Our Favorite Solar Lanterns For Camping and Survival
Having a dependable source of light in a survival situation is not just a “good idea”; it’s an essential one.
Not only can it light your way in the deep dark woods or in an abandoned warehouse, but it’s an important morale booster.
Light acts like a security blanket in times of uncertainty.
Something that helps to keep your mind strong and hope alive – when all it wants to do is freak out.
It’s sort of like fire in that way…
So it’s no surprise that we get a lot of questions about our favorite light sources.
Often the right answer is superbright flashlights and headlamps but there’s another type of light to consider as well – lanterns. And not just any lantern – solar lanterns!
Sure lanterns are less portable than flashlights, but they give off a different type of light.
They cast a wide and welcoming halo of warmth…instead of a single laser-focused beam.
This makes them better at certain tasks and also makes them essential gear for camping.
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Lanterns allow you to prepare, cook and eat dinner at camp after dark.
They are a must for playing games with friends and family around the picnic table. And their ideal for campsite cleanups before bed.
So today we’re going to talk about solar lanterns, specifically:
- Old vs New Lantern Technology
- Lanterns vs. Flashlights
- Important Lantern Qualities To Look For
- Best Solar Lanterns On The Market (with video reviews)
Old vs New Lantern Technology
Lantern technology has come a long way over the decades – lanterns used to have some serious negatives.
When I grew up, they didn’t even have push-button ignition, so you had to stick a lit match into the body of the lantern while turning on the gas.
This ran the risk of bumping the fragile cloth mantles that could easily tear if handled roughly.
Glass windscreens, fuel pumps, and delicate gas valves all suffered from wear and tear. Failure was likely just when you needed them most.
Fortunately, today we can have all the benefits without the problems!
The new standard lantern for both weekend camping AND survival is the solar LED lantern.
Solar lanterns are a tremendous source of emergency light.
But what sets them apart from other light sources and how do you choose between a lantern and a flashlight.
The answer is you don’t; you get both.
LANTERNS VS. FLASHLIGHTS
A lantern isn’t a replacement for a flashlight or headlamp; it’s an entirely separate tool.
Lanterns produce a wide flood of light to illuminate a large area.
The light the light is dispersed and not as focused as a flashlight. If you need focused task lighting, a flashlight or headlamp is better.
However, when you need general lighting (especially for multiple people at once), a lantern is the best option.
Think about cooking or eating dinner together in a dark camp. Would you rather have one flashlight to share or one lantern?
Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way how frustrating it is to use a flashlight as a lantern or a lantern as a flashlight…
Get the RIGHT tool for the job!
Outdoor Solar Lantern Qualities
Now that we both agree owning a lantern is a wise choice, the next question becomes, which lantern.
The answer is not as straightforward as it seems.
There are hundreds of varieties and differences when shopping for a new solar lantern.
So let’s discuss a few differences and some pros and cons of each.
There is a vast range of physical sizes available in solar lanterns.
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These hang near the peak of your camping tent at night. But they’re not large enough to light up an entire workspace or light up a whole campsite.
For those types of tasks, you’ll want a large outdoor solar lantern for general lighting.
So getting the right size depends on how you intend to use your lantern.
Amount Of Light Output
Alongside physical size, the amount of light output makes a big difference in its usability.
Light output is measured in lumens, with higher values corresponding to brighter light.
Small lanterns tend to put out about 100 lumens of light. This is perfect for close tasks like reading a book or searching items in a pack at night.
If you have a whole camp or cabin to illuminate, look for a solar camping lantern of at least 300 lumens to give you useable light.
Like everything else, there can be a wide range of materials and build quality in lanterns.
Many popular, inexpensive solar lanterns have knock-off competitors. But those knock-offs tend to use inferior parts and don’t last as long.
These lanterns are almost indistinguishable from the originals at first glance.
So make sure you pay attention to reviews and buy only from reputable sources.
Charging Time and Methods
Since solar lanterns have a variety of light outputs and battery sizes, it’s hard to compare them.
For example, solar panels are rated in Watts but if the lantern and solar panel are a combined unit, that spec may not even be provided by the manufacturer.
As a rule of thumb, larger solar panels collect more solar energy and charge batteries faster.
Faster charging can be a big advantage if you don’t expect many hours of full sunlight.
If you can charge your lantern by other means, that can give you a jump start.
So charging versatility is a plus (solar and USB). Most of my solar lanterns can also charge by USB.
This allows me to leave home with a fully charged lantern and use the solar panel to keep the lantern topped off.
