Camping Generator Comparison

January 6, 2004
Filed under Feature Stories

Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest

There’s nothing like a quiet morning in camp. It’s peaceful, and the only sounds are the trickle of the stream and the sizzle of fresh-caught trout frying in bacon grease. Makes me hungry just thinking about it. Then, like the nasty soundtrack from a B-rated, chainsaw-murder movie, the awful growl of an engine breaks the silence. Somebody, somewhere in the campground, has decided to power up a 110-volt AC appliance and is using a generator to supply the electricity. Aaarrrgggh!

It doesn’t have to be that way. Some generator manufacturers are now producing easily totable AC generators that are suitable for powering just about anything a backcountry wanderer might need in camp. And the nice part is that they come in compact, lightweight, fuel-sipping packages. Our aim is to take a close look at this new generation of lightweight, quiet, efficient generators.

First, we established guidelines to determine which generators should be tested. “Portable” being the key word, we decided that 50 pounds was a reasonable weight limit, so we went in search of generators that would tip the scales at or below the 50-pound mark.

We also included noise-level limitations as one of our criteria, because we’re interested only in generators that are “quiet.” Therefore, we looked for units with decibel levels below 60 dB(A) when running at full load and measured from 20 feet away. The reason for settling on 60dB(A) was that it’s the average decibel rating for background music, which we thought to be an acceptable level. For comparison, it’s interesting to note that normal conversation averages 65 dB(A) and an orchestra is rated at 80 dB(A).

Other requirements included good fuel economy and fuel tank capacity, so the generator can operate for a long time on a single tank of gas. We also want easy starting and power output high enough to handle a wide range of electric camp appliances. Only two manufacturers met all the qualifying factors — Honda and Yamaha.

Honda offers two models — the EU 1000 (29 pounds) and the EU2000i (46.3 pounds). Yamaha makes the EF 1000iS that weighs 27.9 pounds. These are the only models that we consider truly hand-portable. Other generators with “portable” claims are so large and heavy (and noisy) that they are better suitedto either industrial/commercial use or emergency residential use.

For this project, we tested generators with two levels of power output — 1000 watt and 2000 watt. If you are going to make a choice between these units, you must determine how much power you really need.

To determine whether the generator has the capacity to power several appliances at once, total the wattage of the various appliances you’re using. You may find that only one of your appliances can be used at a time. If the appliance has an amp rating instead of a rating in watts, convert to watts by multiplying the volts times the amps. For example, if the appliance draws 10 amps, multiply that times 120 volts and you come up with 1200 watts.

There are two different kinds of electrical loads. One is a simple running load, such as that required for turning on a light. But there are some appliances that require additional wattage just to get started, such as refrigerators, air conditioners, or others with electric motors or compressors. A fan, for example, with a 1/8-horsepower motor has a 300-watt running load, but a 500-watt starting load. You have to account for the starting loads in addition to the running loads when totaling the watts.

We hefted the generators, toted them around, and loaded them in and out of the back of our truck and into the trunk of our car, to determine whether one was more user-friendly than another. Then we fueled them up with identical regular unleaded gasoline, brought the oil level up to full, and were off and running.

For the noise-level testing, we recorded from a distance of 20 feet, and rotated the generators so we could evaluate noise levels from broadside, as well as with the generator exhaust pointing directly away and directly toward us.

We tested ease of starting, evaluated how smoothly the engines were running, and did our best to determine whether one generator or the other was producing more or less exhaust fumes. Generator sniffing is rather like wine tasting, don’t you know.

The factory specs for Honda and Yamaha are a bit on the optimistic side when it comes to noise level. In our tests, the dB(A) levels were slightly higher than those advertised by the manufacturers, and Yamaha advertises that their EF1000iS is quieter than the Honda EU1000i. We didn’t find that to be the case with the units we tested.

