Travel Trailers with Generators: Who Makes the Best?
We know why you’re here.
You’re here because you want good, solid recommendations about the best travel trailer generators on the market today.
You want to know:
- why you might need one at all
- what size you might need
- what devices they power
- how much they weigh
- how quiet they are
- what they cost, and
- how best to hook one up.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Why do you need a portable generator?
You probably didn’t buy a camping trailer just to go from RV park to RV park, where they have plenty of electricity.
You likely bought it to experience the wonder of nature up close and personal — to escape the city and step out each morning to the quiet and woodsy smell of an old growth forest. Or to hear waves crashing on the beach just steps from your door.
However, at some point, even in those remote spots, you’re going to want a hot meal, or a hot shower. Or be able to power up your smartphone to catch the latest weather forecast.
That won’t happen if your phone is dead from navigating you safely into the back of beyond. And your morning cup of coffee will have to be brewed over a campfire. Which has a certain amount of charm, of course. But, really, if you wanted to do that, you’d still be tent camping.
Getting the most from your camping trailer
When you bought your trailer, you probably knew it didn’t have an onboard generator. Most camping trailers and travel trailers today — even the big ones — don’t carry enough fuel to power them.
Your power needs. Make a list. Or don’t.
We could have you make a list of all the items and devices aboard your trailer that need power, as others on this Google page have suggested. That would certainly be a responsible and prudent thing to do. Then, you could take a long look at that list and know each device or appliance’s requirements right down to the last amp.
If you really want to go to that much trouble, click here. We’ll wait.
That list is pretty intimidating. But if you consider the fact that it only tells part of the story, it’s even more daunting.
That list only gives running watts and amps. What it doesn’t say is that you must also factor in the tremendous 300% increase in wattage or amps each device pulls when starting.
So, in order to brew your morning coffee, it will take every amp of energy from your newly purchased 2000 watt generator to start the brewing cycle. And then it will require roughly one-third of the generator’s output — 1000 watts or 10 amps — to keep Mr. Coffee on and warming up your second cup.
That leaves very little power to do anything else substantial.
Heat up a sausage biscuit in the microwave? Not without unplugging Mr. Coffee first. Fire up the water heater for your morning shower? Not likely without sacrificing both your second cup of coffee and your sausage biscuit.
What are my options?
Each of those appliances requires just about all your overmatched generator’s resources to do the task at hand. And if you’re willing to play power roulette every day, doing everything one at a time to conserve energy, you’re a very patient individual indeed.
Oh, sure, you could do other stuff instead of using these high demand appliances. Charge your smartphone. Make a smoothie in the blender. Listen to a soothing CD. Even throw something in the crockpot to simmer all day in anticipation of dinner. Doing all these things requires very little wattage or drawdown on your 2000 watt/30 amp capacity.
But don’t even think about starting your rooftop AC. Or blow drying your hair (after a cold shower because you can’t wait 6 hours for the water heater to bring the water to even a tepid warmth).
Enough. We get the point.
The thing is, even a 2200 watt generator, working by itself, is going to strain to keep up with the needs of a family vacationing in their travel trailer. We’re all just too accustomed to unlimited power on demand.
They can make a tremendous difference, however, if you combine two in tandem to supply a robust 4000 to 4400 watts of power on demand. At that point, you can stop counting amps and get about the business of boondocking.
Here’s our first pick
So, you’ve got three choices for supplying your travel trailer with power when you’re not at a campsite with hookups:
- Use one portable generator with enough horsepower to give you at least enough juice to handle your day to day needs on a rotating basis — at least a 2200-watt generator like the one to the left, or
- Hook two 2000-watt or 2200-watt generators together, giving you practically all the power you need, or
- Fire up a big dog like the third unit down, with 4,000 starting watts right out of the box.
Here’s a short profile on the 2200 watt Briggs & Stratton 30651 P2200 PowerSmart Series Portable 2200-Watt Inverter Generator.
They’re very portable, stowing easily in your camping trailer at only 55 pounds. Or, as we suggested earlier, you can secure them in the bed of your pickup, or on the back of your trailer in a basket.
At the flip of a switch, Quiet Power Technology will automatically adjust engine speed to reduce noise, save fuel and run longer. At just 59 decibels at 25% load, this inverter generator is quieter than a typical conversation.
And it will — if everything else is off — start and run a 13,500 BTU roof-mounted air conditioner. But you’ll need to switch it off before powering up another large device, like your water heater or even your microwave.
The solution? Buy two — they’re only $500 or so — and link them together for just about all the power you need to run everything at once, Then, if you just want one to power your laptop under the canopy some morning while you drink your first cup of coffee, just unhook it from tandem mode and run it quietly all by itself.
