While LED lanterns are remarkably popular, each camper has a different style and should tailor their equipment to suit their tastes and needs. Camping in freezing temperatures, LEDs won’t function, and if it gets frigid, neither propane or butane will work well. Few backpackers want to deal with the weight of liquid-fuel lanterns and their fuel. Some want the latest high-tech gear, while others camp to get away from modern technology, and take a more traditional approach.
This is just one of the beauties of camping. There are almost as many different styles of camping as there are different terrains to camp in, so everybody gets to do it in their fashion. However, they like. Other people can tell you how a given piece of gear worked for them, and warn you about the drawbacks that they’ve found, but nobody can say what will suit you best.
Features to Consider when Choosing a Camping Lantern
If you mostly camp in the desert, water resistance won’t be crucial, but if you’re camping in the Pacific Northwest, it can be paramount. Car or RV campers won’t worry much about size or weight, but size and weight are critical to backpackers. As the classic commercial puts it, have it your way. Just be sure that you have a great time doing it.
How much light a lantern provides is measured in lumens, instead of candlepower. 25 lumens is about 2 candlepower. How bright you’ll want will depend on what you need light for; It doesn’t take much to navigate obstacles around a campfire, but playing cards or reading will require more light. Lanterns that have adjustable brightness can be a valuable feature, but it’s not always essential. As a point of reference, a 60-watt incandescent bulb produces about 800 lumens.
How long a lantern will run between refills, recharges, or battery replacement. Longer is better because it’s not much fun changing batteries or refuelling without a light to see by. This may be of less importance if it’s quick and easy to recharge, or if you have multiple light sources.
A lantern that can take a tumble without breaking is one less problem waiting to happen. This can be difficult to judge, so look for multiple reviews to help you find out if it’s more fragile than it looks.
Rain happens, and you’ll do better with a lamp that can shrug it off. Some lamps are even waterproof and will keep on running if they are submerged in shallow water.
Weight & Packed Size
This is much more important to backpackers than to people who are car camping. If you are hulking around all your gear on your back for miles, you’ll appreciate less weight traded off more functionality or fuel/battery life.
Both fuel efficiency and relative cost of the fuel are at issue here. You can quickly judge this by comparing by how many hours you can use the lantern for a dollar’s worth of fuel.
How easy is it to light the lantern? Is it simple to refuel? Is there an easy way to hang it from a branch or line? Is it possible to also use it to cook or keep food warm? Can it be used to recharge your phone or GPS? Can it also be used directionally, like a flashlight? Again, these questions may or may not be important depending on your planned usage.
While a heat source might be welcome in chilly weather or for cooking, it wants caution in handling and must be kept away from flammable materials and children. With a hot lantern, how stable and tip-resistant it is is a feature to look at.
Lanterns for camping can double as emergency lighting at home during a power outage, but some types are only safe with good ventilation.
Types of Camping Lantern
Liquid Fuel Camping Lanterns
Once the most common choice for lanterns, these burn a liquid fuel: white gas, unleaded gasoline, kerosene, oil or alcohol. For bright, warm light, they’re hard to beat, but they do have some downsides. They tend to be bulky and heavy, the fuel is heavy, and they run hot. A heat source may be just the thing on a chilly night, but it comes along with a fire hazard – caution in handling them is essential, and they can ignite nearby or overhead materials, such as your tent.
A full lantern can usually be expected to last all night, but refilling does become an issue, and spills happen. Bring a funnel and extra mantles. The mantles are silk ash, and remarkably fragile once in use. The globes are often glass, which isn’t particularly fragile but can break. In wet conditions, a bit of fuel can be used to start campfires, but caution is recommended. It is not safe to use these lanterns without ventilation.
Gas Tank Camping Lanterns
These use disposable tanks of pressurized gas for fuel, either propane or butane. These also use the fragile ash mantles, so carry spares. The fuel is no-mess but relatively heavy for backpackers, and more expensive than liquid fuel. Empty gas cylinders will need to be conducted to a proper disposal point. Propane tanks can be refilled, though it’s only legal to refill tanks that are designed for it. Again, you’ll want good ventilation while using these.
