Hitting the road for a long weekend of wheeling with friends is one of our favorite past times. Depending on where you live, your travel time could be a few minutes or a few hours. Where we are located on the East Coast, we often have to travel a few hundred miles to get to some of the more challenging wheeling destinations located at higher elevations. Over the years, we’ve accumulated a sizable trail tool collection.
We typically have two distinct sets of tools we take with us: a set for when we are driving our rig to the wheeling destination and a larger set we take when we are towing. As you can imagine, our tow-rig tool set is significantly more involved than our basic in-vehicle wrenches. If we are towing, that means we are far from home. This also means we are far from a power source.
Over the years, we’ve found that no matter how much you prepare, there’s always the potential for a surprise break that can ruin your weekend. One asset that we have used frequently over the years is a portable generator. The ability to run power tools, cookware, and additional battery-zapping accessories is huge. Sure, hand tools can often get the job done most of the time, but when you are forced to fabricate a part back at camp, you’ll definitely appreciate the juice a generator can provide.
After six years of good use, our old generator bit the dust. Searching for a replacement, we wanted something slightly more compact than our outgoing unit. It also needed to be able to handle at least 2,500 starting watts as we found that to be the tipping point for our more higher-draw tools. This had us looking at the compact and common inverter/generators in the 2,000-3,000 watt power range. These are perfect for a small backup if you lose power at the house (it will keep your fridge running and microwave cooking). The compact size tends to make them great for camper trailers and trail use as well.
We’ve been happy with our Honda generators in the past, but the price point on the new units sent us searching for other options. After looking around on the Interwebs, we landed on a Smittybilt E.P.S. Inverter/Generator. Yes, this is the same Smittybilt that builds bumpers, soft tops, and winches for your Wrangler. The price of the Inverter/Generator is what drew us in, and the 2,600-watt peak and 2,300-watt continuous output numbers is what got us to look closer.
Behind the plastic shell is a NRG Premium Generator. For those that don’t know, NRG is one of the largest global energy providers. Essentially, the heart of the generator is backed by a well-known brand. This was a very smart partnership for Smittybilt.
After a few months of using the generator, we’ve been very impressed. It fits easily into the bed of our pickup, and we’ve even tossed it in the back of our Jeep to get it to the trail head. We like that it’s quiet, will automatically adjust with power load, and found that we can burn through a full tank over the course of weekend (Smittybilt states it will last six hours with a 50 percent load). We hope to get years of service out of this unit.
To buy the right generator, you need to understand the output ratings. For the most part, we like compact inverter/generator machines. These will usually range from 1,000 to 3,000 watts. To determine what you will need requires calculating the approximate starting wattage and running wattage of the equipment you want it to power. More often than not, the watts needed to start a power tool can be nearly double that of its running watts. You can often get away with using a smaller (lower wattage) generator if you are only using one or two devices at a time.
If the running wattage is low, you can even run multiple devices, but you may have to stagger the startup and usage of higher-draw components. Most tools list power requirements in amps, not watts. To covert amps to watts, you multiply the amps by the volts. Again, be sure to investigate how much the device takes to operate. We’ve experienced tools that may say that it’s rated 1,300 watts but actually requires 1,800 watts of continuous power.