What Size Generator Do I Need for Camping?

I remember in the late 1980’s when I was a child and living in Michigan about a half-hour from Flint. We didn’t live in the big city but we were still in a neighborhood and surrounded by other homes. During the summer months my parents would pack us up and hit the road. We wouldn’t stop driving until we made it into Canada. Once there we would find a decent spot along the shores of Lake Huron and setup camp. We would never stay too long, maybe a day or two but these types of trips I will always remember even to this day.  Camping can be liberating. It gives you the freedom to get away from it all and it also allows you to get in touch with nature which so little of us do.

In today’s world many folks enjoy camping just as we did… but they also do not like being completely out of touch. Or, they do not like giving up ALL of their creature comforts. These could be just the ability to charge your smartphone or your laptop. Or, it could be a bit more where you want to make yourself a pot of coffee in the morning. Whatever the reason is there is more and more a need for power in the camping world of today.

Now depending on how much power you need some campers will opt for using the battery in their vehicle to charge phones or other devices. Maybe they even have a power inverter to power some of the different appliances. The downside, as you can imagine, of using your car’s battery is that you can drain it. If you do end up draining it you could end up with a dead battery at your camp site with no way to get back to civilization.

I do not recommend using this approach. While it may get the job done there is risk involved. Instead, I suggest looking into purchasing a portable generator. A generator will give you that needed power but will not end up stranding you at the camp site. Generators also come in many different sizes so you could power as much or as little as you want.

Sizing A Generator

While generators are a great fit when it comes to powering your electronics and appliances during a camping trip it can be confusing to know exactly what size generator you will need. Generators come in sizes ranging from one-thousand watts all the way up to twelve-thousand watts and higher. The range can be a bit staggering. Luckily, identifying what size you need is a relatively simple process.

In order to size your generator correctly you need to first determine what you are needing to power. Obviously, the more appliances you wish to power the higher your wattage demands will be. We can give you some basic estimates here though. Let’s say you only need to power a few smartphones and your laptop. Since this is a relatively small load you can most likely get away with a one-thousand to two-thousand watt generator.

However, if you wish to power more appliances such as a camping stove, coffee maker, hair dryer, or perhaps even an air conditioner if you have a small camper with you then you are going to need a generator between three to four-thousand watts. In some cases you may need to go up to five-thousand watts if you wish to power all of these at the same time. Chances are though that you will be just fine with a two to three-thousand watt generator.

To know for sure what size is needed you will need to determine the wattage that each appliance/electronic uses and then add them all up for a final wattage number. If you are unable to find the wattage listed on the appliance you are looking at then you can determine it yourself. All you need to do is find the volt amount and the amperage amount and then multiply them together. The volt amount is very easy to find. This is the type of plug-in that the appliance plugs in to. In most cases this will one-hundred and ten volts (This is the standard plug-in). The amperage required should be labeled on the appliance or electronic you are wishing to power. For an example let’s say we want to determine the wattage for a coffee maker. The amperage states 6.5 and the volt amount is the standard 110. So, 110 * 6.5 = 715 watts. Now that you know how to calculate the wattage it is time to add up the wattage of everything you wish to power.

There is one more thing to keep in mind here and that is the difference between starting watts versus running watts. Some appliances, usually the larger ones, will have what is known as starting watts and running watts. A great example of this type of machine is the air conditioner. Air conditioners require a surge of power when they are powered on. This surge of power starts the compressor and other components within the machine. To do this the air conditioner will need a much higher starting watt number, but once the machine has started the surge goes away and the air conditioner transitions to what is known as running watts.

If you have a machine you wish to power that has starting or surge watts then you MUST include the starting watts number in your calculation. If you do not then you will not be able to start the machine. Now, if you are on a budget some folks will plug-in the appliance that uses surge watts first. They’ll let it run for a bit so that the starting watts have gone away and then they’ll plug in the rest of the appliances they wish to power. This is kind of a work around to get the power you need… but I still recommend purchasing a larger generator to cover for the surge watts.

Generator Considerations

Now that we understand what size of generator you need for camping we should also look at a few considerations and options of these generators. While there are a variety of options out there for generators there are only about three or four main factors to review before purchasing. The first question I have to ask is will noise be an issue to you? A standard portable generator can produce noise while running that ranges from seventy to one-hundred decibels. That can be as loud as a lawn mower running close by. If you are camping this noise may disturb the nature that you are trying to enjoy.

There is another option though that has a much quieter operating volume. Inverter generators have a decibel ranging from fifty to seventy decibels. If you find one under sixty decibels then you are looking at about the sound of a dishwasher running nearby. As you can imagine, that is much quieter then a lawn mower. Inverter generators are a variation of your standard generators. The main difference is that a standard model has two completely separate components: The engine and the alternator. The engine produces the mechanical energy and the alternator converts that mechanical energy to electrical energy. An inverter generator works the same way, the only difference is that with inverters the engine and alternator are not completely separate. In fact they share a lot of components. This results in less moving parts and a much quieter operating volume.

Along with inverters performing quieter then standards you will also notice that they are significantly lighter. Again, this is due to it leveraging shared components between the engine and alternator. Now size of the generator may not be an issue for you if you only need a few thousand watts but as your wattage goes up so does the weight of the generator. Having an inverter generator can not only keep things quiet but also save your back when moving the unit around.

There is a downside to inverter generators though folks and that is cost. As you can imagine inverter models are much more expensive then your standard generators. This is where the decision falls to you. Ultimately, they both produce energy. It all boils down to do you want to spend more money and have quieter and lighter generator? Or, are you OK with a louder model and saving some cash?

Rather you decide on a standard or an inverter model there are still a few more factors to weigh. One of these is run time. How long do you need your generator to run? Is it just for an hour or two to give you a charge on your phone or computer? Or, do you need an extended run time? When looking at generators this should be one of the features you review. Not all generators are created equal and some may be able to run for a few hours while others can go for eight or ten hours. Be on the look out for run times when shopping.

The last option to look over is what fuel type you want for your generator. There are three main fuel types that generators use today. The most efficient and the cleanest burning is going to be diesel. Diesel is widely regarded as the best option when it comes to generators. The downside is it can be harder to find and it typically costs more then standard gasoline. Unleaded gasoline is another fuel source. It is not as efficient as diesel and it burns dirty. The upside is that it is easily found anywhere and is applicable to nearly every other machine out there including your vehicle. The last fuel option to look at is liquid propane also known as LP. This is the same propane that you would use for your grill or other applications. Propane is by far the most environmentally friendly fuel to burn when running a generator. It is not however the most efficient and can shorten run times. It can also be difficult to find at times. If it was me folks I would opt for the diesel option. It is tried and true and you know exactly what you’re getting.


As you can see there are quite a few options and varieties when it comes to selecting a generator. If you are looking for just a basic camping generator though then I am going to recommend this fifteen-hundred watt model from WEN. It will provide you with enough basic power for charging your phone, some lights, and other small things. It is priced competitively as well. This is a standard generator though and it can be loud. If you are looking for the quieter approach then I recommend this two-thousand watt inverter generator model from WEN. It operates extremely quiet at only fifty-one decibels. This is about the sound of a conversation being held nearby.

I hope this article was helpful and able to answer any questions that you had. Lastly, please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson


You may also like