Best Lantern of 2020
Best Overall Lantern
Black Diamond Apollo
Of all of the lights that we tested, the Black Diamond Apollo proved to be one of 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. It features a USB charge out port to double as a power bank, which is great for giving your smartphone a little extra juice when an outlet isn't nearby. It also performs well on uneven surfaces, and it can easily be hung overhead from a cord or tree branch. This light is also relatively lightweight and compact for what it offers.
At full price, this model is on the expensive side. It's also not a great backcountry model for a trip longer than a weekend. We like it for short-distance backpacking or car camping as well as power outages at home. Of all the products that we tested, this is the one we would reach for most often.
Read Review: Black Diamond Apollo
Best Overall for Extended Power Outages
Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow
The Ultimate Survival Technology 30-Day 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 cover makes the light soft and easy to look at. The cover is removable if you need an even brighter glow. It is water-resistant but not waterproof. This model weighs just under 2 pounds with three D batteries.
On the downside, the battery compartment can be challenging to reattach. We also found that its glow-in-the-dark feature could be more substantial, and we noticed that the plastic handle is not the highest quality. Even with these minor drawbacks in mind, if your priority is runtime over anything else, this is the light for you. It's best for extended car camping, RVing, or if you live somewhere with a higher risk of prolonged power outages.
Read Review: Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow
Best Bang for Your Buck
Goal Zero Crush Light
The Goal Zero Crush Light surprised us with how much we enjoy it. It's a lightweight, solar-powered, no-frills light that works really well for personal use. Its crushability makes it practical; it stows away easily in a backpack, and unlike a few of its solar-powered inflatable competitors, it won't fail if it gets punctured. It charges either via solar-panel or mini-USB, so it works for both backcountry weekends and backyard sleepovers for the kids. It also continued to work flawlessly after being left out in the rain overnight.
We wish it were a little bit brighter. Like many similar solar-powered models, it doesn't pack nearly the same lumen punch as ones with traditional batteries. It also doesn't come with a charge-out port, as many others do, so it won't charge a phone. However, this affordable, fun, and straightforward light is one that we would welcome in our tent anytime we go out.
Read Review: Goal Zero Crush Light
Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charge
The Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charge is a mini marvel. It has dual mode flashlight and lantern functionality for the solo adventurer. It charges via USB, so there is no need to carry disposable batteries. We also love that it can charge other small devices. It's great for car camping, weekend backcountry trips, and a great size for children to use.
If we are getting down to the nitty-gritty, the metal hanging loop at the top really requires an additional carabiner hooked on to be truly functional, and the power button is in an odd location and not always so easy to press. Even with those minor inconveniences, this light an excellent option when you need something small that punches above its weight class.
Read Review: Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charge
Best String Light
MPowerd Luci Solar String Lights
The MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights are a great option for a good time. If setting the ambiance is your thing, this product should be in your backyard or camper. This solar-powered string is great for car camping or a backyard barbecue. If you need to charge them up on a cloudy day, they also have a USB plug that can get the job done. The carrying case makes the lights easy to manage when they are not in use. They also have a USB port that can charge other devices as well. Most importantly, the ten-node, 20-LED string is bright and brings plenty of light to a deck or campsite.
A few pings against this model are that it can be hard to find the right spot for the (attached) carrying case when the lights are strung up, and the string itself is sometimes difficult to manage. However, there is so much to like about this string light set that it takes top honors as an excellent addition to a summer outdoor setup.
Read Review: MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights
Best Versatility and Durability
Streamlight The Siege
The Streamlight The Siege is a sturdy little workhorse. It illuminates large areas, and the opaque plastic cover is removable for a brighter, more concentrated light. It floats and has a magnetic base (great for sticking to the underside of a car hood). It's the supporting features, though, that make this model shine. It's waterproof when submerged in water up to one meter deep. It hangs from both ends (either by the handle at the top, or the carabiner hook at the bottom). It fits easily into a jacket pocket, and with its rubberized casing, it is also impact-resistant.
The primary drawback is that it doesn't give off the most even light. It also has a limited run time relative to some other models in this review. 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 a strong contender for a glovebox emergency light.
