One bad power surge can cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in repair for your RV.
This is why RVers tend to split into two groups: those that saved their RV electrics by purchasing a surge protector beforehand, and those that bought one after their fridge or TV was fried.
Having the best surge protector ensures that you’re protected against generator malfunctions and overuse, every single time. And it saves you the hassle of hunting down spare parts for the electrics and electronics that got burned inside your RV.
Luckily for you, we’ve gone over the precise electrical specifications of all these surge protectors and spent dozens of hours researching the science behind why they work the way they do.
Let’s start with our number one pick and move down the list.
FAST OVERVIEW OF OUR TOP PICK FOR THE BEST RV SURGE PROTECTOR
PORTABLE RV SURGE PROTECTOR EMS-PT30X
Why is it better than the rest?
Our picks for top surge protectors in 2021
Best Overall: Portable RV Surge Protector EMS-PT30X
If you’re looking to provide maximum electrical protection with a portable RV surge protector, then look no further than the EMS-PT30X (or PT50X if your camper requires 50 amps).
It will be hard to beat the full EMS protection it provides against multiple power supply issues with the service and reliability behind any Progressive Industries product.
- Full EMS protection
- Lightweight, easy to use, and store
- No installation required—just plug and play
- Built-in digital display
- Cost — most expensive surge protector that we reviewed
- Not UL certified or Canadian approved
- Convenient pull handle for easier unplugging
- Weather-resistant housing designed specifically for outdoor use
- Lockable bracket for additional security
- Size: 6″ W x 18″ H x 6 1/8″ D
- Capacity: 3 mode surge protection / 1,790J / 44,000A
- Operating Temperatures: -40C to +105C
- Ratings: 30 amp / 120V / 3,600W
- Weight: 5 lbs.
- Warranty: Lifetime warranty (excluding weather shield assembly)
Runner Up: Surge Guard 34850
This is a very close second as the Surge Guard 34850, by Technology Research, offers many of the same full protection capabilities as our winner, albeit in a lighter package with a better LCD display and a higher maximum capacity of 2,450 joules.
It does only have a 1-year warranty, however, and we wish it contained weather housing over the plug component.
- Full EMS protection in a lightweight, portable package
- Constant monitoring and display of current voltage and amp draw
- Automatic reset delay for power restoration protects AC compressor pressure buildup
- Limited security of device without lock hasp accessory
- Any service will require sending the device to a designated repair dealer—not field serviceable
- Corrosion resistance
- LCD display with easy to read codes
- Size: 4.68”W x 3.86”D x 21.5” H
- Capacity: Multi-mode protection/ 2,450J / 6,500 A
- Operating Temperature: Full weather range capability
- Ratings: 30 amp / 120V / 3,600 W
- Weight: 4.5 lbs.
- Warranty: 1-year warranty
CAMCO HEAVY DUTY
For those looking at basic surge protection with minimal investment, Camco Heavy Duty may be a great option for every RV owner out there.
The ergonomic handles are an awesome and unique feature that make plugging and unplugging this surge protector incredibly easy. You can do that in mere seconds
- Affordable—least expensive surge protector that we reviewed
- Multiple light indicators make identifying improperly wired electrical boxes easy
- Incredibly lightweight at less than 4 lb
- Indication only—no protection from grounding issues, such as reverse polarity, open ground and open neutral systems, faulty wiring, etc.
- No automatic reset—designed for one-time surge protection use
- Weather protection
- Smart handle design eases plugging and unplugging
- Size: 25.5”H x 5”D x 5.2”W
- Capacity: Surge protection up to 2,100 J
- Operating Temperature: Weather resistance
- Weight: 3.07 lbs.
- Warranty: 1-year warranty
SURGE GUARD 44280
We are confident that you won’t be disappointed with this one, or any of the Progressive Industries hardwired RV surge protectors (LCHW30 if you don’t need the remote display).
While they do require a little extra work for their initial installation, they deliver maximum convenience and level of protection thereafter.
We, also, love the out-of-sight, out-of-mind nature of these surge protectors.
- Maximum EMS protection with minimal effort—no need to plug it in/out every trip
- Increased security since it is located on the interior of the RV
- Initial installation may require a professional (more $)
- Limited portability—can be difficult to keep if you sell your RV
Why Do You Need A Surge Protector For Your RV?
For the same reason that surge protectors are commonly used around the house, these devices protect your RV’s electrical components from unexpected changes in current (lightning strikes, surges, faulty wiring, etc.).
