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Generator Shopping Guide

Photo by sshepard via iStock

When it comes to camping and overlanding, one of the must-have items you need is a good generator.

The operative word here is “good.”

Sure, there’s plenty of generators out there, and many of them are really inexpensive, but when buying a generator, getting a bargain-basement one is generally not a good idea.

Years ago, I bought an off-brand 2000-watt generator merely because the price was phenomenal. Unsurprisingly, that generator seldom worked, and when it did, it didn’t work for very long.

So, while the price of a generator is certainly a good factor to consider when making a purchase, there are many other factors that should be involved. In this generator shopping guide, I’ll give you the scoop on what to look for when buying a generator, that way you end up with something that is durable and reliable for years and years to come.

My Generators

61ctWYQfPOL. AC SL1200

Before we dive into the meat of this generator shopping guide, I want to quickly review the generators I use for camping and overlanding.

The first is a Generac 7127 iQ3500 (shown above). It’s a beast of a generator and has a 3,500-watt starting output and 3,000 running watts. The second is an ALP 1000-Watt propane generator (shown below) that I use most often because of its portability and reliance on propane, which is much cleaner than burning gas.

While the Generac is a great generator, for the purposes of this guide, I’m recommending the ALP 1000-watt propane generator as the ideal solution for camping and overlanding.

alp1000-2

I don’t take this recommendation lightly, either.

Before I got this generator, I spent a lot of time learning about generators and researching what features to look for. I’ve also spent months and months putting this generator to the test in all sorts of locations and environments. With that experience under my belt, I have the insights to pass on some of the things you need to look for in a high-quality generator.

Now, let’s get to the guide…

Generator Shopping Guide: Look for Portability

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As I mentioned above, I use my Alp generator far more than the Generac due in large part to its portability.

When shopping for a generator, you want to keep an eye on its weight and its dimensions as space is a precious commodity when you go camping or overlanding.

My Generac generator is absolutely huge – roughly 24″ x 18″ by 22″ and weighs nearly 110 pounds. That’s a big generator to lug around…

By contrast, my ALP generator is roughly 18″ x 10″ x 14″, so it has a much smaller form factor. It also tips the scales at just 30 pounds, so it is a much easier generator to pack, load, and unload than the Generac. It’s just one of the many reasons why I rave about this generator.

Now, I get that if you have a huge fifth wheel camper that you likely have the space for a larger generator. But if you have a smaller setup or you’re going on an overlanding trip that lasts for weeks or months, you simply won’t have the space for a giant generator. That’s why looking for something that’s small, yet mighty is so important.

Consider Your Power Needs

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A second tip I want to mention in this generator shopping guide is that you need to consider what your power needs are.

Using the fifth wheel example from above, if you have a giant rig, you’ll need a generator that has the power output to run the electrics in your camper. Heck, I know lots of folks that have huge rigs and run two generators in parallel so they have enough juice for their appliances, TV, lights, air conditioning, and so forth.

But most of us in the overlanding and off-road community don’t have huge campers like that. Instead, we run lean and mean and don’t have a ton of power needs.

For my purposes, the 1000-watt generator from ALP hits the sweet spot. 

I use it to run my lights around camp, power the fridge in my trailer, to charge my electronics and so forth. It has AC and DC outputs – something else to look for as you shop – so I can power various accessories around camp. This generator will even power your fridge at home for several hours in the event of a power outage.

Generator Shopping Guide: What’s the Run-Time?

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An all-important feature of any generator is its run-time.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not too excited about getting up in the middle of the night, finding my way down the ladder of my rooftop tent, and wandering into the darkness to fill up my generator that’s run out of fuel.

But that’s not a worry with a propane generator like the ALP because it has an incredible run-time of up to 60 hours with a 20-pound tank at a 25 percent load. That’s a lot of peace of mind that you’ll have power for a long, long time! And since this generator is compatible with 5-pound takes as well, you get the flexibility of bringing the right amount of fuel for your needs on each trip.

I have to admit that I was a little worried about using a propane generator, but this thing has convinced me that it’s the way to go.

Not only do you get excellent efficiency, but it runs cleaner and there’s no fumes around camp. I really like not having gas cans in the underbelly storage of my trailer, either, as they always stink and usually leak, too. That’s not a concern with propane canisters!

How Loud is It?

A final component of this generator shopping guide is this – consider how loud the generator is.

I don’t know about you, but when I go camping or overlanding, I don’t want to be that guy that disturbs everyone with a loud generator, especially at night.

Some generators do a great job of keeping things quiet, but others (like that off-brand one I spoke of that I bought years ago) are obnoxiously loud.

Any generator you find online should list what the decibel output is. For example, the ALP generator I have is rated at 52 dBA, so it’s whisper-quiet considering the traditional range for camping generators is around 50-70 decibels.

Generator Shopping Guide: Do Your Due Diligence

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As I mentioned earlier, when I was on the hunt for a new generator, I spent a long time researching different brands, features, and so forth, so I knew I was getting something that fit my specific needs. By using the guidelines I’ve laid out here, you’ll be well on your way to finding a generator that works well for you.

When it comes down to it, the ALP 1000-watt generator ticked all the boxes for me – it’s lightweight and portable, runs efficiently and cleanly, is quiet, and has all the power I need (it can even run in parallel!). It’s even EPA and CARB approved! Check out ALP generators to get more details and to see if this generator will fit your needs as well as it does mine.

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