Electric Camping Lanterns
Incandescent and fluorescent bulbs ruled this category until LED (Light Emitting Diode) lamps appeared, and now LEDs are clearly superior. There are several options for powering them, each with its foibles.
Alkaline batteries are relatively inexpensive, but can’t be recharged, and do not survive temperatures lower than about 20° F. Lithium batteries are rechargeable, but cost more, and can destroy a device that’s not made for them. Lithium batteries also don’t perform well at temperatures below freezing.
Some lanterns don’t have replaceable batteries and must be recharged, and duration becomes critical. Some can recharge themselves with solar panels, cranks, or both. Some have brightness controls so that the owner can balance illumination against duration. This type of lantern does not present a fire or burning hazard, and will generally be easiest to start. Some models will even have a USB port for recharging electronics. Self-charging or rechargeable lanterns or batteries are the most economical lanterns to operate.
Candle Backpacking Lanterns
These used to be a favorite choice for backpackers, because of their size and weight. Economical and environmentally friendly, their chief downside is brightness. One candle will only give you about 12.5 lumens. Some models hold multiple candles, but keep an eye on candle size requirements, as proprietary-sized candles can be expensive.
Carbide Camp Lanterns
Once very common, these are now rare, but can still be found. They work by trickling water onto calcium carbide, which produces acetylene gas, which burns to produce bright, white light. Brightness is adjusted by regulating the flow of water onto the calcium carbonate. Once highly favored by spelunkers and miners, they are lightweight and economical, but calcium carbide requires a waterproof container and is considered a hazardous material for shipping purposes.
LuminAID PackLite Nova Solar Inflatable LanternLuminAID PackLite Nova USB Solar Inflatable Waterproof Light
- Extra bright solar powered LED lantern. Multiple brightness settings make…
- Lightweight, inflatable, collapsible, waterproof (IP67), shatterproof, and…
- Great for camping, hiking, fishing, emergency preparedness, patio…
- Long Battery Life – Up to 24 hours of light when battery is fully charged….
- Two Ways To Recharge (Solar & USB) – Recharges in approximately 10 hours of…
This LuminAID plastic lantern inflates to a cube, just under 5″, is waterproof to 1 meter (it floats), and weighs only 5 ounces. It charges in 10 hours of direct sunlight but is not chargeable by any other means, so it’s not the best choice for long trips if the weather turns overcast.
It has four brightness settings, delivering 75 lumens for 4 hours at the brightest, 7 hours on High, 14 hours on medium, 24 hours on low. It also has a flashing setting for 72 hours of emergency signaling. The adjustable strap that holds it flat (1″ high) in your pack can also be used to hang it. It has a 4-level charge indicator.
Better for backpackers, overnight trips, or longer trips with a sunny weather forecast. Not as good for camping below freezing temperatures (lithium battery) or longer trips in cloudy weather. The best backpacking lantern & best rechargeable camping lantern.
- Lightweight, inflatable, and portable
- LEDs provide 75 lumens of light
- Recharges fully in approximately 10 hours of direct sunlight
- Provides 24 hours of continous light on low mode after a full charge
- Features 5 different brightness levels
- Extemely durable, made from heavy duty, rugged TPU
- Extremely light and packs down to only 5″ by 5″ by 1″
- Solar powered, rechargeable
- Very safe, as gives off no heat
- Rugged and waterproof (it even floats)
- Can only be charged by sunlight
- Not suitable for extreme cold weather
Best Camping LanternAYL Starlight – Water Resistant – Shock Proof – Battery Powered Ultra Long Lasting Up to 6 Days Straight – 1000 Lumens Ultra Bright LED Lantern – Perfect Camping Lantern for Hiking, Camping
- MOST RELIABLE LANTERN ON THE MARKET – It uses LED bulbs with an output of…
- 6 FULL DAYS OF POWER! Battery Powered Can Be Used For Up To 6 DAYS Straight…
- LIGHTWEIGHT SHOCKPROOF DESIGN AND WATER RESISTANT – Designed with a hook at…
- 3 LIGHTING MODES: Low, High and Flashing strobe. Depending on your needs,…
- PERFECT GIFT IDEA! What are you waiting for? Click the Add to Cart Button…
This battery-operated LED lantern is remarkably bright at 300 lumens (~600 in a half-circle with the included reflector), is water and shock resistant, and uses 3 D batteries. It is 4″ x 4″ x 7.2″ and weighs in at 14.6 ounces (plus batteries). Installing the batteries is a bit tricky, and the battery cover is screw-on with a rubber seal.
