Reviews

Best Portable Air Compressors: Run Your Air-Powered Tools With Ease

These high-quality portable air compressors are lightweight and versatile options for all kinds of tasks.

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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON April 27, 2021

A portable air compressor is a handy tool to take with you on the go. Many people keep one in their vehicle as part of their emergency roadside assistance kit in case they come across a flat tire or do a lot of cycling and mountain biking which can require frequent tire fill-ups.

If you work in agriculture, construction, or mechanics of any kind, having a portable air compressor allows you to operate key machinery remotely. Power everything from your nail gun to your pneumatic drill and more at different job sites. There are also plenty of in-home uses that require a portable air compressor.

Whatever your reason for needing a portable air compressor, we are here to help you choose the perfect one. Our comprehensive product review and detailed buying guide will help you sort through the various options available on today’s market, so you know you’re getting a powerful and reliable product that will do just what you need it to do.

Best Overall
CRAFTSMAN 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor
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Summary
Summary

This 6-gallon pancake air compressor maximizes portability in a compact and relatively lightweight design that’s ready to go wherever you need it.

Pros
Pros
  • Max 150 PSI output is suitable for a wide variety of applications
  • Limited one-year warranty protects against manufacturer defects
  • Features a durable oil-free, maintenance-free pump
  • Includes 13-piece accessory kit for added versatility
Cons
Cons
  • Noisier than some other models on the market.
  • Warranty is relatively short.
Best Overall
CRAFTSMAN 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor
Best Value
Quipall 2-.33 1/3 HP 2 Gallon Oil-Free Hotdog Air Compressor
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Summary
Summary

An affordable and super compact air compressor that’s easily portable. It has a maximum PSI of 90, which is ideal for smaller items, including tires, sporting equipment, small painting appliances, nail guns, and more.

Pros
Pros
  • Easy to transport and store thanks to its light weight
  • Highly affordable
  • Sturdy suction cups hold it securely to a working base
Cons
Cons
  • Not for use with larger items or bigger car or truck tires
  • No warranty
  • Limited air capacity runs out quickly
Best Value
Quipall 2-.33 1/3 HP 2 Gallon Oil-Free Hotdog Air Compressor
Honorable Mention
VIAIR 90P Portable Compressor
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Summary
Summary

This kit features a low amp draw from your 12V battery, to inflate tires faster using its maximum pressure of 120 PSI. It comes with a tire pressure monitoring gauge for safe and convenient inflating. Additionally, it comes with different valves for a variety of applications.

Pros
Pros
  • Lightweight and comes with a deluxe storage bag for easy carrying.
  • Comes with a one-year warranty covering factory defects and workmanship
  • Features a 5-foot air hose
  • Quiet, fast, and easy to use
Cons
Cons
  • Cannot inflate tires of more than 31 inches
  • You have to wait for it to cool for 40 minutes after every use
  • Cannot be plugged in through your vehicle’s cigarette lighter
Honorable Mention
VIAIR 90P Portable Compressor

Why Trust Us


Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Benefits of Portable Air Compressors

  • Multifunctional. Portable air compressors are used for more than one purpose. Whether you want to use a nail gun, do some spray painting, or inflate your tires, a portable air compressor is the tool for the job.
  • Portability. It’s right there in the name. Most air compressors are portable for ease of use. You can pack your compressor and use it whenever you want. 
  • Time-saving. An air compressor is fast and ensures you spend less time on a given task. Compressed air tools can perform tasks like nailing, spraying, sanding, and hammering in less than half the time required for manual work.
  • Great results. A portable air compressor delivers great results. More powerful compressors are able to power more tools, ensuring they work smoothly. The net air yield is what determines a compressor’s power.
  • Low maintenance. Portable air compressors are smaller than industrial air compressors. Their construction is also simpler. They only require a little maintenance to function optimally. From time to time, check for leaks, oil the compressor, and clean it. 

Types of Portable Air Compressor

Rotary Screw Compressors

A rotary screw air compressor uses positive displacement to output large volumes of air pressure. Portable compressors in this category are quieter and can take the role of old school piston air compressors. They can be used to power heavy-duty devices.

