Setting up a good campsite involves more than just having a flashlight on hand. There’s no denying the benefit that a couple of well set up and placed lanterns can have when it comes to setting up a decent nighttime campsite.
Many of my childhood memories involve summers full of camping out, the campfire supplemented by lanterns that were strategically placed to give us light while pulling bugs away from the campfire.
Ah, so many campfires where we laughed, told ghost stories, and for many of us had some of the best memories of our youth growing up.
In our scout troop kerosene lanterns were the most common, although a few of us eventually had flashlights that could also double up as a lantern with a little bit of a shift. Something that seems so common now – but back then it was actually very different and exciting.
Today there are so many choices. Solar and re-chargeable lanterns, LED lanterns, kerosene, propane, multiple gas option camping lanterns, there are just so many great options when it comes to getting a lantern that help you cut through the night’s darkness.
We’re going to go over many of our favorites in this guide, as well as answer many of the most common questions that come up when it comes to picking out the best lanterns for your specific needs.
Our Favorite Lanterns!
Our Top Pick: Vont Compact LED Camping Lantern
So this article is all about the best styles of camping lanterns out there, but for those who don’t quite care about the deep dive and want a simple answer to the question “What is the best camping lantern?” well here’s our answer for you!
While it’s hard to ever make a definitive statement with most pieces of camping gear, Vont’s very compact LED camping lantern is an outstanding choice that simply blows the competition out of the water. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the sheer number of positive reviews on Amazon – you just don’t find anything around that has that many great reviews.
Jon and I have both put them through a thorough review. In Jon’s case, his 5 year old boy and 3 year old boy have also put a couple of these lanterns through a level of endurance training that I’m sure could make even the most stringent quality control wince. These have survived with flying colors!
There’s a lot I love about these lanterns, to the point we are likely to create an entire blog post just on Vont products. For these lanterns they are very lightweight and surprisingly compact, but the light power is incredible. These are easy to spot and really light up an area. Storage is easy, the bottom screws off to add three AA batteries, and you can tell every little detail about this flexible and durable lantern has been thought through down to being water resistant for those rough creek and river crossings.
They are bright, they have an amazing battery life (this LED light lasts roughly twice as long as the average comparable lantern), easy to pack and carry, there’s nothing about these camping lanterns that we don’t love. In fact the design has been so good that we’ve given it one of our incredibly rare perfect 10 scores.
The fact that they’re very inexpensively priced on top of that makes them nothing short of a great option no matter what your reason at looking for a truly high quality lantern.
Find the Vont LED Lantern 2-Pack HERE.
You can learn more about Vont’s Backstory HERE,
Or click on the blue “Buy Now” button to see the 4-Pack on Amazon.com.
Quick List of Top Outdoor Lanterns by Style:
- Best overall lantern: VONT LED Lantern
- Best solar powered camping lantern: AGP Tech Solar Powered Lantern
- Best kerosene camping lantern: Coleman One Mantle Kerosene Lantern
- Best propane lantern: Coleman Deluxe Perfect Flow Lantern
- Best mixed fuel camping lantern: Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern
- Best LED lantern/flashlight hybrid: HeroBeam LED Lantern w/ Flashlight V2.0
LED Lanterns for Camping
There’s no question that these are among the most popular lanterns currently on the market, and considering all the amazing benefits it is not at all hard to see why. These lanterns are well made, don’t require refills of gas, come in a variety of designs, and offer some outstanding options when it comes to long lasting light that you can rely on in emergency situations.
Safe to say, there’s not just one reason why these LED camping lanterns are taking over as one of the top choices among outdoor enthusiasts. Because of the new military grade plastics and heavy duty building materials that can also remain extremely lightweight, there are more reliable and stronger than ever. Solid design, extremely bright and reliable light, and the ability to work in a variety of situations makes these extremely popular choices.
If you are looking for a reliable camping lantern that won’t bust the budget but works when you need it in the way you need it to, then chances are you’re going to start by looking at the top LED-based lanterns out there.
