Power On The Go: Generator vs Battery

So, you want to plan your dream power system for your caravan or 4WD. Which is the better option: generator or battery?

Whether you’re heading off for a weekend adventure or going all the way around the block, you need to consider how you’ll keep things powered up on the road. The truth is, both batteries and generators come with pros and cons.

Let’s see how they stack up in our generator vs battery review:

Pros of Generators
  • Generators run on fuel. As long as you have fuel, you have power.
  • Can run appliances that draw a high current. We’re talking about power tools and kitchen appliances like microwaves.
  • Can run sensitive gear. Inverter generators provide safe 240V power for sensitive electronic gear, like laptops and camera equipment.
  • No installation required. Simply fill ‘em up, start ‘em up and watch as they keep your devices running.

Cons of Generators
  • Noise, emissions and restrictions. There are definitely quieter generators to choose from. But however quiet the generator is, you’ll still hear that tell-tale rumble in a tranquil campsite – especially at night. Because of this, lots of national parks, campsites and public places won’t allow generators, or put strict time restrictions on their use.
  • Fuel. You can’t run your generator without fuel, so you always need to carry enough for your power needs. This also adds to the cost of running a generator.
  • Heavy and bulky. It completely depends on the model, but many generators can be bulky and heavy. You’ll typically need two people to move them around.

Benefits of Batteries
  • Silent operation. Batteries don’t make noise. No noise means no restrictions.
  • Compact and lightweight. Just as with generators, the weight of your battery depends on which type you choose. For lightweight and compact design, you specifically need to buy a lithium battery. AGM lead acid batteries are a heavy choice.
  • Free to run. If you’re using your battery with solar panels, it’s essentially free to power your gear. Sunlight doesn’t cost a cent!
  • Can be cheap to set up. You can go as cheap or expensive as you like with batteries. But if you only need a basic set up, this won’t break the bank. (Please note, how much you spend on your battery setup will reflect the efficiency and weight of the battery).
  • Can be very portable. If installed in a battery box, you can use your battery between other vehicles. This makes it a portable power option.
Generator vs Battery
Enerdrive Lithium Battery Setup (Photo Courtesy of Pro Touring Concepts)

Cons of Batteries
  • Installation required. Compared to generators, battery set-ups can be confusing for anyone who hasn’t done it before. Many setups require installation and some level of wiring. But there’s a lot of advice out there to help. 
  • Limited application. You’re limited to the appliances a battery can power. Unlike with generators, high current appliances are a no-no.
What Will My Camping Battery Run?

Our Advice: Generator vs Battery?

Before you make your choice on any power option, answer the following questions:

  • What appliances do you need to power?
  • How much will your appliances draw?
  • How big is the generator or battery bank?
  • For batteries, how much charge will the solar panels put into your battery bank?

We ask these questions so you can work backwards to see whether a generator or battery suits your application. Plus what size generator or battery you need.

Let’s explore some general scenarios and what setup is suitable:

For a simple camper trailer, van or camping setup for trips lasting five days or less, you should be able to power your basics with a good solar and battery combination. For example, a 40L portable fridge/freezer, mobile phones, iPad, and LED lighting.

If you aren’t in the position to do a full installation or want something portable we recommend buying a camping power pack that’s ready to plug and play, like this one from Baintech.

It includes a Baintech Powertop 135AH V3 battery, a Baintuff 180w Solar Blanket and 40A DC-DC Charger in one easy kit.

Another option is the Goal Zero pack, which includes the Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Lithium Portable Power Station and Boulder 100 Briefcase Solar Panels.

Want To Go Bigger?

Let’s say you want a setup like the above, but want a few more luxury items, like a 12V coffee machine. Is it possible?

Yes, we’ve seen customers achieve this with a lithium battery and solar combination, such as the 200Ah lithium battery with DC to DC charger and 180-watt Enerdrive twin pack solar

The big advantage of 200Ah is that it has enough power for a 2000-watt inverter. That means you can run a pod coffee machine for those all-important camping brews.

Pro tip: if you are looking for an all-in-one off-grid setup solution, check out our Enerdrive Ultimate Off-Grid 4×4 Bundle. Simply choose the number of solar panels you’d like from the accessories list and you’ll be off-grid ready!

Now, what if you are going on a longer camping trip with multiple families? Whats the better option: Generator vs Battery?

This is where an inverter generator becomes your go-to power option. A 2400w or 3000w inverter generator will silently purr away in the background, directly powering fridges, freezers and lighting. It can even be used to top up everyone’s battery during the trip.

We recommend the Cromtech 2400W, Yamaha 2400W and the Briggs & Stratton 3000W inverter generators.

What About A Caravan?

If you’re travelling in a caravan, you should have a battery and solar set-up as a basic requirement. If you can, switch to a lithium battery for better performance on longer trips.

In addition, a small inverter generator is also required to ensure you can top up batteries, run an air conditioner (check out this blog for advice) and run high powered appliances, such as power tools.

Our Verdict: Generator vs Battery

Our perfect set-up actually includes both a battery AND a generator. This allows you to run all of your appliances and ensures you still have power even if you run out of fuel or experience bad weather!

Need helping selecting which models are suitable for your application? Give one of our product experts a call on 1300 400 122.

You May Also Like

Our Guide To DC to DC Chargers

What Size Inverter Do I Need For My Caravan Camping Off-Grid Setup?

What Size Battery Charger Do I Need For My Off-Grid Setup?

Caravan Battery Review: AGM vs Lithium

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