These compressors are used for high output tasks due to their high airflow rate, low-maintenance requirements, and energy-efficiency. They work by sucking air from the inlet, passing the air through rotors, and creating a vacuum. This air ends up in a separator tank in stages. It then moves to service air valves ready for use.

Reciprocating Air Compressors

Most portable air compressors are reciprocating air compressors. They use a mechanism known as positive displacement. Air is sucked into a chamber where the reciprocating piston compresses it in a decreasing fashion. As more air is sucked into the chamber and compressed, the pressure increases.

When the tank is full, excess air is let out through the discharge valve while the pressurized air is stored, ready for use in various applications. These air compressors can either be powered by gas or electricity. Most portable air compressors use electricity as their power source.

Top Brands

DeWalt

Dewalt is an American subsidiary of Black & Decker. It was founded in 1924 in Pennsylvania. Currently, its headquarters are in Baltimore. The company is known as a leader in the manufacture of power tools and hand tools for different industries. Its commitment to quality has been the driving force behind products such as the DEWALT Air Compressor with Brad Nailer.

Husky

Founded in 1924, Husky has recently become known for being the house brand of Home Depot. The company specializes in manufacturing hand tools, pneumatic tools, and storage products. Its line of hand tools is particularly popular and includes such products as the Husky 144-Tooth Mechanics Tool Set.

California Air Tools

California Air Tools is located in California and assembles its products in San Diego. It takes a lot of pride in its quiet portable air compressors, the quietest on the market. Because of the advanced technology it uses, some of its products have a hefty price tag. However, you can still find great air compressors at reasonable rates, like the California Air Tools 8010 Air Compressor

Makita

Founded in 1915, Makita is a well-known Japanese manufacturer of reliable and highly affordable power tools. The company has a global brand presence in more than 40 countries, with 10 manufacturing plants operating in eight countries. Two of its top-selling products are the Makita CT226RX 12V Max CXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Combo Kit and the Makita-UC4051A Chain Saw.

Bostitch

Bostitch’s previous name was Boston Wire Stitcher® Company. It was founded by Thomas Briggs in Arlington, Mass. in 1896. Briggs’ popular invention was a machine that stitched books using a coil of wire. As time went on, the company started designing fasteners, fastening tools, and other products. The BOSTITCH BTFP02012 Oil-Free Pancake Compressor is the company’s pride and joy.

Portable Air Compressor Pricing

  • $20 to $50: For less than 50 bucks, you can get air compressors that perform basic functions like inflating car or bike tires. Some of the compressors may be cordless and small while some have quality displays and long cables. They’re usually 12-volt powered only. Air compressors in this price range aren’t usually powerful enough to run tools like nail guns or pneumatic drills.
  • $50 to $100: In this price range, you’ll find oil-free pancake-style compressors made by reputable companies. As you move towards the $100 mark, you’ll find compressors that operate at 20 volts.
  • $100 to $150: You have a wide range of options here from renowned brands such as Makita, SCFM, and Campbell Hausfeld. The air compressors have features such as LCD screens, extra nozzle attachments, and quiet operation. They are very well-built and are durable. 
  • $150 to $200: Most portable air compressors here are bigger and noise-free. They have LED displays, cigarette charger cords, oil-free mechanisms, and can handle bigger projects. Some of the compressors are made using cast iron and rust-resistant materials.
  • $200 to $500: This price bracket features high-end compressors by big brands. The compressors may be bigger and have more capacity. Their power levels might reach 2 horsepower. These compressors work well in cold weather and hot environments.

Key Features

Auto-Stop

This is one of the most important features to look for when getting a portable air compressor. The auto cutoff feature determines when the pressure is enough and shuts off the air compressor. When you’re inflating tires, it automatically disconnects the compressor once the desired pressure has been attained. This means you can perform most tasks hands-free without worrying about your machine. 

Charging Cord

The charging cord is an emergency feature that may come in handy when you least expect it. For this reason, get a portable air compressor with a cigarette lighter power extension cable. Ensure the charging cord is long and sturdy to withstand a lot of movement. Most manufacturers include a cable in the package. 