Pros of LED lanterns:
- Generally the most versatile lantern option
- These are among the most reliable lanterns out there
- Long lasting light bulbs / light life
- Relatively inexpensive, especially compared to other types of lanterns
- Many great high quality emergency lantern designs & models to choose from
- Often among the most durable choices
Cons of LED lanterns:
- Some can eat through batteries relatively quickly with heavy use
- Lower quality LED lights can flicker or give uneven light over time
- There are good & cheap LED camping lantern models: you really want to make sure you have a good model and not a cheap one
Kerosene Lanterns for Camping
Kerosene camping lanterns are definitely really old school compared to most of the other options in this article, but there’s a reason they were around for so long and why they continue to survive even with so many other options now available. A well built kerosene lantern was built to last for decades, and there is many a farm across the country that has a good reliable gas lantern that are dozens of years old and still can be lit for carrying a light out around the property at night or for emergency situations.
In fact, kerosene lamps are the same type that we used during my childhood for a countless number of nights camping out during the spring, summer, fall, and even winter with our local Boy Scout troop when my brother and I were growing up.
The smell and sound of these lanterns definitely trigger some positive memories for both of us, and there are many people who swear by kerosene lanterns as being some of the best – especially if you have experience mixing citronella oil with lamp oil to help improve the smell and keep pests like mosquitoes away.
This is a long time technique, and one that has long been used by campers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts while camping or heading out at night when they needed light and there weren’t as many options. Keeping the bugs at bay: just an outstanding benefit.
(NOTE: NEVER mix Deet with lamp fuel, or any oil other than citronella oil. Doing so can result in fires or even explosions. Be safe and smart out there, guys.)
Pros of kerosene a camping lantern:
- These are built to last over the long haul
- By mixing citronella oil with lamp oil you can make the kerosene smell better and it help keeps mosquitoes away
- Old school durability when used properly
- Can last decades if properly cared for
Cons of kerosene camping lanterns:
- Fumes from kerosene lamps are not healthy to inhale
- Although normally safe, when not cared for properly or used properly, there are chances of fires or even explosions in extreme cases
- You need to keep buying new fuel and new mantles over time
- Can only be used in areas with great ventilation or out in the open air
Propane Camping Lanterns
Propane lanterns for camping might not have the life you would expect bouncing as a perceived “upgrade” to many old kerosene lanterns because of the emergence of LED lanterns, but they are still a popular choice that offers a wide array of options.
These are generally considered a step up from kerosene by many campers and rural residents looking for reliable emergency lamps for when thunderstorms knock out the power, and the renowned Coleman company is king when it comes to creating incredible emergency lanterns that work in all scenarios.
In fact, if you check out our big article outlining all of our propane camping lantern reviews, it becomes really clear that Coleman is the company that really dominates the competition here, to the point that other competitors really aren’t even trying to break in at this point.
While there’s a definite shift towards LED and electric light lanterns, which has been sped up because of the massive jumps in solar technology, many campers and other outdoor enthusiasts still love the long term reliability of propane lanterns and what they bring to the table whether for camping or an emergency power outage situation.
Aside from having decades of proven track records for getting the job done, it is worth noting that one of the major benefits of propane is that as long as you have gas to re-fill it, the lantern will work. There’s no concerns about having something stop working or stop receiving juice from batteries, there’s no worry about there not being enough sunlight. These lanterns are built to last and as long as you keep getting more propane you can always count on these lanterns to work for you in a pinch.
Pros of Propane Lanterns:
- Doesn’t rely on sun or undamaged batteries for re-charging
- Proven track record as these have been in popular use for over half a century
- Well-built and affordable
- Good choice for cold fall or mild winter weather that could damage many cheaper LED lanterns
Cons of Propane Lanterns:
- Propane for re-fills will be a consistent expense
- Can’t just be re-charged with new batteries or some time in the sun
- Not usable in extreme cold weather (-20 and colder)
- Need to be used in areas with ventilation or open air movement
Mix Fuel Lanterns
These are some of the most popular out there, and have often replaced the traditional kerosene lanterns that we often used for Scouts in the past. These are associated with both kerosene and propane, and in the same way that Coleman seems to really dominate a lot of the propane lantern choices, and these usual run off of either a specially designed “dual fuel” that is as easily available as propane and other similar lamp gases or it runs off of unleaded gasoline.
