Best extension cords: Outdoor, heavy-duty, retractable, flat plug

There are several types of extension cords out there, each with its unique form and length. They even come in different thicknesses. It can get overwhelming to most people who do not know much about them. This article aims to guide you through your purchasing decision and ensure that you choose the right cable for the type of work you will be doing.

overloaded extension cord

What to look for

Several factors need consideration when looking to purchase one. Depending on your application, you may need a thick cable when planning to use it outdoors. Supplying power to your backyard lights has different requirements from an indoor cable. If you need one when going camping, you can use an RV extension cord. You may need a multi-outlet option for plugging multiple appliances into a single one. Whatever type you plan to purchase, here are the common things to consider before deciding to purchase.

What to consider
Indoor/OutdoorGauge
LengthRequirements

Indoor or outdoor

The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Will I use it indoors or outdoor?”. It varies depending on usage, whether indoors or outdoors. It means it is important to know your intentions. Outdoor ones are usually thicker and waterproof since the outdoor environment is harsh and prone to dirt. The conductive part must have ample protection. On the other hand, indoor ones are usually thin. Contrary to the amount of protection outdoor options need, indoor cords do not need a lot of protection. It should be fine as long as the conductive part has good insulation.

long outdoor extension cord

Buy longer ones

Aside from varying thicknesses, it also comes in several lengths. Be sure to give a bit of an allowance to the length when picking which one to purchase. If your application requires 15 feet of cable length, you may choose the next available length. Doing so makes it future-proof in the next couple of years, which will save you money in the long run. However, it is important to keep in mind that using a too long length has its disadvantages.

The right gauge matters

The gauge defines the diameter of the cable. Licensed electricians usually handle electrical work at home. However, it is not an excuse to know basic things. Electricians look at a gauge chart as their reference when selecting the right gauge. In the United States, the standard gauge chart is the American Wire Gauge. It is commonly referred to as AWG. The AWG is a sizing system that describes the specific diameters of solid round wires, referred to as the gauge. It is used as a conductive material. The amperage capacity is the maximum current it can handle safely.

It is important to know that the AWG numbering system is inversely proportional. It means a higher AWG number has a smaller diameter. On the other hand, a lower AWG number has a larger diameter. It means a 16/3 gauge option has a thinner wire than a 14/3 gauge option. To know more about gauges, you can refer to our article about our other two articles on the topic. We’ve got an article on 20 through 60 amp wires and one on 70 through 600 amp wire.

Thicker cables carry more power.

As discussed in the previous section, a thicker product will have the ability to carry more ampacity than a thinner cable. The thickness of the conductive material determines how many amps it can safely carry. Thick ones can carry more electricity over a given distance than thinner ones. Most of the ones in an electrical store safely meet the requirements of devices like battery chargers and lights. Large appliances and tools may require thicker cables as these consume more amps.

Here are some quick tips on choosing and using them safely.

The information above may be overwhelming to some people. The points below will get you up to speed when choosing and using them safely.

  • You should only purchase an electrical product approved by a testing laboratory.
  • When looking for outdoor purposes, be sure to look for one that is safe for those purposes. They should be rated to be able to withstand the elements they’ll be exposed to.
  • Read the instructions before using your product. The power it supports may vary, so knowing these details is important to ensure safe use.
  • Use one that can safely handle the devices you plan to attach to it. Refer to the AWG size. A smaller AWG number indicates a thicker wire, while a larger AWG number indicates a thinner one.
  • Longer ones are able to handle less power than shorter ones. Don’t go for ones that are too long. However, keep in mind to give a bit of an allowance when choosing a length.
  • Round, thick cords are best for heavy-duty appliances. For small, light-duty appliances choosing thinner ones will be enough.
  • There are some appliances you should not use with a regular one, such as a dryer.

Outdoor options

extension cord

As you prepare to bring the lights to your front porch or back yard, it is important to know if the one lying around at home is outdoor-rated. The safest and quickest way to know if it is the case is to check the packaging. If it is no longer available, you may refer to the cord itself. It will have the letter W on it or the packaging, indicating outdoor-rated. Great, you’re good to go!

The primary difference between an outdoor and indoor option is the insulation of the conductive part. Most indoor options have a two-prong plug, whereas most outdoor ones have a three-prong plug. The third prong is the ground, which reduces the risk of electrical shock and fire. Most outdoor appliances and devices use more amps than indoor ones because they usually perform more demanding tasks.

To safely use an outdoor option, here are some things to consider.

  • Store these properly. After you’re done with them, carefully roll them back as if it was brand new. Hang or store it somewhere dry and away from harsh external elements.
  • When getting it from storage, inspect for wounds or cracks before using it. If you notice any, discard them. You’d rather want to avoid the potential fire damage than use an electrical product that isn’t safe.
  • Do not overload it by connecting too many appliances at once.
  • Avoid ones with multiple outlets/three-outlet options for outdoor use to prevent overloading.