Nevertheless, these generators are still mighty quiet and nicely suited for operation in a peaceful campground. You can hear them running, but it’s not a jarring sound — more of a low purr. What amazed us was the minimal difference in sound level between the Honda EU1000i and EU2000i — there is virtually no noise penalty for using the larger generator.

Positioning is important. It can make as much as a 7 dB(A) difference if you turn these generators so the exhaust side faces away from you rather than toward you. The difference between the broadside and exhaust-away position is 1 or 2 dB(A).

The 1000-watt Yamaha is slightly lighter than its counterpart by Honda, which does make it easier to tote. The Honda EU2000i is, of course, quite a bit heavier and bulkier. I could handle the extra load of the big generator easily enough, but it was a struggle for my wife. And during the long-haul portion of the test, which involved carrying the generators for 100 yards, I discovered that the lighter ones are far easier on the lower back.

Of course, the difference in output between the 1000-watt units and the Honda EU2000i is, well, double, and if you need the additional wattage, you have little choice but to go with the larger generator. With the use of a special cable, it is possible to link the pair of Honda generators in parallel.

Every unit in our evaluation was easy to start. It was just a matter of setting the choke and giving one good “tug” on the starter rope. The Yamaha starter rope is positioned lower, which made it less easy to operate than the Honda on which the starter rope is mounted slightly higher and at a better pull angle.

I preferred the Honda’s engine on/off switch. It’s a knob, which makes it easy to see and feel, and I didn’t have to squat down to read the markings as with the Yamaha. Yamaha’s engine on/off switch is identical to and in close proximity to the Economy Control Switch, making confusion possible.

All the units, which feature top-mounted fillers with vent controls, are easy to fuel. Yamaha’s filler is larger than Honda’s (1.75” vs. 1.5”), which in some cases, might help prevent sloppy spills. Removable filter screens are easy to work with on all three generators tested.

On none of these generators is it easy to maintain the oil level. The fill port is tucked deeply into the housing, requiring a long-nosed funnel to add oil. You know the level is full when oil reaches the mouth of the fill port, but with the funnel in the way, it’s impossible to see what’s happening until oil starts running out, making a mess.

The Yamaha generator has a nice dust cover that helps keep everything clean. While you can’t operate the generator with the dust cover in place, its real purpose is to prevent any residue of fuel or dirt from soiling your clothing as you carry it. And there’s an accessory pocket on the cover for storing the battery charging cable

With the use of the appropriate DC cable, any of these generators can be used to charge a 12-volt automotive battery. Yamaha provides a tool kit (wrench and spark plug tool) and battery charging cord at no extra cost; Honda charges $15 for its accessory battery charging cord.

All the generators we tested are marvelous pieces of equipment that will allow a camper to operate a broad range of electrical appliances to make life easier. Which generator would we choose? Honda’s EU2000I is mighty attractive for only a few hundred dollars more than the EU1000i. But if the weight is a concern and you don’t have the need for a 2000-watt generator, then the choice becomes less clear.

The Honda 1000-watter and the Yamaha 1000-watter are very nice, efficient, compact, quiet, and easy to operate. The slightly lighter weight of the Yamaha will appeal to some, but then it’s only a bit over a pound of difference. The layout and operation of controls will be a matter of personal preference — some will like it one way; some, the other. The choice between the Yamaha EF1000iS and the Honda EU1000i is difficult to make. In the end, it might come down to nothing more than buying from the retailer who makes you the best deal.


Engine: 1.8 horsepower OHV 50cc 4-stroke, air-cooled
Fuel: Unleaded regular gasoline
Fuel tank capacity: 0.6 gallons
Hours per gallon: full load, 3.8 hours; 1/4 load, 8.3 hours)
Noise level: full load, 59 dB(A); 1/4 load, 53 dB(A)
Weight: 29 pounds (dry)
Size: 17.7” x 9.4” x 15.0”
Output: 120 volts, 1000 watts max. (8.3 amps);
120 volts, 900 watts rated (7.5 amps)
MSRP: $790

Other bells & whistles: Two year warranty, USDA-qualified spark arrester muffler, one switch for engine/fuel valve on/off, inverter system (computer friendly), oil alert, simultaneous AC/DC use, electronic ignition, electronic circuit breakers.

