We bought the best camping lanterns available and compared them side-by-side for months of well-lit adventures up and down the West Coast and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We rated each on its performance in five critical categories: brightness, ease of use, durability, features, and weight. We evaluated them for outdoor camping in both the front and backcountry, as well as for emergency lighting (e.g., power outages) at home. With this in mind, our awards reflect the best all-around, and the best value, as well as a handful of top products that excel in a particular metric.
The Best Lantern For Camping and Power Outages
|Price||$40.13 at Backcountry|
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|$27 List||$29.95 at REI|
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|$31.48 at Amazon||$39.95 at MooseJaw|
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|Pros||Rubber-tipped legs, dimming feature, dual metal hooks for hanging, cool design, durable, easy to use||Durable, packed with features, water resistant, floats||Compact, dual flashlight/lantern, lightweight||Very long battery life, tough and durable, provides a nice soft diffused light||USB charge out port, waterproof, compact, solar powered|
|Cons||Could be brighter for large groups, replaceable batteries run out quickly||Can't fully adjust the amount of light output, limited to four settings, small||No feet or legs, short battery life, limited features||Glow-in-the-dark doesn't work very well, hook on the bottom is not very sturdy, hard to reattach bottom after replacing batteries.||Could be punctured, not very bright|
|Bottom Line||The best all-around lantern for backpacking, camping, and power outages.||This little lantern is tough as nails, magnetic and floats||This pocket-sized light delivers in all the ways that a basic lantern should||A durable lantern with exceptional battery life.||A solar powered, inflatable light best used in the backcountry|
|Rating Categories||Apollo||The Siege||Black Diamond Zip||30-Day Duro Glow||PackLite Max 2-in-1|
|Ease Of Use (25%)|
|Specs||Apollo||The Siege||Black Diamond Zip||30-Day Duro Glow||PackLite Max 2-in-1|
|Weight (with batteries)||10.19 oz||9.14 oz||3.63 oz||1.83 lbs||8.36 oz|
|Lumens||225||200||[Lantern] 150 [Flashlight] 100||700||150|
|Size (inches)||9.5 x 3.3 x 5.3||2.4 x 2.4 x 5.4||2.125 x 3.25 x 1||7.2 x 3.75||6 x 6 x 6 (inflated)|
As winter arrives, we finished testing some new lanterns and put them up against our reliable favorites. The Black Diamond Apollo still takes our Editors' Choice for best overall. This time around, we were also particularly pleased with the Black Diamond Zip, which earns a Best Buy Award for its small size, capable output, and versatility at a solid price; the solar-powered, LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger is a solid choice in the backcountry, or when easy access to a working outlet just isn't available.
Black Diamond Apollo
Of all the lights we tested, the Apollo proved to be the most consistent across the board. It is versatile, durable, and easy to use for a range of activities. Shining at 225 lumens, it provides ample light for setting up camp in the dark. Its great on uneven surfaces and it can be easily hung above from a cord or slender tree branch. It also features USB charge out port, which is great for giving your smartphone a little extra juice when an outlet isn't nearby. The Apollo is also comparatively lightweight and compact for what it offers.
Overall, this light is sturdy and well made. Though we could imagine the springiness of the legs diminishing over time, we didn't encounter any durability issues during testing and we can easily see getting years and years of good use. It's ideal for backpacking or car camping as well as power outages at home. Of all the products we tested, the Apollo is the one we reached for most often.
Read Review: Black Diamond Apollo
Best Compact and Inexpensive Option
Black Diamond Zip
The Black Diamond Zip is a pocket-sized, lightweight lantern that doubles as a super-focused flashlight. Though it doesn't pack the same lumen punch as other lights that we tested, we were still impressed with its overall performance and versatility. It can light up a small room or tent, but can also be used as a personal flashlight if you're camping and need to get up in the middle of the night. It comes with a rubber-coated metal hook on top so it can easily be hung from above, as well as very, very tiny rubber feet that enable it to stand upright on a flat surface like a picnic table or countertop.
The main drawback of the Zip is its lack of a light lock. It is small enough and light enough to take backpacking for extended periods, but it can turn on inadvertently if it gets pressed against something in your pack. It's also not going to be a primary light source for larger groups, so we are a little disappointed that it requires as many batteries as its brighter counterpart, the Apollo. Minor drawbacks aside, we ultimately enjoy the tiny, versatile Zip quite a bit.
Read Review: Black Diamond Zip
Top Pick for Versatility
Streamlight The Siege
The Siege is a sturdy little workhorse. It illuminates big areas and the opaque plastic cover is removable for a brighter, more concentrated light. It's the supporting features though that make The Siege shine. It's waterproof when submerged in water up to one meter deep. It floats and has a magnetic base (great for sticking to the underside of a car hood). It hangs from both ends (either by the handle at the top, or the carabiner hook at the bottom). With its rubberized casing, it is also impact-resistant.
