Do you enjoy outdoor adventures that take you out of range of conventional power sources? If you find yourself camping, fishing, hiking, or partaking in any activity where you may need a little more juice and versatility than your average pack of batteries can provide, then investing in a small generator may be ideal. They can be charged up before you set out, and will allow you a higher degree of safety and convenience than ever before.
In this article, we will show you the market leaders for the best small generator. These small powerhouses will help you stay charged up and functional while away from, or unable to connect to, grid power. Take a look at our breakdown of all the top offerings!
- The overall best compact generator is the NEXPOW Portable Power Station. It is small enough to be effortlessly carried in your pack and comes with an array of great features including multiple charging options, emergency light, and battery management systems.
- The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 160 comes in at a very close runner up. It provides an easy and portable way to keep several USB devices charging. Also included are an AC outlet and 12V DC outlet, so no matter what power your item needs, you will be ready to plug in and power up.
- Our Best Budget Pick is the SUAOKI Portable Power Station and it is a great option for portable power that won’t break the bank. It houses an amazing 10 outlets in a form factor that is roughly the size of two coffee mugs. The built-in handles add extra convenience and portability.
Who Should Get This?
In what sort of situations or scenarios would a compact generator be useful? Here are a number of ways having the best small generator would be not only handy but downright indispensable:
- Campers & Hikers – if you regularly hike or camp, whether known trails and rented sites, or deep in the wilderness, this will help you keep your phone, GPS, or emergency radio charged. It can be useful even at night, by powering a fan or electronic insect repellent, or as an emergency light.
- Off-Grid Enthusiasts – if you enjoy an off-grid lifestyle, this is an ideal way to capture and store extra power during the day when your battery bank is full but your solar panels are still creating power.
- CPAP Users – if you use a CPAP machine while you sleep, this is the perfect solution for unexpected nighttime power failures, and far less expensive, bulky, and dangerous than conventional gasoline or diesel-powered generators.
- Hurricane-Prone Areas – living in a coastal region nearly guarantees that you will encounter a loss of grid power due to a hurricane or other storm. This would be a great way to make sure that you are prepared, and able to keep your phone and radio operational in order to hear updates and contact loved ones.
How We Picked The Best Compact Generator
No matter how you plan to use it, there are some important points to consider when browsing compact generators. Here are the factors that we used in order to evaluate these products.
Portable power is the reason you need a compact generator, so knowing how much power you will have is crucial. While there is not a huge amount of variance between the highest capacity generators and the lowest capacity, it is a very important consideration.
Since these are designed to be easily portable and transported, their weight will be an important factor. This is of particular concern for those planning to take their generator into the wilderness or overland for hiking or camping. If you are going to be carrying something for hours at a time, you definitely want to know how much extra weight you will be packing.
Here is another factor that might not seem incredibly important if you will be storing it at home for only emergency use. On the other hand, if you are going to be taking it on adventures, knowing how much room the generator is going to need both in the pack and in the tent.
While the number of outlets would not itself be a dealbreaker on any one particular generator, it is useful to see them compared. Most will have multiple USB outlets, along with an AC outlet and a DC outlet, but some may have more or may have them in different configurations.
These will likely vary from model to model. This will include bells and whistles that may not fall into other categories, may be of particular usefulness, or may just be worthy of consideration due to “cool factor”.
Best Compact Generator: Our Picks In 2020
The high degree of versatility, combined with the ample capacity, modest price point, and additional features make the NEXPOW Portable Power Station the clear overall best compact generator. Not only can it charge from solar panels, wall power, or car power, but if it is connected to the wall or car power, it can fully charge in only 4-5 hours.
The enclosure for this generator is made from an extremely durable aluminum alloy and is combined with a special flame-retardant material to ensure optimal strength. The built-in BMS manages output voltage, temperature, and discharge level to promote battery safety and longevity. The lithium-polymer battery resists damage from over-discharge.
- Digital power level display
- Compatible with 50W to 100W solar panels with MC4 to DC5521 adapter
- Easily switch between powering AC and DC outlets
- Can charge via solar panel, wall outlet, 12V car outlet, or 45W PD 3.0 charger
- Digital power level monitor
- USB outlets and AC outlet cannot be used at the same time
- Power button stops working after a time
- Missing cables and adapters
The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 160 is a very worthy runner-up for the title of the best small generator. The sleek and sturdy design provides hours of clean power for the connected adventurer and the rugged molded handle makes it easy to bring along.
A great option for extended outings away from civilization, the model pairs well with optional and compatible 60W or 100W solar panels, providing an efficient way to keep charged while away. The built-in LED flashlight is designed with an SOS mode, so it can function not only as a camp light but also as an emergency distress beacon.
