Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for best inflatable lights

Whether you’re planning a camping trip or want to be prepared in case of an emergency, inflatable lights eliminate many of the drawbacks of fuel-powered and battery-operated lanterns. Unlike traditional lanterns, inflatable lights are powered by solar energy. Simply expose the light’s solar panel during daylight hours, and it’s ready to use when the sun goes down. With inflatable lights, there’s no worrying about packing enough propane to last the whole weekend or lugging around extra batteries.

Inflatable lights use LEDs as their source of illumination. LEDs use less energy and create less heat than other bulbs, and they eliminate the risk of burns or fires associated with fuel-powered lanterns. The walls of inflatable lights are made of flexible plastic, so they won’t shatter if dropped. They’re so lightweight you can hang them to illuminate your whole tent or clip them to your hiking pack to charge. Once charged, you can collapse the light so it takes up minimal space.

Keep reading to learn what to look for when shopping for inflatable lights. When you’re ready to buy, check out our recommendations for the top inflatable lights on the market.

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Inflatable lights are a renewable light source – they don’t require disposable, chemical-filled batteries or a wall socket to charge.

Key considerations

Charging time

Inflatable lights are primarily solar-powered, so charging time is one of the most important factors to consider. Some lights charge completely in as little as seven hours of sun exposure. Some take up to 14 hours to charge fully. Smaller lights with fewer extras often take less time to charge.

Illumination time

The amount of time a lantern stays illuminated also varies by model. The least expensive lights are designed to last at least eight hours. The majority of inflatable lights glow for 10 to 14 hours, while a few boast a 50-hour runtime. Campers can likely get by with a shorter illumination time. But if you’re shopping for emergency preparation, a longer runtime is a better idea.

Inflation method

Most inflatable lights collapse, so you need to think about inflating them. Some models are inflated by mouth like a beach ball or pool float. This is convenient but not always hygienic, depending on your environment. Others use a special nozzle and manual pump. This method is more sanitary, but if you lose the pump, you’re out of luck. Some higher-quality models are self-inflating, meaning they automatically take in air as you unfold them. This is the easiest inflation method, but it often equals a higher price.

Other considerations

If you’re concerned about brightness and output, look for inflatable lights with a higher number of lumens. Most inflatable lights range from 40 to 150 lumens. More LEDs within the light often means better light distribution.

Look for waterproof models if you plan to use your light for boating, fishing, or camping in inclement weather.

Planning to keep your inflatable lantern in an emergency kit? Look for lights that offer a higher charge-retention percentage over time.

"Some inflatable light manufacturers donate products to developing areas where electricity is scarce when you purchase their lanterns."


Light settings

Some inflatable lights have two settings: on and off. Others, however, let you select the level of brightness you want. You may want a bright setting outside on a trail but softer light inside your tent. Choosing a lower setting can also conserve energy. Additionally, some inflatable lights feature a flashing strobe setting for use in emergencies.

Charge indicator

It’s easier to make wise choices about power use when you know how much juice you’ve got left. Many higher-end inflatable lights have charge indicators that tell you the lantern’s charge level. Without this feature, it’s anyone’s guess whether your light absorbed enough solar power to work. It’s also helpful to know the charge level if you’re packing the light away in an emergency kit.

USB port

Inflatable lights are generally solar-powered, but some offer USB options. This means you can charge the light via a USB cable and discharge the solar energy it collects to a phone or other device. USB charging is usually much quicker than solar charging, so this feature adds versatility. However, charging a phone or other device from a solar lantern is likely to drain it. This feature is really more practical for charging your phone enough to make emergency calls than fully charging a device.

Hanging straps

One thing that makes inflatable lights so popular is their portability. Straps help ensure these lanterns stay with you wherever you go. Most often, straps serve as carrying handles, but you can also attach your light to a tree, post, or even backpack for easy charging. Straps also make it easy to hang the light inside your tent to give light to the whole area. Some inflatable lights come with one strap, while others are outfitted with two for added versatility.

Other features

Most inflatable lights are similar in size. They vary from about four to eight inches tall. Keep size in mind if you’re ordering for backpacking.

While no inflatable light will weigh you down, some are lighter than others. The lightest weigh less than three ounces, while the heaviest are about half a pound.

Clear lantern walls deliver the brightest light, while matte walls give a gentler, more diffuse glow.

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Did you know?
If properly cared for, inflatable lights can last several years and be recharged hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

Inflatable light prices

You can find basic inflatable lights for $10 to $15. In this price range, lights may or may not be adjustable, and they often have a brightness of 50 lumens or less. They’ll generally last six to 10 hours on a full charge but will not have charge indicators. You will likely need to inflate them by mouth or with a pump.

Mid-range inflatable lights cost $15 to $25. These lights should have multiple brightness levels as well as an emergency strobe setting. Most will last 10 to 12 hours on a full charge. They should be made with tougher materials than cheaper models. Some may be self-inflating and have charge indicators.

The most expensive inflatable lights cost around $30. They should last at least 12 hours on a single charge, and some will last much longer. They should be waterproof and give a matte glow that’s easy on the eyes. Lanterns in this price range should be self-inflating. Some will have value-added features like a USB option for charging.


  • Manufacturers often claim their inflatable lights will hold a charge for a certain number of months or years, but it’s a good idea to check your stored lights periodically, especially if you’ve purchased them for emergency preparedness.

  • Inflatable lights can be punctured, so take care when packing or using.

  • Tether a waterproof, submersible light to your kayak or canoe to help illuminate a nighttime trip.

  • Colored inflatable lanterns can illuminate the pool at night and also help you keep an eye on children in the dark.

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Inflatable lights are great for children. They don’t shatter if dropped, they won’t burn hands, and they won’t cause a fire if accidentally tipped.


Q. How can I make sure I get the best charge?
To charge an inflatable light, make sure the solar panel is exposed to direct sunlight for as many hours as possible. Hanging your light from a tree or structure may help keep it from blowing away, but it may also block the solar panel. If you’re camping, try keeping your light on a tabletop. If you’re hiking, strap the light to the back of your backpack or a front strap, depending on where the sun is.

Q. How bright of a light do I need to light up a tent?
It varies depending on the size of your tent, but generally an inflatable light of 75 lumens is more than enough to light a tent that’s 100 square feet. For comparison, a six-person tent generally measures 90 to 100 square feet, while an eight-person tent usually measures 120 to 130 square feet. If you’re not sure, buy a lantern with adjustable brightness settings. If your tent has room dividers, light may not travel as efficiently, and you may need additional lights for different rooms.

Q. Will my inflatable light still glow if the material tears?
Most inflatable lights are made from heavy-duty material that does not readily rip, although some handles do tear relatively easily. Still, inflatables can be punctured, especially in tightly packed gear. Tears in the body of the material shouldn’t affect the way the solar charging and LEDs work. They can, however, affect the light’s ability to inflate as well as its water resistance. You can fix any tears that affect inflation with packing tape or glue. Even if repairs are successful for inflation, you should assume that your light is no longer waterproof.

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