When discussing essential camping gear, we typically stick to shelter, sleep systems, and nourishment. But, only so much of time at camp is spent while the sun is in the sky. So what about lighting? Headlamps are wildly convenient, but not great for group settings (who among us hasn't had to bashfully ask a friend to turn their headlamp off after being beamed in the face one too many times). A quick solve to illuminating our little slice of the Earth is a classic camping lantern. And thanks to many industrious efforts, lantern options these days are anything but old and boring.
Assess the selection of camping lanterns at any outdoor gear shop IRL or online and you’ll find a lot going on. Some camp lanterns still run on gas, while others have integrated battery packs for charging small electronics. Keep it humble or go full-on 21st century; the choice is yours, camper.
What to Look for in a Camping Lantern
Beginning most simply, consider the camping lantern’s light qualities. Most brands will advertise a measure of the light’s brightness measured in lumens. The LED flashlights on the latest smartphones measure anywhere from 12-50 lumens. We suggest going for big lumen output numbers, but look for dimming and brightness settings, too, to increase runtime and control of the mood at camp.
It might seem picky, but we think the temperature of a lantern’s light is nearly as critical as the brightness. A cool fluorescent light (4,000 Kelvins or more) can look and feel quite out of place in nature; we prefer a warmer temperature below the 4,000 K mark.
The power (or fuel) source for your camping light should be another important aspect to consider. Batteries can be convenient (but wasteful), and USB power looks to be the most ubiquitous power source. We’re beginning to notice an increase in solar-charging options, too. Many of the same lanterns that recharge by USB also function as ancillary battery packs for charging other small devices around camp, which cuts out the need for dedicated power banks.
With all of the above in mind—plus overall design aesthetic and usability—we've sifted through the many variations currently available to the common camper and decided on the following picks. Dig in and have fun this season!
Top 10 Camping Lights and Lanterns for Backpacking and Life Outdoors
Best Camping Lantern for Backpacking: Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Core
This lunar lander-looking piece may be small, but it’s quite an impressive camping light for its size. The 210 lumen, rechargeable 3,500 K LED camping lantern boasts 500+ hour runtime on its lowest light setting or just 4+ hours at its highest. USB ports on the Lighthouse charge other small devices with its onboard power or even take charge during operation. A set of folding legs helps cast its light further while taking up minimal space when packed away. We’re also big fans of the brand’s solar products, like their collapsible Crush Light, a compact solar lantern perfect for backpacking or emergency light for unplanned power outages brought on by the next Noreaster hurricane.
Price: $40 SHOP NOW
Best Camping Lantern for Glamping: Barebones Forest Lantern
The Forest Lantern packs the aesthetic of yore with the modern features of today. A warm 3000 K LED light provides enjoyable ambiance, and its larger USB rechargeable battery size allows for a runtime of up to 80+ hours. Its larger size makes it more suitable for glamping or car camping settings, so choose a more compact lantern if you’re backpacking into the great unknown.
Price: $70 SHOP NOW
Best Propane Camping Lantern: Coleman Northstar
If you didn’t grow up with Coleman propane lanterns and stoves at camp, then you’re probably just a wee bit younger than some of the Field Mag writers behind this piece. Crank on the dimmer knob to put out a whopping 1540 lumens of gas-fueled light. Unfortunately, it’s one of the least sustainable and compact options we enjoy, but a worthwhile car camping classic worth mentioning.
Most Minimal Camping Lantern: Knog PWR Lantern
Urban cyclists might recall this Australian brand for their minimal lighting bike lights, a style they’ve upheld across new lighting products, including this sleek cylindrical camp light. The scant 6 oz (180 g) light packs an impressive 300 lumens of light into a slim design, measuring 5.9” by 2.3” once compacted. Small-but-stable feet unfold from its base to add stability, but a removable lanyard makes for easy hanging of the small light tube. Extend the light’s run time or add power bank functionality with the optional PWR Bank ($55).
Price: $45 SHOP NOW
Best Open Flame Camping Lantern: Snow Peak Mini Flame
Wouldn’t you rather your final grams of butane fuel be used for light rather than sputtering out on its final boil of your camping kettle? This ingenious camping light creates a candle-like ambiance around camp and consumes just a tiny amount of fuel as adjustable as your favorite camp stove. The 106 g weight falls below the measure of an ultralight necessity but is still an appropriate weight for the average backpacking outing.
Price: $55 SHOP NOW
Most Colorful Camping Light: Black Diamond ReMoji Lantern
The tiny 100 lumen LED light racks up several features for a camping light handy for camping trips or any outdoor hang. A continuous rainbow light mode lets campers set a cosmic mood or pause once they’ve found a hue they dig, then further dial in brightness with a dimmer function. Plop the ReMoji onto any desired surface, or get creative with the light’s built-in hooks or magnetic base. A water-resistant IPX4 rating will keep the light from ruin if a bit of rain runs through your camp. The internal battery charges via USB, and once fully charged, the battery life will give a runtime of 10 hours.
Price: $40 SHOP NOW
Best Camping Lantern for Groups: BioLite AlpenGlow 500
This domed camping light reminds us of those smart-speakers folks are always talking to at home, but trust us, it’s not. An impressive count of 500 lumens light up any group setting with a tall 5.4” height throwing light in every direction around it. A group of white, red, blue, and green LED bulbs work in harmony to provide numerous fun color settings, and a candle-like flicker mode brings some analog-style flavor. The rechargeable battery has a runtime of 5 to 200 hours, and an additional USB port can charge small electronic devices. The AlpenGlow’s size and brightness would make the perfect camp table centerpiece, but a built-in hook allows for hanging it above should the perfect branch present itself.
Price: $80 SHOP NOW
Best Designed Camping Lantern: Snow Peak Home & Camp Lantern
Recognizing that its fans use their products at home and camp, Snow Peak set out to design a rechargeable and portable lantern with both uses in mind. The minimal design features only one button to toggle the light on and off and dim the 400 lumen light to a preferred brightness. A detachable USB charging stand acts as a constant power cable to avoid worrying about keeping it charged at home.
Price: $160 SHOP NOW
Most Compact Camping Lantern: LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Power Lantern
This lesser-known brand does one product, and they do it well: a best-seller, flat-pack, collapsible camping light for the discerning camper. Like other camping lanterns, the inflatable lantern can charge via USB port. While out camping for days on end, you might not have enough backup power to keep every single device charged. So, its second-most important feature is its small solar panel that charges its lithium battery. One step further, the same USB port can charge small devices. The solar panel could be the device’s primary feature to the right camper–a compact solar panel charger that also lights up at night! Just need the light? Save a few bucks and opt for the PackLite Nova ($30) solar light.
Price: $50 SHOP NOW
Best Budget Camping Lantern: SOL Camp Lantern 3D
Good outdoor products don’t have to be spendy to be good, and this lantern has a lot going for it, considering the price. The impressively bright 1000 lumen light features four light modes that allow for runtimes between 6 and 16 hours, including a strobe mode that could find itself helpful. With its low cost comes a considerable drawback, the reliance on three hefty D batteries for power. In some cases, plug-in power might not be around, but a cache of hoarded energizers just might.
Price: $25 SHOP NOW