We tested these products in the woods of New England and up and down the West Coast of North America (with a few stops in between!). To critique these competitors, we boiled their defining elements down to five metrics: brightness, ease of use, durability, features, and weight. We put them to the test on dewy mornings in Squamish, British Columbia; the extreme desert climate of the Eastern Sierra; and the prolific snow of a New Hampshire winter. They played in the dirt under the baking sun, sat through heavy rains and bone-chilling nights, and spent two months in a motorhome. We tested the models in different combinations and different group settings, from some solo time in our tents to large gatherings.
With the manufacturers stated lumen output as a guide, we used the lanterns in a small enclosed environment (i.e., a tent), in a larger room, and also outside. We assessed how well each one allowed us to perform a variety of tasks (e.g., reading a book, cooking/cleaning up, playing cards with another person). Brighter is not necessarily better. We like lights with an even shine radius, as opposed to ones that have a high lumen output but are harsh or uneven.
We assessed the quality of their light side-by-side, taking a look at how warm or cool each model felt relative to the others. We also note whether or not the light has any texture to it (usually a result of the cover or globe, rather than the light itself).
Our basic durability test consists of dropping each model from standard heights onto a dirt surface, at resting arm height (to simulate dropping it while carrying it), at head height (if we set it down on a ledge), and about a foot above our heads (as if it fell off from a tree branch while hanging). We also noted throughout regular testing whether or not any of the clips, carabiners, light covers, etc. took any damage.
Another component that we included in durability is runtime. We time how long each lantern could last on its lowest and highest settings.
This metric takes into consideration not only the number of features that any given model has but how well those features work. We reviewed the number and style of buttons. We also checked how easy or difficult it is to load new batteries or charge the lantern. We tested dimmer settings, strobes, handles, hooks, carabiners, and legs. Many of our models include USB charging ports, so we noted how long it took each model to charge a small device (usually an iPhone) to 50% and 100%.
Ease of Use
For each light, we want to know how intuitive it is to use right out of the box. We check out how easily accessible the battery compartment or charging port is, as well as how simple it is to turn on each model and cycle through its different modes and settings. If there are additional features (e.g., USB charging ports), we also consider how easy those are to use.
We note their dimensions and weigh each of the models on a scale.