Read Review: Streamlight The Siege
Why You Should Trust Us
Our experienced panel of testers knows their lanterns. Lead reviewer Ben Applebaum-Bauch started his professional outdoor career as a guide, leading multi-week backpacking, canoeing, and cycling trips throughout New England and maritime Canada. He has made a habit of escaping the lights of large cities. However, he deeply appreciates being able to find his way through the woods, even with a new moon. Over his 20 years of backcountry experience and decade of power outages that come with the winter storms of rural northern New England, he has grown to appreciate some of the features that tend to come with many of the models in this review. Whether it is thru-hiking the PCT, Vermont's Long Trail, or paddling down New Hampshire's Androscoggin River, he frequently finds himself looking for a little extra battery boost for his phone, and grateful for the warm glow of a lantern on a cold, rainy night.
After the top contenders emerged from the field of dozens we considered throughout our research, we put them to the test. We took them into the forest, assessing how each performed for solo use, small groups of 2-3 people, and larger groups of 4+. We spent some nights in simulated (and one or two real) power outages, seeing how we fared with just the light of these luminaries. We dropped them to learn more about their durability (from hand height, head height, and overhead height). For weather resistance, we got them wet. If they claimed to be waterproof, into the river or lake they went. For the lanterns that are more than just a light source, we charged our devices to see if they could help us out of a drained battery jam. We did our very best to look at this review from many angles.
Related: How We Tested Lanterns
Analysis and Test Results
Every model we tested offers a slightly different set of features and sometimes significantly different designs, making each one preferable for different uses. There are a variety of types that fall roughly into three categories: emergency use/supplemental power outage lighting, frontcountry camping, and backcountry camping, and we tested them all.
Related: Buying Advice for Lanterns
Whether or not one of these lights make it into your car camping kit or emergency supplies may come down to the price tag. We have quite a few to choose from in this review, and everyone's budget varies. With that in mind, we still consider the value that each model offers. To get at this, we compare a product's overall score against its price; higher score and lower price equal greater value. Some models that offer great value include the Black Diamond Moji, Goal Zero Crush Light, and Streamlight The Siege.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we chose brightness as the most important factor, regardless of a model's intended use. We used these lights in a wide range of settings on our adventures and rated them based on how well and how widely they illuminate an area. We take into account that some models are just meant to be used in different sized spaces. We also assess light quality. Though LED lights tend to give off a harsher, less natural (than sunlight) white or blue light, technology continues to improve.
Another consideration is how well the user can control the brightness of the light. We are big fans of continuous dimming features, which allows the user to adjust the light intensity based on the group size and setting.
We found that models with outputs in the 200-lumen range are sufficient for personal and small group uses. The Black Diamond Apollo is an excellent option for cards around a picnic table at a campsite or hanging overhead in a tent to read at night. Less than that, say, something like the 100-lumens of the Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charge or the Goal Zero Crush Light, are really for personal use or two people in a tent. Heavy-hitters above 200-lumens, like the 500-lumen BioLite BaseLantern XL, can light up a whole room, and the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights and Power Practical Luminoodle can be strung up around a railing to liven up a deck or back porch.
During testing, we also learned that there is such a thing as too bright for certain situations. Light diffusion, which is primarily affected by the globe or light cover, is critical. The plastic globe surrounding the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow created a lovely light quality, as does the rubber 'shade' of the Goal Zero Crush. Black Diamond's opaque plastic makes the Apollo, Moji, and Zip non-invasive and pleasant lights.
Here we test the durability of the product materials in different environments. Generally, the models that we tested are made of plastic and are often reinforced with metal or padded with rubber. We dropped each model from 4 feet (about arm height), 6 feet (head height), and 7 feet (above head height) onto a dirt surface to see whether or not they got nicked or cracked.
The Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow and the Streamlight The Siege have enough rubber to make them shock resistant. The Siege withstood a fall from seven feet high onto cement without a scratch or a change in performance. The LuminAID PackLite Max and the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 are light enough that they can get (literally) kicked around pretty firmly without puncturing or deflating (though if they do get holes, it's pretty much game over for them). We like the Goal Zero Crush for this reason; it offers many of the same benefits as a solar light that requires inflation but without the risk of puncturing. With our string light models, the concern is much more about fraying and wearing down due to being wrapped around another surface. Both the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights (with a nylon housing around the wire) and the Power Practical Luminoodle (sheathed in rubber) are up to the task.
