There are a few different factors to consider when looking for a new lantern. First and foremost though, you should consider whether or not a lantern is the right type of product for you.Headlamp or Lantern?
Lanterns are great for illuminating an area for a larger group. Whether car-camping, grilling in the backyard or lighting up a room when the power goes out, lanterns tend to make for much better-centralized light sources than headlamps. They typically provide a wide, 360-degree shine radius, allowing many people to benefit from them at the same time.
Headlamps, on the other hand, are great for individual use. If you will primarily be by yourself on your outdoor adventures or need to stay handsfree, say, for hiking at night, a good, bright headlamp is the way to go. On the other hand, if you think you'll be spending more time with friends and family, and you like your experiences in nature to come with a few more creature comforts of home, then you should consider a lantern for your next outing.
Types of Lanterns
If you are still on board, knowing how you will use the light will narrow down your options considerably. Companies design their products weighing certain features against others to create a product that is meant for a particular use. Lanterns fall into three main use categories:
Front Country and/or Car Camping
If you are going to be using a lantern at drive-up campgrounds or at home in the backyard, then size and weight are less of a consideration. In fact, you may want something bigger and heavier to be able to hang from a sturdy tree or a stand up on a picnic table and light a large area. This is primarily where models that run on isobutane canisters will be most effective.
It is also less necessary to invest in a sometimes pricier model that may come with a ton of extra features that have nothing to do with lighting (e.g. solar panels and USB charge out ports are largely unnecessary).
For extended backpacking trips, you will want something that is compact, lightweight and has a long battery life. Durability and weatherproofness are paramount. Other features like solar panels and charging ports can be extremely handy for powering up other devices as well.
Emergency Use & Power Outages
For just-in-case use, the best lanterns will fall somewhere in between the first two categories. You want a model that is bright enough to light up a room, but small enough that it doesn't take up a huge amount of space in a closet or emergency supplies bin. If you live in or will be traveling to an area that is often impacted by flooding, hurricanes or other severe weather, and anticipate that you could be in the dark for extended periods of time, you may want to consider solar powered options that can be recharged during the day.What's the deal with fuel-powered models?
Some lanterns run on isobutane canisters or propane instead of batteries or solar power. The primary benefit of fuel-powered lights is that they tend to burn brighter. The downsides, of which there are many, is that they are bulky, more difficult to set up and use, require some maintenance and care, and often come with delicate glass or wire parts. We don't recommend them for everyday use, but some people enjoy the old school woosh of these fire-breathing lanterns.
Once you know how you will be using your lantern, you can consider a variety of different factors to determine which model is most right for you. Here, we dissect five metrics: brightness, ease of use, durability, features, and weight.
A lantern is only as good as the light it projects. Manufacturers print the lumen output of a product on the packaging. A lumen is a unit of measure that describes the amount of visible light that an object emits. For the most part, the greater the lumen rating, the brighter the light will be.
You can roughly determine the lumen output you will need based on the intended use and group size. Small groups of 2-3 people can easily get by on 100 lumens or less (think about the amount of light you would want in a tent at night to read or play cards. Larger groups may require a brighter light of 200 lumens or more. LED lanterns tend to range from about 50-700 lumens, whereas commercial isobutane canister lanterns can push 2000 lumens.
Ease of Use
It perhaps goes without saying, but we often need light the most when we don't have it. Maybe it's getting dark and your gourmet dinner is burning, or maybe there is an animal outside your tent. Either way, fumbling with buttons and hooks is a bummer when you need illumination in a hurry. We recommend models that can be easily hung overhead. Hooks–like those on the Black Diamond products that can be placed over a branch or through a tent loop are ideal. While camping, perfectly smooth and level surfaces rarely present themselves (besides the occasional picnic table). Non-slip rubber bases, or better yet, rubber-tipped legs like those on the Black Diamond Apollo, make balancing your lantern on rocks and stumps much easier.
Also, make sure that you familiarize yourself with how to activate the different light modes before taking the lantern on a trip. Some products are a bit more awkward to activate and can be quite frustrating if not figured out beforehand.
Almost as important as performance, is its longevity. One that can withstand adventures and sticky fingers alike is one worth investing in. Based on our tests, we decided on a few things to look for before purchasing one to ensure that it will serve you well. Does the lantern have lots of extraneous parts that are likely to break? If it does, are they made out of a strong material or a weak plastic? The Streamlight The Siege is made of strong materials that are shock-absorbent even when dropped onto pavement from seven feet.
Another thing to note is that no lantern is waterproof unless stated by the manufacturer. Water resistance is not the same as waterproof, either. Most models on the market are rated at IPX 4 as their water resistance level. IPX 4 means that it is splash and rain resistant and that the lantern will probably fail if submerged or exposed to large quantities of water. However, The Streamlight The Siege is rated as waterproof by Streamlight and it is waterproof up to about four feet. We worried as we dunked it in water but it powered through our testing and not only is it completely waterproof but it also floats! The MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 and LuminAID PackLite Max are waterproof and float as well.
Based on the activity you intend to use the lantern for, you should research its runtime. Or in other words, how much time does it take for the lantern to go through the batteries. Of course, this is battery type dependent, but most companies usually give an over exaggerated time. We loved the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow for the fact that it stayed lit on its lowest setting, 24 hours a day for 33 days.
Having useful features can set a lantern apart from the others and, if designed right, can significantly boost performance. However, even if a product is packed with super sick features, if it doesn't have the brightness, durability, takes a lot of fuel, mantles, expensive batteries or is impossible to use, these factors will cause you to regret your purchase. We believe there are two features that stand apart from all the others, and can really make or break a lantern. Is there any way to hang it? And if so, do you have to slide it down the whole branch or can you just hook it over the spot where you want it? The Black Diamond products had some of our favorite hooks. The other feature is the base. Is it so small that the lantern tips over when placed? Or is it only able to stand on flat surfaces? The Editors' Choice award-winning Black Diamond Apollo had awesome legs that allowed it to stand on just about any type of terrain.