Display Type

A display screen shows the important details of any operation in air compressors. It shows the volume of air in the tank or the rate at which air is let out. Some manufacturers furnish their portable air compressors with large LED displays. The displays are backlit and bright, making your job easy whether you’re working during the day or at night. 

Nozzle Attachments

Portable air compressors have a multitude of uses. Each function may require a different nozzle. Most companies are happy to include additional nozzles in your package—sometimes at an extra cost. Even if you have to pay more, additional nozzle attachments are features worth getting.

Other Considerations

  • Power. To know how powerful an air compressor is, look at the tank size, maximum air pressure, suction capacity, and net air yield. Compressors do not power all pneumatic tools. Less powerful ones can inflate tires while powerful compressors can spray paint. Spray painting requires a lot of power. 
  • Shape. This determines how easy the compressor is to carry. It also dictates how much air it can store. Compressors come in two shapes: pancake and cylinder. Cylinder compressors are also called hot dog air compressors. They are heavier and have slightly bigger air tanks. Pancake compressors have a 1-6 gallon tank.

Best Portable Air Compressors Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
CRAFTSMAN 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor

This portable air compressor is an oil-free, maintenance-free option that weighs about 30 pounds. It’s super easy to transport between job sites, to different rooms in your home, or around your workshop. Its space-saving design fits in many cabinets for out-of-the-way storage.


This particular model features a maximum capacity of 150 PSI, making it suitable for a wide variety of applications. It also comes equipped with a 13-piece accessory kit that includes a PVC air hose with coupler and plug pre-assembled, a tire gauge, a blow gun with plug, a blow gun with OSHA safety nozzle, and three inflator adapters.


We appreciate the one-year limited warranty, although it would be nice if it were a bit longer. This unit is also considerably noisier when operating than some others on the market. One other thing to note: be sure to check that the air release valve on the bottom side of the tank is closed on initial start-up, or the unit won’t pressurize properly.

Best Value
Quipall 2-.33 1/3 HP 2 Gallon Oil-Free Hotdog Air Compressor

The Quipall 2-.33 1/3 HP 2 Gallon Oil-Free Hotdog Air Compressor is a reliable and well-performing option that won’t break the budget. This unit is an oil-free, maintenance-free air compressor that’s ideal for pumping up car or bike tires or sporting equipment. With a maximum PSI of 90, it’s just strong enough to be used for stapling, nailing, fastening, or hobby painting as well.


Sturdy and grippy suction cup feet provide a stable and secure mount for worry-free operation. It’s also got a mounted flip-up handle for easy transportation and storage. This lightweight unit is equipped with two gauges and a large and easy-to-operate regulator knob. 


It comes with extra nozzles to adapt to various connectors, but it would be better if the unit had an onboard place to store them, so they don’t get lost. Also, keep in mind that this is a very small air compressor and isn’t suited to larger construction or agricultural equipment.

Honorable Mention
VIAIR 90P Portable Compressor

The Viair 90P Portable Compressor has a few features we love. It directly connects to your car’s battery using heavy-duty clamps to inflate tires up to 120 psi. What’s more, it draws very little power and doesn’t drain the battery. And while it lacks an LED display, it has a pressure gauge that notifies you about maximum pressure and the rate of inflation.


The portable air compressor comes with a 5-foot air hose to ensure you move less. Its sand tray minimizes vibration to prevent you from getting uncomfortable as you work. Despite its size, it is a fast inflator that does a great job. The manufacturer provides a storage bag with extra pockets for storing additional valves and couplers.


But this tire inflator has its drawbacks. It cannot inflate tires that exceed 31 inches. It also has an overheating problem and needs about 40 minutes to cool down after each use. Additionally, it doesn’t work with a vehicle cigarette lighter plug.

Honorable Mention
RIDGID 6 Gal. Portable Electric Pancake Air Compressor

The RIDGID 6-Gallon Portable Electric Pancake Air Compressor offers 150 PSI that is an excellent option for trim and finish work. It’s equipped with dual universal quick connectors so that multiple workers can use two nailers simultaneously. The connectors accept both 1/4-inch automotive and industrial plugs with an easy single-handed connection.


