The Best Lantern Review
We bought eight of the best camping lanterns on the market and compared them side-by-side for more than six months of well-lit adventures up and down the West Coast. To help you find the perfect one, we rated each on its performance in five critical categories: brightness, ease of use, durability, features and weight. We evaluated them for outdoor adventure camping, RVing, and emergency backup lighting at home. With this in mind, our awards reflect the best all-around, the best value and the best lightweight backcountry option.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Analysis and Test Results
Why buy a lantern instead of just a headlamp? Unlike headlamps, they provide a 360 degree central lighting source. This allows people to share one source of light, whereas a headlamp is used for personal spotlighting. A lantern can illuminate a campsite and provide important illumination during emergencies and power outages. Bringing one for the group can eliminate the need for everyone to have their own headlamp.
For more information on how to select the right model, check out our How to Choose the Best Lantern.
There are three main uses: emergencies, camping, and backcountry. Emergency and camping are similar in that weight is less important and the lumen output is more critical. For an emergency, battery life and ease of use is essential as well. Backpacking models should be light, compact, and durable enough to withstand the elements.
We tested eight contenders, ranging from ultralight ones that fit in the palm of your hand, hefty, bright models bigger than your head and even a solar model. Not all of them were directly comparable, but considering the large variety, we have recommended those based on their intended use.
Criteria for Evaluation
We found brightness to be one of the most important factors. On our adventures we used them in a wide range of settings and rated them based on how well they illuminated the area and their light quality. A huge factor for us was whether or not it was uncomfortably bright. If it was blinding we were much less likely to place it in the middle of camp at dinner, or read by it in our tent. We loved having the ability to control the brightness, particularly the dimming feature on the Black Diamond models, which allowed us to adjust the light based on the setting and number of people present.
The other factor that affects light quality is how the light is projected. No one wants to stare directly at a light bulb. This is where the globe, the "lampshade" of lanterns, comes in. The plastic globe surrounding the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow created a lovely light quality with three settings, and the Black Diamond's fogged plastic and manner of reflecting the light made the Apollo and Orbit non-invasive without sacrificing brightness. The Coleman Northstar was the brightest we tested. However, its globe is nothing but clear glass; looking at the light directly can be uncomfortable.
Ease of Use
We took them to the mountains and to the desert and realized the importance of being able to hang them easily. The heavier ones tended to be much more difficult to hang and required sturdier branches, thus increasing the importance of their base. In treeless campsites we were confined to setting them on rocks, picnic tables, cars, or on the ground. Small bases made it hard to position them on uneven surfaces, while designs like the Black Diamond Apollo used tripod style legs with rubber, non-slip ends, making it a piece of cake to position. We also learned to love the models with many light modes such as the Streamlight The Siege, which allowed us to change the brightness depending on the intended use. For example, for some uses it's great if you have a super bright light like the Coleman Northstar, but if you want to read by it you're going to get a headache. Lights with dimming features like the Black Diamond models, the UST 30-Day Duro Glow and the MPOWERD Luci Original were much more suited for reading.
When researching the products we noticed many common consumer reviews about battery compartment accessibility. We found the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow required a lot more effort to replace the batteries, whereas the Black Diamond and the Siege were much more straightforward and simple. The Luci light does not require any batteries but does take a while to reach a full solar charge.
Size also contributes to how easy it is to use. For example, a large heavy model like the Coleman Northstar can be very difficult to use in a smaller tent or at your bedside table due to its large footprint and weight. A small model is easier to use and more effective in a tent than out in the open trying to illuminate your cooking area. We rated them based on their intended use.
What good is it if it doesn't last? Here we tested the durability of the construction materials in many different environments. Generally the products tested were made of plastic, but they were made sturdier by added metal and rubber worked into the design. The Streamlight The Siege and the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow have enough rubber to make them shockproof at close range. The Siege withstood a fall from seven feet high onto cement without a scratch.
Two of the products we tested are waterproof: The Siege and the MPOWERD Luci light. They also both float.
Another factor of durability is battery life. The 30 Day Duro Glow's D batteries lasted 33 days, 24 hours a day on its lowest setting. We were impressed with that. The MPOWERD Luci Original is a solar powered product that doesn't require batteries at all but did take a full eight hours to charge. The Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 doesn't require any batteries as well and charges via a USB cord but it doesn't hold a charge for very long on the highest setting.
A model with only an on/off switch and a handle will get the job done, but it really decreases its versatility. We would score such a design such rather low in the features category. Some of the products tested had minimal features, while others had many unique components that set them apart and made them much easier to use. We rated them based on how many features they had, and if they really improved the overall quality of the product. The Goal Zero Lighthouse had cool feature of being able to charge a smartphone. The Black Diamond models had features that we found to be simple yet practical. Some of these included the sliding globe that covered the on/off button, the awesome dimming feature, great hooks for hanging and flexible legs for improved stability on uneven terrain. Lower scores were given to models with features that were unnecessary, while the ones with practical and useful features received the higher scores.
We loved how the Streamlight The Siege is waterproof and floats.
Another thing to note is that a product with many useful features tended to be easier to use, increasing the ease of use rating. We especially liked the products with dimmable power outputs like the very bright Coleman Northstar, both Black Diamond products, the Primus EasyLight and the Goal Zero Lighthouse.
The Northstar is the heaviest contender tested at about 4.5 lbs and is one of the two products we tested that use mantles and fuel. The next heaviest product we tested was the The Siege. The Siege and the 30 Day Duro were about the same weight and both require D batteries. The Siege weighs 1 lb 15 oz and the Duro 1 lb 13 oz. The Lighthouse weighs 1.1 lbs and requires no batteries at all, just a USB charge. The BD Apollo is next in line at .71 lbs. Both BD models we tested take AA batteries. The EasyLight weighs .41 lbs but keep in mind that is without a fuel canister attached. The BD Voyager weighs a mere .35 lbs and is small enough to fit into your pocket. The lightest product we tested is the solar powered inflatable Luci light which weighs a mere .28 lbs.
While conducting this review, we were pleasantly surprised how many times we found the products in this category to be so useful, and in many cases, more convenient that our beloved headlamps (gasp!). If you're in the market to purchase a stand-alone lamp for the outdoors, it can be tough to choose the best product. For one, we don't know any stores that allow you to take their products out overnight to test them out. Luckily, you now have this review to be your guide and reference as you search for the model that suits you best. Moreover, if you need additional information in the hunt for a cordless beacon, check out our Buying Advice page.
— Valentine Cullen
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