The lack of artificial light while camping gives you the opportunity to see the stars in all their glory. When light pollution is at its lowest the sky lights up with stars as far as the eye can see. The absence of light brings the sky to life, but, that doesn’t mean that you should go into the wild empty-handed.
As anyone who’s needed to set up camp after sunset can tell you, having good light is a necessity. There are plenty of ways to light up the campsite, that being said, a camping lantern is the best option in the evening.
They are great for hanging out with friends and family after dark. Sure, a campfire is great for roasting marshmallows, but, it’s not that useful for playing cards or finding that lost drink in the bottom of the cooler. A camping lantern provides a flexible lighting setup that can bathe your campsite in a warm glow and is super easy to move.
The History of the Camping Lantern
In the past, camping lanterns used white gas or propane to light up the night. Gas has a number of disadvantages including being a fire hazard, requiring ventilation, and being difficult to get started. They were also heavier and got really hot, so using it in the tent was essentially off limits.
Up until fairly recently though, they were the only option if you wanted to have some serious light at camp. Flashlights put out a very limited amount of light and larger incandescent bulb lanterns had limited burn time.
Fortunately, with the advent of high-quality LEDs, there are awesome electric camping lanterns that are better than the old fossil fuel. LED lighting is extremely efficient and lasts significantly longer than incandescent lighting. The old propane lanterns were a pain in the ass to get lit and you have to constantly resupply propane.
Flashlights vs. Lanterns
A flashlight is a necessity when camping. Getting caught on the trail after dark can be a life-threatening situation. While flashlights can save your life, they’re a terrible way to light up a campsite.
Lanterns, on the other hand, have a wide spread of light. They are easy to use, rest on a flat surface, and last for hours on end. The hands free design makes them a perfect companion for getting shit done when the sun goes down.
An added benefit to having a lantern is light when something goes sideways at home. If the power goes down at home for some unforeseen reason, bust out the camping lantern and you’re good to go.
Why You Need a Camping Lantern
The obvious reason is for light at night. Camping with a flashlight as your main source of light ends in frustration and slew of curse words.
Electrical camp lanterns can easily be switched on and off, hung from just about anywhere, and are safe to use inside of a tent.
You’ll quickly finding that having a camping lantern makes things like setting up a tent or preparing a meal much easier.
- Having a lantern makes setting up camp easier and hanging out more fun.
- Electrical lanterns with LED’s are long lasting and provide lots of light.
- A campfire is great but they don’t provide enough light.
- Try making dinner with a flashlight, good luck.
Camping lantern buying guide
There are a number of factors that come into play when choosing a camping lantern. While it’s not a major upfront cost, there are things to be aware of so you make the right choice.
When choosing a camping lantern the first feature to look at is brightness, which is measured in lumens.
While the science behind lumen measurement is somewhat complicated, brightness levels are easily broken down…
- 50 lumens or less is enough to light up the area around your tent.
- 50-100 lumens is more useful for setting up camp and doing any kind of detailed work
- Greater than 100 lumens is good for lighting up a larger area with a single lantern.
From there you’ll you want to compare things like durability, battery life, and charging methods.
Durability and Water Resistance
Durability is directly related to price. The more expensive camping lanterns are made of stronger materials and better seals. Many camping lanterns are rated to IPX-4 (this article explains the rating system). Meaning they are water resistant and can take a few drops and scrapes.
Battery life is critical if you’ll be taking the lantern on a long camping trip and can’t charge it during the outing. Most batteries last anywhere between 10 and 100 hours.
Your battery life will vary depending on the brightness setting. Don’t expect a camping lantern set to 100 or more lumens to last longer than 20 hours.
Some lanterns use D-cell batteries which last longer when compared to AA batteries. The trade-off is the lanterns that use D batteries are heavier and the batteries have to be constantly replaced.
Battery Type and Charging
Some lanterns use rechargeable batteries or have a built-in lithium-ion battery that is charged through a USB cable. If you’re taking it out every weekend, this is the bees knees, since you don’t want to be buying multiple packs of batteries before each trip. If you’re an occasional user, alkaline batteries will probably suffice.
