Everything You Need to Have Power Anywhere

Everything You Need to Have Power Anywhere

Almost everything we own today—smartphones, laptops, TVs, air purifiers, refrigerators, gaming consoles, and even electric vehicles—requires power. Losing power can be a minor annoyance or a dire situation that threatens your safety or even your life.

our test editor brad ford

The Expert:

Bradley Ford has spent most of his life around tools—fixing, building, and making things. Growing up, he worked on a farm, where he learned to weld, repair, and paint equipment. From the farm, he went to work at a classic car dealer, repairing and servicing Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, and Jaguars. Today, when he’s not testing tools and creating how-to guides as a Popular Mechanics gear editor, he’s busy keeping up with projects at his old farmhouse in eastern Pennsylvania.

Trevor Raab

Extreme weather events, which have become more frequent, can disrupt power systems and cause outages that last for hours or drag on for days. Not only can a loss of power keep you in the dark, but it can affect a whole litany of things like stopping your refrigerator, disabling your basement’s sump pump, interrupting use of a medical device, or even stranding you if you drive an electric car. But the solution is simple: A generator or portable power station can ensure you always have power where you are. Whether that means at home, camping, or living off the grid, one of these devices gives you the ability to charge your gadgets or power your appliances and equipment no matter the conditions.

A generator can be a great investment for all these reasons, and best of all, you don’t have to commit to a big unit sitting fixed in your backyard if you don’t want to; there are portable models that you can deploy when needed and bring with you for camping and cookouts.

Before running out to buy a generator, it’s important to think about how and where you’re going to use it. There are several types of generators to consider: standby, portable, and inverter. Each requires a certain type of fuel, and some work with more than one. Generators typically run on gasoline, but some dual-fuel models can run on gas or propane. There are even tri-fuel models capable of running on gasoline, propane, or natural gas. Additionally, there are portable power stations—different from portable generators since they use a battery bank—that are easy to take on the go. These are ready to run your power tools, charge electronics, or even keep appliances going when the power’s out at home.

Standby generators run on natural gas or propane and are permanently installed and connected to a home via a transfer switch. These can power some select, critical circuits during a power outage or can provide power for your whole home. Standby generators have systems that monitor power supplied by a utility and start automatically in the event of an outage.

If you opt for a permanently installed standby generator, you’ll likely need a professional to pull the required permits and perform the work. And they will be the ones to ground it since all standby generators need to be in accordance with local ordinances and/or the National Electric Code.

Emergency backup power is one use for portable generators,
but it’s not the only one.

Electrical circuits need to be grounded in order to operate electrical devices safely so that any current that shorts out or has a fault is directed to the ground—the actual, literal earth—lest the user become the conduit to “ground.”

Portable generators, sometimes called backup generators, require gas, propane, or in some cases natural gas. Although the smallest models can be picked up and carried, most have wheels and a handle to make transport easier. Emergency backup power is one use for portable generators, but it’s not the only one. Their on-the-go power makes portable generators a convenience that works both at home and while you’re adventuring. These are ideal for not just camping but also tailgates, barbecues, parades, or anyplace out of range of an extension cord. Appliances, power tools, or other devices can be plugged directly into standard outlets on the generator’s front panel.

Inverter generators run on gas or propane. Typically portable, these machines are significantly and technically different from standby and portable generators in terms of how they work—and can be significantly more expensive. Whereas other machines generate AC (alternating current) power to begin with, inverter generators convert the AC power to DC (direct current), then back to AC. The conversion and inversion is controlled by circuitry which acts like a filter, flattens surges, and provides cleaner, more stable power. This can be critical when it comes to sensitive electronics like tablets, laptops, televisions, and other smart devices that can be damaged by current distortion or surges.

Generator Do’s and Don’ts

The Do’s

✅ Do an inventory of what you intend to plug into a power station to choose the right size. Many manufacturers have a chart with estimated power requirements for common appliances and devices to help add up what’s required.

✅ Do keep your gas-powered generator—which must be run outside—at least 20 feet from the house. It should be away from windows and doors, with the exhaust blowing away from the house because fuel-powered generators emit carbon monoxide when in use. Also, look for a model that has a built-in carbon monoxide sensor for increased safety.

