Camping lanterns have been used to light up the night for centuries. Originally made to enclose a candle flame, lanterns have evolved to be powered by gas, batteries, USB ports and solar panels. Whether you are looking to illuminate a dark campsite near your car or deep in the backcountry, lanterns offer a reliable light […]
Camping lanterns have been used to light up the night for centuries. Originally made to enclose a candle flame, lanterns have evolved to be powered by gas, batteries, USB ports and solar panels. Whether you are looking to illuminate a dark campsite near your car or deep in the backcountry, lanterns offer a reliable light source to help you set up camp, cook and relax comfortably while off the grid. Lanterns are also a valuable addition to any emergency preparedness kit.
To pick the best lanterns of 2019, we looked for versatility, functionality and quality of light. We prioritized features like brightness, number of brightness settings and the color of light emitted by the lanterns. We began our research by reading through dozens of REI customer reviews, selecting the top-rated lanterns to test. To ensure we were evaluating REI’s lantern selection thoroughly, we consulted with recreationists with expertise in camping and backpacking. In the end, we chose 16 different camping lanterns to test.
We took each lantern out into the field on overnight camping trips in the dark Southern California desert, where we used the lanterns to illuminate everything from tent interiors to our overall campsites. Back in the city, we used the lanterns to light up pitch-black apartment rooms and read outdoors after dark.
After using each lantern for several outings and across a host of use situations, these are the best camping lanterns you can buy at REI:
The Best Lantern for Car Camping
Casting a bright, 400-lumen light, the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 and USB Power Hub sets campsites aglow while offering an array of customizable features, making it our pick for the best lantern for car-camping adventures.
Weighing in at a little more than one pound, this dimmable lantern, with legs that fold up for storage and down when in use, packs a punch in a compact unit. At its tallest, the Lighthouse 400 stands around 9.5 inches; this height allows it to cast light a greater distance. Made from a sturdy ABS plastic, this lantern seemed durable.
A key benefit of the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 is that it has the ability to cast light from only half of the lantern, letting you save battery life when you only need 180 degrees (rather than 360 degrees) of light. Additionally, this lantern has a smooth dimming setting. By using the dimming setting and running only half the lantern, you can can extend the lamp’s running time for a full two days.
In addition to lasting up to two days, the Lighthouse 400 is easy to charge. Simply plug the lantern into a USB wall or computer port via the attached power cord, and the lantern charges fully in four to five hours. On a sunny day, you can also charge the lantern via the Goal Zero Nomad solar panel (sold separately). In addition to flexible charging options, the Lighthouse also has a USB output port that lets you charge up your electronics in the field. On its highest brightness setting, this lantern fully charged an iPhone 7 from dead with 30 minutes of light to spare. But beware that using the lantern to charge your phone can drain the lantern’s battery more rapidly.
Another unique feature of the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 lantern is its integrated hand-crank system. Should you ever be stranded with this lantern after it has run out of juice, crank the easy-to-use lever on top of the unit for power. One minute of cranking can give you 10 minutes of extra light in emergency situations.
Two drawbacks to the design of this lantern are its blinking red emergency light which, due to its lack of brightness, didn’t seem like it would be very useful, and the lantern’s lack of water resistance. While it's definitely a sturdy unit, we do not advise its use in wet conditions.
One happy REI reviewer shared: “My husband and I decided to add one of these to our emergency kit and also one to our car-camping kit. We've been able to use the lantern car camping and our son loves winding the handle to charge it. He thinks it's pretty cool to use the light in the evening to play games (set it on the table) and have story time in the tent (hang it from the gear loft). The multiple brightness settings helps you not blind yourself when you are using it for close-up work (reading) but also see details when it's really dark (setting up the tent after sunset). We appreciate the fact that we can keep our phones charged if we need them (for photos, looking up trail reports, and using Google maps—this is car camping after all). The light stays charged for quite a while and it doesn't take a ton of winding to get a decent charge on a cell phone.”
The Best Lantern for Backpacking
LuminAID’s PackLite Max Phone Charger Lantern is a lightweight, collapsible lantern that is our pick for the best camping lantern for backpacking and traveling. Weighing in at a little more than half a pound, this featherweight lantern is easy to pack in your backpack or travel bag, and only takes a few seconds to inflate after you arrive at your campsite.
Maxing out at 150 lumens, the PackLite Max Phone Charger lantern casts a bright light with four brightness settings and one strobe option, making it perfect for lighting up a tent or helping you cook dinner at camp. On top of that, the PackLite Max is made from what LuminAID calls “waterproof and shatterproof” thermoplastic polyurethane, making it a reliable pick for backcountry travel. The lantern even floats, should you want to take it out with you while kayaking or put it in your pool for a late-night swim.
This LuminAID lantern can be powered by both its built-in solar panel and its micro USB input (USB cord included). Although we found it more efficient to use the USB input to power the lantern (we got a full charge in approximately two hours), the solar panel offers an alternate charging option. LuminAID says the built-in solar panel will charge the lantern in 12–14 hours, but depending on how sunny it is where you’re adventuring, charging via solar could take up to several days. A four-level battery-charging indicator lets you keep tabs on the lantern’s charge status throughout the day.
