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An air compressor is one of the most versatile tools in any toolbox, since it is essential for powering everything from air-powered drills to staple guns to air ratchets and doubles as an inflator for car tires. While many mechanics only need to use their air compressor within the confines of their garage, having the best portable air compressor is critical if you plan to use any of your air-powered tools on a field site or if you need to be able to repair a flat tire out on the road.
Portable air compressors need to be not only more portable than traditional-style garage air compressors, but they also need to perform well and give you confidence that they won’t fail in the field. In choosing among portable air compressors to find the best units on the market today, we looked first at the type of jobs each compressor is rated for – some are only good for inflating and deflating tires, while others can also be used to power small tools. We also looked at whether the compressor could be powered off of a car battery or whether it requires an AC outlet to function. Size and weight were important considerations for portability, while performance and durability play a significant role in differentiating between air compressors that fulfill similar functions.
After tens of hours of poring through technical specifications and customer reviews for the most popular portable air compressors, we rounded up the top 10 portable air compressors currently on the market. Our picks are listed in the table below along with the recommended uses that set them apart from the pack. Continue reading for full reviews of each air compressor complete with pros and cons. Our buying guide and FAQ sections cover everything you need to know about choosing a portable air compressor, and finally we announce our top three favorite portable air compressors on the market today.
This cordless air compressor from Dewalt modifies the traditional pancake compressor to allow it to run off of a rechargeable battery. This is excellent for those who don’t want to carry a generator into the field – which can quickly turn a portable air compressor into just one piece of a set of moderately heavy pieces of equipment that must be lugged around. The air tank and motor are also encased in a roll cage to provide extra durability, although most users did not see the need for this level of protection around the compressor.
The battery itself offers enough charge to fill the compressor three to five times before it runs out of juice – enough to pressure all four tires on a passenger vehicle or two tires on a large truck – so most users will want to purchase a spare battery with the compressor. That said, users loved that the battery provides plenty of power when working with small air tools like nail and framing guns and noted that larger tools would likely require a larger compressor in any case.
The three-year warranty on this compressor is also among the longest warranties among portable air compressors in our roundup.
This pancake-style air compressor from Dewalt comes with the quality that Dewalt is known for and offers plenty of power for both inflating commercial-grade tires and powering air tools. At 165 PSI, it is the most powerful portable air compressors in our roundup, and users found that the six-gallon tank refills quickly so you can minimize the interruptions to your work. The high flow rate of 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI also means that this air compressor is perfect for powering everything from nail guns to air drills, so it is likely to be the only compressor you need when working in the field. Plus, the 120V motor is capable of starting up even in below-freezing conditions.
The compressor is powered by an AC cord and weighs in at over 32 pounds, so unfortunately, it is not the most portable of compressors. That said, the handle is designed ergonomically, and users appreciated the durable rubber feet when lifting and lowering the compressor. However, users were not as happy with the hose fittings that come standard on the compressor, which are prone to leaking and are not able to fit the hoses used by most standard air tools.
This tankless air compressor from Ryobi is designed specifically for inflating and deflating tires on the go and can also be extremely useful for inflating low-pressure items like air mattresses and sports equipment. The compressor is rated to 35 PSI, although users noted that it begins to stall once it reaches approximately 32 PSI – so note that it is more suitable for inflating the tires found on passenger vehicles than those found on large pickup trucks and commercial vehicles.
The unit comes with a stow-away area that holds nozzles for inflating different types of sports equipment, and the side opposite the main inflation hose has a high-volume hose that is perfect for inflating and deflating air mattress and large pool floats. The pressure is read out by an LCD screen, and it is even possible to set the pressure you want in one-PSI intervals using the push buttons on the top of the compressor. Users found that the compressor is relatively fast, but eats through the included 18V battery extremely quickly – so it is recommended to purchase a spare battery if you plan to use the compressor to inflate all of your car’s tires at once.
This inexpensive pancake-style compressor is designed to handle both tire inflation and powering air tools thanks to the six-gallon tank and the extremely high flow rate. The 2.6 CFM rating at 90 PSI matches that of the competing, and more expensive, air compressor from Porter-Cable and is plenty for powering tools like air ratchets or small air drills. Also, the 120V motor is able to start up even in extremely cold conditions, which is helpful if you expect to be working outside in the winter months.
The compressor is powered by an AC cord, so you will need to work inside the house or bring along a generator to keep the compressor running. Although the compressor is quieter than similar models, users note that ear protection is certainly still a requirement if using it for any length of time.
Durability is a concern for this compressor as much of the motor housing and fittings are made of plastic. However, although wary of these plastic parts, users have not reported any issues with pieces breaking even after several years of use and Bostitch offers a one-year warranty to protect your purchase.
