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When you’re out on the road living your van life dreams, you’re going to need enough power to keep things running smoothly.
Choosing the right electrical setup for your van build is super-important, especially if you’re going to be spending time off-grid. You’ll most likely need a good-sized solar setup and efficient appliances, but there might be times when you need a little extra power.
The best camper van generator can provide a great backup solution to keeping your fridge running and your devices charged on cloudy days. Keep reading to find out more!
Table of Contents
Best Camper Van Generators
There are a lot of generators on the market, and finding one that’s right for your van setup is no mean feat. We’ve found the best generators for van life, ranging from lightweight dual-fuel options to super-popular solar generators.
- Weight: 46.5 pounds
- Power: 1,800 rated watts/2,200 peak watts
- Fuel: gas
Honda has long been a trusted brand when it comes to reliable and well-built generators. Although this portable generator is on the pricier side, it's a quiet and lightweight option that's got more than enough power for most van dwellers.
The Honda EU2200i Portable Inverter Generator uses gas, and you can get an incredible 8 hours of runtime on just one gallon of fuel when out camping. One of the quietest options, this portable generator only produces around 50 decibels, meaning you'll hardly notice it's there.
The Honda's advanced inverter technology makes it a super-reliable option, and the built-in CO-MINDER continuously monitors carbon dioxide around the unit, shutting it off when levels are too high.
The Honda EU2200i also comes with a smartphone app, allowing you to monitor the generator's performance via Bluetooth and even get service reminders on your phone!
- Weight: 48 pounds
- Power: 1,600 rated watts/2,000 peak watts
- Fuel: gas
The WEN 56200i portable generator is a much more budget-friendly option for van camping, but it has some amazing features and is definitely worth considering.
This van generator rivals the Honda EU2200i when it comes to low noise. At a quarter load, the WEN 56200i only produces around 51 decibels, which is much quieter than your average conversation around the campfire! Clocking in at just 48 pounds, this portable generator is another lightweight option. You'll have no problem moving this generator in and out of your van, and its carry handle is sturdy and ergonomic.
What we really love about the WEN 56200i is its eco-mode feature. This allows the motor to automatically adjust its fuel consumption, preventing unnecessary gas usage when you're camping far away from a gas station.
Like many portable inverter generators, the CARB-compliant WEN 56200i can be paired with other WEN generators to increase the total wattage.
- Weight: 46 pounds
- Power: 1,800 rated watts/2,200 peak watts
- Fuel: gas
Costing around the same as the WEN 56200i, this little portable generator is even lighter and more powerful. This is one of the most popular generators on the market for camping, and for good reason.
Like the previous generator, the Westinghouse iGen200 Portable Inverter Generator is really quiet. You can expect it to produce around 52 decibels under normal conditions, so you won't have to worry about annoying nearby van dwellers when out camping. This generator is also very easy to move around - it only weighs 46 pounds, and its suitcase-like handle makes carrying it a breeze.
With a pretty impressive peak power of 2,200 watts, this generator should be powerful enough to run an AC fridge, and safety features like low oil shutdown and overload protection will give you peace of mind . The Westinghouse is another generator with an economy mode, and can run for up to 12 hours on just over a gallon of fuel.
If you feel like adding more power, the Westinghouse iGen200 can be paired with other Westinghouse generators to give you a boost.
- Weight: 56.5 pounds
- Power: 1,800 rated watts/2,400 peak watts
- Fuel: gas
The Briggs & Stratton P2400 best portable generator for van life is a more expensive option than the previous two generators on our list, but we think it's a camper van generator that's definitely worth checking out.
Featuring super-sturdy construction, this portable generator's noise-reducing shell makes it quiet and effective, plus it looks pretty cool, too! Although the Briggs & Stratton's rated wattage is on the lower side, it does have 2,400 watts peak power, which means it's a great option if you're using appliances that need a lot of power to get started.
This portable generator for camping features a convenient monitoring system, with LED lights that'll let you know when the oil is low or when you're in danger of overloading the system. The Briggs & Stratton van generator also has CO Guard, which constantly monitors CO levels and safely shuts the generator down when the air becomes unhealthy.
