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Whether you want a little extra lighting for your backyard oasis or some additional light to guide your outdoor adventures, there's a lantern to suit your needs. Lanterns come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from old-school kerosene lanterns to modern inflatable lanterns that are powered by the sun.
It’s wise to keep at least one lantern in your home and another in your garage. Having emergency lanterns in your car and basement could also prove useful.
If you’re in the market for a new lantern, either for yourself or as a gift, you’ve come to the right place.
At BestReviews, we researched the lantern market and spoke with our expert, Amy Horton, in order to provide our readers with useful advice on how to select the best lantern for their needs.
Below, you’ll find a list of important elements to keep in mind when searching for a lantern, along with tips on how to get the most out of your new lighting device.
When you’re ready to buy a new lantern, please check out the matrix above for information about our five favorites.
Amy is an outdoor addict who began her love affair with nature as a tiny 3-year-old running the trails of Nova Scotia with boundless energy. She has continued to live in close harmony with the outside world ever since, growing up hiking and camping on the East Coast. She moved to Los Angeles after college and lost no time exploring the infinite adventure opportunities that the Southwest offers. She is now a backpacking guide with TSX Challenge on their Eastern Sierra and Grand Canyon routes. She adores nerding out about anything to do with gear, camping, or backpacking in general.
There are various types of fuel-powered lanterns available. If you want a fuel-powered lantern, Amy advises that you’ll need to decide whether you want a lantern that runs on liquid fuel, propane, or butane. The first two are more fuel-efficient, but butane is more compact and easier to use. When making your selection, consider whether any other equipment you’ll be using takes fuel. For instance, if you’ll be using a camping stove powered by butane, it may make sense to purchase a butane-fueled lantern.
While a fuel-powered lantern has the advantage of producing a powerfully bright light, this type of lantern is quite noisy, and it carries safety risks. Amy stresses that a fuel-powered lantern should never be used inside of a tent or other enclosed space, as fuel-fed lanterns create heat and exhaust which could create a potentially dangerous situation.
Fuel-burning lanterns offer great light intensity, and you don’t need to worry about batteries and their disposal. However, you cannot use a fuel-burning lantern without proper ventilation, and fuel lanterns can be dangerous, bulky, and noisy.
Battery-powered lanterns are a safe alternative to fuel-powered lanterns. If you travel anywhere with a battery-powered lantern, make sure to bring extra batteries along. And if you purchase a lantern with a built-in rechargeable battery, take note of how long the battery is supposed to last. If you’ll be out in the wilderness fo a while, bring a solar charger along.
Notably, battery-powered lanterns are not a good choice if you’ll be spending time in freezing temperatures. If you’re heading out for a wintertime adventure, a fuel-powered lantern is probably your best bet.
Amy also reminds us that if you’re using a battery-powered lantern, it is very important to make sure you use the correct type of battery. You could damage or completely ruin a lantern by placing the wrong batteries (for example, lithium instead of alkaline) in it.
Modern battery-powered lanterns are extremely efficient, and most use LED lighting. This means that they offer long battery life and great light output, and they don’t create noise or exhaust as fuel-powered lanterns do.
For those who are concerned about the environmental impact and safety risks associated with fuel-burning lanterns, solar-powered lanterns are a great alternative.
They're an excellent choice for outdoor adventures since all you need to power them is the sun. And for most outdoor experiences, there's plenty of sunlight to harness. Also, most solar-powered lanterns can run on backup battery power if needed.
Solar lanterns usually feature some kind of indicator to let you know they have reached a full charge. Solar lanterns also happen to be a lot lighter in weight than other options.
Solar-powered lanterns are great for camping. They can also be used to create ambiance in an outdoor space. Solar lanterns are also great for kids; they're lightweight and fairly durable.
In addition to determining whether you want a lantern powered by fuel, battery, or the sun, keep the following factors in mind when shopping for a new lantern.
If you'll be using your lantern during different times of day or want to use it for various purposes, such as reading and lighting up a whole tent, make sure you have a way to dim the light.
An adjustable lantern is preferable, but some lanterns only come with an on/off switch.
How can you tell if a lantern will produce bright enough light? Look at the lumen count. A lantern with 100 lumens is good for most use cases.
Depending on your situation, you may have limited space to carry a lantern. If you're portaging or fastpacking, a compact, lightweight lantern is likely your best choice.
