 2,200 watt for starting but only 1,100 watt to keep running. So in most cases, to run this A/C unit, a portable 2,000-watt RV generator with a high starting watt capacity is sufficient.
13,500 BTU Air Conditioner: A 13,500 BTU A/C unit typically has a 2,900 starting wattage and 1,300 running wattage while, which requires at least a 3,400W inverter generator to run. Keep in mind the difference in the starting wattage and running wattage: this means that after turning on your A/C, you should wait a while before starting to use other appliances. Then you would have 2,100W left to spare.
15,000 BTU Air Conditioner: A 15,000 BTU unit typically requires 3,400 starting wattage and 1,500 running wattage. One option is a 3,800W RV generator, however the only thing available that is that powerful is an alternator generator, which will be large and loud. If you want to stick with the more portable 3,400W inverter generator, the safest choice is to run two such generators in parallel. This is because you’re cutting it too close with only one 3,400W generator to run an A/C unit that draws 3,400W upon starting up, plus one generator is not enough for running multiple appliances at a time.
8. What size generator do I need for a 30 amp/50amp RV?
For a 30-amp RV, you will need at least a 3,000W generator, which will allow you to run an A/C, but you won’t be able to go over 3,600W. Meanwhile, the best RV generator for a 50-amp RV should be rated for 12,000 to 12,500-watt.
For more details, check out the full answer here: What Size Generator for 30 Amp RV Should You Buy?
9. Can you run a RV generator while driving?
Yes, you can safely run a built-in generator while driving your RV, as your unit is directly connected to the RV, firmly secure in position and does not emit exhaust fumes like portable generators.
If you wish to run your portable generator while driving, it’s not recommended as it’s unsafe and troublesome. Firstly, in the case of a propane powered generator, note that many state or local laws prohibit the use of propane while driving, or even carrying propane on board. In the case of a gasoline powered unit, the generator most likely taps into the same gas tank as your rig, so you must make sure to have sufficient gasoline before the trip, or else most RV generators these days would automatically shut down once the fuel tank is depleted down to a certain level.
And regardless of the type of fuel your generator runs on, it will emit some considerable amount of harmful gas. So if you don’t want to inhale all this, you will need a cargo carrier to hold the generator outside your rig and a way to secure it in place, which is not worth the hassle.
10. How far should a generator be from a camper?
To prevent you from inhaling the harmful emissions from your portable generator, it should be located at least 10 feet away from your rig’s doors and windows.
11. How do you hook up a generator to an RV?
Follow the instructions for your specific generator, but the general steps look something like this:
Step 1: Check your vehicle’s owner manual to see if your RV is generator ready.
Step 2: If your RV and the generator use the same type of fuel, make sure you have a pump to transfer the fuel from your RV’s fuel tank to the generator.
Step 3: To prevent electrical issues, like in the case of lightning or fires, it’s recommended that you install an auto transfer switch to connect the generator to your RV, if your generator doesn’t already come with a built-in auto transfer switch. This will let your RV automatically alternate between the generator’s power and shore power, so that you can safely run the generator while your RV is plugged into the power outlets at RV parks and campgrounds.
Step 4: The first step in hooking up the generator is to drive the grounding rod into the ground where you want to install your unit. Connect the grounding rod to the unit with the provided copper wire. Then connect the generator to your RV using the generator cable in your rig and you’re ready to turn on your generator.
12. How to make an RV generator quieter?
By sound deflection: This method reduces noise by directing sound waves in a way that they cancel each other out. A muffler does exactly this and can reduce the noise by 10Db. However, it will cost several hundred dollars including installation, and installation is not straightforward if you plan to do it yourself. Seasoned RVers often claim that the effect is not worth all the money and time.
By sound absorption: An object takes in sound energy, thereby reducing the perceived noise. An example is a thickly carpeted music hall. Applying this principle, a baffle box that fits over your generator will soundproof it. You can build your own from a few sheets of plywood, but more expensive materials are more effective, namely fiberglass, fiberboard and noise-reducing foam. But remember to make sure the generator has enough space to breathe, as it requires air intake for its engine to run smoothly.
Using a combination of sound deflection and absorption: You can also redirect sound so that an object absorbs it. Applying this rule, the cheapest and easiest way to quiet a generator is to lean some plywood sheets against the generator. The operational noises will be redirected towards and get absorbed into the ground, which effectively quiets the generator by 10dB.