You may need a special one for your welding needs. If you need information, here is an article about gasless MIG welding.

Retractable options

The placement of many appliances is often far away from an outlet, making extension cords a useful solution. A retractable model is a practical solution for household purposes. It lets you adjust the length, allowing you to use it anywhere you wish. Some people prefer to move appliances inside the house now and then, making a retractable option necessary.

You can easily roll it up to avoid messy wires around the house. Since children are playful and move around a lot, they may trip over unkept wires if carelessly left on the floor. A retractable one systematically organizes it, so you will not have to worry about any tripping mishaps.

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Surge protector

If you need to add more outlets or need an additional layer of protection for your gear, getting a surge protector option is a great choice. This type offers a level of protection against power spikes. How well and much it can handle will vary greatly. When looking for a surge protector, notice the joules value as it tells the amount of protection it can offer. Generally, a higher joules value is better as it offers more surge protection. The parts inside will wear down over time, reducing their effectiveness in the long run.

Heavy-duty

red and white extension cords

100-foot heavy-duty extension cords are ideal for appliances that draw a lot of amps while they’re turned on and are far away. Using a heavy-duty one is the ideal solution if you have appliances that draw ten amps to fifteen amps. This type comes with a third wire, which serves as the ground. It has plugs with three slots for accepting grounded appliances and device cords. The most usual use case of heavy-duty options is tools and heating appliances that draw up to fifteen amps. Go for a 12/3 wire for a length of up to 150 feet. On the other hand, a 10/3 wire for a length of up to 100 meters is better as there’s a certain drop in performance over longer distances.

Flat-plug

A flat-plug extension cord provides a slim design and a right-angle plug. It makes it easy to move and place furniture in front of it. On top of having a flat design, some of these plugs feature 360 degrees rotating flat supply plugs. It helps add more versatility. It is best for tight spaces, such as behind furniture or bookshelves. It’s also great for desks or almost anything near a wall. Depending on the AWG size of the wire, it comes in varying thicknesses.

Flat plug extension cord

RV considerations

Almost all RVs come with a built-in solution, which you can use for almost anything you might need during your camp out. Your RV will require 30 amps or 50 amps plug to connect to the power source. These may come with a fixed length, which may be insufficient if the source is too far from the RV. To go about it, use an RV option to reach the supply. We recommend using an 8/3 or 10/3 wire. Due to the thickness of these wires and the jacket’s durability, they are available in various lengths.

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Multi-outlet: 2-prong & 3-prong options

Multi-outlet ones come in two-prong or three-prong variants. Maybe you are in the market looking for one with multiple outlets. It may come as a shock to you that they are available in a few types. The two-prong and three-prong are the most common. These have at least two sockets, making them ideal for people who want to plug in a few devices. However, keep in mind to get a wire thick enough to handle the load.

These two are not much different from each other. The main difference is that the two-prong does not come with a ground wire, whereas the three-prong comes with one. It directs any excess electricity to flow into the ground, preventing any severe damage from happening to your appliances.

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Welder cables

flux core welding

Welder extension cords add extra portability to a welder. However, there are a few things you need to consider when buying one. The power supply and length all affect its safety factor. Make sure the extension cord fits the welder. A safe option for welding can safely accommodate the power draw while staying within the limits of the chosen product. Choose an industry-standard product that is heavy-duty and can maintain a stable energy transfer. You need to match the voltage of the power source, whether it is 110V or 220V. Using thick AWG cords allows you to accommodate the flow of more electricity to your welder.

Generators

When using an extension cord with a generator, you should only use it with outdoor devices. Indoor items connected to a generator should only be powered using a transfer switch. Using it to provide temporary electricity to indoor items increases the risk of exposure to carbon monoxide gas. Running them from the outdoors through vents or windows may cause damage to the wire. It may lead to more serious consequences. Using a wire that can carry a total load of all devices prevents overloading.

champion generator

Dryer & air conditioners

Normally, you should install an air conditioner near an outlet. If that is not possible, you can use an extension cord to power it. It is important for heavy-duty products. Most air conditioners consume about 12 amps, so going for one with at least a 12-gauge rating is recommended. However, keep in mind using it to power your air conditioner should only be a temporary solution. For dryers, a three-prong dryer cord with at least a 12-gauge is what you are in the market for. For HVAC systems, be sure to check out our post on UV light sanitizers as well.

GFCI

A ground-fault circuit interrupter option prevents electric shocks from happening at your workplace or home. It protects people from fatal electrocutions. A GFCI detects ground faults, which stops fire before occurring. It works by monitoring flowing electricity in a circuit. If discrepancies occur in the flowing and returning amperage current, the GFCI switches off the power. It protects you from electrocution. A GFCI model is durable and strong, so manufacturers usually produce at least a 12-gauge.

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two extension cords

Want to buy an extension cord but don’t know what steps to take to make the best decision?

Don’t worry; we can help you.

We have prepared a list of steps to guide you to the ideal cable for your needs.