When you’re in the garden, at the beach, or on a camping trip, portable generators will provide you with power when you need it – even when there’s no mains power source in sight.
These handy power stations can allow you to keep tools, lights, phones and appliances fully charged, wherever you are. They offer you freedom, flexibility and reassurance, and can be a great help if your area is prone to power cuts.
Portable generators are powered by fuel or electricity. Fuel-powered generators use an internal combustible engine to create their power, which is converted from mechanical to electrical energy.
In contrast, batteries store electrical energy, and are recharged from a DC or AC outlet, or solar panel.
Both types have their pros and cons, and we’ve included both on our list of the 5 best portable generators, which you can find below.
Last update on 2021-10-20 / All Pricing & Imagery from Amazon Product Advertising API
We’ve based our selection on the output, portability, noise level and value of these generators, as well as how useful we think they’d be, on the go.
Convenient portability, speedy charging, huge output variety, solar power on the go – what more could you want!?
Cost: £529.99 (solar panel and carry case cost extra)
Disclaimer: Jackery reached out to us to ask us to test one of their best-selling generators: the Jackery Explorer Solar Generator 500.
Now it’s not always easy to get your hands on these products to test them, given they usually cost upwards of £500. So this was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down.
After testing the product it became our resounding favourite – for reasons explored later in this review.
However, we’d like to make clear before we dig into our testing of this product that we received no monetary compensation from Jackery for their inclusion on this list – or for their position in this list as our top pick.
They were chosen based on merit alone – and as you can see from the reviews on their Amazon listing – there are thousands of other customers who agree with us. See our about page for more information on our strict editorial guidelines.
With that out of the way, let’s get into our testing of the product and our feedback –
Jackery sent us three products that work together in synergy:
- Jackery Explorer 500 Solar Generator
- Jackery Solar Saga 100W Portable Solar Panel
- Jackery Carrying Case Bag for Explorer 500
They arrived within a few days. Here’s how they look before and after unboxing:
The first thing we noticed was the ease of portability when using these three products together.
The solar panel folds in half and includes a carry handle, while the generator fits snug into the carry case – which has the dual purpose of protecting the generator from blows and water damage.
Testing The Jackery 500 Explorer
The items feel light which is often a difficulty when transporting your generator on a camping trip or festival.
At around 6Kg the generator shouldn’t be difficult to carry for most able-bodied persons.
Here’s a clear shot of the various outputs available from this generator:
Outputs on the unit include:
- 1 Standard 12V/10A carport
- 3 5V/2.4A USB ports
- 1 AC 230V/500W port
The input port is on the top left of the generator next to the display, which can be turned on using the button to the right. The ornate blue backlit display shows the current % charge; output and input in watts.
It can be charged via mains electricity as well as the optional extra solar panel.
The unit came 50% charged and testing showed that cable charging via the mains took roughly 15% per one hour of charging, so expect it to charge to full after roughly 6 hours.
The generator also has a torch built into the side of the unit, which is a sensible added feature that adds to the overall usability of the product.
To test the battery we charged to the generator to full and plugged a MacBook Pro into the unit for an hour – a test which used 9% of the battery power.
Since it takes about 2 hours for the laptop to reach full charge, we estimate that we’d get just over 4 full laptop charges out of the unit before needing to be re-charged.
This matches the claims made by the manufacturer of 3-4 laptop charges per 100%.
We think this is really impressive battery capacity for a unit of this size, weight and cost.
Testing The Solar Saga Panel
Here’s what the panel looks like when fully opened out:
It’s of a good size and includes a zip pocket on the rear side, with a built-in power cable that can be plugged directly into the generator input:
So far, so good – the unit was so easy to open up and operate that we needn’t even use the accompanying instructions.
When I initially tested the solar panel unit it was a dour overcast autumnal day here in the North of England.
Rather unsurprisingly, the generator charged only 1% in an hour, which we initially found to be a little disappointing – but only because we clearly had unrealistic expectations!
A day later we tested the solar panel on a clear, sunny day and we were pleasantly surprised by its performance.
Under direct sunlight, we found that the generator would charge at roughly 10-12% per hour – meaning you can expect to fully charge the unit on a clear, sunny day.
Given the capacity to use this on the go we found this extremely impressive – ideal for camping in the Summer months here in Britain!
While the solar panel is an additional cost (and not included as standard with the generator) we think it’s a worthwhile investment for power on the go.
Whether you need a generator for camping, festivals or for use in a trailer or camper-van – the Jackery 500 Explorer has more than enough capacity to meet the needs of most.
For everyone else, consider the 1000 Explorer which has twice the capacity of this unit!
- Extremely fast charging – expect 0 to 100% charge in roughly 6 hours when plugged into mains electricity.
- With five different outputs – an entire family can charge their phones, with space left over for a cooler and separate device plugged into the AC.
- The solar panel (while an additional cost) is easy to transport, incredibly convenient and fast-charging (in the right weather conditions!)
- The torch on the side of the generator is a nice added-touch from the manufacturer.
- Trusted, reliable brand – manufactured in the USA.
- The unit is actually a lot quiter than other generators we’ve used in the past.
- A lightweight unit at just 6Kg.
- Solar panel isn’t always a reliable option in the UK climate. While this isn’t a fault of the manufacturer – bear it in mind before depending on solar power for your trip.
- The solar panels also aren’t waterproof – so they will need constant supervision and may not be suitable for inclement weather conditions.
A lithium-ion battery, multiple outputs and comparatively low price make this portable power station an obvious choice for our value pick
We’ve selected this Allpowers 372Wh Portable Power Station as our best value portable generator – even though it’s not technically a generator. The 105000mAh lithium-ion battery in this power station may not be as powerful as an engine, but it’s still capable of charging your low-wattage devices dozens of times.
Instead of being powered by petrol, this power station can be recharged from a mains power socket, 12V car port or solar panel (compatible car charger and solar panel must be purchased separately). The lack of a fuel-powered engine also means this one is much quieter when running.
This power station has a plethora of outputs for charging your appliances, including 2 x Universal AC sockets, 2 x 12V outputs, 1 x cigarette port, 3 x USB ports and 1 x Type-C socket, so you can charge multiple devices at once. It has a pure sine wave inverter, so you can plug in sensitive items such as laptops and TVs with confidence.
Wireless charging allows you to charge your phone and other QI enabled devices without even plugging them in, and built-in Bluetooth connectivity means you can use the AiPower app on your phone to manage the battery wirelessly. This is one seriously high-tech battery pack.
When you consider the amount of features on offer, as well as the extremely competitive price tag, there’s no denying this portable power station is a serious contender.
- Powerful 372Wh lithium-ion battery.
- Pure sine wave inverter.
- 9 output sockets, including AC, DC and USB ports.
- Built-in wireless charging.
- Bluetooth technology lets you manage the station from your phone.
- Battery Management System controls temp and protects your devices.
- Ultra lightweight and portable – weighs just 4kg.
- Quieter than a petrol generator.
- Lower power than a petrol generator – only suitable for appliances under 300W.
- No car charging cable included.
This is a powerful petrol-powered generator, that’s suitable for use in motorhomes – but it comes at a high price
It’s back to a petrol-powered option for our next choice, which is this Hyundai P1 Eco Inverter Generator.
This generator is powered by a 4-stroke single-cylinder air-cooled engine, for reliable power. With a maximum output of 3800W, this is our most powerful generator, and is ideal for recreational use. The inverter is specifically designed to handle the charging requirements of power tools and appliances with high start-up currents.
When it comes to charging appliances, you have a choice of 2 x UK 3-pin plug sockets, 1 x DC outlet, and 1 x USB port, so it’s ideal for a variety of uses. An LCD display keeps you informed of the voltage and performance of the generator as it charges, and digital overload protection will shut the machine down if you’re asking too much of it.
The generator starts easily, thanks to the push-button start, which can be done remotely. Built-in ‘Eco’ mode works to improve fuel economy and reduce noise while the generator is running – although again, don’t expect it to be silent.
At 48kg, this is our heaviest generator, and it will need two people to lift it. However, built-in wheels and a handle mean it’s not too difficult to move around once it’s on the ground. It’s also our priciest generator – but that’s no surprise considering the power on offer.
- High maximum output of 3800W – charge high wattage tools and appliances.
- Produces pure sine wave power.
- Remote push-button electric start.
- Eco mode works to improve fuel economy.
- Rear wheels and front handle make it easier to move.
- You pay for power – this is our priciest portable generator.
- At 48kg, it’s also our heaviest generator.
Our best portable generator has 2 x UK 3-pin outlets, and will run for 6 hours on a single tank of fuel
Coming in at number 1 on our list of the best portable generators is this Camo Petrol Inverter from Bohmer-AG. This lightweight, camouflage print power pack runs on unleaded petrol, and has a 2000W pull-start copper wound motor, for high power and stability.
Efficiency is an important part of this generator; a fuel-efficient inverter reduces fuel consumption by up to 40%, and the economy mode function further cuts consumption and emissions, when switched on.
There are 2 x standard AC 3-pin plug outlets, as well as 1 x DC output, making it suitable for UK use – although unfortunately, there are no USB outlets. The pure sine wave output is uninterrupted, meaning you can charge sensitive appliances such as laptops, without the risk of damaging them.
This claims to be one of the quietest generators on the market, and is rated at 59dB. While this is fairly good for a fuel-powered generator, it’s by no means silent, so bear this in mind when choosing a petrol generator – especially if you’re going to be using it on campsites.
Overall, when you take into account the high power, long running time and comparatively low noise output, it’s clear that this is one of the best portable generators on the market at the moment. It may not be the cheapest option, but it’s worth it.
- Stylish camouflage design.
- Powerful copper wound motor with 1700W constant output.
- UK-friendly outputs: 2 x 240V 3-pin sockets and 1 x 12V DC output.
- Pure sine wave output is safe for all appliances.
- Can run for up to 6 hours on a single tank of fuel.
- Reasonably lightweight for a petrol generator (21.5kg).
- Economy mode to reduce fuel consumption and keep emissions low.
- 24-month warranty.
- No USB outlets.
- Not the cheapest option.
- Noisier than battery power stations.
This lithium-ion battery pack is packed with useful features, and would make an ideal camping companion
Our next portable power station is this Poweroak 500Wh Solar Power Station. As we like to mix things up, this stylish orange and black model is powered by a lithium-ion battery.
This battery has a peak power output of 450W, which is considerably lower than the petrol-powered models, and means it is only suitable for charging appliances up to a maximum of 300W. However, in exchange for that extra power, you get a stylish and lightweight power pack, with plenty of power outlets and additional features.
There are a total of 10 power outlets, which include UK AC outlets (pure sine wave), DC outlets, a car cigarette lighter, and 4 x USB points. This is the perfect choice for a large family to take camping, or for charging multiple devices on the go.
Other useful features include an integrated LED light, and wireless charging, which can be activated by simply placing your compatible phone on top of the battery. All this is contained in a lightweight box which weighs just 6.2kg, so it’s super easy to transport – especially with the foldable carry handle.
Ultimately, this is a great option for those looking for a quiet, lightweight and portable solution, that still packs a punch on power, and would be perfect for travelling and camping.
- High capacity lithium-ion power station.
- Impressive total of 10 power outlets, including AC, DC and USB ports.
- Includes wireless charging and LED light.
- Compact size and light weight makes it easy to transport.
- Includes AC charger and car charger, for greater flexibility.
- Perfect for camping and road trips.
- Only capable of charging appliances up to 300W – so no kettles, hairdryers etc.
This high output petrol generator is ideal for charging more power-hungry appliances
Cost: Price not available
Our final portable generator is the second model by Bohmer-AG to make it onto our list. This one delivers an impressive 2800W of power, and comes with electric key start, for easy firing.
Once it’s going, you should be able to get up to 10 hours run time from a full tank of fuel (11 litres). The intelligent power management system adjusts the power output to what you’re drawing, to save on fuel and emissions – although it’s still not as clean as a battery-powered model.
Being a petrol motor, it’s also noisier than the lithium-ion battery options we’ve featured. On the plus side, it is capable of charging much higher wattage appliances than a battery, using the 2 x AC UK 3-pin outlets and 1 x DC outlet.
If you experience any problems with the generator, there’s a 24-month warranty, for your peace of mind. This is another well-priced option, and offers a high amount of power for the money – we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
- Copper wound motor delivers a high power output.
- Electric key start for easy firing.
- Includes 2 x AC UK 3-pin outlets and 1 x DC outlet.
- Up to 10 hours run time from a full tank.
- Overload detection and low oil shut down feature for safety.
- Comes with 24-month warranty.
- Limited number of outlets, in comparison to most battery packs – no USB ports.
- Noisier than a battery power station (69dB rated).
- Heavy (44kg).
How Does A Portable Home Generator Work?
Portable home generators are either powered by fuel, or by a rechargeable battery. Fuel-powered generators work in the same way as a combustible engine, and can be powered by petrol, diesel or propane.
This type of generator also includes a starter, alternator, fuel tank and cooling system, as well as a generator head, which is what converts the mechanical energy into electricity, and powers the outlets.
Inverter generators are similar, but are designed to be smaller, quieter and more efficient. They work by producing more AC power per energy rotation, and then using a built-in inverter to convert this energy into a usable form (changing it from block waves to sine waves).
Battery-powered generators are different, as they don’t run on fuel. Instead, they are recharged via a mains outlet, solar panel or 12V car port, and store the electrical energy within the battery, ready for you to use when you need it. This type of generator also requires an inverter, to convert the power from DC to AC.
How To Test A Portable Generator Output
To test the output of a portable generator, you can use a handheld voltmeter. To do this, first turn on the generator, and then the voltmeter. Set the voltmeter to measure AC voltage (this is important, so that you don’t blow a fuse).
Ground the device by clipping the alligator clip on the voltmeter’s black cable to the frame of the generator. Next, take the voltmeter’s red lead, and touch it to the output plug on the generator, where you would plug in an appliance. The voltmeter will display the generator’s output voltage.
Checking the voltage of a generator is generally very safe, but there are some safety precautions you can follow. Make sure you’re wearing shoes with a rubber sole, and refrain from touching any wires, to reduce the risk of an electric shock.