Generator etiquette when camping; how to keep everyone happy

You pull into an amazing camp site, set up and kick back, listening to the sounds of the birds, and the water trickling down a creek nearby.

It’s absolutely bliss, and you’re feeling very glad of the spot you’ve pulled into, and then you hear the distinct rumble, and noise of a generator fire up nearby. Lovely. Your peace and quiet is ruined, and you curse your neighbours for bringing a noisy, smelly genset with them.

Honda Generator
Generators are a very controversial item for camping these days

The thing is, are they in the wrong? Are they perfectly within their rights to run a generator?

If you want to upset campers these days, ask them about generators. With the change in technology a huge number of people have moved from generators to solar and batteries, but there are still plenty out there and they are not a direct swap, just yet.

Are you allowed to run a generator when camping?

Unless its specifically signed and/or mandated, you can run a generator when camping. If you run one near others though, expect at the least to get some dirty looks. The general consensus is that the generator shouldn’t run too early in the morning, or too late in the evening, and most certainly not overnight.

Now, not everyone abides by this, and we camped next to a family at Bush Bay near Carnarvon who ran their noisy generator from about 6PM, all the way to somewhere around 3AM, when it obviously ran out of fuel.

Camping with a generator
As long as you abide by the site requirements, you’re technically OK

Be respectful and understanding

There are a number of people travelling who run generators not because they choose to, but because they need to. CPAP breathing machines for example, especially when used with a humidifier can draw a lot of power, and there are occasions where generators will get run when you might not want them to.

A respectful conversation, camping a decent distance away from others and some understanding and respect to each other is generally all that is needed.

This works both ways though; if you have a generator, you should be respectful in the way you run it for the good of those around you. Running it for hours and hours during the day in a busy camp site, or where people are unable to camp away from you is not very respectful, and you’ll likely cop some looks for doing so (as a minimum!)

When should you turn your generator off?

Generators are somewhat accepted during the day, but if you are going to run them into the night don’t be surprised if people around you get upset. Using them for dinner as required (or short bursts) in the evening is generally OK, but don’t run them beyond 9PM if you can avoid it.

Reconn R2 at night
If you’re running a generator into the night, people will get unhappy quickly

Where should you place a generator?

If you are a respectful generator user, you’ll put it somewhere that stops the noise from going too far. Behind some tree’s, or in a small hole in the ground (with proper ventilation), or behind a sand mound can work really well.

Have a good think about where the noise and fumes are going to travel, so you limit the annoyance of other campers nearby.

Oura Beach Camp with our Dmax
If you’re going to use a generator, position it so the noise affects others as little as possible

What solar and battery system do you need to ditch the generator?

There’s some seriously crazy lithium battery and solar setups getting around these days, and you can 100% remove the need to take a generator if you want.

However, this comes at a cost, and there will still be times where a lack of sunlight makes the solar struggle, and a generator as a backup can be handy.

The exact setup that you need depends on what you want to run, and for how long. For us, we’re running an induction cooktop full time, along with an 82L freezer, water pumps, lights and a toaster as needed on 340aH of Lithium batteries and 720W of solar panels, plus our Isuzu Dmax electrical system as backup when needed.

Lithium battery install
We’ve got a medium sized lithium setup that allows us to never need a generator

If we have more than a few cloudy days we need to go back to gas for cooking, but it generally works pretty well.

If you want to run air conditioners off a 12V system, or other heavy electrical consumers then you will need a bigger system, and there are quite a few vans with more than 600aH of lithium and 1000W of solar on the roof.

Solar panels on our Dmax and Camper
With enough solar and battery storage you can ditch the generator all together

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