This duality is popular with people who like a degree of flexibility and also want a high quality lantern that is built to be sturdy, solid, and reliable. That trifecta of demands is fully reasonable when you’re looking for an emergency lantern, and because it is so well built this is also a favorite of many campers who want that reliable lantern light for any set up camping site that will work in cold temperatures in addition to hold up to the normal wear from time and heavy use.
These are definitely a niche area of portable camping lanterns and one that hasn’t necessarily surpassed propane powered lanterns yet, although now these are a bit more common than kerosene. These are an excellent option but have their pros and cons just like any other type of outdoor lamp.
Pros of multi-fuel camping lanterns:
- Can often use regular unleaded gasoline as a fuel
- Extremely well crafted and designed
- More sturdy and well made than many LED models
Cons of multi-fuel camping lanterns:
- Dual fuel or multi fuel isn’t a catch phrase for any type of fuel – the options are often still limited
- Limited selection and designs
- Still has conventional cons that come with a gas fuel fed lanterns
Lantern Flashlight Hybrids
These are more multi-tool flashlights in many cases than a true LED or solar lantern, but they do offer a certain versatility that some people really enjoy, especially in situations like family camping trips, or sending the Boy Scout in the family out to summer camp.
While these often aren’t as high a level as your conventional LED lantern, they are inexpensive, offer something very different and interesting, and will find a high demand for good reason.
On top of all this, there is at least one example of an absolutely outstanding hybrid and that is the HeroBeam, which has received incredible ratings as both a lantern as well as a flashlight.
Their design is very unique and a departure from some of the standard designs that have been used for decades at this point and that advancement is often credited with helping push the HeroBeam hybrid to the next level compared to other models that aren’t nearly as highly regarded.
Pros of lantern-flashlight hybrids:
- The versatility is exceptional
- Great level of portability and can even change how the light comes out (area vs beam)
- Relatively inexpensive in many cases
Cons of lantern-flashlight hybrids:
- Very few high end brands/models
- Often not quite as solidly designed on the lantern side
Rechargeable Solar Powered Camping Lanterns
This can be a little bit of a mixed hybrid category since obviously solar lanterns, by their very nature, are going to be rechargeable. These terms are often used interchangeably but there are some other camper lanterns that are mostly battery powered or electric in nature but can be plugged in to recharge, as well.
This means many of the best lanterns that are going to appear on this list are also going to appear in other categories that directly match how they work, as well.
However, since there’s a lot of reason to believe the future of rechargeable lanterns are definitely going in the direction of solar power, it makes sense that not only will more and more rechargeable lanterns be heavily solar in nature or even mainly solar, but that this type of lantern will grab a higher and higher market share, as well.
Best Solar Lanterns
Our very first lantern article was actually all about solar camping lanterns and why they are becoming so popular. This was one of those articles that really took off for us and we realized that both solar powered camping gear and finding good camping lanterns were both topics that our readers wanted a lot more information about, and we’re happy to oblige!
Solar lanterns offer a great way to have a reliable but environmentally friendly lantern that charges during the day and gives plenty of light at night.
Many of these have battery backups, as well, and the solar energy can vary but generally speaking 1 hour of charging gives 2-4 hours of light and all you need to do is have it in the sun. Some models even have a crank where 1 minute of cranking provides enough energy for 20 minute of light for short use, and the battery backups are there when all else fails.
This rechargeable lantern is a popular option with many campers and can absorb power directly, not relying on a separate solar panel to charge up. This is a good design and with the environmentally friendly function along with the easy to use back up charging mechanism, it’s easy to see why this solar lantern is popular on so many camping trips.
