Meet the Electric Generators That Can Power Your RV
Travel Off the Grid with Any One of These Powerful Generators
Getting electricity to an RV has always been a relatively simple affair—provided you are staying at a modern campground equipped with a shore-power outlet. But as more and more RVers look to leave the traditional campsite behind and travel further off the grid, the need for efficient, powerful, and easy-to-use generators has grown. As a result, there are now more options than ever when choosing a model for powering your RV.
Sorting through all of the available options can be challenging thanks to a confusing array of ratings and specs. On top of that, generators vary in power and use different kinds of fuel (newer models don’t use fossil fuel at all). The compatibility of their power plugs with your RV matter too. Factor in significant differences in size and noise level, and picking a suitable model can quickly become a real headache.
Fortunately, choosing the right generator isn’t as difficult as it might seem. Here’s what you need to know when selecting the right one for your RV.
Choosing an Electric RV Generator
Picking the right generator to meet your needs often comes down to how much power your RV requires. Typically speaking, the larger the RV, the more watts of power the generator will need to produce to keep everything running. Modern campers often come with electric stoves, refrigerators, heating and air conditioning systems, microwaves, TVs, and other appliances. All of those items can put a great deal of demand on a generator if you’re using all of these appliances when camping off-grid. If you are camping with all the bells and whistles, then selecting the right generator is important.
Generally speaking, a Class B camper van requires about 2000 to 3600 watts of power, while a Class C vehicle will need a 2800 to 4000-watt generator to power its onboard appliances.
A fifth wheel trailer ratchets up the power requirements a bit further, requiring a generator capable of outputting 5500 to 7000 watts to keep everything running smoothly.
Things get a bit more complicated for a Class A RV, mainly because the size and design of those vehicles can vary greatly. A typical Class A motorhome can usually get by with 5500 to 8000 watts of power, but if your motorhome has two or three air-conditioning units, a generator that can produce 10,000+ watts would be ideal.
Your RV comes equipped with a power plug that allows it to connect to an external power source. Some small RVs have a 15-amp plug, which resembles the same type of cord that you use at home. Most mid-size and large motorhomes use larger 30-amp or 50-amp cords for plugging into a shore power system at the campsite. When selecting a generator, make sure it has the proper outlet to support the style and size of plug that your RV requires.
Types of Fuel
The motor on an electric generator creates power by burning fuel of some kind. Usually, that fuel is standard gasoline, diesel, or liquid propane, which are easily obtainable while traveling. Some generators can even use two types of fuels—most commonly gas and propane—for added versatility. Gas and propane generators tend to be smaller and lighter and produce fewer fumes. Diesel, on the other hand, burns more efficiently, producing more power while using less fuel.
Even though today’s electric generators are much quieter than they were in the past, they can still make a fair amount of noise while the motor is running. Because of this, some campgrounds limit the amount of time that a generator can be used or prohibit them altogether. National parks limit a generator’s noise level to just 60 decibels at 50 feet for instance.
Because of this, most manufacturers provide an estimate of the number of decibels that a generator produces, which can be a good guide for how loud it will be while in use. Finding a model that has a low decibel level will result in a more relaxing experience for both you and your neighbors.
Size and Weight
When it comes to size and weight, the basic rule of thumb is that the more power that is needed, the larger and heavier the generator will be. Smaller models that produce 3500 to 4000 watts of power weigh around 100 pounds, while larger generators can tip the scales at more than twice that weight. Heavier models usually come with wheels and a telescoping handle that make them easier to move around, particularly with the added weight of fuel. When shopping for a generator to meet your needs, pay close attention to how much it weighs and whether it has features to assist with transporting it in and around the RV.
The raw power produced by a generator’s motor works well with major appliances, like a stove, refrigerator, or HVAC system. But adding an inverter to the generator ensures that it offers cleaner, more high-quality power for delicate devices such as laptops, smartphones, and TVs. If you’re shopping for a generator for use with your RV, be sure that it comes with an inverter to avoid potentially causing damage to electronic equipment.
The Best Electric Generators for Your RV
Keeping all of the above criteria in mind, here are some suggestions for the best electric generators for use with your RV.
Honda EU3000iS Inverter Generator
- Max Power: 3000 watts
- Decibels: 50-57dB
- Run Time: 20 hours
- Special Features: Electric start, safety sensors for low oil, carbon monoxide sensor, inverter
- Cost: $$$
Honda makes some of the most reliable, efficient, and quietest generators on the market, and the EU3000iS is an excellent example of that level of quality. This model can produce up to 3000 watts of power, which is enough to keep the refrigerator, microwave, furnace, and other items running in your RV. It can even generate enough juice to run a 13,500 BTU air conditioning unit, making the EU3000iS a good option for small to medium-size motorhomes.
The EU3000iS is perfect for anyone concerned with keeping things quiet at the campsite. When the generator is running, Honda says that it produces 50 to 57 decibels of sound, which is actually a lower volume than a typical conversation. This model is fuel-efficient, too, running for nearly 20 hours on a single 3.4-gallon tank of fuel.