Size and Weight
Modern camping lanterns are lightweight and compact. The last thing you want is a 10-pound lantern the size of a shoe box. The best camping lanterns are both small and lightweight making them much easier to use and move from table to tent.
The Best Camping Lanterns on the Market
These camping lanterns are designed to light up evenings around the campsite, here are the top 7 camping lanterns to bring light into the night.
Streamlight 44931 Siege Compact
- High (540 Lumens), Medium (275 Lumens), Low (55 Lumens), Red (10 Lumens), and Red SOS flashing modes
Streamlight’s Siege Compact is one of the best examples of how great things can come in small packages. Weighing less than two pounds and just over seven inches tall, the lantern has 4 white LED lights that put out a whopping 340 lumens of brightness.
340 lumens is plenty of illumination for detailed work like setting up camp or repairing a piece of gear at the end at the end of a long day. It’s also incredibly easy to use with D-rings on the top and bottom of the lantern to allow you to hang it from a number of different positions.
It also comes with a red light function, which comes in handy when you want to illuminate your campsite at night without blinding everyone. Red light preserves night vision, allowing you to retain some level of sight after the light is turned off.
The biggest downside to the Siege is that it uses D-cell batteries, which you probably don’t have lying around your house. You’ll probably also need to find some rechargeable batteries because those D-cells will only power the lantern for thirty hours. It’s also somewhat expensive, priced two to three times higher than most camping lanterns.
Choose the Siege if you need a lot of brightness from your camping lantern and don’t mind keeping a few sets of D-cells around.
- Very bright at 340 lumens
- Innovative handle
- Red light option
- Uses D-cell batteries
- Poor battery life
Etekcity 4 Pack Portable LED Camping Lantern
- ULTRA BRIGHT: Includes 30 individual low powered LED bulbs, designed for a longer lifespan. Carry 360° of luminous light while saving energy(batteries included)
- DEPENDABLE BUILD: Constructed with military grade; promising long-time durability, no matter where you go
- DESIGNED FOR CONVENIENCE: The extremely lightweight build allows you to take your lantern on the go with ease. When not in use collapse the lantern to a smaller size; store it effortlessly, taking little space
- LOW CONSUMPTION: Light up to 12 hours of regular, continuous use with enough battery capacity
You have the love Etekcity’s Portable LED Camping Lantern if for no other reason than that they are fun to use. In their collapsed state, the lanterns are less than five inches tall. However, upon folding the handles out, 30 LEDs are revealed, shining a light in all directions and growing the lantern a few inches.
They also take up very little space in your pack or stored on a shelf in your basement for emergencies. They run on AA batteries too, which you probably already have lying around the house for use in other devices.
It should be noted that these are very inexpensive lanterns. They’re not very waterproof and if you leave them out in the rain, you’re likely to see some moisture collecting inside. This may not ruin them the first time, but their performance is sure to diminish over time if they’re not well taken care of.
They also only produce about 60 lumens of light, which is enough to prevent you from tripping over something at camp, but not enough for much else. The batteries also only last about eight hours at full brightness, so you’ll want to get a set of rechargeable AA’s to keep these things running.
Etekcity’s Portable Lantern is a good choice for infrequent campers and those needed a lantern for emergency situations. They’re just not bright enough or long lasting enough for much else.
- 30 LEDs
- Collapsible design
- Runs on AA batteries
- Terrible battery life
- Not very bright
- Not waterproof
Coleman Twin LED Lantern
- Customizable brightness settings ranging from high to ultra-low
- 390 extra-bright lumens on high. 100 bright lumens on low
- 32-ft. (9.75 m) beam distance on high and 19-ft. (5.79 m) beam distance on low
- Up to 85 hours runtime on high setting and Up to 299 hours runtime on low setting
If you’ve ever gone camping before, you’re probably familiar with Coleman’s tough-as-nails gas lantern, with its iconic shape and dual mantles. The shape remains in this model, along with the rugged design, but the mantles are replaced with two, much to easier to use LEDs.
The Coleman Twin LED puts out 390 lumens of light, however, it does have a convenient adjustment knob so you can dial in the exact brightness. On its lowest setting, it lasts up to 100 hours and at its highest, 15 hours.
