Best portable generator review 2021
A portable generator is one of the most versatile, worthwhile tool purchases you’ll make in your lifetime. A portable generator helps you make those big DIY dreams a reality, and it keeps you prepared for the worst if your house loses power.
However, there are an awful lot of models out there, all with different features, fuels, and power outputs. Sorting through them all to find the quality ones can be arduous. Plus, you have to make sure that the specific model you buy is actually appropriate for your power needs.
Best portable generator reviews
List of the best models.
1. Generator Champion
This is a powerful, fully stocked generator that can get almost any job done on a budget!
We love the Champion brand because while it may not be as sophisticated or quiet as its more expensive competitors, it delivers just as much power when you need it! This model is a 7500 watt model that can keep the lights and furnace running during a power outage or provide you with everything you need on the job site. If you need to find an inexpensive portable unit that won't let you down, this is the unit for you!
It’s relatively inexpensive. We think the Champion is the least you can safely spend for a 7500W model.
For a start, it’s much better-made than other budget options. It’s powered by a reliable, rugged motor which is both low-maintenance and powerful. The frame is all steel, and the wheels have special tires which can’t get punctured or flattened.
It runs on both gasoline and propane. We like dual-fuel models because they allow you to use whichever source is most readily or cheaply available to you. Plus, you can switch over to propane if you run out of gas, or vice versa. This one will run up to 8 hours on a full tank of gas, and 5.5 hours on a standard 20 lb tank of propane, like you’d use for your grill.
It has an electric start function. That means you can start this one with the push of a button. No yanking on a cord or fiddling with the throttle in a snowstorm! This one starts easily with one touch, and it automatically recharges the starter battery while it runs. This one also has a cold-start system onboard, and previous buyers said they didn’t have any trouble getting it running in snowstorms.
This one also has an electronic display panel and monitoring system, which you don’t ordinarily find on machines in this price category. It gives you readouts on power production, and tracks running hours so you know when you need to do maintenance on it.
It has two locking outlets, one at120V and one that can work on either 240V or 120V. You also get 4 normal household outlets which run at 120V.
It’s a powerful machine. The Champion produces 7500W on gasoline, and 6750W on propane. That’s plenty of power to cover your sump pump, water, furnace, and other essentials like a fridge. You’ll also have lots left over for watching TV, running fans, and other smaller loads.
On a worksite, that means plenty of power for running all your tools, whether they run at 240V or 120V. There’s also a standard 30A worksite outlet that’s perfect for construction or intense DIY projects.
It’s CARB-rated for emissions protections. That means this one’s eligible for sale in California, which has the strictest emissions standards in the States.
All the outlets are GFCI protected, to make sure power spikes or blips can’t damage your appliances or electronics. That’s a big advantage over the cheaper options, many of which produce uneven, unprotected power which can fry things like TVs or smartphones. This one has a total harmonic distortion rating under 5%.
It has a solid wheeled base and a foldable handle for carting it around. While this isn’t the lightest or smallest model in its power range, it’s still very manageable.
It’s covered by a two-year warranty and lifetime tech support. Previous buyers wrote in their reviews that they didn’t have any need to use their warranty, since the Champion ran so reliably!
It’s not as efficient as the more expensive options. The Champion does use a fair amount of fuel, so you’ll have to refill the tank more than you would with a more expensive Honda or Yamaha.
It’s loud. This one is about 75 decibels at 23 feet, so it’s not something you’d want to park very close to the house.
It’s heavy. This one weighs over 200 pounds, so you won’t be lifting it in a hurry. Thankfully, it’s on a wheeled base. Just be sure you don’t need to get it up steps or over obstacles without help.
Champion don’t have the best reputation for reliability. We haven’t seen any major issues reported for this model, but we have noted that other Champion models have a mixed track record. This probably won’t have as long a working life as more expensive models, and it may need some repairs along the way.
5% THD (total harmonic distortion) is very impressive for a machine in this price range, but we’d make sure you have surge protectors on your expensive electronics, just in case. We really prefer something closer to 1% for things like A/V equipment or mobile devices. For most appliances and tools, though, you should be absolutely fine.
2. Generator CAT Model RP12000E
RP12000E is our recommendation for value for money! Although it is not the most expensive unit, it delivers the most power.
This model can easily power an entire house during a power outage. In fact, most households can completely ignore power outages if they have this unit.
We recommend it to anyone who wants maximum power in a portable package.
CAT is very powerful. Not only does it beat out our other portable generators, but it has a higher maximum output than many stationary standby generators! This model can do great at 11,000 watts, and in the extreme, it can put out up to 12,000 watts.
The starting power of the CAT is 15,000 watts, so it can power large appliances with no problem! You can run furnaces and many air conditioners without being conservative.
For such a large appliance, it is relatively efficient. If you use it at half load, you can get just over 11 hours of run time from it. It also meets all the relevant EPA requirements.
It also runs much smoother than most portable jumbo generators. It has <5% harmonic distortion with an AVR on board. That's as good as most devices half the size and power.
Low idle mode preserves engine integrity and saves fuel when you're not using the unit's full power. In addition, the tank is located above the engine to mask the sound.
There are a number of outlets on board. There are 20A, 30A, and 50A outlets for all your appliances and connections.
Like other CAT equipment, this generator is highly durable. It has a protective steel frame around it, and all the parts are solid to the touch.