BEST SOLAR LANTERNS
Now that you have a better grasp of the differences and options, I want to share what I consider some of the best solar lanterns on the market today.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1 LUCI Solar Air Lantern
I first saw a LUCI light on a canoe trip with some friends and thought it had to be a joke.
A tiny LED lantern that you blow up like a beachball? But that first night, we went out for an evening paddle and get lost on the lake.
There was enough moon to see, but not to tell where our campsite was located.
We called a friend on the radio and asked if they could shine a light out towards us. So someone setup the LUCI light as a strobe on the beach!
We could see if from across the lake and paddled right into safety. After that, I was impressed and convinced!
The newest version, the LUCI Pro takes all the best features of the original and adds on some new tricks.
It’s waterproof, still weighs only a couple ounces and is less than 6” in diameter.
It packs down to 1.5” tall, but inflates to 4.5” and casts 150 lumens of warm, white light in all directions.
The integrated solar panel can charge the 2000mAh battery in about 14 hours. But you can also charge via USB before you reach camp.
It can even charge your cellphone via USB!
As a warning, the LUCI light is one that I see copied most frequently but there are no good knock-offs.
I’ve had several friends buy gas station versions, and they generally don’t last long.
So be sure to buy a real one, it’ll last, and the investment is worth it.
2 PackLite Nova by LuminAID
Another great inflatable solar powered lantern is the PackLite Nova from LuminAID.
Its different light modes let you tailor the output to your specific task, from 50-70 lumens.
It’s lightweight, collapsible design packs down to less than an inch thick. Yet it has enough battery power to last up to 24 hours.
The solar panel allows you to charge in approximately 10 hours of sunlight. But the USB cord can cut that to under 2 hours.
If you’re looking for a larger option, check out the PackLite Nova’s big brother, the LuminAID 2-in-1 Charger.
It provides all the benefits of the Nova but adds a larger battery and up to 300 lumens of light.
It also provides a charging outlet to power up your mobile devices.
3 Suaoki Collapsible Clover Lantern
The 3-bladed design of the Suaoki Collapsible Solar Lantern was the first thing that caught my eye.
When stowed away for transport, the lantern is roughly the size of a soda can. But once you reach camp, three solar panels swing open, resembling a small propeller.
The top side of each blade has a good sized solar panel, while the bottom features 6 white LED lights.
I like the ability to adjust the angle of the blades, either focusing or dispersing light to suit the task at hand.
Also, the small hanging hook on the top allows you to hang it overhead.
With only 2-4 hours of light on a single charge, this is more an emergency task light than one for an evening in camp.
Or since they’re so reasonably priced you could get a couple of them…
4 Pocket Light from Survival Frog
The Pocket Light is one of the best survival lights ever is because can perform 4 important survival functions – all in one device.
First off, when you get the Pocket Light you’re actually getting 2 lights in 1!
In a matter of seconds, the Pocket Light converts from lantern to flashlight with nothing more than a simple push and pull.
While in “hockey puck mode” it’s an incredible handheld flashlight complete with a hidden handle for easy use.
Push and pull and in seconds the accordion style inner lining turns into an ultra-bright room brightening lantern.
Because it’s so versatile the Pocket Light eliminates the need to carry separate flashlights, lanterns, or survival candles for emergencies.
The Pocket Light is also specially programmed to help get you rescued.
The Pocket Light has multiple light settings including an emergency strobe setting.
Once activated the emergency strobe turns your Pocket Light into an emergency beacon which can help you escape the most perilous situations.
Not to mention it’s high and low setting are perfect for the times you need ultra-bright light to see where you’re going; or when you need low light to save your eyes or eliminate detection.
Perhaps its most unique benefit is its ability to use solar energy to charge its built-in light and almost any USB charge device.
The Pocket Light is 100% powered by solar, so it never needs batteries to generate bright, white light.
That same solar energy can easily be used to charge phones, GPS units, radios, and more so you’ll be able to use them in emergencies.
The bottom line is:
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SOLAR LANTERN WRAP UP
They say “what goes around, comes around” – and that seems to be true even in outdoor gear!
It’s been 30 years since I last turned off my propane lantern in favor of a fancy headlamp. But now I’ve added another source of light as a favorite piece of cool camping gear.
A solar lantern.
A lantern that provides bright, even light for all campsite activities – by way of the sun.
Whether you love the outdoors or you’re planning for a doomsday scenario, it’s good to have a backup you can trust.
Utilizing solar gear makes a lot of sense nowadays, and a solar LED lantern is a great start!
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