Finding your way around the campsite – or indeed inside your tent – at night is easier when you’re packing one of the best camping lanterns for outdoor living. And like all truly handy things, it only really becomes clear how useful they are when you don’t have one.
Luckily, the paraffin Tilley lamps of yesteryear are now merely a hipster’s daydream, with modern camping lanterns packing a real lighting punch for their minimal weight—they also don’t need require wick trimming or pumping up every few minutes.
Lantern use hasn’t changed much since the 1600s. On a basic level, these portable outdoor lights illuminate campsite areas such as your table, or inside the tent, enabling you to eat, read, plan a hiking route, or play cards hands-free. Choose a smart option with customisable light colours and you can introduce ambience to your basecamp. Imagine!
As you’ll see from our list of the best camping lanterns below, there are many shapes and sizes available. So the broad questions to consider when choosing the right lantern for you are burn time and weight.
The latter is obviously more of an issue if you’re trekking the Highland Way and carrying camping gear on your back, while car-camping devotees can choose industrial-grade lighting options and not concern themselves with weight.
Our expert pick
- Car camping and campervan holidays are on the rise, with many of us opting for a splash of luxury when doing so. Nothing says luxury camping like the Biolite BaseLantern XL and Power Bank.
- This durable, Bluetooth camping lantern brings smart lighting to the outdoors, enabling you (via app or via controls on the lantern) to customise the lighting colour and the schedule. It also offers sleep timers and proximity activation.
How do lanterns differ from torches?
The most blinding difference between torches and lanterns is that lanterns either stand on a flat surface, or are designed to clip onto tentpoles, table legs and the like, in order to provide a bright pool of illumination.
In a group camp, this is invaluable, especially for finding your particular basecamp again when you’ve nipped off to the loo in the dark. A well-placed camping lanterns also makes socialising easier, enabling you to wine and dine, play cards or read, well into the evening.
Choosing the best camping lantern for you
Weight is an important consideration and will inform your buying decision as much as burn (run) time. Chunky, kilo-weight camping lanterns that charge multiple devices from flat are jolly nice when car camping, but lugging them off to a wild camp in the Trossachs will be less fun.
Luckily, there are many ultra-lightweight lanterns that mean even the most remote campsite can revel in the pleasures of nighttime lighting, even if it’s just for playing cards while tucked up in your sleeping bag.
In terms of burn time, try an LED light, as older bulbs eat batteries for lunch. Whether you go rechargeable or battery-powered is down to the length of your average trip, although rechargeables do boast enormous burn times thanks to improved lithium batteries.
If you’re embarking on a longer expedition that’s a little off the beaten track, standard batteries make sense as you won’t be near a mains supply to top-up your rechargeable. It’s worth choosing a model that uses the same size battery as your head torch, preventing the inevitable hunt for the one remaining pair of AAs in an electrical storm.
Many lanterns incorporate a USB-power out port so that you can charge devices such as phones and action cameras. Just be careful to do the maths if you’re planning to rely on one of these to charge vital equipment.
A 3,000mAh battery should give one older phone a full charge (roughly), so adjust this according to the number of devices and time. However, keep in mind that extreme cold and the heat losses involved in charging multiple devices will reduce the battery’s overall output.
These are the best camping lanterns to buy now
1. Biolite BaseLantern XL and Power Bank
The best camping lantern for enjoying smart lighting in the wilds
Reasons to buy
The Biolite base lantern is perhaps the most techno of all camping lights. While others may simply incorporate smartphone charging, the Biolite has its own app, so you can program the button light settings (kitchen, reading, bedtime, etc), as well as set the colours.
By connecting other ‘nanogrid’ light units these can also be controlled from your phone, or set as proximity lights, or timed. The ‘nanogrid’ range includes strings of fairy-light style devices, downlighters and overhead lights, so your Glasto campsite will be the envy of all, as well as a magnet for moth like visitors.
Stainless steel legs for durability and a solid 12000 mAh rechargeable powerbank battery make this the ultimate base camp lighting system - go off grid in style!
2. Alpkit Trinity Camping Lantern
This little lantern packs a big punch, beaming light all around your tent
Reasons to buy
The Trinity is a cracking little lantern that doubles up as a torch, and with a 190-lumen beam it’s powerful enough for both tasks. Competitively priced and lightweight, this is a no-brainer for outdoors devotees who like to pack light.
Standard AA batteries mean there’s no phone charging to be had here, but also means you can get spares anywhere on the planet, which is pretty useful. A single power button hits full power first, and dims down as you hold it, so gloved operation is simplicity itself.
Tiny feet and a little hook arrangement cover off almost all possible lantern siting questions, and a hidden tripod screw thread covers off even more. What more for you want for less than £20 quid?
3. Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 Lamp and USB
A built-in hand crank means this camping lantern is ready for emergencies
Reasons to buy
The Goal Zero Lighthouse is a traditional-looking lantern that knocks out a decent number of lumens, and isn’t the heaviest out there. However, the big sell is the built-in hand crank, that means even in the darkest, most remote, electricity free situation, you can crank away and get some light.
The Lighthouse also has robust legs and hook to hang from, and an ingenious arrangement whereby you can select 360 or 180 degree light, the latter saving considerable battery power. Finally, it boasts a 4,400mAh lithium battery with a 1.5A USB output, which will keep a couple of phones juiced up for a day or two. Overall, it's a bit of a jack of all trades, but it is also pretty good at all of them too…
4. Black Diamond Apollo Lantern
Its small, but it shines bright – like a diamond, actually
Reasons to buy
At under a quarter of the weight of our first pick, this little lantern is ideal for stowing in a backpack for long camping trips. From a body the size of a tin of soup, it gives off a maximum of 225 lumens, projecting through a neat frosted globe for an ambient tent light that’s bright, but never glarey, and it packs in a handy dimming function too, as well as charging your handheld device over USB. When it runs out of juice, you can charge the internal li-ion battery or pop in a few AAs.
If you want that light to go a little further, you can pop up the folding legs for maximum height, or even hang it from the ceiling. Very versatile, and cute to boot.
5. Coleman Battery Lock Twist Lantern
This clever Coleman lantern gives as good as it gets
Reasons to buy
Forget about packing a separate portable smartphone battery, because this winning lantern comes with a USB cable that both recharges its own integral battery and offers you a means of juicing up your phone, and it looks good while doing it.
Said battery is alleged, by happy reviewers, to be a corker – they say a single charge keeps it going for days – and it can even be locked out to prevent it being drained when not in use and lessen the risk of acid leaks. It’s ingenious, it looks good, and it gets our top spot.
6. HeroBeam LED Lantern
A hero product for all budgets
Reasons to buy
Don’t let the high-end, Gtech-esque looks fool you – this HeroBeam LED lantern is the most budget-friendly of the lot bunch, both at the outset and continually thanks to their using inexpensive AA batteries. Not that you’d know it, because you get a pretty impressive package for that small price.
The latest COB LEDs are brighter than your average and run the full 360 degrees of the lantern, while the actual lighting mechanism is among the handiest we’ve seen – simply lift the top to activate, rather than fumbling in the dark for a tiny switch.
7. Varta LED Camping Lantern
A long-lasting lantern that keeps going, and going, and going, and going...
Reasons to buy
The combination of high-level lumens, impressive battery life and a formidable build is what earns the Varta lantern its place in our list.
Built for hardcore trips, it has a durable ABS and rubber base and a grippy rubberised handle for zero slip-sliding on uncertain surfaces or in wet weather, a water-resistant hook in the base, and up to 150 hours of runtime in low mode (or an equally impressive 72 hours on full blast).
Its full 300 lumens offer tent-filling light, but there’s also a dim mode for moodlit evenings, and even a strobe mode for party time.
8. Mr Beams UltraBright Lantern
This little lantern stays beaming through the wettest of weather
Reasons to buy
The adorably named Mr Beams is tougher than you might expect. As well as being ultra-bright, he’s certified weatherproof and water-resistant for use both inside and outside the tent, so no need to worry if it’s a bit drizzly on the way to the toilet block, and the high-quality LEDs inside are engineered to provide 30 hours of light on a single set of D batteries.
But perhaps most excitingly of all is this lantern’s ability, like that of our first choice, to charge smartphones and other mobile devices, and for a good deal less initial outlay.
9. Regatta Helia 36 Solar Lantern
A rugged lantern with a surprisingly soft side
Reasons to buy
Outdoor brand Regatta know a thing or two about gearing up for the backwoods, so it stands to reason that they’d know their way around a lamp, too.
It comes complete with a mains and in-car charger, but its other charging methods give it green credentials and make it ideal for longer or car-less trips: simply power with your own elbow grease using the wind-up attachment, or pop it outside and let the integrated solar panel soak up some rays.
Admittedly, 80 lumens is far from the brightest output on our list, but for a bit of ambient lighting, and as our cheapest-to-run lantern, it’s great.
- The best camping pillows: for nodding off in the great outdoors
- The best camping grill: rustle up some home comforts out in the wilds
The final word
Ultimately, there are two ends to this spectrum: the ultralight, trekker-friendly lantern at one end, and the basecamp monster at the other.
The Biolite BaseLantern XL and Power Bank is our top pick for the best camping lantern. It’s complete overkill for trekking and backpacking, but enormously enjoyable for car camping, campervan holidays and longer camping trips where things like ambience and programmable lighting schedules are of greater importance.
If you want a lightweight lantern that can be stuffed into a backpack and carried without issue, and you don’t need any smart light controls, choose the Alpkit Trinity.
About the author…
Mark Mayne is an outdoors journalist who specialises in camping, hiking and diving.