My most recent camping trip took me into the remote Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BCAW) about 300 miles north-northeast of Minneapolis. It’s renowned as a beautiful, unspoiled destination in part because it’s so isolated. The 1.1-million-acre preserve has no permanent residents, industry, or economic activity of any kind.
The industrial-strength light pollution of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range about 90 minutes to the southwest dies out well before the BWCA begins. Once the last glimmer of light leaves the western sky, the stars close in, their eerie light lending the glass-smooth lake surface an otherworldly sheen. If the night is cloudy, the water, woods, and air assume the same pitch-black hue as the lake.
A lantern proved essential on my trip – in fact, my group had several. Here are the ones you should consider before your next stint in the wilderness.
Best Camping LED Lanterns on the Market Today
These are our picks for the best LED camping lanterns available today. Some are compact and feather-light, perfect for wilderness canoeing and backpacking. Others are bulkier and heavier but more powerful; they’re better suited to car camping and other applications where pack weight isn’t an issue.
1. Black Diamond Apollo
The Black Diamond Apollo lantern measures about 3.5 inches wide by 5.5 inches high, but it packs a nice punch: 200 lumens, enough to serve as the primary illumination for a tent site. It has two power source options, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or four AA batteries (sold separately) and a charging port that takes about 3.5 hours to deliver a full smartphone charge. That makes it ideal for longer trips during which you can’t do without modern conveniences.
The Black Diamond Apollo lantern clocks in under 8 ounces, an acceptable weight for multi-day hikes and paddling adventures. Use the fold-down legs in tight spaces and the double loop hanger hook to light up your tent. The dimming function saves battery life when you can’t make it to a charging station or don’t want to carry spare AA batteries. Average run life is 90 hours at low power.
2. BioLite BaseLantern XL
The BioLite BaseLantern XL claims to be “the world’s first flatpack lantern.” It’s about 5 inches long and wide and less than 2 inches deep, so it fits snugly in even the most economical packs. At nearly 1.5 pounds, you’ll start to feel it in your backpack after a while, but the added weight won’t be overwhelming.
Even better, the BaseLantern XL is powered by a 12,000 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery that supports a 500-lumen floodlight. With such power, the BioLite BaseLantern XL is almost certainly the only light your campsite’s common area will need. If you’re not trying to unplug on your trip, you can even share photos and multimedia with your group thanks to two USB charging ports that can charge up to four smartphones.
The BioLite BaseLantern XL has a run life of about 79 hours at the lowest charge but less than eight hours at full capacity. So if you plan to be away from a power source for more than a single evening, be judicious. A Bluetooth-powered app allows for total control of the main lamp and the two auxiliary SiteLites, string lights for farther-flung corners of your campsite.
If this sounds like a lot of bells and whistles, it is. And you’ll pay for it; the BioLite BaseLantern XL is one of the priciest lanterns on this list.
3. Black Diamond Voyager
The Black Diamond Voyager is really two camp lanterns in one: a 140-lumen LED lantern and a 50-lumen detachable flashlight. The whole thing weighs under 5 ounces and compacts down to just over 4 inches, stretching to just over 6 inches when fully extended. The double loop hook makes it an ideal reading light. For maximum power, choose dual mode, which activates the main lantern and flashlight simultaneously. A dual reflector system magnifies light emissions, providing a clutch guidelight in pitch-black settings.
The Black Diamond Voyager’s maximum burn time is 100 hours at minimum power. With AA battery power, it’s not a huge deal to carry spares, but you’ll want to think twice if you’re trying to minimize pack weight.
4. Coleman Quad LED Lantern
At just over 6 pounds (with eight D-cell batteries in place) and nearly 12 inches high, the Coleman Quad LED lantern is not the lightest or most compact lantern on this list. But its 190-lumen light source delivers a concentrated beam that’s sure to cut through the late evening or overnight gloom. Four detachable light panels, each with a 26-foot range, allow for forays to the edge of camp. Put them together, and you’ve got yourself a powerful hub light.
Due to its size, weight, and bulky power type, the Coleman Quad LED is not ideal for multi-day backpacking trips. But for car camping and RVing, it’s just about perfect. Just be aware that the fully assembled lantern’s 75-hour run life drops to only 1.5 hours per detached panel. You must reattach the panels to the base for recharging.
5. Ultimate Survival Technology 30-Day Duro
It’s not difficult to understand why the UST 30-Day Duro is marketed as an indispensable survivalist accessory. With 30 full days of charge at the lowest power setting, it shines during extended power outages and multi-week forays into the wilderness. In less dire circumstances, the 700-lumen light sources deliver powerful illumination that’ll turn your campsite at night into something approaching day. And the 30-Day Duro clocks in at just over 1 pound with three D-cell batteries installed.
6. Goal Zero Lighthouse 250
The Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 Hub Lantern charges off portable solar panels (not included) and delivers up to 48 hours of continuous illumination at low power. For users not willing to spring for sold-separately solar panels or carry them in a space-restricted pack, there’s a hand crank option too. Either way, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly camp lantern that allows you to get entirely off the grid, this is for you.
For those who want to stay connected, a USB cord provides two full charges for the average smartphone or a 50% boost for the average tablet.
7. Coleman Twin LED Lantern
The Coleman Twin LED lantern delivers a powerful punch: 390 lumens with a 32-foot beam length on the highest setting and 100 lumens with a 19-foot beam length on the lowest. Either is enough to illuminate a tent site, light the way to an outhouse, or ward off after-dark critters. On the lowest setting, it has a 299-hour run life.
The Coleman Twin LED weighs nearly 3 pounds, and the power source requires eight D-cell batteries, so it’s not ideal for backpacking and other weight-restricted applications. On the bright side, it’s weather-resistant, so you can leave it out in a quick downpour and probably won’t notice any ill effects. Take it on your next car camping trip and embrace the uncertainty of the great outdoors.
8. Streamlight The Siege
Streamlight’s The Siege lantern is another compact, high-power lantern marketed to survivalists and those with reason to expect extended power interruptions. Its 540-lumen lamp runs for 30 hours on high and a whopping 12 full days on low. And its ergonomic handle enhances portability in a way that few lanterns of its size can match.
At under 2 pounds with three D-cells in place, The Siege is an acceptable weight for backpackers, though the 7.25-inch height is probably better suited to a full-size drybag. The Siege is waterproof down to 1 meter, which should be enough to cover rookie portaging mistakes. Despite all this, it’s deceptively inexpensive.
9. Nite Ize Radiant 400
The Nite Ize Radiant 400 is a potent hub light encased in a light-diffusing bag that magnifies its already ample 400-lumen rays. Its versatile carabiner attachment performs equally well clipped to your belt, hung from your tent hook, or held in front of your face. It’s weather-resistant and drop-proof to 1 meter, about the distance from your belt loop to the ground.
The Radiant 400 runs on three D-cells and boasts an uncommonly long battery life of nearly 800 hours on low power. But, to be fair, it isn’t bright enough for night hikes or paddles without backup from an unobscured moon. A sub-12-ounce weight is excellent for weight-sensitive applications, though the 8-inch length isn’t ideal for cramped packs.
10. Black Diamond Zip
The Black Diamond Zip is a small, budget-friendly lantern-flashlight combo that delivers 150 lumens in lantern mode and 90 lumens as a flashlight. The whole setup, including four AAA batteries, weighs less than 4 ounces. Couple that with a collapsible hook top loop and a single-switch control, and you’ve got yourself a stunningly effective backpacking lantern. The Zip’s reasonable price matches its small frame, though you’ll paying a bit more for clever design here.
11. Black Diamond Moji
The Black Diamond Moji is even smaller and budget-friendlier than the Zip. Indeed, it’s so tiny and affordable that it’s worth calling out on its own merits. When every ounce counts just as much as every dollar, this is the obvious choice.
The Moji provides 100 lumens at maximum power and 70 hours of burn time at the lowest setting, so it isn’t enough to keep a party going long into the night. But it is optimal for small backpacking groups not planning to spend much time up after dark.
12. MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0
The MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 camp lantern is an ideal accessory for frugal campers looking to minimize the environmental and fiscal impact of their outdoor hobbies.
The Luci Outdoor 2.0’s solar-powered battery lasts 24 hours on a single charge, which should be more than sufficient for non-polar camping. The inflatable skeleton crushes down to just 2.5 inches – cozy enough to fit in even the most space-restricted packs. With no batteries required, the entire setup weighs just 4.4 ounces, lighter than just about any battery-powered camp lantern on the market today.
As a child, I went on a handful of group camping trips to state parks or privately owned nature centers near my hometown. Collectively, those trips were my introduction to a slower, more rustic way of life that I hadn’t known growing up.
I haven’t retained many specific recollections from those trips; they’re mostly a pleasant blur. But for some reason, I have a distinct memory of a strict “lights out after dark” rule. While there may have been some sort of safety light near the outhouse, I’m confident we weren’t allowed to have anything like headlamps or penlights. All we had was the light of the moon and stars, weather permitting.
There’s something to be said for that sort of quasi-puritanical approach to outdoor recreation. I’m not saying I’m a no-camp-light purist, myself; I use an LED lantern whenever I go camping. If you’d rather not go totally old-school and navigate your way through pitch blackness unaided, consider one of the lanterns on this list.
Are you in the market for a new camping lantern? Or are you an old-fashioned “lights out after sunset” camper?