These are extremely popular with many of our readers, have proven to be extremely reliable and useful, and we have little doubt as the solar energy technology continues to improve so will the demand for these outstanding lanterns. And why not?
When they are extremely reliable, provide great light, and have multiple backup options that keep them useful, it’s hard to argue, isn’t it?
How Do I Know Which Lantern Is Best for Me?
This is the million dollar question, and one that doesn’t have a single best answer. Keeping in mind that each style or type of lantern has good models and cheap ones, and even among popular models there’s always a chance of that rare defective unit.
Those basic caveats aside, there are a few questions to ask and a few factors to think about that will help you figure out which type of of lantern works best for you and your needs.
The truth is that most people can use a wide array of different styles and models of lanterns and there might not be a “perfect choice.” That being said, there are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out if there is a clear better fit or a specific type that doesn’t work well for you and your needs.
Reading the pros & cons in this article is a really nice start, and our table gives a great mix of different lanterns by both style and brand to help you find the perfect lantern for your specific needs.
Read online reviews, consider sales, but at the end of the day you want to shop for yourself and trust your gut instincts. With that being said, here are some details you should look up to get all the information you need to make an informed decision and be able to really trust that gut instinct.
Look at Brightness Levels
The brightness of lanterns is measured in lumens. Basically the larger the number, the brighter the actual light. This is a great guideline to figuring out not only how powerful a lantern is but also what level of power actually meets your specific needs. It is worth mentioning that while this is a great rule of thumb, not all companies measure their camp lights in exactly the same way.
Some will measure inside the lantern itself right up next to the bulb while there are others that start measuring on the outside which tends to give a slightly more accurate idea of what level of light will spill out around you at night.
The range between lamps can be enormous although most will choose to fall into the 150-400 range overall. This tends to be the sweet spot of light for what most campers decide that they actually need.
While some people will have different preferences, generally a good level of thumb is 300+ for a large area of light around a campsite or while doing some night hiking, 200 for a basic tent area, and 100 for lighting the inside of a tent.
Size & Weight Considerations
If you’re a backpacker every ounce counts at that means you’re looking for a high quality lantern that is durable, lightweight, and still provides an appropriate amount of light. However if setting up multiple lanterns around a campsite then much heavier lanterns might be an excellent option.
If they are just set around camp or being hung from tripods strategically throughout a site then there’s a lot less concern. In addition to this, some people love compact lanterns but some go the other way and prefer to have a little bit of weight and a little bit of heft to what they’re carrying.
How Are They Powered?
Batteries can run out but replacement batteries are relatively light since most lanterns will use AA batteries or AAA batteries. Propane and kerosene lanterns will also require fuel with them which can make a difference when it comes to light. Solar lanterns you don’t have to worry about except if there are multiple heavy cloudy days in a row then you might have a problem – especially if you need to hike all night.
Keeping in mind the obvious pros and cons of various lantern styles will help you to understand which are best as an option for an emergency light, which are best for a camping excursion, and which maybe fill a different role. Even when there are similar styles of lantern, one can still be different from another. Some have only one style of light, while other portable LED lantern options have multiple light modes to take advantage of.
Light output is going to differ, and while there are many great options no matter what style you choose means that it is important to understand what the pros and cons of your power source means. While night vision can be a great thing to have at night, you don’t want to have to rely on it especially if you are trying to set up a camp, do anything detail oriented, or are out during a new moon when light at night is absolutely at a premium.
Does it Play Nice with Water?
Few lanterns or lights will be full-immersion waterproof but many offer water and splash resistance. These standards are referred to as the International Protection Marking and will provide you with insight as to what your lantern can withstand. Overall, an IPX-0 rating means there is absolutely no water ingress protection, while an IPX-8 rating guarantees functionality after/during submersion of up to 3 meters. For casual outdoor use, an IPX-4 rating is sufficient; it offers protection from splashing in any direction. Check here for a full rundown of the different IPX ratings.
Camping Lantern FAQ
There are many questions that come up when looking at the best possible camping lantern options that are currently available, but by looking though the most common ones you can get a better idea of what choice might be best for you.
Q: What is the single best camping lantern I can buy?
These questions are rough because preference, situation, and so many other factors come into play whenever trying to choose one piece of outdoor equipment over another. However, with that being said, we are absolutely enormous fans of the Vont LED lantern. Trademarked design many competitors are attempting to steal for themselves, this lantern is extremely durable, compact, easy to use, and bright. Add in a long battery life and the fact it comes with batteries included, and we absolutely adore this lantern, giving it one of our incredibly rare perfect scores.
Q: How many types of lanterns are there?
A: There are actually many different types and styles of lanterns out there, not to mention different ways to test one versus another. There are gas based lanterns: kerosene, propane, and mixed fuel. There are electric based lanterns which are generally LED lights now and can be solar or battery powered (or both). There are crank lanterns where the energy from cranking gives you X amount of light time from the energy created. Many are a blend, such as gas lanterns that are propane/mixed fuel or rechargeable solar lanterns that use LED lights and have batteries as back ups.
Q: What type of lantern is the best for camping?
A: Again this becomes a question of location and reliability. Generally speaking unless you have restrictions preventing it you definitely want to take at least one backup and if you have a group there should be a few lanterns. In sunny locations rechargeable solar LED lanterns are a great inexpensive choice that will last well into the night and recharge the next day while cold weather gives a nod to reliable propane lanterns that can function well until you hit around the 0 degree mark.
Q: What lantern is best for emergencies?
A: In a pinch it is whatever lantern works. In this case if it is a solar powered lantern you want to make sure it has backup batteries or a crank system when everything else fails. Gas lanterns are incredibly reliable but it is important to make sure there is fuel in the lantern and back up fuel just in case. If you have plenty of batteries, LED lanterns are great. If you have plenty of fuel on hand, gas lanterns work.
LED often gets a slight nod here because having a lot of extra batteries on hand is much easier in most homes and the lack of gas means no worries about fumes (although these concerns are often overblown you should still only use these in open or ventilated areas), as well as the fact that many people go with an LED lantern/flashlight hybrid that allows them a versatile level of use.
Keep in mind battery life and ease of use, especially in the dark, when it comes to picking one for an emergency light.
Q: Are gas based lanterns interchangeable?
A: No. Kerosene, propane, and mixed fuel are not interchangeable with one another. There are some lanterns that are specifically designed to use a fuel blend or two types of fuel but unless the lamp says it does then no, the gas used can’t be switched out for another. Even the multi-use or multi-blend ones still should only be used with the fuel they are specifically designed for.
Q: What brands of outdoor camping lanterns stick out as being truly elite?
A: Once again this depends heavily on what type of lantern you choose to purchase. Coleman is pretty much the undisputed king when it comes to gas fueled camping lanterns at this point but if you’re looking at solar powered lanterns or LED powered lanterns then the names shift. These are markets that are still shaking out but doing a little bit of research and looking for the most popular brand names on Amazon can help set you in the right direction.
Q: What is the history of lanterns?
A: Great question, but one that could require an entirely new post to cover. One of the best resources we’ve found is here, a page specifically dedicated to the history of the lantern’s evolution.
There are many good options when it comes to finding a high quality lantern for your camping needs, and hopefully this article has proven illuminating (I know, I’m sorry but I couldn’t resist). Whether you go with the old school version with classic kerosene lanterns or decide to forgo the smell of gas or any fumes and go with LED, solar, and rechargeable models, you have plenty of options to choose from.
Make sure to do your research, understand which type of lanterns you are actually most comfortable with, and get one (or more – it’s ALWAYS a great idea to have a reliable backup) or more for your camping adventures, night hikes, or for your home in emergency situations. Whatever your needs, you want to make sure that you are absolutely prepared.