I'm often asked what, in my opinion, the most essential piece of camping equipment is. It’s a tough question as there are a number of key items you need for a successful trip. That said if I were really pressed for an answer I’d probably have to go for a decent light of some type. If you’ve ever tried pitching a tent or cooking a meal in total darkness I suspect you might agree. With this in mind, I’d like to take a few moments to enlighten you about lanterns, including the popular options available as well as the latest bright ideas.
Where electric lanterns are concerned LEDs now rule the roost having superseded traditional filament bulbs. The big wins for LEDs are extended burn times and longer bulb life. The burn times (or battery life) of these products are as much as ten times that of normal bulbs. Regarding bulb life, rather than burning out usually LEDs gradually loose brightness over time. It will take a number of years for this dimming to become an issue and even then you won’t suddenly be left in the dark.
There is a vast range of LED lanterns available with versions of every conceivable size and price. To help you make your choice pay attention not only to the burn times (battery life) of each model, but also their lumen ratings. In simple terms, lumens are a measure of brightness, with one lumen being roughly equal to the power of one candle.
Electric Lanterns – Special Features
There are a range of special features now commonly available on electric lanterns with arguably the most useful development being rechargeable lanterns. Although, the fastest charging method is through the mains which can be a little limiting, unless you always camp on electric hook-up. That said the vast majority of mains rechargeables also come with 12 volt connections which is probably the best option for car campers as you can charge direct from your car cigarette lighter or a leisure battery. Finally there are wind up lanterns. Despite being less powerful and requiring some elbow grease, they are the most reliable and eco friendly choice.
As for some of the other noteworthy innovations, there are models with remote controls and combination lanterns that also work as torches. Another great adaptation of the lantern is the roof light. Generally speaking lanterns are designed to stand on a table or be carried around. Many are now equipped with a hook or clip for hanging, however with most having their battery pack on the bottom they tend to cast a large shadow across the floor of your tent. This is where roof lights come in. Designed specifically to be roof mounted the light is situated below the battery pack providing much better illumination. There are some great value options from Eurohike, as well as more premium versions from Silverpoint, most of which adapt to perform both lantern and roof light functions.
Finally we cannot talk lighting without a nod to the grandfather of the lanterns; the gas lamp. You’d be forgiven for thinking gas lanterns are now a museum piece, but you’d be wrong. Despite it being ill-advised to use them close to or inside tents, they remain popular for lighting outdoor areas. The reason for this is that they still outshine their electric counterparts a number of times over. Include the infinitely controllable lighting levels, a warmer more natural glow and a little childhood nostalgia, and I suspect they’ll be around for a few more years yet.
Well we hope we’ve managed to illuminate you on lighting technology. With so many options out there we’d love to hear what your favourite lighting products are, and in the spirit of camping, your best improvised lighting solutions. Please leave us your thoughts below.