It has a bail handle that folds compactly to the body on top, and another hook recessed into the base for hanging either way. With the top removed, it will serve as a spotlight. Using D batteries adds some weight, but significantly extends its duration; the manufacturer claims that it will run for six straight days with fresh batteries. It has a small green LED that blinks when the lantern is off, to make finding it in the dark easier.
- Can provide up to 6 days of light on full power without replacing the batteries
- Features three lighting modes: Low, High and Strobe
- LED produces 600 lumens of light and will last 100,000 hours
- Lightweight, shockproof and water resistant
- Long battery lifetime
- Ability to hang it up from either end
- “Find in the dark” blinking LED
- Lightweight and very durable
- Not suited for extreme coldBottom-Line: Better for longer trips, and activities that want plenty of light. Not as good for freezing weather or weight-conscious backpackers.
Coleman NorthStar Propane LanternSaleColeman Northstar Propane Lantern
- PerfectFlow system for consistent gas flow and light output
- High-temperature globe resists cracking from heat
- InstaStart ignition for matchless lighting
- Adjustable dimmer knob for the perfect outdoor light
The brightest lantern in this lineup, this single mantle propane lantern can produce up to 1540 lumens, lighting a large, multiple tent camp site pretty effectively, but using fuel pretty quickly. For lower lighting needs, it’s adjustable, but occasionally noisy at the low end of the range, or when the fuel is getting low.
It comes with a folding stand to make it more stable on flat surfaces, or it can be hung by its bail handle. It uses a mantle that’s new in design with quite a bit more surface area than older standard mantles, but can also use standard mantles in a pinch. Push-button ignition, which can be a bit startling if you turn the propane on and wait a few seconds before lighting it. The case is purchased separately and is recommended for protecting the glass globe. This lantern does put out a fair bit of heat, so keep it away from flammables and children.
- InstaStart™ Push-Button Ignition for matchless ignition
- EverBrite™ Power for incredible light in any condition, anytime
- PerfectFlow™ System for consistent fuel, no matter the conditions
- High-temperature globe resists cracking from heat
- Extra-bright 1543 lumens on high
- Adjustable dimmer knob for the perfect outdoor light
- 43-hr. runtime on high or 9.25-hr. runtime on low using one 16.4-oz. (494 g) propane cylinder
- Insta-Clip® Tube Mantles are easy to install
- Brightest lantern in our review at 1540 lumens
- Brightness can be adjusted
- One start push button
- Can be a little noisy on the lower fuel settings
- Will heat up so not ideal around childrenBottom-Line: Better for car and RV camping, winter camping, and activities where lighting a large area is desirable. Not as good where size, weight, or the noise would be a problem.
Coleman Premium Powerhouse Dual Fuel LanternSaleColeman Powerhouse Dual-Fuel Lantern
- Durable lantern for camping and outdoor use
- Dual-Fuel technology lets you use Coleman Liquid Fuel or unleaded gasoline
- All Season Strong technology for reliable operation in all weather…
- Bail handle makes carrying and hanging the lantern easy
- Adjustable control knob to dial in the perfect level of brightness
At a peak of 1107 lumens, the Coleman Premium Powerhouse Dual Fuel Lantern is plenty of light for most purposes, and it’s adjustable for when you don’t want that much light. At 7″ x 7.8″ x 15.6″ and 4.5 pounds empty, this dual-mantle lantern is better suited to car or RV camping than taking along on a long hike.
