The Ultimate Guide to Lanterns

Lantern

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: Maybe you don't want to go to sleep right when the sun sets, and you want to hang out for awhile. Play some games, cook a nice meal. The epitome of the camping experience is to gather around the campfire. But sometimes wildfire regulations don't allow campfires, or you're just too tired to go through the work of building one. Let the lantern light your way!

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

No .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

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.

Type Candle-powered* Electric-powered Fuel-powered
Example qualities & features Example images Candle lantern Electric lantern Fuel-powered lantern

General fuel sources

Check manufacturer's instructions for your model, important consideration that affects total weight & size, total price, and availability

Candles (beeswax) 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 Price

$20-60

Lantern only, excludes candles

$20-100 $10-100**
Power Dimmer, ~10 lumens per candle Moderate, 200-500 lumens Brighter, up to 1000+ lumens*
Rationale 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.


Price

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

Power

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)?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Electric type
Model Black Diamond Spot headlamp
Black Diamond Apollo

Buy

MSRP with tax

with USB charger

$70

Rent

on full charge

$6+

Weight

9oz

255g

Power 250 lumens
Carry size & notes Like a large fist

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

Lanterns are most effective when they are hung above the area to be illuminated. This prevents them from being too blinding & allows them to illuminate not just from the side (imagine you're cooking with a lantern at the table, you really want it to be above so you can see into the pot!).

The most important tip for battery-operated devices: take out your batteries! There are too many stories where the device's on-button was inadvertently pressed, and so it was completely drained by the time it was needed. Not to mention, in cold environments, batteries will drain (you should, in these cases, keep your batteries in an interior pocket, close to your body heat), and in hot environments they can explode (you should also keep them in a pocket in this case, somewhere out of the sun).

Maintenance tips

Repairing

Corrosion: Remove the battery (you may need to use a coin to try to wedge it out if the corrosion has caused it to become stuck). Then, use a Q-tip with vinegar (for both acidic & alkaline batteries) to scrub away the corrosion, and then a new Q-tip with water to lightly rinse the area. Let it thoroughly dry before storing. Take care as battery corrosion can cause chemical burns!

Storing

Minimize battery leak & risk of corrosion by storing batteries outside of the device in a cool, dry, dark place

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!