Best Portable Generators
Compare prices and features for gas-powered emergency generators that are small, light and quiet enough to use the next time the lights go out. See which of our picks for portable power gets top marks for performance and reliability. All models listed are budget-friendly at less than $600.
What We Considered
To identify the best cheap portable generators, we consulted expert commentary from sources that conduct product testing, such as Consumer Reports and Wirecutter, as well as buying guides and reviews from online sites and retailers specializing in generators and other outdoor power equipment. We also waded through reviews from hundreds of consumers on retail sites such as Home Depot, Lowe's, Amazon, Walmart, and specialty vendors to get hands-on assessments of the inexpensive portable generators we landed on. Generally speaking, and barring the occasional defective unit, buyers really like the generators on our list, with only a handful of nitpicks, such as a generator being louder than expected, or lacking built-in wheels.
We Looked At
The most important criterion when choosing a portable generator is how much power it produces, measured in watts. Manufacturers specify starting watts and running watts. The starting wattage is always a higher number, because many appliances require more watts to initially power them up than to keep them running.
To keep your home functioning during a blackout, you want a generator with enough juice to run critical appliances as well as multiple must-have electronics — otherwise you'll be forced to choose which items to shut off so the generator can power the rest. Maybe you can get by without a 1,000-watt microwave, or even an air conditioner, for a day or two, but you certainly don't want to have to decide between the refrigerator and the heater.
Generally, this means looking for a generator that provides at least 3,000 watts of running power. Fewer watts can keep some essentials running in an emergency, but the amount of power that a refrigerator, heating and cooling system, house lights, radio, TV, and laptop require adds up quickly. Factor in a space heater, and even a simple coffee maker or iron, and your total household wattage will likely sail well past 3,000. (An online wattage calculator, such as these from Honda and Northern Tool, can help determine how much power you need.)
Although the inverter generators we recommend aren't necessarily intended to serve as emergency power sources, many consumers who initially bought them for use on the go say they've proved handy at home, as well. Users don't have to fear that sensitive electronics like computers, cellphones, and tablets will get fried due to power bursts. All the inverter models we recommend can also be paired with another unit to increase their power output, if desired. (Parallel cable kits are sold separately.)
Portable generators have simple startup mechanisms — usually a recoil starter: a simple pull-cord, like the type used on most gas lawn mowers. Some models feature an electric starter but also include a recoil starter as backup. According to reviews posted by users, the models we researched pose few startup challenges. Most of them consistently start with just one or two pulls.
Portable generators typically have three or four outlets, but they're not all standard, household-type plugs. Aside from regular 120-volt outlets for lamps, refrigerators, heaters, and the like, generators often include a 120-volt outlet designed for RVs in addition to a twist-lock outlet that keeps a plug securely in place. A generator with more than one standard 120-volt outlet is the best option, because more than one extension cord can be attached to serve more household needs.
Inverter generators, which are designed to power sensitive electronics such as smartphones and tablets, typically include at least one USB port and sometimes two, and perhaps a 12-volt DC outlet as well. None of our recommended generators includes a 120/240-volt outlet (good for appliances that need a more powerful connection, like certain power tools, furnaces, and pumps); that feature is only found on more expensive models.
Portable generators can be fairly loud, even though many have mufflers. Most of our picks come in under 68 decibels — which would be less strident than the sound of a home vacuum cleaner — but even that can seem a bit much for some ears, particularly for hours at a time. Inverter generators generally produce less noise than conventional generators, usually 50 dB or less, which is another reason they are often preferred for camping trips or RV parks. For consumers willing to pay a premium for less noise, Honda is known for its line of whisper-quiet generators.
The Westinghouse WGen3600v is a newer model that has yet to prove its stripes over the long haul, but most buyers are pleased with its performance so far. This generator offers a lot of power at an incredibly low price, with sufficient wattage to run multiple home appliances at once, including a refrigerator, freezer, microwave, and TV. The lack of wheels limits portability, but given the low price, many homeowners find the trade-off acceptable.
Very high-powered for a model in this price range.
Fuel-efficient for its size; can run up to 12 hours on a 4-gallon tank.
Simple to set up and operate, with included tool kit, oil, and funnel.
Users say it starts easily on the first or second pull.
Relatively quiet for this type of generator; manufacturer rates the noise level at 62 dB running at half load.
RV-ready, with additional locking outlet and duplex 120-volt household outlet.
No wheel kit included, and at 112 pounds, it's not quite lightweight.
Some find the pull cord a bit awkwardly placed.
This generator has been around for a long time, and it's clear why it remains a favorite among budget-minded consumers. The Champion 46539 has an impressively long run time and can easily handle a pretty heavy load. In addition to built-in wheels, the electric starter and remote make it especially easy to operate (there's a recoil starter, too, just in case). Champion generators are in high demand, so if you can't find this model online, check the brand's website for local retailers.
Plenty of backup power to run several home appliances and electronics at the same time.
Very fuel efficient; operates for up to 12 hours on less than 4 gallons of gas.
Simple to set up, start, and use; push-button electric starter and wireless remote are particularly welcome features.
Folding handle and wheels for easy portability.
RV outlet alongside 120-volt locking outlet and two 120-volt household outlets.
Rated at 62 dB, it's relatively quiet for this type of generator.
Auto voltage regulator with built-in meter.
Pretty heavy, at nearly 125 pounds.
Reviews for the Westinghouse iGen2200 are overwhelmingly positive. There are very few reports of problems, and most users say this inverter generator is quiet, efficient, and easy to start. Several claim it stands up to models that cost more than twice as much. While it's designed primarily for recreational use, the iGen2200 can also power the essentials in an emergency — just don't expect it to manage everything at once. Several users say they've had success running two units parallel to boost power.
Ideal for camping and tailgating.
Very quiet, with noise level of 53 dB.
Small and lightweight, at just 46 pounds.
Easy to use and easy on fuel; needs only 1.2 gallons of gas to fill the tank, and efficiency mode stretches standard run times.
2 USB ports, as well as a duplex 120-volt household outlet; designed to safely power sensitive electronics like cellphones and computers.
May not have enough power to run every home appliance.
Champion Power Equipment 46533 Review
Available from Lowes
The Champion Power Equipment 46533 is a real workhorse, with enough juice to run most if not all home appliances and electronics. While its low cost means sacrificing certain conveniences, like wheeled portability, it does have some nice features, such as an auto voltage regulator with a built-in meter to monitor power consumption. It's a proven performer that has served many storm-struck homeowners well. It's also good for recreational use, although it might not be the quietest generator at the campground.
Longtime top seller known for quality and reliability.
Works well for emergency power and can run multiple household appliances throughout the day or night on a single 3.8-gallon tank of gas.
Easy to start and operate.
RV outlet alongside 120-volt locking outlet and 120-volt household outlet.
Wheel kit not included, but at 98.3 pounds, this unit is lighter than some others.
Rated at 68 dB, it's on the noisier side.
The Generac GP3250 is sturdy and built to last, but still compact and easy to cart with its attached handle and wheels. It also has enough power to run just about anything needed in an emergency. While some would like a little more punch, and we wouldn't necessarily recommend this generator to power construction projects around the house, users say it's a dependable standby that serves well in a pinch.
Very good build quality, with a durable steel frame and steel fuel tank.
Wheel kit and fold-down handle make it easy to move around.
120/240-volt twist lock outlet for appliances that require more powerful connections.
Amperage may not be high enough; some users say the circuit breaker is easily tripped, especially by certain power tools (and some newer furnaces).
No noise rating from manufacturer, and some say it's a bit loud.
Some reports of defective units and problems with the pull cord breaking.
Buffalo Tools Sportsman GEN4000LP Review
Available from Walmart
The Sportsman GEN4000LP from Buffalo Tools is a longstanding choice for bargain-minded consumers seeking an alternative to gas-fueled generators. Its propane fuel source means both safer long-term storage and no fear of long gas lines or shortages in a widespread weather emergency. While there are some reports of units that arrived damaged or proved unreliable, most reviews of this model praise its ease of use and power.
Good for recreational and emergency home use, with enough power to run a freezer/refrigerator, lights, and more.
Many buyers say it's not difficult to set up and starts easily and consistently.
Very fuel-efficient; can run for 10 hours on a 20-gallon tank (at 50% load).
Two 120-volt outlets and one 12-volt DC outlet in addition to an RV outlet.
Rated at about 68 dB; some buyers say it's louder than expected.
Doesn't include a wheel kit, but at 102 pounds, it's lighter than many others.