You’ll also want extra fuel along, though this will burn on high for 7 hours on one fill. They’re not particularly difficult to light, but you do have to know how, so read the instructions. You can use unleaded gasoline, though the manufacturer claims that white gas is less prone to gumming it up. The mantles are less durable, so bringing along a spare set is recommended. It’s also remarkably weatherproof, remaining lit in a torrential downpour.
- Dual Fuel™ power, runs on Coleman® Liquid Fuel or unleaded gasoline
- Adjustable dimmer knob for the perfect outdoor light
- All-Season Strong™ fuel design for incredible light in frigid conditions
- 7-hr. runtime on high using one tank of fuel
- Extra-bright 1,107 lumens on high
- Extremely bright lantern that can illuminate large areas
- Works well in cold weather
- Easy to operate and refill
- With only 7 hours on one tank you will need to bring extra fuel for longer tripsBottom-Line: Better for extreme cold, the cost-conscious, vehicle camping. Not as useful where weight is an issue, or for campers who don’t want the potential mess of pouring gasoline.
UCO Mini Ultralight Lantern for Tealight CandlesUCO Mini Ultra Light Candle Lantern for Tealight Candles, Aluminum
- Weighs 3.5 ounces (99g) with candle
- 4 inches high with 2.25 inch diameter
- Approximately 4-hour burn time at 15 lumens; up to 450 BTU
- Aluminum construction, wind-resistant glass chimney, twist-lock base, plus…
- Holds one tealight size candle
Weighing 3.5 ounces with candle, and 4″ high, this is the lightest lantern in this list. One candlepower (12.5 lumens), of course, and a tealight candle will burn for about 4 hours. Made of aluminum, it has a glass windscreen and a bail handle that you can hang it from.Inside the tent in cold weather, it supplies about 450 BTU of heat, which is probably unwanted during uncomfortably hot weather.
A particular advantage of this style of candle lantern is that tealights are lightweight, compact, very inexpensive, and easily available from a wide variety of shops – kitchen, craft stores, and most department stores. If you prefer more light than this, these are small and light enough to pack several along.
- Extremely lightweight at only 3.5 ounces
- Each tea light will burn for around 4 hours.
- Packed it’s about the same size as a sleeve of 3 golf balls.
- Super lightweight and small packsize
- Uses tea lights which are easy to find and light to pack
- Very inexpensive to operate
- Not particularly bright
- Doesn’t come with a hang chainBottom-Line: Better for backpacking, primitive or minimalist camping, the frugal, and a romantic candlelight dinner. Not as good for those who want more light.
Dietz #80 Hurricane Oil Lamp
The most traditional (if not downright old-fashioned) lantern in this list, this will produce 55 lumens and burn for 26 hours on one fill. 15″ tall and weighing 2.1 pounds empty, this lantern became famous for working in any weather, and Dietz lanterns are famous for being rugged and tip-resistant.
These will burn kerosene, but liquid paraffin is almost odor-free and works well, too. There will be occasional episodes of wick-trimming and globe-cleaning. This has a bail handle and a top ring for hanging. This is easy to light, famously reliable, and almost fail-safe. The globe can break, but that’s not a common occurrence, and a spare would be more at risk.
- Burns for 26 hours on 31 ounces of kerosene
- Produces 55 lumens of light
- Weighs 33 ounces (without fuel)
- 7/8 inch wick
- Very durable
- Stays lit for up to 26 hours on just one refill of fuel
- Looks great if you love that traditional look
- Very easy to refill
- Weak globe lift lever
- Prone to rusting if not properly maintained.Bottom-Line: Better for those who want a distinctive look in a campground, who want liquid-fuel lighting that’s less volatile than gasoline, and those who prefer an easier, low-tech approach. Not as good for backpacking or those who want brighter light.