Camping is an opportunity to get back to nature, leave the hustle and bustle of the city, and experience the tranquility of the outdoors.
A reliable camping lantern enhances this experience, especially when night falls. It not only illuminates your campsite, ensuring safety and visibility, but also sets a serene mood under the starlit sky.
From their simple beginnings as kerosene lamps, modern camping lanterns have undergone significant advancements, catering to various outdoor enthusiasts’ needs.
Modern Camping Lantern Features
Modern camping lanterns feature energy-efficient LEDs and are built using strong and durable but also lightweight materials.
Camping lanterns come in various sizes and models, each having slightly different features and specifications. Some models are fairly basic, powered by standard non-rechargeable batteries and featuring a simple On/Off switch with perhaps a light mode option.
On the other hand, some models are truly versatile devices designed as camping lanterns but also sport features like small solar panels, USB charging port(s), motion detectors, several light modes, different light colors, etc.
When traveling with kids and looking for camping lanterns for them, one should look for models that are suitable for kids’ age but also for the intended lantern use.
Common Light Modes
The diversity in the modern camping lantern designs allows for multiple light modes, at least 2 or 3, often even more, ranging from the brightest white to a cozy yellow.
Firstly, the high mode provides maximum illumination and best suits activities like cooking or setting up a tent. However, high light mode discharges the battery quickly, often in just a few hours, and should be used only when needed.
Then there’s the medium mode, which balances brightness and energy conservation, ideal for general campsite activities and illumination. In medium mode, a single set of batteries may last up to 10-20 hours, sometimes even more.
Lastly, many lanterns have a low or ‘night’ mode, perfect for late-night storytelling or early-morning ambiance. Also, night modes sometimes have a timer, allowing the user to set a time after which the unit will turn itself off – ideal for kids who don’t like to go to sleep with at least some light. Low light/night mode conserves the battery and may last for days, even weeks.
Some models even incorporate a strobe or SOS mode for emergencies and feature both white and red lights.
Rechargeable vs. Non-Rechargeable Camping Lanterns
The debate between rechargeable and non-rechargeable lanterns boils down to convenience versus longevity.
Rechargeable lanterns can be charged via USB or solar panels, making them eco-friendly and often more compact.
However, their light duration depends on the battery’s capacity, and frequent usage may wear out the battery over time.
On the other hand, non-rechargeable lanterns, typically powered by alkaline AA or D-cells or lithium CR123A batteries, may last longer on a single set of batteries but require the user to replace the discharged batteries from time to time. Obviously, such lanterns create more waste for the environment.
Choosing between the two often depends on the duration of your camping trip and access to charging facilities.
Note: Camping lanterns are often used at home in emergencies and blackouts – models with rechargeable batteries must be recharged every 3-9 months, while models with good non-rechargeable batteries may be stored up to 10 years (battery model dependent). Non-rechargeable models may be more reliable in such situations, but over time, rechargeable camping lanterns and LED flashlights, in general, are more cost-effective.
Battery Types and Sizes
Camping lanterns draw power from various battery types. Common options include alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, D cells), lithium non-rechargeable batteries (CR123A, for example), lithium rechargeable batteries (18650, 21700, 36850, etc.), and sealed lead-acid batteries.
Each type has its pros and cons in terms of longevity, cost, and weight:
- Alkaline Batteries are non-rechargeable types of batteries that are readily available and affordable. Also, they may be stored for 3-7 years, sometimes more, and offer a good balance between weight and stored energy. When the old batteries are discharged, they must be replaced with new ones and properly recycled.
- Lithium Non-Rechargeable Batteries are based on Lithium Manganese Dioxide chemistry, offering excellent weight-to-capacity ratio, very stable output voltage, very low self-discharge rate (storage time 7-10+ years), excellent high current discharge features, etc. Also, these batteries are rather common on the market and may be found easily. However, they are more expensive than alkaline batteries, and after being discharged, they must be replaced with new ones and properly recycled.
- Lithium Rechargeable Batteries are very common in more advanced camping lanterns, offering hundreds of charging/discharging cycles, high discharge currents, no memory effect, excellent weight-to-capacity ratio, etc. However, initially, these batteries are not cheap, at least not when compared with other battery types, and they also feature a relatively high self-discharge rate. They must be recharged every 3-9 months, even when not in use.
