Camper Generator Size: How Big Should You Go?


A generator is a handy component of any camper, as it provides the power to run lights, TVs, and even your microwave oven while out in the wilderness. What size camper generator do you need and how big should you go?

Your camper generator should be 4000-watts if you have a 30 amp or 50 amp camper van and intend to use electricity for cooking, heating, and air conditioning. However, if you only need power for basic appliances like lighting when camping, then a 2000-watt generatorOpens in a new tab. should meet your needs.

This article will elaborate on how big you should go on camper generator sizes. Read on to learn how to determine the amount of power you need for van life and the things to consider when buying one.

What Camper Generator Size Do I Need?

On average, you may need a 2000 watt generator for your camper. This is an average-sized model that will work for many people and provides enough power for essential electrical needs like running lights, charging cell phones, and powering TVs.

There are three main sizes available: small, medium, and large:

  • The small generator (less than 2000 watts) is excellent for smaller camper models and units with fewer energy-hungry appliances.
  • The medium size (2000 – 3000 watts) provides enough power to run most basic appliances with no problem, but it might struggle in more demanding conditions, such as at high altitudes.
  • Large generators (3000 watts and above) offer plenty of power to run all your favorite gadgets without needing a break.

That said, when determining the generator size for camping, I recommend considering the power output you need in a day.

Most campers come with a 30 or 50-watt outlet source which provides just enough power for lights and small appliances like TVs but not much else. So if this sounds like your needs, there is no need to get the most powerful generator.

However, if you want to power larger cooktops, microwaves, and air conditioners, it may be worth investing in larger generators that can deliver up to 4000 watts.

How Do I Calculate the Generator Size I Need?

To calculate the generator size you need, you must know the wattage of the appliances you use camping. Then, add together all of the appliance wattages you have and add 10% or so for appliances for contingencies.

For example, if you have a furnace with a 1500 watt heating element and an air conditioner that’s 500 watts, then you would want at least 2200 watts available on your generator.

If you’re not sure of the wattage for your appliance, contact the manufacturer. They might give you some advice on what would work best for you – or better yet – if they provide a model number, search it online to see what other consumers (who are likely using similar appliances) say about it.

Power Consumption by Different RV Appliances

The amount of power you need from a camper generator depends mainly on the appliances you intend to use while camping.

Here’s a breakdown of different appliances you may need in your RV and their power requirements, based on data compiled by the Pennsylvania State UniversityOpens in a new tab.:

ApplianceWattage (Range)
19″ TV65 – 110
Microwave750 – 1100
Refrigerator725
Dishwasher1200 – 2400
Radio70 – 400
Portable water heater750
Hair Dryer1200 – 1875
Coffee Maker900 – 1200  
Toaster800 – 1400

What To Consider When Picking a Camper Generator

Besides the energy requirements by different electrical appliances, it would also help to pay attention to the following when buying a camper generator:

The Size and Cost Of Your Generator 

Arguably, you don’t want something that weighs too much. Still, you also need to consider how easy it will be to transport if you’re not staying at one location. 

How expensive are generators and their maintenance costs? Are there any additional fees or taxes when purchasing a new generator in your area? Consider how much you need to pay for your generator.

Portability and Energy Efficiency

Can it go wherever the camper goes easily enough and without costing too much with gas consumption as well as the cost of electricity usage at home while running during off-peak hours?

The Capacity of Your Backup System

Here are a few questions to help you determine if your backup power source can handle your power needs:

  • How many amps does your RV or camper need to run?
  • How long will this backup system last without needing refueling, and how much power will it provide at any given time without running out of juice prematurely?

Consider the Power Source Of the Generator

The most common types of generators are gas-powered, propane-powered, and electric. Let’s take a closer look at which ones to consider. 

  • Gas-powered generators: They have the longest run time. However, they can be noisy, produce fumes and require regular maintenance.
  • Propane-powered generators: Generally quieter but less efficient than gas-powered models. They can power appliances like a stovetop or fridge.
  • Electric generators: Typically have the shortest run time, but they don’t require fuel to operate.

Caveat: Gas-powered generators are heavier (and more expensive) because they need fuel tanks, so don’t go with them unless necessary. If you can avoid doing so altogether, then do so. For example, use solar panels or other alternative energy sources, such as wind turbines, when possible.

The Campsite

When considering which size and type of generator to buy, it is essential to consider where the campsite will be located and what kind of activities will occur during your stay. If you’re going camping in a remote location where noise won’t matter much, go with gas-powered because it has the longest run time.

However, if you need something that doesn’t produce fumes, then go with propane-powered because it produces fewer emissions than gasoline engines. Additionally, if you want something portable, then go with electric because this option is lighter weight and easier to transport.

Pro Tip: The capacity of your battery also determines what size generator you need. If you have a 200 amp hour battery, then you’d probably want to go with something around 3200 watts. However, this could be a lot of stress and use for your battery depending upon when and where you use the generators. Of course, you might want to look into solar panels or better batteries.