Other nice features include an electric push-button start and a built-in inverter to deliver clean power to the RV. The generator is also equipped with sensors that can turn the motor off if it runs low on oil or detects excessive amounts of carbon monoxide. A built-in circuit breaker prevents accidental damage by automatically shutting down the EU30000iS if it gets overloaded as well.
Cummins Onan P4500i Inverter Portable Generator
- Max Power: 4500 watts
- Decibels: 52dB
- Run Time: 18 hours
- Special Features: Electric start, remote start, inverter, 3 AC outlets, 2 USB ports, can be paired with a second generator
- Cost: $$
The feature-packed Cummins Onan P4500i delivers 4500 watts of power, but if that isn’t enough, it can be linked in serial with another P4500i to double capacity. A single unit can power a midsized RV, including the air conditioning with room to spare.
This model comes with a push-button start and a traditional pull cord but can also be started remotely. This is a handy feature to have on those cold mornings when you’re not quite ready to go outside. In addition to the 30-amp shore-power port, the P4500i features three standard 120-volt AC outlets and two USB-A ports for charging devices directly from the unit itself. And since it includes an onboard inverter, it provides safe power for all of your devices.
The Cummins P4500i is both fuel-efficient and extremely quiet. The generator can run for up to 18 hours on a single tank of gas while producing just 52 decibels of sound. An easy-to-read LED display indicates the fuel level, runtime remaining, and how much power is currently being used all at a glance, ensuring you never run out of gas at the wrong time.
Westinghouse iGen4500 Gas Inverter Generator
- Max Power: 4500 watts
- Decibels: 52dB
- Run Time: 18 hours
- Special Features: Electric start, remote start, emergency circuit breakers, 2 AC outlets, 2 USB ports
- Cost: $$
Another good option for mid-sized RVs, the Westinghouse iGen4500, provides as much as 4500 watts of power for use at the campsite. The generator’s variable-speed motor is 30% to 50% more efficient than the competition, allowing it to run for up to 18 hours at a time on a single 3.4-gallon tank of gas. Power is delivered to an RV via a 30-amp port, although two onboard AC outlets and two USB ports allow direct charging connections too.
The iGen4500 is amongst the quietest generators in its class, producing just 52 decibels of sound. The generator also creates such clean power that it is safe to use with laptops, smartphones, and tablets without the need for a dedicated inverter. And despite its 98-pound weight, it is easy to transport thanks to a set of integrated wheels and a telescoping handle.
Westinghouse has included an LED display on the iGen4500 that provides real-time tracking of fuel levels, power output, and runtime metrics across the generator’s lifetime. Push-button and remote starters eliminate the need to use the pull-cord in most instances, while emergency circuit breakers prevent accidental damage due to power spikes and overloads.
Champion Power Equipment 5500 Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Generator
- Max Power: 6900 watts
- Decibels: 74dB
- Run Time: 8 hours (gas) /6.5 hours (propane)
- Special Features: Can be powered by gas or propane, 4 AC outlets, surge protection, price
- Cost: $
As the name implies, one of the unique features of the Champion Power Equipment 5500 Watt Dual Fuel generator is that it can use two different types of fuel to run the motor. This model can burn both gas and propane, which makes it a versatile option for RVers. Swapping between those fuel sources is as easy as flipping a switch, keeping downtime to a minimum.
This generator produces a consistent 5500 watts of power but can surge as high as 6900 watts when high-intensity appliances—such as an air conditioning unit—first turn on. It comes with a 30-amp shore-power port for connecting directly to an RV and includes four 120-volt AC power outlets for direct charging. Built-in surge protectors help shield appliances and electronics from unexpected spikes in power as well, preventing accidental damage to expensive equipment.
The unit can run for up to 8 hours on a single tank of gas or 6.5 hours on a 20-pound propane tank. It also generates about 74 decibels of noise at peak power levels, which is the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner when in use. That isn’t as efficient or quiet as the competition, but this generator’s $770 price tag makes it an affordable alternative to other models.
Cummins Onan P9500df Dual Fuel Generator
- Max Power: 9500 watts
- Decibels: 74dB
- Run Time: 16 hours (gas)/8 hours (propane)
- Special Features: Can be powered by gas or propane, 4 AC outlets, low oil sensor, overload sensor
- Cost: $$
Another powerful and efficient generator from Cummins, the Onan P9500df, delivers many features that RV owners will appreciate. This model can produce up to 9500 watts of peak power, with a sustained output of 7500 watts. That’s enough to power most large motorhomes, including those with two air conditioning units. The unit comes with a 30-amp shore-power port for easy connectivity and four 120-volt AC wall outlets.
The P9500df is another generator that can use both gas and propane as a source of fuel. With just a turn of a knob, users can switch seamlessly between the onboard fuel tank or a connected propane canister. However, the motor is most efficient when running on gasoline with up to 16 hours of runtime. While using propane, that number drops to 8 hours.
At its loudest, the P9500df’s motor produces 74 decibels of sound, which is relatively quiet considering its size and power. The unit includes remote-start capabilities and built-in meters for monitoring voltage, power output, and the number of hours it has been in use over its lifetime. Integrated sensors can also detect when the generator is low on oil or approaching an overload, automatically shutting down the engine to prevent catastrophic damage.