Can take a few pulls to get started, according to some owners.
1-year warranty is shorter than other brands.
Other Products We Reviewed
The Gentron GG3500 (starting at $415) portable generator is typical for this price range. Buyers from Sam's Club who posted Gentron GG3500 reviews say they like this model because it's relatively cheap for a generator in the 3,000-watt range and is easy to start thanks to the electric starter. After enjoying the benefits of an 18-hour run on one tank of gas when connected to an air conditioner, a TV, and a couple of fans, one reviewer says he was duly impressed with this budget generator. Reviews also report that this model is fairly quiet. A few users note, however, that installing the wheel kit is tricky and a couple of reviews at both Sam's Club and Sears grumble about units that arrived at the doorstep in damaged condition.
A couple key features found on the GG3500 will appeal to most users, especially the electric start and the wheel kit. The generator also includes a back-up recoil start should the electric start fail. The Gentron features two 110v outlets and one 220v twist lock outlet and runs on unleaded gas; the four-gallon tank should last for about 11 hours at half load. This 3,000/3,500-watt model (3,000 running watts and 3,500 starting watts) is not quite as powerful as some of the other models we looked at, but acquits itself nicely nonetheless. It's rated at 67 decibels, not too loud at all for a gas engine.
The Gentron GG3500 is a good choice for homeowners and campers whose power needs max out at about 3,000 watts. It's certainly powerful enough to run critical appliances such as a fridge and a freezer or boiler, as well as a TV and some lights. The electric start is an appealing addition, as is the wheel kit. Given that a few users report receiving units in sorry shape with an online purchase, you might try to arrange for in-store pick up or buy one at a brick-and-mortar outlet.
Briggs & Stratton's 30466 (starting at $400) generator isn't for wimpy households. It's one brawny generator and should provide enough juice to run nearly everything in your home at once, unless perhaps you're trying to run a carnival in the backyard. At Home Depot, Briggs & Stratton 30466 reviews laud this model's power. One user writes it was simply to assemble and "performed flawlessly," and others supply long lists of all the appliances and electronics they were able to run simultaneously from this machine. Buyers who posted reviews at Tractor Supply Co. say it's very reliable and consistently starts with one or two pulls of the recoil starter. Briggs & Stratton 30466 reviews note, however, that the 30466 is louder than cheaper generators, which isn't really surprising given its larger engine.
This model has a hefty 5500 running watts and 8250 starting watts and a seven-gallon fuel tank for unleaded gas; it's rated for a 13-hour run at half load. With a generator of this size a wheel kit is nearly mandatory, and the Briggs & Stratton 30430 includes one. There's no electric start, however, so you'll rely on the recoil starter. The 30466 is more generous with outlets than cheaper generators: it offers four 120v outlets and one 120v/240v locking outlet.
The 30466 delivers more power than most people need in a typical emergency. But if you want to run everything in your house at once from one machine (including energy-hungry 1,000-watt microwaves, space heaters, and the like), then you'll need a generator, like this one, that can dish out a lot of starting and running watts. Just remember that you'll pay more for the privilege and with a decibel rating of 76, the 30466 runs louder than smaller, less powerful generators -- probably won't keep you up at night, though.
All Power APGG4000 Review
The All Power APGG4000 (starting at $399) generator is a solid and affordable choice for people who need a reliable backup power supply or a power source for an RV. According to All Power APGG4000 reviews at Home Depot, this model consistently starts with one pull and runs quietly. Additionally, users say they appreciate its running chops and the clear, straightforward instructions. One review says the generator powered a sump pump, fridge, several TVs, and other electronics for one week nonstop. At users' All Power APGG4000 Northern Tool reviews likewise offer up praise, saying it's a cinch to set up, it starts easily, and it can run a host of appliances and electronics at once without faltering. And, they add, the included wheel kit makes the generator extremely portable.
This model features 3300 running watts and 4000 starting watts. It's gas-powered but in an unusual twist, it requires 90 octane or higher unleaded gas; most gas generators use 87 octane fuel. The All Power APGG4000 can run about eight hours on one four-gallon tank at 50 percent load, which is a shorter run time than the gas-powered models that made our list of top picks. It features one 120v outlet, one 120v/240v outlet, and one 12v twist lock outlet. With a decibel rating of 72, the APGG4000 is noisier than most of the budget models we researched.
