Portable generators are intended to provide temporary power when utility is not available. These devices are usually connected to the loads via extension cords, although a connection via an optional transfer switch is more convenient. They are often used in homes, on construction sites, farms, motor homes, recreation vehicles, and in camping trips. Most models are fueled from the on-board tank and therefore can't run for a long time without refueling. More expensive multi-fuel devices can be hooked up to a natural gas or propane line for longer operation. For more details, see our portable generator guide. To save you hours of research and help you choose the best device for the job, I put up the rating chart below. It compares the characteristics and typical prices on some of the top rated brands. The chart is followed by my selection considerations.
Updated: January 2017

(with links
to spec,
price, reviews)
XP10000E DuroMax 10000/ 8000 recoil, electric 8.3 gal
10 hrs @ 50% load
yes 72 249 gasoline $805 OHV engine, EPA approved
Elite Series
Briggs & Stratton 8750/ 7000 recoil, electric 7.5 gal
9 hrs @ 50% load
yes n/a 250 gasoline $900
OHV engine
RS7000E Generac 8750/ 7000 electric 7.5 gal
12 hrs @ 50% load
yes n/a 192 gasoline $1000 OHV, never-flat wheels
68530 Predator 8750/ 7000 recoil, electric 6.6 gal, 12 hrs @ 50% load optional 76 104 gasoline $600 12 VDC port, low oil shutdown
RD906812 Ridgid 8500/ 6800 electric 7 gal
9.5 hrs @ 50% load
yes 78 245 gasoline $1465 OHV Yamaha engine
EU7000iS Honda 7000/ 5500 recoil, electric 5.1gal
10 hrs @ half load
yes 60 253 gasoline $4,450 inverter; speed control for fuel economy
GP5500 5939 Generac® 6875/ 5500 recoil 7.2 gal
10 hrs @ 50% load
yes n/a 180 gasoline $690 OHV engine, never-flat wheels
GEN4000LP Sportsman 4000/ 3250 recoil 10hr @ 50% load no n/a 93 propane $340 AVR, 5-ft regulator hose
DS4000S DuroStar 4000/ 3300 recoil 4 gal
8 hrs @ 50% load
optional 69 93 gasoline $250-300 OHV engine


So, what portable generator is the best? Gasoline models are the most popular short-term backup power devices. Many of them are relatively cheap, although after hurricane Sandy prices on most models have spiked and many were out of stock. A well-known consumer magazine in its recent review rated "Best Buy" the following four models: Troy-Bilt® XP7000 30477, Briggs & Stratton 30470, Generac® GP5500 5939 and RS7000E, and Predator 68530. These units are reasonably priced and have mostly positive users reviews. Note that Troy-Bilt® XP7000 30477 which is sold at Lowe's, is actually made by Briggs & Stratton. This 7000 watt part looks similar to their 30470-0, which is currently replaced by a newer 30663.
Home generator guide
Predator brand seems to be about 30% cheaper than the others, but you have to pay extra if you want a wheel kit. It is using a Chinese-made engine, but nowadays many gensets are built in China anyway. Something CR did not mention was Harbor Freight also carries #68525, which costs about the same as 68530, but is CARB compliant and can be sold in CA.

In its past review, the consumer magazine also recommended Ridgid 34348 (RD906812), which is over-priced.

The CR rating covered only gasoline-fueled portables and mainly those brands that are sold at hardware stores. Of course, if you need an emergency power immediately, a local store is your only option. Otherwise, buying online have a number of potential advantages, such as broader selection, lower prices, and in some cases, no sales tax and even free delivery. As for the fuel, the main drawback of all gasoline-fueled products is getting gas after a major disaster may be a problem. You will need to refill the fuel tank several times a day if you run it non-stop at rated load. Unfortunately, gasoline can't be stored for a long time and during a blackout gas may be unavailable. Therefore, such a generator may be a good solution only for short-term rolling blackouts or for camping trips. However, if you keep a genset for emergency backup, you should store a large amount of stabilized gasoline (say, 100-200 gallons for a week supply) and replace it at least every other year.
That's why I would go for LPG (casually called propane). It can be stored practically indefinitely. Besides natural gas it is the only type of fuel that may be obtainable during power outages- you don't need electricity to refill the canister. If you need to energize just a few appliances or tools, I would consider propane-powered Sportsman GEN4000LP that sells for less than many brands on the U.S. market (see the comparison chart above). When powered from a single BBQ tank, GEN4000LP will provide about the same run time as comparable small gensets per tankful. For higher power there is a broad selection of other propane-fueled devices.

Note that practically all small gensets use 3600-RPM air cooled engines with relatively short product lives: about 500-1500 hours of use. When used occasionally in an emergency, they might remain operational for about 5 to 7 years. But if you are looking for a power source for frequent use (for example on job sites), you may want to consider a diesel engine. Diesel generators of course cost more, but they have 2-3 times longer life than gas models. Diesel, likewise may not be available during a wide spread blackout, but it is safer to store.

If you prefer the convenience of portability and continuous power at extra cost, you might consider a multi-fuel device that can be hooked up to a natural gas line or a large propane tank. The tri-fuel Northstar 8000 TFG used to be quite popular and had good users reviews. A few years ago Northern Tool + Equipment who made this device, has discontinued it. Right now there is a number of other multi-fuel generators, such as a relatively inexpensive Powerland 8.5/7.0 kW model PD3G8500E. Alternatively, many gasoline-powered models can be converted to multi-fuel ones with a third party conversion kit that enables them to run on LPG and diesel. This option may be less expensive than buying a tri-fuel model, but you will still have to deal with a light-duty gas engine.
For more information see this review to portable power and my picks of best portable generators.
The characteristics in the chart are based on manufacturer's or seller's specifications available at the time we compiled this review. The prices are given for the same period of time (shipping is not included, but may be free in many cases). Of course, prices and specs are subject to change without notice. For permanent "whole house" backup power devices and transfer switches see our discount generators page.

Most listed models provide standard duplex outlets 120VAC 60 Hz (15 or 20 A) and a twist-lock 120/240VAC 30A outlet (except for 4000 watt models, which have only 120VAC). Other higher current twist-lock outlets if offered may be listed in the "Features" column.
N/a means data "not available" (i.e. we could not find this information).
All data here are provided As Is- no responsibility for any errors. The devices compared above represent only a fraction of all available models. For official datasheets you may contact the respective manufacturers.
Product reviews and the analysis are provided for information purposes and reflects only the opinion of the author. The sole responsibility when selecting a product rests with the buyer- read important Terms of Use (Disclaimer) as well as Disclosure linked below.
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