We bought 11 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 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 adventure camping in both the front and backcountry, as well as for 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.
The Best Lantern For Camping and Power Outages
In the darkness of winter, we tested some new lights and retested some updated versions of our reliable favorites. We looked at both high tech as well as more traditional models. Coming in different sizes and with unique feature combinations, each one has an optimal use, which we note in our reviews. Having said that, the Black Diamond Apollo still takes our best overall pick. This time around, we were also particularly pleased with the Black Diamond Moji as a top choice for a personal or secondary group light. Read on to figure out which light is best for you and your next camping adventure.
Black Diamond Apollo
Of all the lights we tested, the Apollo proved to be the most versatile, durable, and easy to use for a range of activities. Shining at 250 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 out charging. The Apollo is also comparatively lightweight and compact for what it offers.
Overall the Apollo is sturdy and well made. Though we could imagine the springiness of the legs decreasing, we didn't encounter any durability issues during testing and we can easily see getting years and years of good use from the Apollo. We would recommend it for backpacking or car camping, but it's certainly versatile enough that we would be glad to have one or two on hand in the event of a power outage at home. Of all the products we tested, the Apollo is the one we tended to reach for first.
Read Review: Black Diamond Apollo
Best Bang for the Buck
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 on the lantern in a dark tent. The Moji is durable, primarily because there really 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 good for individual use, or for a couple 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 really the only option. The Moji continues what we have come to expect from the Black Diamond line. Though we would definitely suggest something like the Coleman Northstar if you are looking for a single campsite option, we ultimately enjoyed the Moji quite a bit.
Read Review: Black Diamond Moji
Top Pick for Boating
Streamlight The Siege
The Siege is a sturdy little workhorse. It illuminates an area well enough, and the opaque plastic cover is removable for a brighter, more concentrated light. It's all of the supporting features though that make The Siege really shine. It's waterproof, it floats, has a magnetic base, and can hang from both ends. It's also highly impact resistant.
The primary drawback we noted is that it doesn't give off the nicest light quality. 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 emergency situations.
Read Review: Streamlight The Siege
Top Pick for Power Outages
Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow
The UST Duro Glow is a real powerhouse. Its advertised 30-day shine actually 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 installed and its dimensions put it in the middle of the lineup in terms of compactness.
We found that 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
Best Child-Friendly Option
Black Diamond Voyager
The Black Diamond Voyager is a very versatile combination of a 140-lumen lantern and a 50-lumen flashlight. We found that its light quality is very nice and it offers enough brightness for most camping situations. Weighing in at half a pound with its four AA batteries installed, this light is compact, fitting easily into most pockets. Similar to the Apollo, the Voyager has two metal hooks on top that make it easy to hang from above.
Its primary drawback is that the base has a pretty small diameter, making it challenging to position on uneven surfaces. Because of its light weight, size and ease-of-use, we would recommend this light to anyone going camping with children. We feel it's well worth the cost for its potential for many years of high use.
Read Review: Black Diamond Voyager
Top Pick for the Backcountry
The Suaoki LED has a unique combination of features. We enjoy its versatile configuration, expanding to be a lantern, or compressing to be a flashlight. It charges via micro USB or can be solar powered. It's lightweight, compact, and offers a USB charge out port.
Unfortunately, it's also one of the least bright products in this review. Its charge doesn't last for very long and it has a harsh light quality. It also generally looks and feels flimsy. It would be fine for solo use in a tent. With this light, you get what you pay for.
Read Review: Suaoki LED
Analysis and Test Results
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, so we've plotted them all out below in terms of overall score (horizontal axis) versus retail price (vertical axis), to give you a sense of value at a glance. As you can see, award winners (large blue dot), tend toward the lower (less expensive) part of the group, as we do take cost into consideration here.
Not cheap, but exceptional in performance is the Black Diamond Apollo - winner of our Editor's Choice Award with a 4 point lead on it's 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.
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.
There are a variety of options out there that roughly fall into one of three primary categories: emergency use/supplemental power outage lighting, front-country camping, and backcountry camping. For power outages, battery life and ease of operation are essential. 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 actually 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 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. It's probably helpful if they are solar powered as well if you are planning on being out there for a while.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we chose brightness as the most important factor, regardless of the intended use. On our adventures, we used them in a wide range of settings and rated them based on how well they illuminated the area, as well as their light quality. We took into account that some models are just meant to be used in different size spaces. We also 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 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 and Moji 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
We took them to the mountains and the desert and realized the importance of being able to hang them easily. Heavier models proved to be much more difficult to hang, often forcing us to rethink a lantern's 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 them on uneven surfaces, while designs like the Black Diamond Apollo used tripod style legs with rubber, non-slip feet, which made this one 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. We found 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 Suaoki LED do not require any batteries, but do take a while to fully charge.
Here we tested the durability of the product materials in many different environments. Generally, the products tested were made of plastic, and were sometimes 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 shockproof at close range. The Siege withstood a fall from seven feet high onto cement without a scratch. The MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 is light enough that it can get kicked around pretty firmly before it breaks.
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.
A model with an on/off switch and a handle will get the job done, but it will also sacrifice some versatility. Some of the products tested had just a few features, while others had several that set them apart and made them much easier to use. We rated them based on how many features they had, and whether or not they truly improved the overall quality of the product. The Goal Zero Lighthouse, Black Diamond Apollo, BioLite BaseLantern XL and Suaoki LED, to different degrees, are all able to charge a smartphone. The Black Diamond models had features that we found to be simple yet practical. Some of these included the easy-to-use dimming feature, great hooks for hanging and flexible legs (on the Apollo) 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.
We found that products with many useful features tended to be easier to use, increasing the ease-of-use rating as well. 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.
Weight is also a consideration that largely determined what activity each light was or wasn't 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 take it.
There are plenty of mid-weight models, good for a variety of boating and camping activities, including the The Siege and the 30 Day Duro, which are both just under 2 lbs. and both require D batteries. The lightweights that we would take deeper into the backcountry, include the Apollo and Moji, which take AA batteries, as well as the EasyLight (.41 lbs. without a fuel canister attached). Then there are the ultralights, the Luci Outdoor 2.0 and the Suaoki LED, each weighing a nudge over a quarter pound, and of which happen to be solar powered.
Over the course of our testing, we were pleasantly surprised again and again by how useful these products proved to be; in many cases, more so 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.
— Valentine Cullen, Chris McNamara, & Ben Applebaum-Bauch