December 06, 2016
Peter Reese

Camping Lantern Buyer’s Guide

In-camp lighting has come a long way from fuel-burning lanterns. Active Junky tested some of the best LED camping lanterns to help you choose the best camp and recreational lighting for your nighttime adventures.

Editor's Pick Gear Aid FLUX Rechargeable LED Light and Power Station

Gear Aid FLUX Rechargeable LED Light and Power Station

Best for – Repairs from home to auto, in garage or on the road, campsite and cabin use
$149.95 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
Also Great Black Diamond Moji Charging Station

Black Diamond Moji Charging Station

Best for – Use at home, at camp or cabin, travel and on-road lighting
$79.95 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now
Also Great Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini USB Rechargeable Lantern

Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini USB Rechargeable Lantern

Best for – Home and trip use where batteries are inconvenient and power sources are unreliable
$59.99 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now
Black Diamond Apollo Lantern

Black Diamond Apollo Lantern

Best for – Group camping (even backpacking supplemental to individual headlamps), international travel
$21.95 + 10% Cash Back
Buy Now
Brunton Lightwave Amp Lantern

Brunton Lightwave Amp Lantern

Best for – Festive gatherings, reunions, weekend camp-outs or spontaneous road trips
$168.82 + 4% Cash Back
Buy Now
Coleman Conquer Spin 550L Rechargeable LED Lantern

Coleman Conquer Spin 550L Rechargeable LED Lantern

Best for – Camp and cabin use as the battery life means staying close to a power source
$30.53 + 4% Cash Back
Buy Now
Coleman QuadPro 800L LED Lantern

Coleman QuadPro 800L LED Lantern

Best for – Campground use, music fest lighting and family gatherings
Product no longer available
Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry Rechargeable

Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry Rechargeable

Best for – Camp lighting for personal or small-group use, utility lighting for home and auto
$44.99 + 9% Cash Back
Buy Now

In-camp lighting is an ancient idea. Beyond the need for BTUs for cooking and staying warm, remaining alert and secure requires visibility. While some argument can be made for trying to function around camp and navigate nearby trails by moon or starlight, most outdoor enthusiasts favor supplemental lighting.

While liquid and canister-fueled lanterns are reasonable options, Active Junky selected a group of LED lanterns for evaluation. Given the fast-improving efficiency of both the bulbs and the batteries powering them, there are growing reasons to choose this camp lighting technology.

Active Junky selected a range of brands and products from the very storied and traditional to at least one that’s launched in recent months. All used LED bulbs to generate illumination while each finds a different path on total output, battery type and size along with provision for charging other portable devices.

Here, the focus is on group use even beyond individual lighting. As such, the range of choices pushes toward higher lumen output, greater total weight and the provision for diverting power to phones, cameras and other electronics.

Brands Reviews by Active Junky

  • Black Diamond Equipment
  • Brunton
  • Coleman
  • Gear Aid
  • Goal Zero
  • Princeton Tec

How We Tested

What Can’t Be Ignored

Why the group is going out, whether a duo or larger cadre, leads to either pure fun or the need for power efficiency and utility.

Where the light is used sets the pace for each person’s evaluation. Even the weather conditions surrounding the camping setting send the decision in a specific direction.

How durable the light is a key factor in determining the lantern’s value, knowing lighting technology may suggest replacement every 3-5 years to capture improving efficiencies.

When the light will be expected to move from group to individual lighting where agility and directional control take over from pure output and stability.

Who will be managing the light adds up getting the most out of the stored power. And not being disappointed when the light gives out a long way from being restored through replacement cells or recharging.

Five Important Questions to Answer

How much output is helpful? Most camping scenarios include gathering the group, small or large, for meals, campfires and social activities. A camping lantern should create a big enough sphere of light to accomplish this purpose.

Is size or weight important? Smaller lights can be extremely efficient but are often less stable in higher winds or irregular surfaces. Also, because they have smaller illumination surfaces, their coverage area is smaller with a bigger drop-off over distance.

What about mounting options? Active Junky favors the ability to set, hang, loop, drape and carry a light for use as both a stationery and portable lighting source. Some lanterns do well sitting still but suffer from inflexibility in hanging and carrying modes.

Should the lantern also be a power “donor”? Many next-generation LED camping lanterns provide at least some capability to tap the on-board battery. Know that runtimes of the primary light suffer dramatically when tapped to top-off other portable devices.

When are batteries a good idea? Most battery sizes are now available in rechargeables, with some charging stations more universal in the sizes they handle. Drop-in batteries are most helpful in travel scenarios where plug-in power is limited or unreliable.

