How to Ground a Generator When Camping

How to Ground a Generator when Camping

Learning how to ground a generator when camping is absolutely essential if you plan on bringing one with you.

Generator grounding is not difficult to do, and anyone can do it as long as they research the means beforehand.

It’s quite straight-forward, and if you read on you will learn if your generator needs to be grounded, exactly how to do it, some safety precautions, and more.

If grounding doesn’t seem appealing to you, then you should invest in getting a portable generator that does not need earthing.

Does a Generator Need to be Grounded?

The easiest way to find out if your generator needs to be grounded is to check the recommended instructions from the manufacturer.

This is because modern portable generators come in two categories: separately derived systems or non-separately derived systems.

If your generator has a separately derived system, this means that it has a wiring system that has no direct electrical connection from circuit conductors.

Whereas a generator with a non-separately derived system

Non-separately derived systems have a transfer switch that won’t be transferred to the neutral ground conductor. The fuel tank, engine, and housing of your portable generator should be bonded to the frame, so they won’t need to be grounded.

All portable generators come with a user manual, and you should have it read through carefully to avoid any mistakes. In the case that you don’t have the manual for one reason or another, you can check the transfer switch.

If the transfer switch is designed in such a way that you can transfer it to the neutral ground conductor, then your generator has to be grounded.

How to Ground a Generator

In order to ground your generator when camping, there are a couple of tools you’ll need to take with you:

Copper Rod

A copper rod is needed to stick into the earth and ground your portable generator. This rod should be longer than four feet in length.

Copper Wire

The copper wire connects to the grounding copper rod and acts as a conductive electrical wire.


Not everything always goes as planned, especially when camping. The earth might be tougher than you expect, so a hammer is handy to pound the copper rod into the earth with the use of a hammer. Better safe than sorry.


You’ll need pliers to twist the copper wire around the copper grounding rod for a good connection. It’s best to do this with pliers so that it gets done properly.

Wire Strippers

Your generator might have a grounding wire that is insulated, and you’ll need to strip off that insulation at both ends using wire strippers. This way, you can easily attach it to the copper wire on the grounding rod and the generator.


You will need to attach the grounding wire to your generator once it has been stripped bare. This usually involves loosening a nut, so you will need a wrench for this part.

Step by Step

As mentioned earlier, you will need to hammer the copper rod into the soil. The rod needs to be in the soil at a depth of at least eight feet, so you’re going to end up using the hammer even if the soil is soft.

The deeper the rod is in the ground, the more effective it will be at keeping you safe.

Next, you need to strip each end of the copper wire, but make sure you don’t remove all of the insulation – only remove just enough at each end, so that you can twist it around the rod and then attach it to the generator.

Tightly wind the stripped part of the wire around your copper rod to create electrical contact between the grounding wire and the rod, enabling you to safely use your generator without any mishaps. The pliers come in handy here, to get a good grip on the wire and twist it around the copper rod.

Now, you can attach the other end of the stripped wire to your generator, but there’s usually a bolt that needs to be removed first. With a wrench, loosen that bolt to create a gap where you can twist the stripped end of the wire around it, then tighten it again.

That is all that you need to do to ground your portable generator with a copper rod and wire.

Safety Precautions

You can never play it too safe, and the entire point of grounding a generator is for safety in the first place. While grounding your generator, be sure to apply any extra safety precautions such as the following.

  • Wear gloves, especially while stripping the copper to avoid hurting your fingers.
  • Hold the rod by its body, from the middle, when putting it into the ground to protect your hand from the hammer.
  • Never put your generator in an enclosed space.
  • Don’t overfill the generator with diesel or gas fuel.
  • Avoid spilling water or any fuel onto the hot engine.
  • Do not overload your generator.
  • Use the right extension cords to connect anything to your generator.

Alternative Power Sources when Camping

Portable generators are extremely convenient, but there are other sources of electrical power that you can make use of when camping. Everyone has a different preference, and if you won’t have access to a generator at some point, it’s doesn’t hurt to know some alternatives.


There are solar powered generators out there that are even quieter than diesel-powered ones. They are also cheap to operate in the long run, making them perfect for frequent campers.

The only catch is that you need the sun, and these generators may still need to be grounded.

Lithium Battery Power

Lithium polymer batteries are handy for changing tablets and smartphones, but they are also a good source for temporary electrical power while camping. They would need to be fully charged before you go off on your camping trip though.

These are only suitable for campers who only want to charge small devices as mentioned.


Regular old batteries are a great source of temporary electrical power, but they are also only useful for small devices such as lights.

With the advancement of LED technology, batteries are able to last for much longer nowadays.

These are ideal in combination with a portable generator, like lithium battery power, so that you have something to use for the smaller devices and not overload the portable generator.

Car Battery

Some don’t like the idea of using their car battery as an alternative power source, but it is very useful if you don’t have access to a portable generator.

All you need is the right kind of connection to plug into the car cigarette lighter.

The issue is that you are limited by the voltage output, so it’s not sufficient for tasks that require more power.

Another issue is that you are draining your car battery, so you have to be careful.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you don’t ground a generator?

If you use a generator without grounding it, you increase the risk of uncommon current flow. This can cause power outages, damage equipment, and even cause harm to you and others around you.

If you do not ground your generator it can get damaged and, in the worst-case scenario, harm people.

Do I have to ground a portable generator?

This depends on the system your generator has. You can find this out by taking a look at the recommended instructions from the manufacturer.

Generators that have a ‘separately derived’ system must be grounded.

If you don’t have the instructions, then you have to look at the generator transfer switch to check if it can be transferred to a neutral ground conductor.

Most modern generators have a ‘unseparated derived’ system, which don’t need to be grounded.

How do you ground a portable generator?

Using a copper rod that is over four feet long and stripped copper wire. You connect the copper wire to the generator and to the pole that is then inserted into the ground.

Why is earthing required for a generator?

Generators need to be grounded for safety reasons, as it protects the generator and anything or anyone from surges in electricity. If lightening were to strike, or the power was to surge, this produces dangerously high voltages of electricity.

Does a floating neutral generator need to be grounded?

At least the frame of the floating neutral generator should be grounded with a rod. This is because the neutral is also used as a hot wire. If there’s a short current between any slot of the receptacles and the generator’s frame, there is no return path since the neutral wire isn’t bonded with the frame. So, you need a separate ground wire to provide safety in case someone touches the generator.

Does a standby generator need a ground rod?

This completely depends on whether your generator uses a separately derived system or a non-separately derived system. Most modern portable generators don’t need to be grounded, but you have to check the manual to be safe and sure.

Can you run a generator with a cover on it?

If the generator is covered by a plastic or metal shell, that is fine so long as enough airflow is being provided – and as long as you are not inside that space.

You do not want a generator running inside of a tent for example, because the exhaust won’t be getting vented properly.

How long should a ground rod be?

A ground rod should be longer than four feet in length ideally.

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