✅ Do consider a dual-fuel generator that can be run on gasoline or propane. Switching between fuels is easy, and you won’t be tied into the availability of one type of fuel.

✅ Do start your generator regularly and treat fuel with a stabilizer. This can help gasoline from losing combustibility, which can happen over time.

✅ Do consider noise level. A propane generator has slightly reduced starting and running watts but runs a little quieter than a gas-powered machine. Kits are available to convert many popular generators to run on propane.

✅ Do work with a professional if you opt for a permanently installed standby generator. They will obtain the required permits and perform the work, including grounding the machine in accordance with local ordinances and/or the National Electric Code.

The Don’ts

❌ Don’t operate a generator, or anything with a fuel-powered engine, in a closed space, like a garage or shed. Even running your generator in or in front of an open garage can lead to carbon monoxide becoming trapped in your garage before slowly making its way into your home.

❌ Don’t forget to plan ahead. With residential homes and campgrounds there may be laws, rules, and even restrictions regarding generator use.

Enjoy a Power Trip

Even though gas generators are a great solution for temporarily providing power during an outage, they—plus the fuel you need to run them—can be cumbersome to take on camping trips. If you’re an avid adventurer who still enjoys some creature comforts, then a power station can come in handy. These are great on-the-go but also provide peace of mind that you have an emergency power source at home for an unexpected outage.

Portable power stations provide electricity from large batteries, not fuel, so they are safe to use indoors, unlike gas generators, which can only be used outside. Plus, there are many smaller models that are easier to transport for off-the-grid excursions. Charging your portable power station can be done one of two ways: with a standard 120-volt AC plug, or using nature’s assistance with solar panels. Mainly because conditions are rarely perfect, it can be difficult to reach the maximum charging capability of any given solar panel. This isn’t to say solar panels aren’t viable options for charging your portable power stations, just that if you’re going to rely on them, you need to plan accordingly. Don’t wait until your power station is near empty to begin solar charging. Using multiple panels can reduce the charging time but requires more space and investment.

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Best Portable Generator

DuroMax XP13000HXT

DuroMax XP13000HXT



Named the Best Portable Generator in our 2022 Lawn & Garden Awards, the DuroMax boasts tri-fuel technology, giving you the freedom to choose gasoline, propane, or natural gas. The included flexible fuel lines enable hookups from your generator to propane tanks or a natural gas line from your home. During a storm or power outage, at 13,000 watts of peak power, this generator ensures your lights stay on, appliances are working, and your HVAC system runs uninterrupted. Read a full review on page 82.

Best Standby Generator

Generac PowerPact Standby Generator

Generac PowerPact Standby Generator



This affordable generator is fully capable of preventing the contents of your fridge from spoiling and keeping the inside of your house at a reasonable temperature. It’s able to power up to eight circuits in your home and is significantly quieter than a portable generator due to its fully enclosed design with built-in, internal sound baffles. This is typical because standby generators are permanently installed close to the homes they help power. A durable aluminum shell protects the generator from bad weather.

Best Inverter Generator

Champion DUAL Fuel Portable Inverter Generator

Champion DUAL Fuel Portable Inverter Generator

Champion Power Equipment


Champion packs a lot of value in here, starting with the ability to run on either gas or propane. With a 30-amp, RV-style plug, this generator is suited to powering a medium camper, and though it doesn’t have a 240-volt outlet, it could come in handy during an emergency at home. Considering this for your next adventure? This ultraquiet generator can simultaneously run a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, LCD TV, laptop, charger for a mobile device, and four CFL lights.

Best Portable Power Station

Goal Zero Yeti 1500X Portable Power Station

Goal Zero Yeti 1500X Portable Power Station

Goal Zero


$1,599.89 (20{5376dfc28cf0a7990a1dde1ec4d231557d3d9e6448247a9e5e61bb9e48b1de73} off)

The Yeti 1500X is the bridge between emergency home backup and off-grid power for camping, tailgating, or remote power needs. Our gear team ran it from 100 percent down to 0 using a 459-watt load over 3 hours and 11 minutes. For reference, that’s like running four refrigerators, continuously, for the same amount of time. We used the Yeti 1500X to power one refrigerator during testing, and it kept it running for 28 hours and 17 minutes.