Boondocking Basics

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How Big of a Generator Do I Need for Boondocking?

How Big of a Generator Do I Need for Boondocking?


Exactly how big of a generator you will need for boondocking depends on the total wattage of appliances you have in your RV as well as how much weight your RV can handle. Boondockers with small rigs settle for smaller generators in the 2,000 watt range. But boondockers with medium to large sized rigs typically have generators in the 5,000 to 6,000 watt range.

generator needed for boondocking
Dual Honda 2,200 watt generators chained to produce 4,400 watts

How Big of a Generator Do I Need for Boondocking?

The most popular generator that boondockers get is the Honda EU2200i watt Honda inverter-generator due to its reputation for quality, but is very expensive. The Champion 2,000 Ultralight is also highly popular due to its low cost, yet still enjoys a strong reputation for quality and good customer support.

These generators can provide enough power to run a microwave oven (1,000 watts), a medium-sized Instant Pot (1,000 watts), coffee maker or espresso maker (1,000 to 1,500 watts). They can recharge the batteries in your RV too. They have USB outlets to recharge phones and tablets.

Inverter-generators in the 2,000 watt range are limited to 30 amp service, but also have the ability to be chained together to produce 50 amps. Most boondockers opt to start with just one inverter-generator and then decide later to buy a second.

The Reason Why 2,000 Watt Generators Are So Popular

Primarily because they are light enough to lift with your own hand(s) and carry into an RV. And if you need more power, you can chain these generators together to double their output.

Larger generators in the range of 3,000 watts and higher become too heavy to carry, and too cumbersome to pull up the steps of an RV. On the other hand, if you have a toy hauler trailer, you can easily pull a large generator up the ramp door.

Honda Versus Champion and Other Brands

Honda generally commands the most respect in the world of portable generators due to its reputation for quality. When you’re boondocking far from civilization, you want a reliable generator. However, Honda generators are very expensive.

Champion has surged in popularity because it too seems to enjoy reputation for quality, but is priced far less. Champion’s line of generators are often three to four times cheaper than Honda. Yet at the same time, many boondockers and full time RVers have mostly good things to say about Champion and their customer support.

Yamaha enjoys a solid reputation for quality, but seems to have a difficult time keeping up with demand. It’s very difficult to find any generators in stock, even on Amazon.

Harbor Freight sells a line of generators under its “Predator” brand, and are priced extremely low, well below that of Champion. We don’t recommend these! We’ve seen quite a few of these leak gasoline and do not deliver their advertised wattage.

camping generators

Should You Get A Bigger Generator?

Yes, if your RV has an air conditioning unit, even more so if it has two units, or three units. If your rig does not have an air conditioning unit, you can get away with a 2,000 watt generator for just about all of your boondocking needs.

Air Conditioning

If your RV, van, or camper has an air conditioning unit, you will need a bigger generator!

Most RVs these days are being outfitted with air conditioning units that produce 15,000 BTUs of cooling energy. Units of this size require 3,500 watts of power just to start up. Once its running, the unit only needs about 1,500 watts. If your RV has one air conditioning unit, you will need a generator that can produce at least 3,500 “surge watts”.

Alternatively, you can modify your air conditioning unit by adding a “soft start”. This lowers the unit’s power needs when kickstarting to about 1,800 to 2,000 watts. It will still need 1,500 watts to keep running. Many boondockers have reported being able to run a 15,000 BTU air conditioning unit with a 2,200 watt Honda generator after adding a soft start. MicroAir makes the most popular soft start called “Easy Start”. (See them on Amazon).

If your RV has two or more air conditioning units, then obviously you will need an even larger generator. If you have two units, you will need a generator that can produce at least 5,000 surge watts. This is because once you start one air conditioning unit, and it has settled down to where its drawing only 1,500 watts, you still need another 3,500 watts to kick start the second unit. Once both units have settled down to 3,000 watts total, you still have another 2,000 watts to run a microwave oven, watch television, and power other electronics.

Cooking Appliances, Bathroom Appliances, and Electronics

If your generator is powering an air conditioning unit, and that generator barely has enough power for the unit, you may have to turn off the air conditioning before running any of the below…

Most microwave/convection oven combos installed into RVs these days are the 1,000 watt variety for the microwave, and about 1,500 watts for the oven.

  • Instant Pots will consume 1,200 watts for 8 quart, 1000 watts for the 6 quart, and 700 watts for the 3 quart sizes.
  • Coffee makers typically consume 600 watts in the smaller sizes, and 1,000 watts at the larger. Espresso machines will often require 1,500 watts.
  • Mixers, blenders, and food processors use about 300 to 400 watts of power.
  • Curling irons and hair dryers will consume generally 1,800 watts of power each in the smaller to medium sized appliances, while larger sizes will drain about 2,500 watts a piece.
  • Electric razors use about 15 to 20 watts.
  • Most laptops require between 100-150 watts of power when running.
  • Smartphones will consume about 20-30 watts while charging.
  • A 32 inch LED television will about 28 watts, while a similarly sized OLED television will require about 56 watts.
  • C-PAP machines will require between 30-60 watts.

