One of the greatest things about camping is the lack of light pollution—some’s only chance to gaze on a star-filled sky is when camping. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t need some light—nighttime activities, navigating through camp and lighting up your tent require some form of light brighter than the moon for nighttime activities, navigating through camp and for your tent.
Having light while camping not only creates ambiance and allows you to see, but is a critical safety issue. It detracts critters, prevents injuries and keeps you from getting lost.
More than likely, you and your group take more than one light source—headlamps for cooking, bright lanterns for base camp, individual handheld flashlights for navigating, glow sticks, tent lights, and some even like decorative camping string lights. There are plenty of options!
What makes the best camping light? Best in Bunch loves lanterns for their versatility, illumination reach and durability.
The top five best-selling camping lanterns for the 2018 Summer Season are:
Lanterns: The Portable Light
Lanterns are used all over the world and date back to ancient times. People would scrape animal horns so thin they became translucent in order for a lit wick in oil to illuminate an area.
Lanterns are used for illumination, navigation, signaling and in religious ceremonies. They provide protection for a light source—traditionally a candle or an oil-soaked wick. They were made so people can transport light easily, as well as hang it to create a bigger illuminated area. The enclosure of the lantern also prevents the flame from blowing out. The added bonus is keeping the fire contained so sparks can’t start fires—this was especially dire under the deck on wood boats.
The first lanterns were constructed of baskets of wood knots set on fire and hung on poles along streets, following that method, lanterns were filled with whale oil and then kerosene gas. Lanterns still use gas, but there are also a wide variety of electric lanterns that utilize batteries, solar-power, crank-power and USB rechargeable batteries that have LED, fluorescent or incandescent bulbs.
Lanterns are so efficient at what they do, we still use them today. When camping and during power outages, lanterns are more convenient and provide a wider area of illumination than flashlights. One of the most iconic lanterns is the Coleman kerosene lantern.
History of the Coleman Lantern
Inspired by a gas-burning lamp he saw on a sales trip, W.C. Coleman, the founder of Coleman, designed his own a fuel-powered pressurized lantern that incorporated a pressurized tank on the bottom operated by a hand pump. Coleman’s lantern was brighter and produced less smoke than lanterns before his and quickly became popular with campers.
Called the Arc Lamp, Coleman’s lantern was given to farmers during the first World War to encourage them to work longer hours producing crops to feed U.S. and allied soldiers.
Lanterns: Then and Now
Traditional gas lanterns cast a soft, warm glow across your campsite and create a nice, cozy ambiance. They are nostalgic, adjustable, bright and built to last. However, gas lanterns are bulky, heavy, create soot, smoke and heat and you can’t use them inside your tent. Kerosene gas lamps can also create a safety hazard because they could start a fire if knocked over.
Modern electric lanterns are lighter weight, can be brighter, portable, economic and last longer. Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about packing heavy canisters of fuel.
Why Lanterns are Better Than Flashlights
Though flashlights can throw light a far distance, they light can only illuminate in one direction. This is okay for lighting up the trail at night, but not helpful once you get to where you’re going—like a very dark restroom. Lanterns are hands-free, and you can hang them for multi-directional and 360-degree lighting.
Most modern lanterns use LEDs. LED is economical because the bulbs virtually last a lifetime and they don’t use as much battery life as other types of bulbs. Technology now allows for LEDs to come in different colors and brightness.
One of the most important lights is your base camp lantern—where all the action is centered. You want amble light to prepare, cook, eat and clean up meals, as well as play board or card games.
When shopping for a new camping lantern, you want to take these factors into consideration:
You will also want your lantern to have at least one hook, so you can hang it from your tent, pop-up, canopy, pole or suspend it from a tree branch.
Versatile lights with multi-power sources are good for camping and emergencies and vice versa. Emergency lanterns double as functioning camping lights. They are easy to operate, have battery-power indicator lights, ways to locate them quickly, keep a charge and have a long battery life.