This unit is also equipped with a super reliable oil-free pump for easy maintenance-free performance. This particular compressor also features a locking regulator knob that helps prevent unwanted pressure changes. We love that this compressor comes backed by an impressive three-year warranty.


However, this particular model is not rated for roof nailing, airbrushing, blow cleaning, bolting or wrenching, or spraying.

Honorable Mention
DEWALT 6 Gal. 18-Gauge Brad Nailer and Heavy-Duty Pancake Electric Air Compressor Combo Kit

The DeWalt 6 Gal. 18-Gauge Brad Nailer and Heavy-Duty Pancake Electric Air Compressor Combo Kit is a great combination tool. This 6-gallon, oil-free pancake compressor includes a precision point 18-gauge 2-1/8-inch brad nailer to give you excellent job site versatility. 


This rugged little unit features a tool-free jam release mechanism that allows for easy nail removal and tool-free depth-of-drive adjustment for the exact setting of nail heads. With a max output of 165 PSI, this compressor can handle a wide range of small to medium tasks.


One drawback to this compressor is that it only has one pressure gauge while it has two air connectors. Also, if you want to use this compressor to inflate bicycle or car tires, you’ll need to purchase a separate adapter kit, as this kit doesn’t come with them included in it.

Honorable Mention
Husky 20 Gal. Vertical Electric-Powered Silent Air Compressor

If you want a strong and durable portable air compressor that’s suitable for most garage and industrial scenarios, the Husky 20-Gallon Vertical Electric-Powered Silent Air Compressor is right up your alley. This compressor delivers 4.0 SCFM at 90 PSI and has a maximum capacity of 200 PSI. 


One of its greatest selling points is that it operates at a noise level below 73 decibels, making it up to 57 percent quieter than many other models of the same capacity. It’s got a space-saving vertical design with rugged rubber wheels for easy maneuvering around the shop or job site. Weighing in at more than 100 pounds, though, it’s certainly not the lightest model on our list.


With two metal case gauges and two quick-connect couplers, you can easily run two tools simultaneously. While this is a super versatile machine, it’s not suited to sanding, spraying, or surface prep. You’ll also need to purchase an adapter kit separately.

Honorable Mention
Makita 5.2 Gal. 3.0 HP Electric Single Tank Air Compressor

Riding the line of what can be considered portable is the Makita 5.2 Gal. 3.0 HP Electric Single Tank Air Compressor. While it weighs 88 pounds, it comes equipped with a folding handle, low-profile design, and rugged wheels. This unit is one of the most powerful on our list, with a 3HP motor that produces 6.5 CFM at 90 PSI. It’s got a max PSI of 140.


Unlike many other options, this air compressor has a cast iron pump with a big bore cylinder and piston designed for faster recovery time and greater performance. It features a built-in storage compartment and tool hangers for easy access to accessories. Unfortunately, you have to buy accessory adapters separately.


This is not an oil-free model, so it will require more maintenance than others on our list, but that’s the trade-off for more power. It does have a convenient oil drain at the front of the pump for easier access. This particular model is best suited for framing and roofing jobs.

Honorable Mention
California Air Tools CAT-2010A 1.0HP 2 Gallon Ultra Quiet Aluminum Tank Air Compressor

From California Air Tools comes a super compact, super lightweight, and super quiet portable air compressor that’s ideal for small jobs around your garage or home workshop. With a noise level of only 60 decibels, it’s definitely one of the quietest air compressors of its kind on the market. 


This battery-operated 2-gallon air compressor weighs only 36 pounds, making it one of the most portable on our list. It’s got a maximum pressure of 120 PSI with an airpower of 3.1 CFM at 40 PSI. It’s got a quick recovery time from empty to full of only 50 seconds. This model is great for small projects like air-brushing, light carpentry work, filling tires, and more.


We recommend purchasing a male 1/4-inch quick-connector and air hose if you don’t already have one. Unfortunately, this compressor is JUST a compressor and doesn’t come with any accessories.

