Packable Generators For Camping

January 1, 2006
Filed under Camping Gear, Generators & Power

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Camping comfort and convenience can be enhanced by the addition of certain amenities. These days, many of those niceties are powered by electricity. But unless your camping trips take place where there’s camp power, you must create your own “juice” to use electrical goodies. That’s when lightweight, portable power generators can come in handy. They’re perfect for tent campers or for those in a tent trailer, truck camper or even a small travel trailer or motorhome that doesn’t have a built-in generator.

How much power do I need? There are two ways to arrive at the answer because there are two different types of electrical loads. The simplest is a running (resistive) load for things like light bulbs, toasters, coffee makers and radios. Appliances that involve an electric motor or compressor (such as fans, air conditioners or refrigerators) impose what is called a “starting load” that can be nearly double the resistive load. For example, a fan with a 1/8-horsepower electric motor draws 300 watts while running, but may require 500 watts to get the fan started.

To figure out how much generator power you need, add up the “running load” of all the appliances you intend to operate at the same time. Then do the same thing with the “starting load” for appliances that fall into that category. Many appliances are rated in amps, but generators are rated in watts. To convert amps to watts, multiply the volts times the amps. In this case, if the appliance draws 10 amps, multiply that times 120 volts and you come up with 1200 watts needed from the generator.

Generators are rated with two levels of output — Maximum Output and Rated Output. You want to be working at or below the Rated Output level. Max Output is a number that represents the absolute peak power that the unit is capable of delivering, but it is not a level that can be sustained over a long period of time. The important thing to remember is that the combined wattage of all the appliances you are operating at any given time needs to be lower than the generator’s rated output.

All of the players in this review are inverter generators. These generators produce clean power acceptable for equipment with sensitive microprocessors — products such as computers.

Honda EU1000i: This is Honda’s popular compact portable. It’s the quiet, fuel-sipping grab-and-go power supply that anybody can carry, and it tucks away nicely in a small space for easy storage. Great for modest power needs. MSRP: $789.95.

Honda EU2000i: This is the 1000i’s big brother and is patterned after the smaller unit down to every detail. It’s almost as good as hooking two of the little Hondas together, but at a fraction of the price of two smaller generators. MSRP: $1079.95.

Robin Subaru R1700i: Offering a nice intermediate power rating, the Robin Subaru fills the gap for those who need more than 1000 watts but less than 2000. MSRP: $999.

Yamaha EF1000iS: With this unit, Yamaha goes head-to-head against Honda in the small portable generator market. This is a sweet machine that is compact, lightweight and very quiet. MSRP: $829.

Yamaha EF2400iS: Here’s the heavyweight; tipping the scale at 70 pounds and cranking out 2400 watts, this is Yamaha’s big brother in the inverter generator market. It takes two to tote this one, but under those conditions, it’s easily portable and amazingly quiet. MSRP: $1399.

The Honda EU1000i is very compact. Even though the Yamaha EF1000iS is slightly lighter in weight, this unit was the most comfortable to carry. The Honda’s contoured housing rests against your leg while being carried.

Of the three heavyweights, the Honda EU2000i offers the most compact package size. It also was the easiest of the “big three” to carry.

The Robin Subaru R1700i is slightly larger, but a bit lighter than its closest comparison, the Honda EU2000i. Its contoured housing and grip also make it comfortable to carry.

By just a hair, the Yamaha EF1000iS is the most compact package, and is lighter in weight than all the other contenders. It’s easy to carry and fits in a small space.

Yamaha’s EF2400iS is the big boy and for those who live a high-watt lifestyle. All this power, however, comes with a weight and size penalty. Although one strong person can lift this unit, there are two handles for a reason — this is really a two-person portable. From the standpoint of compactness, though, this is an outstanding package size and shape designed to fit a fairly small space.

To see if these generators live up to their quiet reputations, we used a Sound Level Meter that is calibrated from below 60 dB to 120 dB. We selected the A filter and the slow response, which provides smooth average dB(A) readings that are standard in the industry.

Sound-level tests were recorded at a distance of 20 feet (figuring that most of us would isolate a generator about that far from the center of camp and string an extension cord), with the generators resting on a lawn and the exhaust side pointing away from us.

We operated the generators under zero-load conditions in normal mode and compared run times for a full tank and calculated hours per gallon. Remember that load conditions will vary (depending upon what you’re powering), and higher loads will result in greater fuel consumption.

Our fuel results are substantially lower than the manufacturers’ claims. Perhaps this is due to the manufacturers’ numbers reflecting operation in Eco mode, whereas we operated in normal mode. We did it this way because the Yamaha EF2400iS has no Eco mode, and we wanted to compare fuel efficiency under equal conditions.

We were impressed by the control panel layout on the Yamaha generators. Everything is in one place and in logical order. The Robin Subaru ranks a close second, and the Hondas trail the pack because of the way the controls are spread out over two sides of the housing.

Both of the Hondas and the Robin Subaru have fuel fillers that measure 1.5 inches across, while the Yamahas are slightly larger at 1.75 inches across. Even though that may not sound like a lot of difference, the wider mouth of the Yamaha helps prevent spills while filling the tank. Unlike the others in this comparison, the Robin fuel cap is hidden beneath a lid.

When it comes to maintenance, the Yamaha EF1000iS and both Hondas have easily accessible service points through a single hatch on one side of the generator housing. Remove one screw (Yamaha wins here with a screw head that accommodates both flat-blade and Phillips drivers), and you have entry to both the oil fill and the air filter.

Robin Subaru forces you to open hatches on both sides of the housing for access to these maintenance points. And the Yamaha EF2400iS requires the greatest amount of digging to get to the service points, although the oil fill is tucked nicely inside a little hatch right in the front. Accessing the air filter for the EF2400iS requires removal of an entire end panel, and the spark plug location is behind yet another side panel.

All of these manufacturers could improve their oil maintenance systems, but some of these units are better than others. The Hondas get our nod when it comes to clean and easy maintenance of the oil level and changing the oil because of the configuration of the oil fill and drain ports. The Yamaha comes in second. Robin Subaru’s unit had a solid metal floor below the oil fill port that makes cleanup a mess after the inevitable overfill.

Yamaha jumps to the head of the class when it comes to materials sent, at no extra cost, in the box along with the generator. We received a fabric cover, a wrench and battery charger cable. Honda offers a storage cover and battery charger cables as extr-cost options. Robin Subaru ships its generator with a spark plug wrench and offers battery charger cables in its optional accessory inventory.

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