This air compressor from Senco is somewhat smaller than the pancake-style portable air compressors in our roundup, but weighs in at only 20 pounds. For that reduced weight, you still get a one-gallon steel tank and up to 120 PSI air pressure – enough to run most air tools short of an air drill that needs continuous air. The flow rate of 1.0 CFM at 90 PSI is also lower than pancake compressors, but should be enough to power tools like nail guns and framing guns as well as for inflating tires. Users appreciated that the compressor is also quiet enough to hold a conversation, which cannot be said for most larger compressor units.
The small size is the real selling point of this unit, since users love how easily it tucks away in the back of a car or on a shelf in the garage when it’s not in use. Unlike larger compressors, it is easy to carry around a job site and doesn’t draw quite as much wattage when running off of a generator. The steel tank is also durable enough to take a beating from being moved around, and the carry handle is ergonomic enough that your hand won’t hurt from holding the compressor for extended periods.
This highly portable air compressor from VIAIR is among the lightest and most compact commercial-grade portable air compressors currently available. The secret is the tankless design, which allows it to put out 150 PSI without adding bulk. Although the compressor is rated for only 1.41 CFM at 90 PSI, almost half of what some competing tank air compressors are boasting, users loved how reliable and fast this compressor was even on large truck tires running at high pressure. However, note that the tankless design largely limits this compressor to inflating tires since it does not pack the volume or flow rates need to run most air-powered tools.
The compressor is battery powered and comes in a kit with battery cables so you can hook it directly to your car battery. Users note that it is essential to keep your motor running while using the compressor since it does draw a significant amount of current. The hose is long enough to reach nearly any set of tires while still keeping the compressor connected to the battery under the hood. Users also appreciated the carrying case to keep wires from getting tangled when the compressor is out of use, although the anti-vibration plate did not see as much use.
This pancake-style air compressor from Porter-Cable is heavy-duty and provides plenty of power for running your air-powered tools in the field or around the house. The six-gallon tank holds plenty of compressed air to keep you constantly running compressed air for even air-hungry tools like air ratchets, while the 2.6 CFM rating at 90 PSI is among the highest flow ratings found on any portable air compressors.
The compressor weighs in at a whopping 34 pounds, which means that it is not nearly as portable as some smaller air compressors – many users turn to mounting it on a dolly for transport. In addition, the compressor requires an AC outlet to power the large motor, which means that you’ll need a generator if you are working outside such as on a construction site.
One minor issue that users had with this compressor is that the chuck – the piece that fits onto your tire’s air pressure valve – does not fit with many tires. Although this is replaceable, it is an extra hassle to find the right fitting for your tires when you first get the compressor. Also, the compressor must be broken in before its first use or it is possible to burn out the motor.
This tankless tire inflator from Kensun is designed to be a jack-of-all-trades for lightweight inflation jobs. The compressor comes with both AC (wall outlet) and DC (car charger) plugs so that you can use it at home for inflating sports equipment or in your car for inflating tires. For the former, the compressor also comes with a set of chucks and needles designed for a variety of different valve types. In addition, the compressor comes with a convenient carrying case that all these accessories can be stored in so they don’t get lost.
The compressor maxes out at 35 PSI, which is plenty for most consumer vehicle tires but may not be enough for some pickup truck tires and is certainly too low to use with commercial vehicles. Also, because of the compact design and small 12V motor, the compressor can take more than 10 minutes to inflate a car tire from fully flat – although users note that the compressor does not seem to have issues running continuously for this length of time.
The compressor has an LCD screen for displaying the pressure, which users appreciated over the traditional gauge. However, one minor design issue is that the LCD screen is upside-down when the flashlight is pointed towards the tire.
This tire inflator from Kobalt is significantly heavier than similar portable compressors, like the unit from Ryobi, but has the distinct advantage of being powered by either AC wall outlets or your car’s cigarette lighter. That means that running out of battery is never an issue like on other portable compressors. Users found that the compressor is also relatively quiet and appreciated the LCD pressure read-out and the ability to set the desired pressure using touch buttons around the display. Users also loved how fast and easy it was to use the compressor for inflating all four tires.
One inconvenience was that the electrical cord and air hose are both relatively short, making it difficult to reach the rear tires with any slack left in the wires. In addition, the unit has no on/off button and must be unplugged if you wish to turn the LCD display off. However, if you’re looking to avoid the hassle of having a cord altogether, then the best choice would be a gas compressor.
The compressor also comes with attachments for common sports equipment like basketballs and bike tires. These attachments, the AC and DC electrical cords, and the air hose are all stowed away in a compartment built into the unit, which makes it easy to keep all of the parts you need together.
California Air Tools is known for making lightweight and extremely quiet air compressors, and their portable offering is no exception to that reputation. At only 56 decibels of noise, this compressor is more than 20 decibels quieter than competing tank air compressors. It also weighs several pounds less, although at close to 30 pounds you will not want to transport it long distances by hand. The downside to this compressor is that it has a maximum pressure of 120 PSI rather than 150 PSI, although for most users this drop in pressure won’t matter.
More important is the significantly lower flow rate of 1.20 CFM at 90 PSI, which severely limits the types of air tools that can be used with this compressor. The compressor tank is also only one-gallon, which means that any tool that draws a lot of air – like air ratchets or air drills – will need to be used in short spurts while the tank refills and re-pressurizes.
Also, users note that California Air Tools suffers from manufacturing issues – some units have metal pellets in the tank, while others received units with noticeable rust on the metals parts. However, the one-year warranty should allow for returns in the case of defects.
Now that you’ve learned more about our 10 favorite portable air compressors on the market today, how do you choose between them to find the compressor that is right for your needs? Portable air compressors vary widely in the power and types of features they offer, which can also affect whether they are primarily useful for inflating and deflating car tires or if they can also be used to power air tools in the field. Our buying guide will cover the specifications and features you need to think about when choosing a portable air compressor and our FAQs section will answer several common questions about air compressors.
What is a portable air compressor – and why do you need one?
A portable air compressor takes in air and pressurizes it, either storing it within a tank or immediately ejecting the pressurized air through a hose. Air compressors are critical to adding air to any pressurized container, such as car tires and inflatable sports equipment. In addition, pressurized air can be used to power air tools, like air ratchets, air drills, and nail and framing guns, since the powerful burst of air can be used to turn a motor inside those tools.
Portable air compressors differ from their garage-style counterparts largely in the fact that they are designed to be portable. Portability is a serious consideration for anyone who needs to power air tools beyond the garage – such as on a construction site or around the interior of your house. Portability is also a concern if you need to inflate and deflate your car tires, either to fix a flat tire or to keep your tires functioning if you plan to drive onto a sandy beach that requires temporarily deflating your tires. Portable air compressors thus need to be smaller and lighter than their garage counterparts, since most people want to be able to put these types of air compressors in the backs of their cars and to be able to carry them from the car to a job site.
Types of portable air compressors
The main difference in the portable air compressors currently on the market is whether or not they have a tank, and if not, whether they are specifically designed as tire inflators and deflators.
Tank air compressors can be pancake-style similar to garage air compressors, which typically offers a larger reservoir of compressed air than other tank configurations. Having a tank means that the air compressor is able to hold a specific volume – for some portable air compressors, up to six gallons – of compressed air. This is critical if you plan to run air-hungry air tools such as air drills that require a continuous flow of air, since smaller tanks and tankless air compressors will have difficulty keeping up with the demand from these tools. The downside is that tank air compressors are frequently bulky and heavy, making them far less portable than tankless air compressors.
Tankless air compressors can shave a significant amount of weight and bulk off compared to tank air compressors, which is great news if portability is particularly important to you. The downside is that without a tank, these compressors typically cannot pressurize to the same degree and often have lower output air flow rates. This is typically not a problem for inflating tires or running air tools that use air in small bursts, such as nail and framing guns, but tankless air compressors will not work as well for running air ratchets and air drills.
Within the realm of tankless air compressors are compressors designed specifically for inflating tires or for both inflating and deflating tires. In general, these tire inflators and deflators are only suitable for the tires found on passenger vehicles, not for the high-pressure tires found on large pickup trucks and commercial vehicles. For these compressors, a major consideration is the amount of time that it takes to inflate each tire and whether or not the compressor motor is able to run continuously for long enough to inflate all four tires.
The type of power source that a portable air compressor runs off of has a significant impact on its portability. Many portable air compressors utilize AC power, which requires either running an extension cord to inside your house if you are working around the yard or running a generator if you are working on a field site with no electricity. As a result, using a portable air compressor that runs on AC power could mean that you need to transport both the compressor and a generator – which is still portable, but heavy and bulky.
Less common are portable air compressors that run on batteries. As you might imagine, battery-powered air compressors are limited both in the amount of power – and thus pressurization – that they can handle as well as in the amount of times they can run the motor before running out of juice. However, these compressors are significantly more portable than AC-powered air compressors since no generator is needed to run them in the field and it is typically possible to purchase spare batteries if you plan to work on large jobs.
