When that power cut strikes again, you want to be prepared. Owning a portable generator that runs on its fuel supply is an ideal solution to deliver thousands of watts of power to those people who need it.

Generators are those pieces of power equipment that anyone is thankful to own when the power cuts off and won’t be restored for several hours, or several days during a natural disaster. Alternatively, going away camping, hunting for game deep in the woods, or just supplying an alternative energy source to the traditional fire inside the log cabin is ideally suited to a portable generator.

Each generator is different. Large non-portable generators make for excellent installations as a backup to power cuts for office, hotels, sound stages, and other business interests that require power at all times. For homeowners and people who like to have ready power on supply wherever they go, portable equipment is certainly one effective way to achieve it.

Portable generators can deliver between 1,000-2,000 watts of power, with surge boosted power levels when needed, via a two or 4 stroke engine. Mobile options reach up to an 80 cc engine which is often as quiet as 51 decibels. The sound level is quiet enough not to be too intrusive to other people living nearby, but typically should not be run at night to avoid waking the neighbors who would be less than pleased. Many engines will be EPA III and CARB Compliant too.

A pull handle recoil start is a standard setup to get the generator engine to kick into action. The engine startup only takes one or two tries but does require someone who is sturdy on their feet to complete the startup action.

Harmonic distortion is not something that most people understand fully, if at all. Regardless, the better portable generators limit the percentage of distortion to under 1.5 percent in many cases when running at full capacity and under 0.5 percent distortion when powered down. The low distortion during full load means that a portable generator with this rating should safely support running monitors, laptops, tablets, smartphones and other sensitive electronic equipment off the generator.

What’s Included with The Best Portable Generator

A portable power generator will arrive boxed as a pre-assembled unit. Each unit is designed slightly differently, but being a mobile unit, there will be a handle to make it easier to carry around. The weight of a generator, especially when fully loaded with fuel, is considerable.

Depending on the generator, there will be several three-pronged receptacles rated for 120V, a 12V DC receptacle, and perhaps one or more USB ports for easier charging of electronic devices.

What to Know Before Making a Purchase

The level of harmonic distortion generated when no load and a full load is present with the generator needs to be ascertained. Beyond this, it is smart to check with the generator’s manufacturer whether it is safe to connect up a laptop, smartphone, tablet and other electronic devices to it. Excessive levels of harmonic distortion will be damaging to electronics and could make them non-functioning.

A portable generator in the 1,000 to the 2,000-watt range is capable of running several pieces of electronic equipment at the same time. The number of tools that a generator is capable of running will depend on how much juice they each require. In the case of power tools, they are power hungry and therefore it is best to plan only for a single power tool to be plugged in at one time, along with less power hungry electronics.

The engine needs to be air cooled to ensure that it won’t overheat. Most generators run for 8+ hours on half load, so it is possible for engines to overheat through extended use in hot environments when air cooling isn’t part of their engine design.

Other Considerations

Be sure that the total watts the generator can produce are sufficient for the needs of the buyer as this capacity cannot be expanded upon later other than by buying another generator.

The fuel consumption is mostly based on the size of the engine, its energy producing capacity, and the type of fuel. Many portable generators hold over a gallon of gas and are rated to run for at least 8 hours, often much longer.

Best Brands

Shimano has a leading position in bicycle components, but also dabbles in portable generators now too under the PowerPro brand.

Champion Power Equipment specializes in portable generators powered by LPG propane or gas.

WEN Products started in 1951 by Nick Anton is a great tool specialist supplying across multiple product categories.

Pulsar Products manufacturers pressure washers, air compressors and portable generators.

What Consumers Say

Taking a look at consumers’ reviews, these are a few of the opinions most often voiced by buyers:

Amps calculation: To calculate the number of amps available from a generator, take the number of watts and divide it by the number of volts, to get the maximum amps. For instance, 1800 watts divided by 120 volts delivers a maximum of 15 amps.

Startup: Each generator is different when it comes to initially starting the unit up. Beyond adding the right fuel to oil mixture, the external settings and switches need to be in the correct position. Sometimes the generator will start up but then turn off after a few seconds. When this happens repeatedly, contact customer services because there is usually a settings problem that is fixable on the spot.

Power tools: In most cases, a portable generator is only capable of powering up a single power tool at a time. It can power other less draining equipment, but power tools use a lot of electricity to function.

Parallel connection: Some generator brands can use a parallel wired connection to link two of their power units together. The related companies sell separate kits to facilitate this power sharing arrangement. The load balancing helps avoid the need to unplug a device from one generator when it cannot supply enough electricity and plugging it into a secondary generator.