Some lanterns are inflatable. Some can be collapsed down for easy packing and transport.
The weight of your lantern matters most if you need it while you’re walking or hiking. If you’ll be traveling by car, a heavier lantern may not bother you.
Consider how much a lantern weighs before ordering or purchasing it.
If you don’t want to purchase and dispose of batteries for your lantern, consider one with a built-in rechargeable battery.
If you're heading out for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to make sure the lantern you choose can run for as long as you need it to. Yes, you could keep spare fuel or batteries around just in case. But for most people, the best scenario is one in which the lantern that will run for as long as needed without adjustment.
Amy tells us it's a good idea to overestimate the amount of time you'll need your lantern to run; better safe than sorry.
Keep in mind, the brighter the light you end up using, the less time your battery or fuel will last.
If you choose a battery-powered lantern, check what kind of batteries it requires. Most people prefer a lantern for which the batteries are easy to find and affordable to replace.
The following lantern features may not be absolutely necessary, but they are certainly nice to have.
For those who want to pack their lighting, a collapsible lantern is the best option. Some lanterns collapse entirely, while others may have folding handles that make them easier to store.
Some lanterns are waterproof or water-resistant. If you're heading out on a body of water or plan to hike in heavy rain, go for a waterproof model. Otherwise, a lantern that is water-resistant would probably work just fine.
Heading out on the water for a kayaking excursion? Don’t just pick a lantern that’s waterproof; choose one that floats, too.
Most lanterns come with a top handle that allows you to hang the device from a tent or other hook. An easy-grip handle is especially nice to have if you’ll be walking with it at any point.
Some lanterns come with tripod-like legs which makes the lantern easy to set anywhere.
For the rugged adventurer, clumsy outdoor-type, or child, a shockproof or shock-resistant lantern will ensure the lantern stays intact even if dropped, tossed, or otherwise mishandled.
Going on a rough-and-tumble adventure? Choose a lantern that's made of highly resistant materials so you can drop it without worrying about losing your light source.
How much should you expect to pay for a new lantern? That depends on the type you buy.
Battery operated LED lanterns are a good budget option. Some models cost less than $20.
Fuel-powered lanterns tend to be more expensive than battery-powered lanterns; these products usually retail for over $50. It's important to factor in the cost of fuel when budgeting for a fuel-powered lantern.
During the course of our research, we found lanterns that cost less than $10 and more than $200. Lanterns with a longer runtime, waterproofing, and shock-proofing will have higher price tags. Larger lanterns also tend to cost more.
Some lanterns come equipped with USB ports so you can charge them with handy power packs on the move.
Handled correctly, a lantern is a perfectly safe lighting option for camping and other outdoor activities. Keep these safety tips in mind when using a lantern:
If you want a lantern that you can use indoors or inside a tent, opt for a battery-operated model.
Avoid using a fuel-powered lantern near flammable materials.
Kids and fuel-powered lanterns don't mix.
With any fuel-burning option, be aware of the risk of fire. Use with care.
For battery-operated lanterns, make sure you’re using the right kind of battery for your device. Not all lanterns work with rechargeable batteries, and inserting the wrong kind of battery could damage or break your lantern.
Fuel-powered lanterns create dangerous exhaust and should not be used indoors. Use these lanterns in well-ventilated areas only.
Q. What's the advantage of a fuel-burning lantern over a lantern that uses battery power to run?
A. Fuel produces a stronger light, and there's no need to think about buying batteries or charging a fuel-fed lantern.
Q. Why use a lantern and not just a flashlight?
A. Unlike most flashlights, you can hang up a lantern, which allows for hands-free use. A lantern also produces a different pattern of light with a wider spread than a flashlight. The light of a lantern is not a concentrated beam, so it's perfect for illuminating larger areas.
Q. What about candle-powered lanterns? I've seen those sold at my hardware store. Are they useful?
A. Amy advises us that candle lanterns, though they may be aesthetically pleasing, don't produce enough light to be of much use in most situations. They also carry a higher fire risk than other options. Candle lanterns are best reserved for decorative purposes or for creating a relaxing backyard ambiance.
Q. What's an LED?
A. LED stands for “light emitting diode.” This type of bulb produces bright light without a yellow tint and requires less energy. LEDs won't burn out quickly like typical incandescent bulbs do, so you don't have to worry about your lantern burning out.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.