Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.
We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.
While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products
Type or Style
We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.
|Example qualities & features
General fuel sources
Check manufacturer's instructions for your model, important consideration that affects total weight & size, total price, and availability
||Batteries or USB-charge
||Gas or liquid fuel
|How does it work
||Light a candle
||Turn it on
||Pour fuel, set up a mantle, then light it
Will it work in wet environments?
||Lantern housing may protect flame from light rain
Light rain to full submersion
Check the device's IP rating
|Lantern housing may protect flame from light rain
|Can it be used anywhere?
Needs to be in a ventilated area; may not be permissible due to fire regulations
Even in an enclosed area, such as the inside of a tent
Needs to be in a ventilated area
|Effect on secondary factors
Lantern only, excludes candles
||Dimmer, ~10 lumens per candle
||Moderate, 200-500 lumens
||Brighter, up to 1000+ lumens*
||Less technical & dimmer
||More technical & brighter
Why we do/don't carry it
= we rent
= we sell
|Not as versatile for multiple use cases & doesn't add that much more value (you can use something non-outdoor-specific which would be much more affordable)
Versatile for most outdoor uses, therefore more worth the money (it can be small enough to be used for backpacking, too!)
|Not as versatile for multiple use cases
*You could also just use a candle, in which all the considerations on this table would remain the same, except the price of a candle is much lower
**There's a very wide range because there are tiny gas-powered lanterns that screw into the small gas canisters used in backpacking; these are much more similar to candle-powered lanterns in terms of secondary factors.
One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.
We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!
It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:
- Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
- The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation
For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.
For lighting, the larger issue is usually around durability. Lower end lights break more easily or are more likely to stop working after a drop or other type of impact.
Methodology notes on prices shown on this page
Measured by lumens, the total amount of visible light emitted. We know it's pretty technical, so we have a chart full of examples in the page on headlamps. For lanterns, remember that the lumens are spread over a broader area, not directed in a beam, so a lantern with the same amount of lumens as a headlamp may not shine out as far (i.e., it has a lower beam of distance). Generally though, people aren't as technical with lanterns, so these are some general guidelines:
- ~100 lumens is good for hanging inside a tent (electric only!)
- 200-300 lumens is good for a picnic table area
- 500-700 lumens is good for mimicking a small camp fire
Generally the brighter the lantern, the more expensive it will be.
Energy source & usable life
Some electric lanterns require batteries, other are USB-chargeable, and others are a hybrid of both. And of course fuel-based lanterns run on propane, butane, or liquid fuel (depending on model). Most electric lanterns will last at least from sunset to sunrise (10+ hours)*, whereas fuel-based lanterns may run a good evening on one can of gas.
*It's always a good idea to test the usable life of electric-powered lights. Usable life is officially defined as any amount of light being emitted (which is why you see numbers like 60 hours... that means that at 60 hours, maybe you're only getting a dull glimmer!). On an easy trip, test it at the settings that you prefer (e.g., brightness level) to get prepared for more technical trips when you really don't want the light to fail!
Minor features that may be important
Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.
- If electric, can it also charge my device?
- How hot does it get? Can I easily handle it & move it around? (Not a problem for electric lanterns)
- Does it have something I can use to hang?
- What other lighting features are there (e.g., strobe lighting, adjustable brightness)?