Super-easy to set up and use, this CARB compliant generator has plenty of outlets, including USB ports and 120v household outlets.
- Weight: 47.6 pounds
- Power: 1,600 rated watts/2,000 peak watts
- Fuel: gas/propane
The Champion Power 100402 is one of the most popular generators for camping on the market, and if you're looking for a reliable and versatile way to add extra power to your van life setup, this could be the way to go.
Weighing less than 48 pounds, this best campervan portable generator shouldn't be too difficult to move in and out of your van, and its compact design makes it easy to carry. Although the Champion Power 100402 isn't as powerful as some other generators on our list, it's a fantastic option if you don't need to run too many appliances at the same time.
The main attraction of this portable generator is its ability to run on either gas or propane while camping. You can easily switch between fuel types, using the EX Start Dial, and the convenient Cold Start Technology means you'll have no problem starting the generator when temperatures are below freezing.
You can run this generator for up to 11 hours on a full tank of gas and an incredible 24 hours on a 20-pound propane tank! We really love the added features like LED lighting for filling the gas tank in the dark and the digital control panel with a low oil indicator.
- Weight: 53 pounds
- Power: 1,800 rated watts/2,200 peak watts
- Fuel: gas/propane
DuroMax is a well-respected company that offers a variety of rugged generators. The XP2200EH is one of the manufacturer's most popular models, offering portability, durability, and really packing a punch when it comes to power.
Best of all, this portable generator for camping runs on either gas or propane and won't break the bank. This awesome portable generator is powered by a DuroMax 79cc 4-cycle engine, and you can expect a run-time of around 7 hours at 50% load. If you use propane to power the DuroMax XP2200EH, it'll not only be more environmentally friendly but will run for an astonishing 19 hours.
The DuroMax XP2200EH is EPA and CARB approved for use in all 50 states, and we think this is definitely one of the best camper van generators, especially for the price.
- Weight: 125 pounds
- Power: 2,800 rated watts
- Fuel: gas
If you're looking for a built-in camper van generator, choosing a Cummins model is the way to go. This company produces a wide range of generators for all kinds of applications, including some that are ideal for van life.
Opting for this best campervan generator involves a much bigger investment, and you'll need to integrate it into your van conversion, but you'll benefit from an integrated power source that you won't have to move in and out of your vehicle.
The Cummins Onan RVQG 2800 is completely enclosed with a muffler, and is one of the quietest generators in its class. That said, this generator is substantially louder than the portable inverter generators on our list, producing around 70 decibels when running. You might not mind the extra noise when you consider how powerful this generator is. You'll have more than enough power to run an air conditioner, while still having enough left over for other appliances.
The Onan features a sophisticated microprocessor control with diagnostics and is easy to service without having to be removed. Plus, you'll get a 3-year warranty, which is pretty great!
- Weight: 31 pounds
- Power: 1,800 rated watts/3,300 peak watts
- Fuel: n/a
The EcoFlow DELTA is another hugely popular portable solar generator that's ideal for off-grid van life. This generator is a little more expensive than the Goal Zero Yeti, but we think it's one of the best portable generators out there.
With its sturdy aluminum casing, the EcoFlow DELTA looks super-cool, and we love the elegant, easy-to-read LED control panel that makes it really easy to keep track of the battery. This fantastic portable generator features an incredible 13 outlets, including 6 pure sine wave AC outlets and multiple USB ports.
You'll have ample power for all your appliances and devices, too - over 3,000 watts of surge capacity means this generator will even handle a van air conditioner. One of the EcoFlow DELTA's most impressive features is its ability to charge to 80 percent in only an hour from a 120v household wall socket. When you're living it up off-grid, you'll be able to fully charge in as little as 4 hours.
How Does a Camper Van Generator Work?
If you’re feeling confused about how a van generator works, don’t worry – it’s actually very simple. A generator is, essentially, an engine that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. As the engine turns, it supplies mechanical energy to an alternator, where it’s converted.
Unlike the alternator in your van, which converts AC power to DC power, a camper van generator outputs AC power.
