While many larger Class A or Fifth Wheels provide their own onboard generator, most travel trailers and even some Class Cs may not come equipped with a portable power source. In fact most new travel trailers by default do not include a generator when purchased new. And even if they do, they may not be optimal to provide the required power for owners. This leaves many searching for the best bang for their buck for portable power. In order to make the best decision you’ll need to consider your regular power needs, noise level you’re willing to accommodate, and the desired fuel, among many other considerations as outlined below. (Our Ultimate Noise Test Video Results At Bottom Of Post)
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RV Generator Comparison Chart
|Cost: $$$$||Cost: $$$||Cost: $$$||Cost: $$|
|Fuel: Propane||Fuel: Gas||Fuel: Gas||Fuel: Gas & Propane|
|Powers 15K BTU AC: YES||Powers 15K BTU AC: NO||Powers 15K BTU AC: NO||Powers 15K BTU AC: YES|
|Parallel Compatible: NO||Parallel Compatible: YES||Parallel Compatible: YES||Parallel Compatible: YES|
|Weight: 214 pounds||Weight: 46 pounds||Weight: 44 pounds||Weight: 95.7 pounds|
Generator For RV Purchasing Considerations
One feature that many people worry about is the size of their new generator. Does it have enough power to run all of your electronics without completely draining the gas supply that you have available? This is important because a lot of the newer RVs have most of the luxuries that you would find at home. This will make life in an RV more comfortable, but will also not only consume more power but also consume more fuel. Therefore, the best stage of planning or research before purchasing a generator is accurately estimating how much power you will require. If you’re trying to start and run a 15,000 BTU air conditioner, a 2000W portable generator will not cut it. You’ll need to run multiple generators in parallel or look for a larger unit.
In addition to considering how much power you’ll need, it is worth considering how clean the power provided needs to be. For example, iPhones, Macbooks, and other electronics are sensitive to the power they consume. For sensitive electronics, pure sine is best. Don’t ask us how we know how much a replacement battery for a macbook air is…..
Champion Inverter Generator Powerful Enough To Start And Run 15,000 BTU AC
Portable Vs Permanent
Another important consideration is whether or not you want a portable generator or one that you must leave attached to your RV at all times. Many chose a portable unit because of the versatility they offer. Not only will this generator power the essentials in an RV or Travel Trailer, they can be used for other applications like tailgating, BBQ or power outages caused by storms. Furthermore, most brands offer a parallel capability, which allows two units to work together, producing twice as much power. This is how most RVers will produce enough power to run their air conditioning units assuming they’ve opted for a portable power source. On board or permanent applications are more common in Class A or Fifth wheels as these are meant for longer term or even permanent usage.
Noise is also an important aspect of a generator. Would you be able to sleep with a generator thumping nearby? Most are designed to run quietly, but some are quieter than others. Keep in mind that if it is too noisy, it may annoy nearby campers, neighbors, and family members. Also, many National Parks and even private campground limit noise to 60 decibels at 50 feet. For more information you can read our full post on the best camping generator here. See our full decibel video test at bottom of post.
Below are the results of our Ultimate Decibel Test. (Video At Bottom Of Post)
Portable generators will usually run around 50-70 decibels depending on the load, and open frame generators are often above 100 decibels. Although open frame generators provide more power (usually), these type of generators can quickly become a nuisance to not only the campers themselves but the entire campground. This is because most open frame units do not offer an eco or economy mode which varies the throttle of the generator based on load requirements. The take away here is to consider whether the generator will be used strictly for camping/RVing (whether in campgrounds or boon docking) or for job site usage as well. This is where an open frame may make sense when heavy loads are consistently needed.
Honda- Quiet enough to run near campsite, BBQ & Tailgates
Lastly, you’ll want to consider how often you will need to add more fuel to your generator. If you plan to be out in the middle of nowhere for the weekend, having to travel to town for fuel will be inconvenient and defeat the purpose of getting away. Some types of generators offer an eco mode which throttles based on power demand. Open frame generators will burn through fuel exponentially faster than portable units because open frame units run at consistently higher power output rates, thus more fuel consumption. Often two portable generator units running in parallel will be more economical compared to an open frame unit of comparable size to the paralleled setup. This is one of the biggest selling points of running two generators in parallel as opposed to purchasing a single larger unit.
Which Type of Fuel Is Best For Recreational Vehicle Generator?
There are four types of common generator fuel. They are regular gas, propane, natural gas and diesel fuels. Most portable generators run off of regular gas, just as you would put into your vehicle. The rest of these gas types are mostly used in on-board generators, but this will depend greatly on the type of RV or travel trailer you have or intend to have. Rarely would it make sense to have a diesel generator on board a smaller travel trailer. Usually, the fuel type will match that of the motor coach. For example, a diesel pusher will usually have a diesel generator on board. Most travel trailers use a propane unit or gas (which matches the tow vehicle).
A diesel generator will most often be found on a RV that uses diesel fuel, like a diesel pusher. It is also preferred by people who need more power. Many larger job sites or even emergency backup generators for large applications will be diesel. It is worth noting that RV diesel generators are hard to find, as the demand is limited. Very rarely would someone purchase a diesel generator to add on to a RV.
