What Size Camping Generator Do You Need?

Whether you’re new to camping or a long-time outdoors person, choosing a generator that will serve your camping needs can be intimidating.

The barrier to entry for understanding generator sizes can be significant—if you're unfamiliar with wattage types, overpowering or underpowering risks, and general considerations that impact camping applications, and you might feel like you’re in over your head as you search for the perfect portable generator.

In this guide, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about generator sizing to help you determine what size Camping & RV Generator is right for you.

Understanding Wattage
As you consider the size of the generator you will need for camping or your RV, it is first important to learn more about wattage and other electrical concepts. This can help you choose the right product off the bat.

Three of the most important electrical units are:

● Voltage – Voltage is the amount of electrical pressure or in other words the difference in electric potential between 2 points in an electrical current, and it’s measured in volts.

● Current – Current is both a noun and an adjective—a current is, essentially, the flow of electrical energy flowing between a power source and an electrically-powered item. But current can also describe the rate of energy flow between the power source and the item it's powering. As a unit of measure, a current is notated in amps.

● Resistance – Resistance describes measuring the ease with which an electric current has to flow between a power source and an electrically powered item, and it’s measured in ohms.

So, what is wattage?

Wattage—measured in watts—describes the total power of an electrical system, and it’s calculated by multiplying the available voltage by the current flow rate (amperage).

There are two important wattage considerations to remember while choosing the appropriate generator size for your travel trailer:

1. The total wattage output your generator will be able to provide
2. The wattage you need to operate the devices and systems on your campsite

The relationship between these two measures will inform your choice of the right generator size for your camping needs.

Choosing a Generator Size: Everything You Need to Know
Now that you understand wattage, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of choosing the right generator size. Every camper has different needs, so you’ll have to assess your specific power requirements to pick the most appropriate product.

Running Watts vs. Starting Watts
When calculating how much power you need, you’ll have to account for both running watts and surge watts. Let’s explore these concepts in more detail:

● Running watts describe the amount of power your appliances, devices, and systems will need to continuously run once they start.

● Surge watts, sometimes called starting watts, refer to the amount of extra power motor-powered devices need to get up and running.

To understand this distinction, imagine a ceiling fan. When you first turn it on, a ceiling fan needs extra power to start spinning the fan blades that will cool down the room.

A motor will help collect and use this power, which will decrease once the fan blades have gathered momentum. Once surge power has been completely used up, the ceiling fan will run continuously with a reduced wattage requirement.

Calculating Maximum Wattage
To calculate the maximum wattage you’ll need while camping, you’ll have to perform a simple equation:

● Total running wattage of all of your devices + Highest surge wattage need = Maximum wattage needed

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you’ll want to power the following devices while you camp. The chart below lists each device, its estimated running wattage, and its estimated surge wattage (if applicable):


Running wattage

Surge wattage

13,500 BTU RV air conditioner






Coffee maker



Electric blanket



Electric frying pan



Induction cooktop



RV refrigerator (21.6 cu ft)






Washing machine






Total running wattage



Highest surge wattage



Maximum wattage needed



These are only estimated wattages—you can find the actual wattage requirements for your specific devices in the device manual or printed on the device.

And it’s important to note that you likely won’t be running all of these devices simultaneously (although it’s possible). Thus, you should choose a generator for RV that can simultaneously run all of the devices in your RV and accommodate the surge wattage of your highest-wattage device.

In the above hypothetical, the maximum wattage you’ll need is 12,810 watts, and the generator you choose must be able to accommodate this.

5 Special Considerations for Camping
Choosing a generator for your campsite and picking a product for your home or job site require different considerations. Let’s explore a few unique circumstances that apply to camping generator selection.

#1 Many Campsites Offer Power
Depending on where you’ll be camping, you may not need a generator in most cases. Many non-primitive campgrounds offer power hookups, so you’ll only need a generator if the wattage provided is too low or the campground loses power.

If you are primitive camping, and you have to run RV devices and appliances like a refrigerator or an air conditioner, a generator is an excellent choice for portable power.

#2 Home Generators vs. RV Generators: Usage Comparison
If your home loses power in a winter storm or a hurricane, or if your local utility company shuts down the power to perform maintenance, you might need to run multiple high-powered devices to continue working, cook meals, and keep your family busy during the outage.

But while you’re camping, you’re less likely to run all of your devices simultaneously:

● If you’re camping in a cool climate, you may only need to run your air conditioner while you’re cooking, during the hottest part of the day, or while you sleep.

● Many RV hot water heaters operate on-demand instead of continuously, so you might run your hot water heater as infrequently as twice a day.

● Even if your RV is equipped with a washer and dryer, it might be more efficient (from time commitment, energy use, and fuel cost standpoints) to use the laundry appliance provided by the campground.

So if you plan your usage carefully, you can get away with a lower wattage generator for camping applications than you’d likely need for backup power at home. But beware of overloading your generator—we’ll discuss this in more detail in an upcoming section.

#3 Generator Regulations
Many campgrounds have various regulations that will limit your ability to use your generator. When investing in a portable power solution, consider your typical campgrounds’

● Noise policies, like mandatory quiet hours or maximum decibels
● Maximum time allowances for generator use
● Overall generator policies (which may completely prohibit them)
● Management style
○ Many campground rules are made and enforced at the on-duty ranger’s discretion.

If you’re unsure how your favorite campground regulates camper generator usage, contact them for more details before purchasing a generator. You may need to purchase a smaller portable generator that makes less noise or consider other personal power solutions.

#4 Types of RV Use
Before you purchase a camper generator, consider the kind of camping you’ll be doing. Will you:

● Park your RV or set up your tent in one spot permanently?
● Travel continuously, staying at individual campgrounds for short periods?

If you plan to stay in one place, create a personal power plan that accommodates:

● The power hookup available at the campground (if there is one)
● Your plan to stay put or evacuate in the event of severe weather
● The campground’s specific rules regarding generator use

If you predict that your RV will become well-traveled, a portable RV generator is likely a wise investment to accommodate the power availability at various campgrounds.

Underpowering and Overpowering Concerns
While you can tweak your power usage to accommodate a lower wattage generator for camping applications, beware of overloading your generator, which can cause:

● Increased (and potentially hazardous) engine temperatures, which could lead to a fire
● Decreased power output or intermittent power loss
● Automatic shutoff

Purchasing a generator with an appropriate power output can help you avoid overloading. That said, why not choose a much larger generator than you’re likely to need?

● It might produce too much noise
● You might exceed your purchase and maintenance budget
● You could decrease your fuel efficiency

Dual Purpose Generators
To optimize your investment, consider picking up a generator that can fulfill multiple purposes, especially if you camp infrequently or plan to visit campgrounds that offer power hookups primarily.

Consider choosing a backup power solution that can accommodate other applications, like:

● Running tools on a job site
● Powering events where electricity isn’t available
● Providing backup electricity for at-home power outages

DuroMax: Dual Fuel Portable Generators for All Applications
So, what size generator for camper trips do you need? The answer depends on how you plan to camp, the appliances you’ll use on your campsite, and the rules at the campgrounds you plan to visit. Finally, observe generator safety when using your generator on campgrounds.

If you need help choosing a portable RV generator that can meet all of your needs, reach out to the experts at DuroMax. We’ve been manufacturing portable generators for camping, home backup power, and other applications since 2003, and we’re committed to providing high-quality customer service, professional expertise, machinery that will keep you safe, and portable power solutions that meet your budget.

Whether you need a small generator for occasional power outages at campgrounds or a high-powered backup generator for your home, DuroMax has the portable power products you need to keep the lights on—even when you don’t have access to the grid.