Honorable Mention
BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT Compressor Combo Kit

Another excellent combo kit is the BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT Compressor Combo Kit. This portable air compressor kit includes an 18-gauge brad nailer that can use nails from 5/8 to 2 inches for a wide variety of projects. You also get a straight finish nailer that accommodates 16-gauge finish nails with a drive depth of 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 inches and a heavy-duty 3/8-inch crown stapler with a drive depth of 1/4 to 9/16 inches.


This unit weighs a mere 45 pounds and is a super-compact pancake compressor that can easily go anywhere. It’s got a maximum power of 150 PSI, with air delivery of 2.6 SCFM, which makes it great for smaller jobs around your garage or workshop. An oil-free, maintenance-free pump is par for the course. 


Dual couplers and dual gauges allow you to operate two tools at the same time, giving you plenty of options for getting the job done. However, this model is not suited to larger jobs, like roofing or framing.

Honorable Mention
WEN 20 Gal. Oil Lubricated Portable Vertical Air Compressor

The WEN 20-gallon Portable Vertical Air Compressor is a durable, middle-of-the-road option that’s also pretty budget-friendly. This unit features a 15-amp motor that provides a max pressure of 135 PSI. You get airflow rates of 3.8 CFM at 90 PSI and 5.0 CFM at 40 PSI.


The compressor is equipped with an onboard handle, two rugged wheels, and two rubber-footed legs that make it easy to move the 86-pound unit around the shop. It comes backed by a two-year warranty to guard against any manufacturer’s defects. Unlike most others on our list, this unit is an oil-lubricated pump, which requires more care and maintenance than oil-free ones.


This unit also doesn’t come equipped with any quick adapters or an air hose, so be prepared to purchase them separately if you don’t already have them. This compressor is ideally suited to finishing and hobby work but can also easily handle roof nailing, sanding, spraying, and surface prep.

Tips

  • When inflating any gadget, make sure you set the required PSI. Many compressors have a cutoff when the set limit is reached. If yours does not have one, make sure to disconnect it when the set level is reached.
  • Overinflating may damage a tire structure or even cause it to burst due to excessive pressure. On the other hand, underinflating a tire may cause a condition called “dry rot,” which destroys the tire. Therefore, ensure you inflate your tires to the correct PSI.
  • Always inspect couplers and hoses that attach to your air compressor before each use. Minor damage in hoses can lead to injuries.
  • Since an air compressor is an electrical device and mostly metallic, always keep it dry. Moisture may cause short-circuiting or rusting of some components, which can inhibit the air compressor’s performance.

FAQs

Q: How much pressure do I need?

The pressure you need depends on how you intend to use your compressor. If you are planning to use your compressor for inflating tires, the pressure you need depends on the requirements of your tires (30 to 35 PSI for passenger vehicles). However, you may need much more pressure if you are planning on using air-powered tools (more than 100 PSI).

Q: Is a 6-gallon air compressor considered portable?

Yes, most 6-gallon air compressors are highly portable. If you notice in your Product Review section, the 6-gallon air compressors weigh between 30-40 pounds, making them one of the most versatile portable air compressors on the market.

Q: Can I add an extra tank to my compressor?

Yes, it is possible to add an extra tank to an already tanked compressor or even to a tankless compressor. Adding a tank prevents pressure loss, increases capacity, and adds consistency to airflow. However, you will need more time to fill the compressor.

Q: What is a duty cycle in a portable air compressor for cars?

A duty cycle refers to the amount of time that a compressor can be operated in a given time period at 100 PSI and a standard temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher the duty cycle, the better the compressor can handle heavy use.

Final Thoughts 

If you’re looking for the best combination of performance, reliability, durability, and value, check out the CRAFTSMAN 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor. This super lightweight and compact compressor features a respectable 150 PSI output and comes with a 13-piece accessory kit for added versatility.

For a rugged and dependable portable air compressor that won’t hurt your bank account, we like the Quipall 2-.33 1/3 HP 2 Gallon Oil-Free Hotdog Air Compressor