How to Choose the Best Lantern

Black Diamond Apollo
Article By:
Valentine Cullen
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday


Buying Advice


What are you going to use the lantern for? Why buy one instead of a headlamp? It turns out that most lanterns are made specifically one type of use. For example, you are not going to use a large, heavy lantern for backpacking just because it's the brightest; you're probably going to want a smaller and lighter one. To help make this decision easier for you, we tested eight of the top rated models on the market and put them head-to-head, comparing and rating them in five categories: brightness, ease of use, durability, features and weight.

Headlamp or Lantern?


Headlamps are great for individual use and for active pursuits where you need something lightweight and bright that will illuminate everything in front of you. Another huge plus is that they are hands free. On the other hand, lanterns are for the times at camp or home when you need a light to illuminate an area for multiple people. Lanterns provide a 360 degree light display, allowing many people to use the same source of light.

Types of Lanterns


Battery and solar powered contenders on the left and fuel powered products tested on the right.
Battery and solar powered contenders on the left and fuel powered products tested on the right.
Most companies create lanterns to excel in at least one of three main categories: Backpacking/Backcountry use, Camping and Emergency use. However, most camping lanterns dual as emergency lanterns as well. Some companies even make models that don't excel in a single category but in a combination of categories, making them very versatile for whatever situation you find yourself in.

Brightness


A lantern is only as good as the light it projects. You don't want a measly nightlight, but something that makes you cower and protect your eyes for fear of blinding headaches is not much good either. With that in mind, we felt that the actual lumens and the light quality were of equal importance. Unless you are in need of a floodlight effect, we highly recommend models with non-glaring, frosted plastic.

Northstar
Northstar

Brightness is measured in a laboratory setting based on lumens. What is a lumen? A lumen is a unit that describes the total amount of light being emitted from an apparatus in any one direction. A device measures the light energy and determines the total light output. Keep in mind that the lumen is just a number and does not necessarily reflect brightness. Rather, brightness is determined by design and optics. Some project and better utilize their lighting capacity.

One can roughly determine the lumens they need based on the intended use/group size. Small groups (2-3 people) can easily get by on 100 lumens or less, whereas larger groups may require a higher lumen count. Naturally this depends on the lantern's intended use (camping, hiking, late night berry picking…).

Ease of Use


If you need light, you need light now. Maybe it's getting dark and your gourmet dinner is burning, or maybe there is a bear outside your tent. Either way, fumbling with buttons and hooks is no fun. 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.
The Top pick award winning Black Diamond Orbit has a smaller base than the Editors choice award winning Black Diamond Apollo. In certain situations the small base is preferable.
The Top pick award winning Black Diamond Orbit has a smaller base than the Editors choice award winning Black Diamond Apollo. In certain situations the small base is preferable.
In addition, 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.

Durability


Almost as important as performance, is its longevity. One that can withstand adventures and sticky fingers alike is one worth investing in. Based 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 Original is also waterproof and floats as well.

Submersion testing The Siege. It floats!
Submersion testing The Siege. It floats!

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.

Features


The Voyager in flashlight mode.
The Voyager in flashlight mode.
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.

Valentine Cullen
About the Author
Valentine Cullen has been hiking and climbing in the Northern California forests and boogie boarding the bone chilling and shark infested waters of the rugged Pacific coast for over 30 years. Valentine has a degree in Creative Writing but also loves computer science. For seven years she ran her own photograph restoration and digital archiving business while raising her only daughter. Her favorite activities include anything that has to do with being submerged in water, (be it warm or freezing) hiking, climbing, bouldering, exploring, boogie boarding, standup paddleboarding, taking photographs of anything beautiful or interesting and just chilling at home cooking, making jewelry or working on random craft projects.

 
 

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