The biggest downside is probably its size; it weighs about three pounds without the batteries and another pound and a half with them. It’s not something you’ll want to carry down the trail, but it’s fine for using around camp.
It’s also a little pricier than some of the other lanterns on this list, but that’s to be expected from a brand name like Coleman. So long as you don’t mind the weight of the Twin, the Coleman is an excellent addition to your camping gear set.
- Moderately bright
- Classic look
- Fully adjustable brightness
- Somewhat expensive
- Poor battery at full brightness
MalloMe LED Camping Lantern Flashlights
- ULTRA BRIGHT! 360 Degree 146 Lumen LED Camping Lanterns - Highest Quality CE & ROHS Approved Military Grade ABS Material is the Best Camping Lantern Accessories Flashlight Survival Gear & Camping Equipment Gift Set that is built to last. DESIGNED FOR YOU - collapses into small bundle for easy control and storage - excellent for outdoor furniture [AA Batteries Sold Separately]
- BEST MONEY EVER SPENT: The MalloMe LED Lantern Lights Set includes 4 Colors: Black, Blue, Green and Gold - Our Marshmallow Roasting and Smores Making Guide with 10 recipes ebook is also available for all buyers at no extra cost!
- LIFE SAVER IN ALL SITUATIONS: Enjoy the great outdoors without second guessing if you packed everything for your nights - with over 100,000 hours of LED bulb life span they out do any candle camp lamp, with the lightweight, compact, and portable design, the MalloMe LED Lantern is a multi-purpose essential whether as a work light, book light, reading light, hurricane lantern, emergency outages and blackouts light, car auto emergency light kit, bug out bag lamp, or just for outdoor lighting fun
- PERFECT CAMPING GIFTS for MEN, FAMILY and FRIENDS: #1 Outdoor Backpacking Gear & Camping Backpack and Hiking LED Lantern Set for anyone looking for a high quality, great value product for the camping world to enjoy with the people you love
MalloMe’s LED Camping Lantern Flashlights might be one of the best options out there. They’re compact, shrinking down to a mere 4.8 inches in storage mode.
They’re also really easy to use, running on AA batteries and coming with a convenient handle for carrying an hanging. The handle can also be turned sideways to let you hold it like a flashlight.
That’s not to say they’re for everyone though. MalloMe claims they’re constructed from “military-grade materials”, but you’ll need to be careful with them if you want them to remain in working order.
The brightness level is not adjustable, which limits their functionality considerably. They put out 146 lumens, which isn’t too bad for a little lantern but also might not be enough for detailed work around camp.
The MalloMe is designed for users that want a small, inexpensive lantern that puts out a moderate amount of light.
- Uses convenient AA batteries
- Can be used as a flashlight
- Only moderately bright
- Won’t stand up to abuse
- Only one brightness level
Black Diamond Equipment Apollo Lantern
- 3 watt LED with dual reflectors shine through a telescoping frosted globe for bright, even light
- Powered by 4 AA batteries or Black Diamond NRG Recharge Kit
- Unique dimmer switch and battery-life indicator
- 7.8oz, 80 lumens max output, 60 hours max burn time
Black Diamond has pretty been the leader in the headlamp industry for many years now, so it’s no surprise that they also make a pretty amazing lantern. The Apollo, while a fairly solid 80- lumen lantern, has a few features that set it apart from the other lanterns on this list.
First, it has a somewhat unique battery system, relying primarily on a 2600mA integrated rechargeable battery and then switching over to a set of three AA batteries as a backup. This setup allows for six hours of light in bright mode using the rechargeable battery and then 18 hours with the AAs. To recharge it, just plug the lantern into a micro USB cable.
The second unique feature is that the lantern can also charge small electronic devices with its USB port. It should be noted that this will shorten the already limited battery life of the lantern.
It only puts out 80 lumens of light. Not really enough for any kind of detailed-oriented activities at camp. It doesn’t have great battery life either, and you would expect that the rechargeable battery could put out more than six hours of light.