Like the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400, the LuminAID PackLite features a USB output port that lets you charge your electronics with an included micro USB cord. Starting with a full battery, we were able to charge a dead iPhone all the way up to 75 percent.
One REI reviewer commented: “I've used this several times this summer so far and the combination of the phone charger and the lantern has been a lifesaver. Why I like it: 1. Brightness. It lights up a small campsite and then some. I prefer one of the lower settings because they last longer and are plenty bright. 2. Easy to charge by USB. A nice back up for less sunny days. 3. Good back up phone charger. I have an iPhone Plus which has a large battery. I found the product to be a good backup charger when it was running low. It doesn't charge my phone to 100% (best for me was 70%), but in combination with the lantern, this is definitely really useful to have. On a recent trip, I charged my phone up from 40% to around 90% and then used the lantern for a few hours as well.”
The Best Lantern for Less Than $20
Priced at $19.95, the compact (dare we say adorable) Moji Lantern from Black Diamond is excellent for everything from emergencies to everyday use, all at a relatively affordable price. This LED light slides easily into a drawer or the side pocket of your backpack, ready to use at a moment’s notice. At just three ounces, you’ll hardly even notice it’s there. Plus, it comes in an array of colors, allowing you to customize your camping or backpacking kit.
The Moji lantern excels when lighting a smaller tent or when you need a quick and easy light source. This lantern lacks a stand or fold-out legs, but for some, the lack of moving components is part of the appeal. An extensive splash test confirmed the lantern’s water resistance.
In addition to a relatively simple on-off switch, the Moji lantern boasts a convenient memory feature that allows it to maintain its level of brightness when you turn it off, and then on again. This is especially handy when you want to avoid blinding yourself each time you turn your lantern on.
Two small hooks at the bottom of the Black Diamond Moji make it easy to hang from a line or carabiner. And, the Moji is powered by three AAA batteries, so you won’t need to worry about finding a plug to recharge. Operating on its lowest setting, this model can provide up to 70 hours of light before requiring new batteries.
One REI reviewer noted: “Having had one LED lantern break, I was reluctant to buy another. But even in the store this little light had a unique appeal. So I purchased it on a whim in preparation for my fall trip into the New Hampshire White [Mountains]. It was light (in weight) and bright. The early fall darkness was no match for this device. What was most surprising was how much light it gave. And that is adjustable from candle warmth to eye blinking bright!”
The Best Non-Electronic Lantern
If you prefer a natural flame over the white light of a bulb, look no further than the Coleman Dual-Fuel 2-Mantle Lantern. Casting a whopping 700 lumens of light on its highest setting, this lamp boasts a brighter light than the other lanterns we tested. And, with Dual-Fuel technology, this Coleman lantern operates with either traditional white gas or unleaded gasoline.
Weighing in at three pounds and offering nearly eight hours of light on high and 14 hours on low, this lantern is a perfect pick for recreationists who want to illuminate a large outdoor area with a single light source. A long wire handle makes it easy to hold the lantern out in front of you while walking, or hang it from a perch to cast light from above (but be careful not to hang it on a tree branch or weak fixture). The weight and flammability of this lantern require the utmost attention.
A note: Fuel-burning lanterns rely on cloth mantles to provide the glow that makes them function. Once burned, the mantles become fragile and require careful handling. Carrying several replacement mantles on any trip is a smart idea. White gas—also referred to as Coleman fuel—is a liquid fuel that resembles gasoline. To avoid messy spills and problems with efficient burning, the lantern comes with a funnel to refill the tank.
The Coleman Dual-Fuel 2-Mantle does require a bit more setup time than the LED models. The trade-off is that it puts off a warm, flickering glow, reminiscent of the orange light from a fire.
One REI reviewer noted: “The Coleman fuel-powered lantern may just be the last evidence we have of a time when products were built to last and always worked when you needed them to. I don't even pack LED lanterns much anymore; usually a headlamp and flashlight but sometimes I just want to feel the heat and enjoy the hiss. Light up this lantern and it's 1960 again.”
Unlike LED lanterns, the fuel-based Coleman Dual-Fuel 2-Mantle lantern is exclusively for outdoor use. It should always be used in a well-ventilated area and away from combustible materials to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and/or fire danger. The heat generated by this lantern makes it less childproof and fire-proof than battery-powered lanterns.
Best Lantern Setup for Group Camping
The BioLite BaseLantern XL Bluetooth Lantern and Power Hub is the central control center and power source for a series of integrated BioLite lighting products. Several BioLite products can be connected to the primary BioLite BaseLantern to light a campsite or other outdoor space—making this device perfect for camping in a group. It also has fold-out legs, allowing you to light a larger area if you choose.
On its own, the BioLite BaseLantern XL Bluetooth casts up to 500 lumens of light and has two USB outputs so you can charge two items at once (you can also continue to use the lantern to charge your electronics while the lantern is being charged via its micro USB input).
