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Do I need a Portable Generator for my RV

RVs offer a range of benefits over traditional camping: freedom, safety, luxury.

Of all those advantages, the greatest is the convenience provided by accessible electricity.

That luxury is often impossible, however, without the help of a portable generator.

You may not necessarily need a portable generator in every case, but it is the most reliable, predictable way to power your RV. 

While alternatives like solar panels and shore power offer other options, they are unlikely to always be available for use. 

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In this article, I’ll be addressing concerns surrounding how to select the appropriate portable generator for your RV, as well as the rare cases in which you shouldn’t use it.  

Read on to learn more about what options are available in powering your RV!

What Size Generator Do I Need for my RV

While energy needs vary, the average camper should power their RV using a 3000-3500 watt generator.

To better determine your individual needs, try using this handy watt calculator tool.

Before running out to purchase a portable generator for your RV, it’s essential to consider your needs.

To determine what size generator you need for your RV, you should first calculate your wattage needs.

Portable generators are built to extend a limited amount of wattage; by underestimating how much power you’ll need, you set yourself up for inconvenience and power outages.

Before taking your RV on the road, think about your average trip. 

Are you a minimalist who barely even uses their air conditioner? 

Do you prefer to travel in style, flipping all the lights on and playing DVDs the entire time?  

Common RV energy hogs include:

  • Air conditioner
  • Heater
  • Microwave
  • Refrigerator

Do I Need an Inverter Generator

Champion Power Equipment 200988 4500-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Inverter Generator, Electric Start

For those willing to spend a little extra, an inverter generator is worth taking a look at.

While not necessary for a great trip, inverter generators offer significant benefits over traditional models, including less noise, improved efficiency, and often better safety features. 

An inverter generator saves energy by electronically throttling the amount of energy it generates; traditional models run at a constant full speed, consuming more gas as a result. 

By making the upfront investment, you can save yourself major gas money later!

This shifting of energy creates a unit quiet enough to run without entirely disrupting conversation around you.

Because inverter generators are made using newer technology, they are often likely to include more advanced safety features, allowing them to shut off automatically if they sense too many CO2 emissions.   

Will One Generator be Enough

One medium or large generator will be enough to keep your RV powered. 

A small generator may function, but it’s essential to consider your wattage needs. 

A small generator may only provide between 1,000 and 3,000 watts of power, while most RVs require a minimum of 3,000.

When selecting a generator for your RV, it’s wise to purchase slightly more than you think you’ll need. 

Though you may not always be in a position to require 4,500 watts of energy, it’s better to be prepared for the one time you do!

Do I need a Generator if I Plan on Using Shore Power

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As you travel around, you may notice RV campers discussing “shore power.”  

You do not need a generator if you plan on using shore power. 

While shore power is not always guaranteed in every camping location, it is a great way to charge up RV batteries and frequently enjoy power usage without the limitations of many generators.

Shore Power

Named for the power sources ships take advantage of when docked on the shore, this term refers to the land-based outlets provided by most campgrounds. 

Most RV’s come ready to accept either 30 amps or 50 amps

While most campgrounds offer both options, it may be a good idea to buy an adapter that converts a 30 amp into a 50 amp plug.

These are commonly referred to as a “Dogbone.”

Smaller shore power receptacles can power your RV up to 3500 watts; larger ones allow for a massive 12,000 watts of energy. 

This is enough not only to power your RV fully but also to charge your external batteries as well!

Shore Power vs. Generator Power

When it comes to choosing between shore power and generator power, it’s often a good idea to take advantage of shore power when the opportunity arises.

By using shore power, you eliminate the need for noise-producing generators, leading to a quieter, more peaceful environment for yourself and the campers around you.

The cost of electricity that you pull from shore power is usually calculated into the nightly price of your stay in an RV campground, meaning there’s no reason to spend additional money on gas as well.

This being said, shore power may not always be available in robust and reliable quality. 

Though you should take advantage of it when it’s around, it’s never a bad idea to invest in a generator regardless. 

Further reading: Is it Bad to Leave Your RV Plugged in All the Time

Any Accessories Needed for my Generator

Let’s face it: RV goers love to accessorize their toys

It’s why so many outdoor enthusiasts pride themselves on their elaborate, detailed setups.

While accessories are not necessary to power a generator, they may enhance the ease of use and safety functions. 

By investing in accessories like an automatic transfer switch and heavy-duty extension cords, you may allow yourself an easier setup and more problem-free vacation.

Automatic Transfer Switch

An automatic transfer switch immediately shuts down the connection to an electrical power supply while starting a generator. 

This smart, safe accessory allows your RV to maintain power even when a shore connection fails.

Though installation can be expensive, it comes with a significant added advantage: users can preprogram which devices receive this automatic power and which don’t. 

In the long run, using an automatic transfer switch can save campers peace of mind. 

Heavy Duty Extension Cords

To safely operate a generator, you must guarantee that there’s no chance of flooding your RV with dangerous C02 gasses.

As a rule of thumb, experts advise campers to keep fuel-powered generators fifteen feet away from their unit.

It’s wise to invest in high-quality, heavy-duty extension cords. 

These cords will withstand rough weather conditions while also allowing the proper amperage to transfer power from your generator to your RV. 


When it comes to camping, the word “need” often takes on a different meaning. 

While a portable generator is not always necessary for a fantastic trip, it provides campers peace of mind that they’ll never be fully stranded without power.  

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