Updated May 2017
This spring we got our hands on the new Streamlight Siege and it impressed us enough to win a new award: Top Pick for Tough. We also ordered all the new versions of the old award winners. Those test results should be out in June.
Best Overall Lantern
Black Diamond Apollo
Legs feature rubber tips
Ability to dim
Dual metal hanging hooks
Cool innovative design
Easy to use & durable
Not quite as bright as we'd like
Battery life is lacking
With an innovative design and reliable performance, the Apollo
rose to the top. It's versatility instantly made it our go-to on camping trips and during power outages. Though not the lightest or brightest, it makes an excellent multipurpose option without sacrificing quality. Our favorite use was camping, but it's also ideal for larger backpacking groups or as a base camp light. Also, Black Diamond offers an eco-friendly and money saving NRG2 Rechargeable Battery Kit
and NRG/NRG2 Car Charger Kit
that recharges the battery similar to a cell phone charger. If you are looking for a product that excels in every category, we highly recommend the Apollo.
Read review: Black Diamond Apollo
Best for Budget-Minded and Eco-Friendly
MPOWERD Luci Original
Needs no batteries - runs on solar
Inflatable, waterproof, & floats!
Ease of operation
The Luci Original
is the lightest product that we tested and it's solar powered. It only costs $15, and we took it camping, backpacking and just used it around the house. Several Lucis together make great backyard party decorations. It takes a full eight hours to charge but the charge lasts about 12 hours on high. This light packs down to a think disk when deflated. The Luci is also waterproof and floats.
Read review: Luci Original
Top Pick for Backcountry Enthusiasts
Black Diamond Voyager
Light modes are adjustable
Easy to hang
Can be used as both a flashlight and a lantern
Difficult to open at times
Low distance in flashlight more
is light and extremely compact. As the little brother to the Apollo
, we found ourselves reaching for the Orbit
almost as much as the Editors' Choice winner. The Voyager also conveniently offers the Black Diamond NRG2 Rechargeable Battery Kit
sold separately. We loved the flashlight feature on this product and the fact that it is small and lightweight. Before embarking on this review, we had never backpacked with lanterns, preferring headlamps for our evening activities. Though we still bring headlamps, this review demonstrated the beauty of collecting around a central light source, particularly in areas where fires are prohibited. Of all the products we tested, the Voyager is the only one we would take into the backcountry.
Read review: Black Diamond Voyager
Top Pick for Tough
Streamlight The Siege
Water resistant & floats
Light output isn't full adjustable
Limited amount of settings
If you want to punish your camping lights, get The Siege
. It's waterproof, floats, and just generally takes a beating. It's constructed with polycarbonate thermoplastic and has a rubberized base, bottom and top. It has three LEDs; one white and two red. The outer globe is removable so you can hang it upside down for lighting larger areas. It's also magnetic.
Read review: Streamlight The Siege
Analysis and Test Results
Why buy a lantern instead of just a headlamp? Lanterns provide a 360-degree central lighting source. This allows people to share one source of light, whereas a headlamp is for personal spotlighting. A lantern illuminates a campsite and provides important illumination during emergencies and power outages. Bringing one for the group can eliminate the need for everyone to have a headlamp.
For more information on how to select the right model, check out our How to Choose the Best Lantern
Battery and solar powered contenders on the left and fuel powered products tested on the right.
There are three main uses: emergencies, camping, and backcountry. Emergency and camping are similar in that weight is less important and the lumen output is more critical. For an emergency, battery life and ease of use is essential as well. Backpacking models should be light, compact, and durable enough to withstand the elements.
We tested eight contenders, ranging from ultralight ones that fit in the palm of your hand, hefty, bright models bigger than your head and even a solar model. Not all of them were directly comparable, but considering the large variety, we have recommended those based on their intended use.
Criteria for Evaluation
We found brightness to be one of the most important factors. On our adventures, we used them in a wide range of settings and rated them based on how well they illuminated the area and their light quality. A huge factor for us was whether or not it was uncomfortably bright. If it was blinding we were much less likely to place it in the middle of camp at dinner, or read by it in our tent. We loved having the ability to control the brightness, particularly the dimming feature on the Black Diamond models, which allowed us to adjust the light based on the setting and number of people present.
The other factor that affects light quality is how the light projects. No one wants to stare directly at a light bulb. This is where the globe, the "lampshade" of lanterns, comes in. The plastic globe surrounding the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow created a lovely light quality with three settings
, and the Black Diamond's fogged plastic and manner of reflecting the light made the Apollo and Orbit non-invasive without sacrificing brightness. The Coleman Northstar was the brightest
we tested. However, its globe is nothing but clear glass; looking at the light directly can be uncomfortable.
Coleman Northstar on the left and the UST 30 Day Duro Glow on the right.