In fact, power fluctuations are fairly common within campgrounds, which seldom have the budget for advanced electrical solutions, yet routinely experience over 100 campers connected to their ‘grid’, each utilizing a different amount of power.
In an outdoor setting, these connections are, also, more exposed to the harmful power surges delivered by a lightning strike.
Common Causes Of RV Power Failure
The risk of low voltage is highest at older campgrounds that have not updated their electrical wiring, particularly during summer months (increased air conditioning use).
A sudden increase (surge) in the power supplied to your RV (most commonly by a lightning strike) can result in smoke, burnt wires, and severely damaged electronics throughout your RV.
Reversed polarity at an electrical outlet where live and neutral wires have been incorrectly switched can result in dangerous scenarios where electronics are still ‘live’ even when turned off.
UNGROUNDED (OPEN GROUND) OUTLETS
Outlets that have been installed without a ground connection, or those that contain an existing defect to a current ground wire, will be most susceptible to unprotected surges.
Many surge protectors rely on a grounded outlet to redistribute power fluctuations correctly from the power source.
Portable Vs. Hardwired Surge Protection
There are two main styles of surge protectors available to RV users.
Convenience, security, and ease of installation are the key factors that will help determine which is right for you.
Portable surge protectors are smaller, lighter, and designed to be plugged directly into the shore power electrical box at a campsite.
There is no formal installation required with a portable surge protector, and they are often marketed as plug-and-play capable.
They do require retrieval and storage upon arriving/leaving every new site.
Since they are used on the exterior of the RV, theft is a greater concern with portable units.
Consider an additional investment in lockable housing for your portable surge protector to reduce this risk.
Hardwired surge protectors are installed on the interior of an RV, typically, within its power or electrical panel.
These medium-sized black boxes require greater effort and precision with initial installation (may need to consult a professional if you don’t feel confident with DIY installation), however, they require minimal maintenance thereafter.
With hardwired protection, there is no need to carry a portable unit to and from the electrical box.
Simply plug your RV into shore power and you are always protected.
Since the unit is located within the interior of the camper, hardwired units are also better protected from the weather and potential theft.
Keep in mind that many of the portable units allow you to DIY ‘hardwire’ them in your RV.
Electrical Management System (EMS) Vs. Standard Surge Protector: What’s The Difference?
Those new to shopping for RV surge protector systems are often confused by this difference in classification seen among many leading products.
It’s just a difference in the degree of protection you desire and your budget.
One of the key distinguishers between an EMS surge protector and a standard surge protector will be a unit’s ability to detect a problem or to detect AND protect from that same problem.
Both will protect your RV from a sudden spike in voltage, like with a lightning strike or from a faulty power source, which is why the term ‘surge protector’ is commonly used to describe either version.
Only an EMS system, however, will protect from other common wiring issues, such as reverse polarity, open ground and open neutral connections, or moderately low/high voltages.
For a quick reference regarding some of the differences check out the chart below:
|FEATURES||STANDARD SURGE PROTECTOR||EMS SURGE PROTECTOR|
|Open Ground||Detection only||Detection AND Protection|
|Reverse Polarity||Detection only||Detection AND Protection|
|Poorly Wired Pedestal Indicator?||Yes||Yes|
|Visible Amperage Use Indicator||No||Yes|
|Time Delay and A/C Frequency Protection||No||Yes|
RV Surge Protectors And Your RV Insurance Policy
It’s no secret that prudent RV owners should maintain proper insurance coverage for their trailers.
Unfortunately, many are unaware that most policies exclude coverage for power surge events causing damage to electrical systems.
Every policy is different, and while we encourage you to read the fine print when purchasing your RV insurance, it’s unlikely that it will cover electrical damage caused by a faulty power pedestal supply or surge at a campground.
Consider investing in an RV surge protector as your insurance policy against electrical damage.
While we haven’t found an insurance provider willing to provide discounts for having one (since they don’t cover the resulting damage anyway), consistently using a surge protector is a rather affordable form of insurance.
Key Features Of Leading Surge Protectors
REVERSE POLARITY DETECTION
If electrical work was always done right the first time, then this is a problem we’d never need protection from.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case and it’s more likely to happen in campgrounds where friends or hosts try their hand at fixing the issue.
If an outlets’ neutral and live wires are mistakenly connected to opposite terminals, it can result in electronic damage or devices that contain current even when turned off.
Reverse polarity detection and protection, depending on the model, would alert you to this situation.