A-iPower SUA12000E Electric Generator
- Max Power: 12,000 watts
- Decibels: 78dB
- Run Time: 14 hours
- Special Features: 30- and 50-amp shore power ports, 6 AC outlets, built-in circuit breakers, price
- Cost: $
Owners of larger RVs searching for a portable electric generator should have the A-iPower 12000E on their shortlist. This model can produce up to 12,000 watts of peak power, with sustained rates of 9000 watts. That’s enough to run pretty much anything you can throw at it, including multiple air conditioning units. Best of all, it includes both 30- and 50-amp ports, allowing it to connect to just about any motorhome.
This generator has a seven-gallon fuel tank that can keep it running for as much as 14 hours between refills. A convenient push-button ignition makes starting easy—even in cold conditions—while a pull-start is available for backup use. With six standard AC outlets and one 12-volt DC outlet, the SUA12000E can accommodate plenty of devices and tools. It even has the option to switch between 120- and 240-volts for those times you need to run more demanding items.
Despite its size and power, the SUA12000E generates just 78 decibels of sound. For reference, that’s about the same level as a home dishwasher, making this a relatively quiet option. Compared to some of the competition, this generator is relatively low on frills, but it includes multiple built-in circuit breakers that offer overload protection. However, the unit’s affordable price tag does make it a very attractive option for those who need a lot of power.
Portable Power Stations
While gas-powered generators have been around for decades, portable power stations have become a viable alternative option in recent years. Instead of using gas or propane as fuel, these models use large battery packs to store power from an external source. Power stations are typically charged from an AC wall outlet, 12-volt DC port, or a solar panel but cannot generate electricity on their own. Their onboard batteries can be used to charge devices such as smartphones and laptops or run small appliances and even flat-panel TVs.
There are several advantages and disadvantages to using a portable power station. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that most of these models can’t supply enough power for an RV and aren’t equipped with 30- or 50-amp shore power outlets. On top of that, once their batteries are depleted, a portable power station becomes useless unless you can find a way to recharge it in the field. Solar panels work well, but larger batteries take a lot of time to recharge, even at optimal weather and sunlight conditions.
On the plus side, portable power stations are completely silent, providing power without disrupting the campsite. They also don’t produce any fumes or directly burn fossil fuels, making them environmentally friendly. Additionally, these units are small and lightweight compared to traditional generators, making them much easier to transport.
If you’re looking to add a portable power station to your RV, here are a few models that stand out.
Jackery Explorer 1500
- Max Power: 3600 watts
- Decibels: 0dB
- Run Time: Varies
- Special Features: 3 AC power outlets, 1 12-volt DC port, 2 USB-A ports, 1 USB-C port, solar compatible
- Cost: $$
Jackery is one of the leaders in the portable power station market, and the Explorer 1500 is its largest and most powerful model. The unit offers 1800-watts of sustained power, with a peak output of up to 3600 watts. This power station comes with three AC power outlets, two USB-A ports, and a single USB-C port, along with one 12-volt DC port, all in a package that weighs just 35 pounds. This allows the Explorer to charge up to seven devices simultaneously while easily being carried around the campsite.
The Explorer 1500’s battery has a 1534 watt-hour capacity, which translates to recharging a laptop up to 19 times or a smartphone more than 150 times. This model can also run a microwave oven for 70 minutes or an electric grill for an hour. Those numbers don’t compare to the run time of a gas-powered generator, but they do demonstrate the usefulness of a power station at the campsite.
This model is also fully solar-compatible, allowing it to be charged in the field using only sunlight. Jackery even sells 100-watt portable solar panels that can recharge the Explorer 1500 in as little as four hours under optimal conditions.
EcoFlow River Max
- Max Power: 1800 watts
- Decibels: 0dB
- Run Time: Varies
- Special Features: 3 AC outlets, 1 12-volt DC port, 3 USB-A ports, 1 USB-C PD port, expand capacity with a second battery
- Cost: $
Lightweight and compact, the EcoFlow River Max is a small portable power station that delivers many features. The unit comes nicely equipped with three AC outlets, a 12-volt DC port, and multiple USB ports, including a 100-watt USB-C Power Delivery port. It even has a built-in light to illuminate the RV or campsite after the sun goes down.
The River Max’s built-in battery has a 288 watt-hour rating, but the power station’s capacity can be expanded if that isn’t enough to meet your needs. The device’s modular design allows users to connect a second battery pack, bringing the total to 576 watt-hours. Peak power output can go as high as 1800 watts, enough to power a small refrigerator or TV. It can also recharge a smartphone 40+ times before the built-in LCD screen reads empty.
Weighing just 22 pounds, the River Max is light enough to take with you just about anywhere. It is also solar-compatible and features one of the fastest recharge times of any portable power station on the market. When plugged into an AC wall outlet, the unit can reach an 80% charge in less than an hour and fully replenish its battery in 96 minutes.
As battery technology and efficiency improve, expect to see higher-capacity portable power stations become available. In the future, it may even be possible to power an entire RV from one of these devices without generating any noise or fumes.