Electricity is something that most of us take for granted. We come home, flick a light switch, and 140-odd-years of innovations work seamlessly to illuminate the room. It’s only until we’re forced to go without electricity that we realize just how much we depend on it. That’s why it’s important to keep emergency supplies on hand. Flashlights, matches, non-perishable foods, and water are all essentials that everyone should have in their home or apartment. It’s also worth considering a compact generator.
There’s a tremendous amount of variation in compact generators; with price tags being equally as varied. The major factor separating generators is wattage. But even when looking at watts, there are still multiple numbers you’ll have to deal with. In fact, many generators that you see give a higher wattage than what you can reasonably expect it to perform at. This isn’t necessarily misleading advertising, though. That higher number is the peak wattage, and it refers to the total amount of power that the generator can put out. That peak wattage can be helpful for powering devices that take more power to turn on than they do to normally run. But peak power can only be relied on for a very short period of time, so you generally want to look at the constant running power as the threshold.
If you need to power household appliances like refrigerators and microwaves for extended periods of time, you’re going to need a powerful generator. The same goes for those who reside in mobile homes and RVs. But in the event of a blackout or some other temporary power outage, you may opt to rely on non-perishables and whatever food you have at home. In that case, you can make do with a lower-powered generator for powering things like phones and laptops. Likewise, a small generator can be a great option for campers who need to power a few essentials but don’t want anything too noisy.
We’ve rounded up a few different power stations and generators. Several of these are actually battery-powered, so they fall somewhere between a generator and a battery bank. The battery options are suitable for indoor use and charging small personal electronics like phones, laptops, and CPAP machines. These can be great in emergency situations or short camping trips. If you’re looking for something more powerful, we’ve included some compact gas-powered generators. They’re inverters, meaning they’re quiet and fuel-efficient. Plus, they’re CARB-compliant, so they’re legal for usage in California. The inverters on this list also produce stable sine waves, making them safe for laptops and phones. These can be good for outdoor usage, RVs, and camping. Of course, you should never (ever) use a fuel-powered unit indoors.
With that in mind, these are some of our favorite generators and power stations available right now.
1. WEN 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
Inverter generators work by turning an AC current into a DC current and then back again. That may sound needlessly complicated, but it results in a generator that’s fuel-efficient, quiet, and more lightweight than a traditional generator. This option from WEN is a 2,000-watt generator, making it one of the most powerful options on this list. There are two three-prong outlets, a 12V DC port, and a 5V USB port, making it powerful enough to power a handful of essentials.
Pros: This generator is CARB-compliant; it passes the California Air Resources Board standards, meaning it can be used in California. Since it is an inverter generator, it runs more quietly than conventional generators.
Cons: The oil must be changed every 25 hours.
2. Jackery Portable Power Station
This option is not a generator in the traditional sense, because it doesn’t run off gasoline. Rather, it’s arguably more of a really big backup battery. It’s well-equipped to charge personal electronics like GoPros, phones, and laptops. It can power some smaller electronics like small minifridges and electric coolers, but it’s not designed for powering larger electronics. There’s also an LCD screen with a graphic display of the battery life, so you can be sure you have enough power beforehand. You can also power the generator using solar panels, which the brand sells separately.
Pros: This is a good option for those looking for a green solution; it runs off battery power, and you can power it using solar panels (sold by the brand separately). It also generates a pure sine wave, meaning it won’t harm devices like laptops.
Cons: Takes a long time to recharge the unit, especially with solar panels.
3. Pulsar 2,300W Portable Inverter Generator
If you’re looking for an inverter generator, this is also a good option. It’s the most powerful generator on this list; it has 2,300 peak watts and 1,800 running watts. Like the Wen option, the Pulsar is a gas-powered generator. Since it’s an inverter generator, it’s substantially quieter than traditional generators. Of course, it won’t be as quiet as the battery options. There are two AC 120V 13A outlets, one 12V DC 8A outlet, and one 5V DC USB port for added versatility. The unit is CARB-compliant, meaning it can be legally used in California.
Pros: At 2,500 peak watts, this inverter generator is the most powerful option on this list. Since it’s an inverter generator, it runs more quietly than conventional gas generators. The sine-wave output makes the unit suitable for sensitive electronics like laptops and phones.
Cons: While the size is fairly compact, its 47-pound weight makes it fairly heavy. However, the weight is comparable to that of the Wen. Also, this unit can have something of a whining noise at times.
4. Rockpals Portable Generator Rechargeable Lithium Battery Pack
This battery-powered generator from Rockpals is a slightly beefier option than the SUAOKI, but it still comes in at a very reasonable six pounds. It has five DC ports, including four 12.6V ports and one 15V option. There are two USB ports and two AC power outputs. The AC power outputs have a universal fit, meaning they work with European-style outlets as well as American ones. That makes this generator a great option for international travelers looking for a reliable power source no matter where they are.
Pros: This option has two “universal” AC outputs, which can be used with American or European style outlets. That makes it a good option for travelers. It has plenty of other power ports as well, including multiple DC outputs and USB ports. It can also be recharged using solar panels.
Cons: It can have compatibility issues with some CPAP machines, especially if the water reservoir and other functions are used.
5. SUAOKI Portable Power Station
Another battery-powered option is this highly compact pick from Suaoki. It weighs just under 3 pounds and can be carried using the fold-out handles. There are four DC ports and two AC-outlet ports. There are also four USB ports for charging things like phones and tablets. It’s not intended to be used with things like coffee makers and heaters, but it’s well suited to powering small personal electronics and lights. The battery unit can be recharged using a solar panel, wall outlet, or even a car’s 12V port.
Pros: This highly compact charger is good for on the go campers and photographers who need to charge personal devices like phones, laptops, and cameras. It can also be plugged into a solar panel to recharge, making it a good green option.
Cons: Although it’s marketed as a generator, it’s more of a large battery pack. That means it can’t be relied on for things like appliances.