UNGROUNDED (OPEN) DETECTION
Surge protectors rely on grounding at outlets to disperse excess voltage, preventing it from entering the electronics within your RV.
If a grounding wire has not been properly connected, or an existing one has been damaged (animal chewed through wire, decay, etc.), your surge protector may not function properly.
Identify an open ground error before it costs you time and money.
ACCIDENTAL 240V CONNECTIONS
Most power within the United States is supplied at 120 volts.
There are exceptions, however, with many household electronics needing a 240-volt power supply (clothes dryers, ovens, stoves, or even electric cars in your garage).
If your mobile home, travel trailer, or class B van (all 120V) is plugged into a 240V outlet without protection, you will likely damage thousands of dollars of electronics.
AC FREQUENCY MONITORING
Some surge protectors (EMS versions) will monitor the alternating current frequency and automatically shut off if it deviates too far from the standard (60hz).
This is especially important when attempting to hookup in RV parks spread around the country. Not all RV parks use high-quality power supplies, and some are very unstable in the frequency they provide (ranging from 50 to 80 Hz).
LCD DISPLAYS OR LED INDICATORS
Many surge protectors will include easy-to-read LED displays that help you discern a given error code or in some cases provide you with current usage statistics. LED lights allow for quick and easy troubleshooting on the spot.
Instead of buying a difficult circuit analyzer, a simple look thrown at your LED display will pinpoint the problem.
RESET TIME DELAY
Units with this feature will idle for a set period (136 seconds with Progressive’s) before supplying power to the RV.
This can ensure that proper power supply is achieved before sending it through, as well as allow the compressor within AC units to decompress properly after a shut-off has occurred, before immediately restoring power.
PREVIOUS ERROR CODE RECALL
Error codes on most surge protectors are obvious when something’s currently backfiring, but what about after the fault has already occurred and the power has been subsequently restored (perhaps while you were away)?
This feature allows you to view past error codes so that you may understand why the power supply was affected, even if it has since returned to normal operating status, with no error code present.
Three or five-mode protection ensures that the device is capable of handling maximum surges at fast response times.
Progressive Industries – The Leader In RV Surge Protection Products
Over the last twenty years, Progressive Industries has developed into the leading provider of electrical protection products for RV consumers.
That is in large part due to their dedicated focus upon this niche industry.
Progressive’s product lineup consists of, only, RV surge protectors and electrical adapters, allowing them to perfect each product. For example, the Progressive Industries EMS-PT30X and EMS-PT50X are quickly becoming popular with RV enthusiasts that seek to avoid issues with electrical surges and other electrical issues. Progressive Industries SSP-30XL and SSP-50XL are also among the most sought-after portable surge protectors.
They are intimately familiar with RVing owners’ needs and develop products to suit.
Additional considerations that help Progressive industries stand apart:
- Lifetime warranties
- 365-day tech support
- After-hours tech support for traveling RVers who find themselves in a bind
- Products all produced in the U.S.
- Superior weather resistance
Which Progressive Industries Surge Protector Is Right For You?
WHEN PROTECTION & PORTABILITY ARE MOST IMPORTANT
If maximum electrical protection is your main objective when shopping for a surge protector and you prefer the portable style, look no further than these EMS devices from Progressive Industries:
Please note that the only difference between the above devices is the amperage output.
Make sure to purchase the appropriate protector/plug for your RV supply requirements (30 amp or 50 amp).
WHEN PROTECTION & SECURITY ARE MOST IMPORTANT
If you’d like the full range of monitoring and protection offered by the electrical management systems above but would prefer the added security and convenience of an ‘out-of-sight’ installation check out one of the hardwired Progressive Industries products below.
The key difference between these models is the location of the display screen.
With the LCH’s the display screen is built into the device; a simple design if the placement of your unit will be in an easily readable location.
If not, the HW’s may be a better fit as they include a remote LCD display which can be placed in a better viewing location away from the box itself.
Once again, models are offered as both 30 amp and 50 amp surge protectors.
30 amp RV surge protectors
50 amp RV surge protectors
WHEN COST IS MOST IMPORTANT
Honestly, you don’t need top-of-the-line protection with every RV accessory, and the concept of shelling out $200+ on a surge protector may be tough to justify.
If you’re just looking to protect your camper from basic power surges while maintaining the ability to identify faulty power pedestals before you connect, check out these more affordable options from Progressive.
They are high-quality products nonetheless and add considerable electrical protection to your RV the moment they are connected.