When looking at the lantern’s brightness, the light source, or bulb is measured in lumens. 100 lumens equals the light of a 6-watt standard bulb. These are like the bulbs you buy for your home—sufficient for walking around camp and tent lighting. 300 lumens will light up around camp and will be good for nighttime activities, cleaning up after dinner, putting out the campfire and playing games. When considering lumens, a lantern with adjustable brightness settings is the best choice. That way, your light can serve multiple purposes. It is important to keep in mind that the brighter your light is, (the higher the lumens) the more battery life is used.
Uses for Lanterns:
- Playing games
- Tent lighting
- Car camping, groups and families
The following five camping lanterns are best-sellers due to their value for the price, consistent reliability and versatility. Starting with the most economical to the most expensive, the five best-selling camping lanterns are:
The Rayovac Sportsman lantern is available in three different models—240, 300 and a mini 150 lumens. The 240-lumens is the perfect compact lantern in-between too small (not bright enough) and too large (too bright.) Operating on three D-cell batteries, the Rayovac 240-lumen Sportsman lantern has 100,000-hour life 4-watt LED which casts a warm, white glow at 18 meters reach on set on high. There are three modes—high, low and strobe. It has a 40-hour runtime on high, while more than doubling that amount at 90 hours on low. There is a durable carry handle and bottom hook to hang the lantern. When the lantern is turned off, a green locating beacon flashes every five seconds, making the Sportsman good for emergencies and disasters. A large, easy-to-locate on/off button means you aren’t scrambling to turn on the light when you need it most. Strobe mode is good to use as a signaling light to first responders if you are lost or stuck. Pulled over roadside, the strobing LED alerts drivers of your location. Even though the Sportsman is compact, it is not recommended for backpacking or hiking due to its heft with batteries installed. The Sportsman, like many other lanterns, sheds the best light when hung above eye level. The Rayovac Sportsman is the least impressive of the bunch, but it is well-priced, does its job and has the bonus feature of the green locating light. It is weather-resistant and comes with a lifetime warranty.
On low setting, the Ultimate Survival Technologies (UST) DURO 30-day lantern guarantees 30 days of run time—and tests prove it. We’ve run it continuously for 29 to 32 days on three D-alkaline batteries. With three white LEDs, the UST 30-day has four modes—high, medium, low and SOS strobe. At 700 lumens on high, this lantern is super bright and will run for 22 hours. Medium emits 140 lumens and runs for 106 hours, while low’s 30-day runtime burns at 30 lumens. Orange and titanium finishes are also available, but the glow-in-dark housing makes the GLO model easy to locate during power outages, hurricanes, natural disasters and other emergencies—plus the kids (and adults) love it. The retractable bottom hook and removable globe lets you hang the UST lantern to illuminate a larger area with a 29-meter beam throw. The rubberized, durable plastic housing is impact- and IPX4 water-resistant. We particularly love the 30-Day DURO’s versatility and adjustability. It’s not only perfect for camping and emergencies, but also as a shop or storage building light and storm shelter and basement light. It is solidly-built and measures 7.2 inches tall and weighs 1.13 lbs. with batteries. The medium setting is just the right amount of light for normal use and leaving it on low all night helps not only with security but provides a campsite night light. A limited lifetime warranty comes with the DURO.
The extremely well-made and durable Streamlight Siege LED lantern is tiny but mighty! At 7.25-inches tall, this compact lantern really packs in more features than other lights its size. Powered by three D-cell batteries, the Streamlight Siege has four white C4 LEDs with three modes—high, medium and low. High runs for 30 hours at a very bright 540 lumens, medium runs for 70 hours at 275 lumens, and low is 55 lumens with a run time up to 12 days. There is an additional one red LED to preserve night vision, with an emergency SOS strobe option which will run up to 430 hours at 10 lumens. A polycarbonate cover reduces glare and is also removable to produce a wider beam area when hung upside down. A retractable handle locks into place or lays flat when not in use. Spring-loaded D-rings located at the bottom of the lantern offer multiple hanging options. Best for hanging and not tabletop, the frosted globe helps cast a less-harsh light than other lanterns. Constructed of durable polymer, the Siege lantern is IPX7 waterproof-rated, submersible to one meter and even floats. A rubberized bottom stabilizes the lantern on wet surfaces and during bad weather. A battery indicator light lets you know when it’s time to switch batteries. The Streamlight Siege is excellent value for the money, offering more features than is expected at its price point. It is perfect for boating, lake, beach and canoe camping and night fishing. The lantern weighs 1 lb. 15 ounces with batteries installed and has been drop-tested to 2 meters. Though not our favorite for the bug-out kit, due to the recessed on/off button, we love the Streamlight Siege for all our camping adventures—especially for camping on coastal areas and the Pacific Northwest. There is no way you’ll be disappointed with this high-quality lantern. We love the even beam, energy efficiency, durable construction and multiple hanging options.
The Coleman Quad LED lantern is an innovative design incorporating four individual removable light panels which recharge while on a lantern base. With 24 white LEDs total, each panel has 6 LEDs, their own on/off switch, a carry handle and internal rechargeable battery. The base, requiring eight D-cell batteries, charges each panel. Together, the Quad releases 190 lumens and will run continuously for 7.5 hours. Each panel emits 47.5 lumens and runs for 1.5 hours. Both have a 26-foot beam range. You can remove one, two, three or all four panels for different lighting options. When off to the bathroom or off to bed, each panel provides enough light to navigate through trails or your house. Though the diffused lens helps reduce glare, hang the lantern for the best directional results. The Coleman Quad lantern is perfect for power outages, bigger groups, Scouts, teens and older children with their own tents, student camping trips and multiple families or couples camping trips. Due to the Quad’s weight and size, it is best for car camping or hunting camp, where weight and space isn’t an issue. The Quad is water-resistant and comes with a three-year limited warranty.
At double the price point as the others, it is important to point out that the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 lantern is the only lightweight lantern recommended for hiking and backpacking on this list. If hiking or backpacking isn’t your thing, the Lighthouse 400 is the perfect bug-out bag and survival lantern. It is powered by rechargeable batteries, solar or hand crank. It will even charge your smartphone and other USB devices. This feature alone is worth the price—especially for long hikes and primitive or backwoods camping trips. This 400-lumen warm, white LED lantern has a low and high setting, with the option to light only one side for lower light. You can turn both bulbs on or choose to leave one off for directional light or lower lumens, allowing you to better direct the light so as not to disturb others. One side lit will run for 48 hours on low and 6 hours on high. With both sides lit, it will run for 24 hours on low and 2.5 hours on high. One minute of cranking provides 10 minutes of light. Weighing 1.1 lb. and measuring 4.5 inches tall, the Goal Zero has fold-up wire legs for storage, which also provide a stable tabletop mount. The Lighthouse 400 surprises us with how bright it is for its size and is perfect to light up base camp. Low mode allows you to navigate to the restroom and organize your tent but isn’t bright enough for reading or playing cards. Not necessarily our favorite for car camping, we do keep the Goal Zero for emergencies and hiking trips. We especially appreciate the off-grid use, warm LED, multiple mounting options, good battery life and large, easy-to-locate operation knob. If it is in your budget, the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 rechargeable lantern works great as a secondary or backup lighting source for the RV or hunting camp. If primitive camping or hiking is not your style, the Goal Zero Lighthouse at least needs consideration as a valuable addition to your bug-out bag, survival supplies or natural disaster preparedness kit.
Lanterns are versatile—they usually have adjustable brightness, various ways to hang, are weather-resistant, economical on battery life, optimize directional lighting and are ruggedly-built to last year after year. Every camper needs one on their camping gear list.
To read more about our favorite camping gear, check out these other Best of the Best lists:
What type of lighting do you take camping? Tell us in the comment section.
Prices here reflect what was listed at the time of original publication and are subject to change.