Universal Attributes

OUTPUT 

Evaluates the useful light emitted by the lantern, both in intensity and coverage area

PORTABILITY 

Speaks to the ability to cover multiple use scenarios, from more civilized to less predictable

DEPENDABILITY 

Combines useful runtimes with the ability to re-energize the camping lantern while traveling

SUSTAINABILITY 

Centers on the use of rechargeable power length with the product’s expected longevity

INNOVATION

Turns advanced LED bulb efficiency and power management into functions and features that promote the adventurous life

Camp Lantern Reviews

Gear Aid FLUX Rechargeable LED Light and Power Station Gear Aid FLUX Rechargeable LED Light and Power Station

Editor’s Pick: Best Overall Portable Lighting System

There’s no better match for vehicle-supported, paddle-in or sled-in adventures than the Gear Aid FLUX. The 20,800 mAh battery encased in a durable shell fuels area lighting as well as specialty lighting to shoot photos, repair vehicles and gear and create a field hospital in the case of emergency. Priced at about $150, this is more a tool of the adventure trade than a casual lighting device, even though there’s no reason not to barbecue under its warm glow.

Tester Comments: “Stunning. Not only with 640 lumens of pure, reliable illumination but also with mounting options designed for every imaginable scenario. Apart from lacking a full-immersion waterproof rating, this is the serious adventurer’s ticket to after-dark dominance. Every dollar is worth it and there’s no substitute for the (optional) Claw RAM Mount.”

Looking for more information about Gear Aid FLUX Rechargeable LED Light and Power Station? Read the full review

Buying Options

0% Cash Back
$149.95
Before Cash Back
$149.95 After Cash Back
Black Diamond Moji Charging Station Black Diamond Moji Charging Station

Winner: Best Recreational Lantern

Stop shopping and start lighting the way with this stunner from Black Diamond Equipment. Despite the pure modern lines of the light, a serious 5200 mAh lithium-ion heart fuels plenty of recharging and generous runtimes at up to 205 lumens max output. If there’s one LED lantern that’s a guaranteed winner for gift-giving – even to less-adventurous friends and relatives – this is the one.

Tester Comment: “Joy, pure joy, I’m not kidding. Here’s a light to use everywhere including at home, state park and on major road trips. Black Diamond thought of everything with a light and device charging station that doesn’t sacrifice a clean, polished finished for in-the-wild capability."

Looking for more information about Black Diamond Moji Charging Station? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$79.95
Before Cash Back
$70.36 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$79.95
Before Cash Back
$70.36 After Cash Back
9% Cash Back
$79.95
Before Cash Back
$72.76 After Cash Back
8% Cash Back
$79.95
Before Cash Back
$73.56 After Cash Back
5% Cash Back
$79.95
Before Cash Back
$75.96 After Cash Back
3% Cash Back
$79.95
Before Cash Back
$77.56 After Cash Back
2.5% Cash Back
$79.95
Before Cash Back
$77.96 After Cash Back
Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini USB Rechargeable Lantern Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini USB Rechargeable Lantern

Winner: Best Campground-to-Backcountry Lantern

Between two-sided lighting options and plenty of ways to fill up with power, the Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 offers a total package to frequent outdoor travelers as well as backyard recreationalists. While the top crank system adds weight and some (minor) bulk, the ability to stay out longer in the absence of USB recharging adds piece of mind to weekend, road-trip and paddle-in adventurers.

Tester Comments: “Some LED lanterns are nice additions to the kit. This one has become an essential tool for small and large groups alike. Take some headlamps along to give each camper greater freedom, but put this one on the table or hang it from a tree branch to add a sense of hospitality and safety to any gathering during most any season of the year.”

Looking for more information about Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini USB Rechargeable Lantern? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$59.99
Before Cash Back
$52.80 After Cash Back
9% Cash Back
$59.99
Before Cash Back
$54.60 After Cash Back
7% Cash Back
$59.99
Before Cash Back
$55.80 After Cash Back
6% Cash Back
$59.99
Before Cash Back
$56.40 After Cash Back
5% Cash Back
$59.99
Before Cash Back
$57.00 After Cash Back
4% Cash Back
$59.99
Before Cash Back
$57.60 After Cash Back
Black Diamond Apollo Lantern Black Diamond Apollo Lantern

The Black Diamond Apollo Lantern turns a proven design platform into ready lighting both for tandem travels as well as groups up to six. Small and light enough for shared use on backpacking trips, the LED lantern makes the most of common, AA batteries in cases where rechargeables are difficult to find or maintain. Output to 200 lumens is easily managed with the thumb switch as the lighting level is adjusted up and down. And stays locked in when Apollo is turned off and back on again.

