Since mankind first crouched in filthy groves, unwashed and grunting – so, like last Thursday – it has sought to conquer its environment. It wanted to travel to strange lands and not get eaten by all the bigger, scarier animals that live there. To do that, we needed light. Well, fire too, but fire is really just hot light. By being able to carry our light into any darkness we claim it as our. Armed with our trusty camping lanterns, and maybe a few guns, we cast away the shadows!
These generally come in two varieties: LED/Electric and fuel-burning. LED models use batteries to create lights. They are usually dimmer but the light lasts much longer and they are easier to carry around. Also, they can’t explode. Fuel models come in propane and dual-fuel models, and were the original lanterns used by men, men who didn’t mind singing off their eyebrows. Whichever way you choose, here are the 6 best camping lanterns for your venture out into the dark.
Black Diamond Orbit
Cons: Limited illumination
Best for Backpacking: There were other, brighter options than the LED Orbit – including Black Diamond’s own Voyager – which could output more lumens by three times or more, but they all were slightly heavier. Any backpacker will tell you a few grams might not seem like much but can make all the difference on the trail. At only 4.7 oz. this gives you 60 lumens of illumination without adding weight to your pack. It is easily hung, has a 4-5.5″ height whether collapsed or not, has adjustable brightness whether cooking or looking to set the mood, and includes a 50 lumen flashlight. The base is a little flimsy so expect to knock it over if using it standing. [Purchase: $30]
Coleman North Star
Pros: Immense power
Cons: Short life
Brightest Overall: First off, this is our only fuel option. There are plenty of great ones out there, but the only real choice is “Which Coleman do you like best?” The North Star version of the Coleman is a favorite because it gives you a safety globe on the top that is heat resistant and nearly impossible to break. It also has a nifty little InstaStart system that lights it with the press of a button. It’s only about 3 lbs. making it very portable and easy to hang. A wire frame surrounds the bulb so children, whether 5 or 55, can’t accidentally burn themselves on the bulb.
The best part of the North Star camping lantern is it can produce a eye-popping 1543 lumens when cranked to its highest setting. You can easily adjust the flow to get much, much less light and really set the mood. It has propane and dual-fuel models depending on your preference. As you would expect from Coleman the construction is all top-notch, even by their standards. With a full tank you can expect between 7 and 14 hours of light, but gas consumption is totally dependent on how high you set it. [Purchase: $45]
Pros: Bright LED
Cons: No truly “low” setting
Brightest LED: LED lanterns are notorious for lacking power when compared with fuel camping lanterns. They usually can’t compete. That is why Weatherrite made the 610: For people who want maximum output and need to light up larger campsites, but still want to use LED power. The lumen count at the high setting is – you guessed it – 610 while the lower setting gives you 270. This isn’t for putting in a tent but for rather for big needs, big output campers. It is very sturdily built with ABS all weather construction that takes a beating. Sadly, with great power comes great battery use. It takes 6 D-Cells and will only give you about 25 hours (maybe) at the highest setting and perhaps double that on low. [Purchase: $33]
Pros: Long run time.
Cons: Flimsy handle
Long-Lasting LED: Power and portability in one quaint little package. The UST 30-Day might look like the similar LED offering from Streamlight but it not only packs a bigger punch when it comes to light, it also has a longer run time. Clearly this was made with green in mind since it can literally run for a month on the lowest setting. Even at the highest output it goes for more than a day so you won’t be fumbling around in the dark trying to put in new batteries. Output levels ranged from 29 lumens to 300 lumens and it has an SOS strobe. At only 2-pounds (heavier with batteries) it can be hung or sit on a table without capsizing. The construction is mostly sturdy but the handle feels a little flimsy. [Purchase: $30]
Cons: Battery lid difficult to use
Rugged Rider: You could argue that the UST-30 is technically a better LED camping lantern since it gives you more light for longer, but when you put it up against the rugged ABS construction of the Sportsman, you start to see why Rayovac rules the roost. The highest setting on the Sportsman is 240 lumens, more than enough to hold a hoedown at your campsite. Even the low setting kicks out nearly 90 lumens. You’ll get about 40 and 90 hours of use out of each output respectively, so they ain’t no slouch for time. The design is water-resistant, rust proof, and kid proof. These are rough lanterns meant to be abused and weather the storms of a rough-and-tumble camping experience. Includes a lifetime warranty for peace of mind. All that toughness does mean that the battery case is hard to access and troublesome. [Purchase: $25]
Coleman Duo/Quad LED
Pros: Dual or Quad lantern design
Cons: Can’t be hung
High-Tech: This snazzy little number caught our eye because it piles on a few different innovations. Apparently Coleman is not content to be cock of the gas lantern walk, now they need to take over LEDs too. They built this with an interesting notion in which they add a set of removable lanterns that can be taken away from the base so a couple of people, or a few depending on the model you choose, can head off to heed nature’s call without taking the only light source. We’re not sure how utilitarian this is, but it’s certainly a new take on the lantern idea. It’s also XPS-compatible so works with a swappable battery pack. Unfortunately it doesn’t stand up to the elements well and you can’t really hang it. [Purchase: $47]
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