When we bought our pop-up camper (a 2007 Fleetwood Sedona), we knew that we wanted to go off-grid. We have no interest in camping in parking lots surrounded by others people.
But we live in Arizona and have two dogs, which means that AC is a necessity. We considered solar setups, but I’ve done that in the past and wasn’t satisfied. Solar panels are expensive and you need a lot of them to power AC. You’re also limited by the available sunlight, which is hard to predict.
We decided a generator would be the best option for us, but there are many on the market to choose from. In this article, I’ll explain why we chose the generator we did and give my thoughts on how we like it so far.
Choosing a generator
The first step when selecting a generator is to determine how much power you’ll need in watts. We had to potentially provide enough power for:
- Air conditioning (13,500 BTU unit)
- 12V system charging (for interior lighting and propane furnace blower/ignition)
- A corded drill for the lift mechanism (more on this in another article)
- Phone charging and another miscellaneous stuff
We wouldn’t need to use any of those simultaneously, which meant that we just had to accommodate the most power-hungry item: the AC unit. That uses around 1,400 watts while running, so we needed at least that much.
Generators have two specifications: surge watts and running watts. In our case, we needed at least 1,400 running watts. Theoretically, the AC unit could draw as much as 6,500 surge watts while starting, but we haven’t found this to be an issue.
It is tempting to just get a large, high-output generator like this one. Models like that are quite reasonably priced. But they’re also large, very heavy, and use a lot more fuel. We have limited space in our camper and wanted to keep fuel consumption as low as possible, to reduce the amount of fuel we had to bring with us.
The WEN 56235i inverter generator
Ultimately, we settled on the WEN 56235i inverter generator (rated at 1,900 running watts) It is a portable model with a built-in carry handle that is quite compact and fuel-efficient. It weighs just 39 pounds, compared to 104 pounds for the Westinghouse WGen3600DFv. It was also pretty affordable.
The WEN 56235i is not a dual-fuel model, which means it only runs on gas. We would have liked the option to use propane too, but the dual-fuel models in this form factor are much more expensive. On the plus side, the WEN 56235i is very efficient. Wen claims that its 1-gallon fuel tank will last for seven hours at half-load.
We haven’t yet tested the real world fuel consumption, but I estimate that the fuel tank will last around 5 hours while we run the AC. With the generator’s tank full and an additional 5-gallon gas can, that gives us 30 hours of runtime. We could run it nonstop from 11am-6pm everyday (keeping the dogs cool) and get four full days of use before needing more gasoline.
My only real complaint about the WEN 56235i generator is that it is fairly loud. It might not be any louder than other generators, but it is still loud enough to be a nuisance. This isn’t a major issue for us, as we have no reason to run it at night and don’t camp near other people, but it is still something you should be aware of.
Startup is very easy (make sure nothing is connected to the generator when starting!) and the engine runs smoothly. You do have to ensure that it has oil, because this isn’t a car engine and it will burn oil. We bought a handful of bottles of oil to keep in our camper so we could top it off when needed.
The available power outlets work well for us. There are USB ports for charging our phones and other gadgets. There is a 12V DC receptacle if you need it (we haven’t had a use for it). And there are two 120V 20A outlets, which is what we use for the camper via this adapter.
One nice feature of the WEN 56235i generator is the “Eco-Mode” switch. Flipping this switch will allow the generator to adjust itself to suit power draw. In the manual, Wen says to only use Eco-Mode if you’re drawing less than 1,000 watts, so it doesn’t help with the AC. But it is great for saving fuel when all you need to do is charge a phone or something.
The power switch also has a handy feature that lets you cut off the fuel supply while the generator is still running. This burns off the fuel in the carburetor, which should keep it from getting junked up and therefore extend the generator’s service life.
Finally, there are connections that let you daisy chain generators together to increase the power output. We don’t have any plans to use that feature, but it is a nice option if we ever wanted to get a second generator to power our home in an emergency situation.
There are lots of similar generators on the market and I can’t tell you if this is the best one. But I can tell you that we’re very happy with our purchase. I chose this model because I’ve always liked Wen’s tools and the price was right. Plus, I’m a sucker for the color scheme (don’t judge me).
I would absolutely recommend the WEN 56235i generator to anyone in a situation similar to ours. It provides a little more power than we need, but it is still compact, easy to carry, and fuel-efficient. In my book, that makes it perfect for boondocking in a pop-up camper.
If we ever run into any issues with our generator, I will update this page.