Gas powered motorhomes or travel trailers are typically going to use gasoline generators. These are often the most affordable and most portable generators available. Gasoline powered generators are also the most economical, especially inverter generators. Gasoline is also the most prevalent fuel (in North America anyways) making the ease of use even more attractive.
Propane, or liquid propane (LP) is the most environmentally friendly gas choice. It produces clean emissions and it has a very long shelf life. The problem with this type of fuel is that your gas is limited by its tank size. For a longer trip, there may not be enough fuel in the tank to keep your unit powered through the duration of a trip. Also, propane may be harder to locate when it comes time to refuel.
If you are interested in what other people prefer to run in their generators, you will find that each user has a different preference. Some people prefer generators that run on diesel because there is less maintenance involved. Propane will burn faster than other types of fuel, therefore it is less popular for the longer term campers. As you can see, the decision is a coin toss and based solely on the end user.
Top RV Generator Choices
Update: The 3500, is not yet available to the public, but it is the generator we tested. However, the 3400 is almost the same unit, so we will provide direct links to that unit. The Champion 3500 is one of the first of its kind. This is because not only can this generator run off of gas AND propane, but it can also run in parallel with other Champion Generators. However, most who purchase this generator rarely need additional power. The 3500 can START and RUN a 15,000BTU air conditioner. Most importantly, when we tested, this generator in our Ultimate Decibel Challenge (video below) was the quietest under a load. It was also the generator that experienced the least voltage drop when a load was applied.
Because this is still a portable generator and comes with wheels and a carry handle, make it truly one of the best options for a travel trailer or RV generator. As an added bonus, the fuel consumption of this generator is often significantly less compared to an open frame generator. This is possible via the presence of an economy mode which are rarely offered on an open frame generator of comparable size. Lastly, this generator comes with integrated with an RV Ready Outlet in addition to two 120V receptacles. See our full video review of this unit here⇒
Take a stroll around almost any campground and you are bound to see a Honda EU 2000 generator. This unit is one of the most popular portable power sources not only for camping but for tailgates, bbq, portable power tools and more. As one of the quietest and most fuel efficient generators on the market, this really doesn’t come as a surprise. The only drawback many potential buyers have is the price. Yes, Honda does cost sometimes two times as much as say a Champion or Westinghouse. However, it comes backed with a reliable Honda motor. These are some of the most durable and trusted units on the market; and for that reason most have no problem paying a little extra for a generator that will run for years on end without a hiccup. It is also worth noting that Honda has one of the biggest networks of power sports shops in the USA. This makes finding a repair facility, in the off chance an issue does occur, that much easier. Although this unit by itself will not power most AC units in travel trailers, they can be paralleled with an additional unit to double power output.
On the off chance that you take a stroll around the campground and don’t see a Honda, you’re almost guaranteed to see a Yamaha. The rival between these two generators is almost as intense as Ford Vs Chevy. Both Honda and Yamaha produce superior products, and the consistently high ratings they receive should come as no surprise. The Yamaha is slightly quieter than the Honda, two pounds lighter and offers slightly longer run times. Yamaha is usually priced nearly the same as the Honda EU2000. As with the Honda, the Yamaha can run in parallel with an additional unit. So which is better? Coming back to our Ford Vs Chevy analogy, much of it depends on personal preference. Both brands have diehard fans, and both are backed by excellent quality.
When looking for a gas powered, portable generator, you may consider this 4,000 watt generator that also has a wireless remote and electric starting system. On a full tank of gas it will last approximately 12 hours at a 50% gas load. It weighs 140 pounds which is quite heavy, but it is still easy to move around thanks to the two wheel design. This unit comes with a 2 year limited warranty. Champion makes some of the most economically, yet more than capable generators. Keep in mind that this is an open frame generator which will be significantly louder than a comparable Champion Inverter Generator.
This propane generator for a RV comes with its own tank holder which holds a 20 pound tank. The tank must be purchased separately. With a full 20 pound tank, you can expect about 9 hours of run time. It has covered outlets which protect the generator from the elements. A low oil pressure protection mechanism prevents the generator from running when low on oil pressure. All Generac generators are very durable, even after several years of use. The only potential downside to this generator is that it is considered by many to be very noisy. However, Generac offers more power than most other propane powered units.
This 4,000 watt generator has a 10 hour run time on a full tank at 50% load. It comes with its very own fuel hose and regulator so that all you have to do is hook your standard sized propane tank. Other features of this generator include a recoil start, circuit protection, an auto-fuel shutoff safety valve, and an automatic low oil shut off. It has two 120V outlets and one 12V DC outlet. This is another budget friendly choice, making it popular among many weekend campers.
This Onan RV generator can run one 15,000 BTU air conditioner with extra power available for other sources. It has an easy start motor and remains lightweight. It is also one of the more compact generators available for use with propane. The muffler is fully enclosed and it operates at 3600 watts using the propane vapor. This is a very quiet generator for RV due to the full muffler cover. This is one of the most common generators that you will find on permanent installations.
WATCH: Our Ultimate Decibel Test More RV Generator Options: