After the sun goes to sleep, the stars come out to play—and with a lantern, you can, too. But hear us out: The lanterns on this list aren’t the heavy, old-school variety you might think of when you first read the headline (well, except for one). They have LEDs and ridiculous brightness. Some have solar panels so they can soak up the sun’s rays for extra run time, and others have hidden power packs to charge your devices. There’s even one that you can manually crank for more light after the batteries peter out.
So first decide what additional features you want in your lantern or portable light, then read on to find the right one for you. It’s time to banish darkness and keep the adventure rolling.
- Best Lantern for Car Camping: Goal Zero Lighthouse 600 Lantern
- Best Lantern for Backpacking: LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger
- Best String Lights: MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger
- Best Miniature Lantern: Black Diamond ReMoji Lantern
Other Top Performers
- Coleman Deluxe Propane Lantern with Hard-Shell Case
- Nite Ize Radiant 400 LED Lantern
- MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern
- REVEL GEAR Trail Hound 30 ft. Camping Light
Best Lantern for Car Camping & Editors’ Choice Award Winner
- Maximum brightness: 600 lumens
- Average run time: 2 hours on high, 48 hours on low
- Battery: Rechargeable via USB and hand crank
- Weight: 1 lb. 1.6 oz.
- Price: $69.95
Test Results: One lantern to rule them all—that may as well be the alternate tagline for this workhorse. A top scorer in every metric that matters, the Lighthouse 600 from Goal Zero has specs that belie its compact dimensions. It’s roughly the size of a coffee mug when its collapsible legs are folded, yet it emits a whopping 600 lumens. That’s enough to illuminate most tent sites without another light aid. Case in point: While car camping at Gross Reservoir outside Boulder, Colorado, one tester set up the Lighthouse 600 at the cook station and it still provided enough ambient light for her pal to pitch the tent without a headlamp 50 feet away.
The simplicity of the Lighthouse 600 is another hallmark. From its single dial, you can fire up both sides of the lantern for 360-degree light or just one for more directional light (like if you wanted to illuminate a small area for playing cards), as well as adjust brightness. The lantern also has a USB port for plugging in and juicing up other devices like a phone, headlamp or portable battery pack from its power stores.
One of our testers toted the Lighthouse 600 along on a road trip from Colorado to California, and it lasted for six nights of meals and nighttime shenanigans before petering out. And when it did, it easily came back to life with a dedicated arm workout. That’s right: Pop the lever out of the top of the lantern and start cranking for a mechanical boost to the battery. (Goal Zero calls it a 10:1 ratio—10 minutes of light for every minute of cranking.) It’s a great insurance policy against a dead battery, making this lantern a versatile choice for emergency kits or bug-out bags as well. (The Lighthouse 600 also pairs neatly with Goal Zero’s suite of solar panels, so it can recharge via UV rays if connected.)
Physical features are a rarity at this weight, but the Lighthouse 600 does have a metal, swinging handle, which makes it easy to carry or pop on a tree branch or tarp line. Buy here.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a traditional lantern, you cannot do better than the Goal Zero Lighthouse 600, which is bright, easy to use and packed with helpful features.
- Nights out: 18
- Testing states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah
- Best testing story: “We instantly made friends with the campers next door as soon as they realized our lantern could burn single-sided,” our road-tripping tester says. “They had a son who went to bed early, and our not blasting their tent wall with a 360-degree light was a big deal to them. We all enjoyed socially distanced bevvies to quietly celebrate.” Three cheers for being nice backcountry neighbors!
Best Lantern for Backpacking & Editors’ Choice Award Winner
- Maximum brightness: 150 lumens
- Average run time: 5 hours on high, 50 hours on low
- Battery: Rechargeable via USB and solar
- Weight: 8.6 oz.
- Price: $49.95
Test Results: OK, backpackers, hear us out. We know weight and space are of the essence, so a lantern may seem like overkill when you already have a headlamp in your kit. But the LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger will convince you otherwise.
As a lantern, the waterproof PackLite Max 2-in-1 from LuminAID delivers up to 150 lumens of light via five modes. Hang the tissue box-size lantern from a tree to illuminate small campsites or affix it to the tent ceiling for visibility when changing or reading (or producing epic night photography). The PackLite Max 2-in-1 can run for up to 50 hours on the lowest setting, too, which is why our testers love it for multiday hikes and hut trips. Best part? The lantern has a built-in solar panel, so you don’t have to worry about dead batts if there’s sun.
Or harness that sunshine and use the PackLite Max 2-in-1 as a charging station. A built-in USB port allows you to plug in a phone, headlamp or camera to juice up your other devices. One tester appreciated the versatility when his phone died on a backcountry ski adventure around Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. “Even after powering up my phone, the PackLite Max 2-in-1 had enough in the tank for a little firepit après in the parking lot,” he says.
Back to weight and space: If we haven’t convinced you yet, consider that the versatile PackLite Max 2-in-1 weighs just half a pound and collapses to the size of a paperback, stowing easily in a pack’s top lid. One Alaska-based guide, who brought it on a two-week ski-mountaineering trip, called it “the best weight I could carry.” Did we mention this lantern also masquerades as a camping pillow in a pinch? Buy here.
Bottom Line: Trekkers will appreciate the versatility of the LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger, a portable lantern and charging station worth its ounces.
- Nights out: 39
- Testing states: Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire and Vermont, plus Alberta, British Columbia, and Yukon Territory, Canada
- Best testing story: One tester discovered that in a pinch the PackLite Max 2-in-1 makes for an OK pillow—“not compared to an actual pillow, but to a pile of smelly clothes with pokey zippers,” she says. On a winter ski-mountaineering trip, she’d hang it from the tent ceiling at night for chores like straightening up drying gear, reading topo maps and removing her contact lenses, then she’d take it down, deflate it “just a smidge” and tuck it in the hood of her sleeping bag.
Best String Lights
- Maximum brightness: 20 lumens
- Average run time: 5 hours on high, 20 hours on low
- Battery: Rechargeable via USB and solar
- Weight: 11.3 oz.
- Price: $44.95
Test Results: A strand of lights might not be an obvious choice for camping, but it should be. Instead of pooling the light in one area like a traditional lantern, string lights let you spread it out or even encircle an area you want to brighten up just so. The effect is A+ ambiance.
Our favorite for the occasion is the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger, an 18-foot-long strand decorated with 10 nodes. The durable nylon cord rarely tangles, easily wrapping up around the plastic base when not in use. That base holds a small solar panel, which can juice up the lights for more twinkling when the battery runs out. MPOWERD claims 16 hours in direct sun can fully charge the device. (We had no problem after a day or two of the lights sitting on a vehicle dashboard in New England.) A built-in USB port means you can also power up other devices with the Luci’s hub.
The Luci Solar String Lights + Charger is a slam dunk for car camping (string it around a picnic table or tent vestibule), but it’s compact enough for backpacking, too. It’s less than a pound and about the size of a New York bagel, so you can easily slide it in the side pocket of a backpack or lash it to the top lid for on-the-go solar charging.
Our testers also lauded its versatility in more casual pursuits. One tester brightened up her tailgate for a season of post-adventure hangs and sunset missions. “Best night: Hot drinks and an apple crumble were enjoyed on the Maine-New Hampshire state line under the glow of these lights,” she wrote on her feedback form. While that tester wished for a few more light nodes on the string, she couldn’t have been happier at the ability to Pinterest-out her truck. Buy here.
Bottom Line: The MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger are a fun and flirty way to light up your space and charge your devices at the same time.
- Nights out: 16
- Testing states: Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Washington
- Best testing story: While testing this string of lights in the snowy woods of New Hampshire this winter, our tester found a new friend in the form of a barn owl, which was perched on a nearby fence. “I flicked through the high, medium and low power levels to see what would happen, and the owl seemed to dig it by hooting softly every time the light changed,” says our tester.
Best Miniature Lantern
- Maximum brightness: 100 lumens
- Average run time: 10 hours on high
- Battery: Rechargeable via USB
- Weight: 4.5 oz.
- Price: $39.95
Test Results: Looking for a simple lantern that you can clip onto a backpack, toss in a gear hammock or keep handy on your way to the outhouse? Look no further. The Black Diamond ReMoji—a rechargeable version of the popular Moji—is a little baseball of a lantern with a couple of D-rings for lashing.
The compact ReMoji sports many of the same settings of a headlamp—maximum brightness, dimmable light, strobe—but with a couple of key differences. For starters, the globe is frosted, which creates soft, ambient light—a pleasant departure from the harsh spotlight effect campers get when hanging a headlamp from the tent ceiling. Second, it has a rainbow cycle, so you can let it flow through the spectrum like hot tub lighting or stop it on the solid color of your choice (including red light).
Features are sparse on this doodad, but that’s kind of the point. The ReMoji has collapsible hooks, which allow you to string it on anything without a carabiner, while magnetic dots let you snap it to a fridge or car door when you’re out of the field. It will fully charge via USB in less than six hours, and it’s waterproof. Buy here.
Bottom Line: For a lightweight, compact lantern that can hang just about anywhere, the rechargeable Black Diamond ReMoji is best in test.
- Nights out: 21
- Testing states: Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Montana and New Hampshire
- Best testing story: On a road trip through New England, one Maine-based tester clipped the ReMoji to her dog’s harness at camp when the sun set each day. The leashed dog, “in his infinite wisdom,” his mom says, took off into the woods on an otherwise routine midnight potty break. “Without the lantern, I wouldn’t have been able to easily spot where he was tangled up with a tree,” says the tester, who then used the ReMoji to pick her way back to the tent.
Other Top Performers
- Maximum brightness: 967 lumens
- Average run time: 8 hours on maximum settings with a standard 16.4-oz. fuel canister
- Power source: Propane fuel
- Weight: 3 lbs. 11 oz.
- Price: $54.95
Test Results: All hail the classic. Light up your backcountry hut, ice-fishing shed or backyard picnic the old-fashioned way with the Coleman Deluxe Propane Lantern. Pop in that 16.4-ounce propane canister you’re likely using in your camping stove, then enjoy the most dependable light in test. An adjustable dial lets you simmer down the intensity to reading-light levels or fire it up to supernova brightness for illuminating your whole campsite. True enough, this lantern may become your best friend in extreme-cold conditions, which can drain batteries on new-fangled lanterns faster than you can say “propane.”
Of course, there are a few reasons the ol’ Coleman is a classic. Most obviously, it’s loud. And, as you’d expect from gear originally developed in the year 1914, it’s also heavy—and not the most intuitive. To use it, screw the lantern atop the fuel canister, tie on the mantles, ignite the propane flow, lower the glass and attach the lid (don’t worry; instructions are included). Buy here.
- Maximum brightness: 400 lumens
- Average run time: 26 hours on High, 400 hours on Low
- Power source: 3 D-cell batteries
- Weight: 15.6 oz.
- Price: $29.95
Test Results: If you want something that goes and goes and goes, the Nite Ize Radiant 400 may be for you. This thing runs for 26 hours on maximum settings and a ridiculous 400 hours (or two weeks and change; not a typo) on its lowest power—easily the longest single run time in our test. It can spit out 400 lumens of light (enough to illuminate small campsites), and its three brightness settings are just basic enough to be functional—high, medium, low. Our testers praised the intuitive single button and the carabiner clip on the top handle of the Radiant 400, easily snapping the lantern to a line, tree limb or gear loop. So, what are the drawbacks? Well, this lantern isn’t rechargeable and more power to you if you keep D-cell batteries on hand. It’s also a bit heavy and bulky (the size of an ice cream pint) for backpacking—when the obscene run time would be a boon. Buy here.
- Maximum brightness: 75 lumens
- Average run time: 6 hours on High, 24 hours on Low
- Battery: Rechargeable via solar
- Weight: 4.4 oz.
- Price: $24.95
Test Results: If we were in the business of writing children’s stories instead of gear reviews, we might select our tester’s MPOWERD Luci Outdoor as the protagonist. This small-but-mighty inflatable, waterproof light has accompanied her on long hikes through Alaska and rafting expeditions around the West. It’s floated with her in backcountry hot springs and served as the backup light in her vehicle. “It’s simple, efficient and darn near bulletproof,” she says. Blow up the Luci Outdoor 2.0 with two breaths, and its 75-lumen light will easily brighten up the cook tent or provide the perfect strobe lightning for a beachside dance party. Deflate it and squish it down to the size of a CD case (remember those?), then pop it in direct sunlight to recharge (MPOWERD says seven hours should do the trick). It lacks the bells and whistles of the LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1, but if simplicity is what you’re after, this is your lantern. Buy here.
- Maximum brightness: 350 lumens
- Average run time: 2 hours on High, 48 hours on Low
- Battery: Rechargeable via USB
- Weight: 1.6 oz.
- Price: $24.95
Test Results: Create a campsite or backyard hangout worthy of the ’Gram with these string lights from REVEL GEAR. The 30-foot-long Trail Hound is pocked with 100 tiny LEDs—or a bulb every 3.6 inches. Charge it via USB, then uncoil it and drape it across your campsite, string it through your tent’s guy loops or decorate a nearby tree for some twinkle. The remote-like clicker lets you turn it on and cycle through eight brightness settings, including a “fire crackling” mode for the coziest atmosphere. The Trail Hound lights turned one Alaska-based tester’s dry (read: no electricity) cabin into a dream home during a snowy, stormy spring. One annoyance: The cord itself is thin and wiry, so untangling these babies as you’re setting up can be a pain. They’re available in bright white, warm white and multicolored options. Buy here.
When choosing the perfect lantern for you, consider power source, brightness, features, weight and portability (especially if you intend to play backcountry two-square with your lantern).
Batteries—of one kind or another—make a lantern tick. Most lanterns run on alkaline or rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and both have their benefits.
A lantern that runs on disposable batteries like the Nite Ize Radiant 400, which uses 3 D-cells, is more predictable. When the lantern dies, pop in new batteries (you are carrying spares with you, right?). Alkaline batteries tend to be sold widely, and they often hold their charge better over time if unused, making them great for emergency-kit lanterns.
A lantern that runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, on the other hand, tends to be more versatile. You can juice it fully and start off every trip at 100 percent by plugging it into a power source like you would your phone. Such lithium-ion batteries also tend to operate better than alkaline batteries in colder conditions, and they hold a more consistent brightness as they die.
In this guide, most lights use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Each one can be charged through an external power source via USB. The Goal Zero Lighthouse 600 can also be charged mechanically with a hand crank, while the LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger, MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger and MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern can also be charged with solar energy, which helps them last even longer away from a wall outlet or electric power source.
In this guide, one light runs on fuel instead of batteries: the Coleman Deluxe Propane Lantern.
The number of lumens, which corresponds to how bright a light is, is often listed in specs as a lantern’s maximum output. The higher the number, the brighter the light in its highest setting.
While some lanterns boast hundreds and hundreds of lumens, you don’t actually need all that many to see things close at hand. If you’re only using your lantern to create ambiance or look at things close-up, you can get away with 100 lumens or fewer, using something like the Black Diamond ReMoji or MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern. (String lights like the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger or the REVEL GEAR Trail Hound are also great options for this.)
If you want to see a little more—like your cook space, your eating area or even your entire campsite or hut—brightness is more important. The Goal Zero Lighthouse 600, LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger, Coleman Deluxe Propane Lantern and Nite Ize Radiant 400 are more traditional lanterns in this sense.
All lanterns create light, but some can do more. The Black Diamond ReMoji can cycle through a rainbow of colors. The Goal Zero Lighthouse 600, LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger and MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger allow you to charge other devices through built-in USB ports. Decide what additional features or light settings you want before selecting your lantern.
Weight and Portability
Finally, consider if you plan to carry your lantern on backcountry adventures and where you’d like to store it.
On this list, the LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger, Black Diamond ReMoji and MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern are the best choices for backpackers who will want a lightweight lantern that doesn’t consume too much prized space inside a pack.
Each lantern on this list will fit nicely inside a gear bin or pack when not in use, save the Coleman Deluxe Propane Lantern. But that one comes with a special hard case.
In spring and early summer of 2021, we sent 13 nighttime-loving testers into the field with the best lanterns and string lights available at REI Co-op. They lit up the darkness across the country, from Southeast Alaska (with a whopping three hours of daylight in early spring) to the White Mountains of New Hampshire (just nine hazy hours). They tried out lanterns in tents and huts, as well as backyards and tailgates. One lantern even made its way into a last-minute, under-the-stars proposal. (They said yes.)
After dozens of nights, our co-op member-testers filled out feedback forms that asked them to evaluate each light’s portability, durability, brightness, battery life, features and ease of use. They rated each lantern or string lights on a 100-point scale for each metric; the scores listed here are the averages.
The eight lights featured in this guide received the highest average scores in the test. The Goal Zero Lighthouse 600 Lantern (98) and LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger (97) received nearly perfect scores all-around, earning our coveted REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Awards. The MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger (90) and Black Diamond ReMoji Lantern (92) scored the next-highest, proving that they are great options in their respective categories. And finally, the Coleman Deluxe Propane Lantern (80), Nite Ize Radiant 400 LED Lantern (85), MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern (89) and REVEL GEAR Trail Hound 30 ft. Camping Light (75) scored high in most—but not all—categories, carving out special use cases in their respective niches.
Article by Josette Deschambeault. Josette is a dog mom and self-proclaimed water woman who contributes to REI’s Co-op Journal and Uncommon Path. She’s freelanced for publications like Backpacker magazine while guiding in Alaska, Colorado and Maine, and is currently based out of Skagway, Alaska. When she’s not on the water, she’s road-tripping to camp in new places. REI member since 2019.