Engine: 3.5 horsepower OHC 98.5cc 4-stroke, air-cooled
Fuel: Unleaded regular gasoline
Fuel tank capacity: 1.1 gallons
Hours per gallon: full load, 4.0 hours; 1/4 load, 15.0 hours
Noise level: full load, 59 dB(A); 1/4 load, 53 dB(A)
Weight: 46.3 pounds (dry)
Size: 20.2” x 11.4” x 16.7”
Output: 120 volts, 2000 watts max. (16.7 amps);
120 volts, 1600 watts rated (13.3 amps)
MSRP: $1080

Other bells & whistles: Two-year warranty, USDA-qualified spark arrester muffler, one switch for engine/fuel valve on/off, inverter system (computer friendly), oil alert, simultaneous AC/DC use, electronic ignition, electronic circuit breakers.

Engine: 2.2 horsepower OHV 50cc 4-stroke, air-cooled
Fuel: Unleaded regular gasoline
Fuel tank capacity: 0.66 gallons
Hours per gallon: at full load (not available); 1/4 load, 12 hours
Noise level: full load, 57 dB(A); 1/4 load, 47 dB(A)
Weight: 27.9 pounds (dry)
Size: 17.7” x 9.4” x 14.9”
Output: 120 volts, 1000 watts max. (8.3 amps); 120 volts, 900 watts rated (7.5 amps)
MSRP: $780

Other bells & whistles: Two-year warranty, inverter system (computer friendly), Smart Throttle (load sensing throttle control), 12-volt DC battery charging cables included, fuel petcock, large fuel fill access, dual-coil alternator stator, centralized control panel.

Recorded Sound Levels @ 20 Feet

(Eco-Throttle Switch On)
Exhaust side: 60 dB(A)
Broadside: 56 dB(A)
Exhaust side away: 54 dB(A)
(Eco-Throttle Switch Off)
Exhaust side: 67 dB(A)
Broadside: 63 dB(A)
Exhaust side away: 61 dB(A)

(Eco-Throttle Switch On)
Exhaust side: 60 dB(A)
Broadside: 57 dB(A)
Exhaust side away: 56 dB(A)
(Eco-Throttle Switch Off)
Exhaust side: 68 dB(A)
Broadside: 64 dB(A)
Exhaust side away: 63 dB(A)

(Economy Control Switch On)
Exhaust side: 66 dB(A)
Broadside: 61 dB(A)
Exhaust side away: 59 dB(A)
(Economy Control Switch Off)
Exhaust side: 68 dB(A)
Broadside: 65 dB(A)
Exhaust side away: 64 dB(A)

Typical Wattage Requirements

Hair drier: 800 to 1700 watts
Electric skillet: 1500 watts
Microwave oven: 800 to 1500 watts
Radio: 50 to 200 watts
Color TV: 350 watts
VCR: 50 watts
Ceramic heater: 1500 watts
Blender: 450 watts
Toaster: 100 to 1750 watts
Waffle maker: 900 watts
Coffee maker: 850 to 1750 watts
Laptop computer: 250 watts
Fan: 75 to 300 watts
Lights: Add the wattage of all the bulbs.

Related Content

Last 5 stories in Feature Stories

Other stories that might interest you...


One Response to “Camping Generator Comparison”

  1. Cash for cars online quote on September 29th, 2012 2:52 am

    Maybe, Compressors are often described as being either open, hermetic, or semi-hermetic, to describe how the compressor and motor drive is situated in relation to the gas or vapor being compressed. The industry name for a hermetic is hermetically sealed compressor, while a semi-hermetic is commonly called a semi-hermetic compressor.


Feel free to leave a comment...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!