Ease of Use
We took them to the mountains and the desert and realized the importance of being able to hang them easily. The heavier ones tended to be much more difficult to hang and required sturdier branches, thus increasing the importance of their base. In treeless campsites we were confined to setting them on rocks, picnic tables, cars, or on the ground. Small bases made it hard to position them on uneven surfaces, while designs like the Black Diamond Apollo used tripod style legs with rubber, non-slip ends, making it a piece of cake to position. We also learned to love the models with many light modes such as the Streamlight The Siege, which allowed us to change the brightness depending on the intended use
. For example, for some uses it's great if you have a super bright light like the Coleman Northstar, but if you want to read by it you're going to get a headache. Lights with dimming features like the Black Diamond models, the UST 30-Day Duro Glow and the MPOWERD Luci Original
were much more suited for reading.
When researching the products we noticed many common consumer reviews about battery compartment accessibility. We found the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow
required a lot more effort to replace the batteries, whereas the Black Diamond and the Siege were much more straightforward and simple. The Luci light does not require any batteries but does take a while to reach a full solar charge.
Size also contributes to how easy it is to use. For example, a large heavy model like the Coleman Northstar can be tough to use in a smaller tent or at your bedside table due to its large footprint and weight. A small model is easier to use and more useful in a tent than out in the open trying to illuminate your cooking area. We rated them based on their intended use.
Clockwise from the left: Northstar, Apollo, The Siege and the EasyLight. The two on the left take fuel to run, the two on the right need batteries and are more suited for use inside a tent.
What good is it if it doesn't last? Here we tested the durability of the construction materials in many different environments. The products tested were made of plastic, but they were made sturdier by added metal and rubber worked into the design. The Streamlight The Siege
and the Ultimate Survival Technologies 30-Day Duro Glow
have enough rubber to make them shockproof at close range. The Siege withstood a fall from seven feet high onto cement without a scratch.
Two of the products we tested are waterproof: The Siege and the MPOWERD Luci light. They also both float.
Another factor of durability is battery life. The 30 Day Duro Glow's D batteries lasted 33 days, 24 hours a day on its lowest setting. We were impressed with that. The MPOWERD Luci Original
is a solar powered product that doesn't require batteries at all but did take a full eight hours to charge. The Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 doesn't need any batteries
as well and charges via a USB cord but it doesn't hold a charge for very long on the highest setting.
A model with only an on/off switch and a handle will get the job done, but it decreases its versatility. We would score such a design such rather low in the features category. Some of the products tested had minimal features, while others had many unique components that set them apart and made them much easier to use. We rated them based on how many features they had, and if they improved the overall quality of the product. The Goal Zero Lighthouse had cool feature of being able to charge a smartphone. The Black Diamond models had features that we found to be simple yet practical. Some of these included the sliding globe that covered the on/off button, the awesome dimming function, great hooks for hanging and flexible legs for improved stability on uneven terrain. We gave lower scores to models with features that were unnecessary, while the ones with practical and useful features received the higher scores.
We loved how the Streamlight The Siege
is waterproof and floats.
Another thing to note is that a product with many useful features tended to be easier to use, increasing the ease of use rating. We especially liked the products with dimmable power outputs like the brilliant Coleman Northstar
, both Black Diamond products, the Primus EasyLight
and the Goal Zero Lighthouse
Charging the Lighthouse with a PowerADD portable solar charger and charging an iPhone with the Lighthouse.
The Northstar is the heaviest contender tested at about 4.5 lbs and is one of the two products we tested that use mantles and fuel. The next heaviest product we tested was The Siege. The Siege and the 30 Day Duro were about the same weight and both require D batteries. The Siege weighs 1 lb 15 oz and the Duro 1 lb 13 oz. The Lighthouse weighs 1.1 lbs and requires no batteries at all, just a USB charge. The BD Apollo is next in line at .71 lbs. Both BD models we tested take AA batteries. The EasyLight weighs .41 lbs but keep in mind that is without a fuel canister attached. The BD Voyager weighs a mere .35 lbs and is small enough to fit into your pocket. The lightest product we tested is the solar powered inflatable Luci light which weighs a mere .28 lbs.
Two Luci lights on the left, next the Voyager, two Apollo's, The Siege, 30-Day Duro Glow, Lighthouse 250, Easy Light and the Northstar on the far right.
While conducting this review, we were pleasantly surprised how many times we found the products in this category to be so useful, and in many cases, more convenient that our beloved headlamps (gasp!). If you're in the market to purchase a stand-alone lamp for the outdoors, it can be tough to choose the best product. For one, we don't know any stores that allow you to take their products out overnight to test them out. Luckily, you now have this review to be your guide and reference as you search for the model that suits you best. Moreover, if you need additional information in the hunt for a cordless beacon, check out our Buying Advice