- Super simple one-button operation
- Built-in flashlight
- Low draw auto-shutoff
- Ultra-safe and lightweight lithium battery cells
- AC/USB outlets can be used while the unit is plugged into 12V car power, doubling as an inverter
- Digital power readout
- Drains quickly on AC power
- This model does not have a pure sine wave inverter, which is preferred for delicate electronics
The SUAOKI Portable Power Station was our pick for the best budget buy, and this mighty mouse earned it! Constructed with a 150Wh battery, this tiny titan tips the scales at less than 3 pounds, and is approximately the size of two coffee mugs sitting side by side.
It maintains versatility and adaptability by being able to charge 3 ways, and having a total of 10 outlets. The two built-in but hideable handles add portability and convenience, making it perfect for hiking, camping, festivals, and even road trips.
- Super lightweight unit
- Extremely bright flashlight function
- Built-in MPPT charge controller charges efficiently from optional SUAOKI 60W or 100W solar panel kit
- Can charge from AC, DC, or compatible solar panel
- The voltage from AC and DC can be irregular or inconsistent
- Unable to run some brands of CPAP for more than a few hours, even with humidifier and heat off
This compact generator really puts out the juice, safely. It differs from other generators in the same class, by offering output that has been refined into a pure sine wave, making it perfectly safe for sensitive and delicate electronics. This, plus having the highest capacity out of the models we have reviewed, comes at a small sacrifice to the weight.
This unit is tough enough to take on adventures in the wild but dependable enough to store for a possible emergency power outage to keep your CPAP running for the rest of the night. Several outlets and a simple-to-read battery level indicator make this generator a nice option for someone who is not overly concerned with bells and whistles.
- The largest capacity of all the units we reviewed
- Sturdy handle for excellent portability
- Can be charged via optional 60W or 100W solar panel, AC wall charger, or DC car charger
- Optional DC converter for optimal CPAP run times
- Pure sine wave AC output
- Does not hold a charge well over long periods of time
- Non-standard AC outlets have open space where debris can enter
This unit is a great compromise between value and function, between necessities and fluff. It has a modest 155Wh battery and can recharge via wall power, car charger, or optional compatible solar panel. This unit would be great as an emergency generator for home power outages or severe weather.
It comes with an internal battery management system that prevents overcharging, and intelligently manages voltage, current, and temperatures based on output levels and usage conditions. This unit features multiple methods of short circuit protection, overcurrent protection, and low battery voltage protection.
- Large LCD power readout
- Choose between DC/USB output or AC output at the push of a button
- Rugged built-in handle molded directly into the case
- The unit draws considerable power when on but not being used
- AC output is not a pure sine wave, which is not ideal for sensitive electronics
How Much Capacity Will I Need?
In order to estimate the running time for any type of device, you will need to know the wattage requirement for it. From there, it is just a little math. If you are running on AC power, you will need to multiply your battery capacity by 0.85, for operational loss, and then divide that by the wattage your device consumes. For example, a 50W laptop charger on a 170Wh battery, (170*0.85/50), gives approximately 2.8 hours of charge.
How Many Outlets Do I Really Need?
While it really comes down to how many things you will absolutely need to charge at the same time, most people will do just fine with two USB outlets, an AC, and a DC. Your average laptop will use the AC power and will charge fairly quickly if not being actively used. That would leave a pair of USB chargers to charge, for example, a cell phone and a GoPro, or a cell and a drone perhaps.
If this sounds like it might not be enough, then definitely take a look at some of the generators that have more numerous outlets, like the NusGear Generator Portable Power Station, or the SUAOKI Portable Power Station which has a whopping ten outlets!
What Are The Benefits Of A Pure Sine Wave Over Modified Sine Wave?
Simply put, a pure sine wave is a super high-quality form of AC electricity, equal to or occasionally even better than the current that comes out of conventional wall sockets. While a modified sine wave is perfectly fine for things like tools and basic electronics, the imperfections in the current can occasionally be damaging for sensitive or delicate electronics.
How To Choose The Best Small Generator
If you enjoy frequently running off on adventures like hiking or camping, or are often in the wilderness, and would simply like a bit of modern convenience to follow you, then the Nexpow, Jackery 160, or NusGear Generator units would likely be perfect for you. They combine a capacity that is more than adequate while minimizing weight, maximizing durability, and remaining highly portable.
On the other hand, if you are looking mainly for a home-based emergency backup for severe weather, power outages, or disaster scenarios, then you will likely want something that would have higher capacity, plus versatile outlet combinations. In this case, the Nexpow Station, SUAOKI Portable Power Station, or the Rockpals 250-Watt Portable Generator would be great choices for you.
The Conclusion For You – Best Compact Generator
We hope that we have helped you determine what the best compact generator is for you, based on your needs. By outlining what separates each model from the next, and what makes each one special, or stand out, we try to take some of the confusion out of the task of choosing one from what seems like a universe of choices.
Compact generators can help you stay powered up, logged on, and in touch, through times when conventional power may be unavailable, inaccessible, or just too far away.