- Lead-Acid Batteries are rarely used, mostly in the form of 3-cell, 6V lantern rechargeable batteries. They are rather cheap but also very heavy, featuring a relatively low number of charging/discharging cycles, especially when being discharged down to 100% DoD (Depth of Discharge).
Other battery chemistries, for example, Zinc-Carbon, Nickel-Cadmium, and similar, are rarely used – Zinc-Carbon chemistry is non-rechargeable chemistry, featuring lower capacity when compared with Alkaline chemistry, has a short storage time and will eventually leak out, while Nickel Cadmium is rechargeable chemistry which suffers from strong memory effect, relatively low capacity and after all, it contains Cadmium, which is anything but environment friendly.
Knowing the battery requirements of your lantern ensures you’re never left in the dark.
Solar Camping Lanterns
Harnessing the power of the sun, solar camping lanterns have emerged as an environment-friendly alternative.
They come with photovoltaic cells that charge the built-in battery pack during daylight, offering illumination during the night.
Ideal for long trips, they reduce the need for carrying extra batteries. However, their efficiency may be compromised on cloudy days or in densely wooded areas.
- Power Bank: Some camping lanterns double up as power banks, enabling you to charge your gadgets on the go. Best of all, some models feature foldable solar panels that are large enough not only to recharge the built-in battery pack but also to charge other rechargeable devices at the same time, acting like small portable solar generators.
- Magnet Base: This feature allows easy attachment of the lantern to metal surfaces, providing elevated illumination. Some models have built-in magnets, while others may have detachable magnet bases.
- Hanging Hooks: Facilitate suspending the lantern from a tent ceiling or a tree branch for a broader light spread.
- Waterproof Levels: Depending on the design, some lanterns offer varying degrees of water resistance, vital for unpredictable weather conditions. An IPX4 level, which ensures that the lantern can withstand splashing water from any direction for ten minutes, is the minimum IP level one should look for.
- Manual Power Generator: A few models come with a hand crank manual power generator, ensuring you always have a backup power source by manually generating electricity. When a manual power generator is combined with solar panels, one gets a lantern that will provide at least some light, regardless of the conditions.
- Floating Camping Lantern: Floating camping lanterns feature at least IPX4, preferably IPX7, and when in water, they float vertically, even when turned on. This allows them to be used as light sources for kayaking or fishing from a small boat at night.
- Motion Detector: When camping, having a few camping lanterns with motion detectors around the camp can act as an alarm system, detecting unwanted intruders, including dangerous animals. Also, hanging lanterns with motion detectors in tents can help users activate them with a simple arm swing.
- Remote Control: Advanced camping lanterns with remote control are not very common but can come in handy in various situations. Remote control camping lanterns can be activated from a distance, sometimes up to or even more than 50-100 feet (15-30m), allowing the users to more easily find camping sites, illuminate certain areas, or simply find lanterns themselves.
How To Charge Rechargeable Camping Lanterns
The versatility of rechargeable camping lanterns allows them to be charged in multiple ways.
They usually come with USB ports, enabling you to connect them to power banks, car chargers, wall chargers, or even laptops.
Some high-end models feature integrated solar panels for daytime charging combined with a manual power generator for night charging if required.
On the other hand, some non-rechargeable camping lanterns support the use of rechargeable Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) or even lithium batteries – in such situations, it is up to the user to manually remove the discharged batteries from the lantern and to place them in a suitable charger.
After recharging, batteries may be placed back into the lantern – again, these are non-rechargeable lanterns that use externally charged batteries.
The Best Camping Lanterns for Kids
Traveling with kids can be a great experience, even if somebody is afraid of the dark. The world of camping lanterns is vast, with so many models on the market that practically everybody can find “the best” model.
Many people oversimplify their requirements when looking for models that best suit their kids’ needs, but they shouldn’t. Since modern kids are so exposed to modern technology, having an advanced camping lantern is usually not an issue.
However, when new lanterns arrive, be sure to read the instructions with your kids and let them get accustomed to the new gadget.
Remember, the best camping lantern for you is one that aligns with your camping style, duration, and the conditions you expect to encounter.