Here are two BioLite products (sold separately) that can be used independently or connected to the central power hub:
This set of four lights is strung together on a 10-foot cord and each light offers 150 lumens. Whether you want to use the string of lights on its own with the included USB adapter or as part of the Power Hub, the lights cast a festive and bright mood on any campsite. And, the lights can be daisy-chained to another pack of four lights to illuminate even more.
This collapsible fabric lantern offers 300 lumens of light and can be used on its own when plugged into a USB power source (adapter included) or in conjunction with the power hub. The BioLite SiteLight XL LED lantern has a 15-foot cord, making it easy to string over a tree branch to cast a full spread of light on your camp. Weighing in at just 3.2 ounces and collapsing down into a small stuff sack, the SiteLight provides an incredible amount of light for its size.
When connected to the BioLite BaseLantern, you can use the BioLite SiteLight XL LED lantern and Mini LED string lights to create a smart grid that you can control with your phone via the BioLite app (for Android or iOS). Using your phone, you can control the brightness of the BioLite BaseLantern XL Bluetooth lantern and power hub, change the light to a spectrum of soft and vivid color options and assess how much charge time you have left in the system. The app allows you to link to other SiteLight attachments, and turn them off and on with the flip of a switch and adjust the brightness with a dimming control. When connected, the BioLite network offers an integrated and powerful setup for your lighting and charging needs.
Of the BioLite XL LED lantern, one REI customer wrote: “I love all the BioLite products and this is no exception. Paired with the SiteLight and mini lights, I can light up the whole spot if needed! The soft glare of them is bright but pleasant, not the usual piercing of a flashlight or other LED-style lamps. It was rained on for about an hour, probably not recommended, but it happens and it kept on working. Having the charging capabilities is always helpful. I bring it everywhere, from nights camping on the river to chilling in the backyard.”
First, ask yourself how you plan to use your camping lantern: Do you need something to illuminate your car-camping site? Are you investing in a lantern to stay prepared for emergency situations? Or do you need something lightweight and compact for backpacking adventures?
Here are the key factors to consider when choosing the lantern that’s right for you:
Whether you want to light a one-person tent or an entire campsite, you’ll want to consider how you’ll plan to use your lantern. When car camping, you’ll likely be interested in lighting a larger area—like a camp kitchen or tentsite. In these cases, a higher lumen output is better. Since you’ll be near your car, heavy batteries or bulky gas canisters tend to be less of an issue.
When you’re backpacking, you’ll want to seek out a lightweight lantern with a relatively long battery life. A key feature offered by some lanterns and not others is their ability to charge electronic devices. This means that you can use the power of the lantern to plug in and power your tablet or phone in a pinch.
During emergencies and power outages, having solar and/or battery-powered options can be extremely important. And, if you intend to use your lantern inside your home or tent, you’ll want to look at LED instead of gas- or flame-powered lanterns.
Power Source and Brightness
The higher a lantern's lumen output, the greater its light intensity. Most models offer both low and high settings. Run times can vary dramatically between these settings, though, so don't plan on achieving the maximum run time while also cranking out the maximum light intensity.
“For solar lanterns, run times tend to be shorter and recharge times using solar power are lengthy,” says Derek Temple, an REI category merchandising manager for lighting. “If utilizing solar to charge, you will need to ensure several hours of direct sunlight to get the best effect. Many offer the ability to charge out—this works, but due to the smaller size of the batteries, you don’t get as much out as you do other charge-out formats.”
Quality of Light
Another key attribute to consider when investing in a lantern is the quality and color of its light. Lindsay McIntosh-Tolle, an REI Outdoor School instructor who also works as a store employee, advises paying special attention to light temperature when considering lanterns. LED lights can give off a spectrum of different light tones, ranging from bright-white light to a warm-orange glow. While a bright-white light can illuminate a greater area, a warm-orange light could be just the thing for curling up with a book in your tent after the sun goes down, so consider how you’ll use the light and choose wisely.
Features and Settings
You’ll also want to take into account the number of settings your lantern offers as well as any bonus features. Do you want to be able to toggle between a simple high and low setting, or do you want a lantern that dims? Remember, when you run your lantern on a low output, its battery life will last longer. And when it comes to bonus features, consider whether you want a power-out option so you can charge your electronics in the backcountry. Some lanterns have special attachments that let you hang them from a tent or a tree. Others change colors, or let you make changes to their level of illumination via Bluetooth connection on your phone. Consider whether you’ll want to pay for these added perks.
Care and Maintenance
One of the perks of outdoor lanterns is how little care and support they really require. So long as you keep them clean and stored out of the elements, they should serve you well for years. Goal Zero notes that if you’re storing your lantern for long periods of time, you should plug it in every one to three months to keep the battery in good health.
When cleaning a non-electronic model like the Coleman Dual-Fuel 2-Mantle, proper care and maintenance through cleaning and drying at the end of each camping season helps avoid rust and corrosion while keeping fuel lines from getting clogged.