- SSP-30XL (increased durability, all-weather shield construction, security locking bracket, & UL certified)
Key Factors To Consider When Buying A Surge Protector
As with any RV accessory purchase, there are a few basic factors that will help determine which product is right for you.
Here are a few considerations based on our experience that are pertinent to selecting an RV surge protector.
30 AMP OR 50 AMP RV?
Amperes (amps) are a measure of electrical current, and every RV is designed to work with one of two major supply classifications: 30 amp or 50 amp.
This will be determined by the size and electrical requirements (refrigerators, stove, microwave, oven, ac units, TVs, etc.) of your RV. The category of your RV also contains certain tendencies. For example, motorhomes come in both variants. Smaller RV power systems usually come in 30 amp variants, while huge mobile houses (with multiple air conditioners, digital displays, and inverter ACs) usually come in 50 amp variants.
Your power source can play a significant part in the whole configuration. If you try to pull 30+ amp current by plugging it in a low voltage and 30 amp max power source, you run the risk of burning it, as well as destroying your electric and electronic equipment inside your RV.
When purchasing a surge protector, be sure to match it with your RV’s power supply. Logically, 50-amp surge protectors should go with a 50 amp supply—and vice versa.
You’ll notice that each product we reviewed contained two ‘versions’, one for 50 amp (4 prongs) users and one for 30 amp users (3 prongs).
WHAT CLASS AND SIZE IS YOUR RV?
|Larger Camper||⇒ Greater Electrical Requirement|
|Greater Electrical Requirements||⇒ Increased Electrical Risk|
|Increased Electrical Risk||⇒ Greater Need for Electrical Protection|
If you drive a class A or C motorhome, or a travel trailer or 5th wheel, then you will likely benefit from the advanced protection found within an EMS system.
These larger RV’s typically contain multiple high-end electronics, meaning a single faulty power event has the potential to destroy thousands of dollars of hard to replace equipment.
This will also make justifying the higher investment required of an EMS surge protector a bit easier.
Alternatively, if you are looking to power a conversion van, or perhaps a smaller pop-up trailer that doesn’t contain refrigerators, AC units, microwaves, or TVs, it may be silly to spend the money on a full EMS system when there isn’t much at risk in the first place.
A simple, portable RV surge protector will still protect the few electronics you do have, albeit at a much more reasonable cost.
WHERE DO YOU CAMP MOST?
The quality of electrical power supplied at campgrounds varies considerably.
Modern campgrounds utilizing professional electricians for power setup will pose, significantly, fewer risks than those who haven’t seen an update to their archaic electrical systems in decades.
If you travel frequently, camping at a wide array of campgrounds throughout the country, you will likely benefit from more advanced RV surge protectors, since you are more likely to experience a problem.
If you spend most of your time camping at only a few locations that you trust, then your need for heavy-duty EMS surge protection may be reduced.
Remember, just because the electrical box and/or pedestal at a campsite looks well cared for doesn’t mean the power has been wired correctly.
SECURITY AND CONVENIENCE
As we mentioned above in our section comparing portable RV surge protectors with hardwired (permanent) versions, there are advantages/disadvantages to either.
Determining your level of concern with theft and your desired convenience for installation will likely make your RV surge protector decision easier.
Here is a summary of the benefits/disadvantages:
Portable Surge Protectors
- Easy installation—just plug in, and can be used outdoors
- A wider range of product options available
- Cost—often less than hardwired surge protectors
- Easier to keep if you sell/trade your camper
- More susceptible to theft (or additional $ required for a lock)
- Must be stored and subsequently plugged in/out on every trip—loss of convenience
- Low power pedestals can present challenges—portable surge protectors must hang vertically, off of the ground, for proper function
- Not always resistant to bad weather conditions
Hardwired Surge Protectors
- Maximum convenience (after initial installation)—just plug your RV power cord into the pedestal
- Increased security within the RV
- Easier display viewing, especially if foul weather is present
- Maximum protection (EMS)
- Always weatherproof (if installed correctly)
- May require professional installation initially (additional cost)
- Fewer affordable options
- Cannot be used outdoors
Ultimately, the degree of RV surge protection you select is less important than the protection itself.
Something is better than nothing when it comes to protecting your RV’s costly electronics.
Don’t make the mistake of many RV owners who purchase a surge protector, only after they have experienced a problem. You’ll also be protected against burns since a surge passing through a device or a cable can cause overheating by dissipating a lot of joules.
If you’ve got a story of a time when you identified a bad power supply at a campground or when your electronics were saved by an RV surge protector, please let us know in the comments below.