The All Power APGG4000 has an attractive price and plenty of power, but it's a bit louder than competing generators and its eight-hour run time is a bit miserly. Those caveats aside, the APGG4000 is a good, reliable performer.
Ryobi RY903600 Review
With a 212cc engine, the Ryobi RY903600 packs a lot of power for the price, and with multiple outlets and RV receptacle, it can keep a lot of appliances running. Its voltage regulator helps protect sensitive electronics when running heavy loads. Wheels and a quick-release handle are welcome additions. But while reviews posted on Home Depot's and the manufacturer's websites are overwhelmingly positive, some recent complaints keep us from recommending this generator wholeheartedly.
Provides more than enough power for a TV, refrigerator, and other devices.
Auto voltage regulator to protect against surges.
Wheel kit and fold-down handle make it easy to move around.
RV-ready, with four 120-volt household outlets.
Rated between 68 and 72 dB, many users say it's incredibly noisy.
A number of reports of defective units, and some that arrived with broken parts or starter cords that ended up breaking.
A few users complain of serious difficulties getting the generator to start.
Inverter generators are more expensive than conventional generators, and at the lower end of the spectrum, you don't get a lot of power for the price. That said, buyers looking for a generator primarily for camping trips praise the Generac GP2200i for its light weight, portability, and low noise level -- some say it's almost inaudible in econo mode. This inverter generator can also keep a few home essentials running in an emergency. While it's a bit pricier than our value pick, the Westinghouse iGen2200, some would say the Generac name alone is worth the added cost. The brand has a long-standing reputation for high-quality, American-made generators, and many experts consider it a worthy, more affordable rival to top-of-the-line Honda.
Very lightweight at 46.6 pounds; easy to use anywhere.
Starts easily, with just one or two pulls.
Very fuel efficient, with econo mode to cut consumption and noise.
Surprisingly quiet, users say, although there's no sound rating from the manufacturer.
A good choice for camping; can be paralleled with another unit for extra power.
12-volt DC outlet, duplex 120-volt household outlet, and USB outlet for devices like tablets and phones.
Costs a bit more than other models with similar specs.
May not have enough power to run every home appliance.
With a 111cc engine, the Briggs & Stratton P2200 PowerSmart packs plenty of power. Buyers like to use this inverter generator for RVing, camping, and tailgating, and they report that it's also strong enough to run a home refrigerator, TV, and some small electronics at the same time. Keep in mind that, with a bit of brawn under its belt, this generator is not exactly a peaceful power source for the great outdoors.
Good for RV owners and tailgaters and powerful enough to run several home appliances at once.
PowerSmart mode saves fuel, automatically adjusts the engine speed to suit the load, and protects sensitive electronics against surges.
Can run for several hours on a single 1-gallon tank of gas; some users claim more than 10 hours with a light load.
12-volt DC outlet, two 120-volt household outlets, and a USB adapter; can connect to a second generator to run in parallel mode.
Consistently starts on the first or second pull.
Shape of the handle makes it easy for one or two people to carry.
Some reports of faulty units; though it claims to have a fuel gauge, many buyers say they didn't see one.
At 59 dB, it may be a little loud for camping.
On the larger side for an inverter generator, and a relatively hefty 54 pounds.
The Ryobi RYI2300BTA is an affordable inverter generator packed with perks. The accompanying app, with its remote shut-off capability, is a standout feature that consumers really like. Its compact size, wheels, and handle make it ideal for RVing and camping. On the other hand, some users say it's very easy to overload this generator — many have had trouble running an air conditioner or powering more than one major household appliance at once. For lighter loads and recreational use, however, most buyers seem very satisfied.
Bluetooth technology and app allow users to check on the fuel level and turn off the generator remotely.
LCD screen provides stats on remaining run time, load, and fuel level.
Parallel kit for running two generators at once.
Powerful enough to run a refrigerator, yet gentle on sensitive devices like computers and cellphones.
Two 120-volt household outlets and two USB ports.
Starts easily, runs efficiently, and can automatically adjust to match power needs; 1.2-gallon tank can power a quarter load for up to 10.3 hours.
Built-in wheels and a pull-out handle for easier portability.
Reports of faulty units; several users say the generator runs erratically in auto-idle mode or shuts down frequently and needs to be reset.
Some find the pull cord a bit awkwardly placed.