Here’s a video by Bailey Line Road that provides tips on how to pick the best camper generator:

Potential Problems With Undersized Generators

The need to get the most suitable generator size for your camping needs cannot be overemphasized here. If you underestimate the size or go for a cheaper option to save on costs, you’re likely to encounter the following challenges:

  • Insufficient power: You won’t be able to power up all your devices, and it will take much longer for the generator to recharge itself. You might end up running out of electricity sooner than expected.
  • More strain on the engine: Engines are designed to produce maximum power for their size and weight. When your engine is undersized, it will work harder and wear out faster, leading to a loss of power for powering your RV or camper.
  • Increased noise: The smaller the engine, the louder it will be.

Generally, larger generators don’t have these problems, as they can generate sufficient power (even when you need an RV or camper full service). You also have less noise with a bigger generator which is always nice on camping trips.

So if you want your vacation in nature without breaking camp early over lack of electricity, make sure that you’ve got enough wattage before setting off.

If you need a quality generator, I recommend that you try out the Powermate PM3000iOpens in a new tab. from Amazon.com. This generator is an excellent pick by any van life enthusiast, as its engine automatically adjusts RPM to reduce noise pollution while maintaining desired power output. 

Also, it ensures clean and stable performance without compromising efficiency in any way.

Not only that, but since the Powermate PM3000i is lightweight, compact, and ready for action at a moment’s notice, you’ll always be prepared to meet your camping needs head-on.

Ways To Conserve Energy While Camping

There are many ways that you can conserve energy while camping, which are essential especially if you are looking to have a great time outdoors without harming the environment or running out of power. 

In that case, here are some tips that may come in handy:

  • Use lightweight materials like aluminum foil to make your meals to reduce heating power requirements.
  • Turning off lights and other electronics when not in use.
  • Use solar panels to recharge electronics.
  • Locate a campsite near natural water sources, such as streams or lakes. Camping near the coastline will provide relief from inland heat and humidity during the summer months, reducing power use by your AC units.
  • Pack light for your trip.
  • Bring a solar-powered lantern or flashlight to use at night rather than draining your phone’s battery.
  • Heat items during the day or when the ambient temperature is high so that they heat up faster.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Keep My RV Batteries Charged?

You can keep your RV batteries charged with an inverter charger. Some chargers are designed specifically for RVs and campers, which means they’re rugged enough to withstand the bumps of camping life while still providing clean power that will keep things like TVs on when needed.

As the battery ages, it is less able to accept and store a full charge. This can drain the batteries in your RV or camper, meaning no electricity for you.

What Generator Size Do I Need for a 30 Amp Camper?

You need a 3000-watt generatorOpens in a new tab. to sustain a 30 amp camper; otherwise, you won’t have enough power. However, if you are going to show the trailer or even use it on weekends only, you probably don’t need anything bigger than that.

If you plan to run it all the time, you may need at least twice as much power capacity. If a high-demand period occurs (such as during moments when cooking dinner), you might need generators that are about 7000 – 10,000 watt generators max.

What Generator Size Do I Need for a 50 Amp Camper?

If you have a 50 amp camper and plan to run all the things at once – lights, refrigerator, stove, TV, and so on – then you’ll need a larger generator with at least 4000 wattsOpens in a new tab..

The size of your generator depends on the load that you intend to put on it. For example, if you’re running only a few appliances, then a low-wattage generator may suffice with about 3200 watts.

Tip: To increase efficiency and reduce wear on your equipment, limit use in intermittent or heavy-duty applications like running a microwave oven or hairdryer. It’s also essential to make sure that all items in the camper are turned off when they are not being used, which includes, but is not limited to, water hoses and electric heaters.

What Are the Differences Between Inverter and Regular Generators?

The difference between an inverter generator and a regular generator is that the inverter converts direct current to alternating currentOpens in a new tab.. Also, inverter generators need less juice (diesel/gas) than regular generators, besides producing lower emissionsOpens in a new tab..

The starting process for an inverter generator also differs since they require less inertia on startup; therefore, making them more efficient and more cost-effective in the long run. They’re also quieter than regular generators because of their cleaner sources of power.

Final Thoughts 

To find the perfect camper generator size for your needs, you first need to figure out what type of appliances you’ll be running and the camping you will be doing.

Do you need high-wattage appliances like electric kettles and air conditioners? Will you be camping at a site with electricity and facilities, or will it mainly be off-the-grid where power is scarce?

Once you’ve determined the appliances you use most and the type of camping that’s more common for you, it becomes easier to determine whether or not to go big on your camper generator’s size.

Martin

As an independent traveler, I try to share my positive and negative observations about van life as well as tips and tricks to make your life on the road easier. I travel and work in my old RV and would greatly appreciate a coffee from you if you find my content useful.

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