If you’re thinking of hitting the open road this school holidays, or just taking the family camping for the weekend, you’ve no doubt thought about a portable generator. Whether to keep the caravan air-conditioning running, charging deep cycle batteries or operating appliances such as microwaves and kettles you’ll need a reliable and portable source of power.
And if you’ve got teenagers, you’ll know the only way to prevent a family camping mutiny is to ensure there’s power to charge phones and other portable communication and gaming devices. For those with family-style caravans, built-in televisions and kids’ entertainment centres may form part of your ‘essential’ power needs.
If you’ve got multiple appliances running, especially at meal preparation times, there’s nothing more frustrating than everything shutting down and regularly resetting due to lack of sufficient power. Forget a harmonious get-away, if you can only run one appliance at a time.
To make your life a little easier, we have put together some information for choosing the right portable generator for your next caravan or camping trip. Here are the questions you should be asking:
What Size Generator Do I Need?
The size of your generator will depend on its usage and your camping needs. It’s more practical to have a portable generator with wheels that can be easily moved around, with a caravan ready outlet to simply plug in when you want to use. To run all essential appliances comfortably you’ll need to consider the wattage for every item to be powered.
Most camping enthusiasts will want to power more than one device at once too. Therefore, you’ll need to combine the wattage requirements to prevent power shutdowns. If you’re considering powering up freezers, power tools or anything else that uses a lot more start-up power, it’s better to invest in an inverter generator as opposed to a conventional generator.
Do I Need a Generator for my Caravan or can just use a Solar Power Set Up?
Aussie caravaners have traditionally used generators for backup power, but with solar power fuelling more these days, both have become viable sources. Both come with upfront costs, but because you’re using the sun’s power, solar is generally a cheaper option. Generators tend to be more reliable, especially if you’re camping in the cooler months, and provide you with instant power that isn’t weather dependent.
Solar can struggle to power an entire caravan because limited panels fit on the roof. Modern caravans are equipped with power-hungry appliances so consider how many items you want to be powered together. A decent solar system can be sufficient if power usage is low, but many caravaners will still want backup power using a generator. Generators will provide a better cost-to-efficiency ratio and be more practical for running high-wattage appliances. The decision comes down to how many appliances you intend to run.
Do You Think a Generator Cover is Necessary to Maintain the Unit in the Best Condition?
Yes, if you don’t plan on storing the generator inside your caravan. Good generators don’t come cheap and looking after it will ensure its longevity. Covers are designed to prevent dust and dirt build up and are a smart decision if you’re planning to keep the unit in a garage. Generator covers shouldn’t be left on the unit whilst in operation though, and aren’t weatherproof.
Do I Need to Consider Noise Constraints?
Some camping spots, especially national parks, have noise restrictions in place. You may only be able to use the generator during the day, depending on where you’re adventuring off too.
To see some information on camping areas and generator use:
- New South Wales
- Western Australia
- Northern Territory
- South Australia
If you’re going completely off road and out back it won’t be a problem. National parks, state parks and reserves will be stricter with noise constraints and generally only permit a small, silenced portable generator of 1,000 watts. Special grants can be applied for with exemptions if there is a medical reason in some parks. If you’re camping at a national park, check prior to the trip about any restrictions. Some parks will also have designated generator areas. Most popular 1,000-2,000 watt inverters generate a 50-60 dBA noise level on a full load, which is equal to normal conversational speech.
What Kind of Maintenance Do Generators Require?
Think of your generator like a car. It needs fuel to thrive and frequent oil checks to keep it happy and healthy. All generators are run by an engine, which will require a level of care to keep it performing at its peak. As you would with a car, oil must be replaced when needed. Most generators will need an oil replacement at around 100 hours run time – but check the manual to find out. Visually inspect the unit every month and prior to use for any obvious issues and wipe off any dirt build-up to keep things running smoothly.
What Other Advice Would You Recommend for Choosing a Generator for a Caravan?
External factors like temperature can affect the performance of a generator which is an important consideration in the outback heat of Australia. As a rule of thumb, for every 5 degrees above 25 degrees, the capacity of the unit will be reduced by around 10%. Be cautious of the demands you’re putting on the unit too. If you’re having trouble drawing power for a power-hungry appliance like air conditioning, you might find the generator is also drawing power to charge the battery system too. Isolate the power to run without problems or opt for a generator that has a bit of extra power than what you’re after to cater for it better.
Like with any big-ticket item, you get what you pay for. Budget generators that have a too-good-to-be-true price tag are generally not recommended. Instead, opt for a unit that’s reliable and that can power your camping and caravanning needs. With the right generator, your outback adventure will be a comfortable, practical and entertaining trip.