There’s no feeling quite like spending a summer night outdoors. Sitting by the fire and laughing with friends is where friendships really grow.
While the night can be magical and mysterious, the dark can be difficult to navigate. Tripping over chairs and fumbling through packs can be a real pain. Lanterns are a crucial piece of camping gear to light your way. Lanterns are also great at home for emergency preparedness or a survival kit.
Flashlights and headlamps both have their advantages, but nothing quite compares to lanterns for hands-free illumination of a surrounding area. They generally provide 360° of flood lighting and are either self-standing or hang able. While some lanterns have features to throw light, the ability is usually not as great as with flashlights or headlamps. Lanterns come in multiple sizes, with larger units working best for car camping and smaller units for backpacking. Lanterns are also unique in that there are gas and electric models.
Electric lanterns are all similar in that they use an electric power source to power an LED bulb. Where they differ is in the type of power source and their size and weight. Electric lanterns can be powered by alkaline batteries, rechargeable batteries, or even an external power source. Their sizes can range from those that will fit in your pocket and illuminate your tent to others as big as a gallon milk jug.
Alkaline batteries (known as “primaries” in the flashlight world) are the most familiar power source. They are relatively inexpensive, reliable, and easy to swap out once they are depleted. A downside to this power source is the added cost of replenishing dead batteries. Some alkaline powered lanterns can be converted to run on rechargeable battery packs.
Rechargeable batteries, when sold with a lantern, are generally power-packs as opposed to rechargeable individual batteries. These packs can either be fully integrated and sealed within the unit, or accessible and replaceable. It is better to replace the power pack when it dies and continue using the lantern. Some of these can be charged by plugging into a power source, and some require you to take out the batteries to charge, and some allow you to charge via either means.
Finally, a few rechargeable lanterns have the ability to run on alternative power sources, such as USB power packs, solar panels, or hand cranks.
And of course, many of these lanterns can be converted to run on primaries. While rechargeable batteries are great because you don’t need to constantly buy new batteries, if your lantern does not have the ability to change out battery packs then you could be SOL when yours grows dim. Think about the duration of trips you typically take before deciding which lantern will be best for you.
Overall, electric lanterns are great because they are long-lasting, durable, lightweight, inexpensive, and safe. Many lanterns have different modes to allow you to adapt the lantern to your lighting needs. On the other hand, even the larger electric lanterns aren’t quite as bright as their gas-powered counterparts. Electric lanterns are not a great choice for cold temperatures because the electricity-producing chemical reaction that takes place in batteries (whether alkaline or rechargeable lithium-ion) is hindered by low temps.
While there are many different types of lanterns, it’s actually pretty easy to pick the right one. The main things you need to think about are power source and lumen output. Once you know your power source and lumen output, it’s just deciding on physical size, weight, and features that best suit your needs.
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