Here are more specs and benefits of this powerful little unit.
- Inverter Generator Quiet Power Technology
- 8-Hour Run Time at 25% Load
- (2) 120V Household Outlets
- (1) 12V-5A, DC Outlet with USB Adapter
- (1) Parallel Port
- 24-Month Limited Consumer Warranty
Our second pick
Here’s one of the top-rated 2000-watt portable generators — the WEN 56200i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator, CARB Compliant (which means it passes the strict California emissions standards test and can be shipped there.)
It’s also suitcase-size at 48 pounds and can be paired with another unit to get a robust combined 4000 watts of output — at the lowest price of all the portable generators — typically under $500 each.
That makes it a very affordable option to really light your travel trailer up — 24/7. But again, you’ll be playing power roulette, rotating devices, because of limited horsepower.
Pairing two pf these generators together will be key to worry-free power needs in the back of beyond. No need to have just one unit quickly overmatched by your family’s robust energy needs. Together, their combined 4000 watts will give you all the juice you’ll need.
Here are a few of its many benefits:
- Extremely quiet operation — comparable to the sound of a normal conversation.
- EPA III and CARB Compliant 79.7 cc 4-stroke OHV engine produces 2000 surge watts and 1600 running watts
- Produces clean power to safely operate and prevent damage to sensitive electronics such as smart phones, tablets, televisions and computers
- Includes two three-prong 120V receptacles, one 12V DC receptacle and one 5V USB port
Want to buy just one generator?
Then take a look at the Champion 4000-Watt RV Ready Digital Hybrid Open Frame Inverter with Quiet Technology. At 4000 starting watts, and 3500 running watts, it will keep you cool by starting and running your 13,500 BTU rooftop air conditioner and still supply enough power for just about everything else.
And at around $560, it’s one of the most affordable large capacity generators out there.
This generator can also pull double duty in case of an extended power outage at home. It can easily supply power for big appliances like your refrigerator and freezer in case a big storm knocks out your power.
It will keep the lights on, run the sump pump, power up your modem/router, furnace blower, fan, TV/DVD, computer, smartphone/tablet charger, and many other devices. (See our helpful guide on connecting a generator to your home’s breaker box, later in this article). Of course, the two other generators, hooked together, can power your home as well.
The only downside to this solution is that the Champion weighs almost twice as much as the others at around 85 pounds. However, you can leave it permanently stored in your pickup bed or trailer-mounted basket and you’ll never know the difference. That’s what a number of other travel trailer owners do. See the section below.
Here’s how some campers who tow their camping trailers with pickups have addressed the issue of excessive weight in a full-featured RV-ready generator. They just secure it in the bed of the pickup and they run it there.
Got a cover? Open the back end wide and drop the tailgate. Put a stout piece of formica or some other heat-proof material under it before starting it. (Check with a local cabinet maker for a leftover small piece) Here’s a forum thread that discusses this topic, with pictures.
Those with SUVs advise getting a cargo carrier to transport the bigger, more powerful generators. Mount it on the rear chassis of your trailer (click here to see photos). But be sure to secure the generator safely for transport with rubber straps, and heavy duty bike lock chains to prevent theft.
Let’s see. What other questions?
Ah. How best to hook them up to your camping trailer or travel trailer.
Your trailer, if new, should have come with a thick power cord, probably about 20 feet long, with 30 amp connectors on each end (one male, the other female). If you don’t have one, here’s an inexpensive one on Amazon.
Simply position your generator(s) at least 15 feet away (the full 20 feet is better), or leave them mounted in the basket or in your pickup bed. On the Champion, there is a built-in receptacle for a 30 amp cord. On the other two, which just have 110 AC plugs, you’ll need this “dogbone” adapter. And if you don’t know what a “dogbone” is in RV parlance, watch this homemade video. It explains stepdowns and stepups pretty well — situations you may encounter in RV parks or elsewhere.
A short, practical lesson in power capacity
Bear with us as we try to sum up and simplify the practical application of the Champion’s 4000 watt output (or the two other units’ 4000 to 4400 watt output) . Sorry if it feels like high school algebra.