The Apollo is a fairly unique lantern that provides enough light for basic camp illumination and it can charge your phone. However, it’s a pricey device, so be sure it’s what you’re looking for before purchasing.
- Can charge other electronics
- Includes a stand
- Uses 4 AA batteries or rechargeable system
- Not very bright
- Poor battery life on the highest setting
ThorFire LED Camping Lantern
- PORTABLE VERSATILE LIGHTS - These led lights can be used as flashlights or lanterns. Extended as a LED camping lantern; folded as a powerful mini flashlight, making it a portable multifunctional light. It's only 5.9 oz in weight, and foldable design fits seamlessly into your backpack or pocket. Take it when traveling, camping, hiking, picnic and more.
- HAND CRANK AND USB RECHARGEABLE LANTERN - ThorFire led lanterns have built in rechargeable batteries. No need to waste money buying batteries anymore. It can be either charged via regular 5V USB charging cable or hand cranking when you are out of power supply. Idea light for camping, fishing, traveling, emergency, outdoor adventure and home use.
- SMART PROTECTION CHIP - ThorFire lantern flashlight has fail-safes protects your lantern from overcharging, over-discharging and over-circuit, guarantees safety in utilization.
- TWO LIGHTING MODES - ThorFire led lanterns have two lighting modes: High and Low. Brightness is 125LM(High), 30LM(Low) which meets different lighting requirements. The High mode is ideal for camping, hiking, reading and the low mode is great as an area light or as a tent light.
The ThorFire is a fairly basic camping lantern upon first look, functioned as a mini flashlight or a lightweight lantern that can be hung in your tent. It has two brightness modes of 30 and 125 lumens, perfect for reading in your tent or setting up camp in the dark.
It can be hand cranked to charge the light or charge USB devices like your phone. One minute of cranking can provide almost 40 minutes of light in low mode.
Given all those features, you couldn’t ask for a better price either, costing half or a third what many LED camping lanterns do. It does have a few downsides including not being particularly bright, not very durable, and a short burn time (only works for 4.5 hours in the lower brightness mode).
The ThorFire is a good choice if you want an inexpensive lantern that can be used even when you forget to charge the batteries.
- Hand crank power USB’s
- Two brightness modes
- Folds into a flashlight
- Not very bright
- Durability is an issue
- Short burn time
Coleman Quad LED Lantern Ultra Bright 190 Lumens
- Four individual light panels snap onto a single lantern
- Lights recharge on the base; Lantern powered by 8 D-cell batteries; Works well and long with Polaroid D Batteries; Lantern runtime: 75 hrs.; Panel runtime: 1.5 hrs.; Lantern: 190 extra-bright lumens; Panel: 47.5 bright lumens each
- Range for both, 26 ft. (8 m); Easy-carry handles for the lantern and each panel; On/off switches on lantern's top and on each panel; Lifetime LEDs never need replacing; Cool-running LEDs are safe to touch; Diffused lenses reduce LED glare
- Water resistant against rain and splashing; 5-year limited warranty
With you need flexibility in your camp illumination, you’ll probably be turning to the Coleman Quad. With four detachable light panels, this lantern has to be one of the most versatile camping lights around.
When you’re on the trail, you can leave all the panels attached for a full 190 lumens of illumination in all directions. Then, when you reach camp, remove the panels and use their carrying handles to hang them next to each tent, providing 48 lumens of even lighting.
The Quad is very durable and quite water resistant. Unlike some of the less expensive lanterns on this list, you don’t need to worry about leaving the Quad out in the rain.
The biggest problem with the Quad is its weight, weighing close to six pounds. The unique lighting system is also something of a gimmick, as the removable panels only last for an hour and a half before needing to be reattached to the main unit for recharging.
The Coleman Quad is suitable for campers that want a lot of light from a durable lantern, but also like the flexibility that comes from the detachable panels. The panels have limited usefulness and the unit is quite heavy, but it’s still an excellent lantern for car camping where weight isn’t an issue.
- Four removable light panels with 48 lumens each
- Water resistant
- The panel has a carrying handle
- Uses D-cell batteries
- Weighs over six pounds.
- Light panels only 1.5 hours