The primary drawback is that it doesn't give off the most even light. It fits easily into a jacket pocket, though we recommend keeping it away from any electronics that could be damaged by a magnet. The Siege is a steal for those who beat the heck out of their gear. It's great for boating activities, or anything by the water. This would also be the one we keep in our cars for emergencies.
Read Review: Streamlight The Siege
Best on a Shoestring Budget
Black Diamond Moji
The Black Diamond Moji is compact, lightweight and easy to use. It's not nearly as bright as some others that we tested, but we were still able to do most everything we needed to. We preferred to use it in our tent at night to play cards and read. The light quality is a little warmer than many other options as well. Its single power button is textured, so it's easy to locate in a dark tent. The Moji is durable, primarily because there just aren't very many parts to break. It comes with Black Diamond's standard opposed metal hooks on top so it can easily be attached to a carabiner, or hung from a clothesline.
The limitations of the Moji are its brightness and lack of versatility. It's suitable for individual use, or a couple of people in a small area, but it's not going to be your car camping primary light source. It doesn't have any legs, so hanging it is the only option. We like Coleman Northstar if you are looking for a single campsite option.
Read Review: Black Diamond Moji
Top Pick for Power Outages
Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow
The UST Duro Glow is a powerhouse. Its advertised 30-day shine lasted 33 days in our testing. It has a sturdy, heavy, rubberized, impact resistant base. The frosted plastic light cover makes the light soft and easy to look at, even directly. Similar to The Siege, the cover is removable if you need an even brighter glow. It is water resistant but not waterproof. The Duro Glow weighs just over a pound with three D batteries and it is average for compactness.
The Duro Glow is not without its drawbacks. The battery compartment can be challenging to reattach. Its glow-in-the-dark feature could have been stronger. We also noticed that the plastic handle is not the highest quality. With all that in mind, if your priority is run time over brightness, this is the light for you. It's best for extended car camping, RVing, or if you live somewhere with a risk of prolonged power outages.
Read Review: Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow
Analysis and Test Results
Every model we tested offers a slightly different set of features, making each one preferable for a particular use. For more information on how to select the right model for your needs, check out How to Choose the Best Lantern. Below, we outline each of the metrics that we assessed during our testing, including some of the specific ways that manufacturers do (or don't) effectively incorporate features and design elements that enhance these metrics.
Which one of these lights makes it into your car camping kit or emergency supplies will most likely involve a price tag that doesn't overshadow its other features. We've got quite a few to choose from in this review, and since everyone's budget is different, we don't award any scores based on price, sticking only to performance. But we know you likely score value highly.
Not cheap, but exceptional in performance is the Black Diamond Apollo - winner of our Editor's Choice Award with a significant lead on its closest competitor. Tied for second place, yet only a third the price of the Apollo is the Black Diamond Moji, a simple option at a very reasonable $20.
There are a variety of lanterns out there that roughly fall into three categories based on their intended primary use: emergency use/supplemental power outage lighting, front-country camping, and backcountry camping. We outline the top considerations for each use below, keeping in mind that many lights are great for more than one purpose.
Emergency Use/Power Outages
For power outages, battery life and ease of operation are essential. Solar-powered lights can be a real lifesaver if you experience an extended outage (but be sure to test/charge them periodically if you keep them in a closed bin or closet). You may also opt for a model that has USB charge ports, so you can keep a phone charged in case of emergency. Weight is less of a concern here. In fact, as a general rule, heavier models tend to be brighter as well. If you're looking for a single, central light source, bulkier may be better.
Frontcountry camping lanterns can also be on the heavier side, but it's important to consider exactly what you hope to get out of your light. If brightness is your primary consideration, isobutane-powered models tend to have the highest lumen output. If you and a bunch of friends are going out in the RV on summer vacation, you may want to consider a variety of smaller, party-friendly lights.
Backcountry models, on the other hand, should be light, compact, and durable enough to withstand the elements. Anything you take with you backpacking should be waterproof. It's probably helpful if they are solar powered as well if you are planning on being out there for a while.
We rate the models that we test on five different criteria: brightness, ease-of-use, durability, features, and weight.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we chose brightness as the most important factor, regardless of a model's intended use. On our adventures, we used them in a wide range of settings and rated them based on how well and how widely they illuminated an area. We take into account that some models are just meant to be used in different size spaces. We also assess a lantern's light quality. Though companies find ways to compensate and technology continues to improve, LED lights tend to give off a harsher, less natural white or blue light as compared to the warmer yellow glow of an isobutane-powered model.
Another consideration is how well the user can control the brightness of the light. We particularly enjoy the dimming feature on the Black Diamond models, which allows us to adjust the light intensity based on the group size and setting.
During testing, we learned that there is such a thing as too bright for certain situations. If a light was blinding we were much less likely to place it in the middle of camp at dinner or use it to read in our tents. We also took note of how the light was diffused (primarily affected by the globe or light cover). The plastic globe surrounding the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow created a lovely light quality and the Black Diamond's opaque plastic made the Apollo, Moji, and Zip non-invasive. The Coleman Northstar was the brightest product we tested. However, its globe is nothing but clear glass, which makes looking directly at it fairly uncomfortable.
