7 Compact Generators For Every Budget

How we determined the best portable inverter generators:

A small, quiet generator is one of the more reliable ways of quickly accessing a power source for your electronic accessories, lights, power tools, and more. Over the past few years, more and more of these “briefcase” generators have hit the market, and at the same time, become surprisingly affordable.

While the cost of the best small generators still hover around $1000, there are great alternatives that you can get your hands on for less than half the price. However, if you’re going to go the budget generator route, there are a few important characteristics and qualities that you should consider and compare. Here’s what we considered when reviewing each generator:

• Reliability
• Ease of use
• Number of outlets
• Noise level
• Wattage and maximum output
• CARB compliance (all of them)
• Warranty

highlight-arrowNote:  In the spirit of our site’s focus on camping and camper van living, we focused our efforts on comparing small, quiet generators that occupy the least amount of valuable space. This portability is largely the most attractive aspect of these little power houses, but if you’re looking for a more robust option for your home, many of the following models have a larger model available.

We’ll start right off the bat with..

The Best Quality Portable Generators

honda red generator

Price: $850 – 860
Weight: 32 lbs (w/ fuel)
Power output: 1000 Watts
Noise: ~52 db
Notable features: Crazy reliable, 8.3 hour runtime
Why buy this: Your power needs are relatively light, but you plan to run them a lot, and want peace of mind.

Honda EU1000i

If there had to be one, gold-standard, portable gas generator, the Honda EU1000i is definitely it. You’ve probably seen these little red sidekicks humming along at campsites, tailgates, outdoor cookouts, and more. And while slightly expensive, there’s a reason why these small Honda generators are the top choice. They are unbelievably reliable, stand up to abuse, and are noticeably quieter than all of the others on this list, clocking in at just 51 decibels, fully exposed.

Authors note: “fully exposed” in this sense means no sound dampening or coverings were applied– the generator is on the ground, out in the open. This is an important note, because with some light work and materials, ANY of the portable generators on this list can be dampened significantly (sometimes up to 20db).

The Honda EU1000i is quiet, yes. But it’s also very light (at just 29 lbs), and very efficient– running up to 8.3 hrs on a full tank. (Although the Yamaha below is even better).

Just like a Honda Civic, you can expect this thing to run for thousands of hours without issue. But if you do have a rare hiccup, their 1 year warranty is very accommodating, from everything we’ve read.

yamaha 1600 small generator for camping

Price: $870 – 880
Weight: 44 lbs (w/ fuel)
Power output: 1600 Watts 13.3/16.7 amps @ 120V
Noise: ~51 db
Warranty: 3 Years
Notable features: 10.5 runtime at 1/4 load (using Smart Throttle)
Why buy this: You like the reliability factor of the Honda, but would prefer a little extra power in a small package.

Yamaha 1600

Wherever there’s a Honda, there’s always a Yamaha nearby – and nearly as reliable. And this Yamaha 1600 generator (in a pretty blue!) is no exception.

It’s interesting that the Honda is so pervasive, because while the Yamaha is even more expensive by a few bucks (it’s steep, we’ll be honest), it seems to be a better product. It has a higher output and is marginally smaller, too. And although we didn’t have the time to test this fully, it claims to be able to run for 10.4 hours at 1/4 load.

We have two gripes, however. One small and one a little larger. First, the small gripe. We prefer that the other generators on the list have the outlets/controls on the edge side of the unit, rather than on the face. No logical reason, to be honest, just design preferenc and cord management.

The larger gripe is that we had to really muscle the pull cord a few good times to get it running. Not quite as quick and easy as many of the other (and sometimes much cheaper) small generators for sale here. If you’re a young, fit human– you wont have any issue. But if the idea of a tough pull cord gives you pause, then go with your gut and pick a different option.

But hey, if you have the cash and you want a little bit extra power and a cool blue machine, Yamaha all the way.

The Best Value Generators (with more power!)

wen suitcase generator

Price: $415 – 430
Weight: 48 pounds
Running Wattage: 1600 watts, 2000 surge
Noise: ~51db (debatable!)
Notable Features:
Warranty: 2-year warranty
Why buy this?: You’re on a bit of a budget, but need to run some slightly higher-wattage items like blenders, microwaves, or power tools.

WEN

If you’re ready to venture into the “rest” of the portable generator world – good for you, because there are some great deals to be had. Maybe they won’t last a lifetime like the Honda above, but they still do a damn good job for a fraction of the price. This WEN Super Quiet 2000-Watt Generator is twice the wattage as the Honda, and half the price.

Whats the catch?

Well, not many that we could see. If you’re wondering about the company, WEN is a trusted power tool and parts company that can probably best be compared to the reputation and quality of Ryobi, if that helps. Is it top-tier quality? Maybe not. But it’s also not priced as though it is.

This 48 pound generator is a little heavier, a little bulkier, but kicks out a ton of power in a small-ish package. We liked that it had a very clear panel that included two three-prong 120V outlets, one 12V DC receptacle and one 5V USB port, for charging phones/tablets/lanterns etc.

compact generator made in the USA

Price: $350 – 360
Weight: 50 lbs
Running Wattage: 1600 running, 2000 peak watt
Noise: ~58db
Notable features:
Warranty: 2-year warranty
Why buy this? You have a tighter budget, want some extra power, and would prefer to support a product made in the USA 🇺🇸

A-iPower 2000i INVERTER GENERATOR

This was an interesting find, and was recommended to us by a fellow vandweller on Instagram, actually! iPower is a smaller company based out of North Carolina, (always nice to support a U.S. company), and we were pleasantly surprised by it’s performance.

I wouldn’t call it whisper quiet, but definitely a “smooth”, low noise, compared to some of the whiny squeals that others might make under high loads.

In appearance, it looks very similar to the more expensive Honda 1000W generator, but with double the power and about half the price! We were able to power a blender, some work lights, and charging multiple phones/USB speakers with ease. A-iPower’s “low idle technology” (whatever that is), gives an impressive 9 hour run time at 50% load, and that’s with only a 1.1 gallon tank. We were able to get 8.5 hours from it during a full day of camping, with no hiccups.

I would definitely file this under the “sleeper” category – a wildly affordable, really kickass little generator, perfect for camping, a light backup for household appliances, or on-the-go peace of mind.

If there’s anything we don’t like about this little guy is the lack of a USB port (small issue, I know), and the fact that it has a large L5-30Amp RV outlet hookup. This might be a huge selling point to some, but for us personally, we just don’t have a need for it.

If we were on a tight budget, this would be our firm pick.

The Best Size/Power Ratio:

quiet pulsar generator

Price: $420 – 440
Weight: 47 pounds
Running Wattage: 1800 watts, 2300 surge
Noise: ~59db
Notable Features: Has USB port.
Why buy this?: You’re on a bit of a budget, but need to run some slightly higher-wattage items like blenders, microwaves, or power tools.

Pulsar 2300W

We chose this Pulsar 2300W generator as the best size-to-power ratio, because it’s still fairly light, compact (although kind of tall), but kicks out a good 2300W of power at its peak output, which is pretty impressive.

It’s louder than some others at a stated 59 decibels (we clocked it at 62), and like some others on the list, we liked that it featured two 120V outlets, a 12V ‘cigarette’ outlet, and a USB port. The USB might be an insignificant feature to some, but we liked knowing that we wouldn’t have to keep track of a converter, possibly taking up a valuable 120V slot.

If there’s any downside to this portable inverter generator, it’s that its not quite as fuel efficient compared to some of the other alternatives. You’re looking at roughly 4.5 hours of use out of a full tank of gas, running at half load.

But if you’re looking for something that is well-built, a good price points, and puts out a good oomph of wattage, this is a great pick.

A Bigger, Better Semi-portable Generator:

Small propane/gas generator for RV and home

Price: $980 – 1000
Weight: 99 pounds
Running Wattage: 3400-watt portable generator right out of the box on either gasoline or propane,
Noise: ~59db
Warranty: 3 Years
Notable Features: Electric touch button start
Why buy this?: You need something beefier, perhaps to hook up to an RV, or as a backup to large home appliances in case of emergencies.

Champion 3400-Watt Dual Fuel Generator

If you’ve scrolled this far, maybe a small, cheap generator isn’t what you’re after.

While certainly less portable, this Champion 3400 inverter generator is definitely light enough for two people to easily lift into the trunk of a car, and comes with a built-in handle and wheel base to easily maneuver.

But what do you get with the extra weight? A lot of extra power (3400 Watts!), at very little extra cost compared to the small Honda generator.

Is this a suitable small generator for camping? Probably overkill, to be honest. But if you’re looking for a generator for an RV, or something that can be used to power larger appliances in case of a power outage, this is an unbeatably-compact option.

The features that get a real “upgrade” at this level? Personally, we think the fact that it takes both gasoline AND propane is hugely flexible. And on top of that, the electric push button start makes starting this generator much easier. No throwing out your shoulder trying to yank a pull cord.

A Note About Safety Around Small Gas Generators:

These generators are small, portable, brightly-colored, and help you power all your gismos and gadgets to have fun! But it’s important to be aware of the fact that these are combustion engines, and their exhaust can be very harmful in confined/limited spaces.

If you are under any covering, tent, tarp, or other enclosed space, be sure to use a LONG extension cord and place the generator a good 20-30 feet away from where you are hanging out.

If you’re on the fence about generators and are open to considering a “cleaner” energy source, you might want to check out our writeup on Solar kits or Lithium 12V batteries, which can often handle many of the same appliances and electronics!

Repairing a Small Portable Generator

The internals are straightforward and easily accessible on this scale of generator. Small engine repair of this size is pretty doable if you’re a halfway-handy person, and while we didn’t review this exact Generac model featured in this video below, we felt it gave a really clear view of the typical components and troubleshooting tips that are helpful for all of the above mentioned models.

Portable Generator Accessories

Lastly, if this is your first compact generator, there are a couple small accessories that will make your life a lot easier in terms of maintenance, filling the gas tank, and making your electrical connections in a safe manner.