You can use a generator when camping in a primitive area if you need electronic medical equipment. Photo credit: Terrie Brockmann 2015
As camping generators get more versatile, we are seeing more of them helping campers with special needs. Many people who couldn’t camp before are now relying on these lightweight, efficient electricity-producers. Inventors are making standard medical equipment more portable and travel-friendly. For instance, you may need to camp with a portable nebulizer, portable kidney dialysis machine, or other life-saving equipment.
Why use a generator?
Although most people use them to run their entertainment devices, many campers rely on them for life-saving, portable medical devices. My husband has a CPAP machine that doesn’t have a battery pack. We’ve met campers who have portable oxygen concentrators and other devices. Even devices that have batteries need electric sources to recharge the batteries. For example, the battery pack of a woman’s oxygen concentrator held only an 8-hour charge so she relied on a generator to provide electricity for recharging sessions.
Is it safe for electronics?
One of the first criteria to take into account is the protection of your electronic equipment. Some generators are safe for electronics. Watch for this when shopping for a unit. Look for descriptions such as “stable output for sensitive electronics” or “suitable for computers and electronic equipment.”
For extra protection, you can plug your electronic device into a good-quality surge protector.
Is it quiet?
Another important consideration is the sound level of the running generator. Many campgrounds have a “no generators” policy or allow only quiet ones. If you have a medical need, often a campground will allow a quiet generator, but you should check on the camp’s policy before booking. A good machine should be in the 50 decibels (dBs) range. Most conversations are between 50 to 60 dBs, vacuum cleaners are about 70 dBS, and a chain saw is about 110.
The modern inverter-style units are quieter and more efficient than the traditional types. Generators can range from under 50 dBs to over 75. The more powerful the unit, the more noise it produces. Keep this in mind as you shop for a camping generator.
Is it easy to use?
No one wants to struggle with a machine. Manufacturers have created units that are simple to use and easy to maintain. Be sure to compare units to select one that is user-friendly. Most people opt for units with electric starts. Recoil starts, such as many gas-powered lawnmowers use, are generally more difficult to use.
Is it lightweight?
Can you easily handle the machine? A lightweight one may run 45 pounds or more, but a heavy unit can tip the scales at well over 150 pounds. You need to be able to move and maintain the unit. Most units have wheels for mobility, but you should take into account whether the wheels will be effective on all types of ground. Larger wheels usually work better on all types of soil, such as sandy or rocky ground.
Be aware that some machines require two people to carry them. Simpler, less powerful machines often have handles so one person can carry them. A bonus is a telescoping handle that allows the user to pull the unit easily.
What fuel does it need?
When shopping for a generator, you should consider which fuel source would be easiest to use. Most units run on gasoline, but you could use diesel, LP, or natural gas. Ask your dealer to explain the differences, such as fuel availability, efficiency, safety, and more. Some units have a dual-fuel option and can run on propane or gasoline.
Propane is popular with campers. Each Generac LP Series unit even has a holder for a propane bottle. Since it is easy to refill the bottles in almost any town, propane is a reliable fuel source.
What features does it have?
Some devices are smart machines, with a control panel showing a fuel gauge, volt meter, low-oil warning light, and more. You can find this information useful, but the amount of information varies. Some basic machines do not have control panels with this level of data.
Quality machines have an automatic shut-off for low oil. This feature prevents the engine from seizing up if the oil level is too low.
Other features to watch for are multiple outlets. Many units have two AC outlets or more. Some have a DC outlet that allows you to charge batteries, too.
Does the amp output match your needs?
Most generators produce 30 amps, which is generally sufficient. Before investing in a machine, make sure that it really does produce the stated amps. Ask your medical practitioner or other professional about the requirements of you portable medical device. Ask about amp and wattage use. Each medical device is different so it is impossible to generalize.
A good generator can handle the increased load of surging watts. When you turn on an appliance, it needs more voltage than when it is running. Generally, this is called “starting watts.”
Will you need to charge a DC battery?
Not all generators can charge dc batteries. If you want to have it perform this function, you need to check with the manufacturer. For example, you can get a charging cord for DC batteries with the Honda EU2000 but not the EU1000i. Some brands do not offer this option for any of their devices.
Can it power an air conditioner?
Some people, such as COPD sufferers, need air conditioning. Not all machines can handle the heavy pull of AC units. Having a powerful generator can give people the opportunity to camp at any site, not just sites with electric hookups. Some companies offer machines capable of running an AC unit. Be sure that the one you buy can power your AC unit’s BTUs. Air conditioners can range from 10,000 to 40,000 BTUs.
Be sure to check the dB level of the unit. Generators that are more powerful are usually noisier than the smaller units are. Make sure that your generator can handle the load and are quiet enough to use at a campground.
When camping without electricity, you can use a generator for medical devices.
Do you need one with special certification?
The US Forest Service (USFS) established codes for the noise level from machines, such as generators. All good quality generators have EPA or USFS-approved spark arrestors, but you need to double-check before you purchase a unit. The spark arrestor is a ceramic resistor that suppresses ignition noise generated during sparking.
Another specification to consider is the unit’s emission control. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) established a set of standards for small engines, such as generators. The best units offer a Tier III CARB Compliancy Certificate, which is important if you want to camp in restricted areas, such as in certain national parks and areas in California.
Is price a factor?
As with anything, the best units cost the most. Top ranking units can run in the thousands. On the other hand, smaller or less efficient generators can be under $400. Determine your needs, such as the wattage to run your devices, and what options you want to choose the best unit for your money.
If you do not want to invest in a machine, you may be able to rent one. Check with your local camping center or rental store. You can generally rent machines by the day or by the week, such as at Equipment Rentals, Inc in Hartford and West Bend, WI.
Camping generators help campers with special equipment and portable medical devices enjoy their outings. Too many people think they can’t camp but these lightweight, efficient electricity-producers are opening new territories for people. Innovations are evolving standard medical equipment into portable and travel-friendly devices. For instance, portable kidney dialysis machines and other life-saving equipment make it possible for anyone to take pleasure in a camping trip.
Before writing for Internet sites, Terrie wrote for print magazines, including "Cricket" and several Dell puzzle magazines. Her repertoire covers several subjects, such as camping, writing, and Life's Experiences. As a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother, she often writes about family issues.