How to choose the best LED lantern? With all the choices, it can be overwhelming–but don’t worry, we’ve already done the hard work for you.
An LED lantern is the latest-generation camping lantern, mainly because LEDs are bright, power-efficient, and long-lasting. But not every LED lantern is worth the money. Before we dive into the reviews, you’ll want to ask yourself the questions below. They’ll make your decision way easier, and you’ll ultimately end up much happier with whichever product you decide to buy.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO USE YOUR LED LANTERN?
This is the most crucial question to ask. For example, a lantern that’s big & bright and has lots of bells & whistles might be great for car camping or for dealing with power outages at home, but it’s going to be a lot heavier and more bulky than anything you’d want to carry for a backpacking trip.
HOW BRIGHT (LUMENS ANYONE?)
OK, you might have seen ratings in lumens somewhere, and this is where the rubber meets the road for brightness. Basically, the more lumens, the brighter the lantern. We could get way more technical & dive into the details on what lumens are & how they’re measured, but there’s really no point. More lumens means more light.
But how many lumens do you need for a lantern? And how much brighter is a lantern that’s got, say 400 lumens vs. one with 800 lumens? Is the 800-lumen LED lantern really twice as bright?
Well, it’s going to depend on what you’re using it for. Do you need to light up your workroom or garage? Or do you really just need it for reading & playing cards in your tent?
Another feature to consider is whether the lantern has multiple brightness settings. That way, you can turn the lantern dimmer for reading in the tent at night, then crank it up brighter while you’re cooking dinner at the picnic table. Or when you want to attract moths at night. 🙂
HOW LONG DOES THE BATTERY LAST (OR HOW LONG DOES THE CHARGE LAST)?
Lantern life is crucial when you’re away from home in the great outdoors, backpacking in the backcountry, or faced with a power outage at home. The last thing you want is to be stuck in the backcountry, miles from your car, when your lantern dies. And then have to lug your dead, useless lantern all the way back, cursing it with every step as it weighs down your pack.
Keep in mind that if you keep your lantern on full brightness, it’ll need to be recharged or need new batteries sooner. Likewise, lanterns with fewer lumens will generally have longer run-times than lanterns with more lumens. However, it’ll depend somewhat on exactly how efficient the LED bulbs are that the lantern uses.
WHAT’S THE LANTERN POWER SOURCE?
Even though LED lanterns are super-efficient with power–way more than those old 1970’s-era Edison-bulb lanterns I grew up with–you still want to consider the lantern power source. If you’re just using the lantern at home, you can run out & snag more batteries. But if you’re car camping or in the backcountry, buying more batteries isn’t an option. And, if you’re like me, you feel guilty throwing away those heavy, poison-filled batteries, knowing they’re just going to the landfill.
A better power source might be a solar lantern or a rechargeable lantern (some even have a hand crank you can use for recharging). Depending on whether you want to crank to recharge the lantern or would rather use a portable solar panel, there are some great rechargable lanterns available. And, if you decide to go with a solar lantern, you can get a portable solar cell that can also recharge your phone or GPS or other gizmos while you’re out in the field.
And, yes, there are rechargeable lanterns that use lithium-ion batteries that can even charge your mobile phone, but care is required. A promising lantern from Biolite was recently recalled due to fire hazard from the batteries overheating. 🙁
HOW MUCH DOES THE LANTERN WEIGH?
You might not care if the lantern weighs a few pounds if you’re car camping or have it in your RV. But those ounces add up fast when you’re carrying them in your backpack. Some backpackers forgo a lantern entirely, and instead just carry a tiny LED headlamp–maybe with a small attachment to create a floodlight effect in their tent.
On that note, if you’re backpacking and need to carry the lantern in your pack, you’ll also want to look at the lantern weight, PLUS the weight of any batteries. For example, 1 D battery weighs 5.5 ounces. If your lantern takes 8 D batteries, you just added 2.75 pounds to your pack, PLUS the weight of the lantern, which might weigh 2.15 pounds (for the Coleman Quad(TM) LED Lantern). So, you just added almost 5 pounds to your pack.
I don’t know about you, but while those big lanterns put out a ton of light and are great on car camping or RV trips (or when power goes out in your house, maybe from an ice storm), that’s not the lantern I’d carry in my pack. Unless I’ve got a buddy who wants to be the pack mule for the trip.
You can use the handy-dandy table below to compare the top-rated LED lanterns. Click on any column to easily sort by whatever feature is most important to you.
For example, if you’re priority is weight (especially if you’re backpacking and you’re trying to shave ounces off your pack weight), then you’ll want to click on the Weight column and look at the lanterns that weigh the least. No sense in lugging a 6-pound lantern filled with heavy D batteries into the backcountry when you can take a lantern that weighs mere ounces.
