Those looking for cost-effective, reliable solutions for off-grid living - or even just camping/road-tripping - can find many benefits in suitcase generators.
With the cost of living and funding power to our homes rising by the day, it seems many of us are looking for alternative solutions to provide the juice we need for all our gadgets and appliances.
So with that in mind, we have put together an in-depth guide on suitcase generators; what they are, how they work, and the pros and cons.
Let’s dig deeper.
What are Suitcase Generators?
If you’re unfamiliar, suitcase generators may sound like confusing contraptions, but fun fact: they don’t actually have anything to do with suitcases.
They do, however, generate power, á lá the standard generator. How they differ is that they are extremely portable and can provide power anywhere without needing to be plugged into an outlet or attached to a solar panel, making them a perfect choice for off-grid activities, as well as allowing you energy on the go.
But where do they get their funky bohemian name, we hear you asking?! They’re called suitcase generators because they resemble suitcases in their shape and because they have a handle at the top, providing the ability to carry them like luggage. They are also light and compact, which adds to their prowess as ideal off-grid power solutions, and other such individuals who don’t have easy access to a power supply.
How Do Suitcase Generators Work?
There is more than one type of suitcase generator, and as with other generators, suitcase generators can be powered via gas/petrol, diesel and dual fuel (meaning they can be powered from propane).
You fire these babies up much like you would a chainsaw, and like other types of generators, they can come in different wattage options.
Like standard generators, suitcase generators will have a wattage range, allowing them to power appliances that do not exceed this range.
What are Suitcase Generators Used For?
Suitcase generators are designed to be used as an alternative power supply for people on the move (such as vanlifers) to charge devices and go-to appliances for a shorter period of time.
As they are small devices that work via petrol, diesel, or propane, they only supply power for a certain period of time, and shouldn’t be relied on to provide juice 24/7. If you’re wondering exactly what they can be used for, the rule of thumb is they’re ideal for anything that requires a plug-in source of energy.
This can be devices like your phone/laptop, to other larger devices, such as fridges and portable washing machines (spin-dry). They’re loved by many off-gridders and digital nomads, because it means the user can work from the road by keeping laptops/phones charged up.
Choosing the Right Suitcase Generator
So, if you’re sold on suitcase generators, and think one will make an excellent addition to your lifestyle, congrats!
But we’d wager you’re wondering what type of suitcase generator is right for you. Well, it involves basic maths. Before investing in your suitcase generator, you need to have a good gauge on what you wish to use it for; as in, what appliances you plan on using, and what wattage they are.
Once you have a watt estimation, you will have an idea on what suitcase generator is ideal for your needs.
Working Out Your Wattage Needs
You will save yourself a lot of hassle by taking the time to work out your wattage requirements.
If you’re unsure how to do this, all you need to know is the volt and amp range per appliance you plan on using the generator for, which you can find either on the device itself, or by doing a bit of research.
Once you have this, here’s your mathematical formula:
Volt x amp = wattage.
Top tip: it isn’t wise to rely on your suitcase generator for all of your appliances. Instead, it is ideal as an interim solution for when you’re on the go and don’t have access to a power supply.
Pros & Cons of Suitcase Generators
Like most things, suitcase generators have a number of pros and cons.
Suitcase Generators: Pros
1. They’re not dependent on gas/petrol, exclusively.
As we mentioned earlier, your suitcase generator can be dual fuel, meaning it can also be powered by propane. Dual fuel means once the petrol supply begins to run low, the generator automatically switches over to propane, meaning you have a power supply for longer.
2. Lower levels of noise.
Although you will still get some noise, suitcase generators aren’t typically as loud as your trad genny. If noise is a factor for you, be sure to do your homework and fix yourself up with a generator that is low-decibel.
3. They’re very portable.
One of the reasons why suitcase generators are so favoured is because of their portability (complete with their namesake handle), which makes them an excellent choice for non-conventional living, and for those of which space is an issue.
4. Relatively low-maintenance
Save for the inconvenience of needing to make sure the fuel supply never diminishes, suitcase generators are fairly low-maintenance and involve little faff.
You will need to inspect the battery on a semi-regular basis (particularly if you plan on using your generator every day) to ensure all is running as it should. We recommend doing this at least once a month to be sure you don’t get caught out with a malfunction when you need your generator the most.
Suitcase Generators: Cons
So, nothing is perfect, of course. Have a gander at the cons before opening your wallet!
1. They’re not very sustainable.
Anything that relies on fuel isn’t a sustainable option. We’re at a point now where it’s crucial we all start making big steps towards lessening our carbon footprint.
Nowadays, solar power devices are the most sustainable (not to mention, the most cost-effective) solution towards generating power.
And the great news is there is now a wide range of solar power solutions for all walks of life - including digital nomads/off-gridders.
2. They’re expensive to run.
Again, anything that relies on fuel ain’t cheap! Anyone who owns a vehicle will know this.
With the cost of living crisis showing no signs of diminishing just yet, any petrol-based device that isn’t an absolute necessity isn’t the best solution.
3. They’re noisy.
So, we know we said they’re not as noisy as traditional generators, but that doesn’t mean they don’t say boo to a goose.
All fuel-run generators make noise, which can be a nuisance factor for many of us. For example, if you’re camping/vanning somewhere in which there are neighbours of any sort, running your generator at 10 o'clock at night to catch up with Strictly Come Dancing isn’t going to be well-received.
4. They can be stinky.
Again - anything fuel-reliant tends to emit an unfavourable petroleum smell, which can be extremely unpleasant for the user and anyone in close proximity.
While they’re not as stinky as the trad genny, or more old-school generators. You’re still likely to be downwind of a petrol-y waft.
5. They require maintenance.
Low-maintenance still means some maintenance, and once the warranty on the product is up, any repairs may come with a hefty invoice.
Also, bear in mind that if you’re out in the middle of nowhere getting at one with nature, and your generator conks out, you’re in for a pretty miserable few days until it can be sorted.
Your best bet? Something super low-maintenance and that doesn’t rely on a constant fuel or propane source.
6. You need access to fuel all the time.
Or whatever source of juice you use to run your generator. You need to have a supply with you at all times, or be within reaching distance of somewhere to resupply.
For those travelling, say the outback of Australia, or up a whopper mountain somewhere - this could be a problem.
7. They’re slightly more complex than your trad genny.
This means there’s more to them than your standard affair, which has a motor that typically runs at around 3600 RPM. Also, if it’s a dual fuel, the motor’s RPM cannot be altered.
Suitcase Generators FAQs
What is the quietest suitcase generator?
Most suitcase generators average around the same decibel point, but if noise is a crucial factor, we recommend investing in a solar power station, which makes next to no noise (or smell).
What size generator do I need to run a caravan?
Depending on the amount of devices likely to be used, the generic caravan wattage set-up is around 2000 - 2400w.
What will a 2000w suitcase generator run in a caravan/RV/van?
This wattage generator will run your on-the-road essentials such as:
- Phone charger.
- Laptop charger.
- Coffee maker.
- Hair dryer.
- Fridge & freezer.
If your electronic needs go beyond these - or there are multiple people using devices - it’s wise to invest in a higher wattage generator, such as a 2400w.