How to Ground a Generator When Camping

Camping outside is one of the best ways to connect with nature – but sometimes, you need a few human amenities. One of the biggest modern comforts we give up when we camp is electricity. Whether you want to charge your phone, heat your griddle, or turn on your lights, electricity is essential for some campers.

However, bringing electricity into the woods isn’t possible without a generator of some kind.

The Benefits of a Portable Generator

A generator is a small, usually gas- or diesel-powered engine that produces electricity. When you’re camping, it’s often the only way to access electrical power for any reason.

With most camping generators, the operation is simple: you fill it with fuel, turn it on, and plug in whatever needs to be charged.

This ease of access is what makes portable generators great for camping. However, they raise a safety concern: grounding your electricity.

What Does it Mean to “Ground” Your Generator?

Grounding, also called earthing, is when you “connect” your generator to the ground. This process minimizes the risks of bringing a generator into the wild, such as electrocution, electrical fault, and even fires. Furthermore, grounding your generator can also make it quieter, which means a better night’s sleep.

Occasionally, you’ll find a portable generator that does not require grounding to be safe. However, if you have one that does, you’ll need to know how to do it safely.

Furthermore, even if your generator does not need to be grounded, it’s always a good idea to know how, just in case. If something were to happen to make your generator unsafe, knowing how to ground it could save you a nasty shock – or worse.

Before You Ground Your Generator…

There are a few things to know before you get started. Grounding a generator is not just about shoving your generator in the dirt and calling it good – you need to take a few safety precautions.

  • Never turn a generator on inside a tent, RV, or house. This can create a dangerous situation wherein you inhale carbon exhaust.
  • Place your generator a reasonable distance away from your tent. If your generator has to within a couple feet of your tent, make sure that it’s not near a door or window.
  • Make sure your hands and the generator are dry before you ground it, add fuel, or turn it on.
  • Only fill your generator when it’s cool in case you spill some fuel.
  • Don’t overfill your generator – look to the manufacturer’s instructions if you’re unsure how much fuel you need.

What You’ll Need to Ground Your Generator

If you plan on camping with a generator you’ll need to ground, then you’ll need both grounding equipment and some simple tools to get the job done.

First off, you’ll probably need to purchase a copper rod and some copper wire.

The copper rod is what will physically ground your generator, so it will need to be sturdy. Also, you’ll need to make sure the rod is between four and eight feet in length.

It’s important to note here that you’ll need to get your rod at least eight feet into the ground. Therefore, the longer your rod is, the deeper you can drive it.

The copper wire will attach your generator to the copper rod. This wire will act as a conductor for the electricity produced by your generator.

Additionally, you’ll need a few household tools to ground your generator properly. Make sure you bring:

  • Wire strippers to remove insulation from both tips of the generator’s grounding wire. This makes it possible to attach the grounding wire to both the generator and copper rod. Typically, this is only necessary the first time you ground your generator.
  • Pliers to properly apply the copper wire to the copper rod. You want to make sure there is a tight fit between them, which your fingers can’t promise you.
  • A hammer to pound the copper rod into the ground. This may not always be necessary – but if you don’t know for sure there are sturdy rocks where you’re going, be sure to throw one in your pack.
  • A wrench to loosen the nuts on your generator and attach the grounding wire to the source of electricity.

How to Ground Your Portable Generator

Once you have all of these tools in place, you can actually get to work grounding your generator. These simple steps should make the process easy.

1. Ground the Copper Rod

Before you can ground your generator, you need to make sure your copper rod is in place. This is where your hammer comes in handy.

You want your copper rod to be roughly 8 feet in the ground – so if you buy a shorter grounding rod, you’ll need to dig a small hole to ground your rod properly. (Your hammer might help with this, too). Alternatively, you can ground your rod in a natural depression or hole in the dirt.

When you’ve chosen your area, you’re ready to ground your rod! Simply pound it into the earth until only a few inches are sticking out.

If you have trouble grounding your rod correctly , you have a couple of options:

  1. Soften the earth with water and try again in 15 minutes
  2. Hammer the rod into the ground at an angle, no closer than the ground than 45 degrees

2. Strip Your Wire

Once your rod has been grounded, you’re ready to strip the ends of your copper wire. Using your wire strippers, gently strip the insulation from both ends of your copper wire. Be sure, however, that you don’t strip the whole wire.

On one end, you’ll want to strip enough insulation that you can twist the wire around the copper rod. On the other end, you need to remove just enough to wrap it around the generator’s grounding spot.

3. Attach the Wire to the Rod

Next, you want to wrap the stripped portion of the wire around the copper rod. This is what makes electrical a contract between the earthed rod and the wire. Your pliers will come in handy to make sure you can grip – and wrap – the wire tightly.

4. Attach the Wire to the Generator

Next, you’ll want to use your wrench to loosen the grounding bolt on your generator. When there’s a large enough gap to slip your pliers between the bolt and the generator, wrap the copper wire tightly around the exposed bolt. Then, you want to tighten the nut again – not all the way, of course.

Final Thoughts

If you go car camping often, investing in a sturdy portable generator is helpful. The generator will allow you to bring modern items such as lights and cellphones into the woods.

However, unless your generator states explicitly you don’t need to ground it, you’ll want to take note of the steps in this article in order to make sure you’re camping safely.

Grounding your generator helps reduce electric shocks and the risk of fire. By running excess current into the ground, you make sure that you’re safe anytime the generator is turned on.

Questions or comments about grounding your generator? Let us know in the comments!

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