With 4000 starting watts and 3500 running watts (37.7 amps starting and 33.4 amps running) you can easily start and run a 13,500 BTU air conditioner (expending 1250 watts or 14 amps) and leave quite a bit of capacity left (2250 watts/19.4 amps) to start and run a number of other devices/appliances:
So, after firing up the AC, feel free to start the coffee and then, when it’s all brewed, heat up your sausage biscuit,
|Coffee Maker (4 cup – 10 cup)||650-1200 watts||5.7-10.4 amps|
|Microwave (on high power)||1100-2000 watts||9.6-17.4 amps|
Even with 4000 watts, though, best wait til you’re done with the coffeemaker and microwave before starting to heat water for your shower.
|ElectricWaterHeater (6 gallons)||1440 watts||12.5 amps|
That leaves 810 watts/6.9 amps capacity left while the water’s heating up. You can cruise the Internet, listen to a CD or watch a DVD, charge your cell phone, shave, and even throw something in the crockpot for dinner.
|Laptop||50-75 watts||0.4-0.7 amps|
|CD/DVD Player||35-100 watts||0.3-0.9 amps|
|TV – 25″ Color||300 watts||2.6 amps|
|Cell Phones||2-6 watts||0.1 amps|
|Shaver||35 watts||0.3 amps|
|Crockpot||250 watts||2.2 amps|
See how it works?
That’s the advantages of more — rather than less — generator output. If you can remember the example above and then just glance at the power chart from time to time for awhile, you’ll quickly get a feel for what you can safely run at the same time.
Weighs about 47 pounds, and operates at 48 to 57 dBA, which is less noise than a normal conversation.
This unit will run from 4 to 9 hours on a single tank of gas — depending on the load — and can be carried either bungeed inside the travel trailer or, better yet, mounted on a steel basket attached to your trailer’s rear chassis. Or, it can ride and be operated in your pickup’s bed (secured against theft, of course).
The cost for these units? About $1,000. Each.
Do you get a good ROI on such a large investment? You’ll need to be the judge of that. The Hondas are very highly rated, but, in our opinion, a bit overpriced.
Still wondering what an inverter is? Watch this video.
What else do we need to cover?
There’s the issue of noise. This compares decibel levels to real-world scenarios.
And here’s how the four portable generators we’ve discussed stack up, noise-wise:
- Yamaha EF2000iSv2 – 51 decibels
- WEN 56200i – 51 decibels
- Briggs & Stratton 30651 P2200 — 59 decibels
- Champion 4000 – 62 decibels
A final note
There are other portable generators out there which we looked at carefully, but elected not to recommend due to:
- High price relative to power output
- High noise levels
- Mid to low Amazon ratings and complaints
What if power goes out in my house? Can I use these generators there?
Yes, all these units will work. Either by pairing or, in the case of the Champion generator, all by itself.
Again, check the wattage requirement chart below to see (a) how many watts/amps it takes to start an item and (b) how many it takes to keep it running.
By doing the math, you’ll quickly see that if you want to power your whole house, you’ll need one of the bigger (and probably less portable) travel trailers’ generators. Or a pairing of two smaller units.
Finally, a few practical tips on tying into your breaker box
Just in case you need the knowledge…
An article on Instructables.com outlines your options:
“Automatic transfer switches will sense a power loss, start your standby generator and automatically move your load to the generator. These are awesome – but very expensive and require a full time dedicated standby generator.
“Manual transfer sub panel switches are a good option. They are less expensive than the automatic transfer switches (Starting around $300) and can be used with a portable generator. They typically only cover a few breakers which was problematic for me.
“Breaker Interlock is the option I chose. It is National Electric Code compliant and is in my opinion the least expensive and most flexible option.
“My setup cost was just under $150. In this setup you use a breaker to energize your existing breaker box. Switching it on is easy and safe.
“My wife did an unassisted dry run in under 5 min – which included getting the generator out of the building.”
And, finally, unless you’re a pretty good Do It Yourself handyman, you probably should hire an electrician to prep you for the possibility of having to power your home with a portable generator.
|Appliance||Running Watts||Amps @ 115V|
|Air Conditioner – Roof Top|
|Blow Dryer (Hair)||900-1500||7.8-13|
|Coffee Maker (4 cup – 10 cup)||650-1200||5.7-10.4|
|Electric Fry Pan||1200||10.4|
|ElectricWaterHeater (6 gallon)||1440||12.5|
|Furnace Fan (1/3 HP)||1200||10.4|
|Microwave (600 to 1000W)||1100-2000||9.6-17.4|
|Satellite Dish & Receiver||200-250||1.7-2.2|
|TV – 25″ Color||300||2.6|
|TV – 19″ Color||160||1.4|
Need a WiFi connection while camping?
Speaking of laptops and tablets — and cell phones — how can you get a WiFi signal while camping? Take a look at this post on the three top solutions.
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We appreciate you stopping by and hope our insights have proven helpful. If the information has been at all helpful, and you decide to buy, we’d appreciate your using one of our links. We’re members of Amazon Associates and receive a small commission for every sale. And, ff you have had a good experience with one of these units — or another generator — feel free to leave a comment below.
Thanks so much!