Tester Comments: “The 200 lumens max output from Apollo pushes well out from the light to solidly illuminate a 22’-diameter campsite. We liked it as a combination group and individual lantern that moved from the dining area into our tent for reading and card playing once the others wandered back to their tents. If there’s a need for night security, dropping the lantern down to about 30-40 lumens is enough to keep campers from tripping over tent guy lines, firewood and cook pots.”

Looking for more information about Black Diamond Apollo Lantern? Read the full review

Buying Options

10% Cash Back
$21.95
Before Cash Back
$19.76 After Cash Back
Brunton Lightwave Amp Lantern Brunton Lightwave Amp Lantern

The Lightwave Amp system is one of Brunton’s most ambitious, consumer-facing products in the company’s history, one that drew Active Junky testers like moths to the flame (or campers to the LED glow, at least). A large part of the magnetism comes from the pumping projection of sound from the lantern’s tripod base. Combined with 700 lumens of truly useful illumination, the LED lantern lands in campsite or at a festival ready to transform the group’s experiment, pulse by pulse.

Tester Comments: “We had to include this one. No wonder, as nearly every outdoor tech device contains a hybrid combo of elements such as speaker, charging station, beer opener or dog waterer. This one’s no exception, and has functions attached to it that are more Sharper Image than backwoods beacon. With all that’s going on, Brunton manages to extract worthwhile performance and avoid pure spectacle (although the total light and sound effect is impressive).”

Looking for more information about Brunton Lightwave Amp Lantern? Read the full review

Buying Options

4% Cash Back
$168.82
Before Cash Back
$162.07 After Cash Back
Coleman Conquer Spin 550L Rechargeable LED Lantern Coleman Conquer Spin 550L Rechargeable LED Lantern

This is the one we’ve been hoping Coleman Company would bring to the marketplace. Meaning, a bright-shining, long-running LED lantern that’s fully rechargeable at home and on the road. While the venerable cook system and lighting brand continues to experiment with technologies and power systems, this camp lantern stands out as ready for prime-time today. 

Tester Comments: “Coleman did the right thing with this model, one we like for frequent and heavy-duty use. The cabin is where it shines brightly, knowing we’ve got to plan for regular recharging as max runtime at 550 lumens is about four hours. The low, 50 lumen level is ideal to leave on late into the night for campers navigating the cabin or campsite after everyone’s tucked in.”

Looking for more information about Coleman Conquer Spin 550L Rechargeable LED Lantern? Read the full review

Buying Options

4% Cash Back
$30.53
Before Cash Back
$29.31 After Cash Back
1% Cash Back
$38.99
Before Cash Back
$38.61 After Cash Back
Coleman QuadPro 800L LED Lantern Coleman QuadPro 800L LED Lantern

At a little over $100, this Coleman lantern equips the entire camp with efficient lighting. With four, clip-off light panels housed in the base unit, the Coleman QuadPro 800L LED Lantern is more about flexibility than a streamlined look or lightweight camp lantern to take on the trail. Active Junky sees a place for this one in the kit when going backcountry is not the objective. 

Tester Comment: “I ended up being the hero with this one. While my buddies had only seen Coleman’s propane and gas lanterns, the QuadPro 800L gave them a new appreciation for this Old School standby brand. Handing out the four LED panels gave everyone a chance to experiment with in-tent lighting – and magnetically attach them during early and late rod prep for trout fishing.”

Looking for more information about Coleman QuadPro 800L LED Lantern? Read the full review
Product no longer available
Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry Rechargeable Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry Rechargeable

Princeton Tec is ready to become a new favorite with their eyes focused on the future. With the on-board swipe controls, adjusting Helix is more like flying a spaceship than fumbling with a camping lantern with few features and little innovation. For Active Junky testers, the ability to attach the LED lantern in nearly any position compensated for the limited beam distance of the well-diffused, 150 lumens max output camp lamp itself. According to testers, this one is definitely cleared for take-off.

Tester Comment: “The collapsible diffuser is simply one component of a well-conceived alternative to traditional camp, pack and travel lanterns. I favored being able to repeatedly press the center of the swipe area to tune the illumination level. Also, a huge fan of the red light to preserve night vision when taking Helix out for a North Star-guided ‘stroll’ at 2am.”

Looking for more information about Princeton Tec Helix Backcountry Rechargeable? Read the full review

Buying Options

9% Cash Back
$44.99
Before Cash Back
$40.95 After Cash Back
4% Cash Back
$44.99
Before Cash Back
$43.20 After Cash Back
2.5% Cash Back
$44.75
Before Cash Back
$43.64 After Cash Back
5% Cash Back
$47.99
Before Cash Back
$45.60 After Cash Back
3% Cash Back
$79.99
Before Cash Back
$77.60 After Cash Back