Ease of Use
A good lantern should be intuitive to use. A major determining factor between models in this regard is whether they are electric or fuel-powered. Electric lights, whether they are battery or solar powered, or outlet-charged, are far easier to work with. Models that require isobutane canisters are almost always more complicated to set up, messier, and often need maintenance and occasional mantle replacement. Their primary advantage is that they tend to be much brighter. We would recommend one of these old-school lights if you are looking for a large, central light source for a group campsite, otherwise, the simplicity and ease-of-use of an electric light is a no-brainer.
After much comparison testing, we realized the importance of being able to easily hang our lights. Heavier models proved to be much more difficult to suspend, often forcing us to rethink their positioning in a space. In treeless campsites, we were confined to setting them on rocks, picnic tables, cars, or on the ground. Small bases made it hard to stand some of them on uneven surfaces, while models like the Black Diamond Apollo use tripod-style legs with rubber, non-slip feet, making it easy to position. We also learned to love the models with many light modes such as the Streamlight The Siege or the BioLite BaseLantern XL.
When researching the products, we noticed many common consumer reviews about battery compartment accessibility. The Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow required a lot more effort to replace the batteries, whereas the Apollo, Moji and The Siege were much more straightforward and simple. The Luci Outdoor 2.0 and LuminAID PackLite do not require any batteries but do take a while to fully charge in the sunlight.
Here we tested the durability of the product materials in many different environments. Generally, the models that we tested are made of plastic and are often reinforced with metal, or padded with rubber. The Streamlight The Siege and the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow have enough rubber to make them shock resistant. The Siege withstood a fall from seven feet high onto cement without a scratch. The MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 and the LuminAID PackLite Max are light enough that they can get kicked around pretty firmly without puncturing or deflating (though if they do get holes, it's pretty much game over for them). We dropped each of them from 4 feet (about arm height) and 7 feet (above head height) onto a dirt surface to see whether or not they got nicked or cracked.
Another factor we considered in durability is battery life. The 30 Day Duro Glow's D batteries lasted 33 days straight, 24 hours a day when on its lowest setting. We were impressed with that. On the other side of the spectrum, the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 doesn't require any batteries. Instead, it charges via USB, however it doesn't hold a charge for nearly as long. Of course, it ultimately depends on how long they are used each day, but on low to moderate settings, most of the models we tested could get us through at least five evenings-worth of camping.
A note on IP Ratings
Many lanterns will come with ingress protection (IP) rating. There are two values in this rating. The first number is the degree to which the product can repel solid dust and dirt particles. The second refers to how water resistant/waterproof it is. A standard rating might be IP64 or IPX4 (the X is just a placeholder, meaning, in this case, that the product has not been rated for solid particle protection). The scale for solids is 0-6 (no protection to dustproof). Water resistance is from 0-8 (no protection to safe for continuous submersion).
A model with an on/off switch and a handle will get the job done, but we appreciate the ones that offer a little bit more versatility. Some of the products tested had just a few features, while others had several that set them apart and made them more versatile and/or easier to use. We rated them based on how many features each model has beyond the basics, and whether or not they truly improve the overall quality of the product. The Goal Zero Lighthouse, Black Diamond Apollo, BioLite BaseLantern XL, and LuminAID PackLite, to different degrees, are all able to charge a smartphone. The Black Diamond models have features that are simple yet practical. Some of these included the easy-to-use dimming feature, great hooks for hanging the lanterns from above, and flexible legs (on the Apollo) for improved stability on uneven terrain. We gave lower scores to models with features that were unnecessary, while the ones with practical and useful features received higher marks — for example, we love how the Streamlight The Siege is waterproof and floats.
We especially liked the products with dimmable power outputs, like the very bright Coleman Northstar, the Black Diamond products, the Primus EasyLight and the Goal Zero Lighthouse.
Weight is also a consideration that largely determines which activity each light is or is not suitable for. The Northstar is the heaviest contender at about 4.5 lbs and is one of the two products we tested that use mantles and disposable fuel canisters. We really wouldn't consider taking it anywhere that a vehicle (or pack animal) isn't going to bring it.
There are plenty of mid-weight models, good for a variety of boating and camping activities, like the USD 30 Day Duro Glow, which is under 2 lbs. and requires still bulky D batteries. The lightweights that we would take deeper into the backcountry, include the Black Diamond models Apollo and Moji, which take AA batteries, as well as the EasyLight (.41 lbs. without a fuel canister attached). Then there are the ultralights and backcountry models like the Luci Outdoor 2.0, LuminAID PackLite Max, which both come with solar panels, as well as the Black Diamond Zip, which fits easily into almost any pocket.
Over the course of our testing, we were pleasantly surprised again and again by how useful these products proved to be beyond their primary function as light sources; in some cases, we came to like them more than 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 one. If you need additional information in the hunt for a cordless beacon, check out our Buying Advice page. 'Til the darkness shall be no more!
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch