Ah, camping out under the stars. Being away from the city lights, surrounded by only nature… it’s so peaceful. That is, peaceful until you realize that your old trusty headlamp has reached the end of its life and you are stuck groping in the semi-darkness, getting ready for bed with a weak or flickering light. When you’re camping and have no ambient street lights or house lights to guide your way, you quickly realize how important having a reliable and high-quality flashlight, headlamp, or lantern can be for your outdoor adventures.
Read on to learn how to identify the uses, features, and style of the lighting devices that will best fit your own personal star-lit excursions…and avoid all the annoying shin-banging in the dark.
The first most important thing to determine when you’re shopping for camping lighting is what exactly you’ll be doing with it. At the most preliminary states, you can start your search by simply figuring out whether you require a flashlight, headlamp, or lantern (or a combination of the three!) and whether size and weight are a concern.
For example, consider these situations and the appropriate light choice:
- Car camping with several people
- Many people need to get light from the same source
and weight are not a concern
- Best Choice: Lantern
- Evening stroll
- Hands don’t need to be free
flexibility with lighting angles to see path
- Best Choice: Flashlight/Headlamp
- Backpacking camping
- Need to have hands free for cooking dinner, setting up tent in the dark
and size are a concern
- Best Choice: Headlamp
- Backpacking tent lighting
- Want to be able to set it down
and size are an issue:
- Best Choice: A lightweight and small, but powerful lantern
- Night rock climbing/hiking
- As bright a light as possible
and size are an issue
- Best Choice: A snug and bright headlamp
Once you have an idea of which lighting device you’re going to look for, consider the following features to help narrow down the choices even further.
“Lumens” refers to an object’s brightness and will be listed as a number on any flashlight, headlamp, or lantern’s packaging. For normal camping situations – setting up a tent, cutting up vegetables, being able to see a few dozen meters away in the dark – 35-60 lumens is sufficient.
If you get a product that goes far above 60 lumens (some go all the way up to 500!), just be sure it has a variable brightness option so that you don’t quickly wear out your battery.
Many people enjoy having the option to change the dimness of their light, change the light color from clear to red (for transitioning from complete darkness), turn on a strobe, and utilize a distance mode.
Weight and Size
This aspect of the product you buy should be based on what you’re using it for. Like our examples above, if you’re not hiking with this, the weight and size probably aren’t important. But if you’re on a multi-day backpacking trip, the difference between a 3-pound lantern and a 3 ounce lantern could mean a backache by the end of the day.
One way to avoid giving up backpack space to your lighting device is to consider a collapsible lantern. There are many varieties that weigh as little as 2.9 oz while providing 105 lumens – no compromise! You can have your backpack space and excellent illumination!
Consider the durability of any lighting devices you buy. Read reviews. Can it handle drops and being squished into a bag (if that’s what you realistically expect will happen to your future headlamp)? Do people have good experiences with the components staying in place?
Water resistance is a popular feature in many recent flashlights, headlamps and lanterns. Check for the “IPX” rating – a rating of 4 or higher should keep your device working in a heavy rainstorm.
Check to see if your product has a warranty. Many companies do offer wonderful warranties – replacing parts that wear with time, free repair at any time, etc.
If you choose a headlamp, make sure the one you buy is comfortable, as you’ll probably be wearing it often – like, maybe even every night of the trip, often. Try it on at the store, or if you’re buying online, read lots of reviews.
Along with lumens, an owner’s manual might indicate something about the quality of the light – i.e. “soft light”, “warm light”, etc. If you are one of those people who really appreciate a light with a good, natural color – not too blue or too yellow – try to find a description like that or a reference to a Kelvin scale rating. A Kelvin rating of about 5000 is neutral, “direct summer sunlight”, while anything higher is blueish and anything lower has a yellow glow.
Think about any other features that might be nice for you – the height of the lantern, if the lantern has hooks or a way to be hung up, whether your flashlight requires batteries or can be recharged, etc. If you’re intrigued by an item you see at the store, take time to look it up – websites will have information about products that you hadn’t even thought to ask yourself if you needed.
With all these technical angles to consider, don’t forget to have fun with your headlamps, lanterns, and flashlights! There are so many shapes and styles of lanterns these days that the lantern-toting Ferryman of the River Styx wouldn’t even recognize them. Choose a style and a color that call to you – whether that is bright and cheery or shades of black and grey. Sleek and aerodynamic or classic lantern-shaped. Headlamps with polka dot bands or plain brown bands.
Ready for Adventures Under the Stars
Now that you have all the information you need to find the flashlight, headlamp or lantern that’s perfect for your adventures, you can lounge around a fire or hike the highest mountain with the assurance that you’ll be able to see it all, even on the darkest night.