Another factor we consider in durability is battery life. The Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow's D batteries lasted 33 days straight, 24 hours a day when on its lowest setting. On the other side of the spectrum, solar-charged models like the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 and LuminAid PackLite Max have run times on their lowest settings of just a small fraction of that (whether that outweighs the benefit of not having to worry about replacing batteries, of course, depends on the situation). In low to moderate settings, most of the models we tested got us through at least five evenings-worth of camping.
Many lanterns will come with an 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 those that offer a little more versatility and thoughtfulness. Some of the products tested have just a few features, while others include several that set them apart and make them easier to use or increase versatility. We rate them based on how many features each model has beyond the basics and whether they genuinely improve the product's overall quality. We give lower scores to models with features that are unnecessary or aren't highly functional, while the ones with practical and useful features received higher marks.
The Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charge, Black Diamond Apollo, BioLite BaseLantern XL, and LuminAID PackLite, and BioLite PowerLite Mini, to different degrees, are all able to charge a smartphone. We appreciate models that have features that are simple yet practical. Some of these include the easy-to-use dimming, great hooks for hanging the lanterns from above, and sturdy bases for improved stability on uneven terrain.
The features on The Siege increase its versatility and value. For example, we love how the Streamlight The Siege is waterproof and floats, making it one of our favorites for water-related adventures. We also like this one for looking under the hood of a vehicle, where its magnetic base comes in handy to adhere to and hang from the bottom of the hood. We also found it handy to change a tire in the dark because of this feature as well. It has hooks on both ends of the lantern, and has white and red light modes.
We especially liked the products with dimmable power outputs (as opposed to discrete settings like low, medium, and high) like the Black Diamond Apollo, Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charge, and the BioLite PowerLite Mini (which also comes with a bike mount and multiple biker-friendly strobe settings).
Ease of Use
A good lantern should be intuitive to use. Electric lights are far easier to work with than fuel-powered ones, so much so that all of the models currently in our review are electric. Ones 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 burn 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 lamp is a no-brainer.
With that in mind, other considerations include the size and accessibility of the power button and the intuitiveness of different light modes. After much comparison testing, we realize the importance of being able to hang our lights overhead easily. Heavier models prove to be much more difficult to suspend. We were confined to setting them on rocks, picnic tables, cars, or on the ground in treeless campsites. Small bases make 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. The BioLite BaseLantern XL has an even wider stand but can be a drag to hang because of its weight.
When researching these products, we noticed many common consumer concerns about battery compartment accessibility. The Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow requires more effort to replace the batteries. In contrast, the Black Diamond Apollo, Black Diamond Moji, and Streamlight The Siege were much more straightforward and simple. The Goal Zero Crush, MPOWERD Luci 2.0, MPOWERD Luci String Lights, and LuminAID PackLite MAX are all examples of models that do not require any batteries but do take a while to charge in the sunlight fully.
Weight is also a consideration that largely determines which activity each light is or is not suitable for. If you are looking for a model that you can take camping in the backcountry, compact and lightweight is the name of the game. You may also end up saving a little more weight in total if you opt for a version that also includes a USB charge port (assuming you are otherwise going to bring a supplemental battery pack).
On the other hand, if you are staying at basecamp or car camping, you may actually want a little more heft in your lantern. The UST 30-Day Duro Glow is the heaviest contender. We really wouldn't consider taking it too far away from camp.
The lightweights that we would take a bit deeper into the backcountry, include the Black Diamond models Apollo, which takes AA batteries (but also has an internal battery pack). Then there are the ultralights and backcountry models like the Goal Zero Crush, Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charge, LuminAID PackLite Max. These all come with solar panels. While the LuminAID PackLite Max weighs more, it can charge a cell phone from its solar power intake, which eliminates the need to pack an external battery. Also worth considering are the Black Diamond Zip and BioLite PowerLite Mini, which fit easily into almost any pocket and are competitively lightweight.
Throughout our testing, we were pleasantly surprised repeatedly 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). There are a few things that make any lantern 'good'; brightness, dimming capability, and good legs and hooks, to name a few. However, different lights excel in different settings, so be sure to consider where and how you intend to use your lantern to make sure you are maximizing the value of your purchase.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch