Power outages are often more than just an inconvenience; particularly for vulnerable populations, they can be downright dangerous. Sometimes a generator is necessary to keep the refrigerator running and prevent food from going bad for days, ensure medical devices work properly, or heat or cool the house during extreme weather. A power outage may leave you caught in the dark, but you can still be prepared by buying a portable generator.
How to Choose and Use a Generator
Standby generators are handy in that they will power your whole home and automatically start once the power goes out. But they’re expensive and require professional installation that’s probably unnecessary for most households and the occasional power outage.
The average homeowner likely only requires a portable generator, which can still power major home appliances like the refrigerator. Ranging from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars, these generators come with a wide range of wattage.
Consult our guide on how much wattage certain appliances use on average to determine the appropriate size of generator you should get. Though the most powerful may weigh more than 200 pounds, others are under 50 for easier portability. These also grant you the versatility to take them camping or use them in an RV as well.
Don’t just buy a generator now and wait until the power goes out to learn how to use it safely. Most important to know is that generators must always be used outdoors the farther away from your home, the better due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust.
It may also be worth purchasing a generator with a carbon monoxide cutoff switch, which will detect the build-up and turn off the generator if levels get too high. Consult our guide for more safety tips you should learn before running your generator.
How We Selected These Generators
To select these eight generators, we thoroughly evaluated each product and relied on previous Popular Mechanics coverage on home and portable generators.
We surveyed the market and took into account both user reviews and professional reviews from trusted publications such as Wirecutter, The Spruce, and Safety.com. We evaluated these generators based on ease of operation, power, value, safety, and reliability to select the top performers.
1. Duromax XP12000EH Dual-Fuel Portable Generator
9,500 watts | 18HP 457cc OHV engine | 8.3-gallon tank | 74 dB | 260 lb.
- Runs on both gas and propane
- Heavy-duty frame
With a peak of 12,000 watts, this Duromax is one of the most powerful portable generators. Its dual-fuel capability means it can run on propane or gas. A 20-pound propane tank at 50 percent max output will provide 20 hours of power, while gasoline at 50 percent will run for 10 hours.
the XP12000EH has a user-friendly electric start, as well as an optional recoil start just in case. The heavy-duty metal frame will also protect it when it’s outside amid potentially falling debris in stormy conditions, and the power panel includes individual breakers for added safety.
This generator may be heavy, so maybe don’t store it in the basement if you can help it, but its big wheels will help you transport it from the garage to outside before you fire it up. Besides, all Duromax generators come with a three-year warranty.
2. Champion Dual-Fuel Portable Generator
3,800 watts | 224cc Champion 4-Stroke engine | 3.4-gallon tank | 68 dB | 119 lb.
- Dual fuel
- Cold-weather start
The most affordable full-size generator here, this Champion is loaded with plenty of power and features to get you through a storm. It’ll run on propane for up to 10.5 hours or a full tank of gas for up to nine.
In addition to its easy push-button start, its cold-start technology improves its ability to power up when the temperature drops, which is especially useful when you lose electricity in the middle of a blizzard.
The Champion also boasts features for safety and durability like a cast-iron sleeve, built-in surge protection, oil sensors, a folding handle, and a variety of outlets all of which make it a great buy for a relatively low cost.
3. Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator
7,500 watts | 420cc 4-Stroke OHV engine | 6.6-gallon tank | 73 dB | 192 lb.
- Remote start
- Long run time
- Louder than comparable models
This Westinghouse is only powered by gas, so it doesn’t have a propane fuel option like the Duromax and Champion above. But it provides a decent 16 hours of run time at 25 percent load. Its remote key fob can start it from up to 109 yards away, so you won’t have to go out into the storm to power it up.
Its steel frame adds protection to the six-gallon tank. If you want the option of propane power, Westinghouse offers a similar 7,500-watt model with dual fuel at a higher cost.
4. Wen 56200i 2,000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
1,600 watts | 79.7cc 4-stroke OHV engine | 51 dB | 48 lb.
- Quiet operation
- Portable and versatile
- Energy-efficient mode
- Only runs up to 6 hours
One of the quietest generators on this list, the Wen inverter makes about as much noise as a normal conversation. It’s safe enough to use to power laptops, phones, and other small electronics, but its 1,600 running watts can also provide enough juice to run for up to six hours at 50 percent capacity.
For more power, a parallel connection kit that’s sold separately can allow you to connect multiple generators to this model for added wattage. When you don’t need as much, it also has an “Eco-Mode” that saves gas by automatically adjusting its fuel use as you plug or unplug appliances.
Because it weighs just under 50 pounds, it’s a portable generator that you can fairly easily transport when camping as well.
5. Honda EU2200i Portable Inverter Generator
2,200 watts | 121cc GXR120 engine | .95-gallon tank | 57 dB | 47 lb.
- Light and portable
- No push-button start
The Honda EU2200i portable generator strikes a great balance between power, noise, and weight. With 2,200 running watts, it can putter on for four to nine hours on a single tank.
Like the Wen, it’s light and easy to carry, but is slightly more powerful and produces more noise as a result. This Honda doesn’t have an electric start, but its recoil is smoother than some alternatives.
6. Duromax XP4850EH 3,850-Watts Portable Generator
3,850 watts | 7HP 212cc OHV engine | 4-gallon tank | 69 dB | 127 lb.
- Runs on propane and gas
- Metal construction
This Duromax compares to the Champion generator in terms of its wattage, weight, noise level, and dual-fuel options, but it costs just under $500. It can run with propane at half load for nine hours or gas for 11, which is slightly longer than comparable models in this price range. It’s also constructed out of metal but does lack some user-friendly features that the Champion possesses, like the cold-weather start.
7. DuroStar DS4000S 3300-Watts Portable Generator
3,300 watts | 7HP 208cc OHV engine | 4-gallon tank | 69 dB | 105 lb.
- Gas only
- No electric start
The DuroStar is a less expensive, gas-only alternative to the 3,850-watt Duromax. It’s similar in terms of size and noise level but can run only up to eight hours with its four-gallon tank.
We think propane capability is often worth the extra price, but if you just need a mid-grade, gas-powered generator, this DuroStar is an affordable and reliable option.
8. Goal Zero Yeti 500X Portable Power Station
505 watts | Lithium battery | 13 lb.
- Silent and exhaust-free
- Can use solar power
- Not for running full-size appliances
Though it won’t power your whole home, the Yeti 500X backup battery can keep your phones, computers, and other electronics charged for days. At just 12 pounds, it’s a great option to take with you on car camping trips, but it also has enough power to keep small devices charged during a power outage.
According to Goal Zero, it has enough juice to charge a phone 40 times, a laptop 8 times, or run a TV for 3 hours. In our testing, the battery made it through two full days of heavy use when working from home. It’s also compatible with Goal Zero solar panels for recharging when off-the-grid.
While gas-operated generators require you to stock up on fuel, the Yeti has a much longer shelf life. It also has plenty of ports, including two USB-A, two USB-C, 12V, and two 120V AC inverters. For those looking for an easy, exhaust-free alternative to gas power, the Yeti is a safe bet.