For sake of brevity, I’ve included my take on the best of the best that I’ve listed below. Just my opinion here, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the backcountry, car camping, and had my share of power outages, so I’m a pretty savvy & demanding user. Besides, having kids ups the ante, since they can be hard on gear and are also pretty demanding users for outdoor equipment.
Remember though, the lantern you choose needs to fit your needs. An RV trip is different than a backpacking trip. Just like you wouldn’t use a paring knife to cut a watermelon, you’ll want to choose a lantern for your purpose.
Although all the lanterns I’ve listed in the table are top-rated, I’ve singled out a handful as the best of the best. That’s not to say that every one of them is right for you; again, which lantern you choose ultimately depends on what you’re going to use it for.
This lantern might be my personal favorite. And it’s easily the best crank lantern out there (meaning, you can use a handle to crank and recharge it, not that you have to be a crank to use it) :). My wife got one for me as a father’s day gift, and my kids and I love it. Here’s why:
- Lightweight enough to carry backpacking. Granted, it’s not the most lightweight. But it’s still just 1 pound, and because it doesn’t need batteries, you don’t have to worry about carrying extra (essentially dead weight) from batteries.
- Multiple power options, even when you’re deep in the backcountry. This is probably the best thing about this little gem of a lantern. Yes, you can power it up via USB, so you can charge it in the car (on the way to the trailhead), at home, or in the motel. However, you can also use Goal Zero’s portable solar panel to charge it in the field (which is what we do). For instance, I’ll clip Goal Zero’s solar panel on the outside of my pack so the lantern can charge while I’m hiking. And maybe the niftiest thing, is that this lantern includes a hand crank so you can get power in the dark, far from a power outlet. My kids actually love this option, and they’ll happily crank away at it (which helps them burn off excess energy). Super cool.
- Multiple brightness options (plus a funky colorful light). Like most LED lanterns, the Goal Zero lantern has a couple brightness modes, so you can light up your campsite or RV or room, then turn things down so you can read in the tent without bothering your tentmates. My kids’ favorite mode though is the red blinking light (presumably to use as a beacon when lost at sea…). My kids like turning it on for a dance party in the tent. Thank god for the hand crank so they can burn off even more of their energy… 🙂
If you’re really counting ounces, then this is probably the lantern for you. The Big Agnes MtnGLO clips into your tent and puts out a great, even light all over. To me, that’s more pleasing than a single-point light source. Highlights:
- Broad, non-single-point light source. Having the lights along a string makes for a more natural, pleasing source of light. Instead of having one single bulb blaring in the tent. Easier for reading, playing cards and other games, and whatever else you’re doing in your tent.
- Easily clip wherever you want it. Yes, you can clip this along the poles in your tent. But you can just as easily clip it outside your tent in camp. You could clip it to branches or even string a guyline with some paracord. Then, clip the lights to it to create a homey feeling around camp. This is especially good when doing meal prep at night.
- Lightweight. This is almost the lightest weight lantern (though actually more of a light source than a true lantern) of the bunch. Weighing in at just 4 ounces, you’ll barely notice the weight in your pack. Basically, it’s about the weight of a couple power bars. But, it gives you a wonderful diffused, even light that feels luxurious in the backcountry.
There are a few reasons I picked the Coleman Quad LED Lantern above the other big RV and car-camping style lanterns. Here’s why:
- Quality. Coleman’s been around for over 100 years, and knows what they’re doing, and Coleman is a great company. It was family-run for over 8 decades.
Versatility. It’s got several brightness settings. You can choose how bright you want things to get, and how much power you want to use. One of the super cool features is that each of the 4 panels of LED lights can be detached from the lantern. So, they’re detachable flashlights, so you can rummage around in trunk, your pack, or the outhouse. 🙂 The main lantern continues to shine even with one or more of the LED panels removed. I love that feature.
- No maintenance, & super reliable. If you’ve ever used a traditional propane lantern with mantles, you probably know what a pain in the butt those things are. And super loud. And dangerous (don’t take them in the tent), especially trying to light it in the dark. Plus, don’t forget the radioactive thorium lantern mantles. Yes, radioactive thorium. So you can give yourself & your loved ones a dose of radiation while you’re enjoying the great outdoors. OK, so, the Coleman Quad lantern does away with all that mess & danger. Yes, it uses D batteries, but just spend the money & get rechargeable ones, and you won’t worry. This lantern just plain works.
- Oh, and it’s got Coleman’s full 5-year warranty.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a camp stove check out our list of the top-rated camp stoves. The list is super simple to use.
What do you think?
I’d love to hear what you think. And if you’ve found any new lantern models that are even better than what I was able to find.
Let me know if the comments below!