Although you can't ignore the fact that it's a massive machine, moving it isn't as difficult as it looks. The padded handle hinges away from the frame for easy rolling, and for such a massive machine, it's pretty easy to move. Its volume is close to a cubic yard, but it's a neat and compact package.
It comes with a special set of tools and maintenance tools to help you keep the generator at peak performance!
This is a real giant. At almost 400 pounds, it's not something you can just move around. A strong person can handle it, but you may need help. And while you can roll it easily, you won't want to lift it.
There's a lot of value here, but it's not exactly cheap. Don't expect to find a car like this for less than $3,000.
We're sure the location of the tank reduces the noise level somewhat, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a big, loud generator. If you want something quieter, spend more money on a Honda. However, don't expect as much power from it.
3. Generator Honda
We recommend the best portable generator from Honda, one of the most respected brands in the power tool market. The EU7000I is a rugged machine with a metal body and a big fuel-injected engine that gives it some of the best fuel economy and reliability on the market.
It's a great generator, but we love it because it delivers tremendous power in a quiet and efficient package. The smart features, fuel economy, and exceptional reliability you get with the Honda make it the ultimate portable unit!
It’s all self-contained, like the CAT. Unlike the comparable Champion, the Honda’s housing encloses almost all its parts. That makes it a much better choice for busy worksites, where debris or fast-moving construction components could damage exposed components.
It’s a neat little block with metal panels on all sides. If you’re storing it for a home backup, there’s less of a chance pests will get inside and build a home while you’re not using the machine.
It’s very efficient. This one can run up to 18 hours on a single 5-gallon tank, depending on the load. Even at full bore, it can last 6 hours on a single tank, which is much better than the Champion, if not longer than the CAT. That’s a full 20% more efficient than its predecessor!
Even though it’s efficient, it doesn’t skimp on power. This one cranks out a full 7 KW, which is enough to back up your house in an emergency, or power a busy worksite.
It provides very stable power. The Honda produces power with less than 2.5% harmonic distortion, which makes it twice as safe as the CAT or Champion for more delicate or technical devices like computers, A/V equipment, or smartphones.
It’s fuel-injected. In fact, this is the first fuel-injected model ever produced by Honda. That makes the motor more efficient. It also eliminates fiddling around with the choke, and makes carburetor worries much less frequent.
It’s quiet. This one operates at between 52 and 60 decibels, which is a solid 10-20 decibels below the competition! That makes it a much less obnoxious choice for home backup, or for outdoor party power. Plus, on a busy worksite where there are a dozen sources of noise, it makes a big difference cutting down on that background racket. This one’s quieter than normal conversations.
It has a smart console system built in. The iMonitor display tracks and displays runtime, RPM, volts and wattage. You’ll find warning lights for maintenance like changing the oil, and for battery charge.
It’s a versatile power station. You can choose between two power output settings. In the first mode, both 240V and 120V are available through all of the outlets. In the second, only 120V is output. That limits you to standard household power, but it also allows larger appliances and loads to get the full output of the machine. That’s ideal for things like a fridge or freezer, which would have higher operating wattages. It has two 30 amp worksite outlets built in, and two 20 amp standard outlets onboard as well.
Even though it’s very heavy-duty, it’s still very much a portable model. It has folding handles built in, which are adjustable to fit either a wheelbarrow or upright arrangement, depending on what you prefer. There are also wheels built into the base. It has a two-wheel design which makes it very stable for uneven surfaces.
It starts with a push-button system, and there’s a recoil cable for backup. Previous buyers said it’s extremely reliable, even when starting in cold weather or after a long break!
It’s one of the best-rated models on the market.
It's not as powerful as the CAT, even though it costs more. Its peak power is 7 kW, as opposed to 7.5 kW for Champion and 12 kW for CAT. If you're a detail person, you might not think it makes sense to spend more money for less power.
The Honda makes up for the lower power with thoughtful design features and reliability.
Although it's quiet and efficient, it can't be called lightweight. This model weighs 260 pounds, so you'll need some strength to transport it.
Which portable generator is right for you?
Champion is the obvious choice for people on a tight budget. It's the only one of our recommendations that can be found for under $1,000, and we think it's the best budget-friendly option to power your home or job site. It produces as much power as our more expensive options and is versatile enough to handle a range of tasks. It's also the only machine here that runs on both propane and gas.
Champion generators are not as efficient or reliable as a CAT or Honda. This machine also lacks some of the warranty and power stability of the two more expensive recommendations.
CAT is the obvious choice for those who want to get the most for their money. It certainly has the highest power of all three, as well as the most output and the largest tank. We don't think you can find a more powerful portable model, especially one as reliable as the CAT. If you have high power requirements or just want to survive outages without noticing anything, buy this unit.
However, CAT is quite expensive. It is also very heavy and quite noisy. The Honda is more refined, but it costs more and puts out less power.
If you're looking for the absolute best portable generator, we highly recommend the Honda. It's the smartest of the three generators, with an intelligent monitoring system and safety shutoff.
It's quieter than a CAT or Champion, and uses much less fuel.
If you're a contractor looking for a reliable workhorse, or a homeowner looking for maximum confidence and convenience, this is by far the best portable model we've reviewed. However, the Honda costs 5 times as much as the Champion, and it doesn't produce more power.