One thing to bear in mind is that a van generator needs to be taken care of properly. You’ll need to make sure it gets frequent use so that the moving parts don’t seize up, and you’ll need to make sure a portable generator is stored safely inside your van.
Just like any other engine, you’ll need to make sure your generator always has enough fuel and that oil levels are sufficient for it to operate smoothly. It’s also a good idea to schedule routine maintenance checks.
Do I Need a Camper Van Generator?
Figuring out whether or not you’ll need a van generator really comes down to your van’s electrical setup and how you’ll be living while you’re on the road. You’ll also need to take a look at all the appliances and devices you’ll be using in your van.
If you spend the majority of your nights in developed campgrounds or RV parks, you most likely won’t need to worry about carrying a portable generator around. After all, you’ll be able to rely on shore power and charge your devices at the campground facilities.
On the other hand, if your van life dreams include extended boondocking stays in the wilderness, one of the best generators for a camper van can be a really useful addition to your setup.
No matter how extensive your solar setup is, you’re not going to be able to charge your batteries on cloudy days. Plus, the best generator will give you the freedom to run a van air conditioner on hot days without having to stress about draining your batteries.
Different Types of Van Generators Explained
There are loads of options when it comes to choosing the best portable generator. Broadly speaking, portable generators can be divided into four categories: diesel generators, propane generators, solar generators and gasoline generators.
If you own a diesel van like a Sprinter, buying a diesel generator might seem like a no-brainer. This is especially true if you’re planning on integrating a large generator into your van build. You’ll only need one fuel source for both your van and your generator. Diesel generators do have benefits: they’re more efficient than gas generators, they’re longer-lasting, and diesel is non-flammable. That said, diesel generators are noisier and heavier than their gas and propane counterparts.
Again, if you’re already using propane as fuel in your van, buying a propane generator makes sense. The best thing about propane is that it’s more environmentally friendly than both gas and diesel. Plus, these generators last a really long time and are usually quieter than other portable generators. On the downside, propane isn’t as efficient as gasoline so you’ll need to refill more often and finding a place to refill can be quite difficult in some parts of the country.
Solar generators, also known as portable power stations are a battery and inverter in one that charges using power from the sun, or a 120-volt outlet. These generators are super quiet, making no noise whatsoever, and are good for powering computers up to portable refrigerators. They won’t provide as many watts as a heavy-duty diesel or gasoline generator, though. The main plus is that you don’t need to carry around extra fuel with you.
There’s a reason most portable generators use gasoline. This fuel is cheap, readily available and fairly efficient. Gas generators are easy to maintain, powerful, and generate plenty of power. Unfortunately, the main downside is that gas generators produce carbon monoxide, making them the least environmentally friendly option. Of course, one way to have the best of both worlds is to buy a dual-fuel generator and use propane whenever you’re able.
Portable vs Built-In Generators
Most of the camper van generators on our list are compact, lightweight portable models. Sure, you can find plenty of huge and powerful generators, but these aren’t really suitable for van life, as they’re difficult to move around and take up a lot of space.
Installing a built-in generator is another option, although it’ll cost a lot more and take careful planning when you’re designing your camper van conversion.
Built-in generators are quite common in Class B camper vans, like the Winnebago Travato and Pleasure-Way Plateau. These generators are pre-wired to the van’s electrical system, so they’re easy to use. Plus, a built-in generator taps into the vehicle’s fuel tank, so you don’t need to carry extra fuel around.
A built-in camper van generator is definitely something to consider if you never want to worry about running out of power. However, if something goes wrong, it’s not just the generator that’ll have to be taken in. Your entire van will have to go along with it!
Standard vs Inverter Generators
You may be worried about buying a van generator because of the noise. After all, we’ve all had bad experiences with those people at campgrounds – the ones who run a noisy, dirty generator all night. None of us wants to be those people!
Fortunately, there’s a big difference between standard generators and portable inverter generators. Standard generators work with a constant engine speed, no matter what the load. As more load is added, the generator uses more fuel to maintain the RPM. Standard generators are noisy, dirty, and inefficient.
An inverter generator is a different animal and much more suited to van life. Usually containing a microprocessor, an inverter generator is designed to minimize noise and to run as efficiently as possible. The portable generator adapts to the load, so if you’re only charging a phone or running a 12-volt fridge, the engine will run at a substantially slower speed.
What Size Van Generator Do I Need?
There’s really only one way to figure out what size generator you’ll need. It’ll involve some maths, but nothing advanced!
First, you’ll need to look at the generator’s output. There are two figures to look at: the starting/surge/peak watts and the running/continuous/rated watts.
- Starting watts refers to the maximum amount of power the generator can come up with in a short burst. This is important for appliances like air conditioners and AC fridges that need a boost of power to get going.
- Running watts simply refers to the amount of power the generator can produce continuously.
Now it’s time for the maths. Look at the running watts of all your AC appliances and add them up. It’s best to have a little extra room, just to be safe.
Look at the starting watts needed for each appliance. The highest number of watts is the most important, because the generator will need to be able to handle this.
Remember: if you already have appliances running, your generator will need to be able to handle their running watts PLUS the startup watts of an additional appliance.
In reality, most van lifers can get away with using a 2,000 watt portable inverter generator. This will most likely be powerful enough to handle a few small appliances such as a coffeemaker, microwave and television.
Using a Van Generator to Power an AC Unit
If you plan on spending time off-grid during the summer months, you’ll most likely be more than a little concerned about staying cool in your van. While a rooftop vent fan can do a good job of keeping air flowing, only a van air conditioner will work to keep you nice and cool.
Even the most efficient air conditioner needs a lot of power to get going. Your generator will need a surge capacity of at least 3,000 watts and around 2,000 running watts to keep the air conditioner running.
If you want to the able to watch TV and stay cool, you’ll need a pretty powerful generator, which won’t come cheap.
What About Solar Generators?
Portable solar generators offer an excellent way to power your van conversion. However, it’s important to note that the name is a little misleading. Solar generators don’t actually generate anything. Rather, a solar generator is a portable power station with a solar charge controller, battery and inverter.
If you’re using a portable solar generator in your van, you’ll need to recharge the battery using solar panels, your van’s DC outlet, or a 120v household outlet. You can, of course, recharge a portable power station with a generator!
Summary: Things To Look For in a Camper Van Generator
As we’ve seen, there are many things to consider before buying a camper van generator. Let’s take a look at a few important things to look for in a generator.
Fuel and Efficiency
A good rule of thumb is to buy a generator that uses the same type of fuel as your van. Diesel generators are safer but noisy, and you might have a hard time finding a portable model.
Gasoline generators are less-efficient than diesel models, but there are tons of options and gas is everywhere. Propane is the most environmentally friendly option, but generators using this fuel haven’t really caught on yet.
Size and Weight
Living in a van means getting used to spending time in a small space where everything has its place! Generators can be heavy and bulky, and you have to store them inside. Plus, you’re going to have to be able to lift the thing in and out of your van. A lightweight, portable generator is definitely the way to go.
Generators can be noisy. Really noisy. Some campgrounds and natural areas have regulations that prohibit noise levels above 60 decibels. You should be fine with the best portable generators on our list, many of which produce around 55 decibels under normal loads.
If you’re going to be spending the winter skiing in the mountains, this is definitely an important consideration. Seeing as the fuel in many generators doesn’t burn well above 5,000 feet above sea level, you’ll need to consult each manufacturer’s specs to se how the unit will perform.
Many manufacturers produce altitude kits which adjust the generator’s fuel injection rate so that it’ll work safely at higher elevations.
Depending on which fuel you’re using, generators can produce quite a lot of pollution. This is unpleasant and unhealthy not only for your campsite but also for the environment.
Many states have adopted CARB standards to help reduce emissions. Although the majority of portable inverter generators and built-in van generators are CARB-compliant, it’s a good idea to check before buying.
Combustion engines emit tiny, hot particles that can be a potential fire risk. Preventing fires has never been more important, especially in the drought-stricken Western United States.
You should make sure your generator is fitted with a USDA Forest Service-approved spark arrestor, which catches the particles before they can escape into the air.
We hope you’ve found this article helpful! Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below.