Before Buying a Generator…

Determine where you will store the generator while driving. Generators that can produce 3,000 watts or more can get heavy. If you’re young enough or strong enough, that may not be a problem. However, generators that produce 5,000 watts and up are so heavy that they require wheels and handles, and become so bulky that they may not even fit through your RV door. A typical 5,000 watt generator will weigh close to 200 pounds with a full gas tank. Many boondockers with a generator of this size will store the generator in the bed of their pickup truck, and will get another guy to help them lift it. They will strap it down in place, and then get a truck topper or tonneau cover to protect it from the rain.

Many travel trailers have limited carry capacities. It’s common for travel trailers to max out at 800 to 1,200 pounds of cargo carrying capacity. That includes the water tanks, sewage tanks, and propane tanks. After you’ve loaded the trailer with food, drinks, clothes, cookware, etc., you may not have enough room for that 5,000 watt generator. You will have to haul it around in your pickup truck or find a way to fit it inside your SUV.

Toy hauler trailers are very popular for boondocking because of the ramp door. A larger generator of 5,000 watts and higher can be easily pulled inside a toy hauler trailer through the ramp door. Also, toy haulers have heavier cargo carrying capacities, and can easily carry larger generators.

Think about how you will secure your generator from being stolen. Generators get stolen quite often when left unattended. It’s a particular problem when overnighting at Walmarts. Get yourself a steel cable and lock.

How will you protect your generator from the rain? Generators are designed to work in the rain, however when rain gets heavy enough, or if rained upon long enough, they will short out and stop working. Many boondockers leave their generators in the bed of a pickup truck, with a truck topper or tonneau cover to keep the rain off. They can still run the generator in there with the topper-door open, and/or the tailgate down. You can also buy rain-shelters for generators (see them on Amazon)

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5 thoughts on “How Big of a Generator Do I Need for Boondocking?”

  1. You do NOT need a 3600 Watt generator to run a 15,000 BTU A/C unit IF you add an easystart device to the a/c unit (for about $300). The Easy Start significantly reduces (60-70%) of the startup surge current. A Honda EU2200i (1800 Watt rated running capacity) will run this size a/c with a bit of spare capacity for smaller appliances, electronics. You can’t run a second a/c or microwave at the same time, and you will want to keep the fridge and water heater on propane. The Honda EU2200i is expensive, but it is incredibly quiet, and fairly easy to lug around (about 45 lb). As a comparison, the EU3000i (3 KW) weights 78 lbs, is about $1000 more expensive, and slightly louder. One caveat: Generators lose a percentage of their power at altitude, so if you plan on consistently camping above say 4,000 ft, a larger generator might make sense…..but keep in mind that temperatures drop with altitude also, so you may not need an a/c!

  2. I want some advice on a generator to run my camper this winter, I have a regular ele. heater, 1500w, coffee, microwave, cell, laptop. It is cheaper than running gas heat constantlyI, I need to know cheapest way too go, how to keep outside, secure, and light enough to move myself. Thank yooou

    • Probably the best way to go is to buy one or two 2,000 watt generators. These can be linked together to produce double the watts (4,000), or just use one if you don’t need that much power. They are smaller units, and are light enough for smaller women to carry (they weigh about 50 pounds when filled with fuel and oil). One of these units will power your electric heater, but will not leave any watts for anything else. Linking up a second unit will give you the power needed to also run the microwave and coffee maker.

      Champion makes a very reliable 2,000 watt generator (view link), and they also sell the 30 amp parallel linking kit (view link). You will also want to buy a heavy duty cable with lock to secure these generators to your vehicle. You will also want to get a generator tent for days when it’s raining (view link).

      If money is no object, then I would recommend getting just one of the above generators, along with a portable power station, such as one made by Jackery or Goal Zero. These are just lithium batteries with a built-in inverter to plug in your coffee maker, laptop, television, cell phone. The largest stations should run a microwave. You can charge a station with the generator, or with solar panels. Both Jackery and Goal Zero make their own solar panels designed for these stations. You can keep the power station inside your RV while the gas generator stays outside. Check out Jackery (view link) or Goal Zero (view link).

  3. A typical air conditioner uses 1 amp for every 500 BTUs. Hence, 5,000–15,000 BTU air conditioners normally require 10–30 amps of power. However elements like voltage and efficiency rating could have an impact on amperage draw.


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