Note that in the case of tire inflators and deflators, these compressors can often be powered by DC electricity – which means that they can be plugged directly into your car’s outlet.
The performance of portable air compressors is measured through two important metrics – the maximum pressure per square inch, or PSI, that it can pressurize air to and the cubic feet per minute, or CFM, at which it can output that compressed air. It is important to know what pressure and flow rates you need based on the tools you use, since mismatching your compressor with your tools can cause damage to both.
The maximum pressure that a compressor can obtain affects everything from how much air pressure it can put into your tires to what types of air tools it can run. Typically, a higher maximum pressure is more advantageous for using your air compressor for a wider variety of purposes.
The output flow rate of an air compressor varies based on the pressure of the air it is putting out, so it is common to compare the CFM rates of compressors at 90 PSI. Flow rates of under 2 CFM are good primarily for inflating tires and running air tools that work in short bursts, such as nail and framing guns, while flow rates of 2.5 CFM or more are needed to power tools such as air ratchets and air drills continuously.
Another consideration in the performance of a portable air compressor is the motor. Many large, pancake-style portable air compressors use powerful 120V motors that are capable of starting up even in extremely cold conditions and that can compress a large volume of air in a concise period of time. On the other hand, tire inflators are likely to use much smaller motors that are limited in how fast they can compress air – and thus how long it takes them to inflate your tires – as well as how long the can run continuously for without burning out.
Other important features
Once you’ve settled on a few portable air compressors that fit your needs, additional considerations are things like the weight and bulk of the compressor, whether it comes with the nozzles you need, and whether the length of the cord is long enough for however you plan to use the compressor. Another consideration is how easy the compressor is to use, for example, whether it has a digital display that allows you to set a desired pressure or whether the pressure regulator is easy to adjust.
Durability and warranty
A portable air compressor is a significant purchase, so you also want to be sure that whatever compressor you buy will hold up for years to come. Air compressors that use metal parts in all of the places that matter – the tank, the fittings, and any regulators – is essential to getting a long life out of your air compressor. Also, look for ergonomic carry handles and sturdy rubber feet since these will protect your compressor whenever you are moving it by hand. Many companies also offer warranties on their air compressors, which can range from less than a year to as much as three years.
How much air pressure you need largely depends on what you are planning to use your compressor for. If you are planning to use your compressor solely for inflating car tires, the maximum air pressure that your compressor must be capable of is simply the recommended pressure for your tires. If you are planning to power air tools using your portable air compressor, however, you will likely need pressures of at least 90 PSI and likely upwards of 110 PSI. Different tools vary in the amount of pressure they require to run, so be sure to check your tools before deciding on an air compressor. Also be sure to check what flow rates your tools require, since pressure is only half of the equation when trying to power air tools.
The duty cycle of a compressor refers to the amount of time that a compressor can be operated in a given span of time. Typically, compressor duty cycles are measured at 100 PSI and ambient temperatures of 72°F and are given as the percentage of time that the compressor is on compared to the time that it is off. Duty cycle is extremely important if you are planning to run through air rapidly, which would mean running your compressor more continuously to keep up air flow. A compressor with a higher duty cycle will handle heavy use much better than a compressor with a low duty cycle percentage, since the latter will burn out if you attempt to run it too frequently.
Yes! It is possible to add a tank to a tankless air compressor to increase the consistency of air flow and prevent losing pressure. This can be great if you only occasionally want to use your tankless air compressor with air-hungry tools like air ratchets and air drills but want the convenience of a tankless air compressor the rest of the time. A spare tank can also be added to an air compressor with an existing tank to expand its capacity. Note, however, that whenever you add a tank to an air compressor you will increase the amount of time that the compressor needs to run to fill the tank and reach your desired pressure, which can increase the chances of burning out your compressor’s motor.
Our overall favorite portable air compressors on the market today are the DCC2560T1 FLEXVOLT and DWFP5126 from Dewalt and the P731 from Ryobi. The FLEXVOLT is unique among the portable air compressors that we reviewed in that it is powered by rechargeable batteries rather than AC electricity, which eliminates the need to carry a generator alongside your compressor into the field. It is also built with a heavy-duty roll cage to protect the compressor tank from damage and has the longest warranty of any portable air compressor we reviewed. For these reasons, we feel it is the overall best portable air compressor for most users. For those looking for a more powerful compressor with a larger tank, specifically for running air ratchets and drills, the DWFP5126 offers short refill times, 2.6 CFM flow rates, and an impressive 165 PSI maximum air pressure rating. Finally, we loved the P731 from Ryobi for inflating and deflating tires. This compressor was extremely compact and lightweight and the battery power means that there is no need to fuss with dragging wires around your car when working on your tires.