Choosing A Tent Light Or Lantern
If you use a tent, whether it be at the beach, beside the lake, at a campsite, in the outdoors or even just in your back garden, you’ll know how much fun this can be. And there’s no need for your enjoyment to stop when the sun goes down – low cost, effective lighting is easy to arrange these days.
There’s a wide variety of lighting solutions available to suit your needs. LED lights are very energy efficient and will illuminate your tent, or even your campsite, very effectively for long periods before they need to be recharged, or before the batteries need to be replaced.
Before you decide which tent light to buy, there are a few things to take into consideration.
Different Types Of Tent Lights
There are a number of different types of lights and lanterns that you might find useful when camping. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages.
A basic flashlight can be very useful when you’re camping. You can get some very small and powerful LED flashlights these days which are lightweight and easy to stow in your backpack – or even just tuck in a pocket or hang on a belt loop.
They are very good for lighting your way around a campsite or for task illumination. However, the light they produce is very directional and not great for general illumination. You can get flashlights that disperse their light more widely, but it still tends to be pretty much unidirectional.
Flashlights are small, lightweight and relatively inexpensive.
Apart from the head mounting, the technology is pretty much the same as flashlights. LED bulbs are pretty much the norm, and these give a good amount of light for fairly lengthy periods before you have to recharge or replace the batteries.
As with flashlights, they give good levels of lighting which is very directed. This is good for finding your way around a campsite or task lighting, but not so good for general ambient lighting. They also have the slight drawback that, if you’re talking to someone, they will be blinded by your flashlight.
However, headlamps are good for solo campers or for anyone who wants a powerful, unidirectional light source at low cost.
Tent Lamps And Camping Lanterns
If you want a more widespread light, a tent lamp or camping lantern is probably best for you. These often come with a hook attachment so that you can suspend it inside your tent, off a guy rope – or possibly a conveniently located branch.
They will give you illumination over a 360 degree area, so they are ideal for sitting around camp having a coffee or just for use inside your tent at night.
The technology is very similar to flashlights and LED lights are very popular. However, you can still get more traditional gas powered ones if you wish. These produce quite a bit more light – but they tend to be fairly large and heavy.
Lanterns in general do tend to be just a little larger and heavier than flashlights and headlamps – and, as a rule, the more light they produce, the larger and heavier they will be.
However, you can get some models which are quite small and compact. There are even some telescopic ones available. These sometimes work as flashlights in the “closed” position and lanterns when opened out.
Here’s a short video which shows a small, collapsible lantern, which even has a hand crank charging method:
How Much Light Do You Need?
It might be tempting to choose the maximum amount of light available. However, it’s worth remembering that the higher the light level, the larger and heavier the light source, and its power source, is likely to be. Operating time may also be reduced for higher light levels.
The output of a light source is measured in a unit called “lumens”. The higher the number of lumens, the more light is produced.
Most manufacturers will state the number of lumens that their kit is capable of producing. In many cases, you will be able to source lights, lamps and lanterns that have variable settings – low – medium – high, for example. You may also be able to change the type of light produced, from a tight beam to something more diffuse perhaps.
Obviously, when it comes to light level, there will be a high degree of variation from one person to another. However, as a very broad guideline, the light levels below will suit most people.
- Up to 100 lumens – fine for lighting a medium sized tent.
- Between 100 and 200 lumens – enough for lighting the area outside your tent
- Above 300 lumens – bright enough to light up a camp area for several people
Protection And Durability
Whatever type of tent lighting you opt for, it’s quite probable that it will be subjected to the odd bump, knock and drop. You need to choose a model that is rugged enough to withstand a little bit of rough handling.
Fortunately, LED based lighting is inherently fairly robust – since there are no filaments to break. However, it’s a good idea to check for any drop testing info and read a few customer reviews if you can.
It’s also well worth checking for water resistance and/or waterproofing. Even if you only intend to use your light inside your tent, there’s always a risk of exposure to water – possibly in the form of condensation.
At the risk of stating the obvious, “water resistant” and “waterproof” are not the same thing. In order to avoid any confusion, you can look for the “IP rating”. That is the Ingress Protection rating (sometimes referred to as the International Protection rating).
The IP rating consists of 2 numbers, the first refers to the degree of protection against solids, the second refers to the degree of protection against liquids. The higher the number, the better the degree of protection.
For lighting, the first digit is often ignored, as protection against solids is not critical and therefore rarely tested. You will typically see lighting noted as IPX4.
IPX 4 lights are safe enough to use in conditions of light rain. Even fairly heavy rain would probably be okay – but if you were to drop an IPX4 light in water, it would probably fail. Splashing is ok, immersion is not.
Any higher number will also be quite acceptable for your camping needs.
Operating Time And Power Source
Sometimes referred to as “run time” or “burn time”, the length of time that your light can operate for without replacing or recharging the batteries is something to watch out for.
Manufacturer’s claims should be taken with a pinch of salt. They are produced under test laboratory conditions, and these may be quite different to your camping conditions.
Some lights can be charged from UV cells, others use rechargeable batteries which can be charged from a car socket or other form of charger.
It’s worth checking on the power source type also. Alkaline batteries lose a lot of their oomph in cold conditions. Lithium-ion batteries perform much better in cold conditions – so go for Li-ion if you are planning camping in sub-zero conditions.
- Hanging and mounting: Many tent lights and lanterns will have a loop or hook to let you hang them from tent loops, guy ropes or branches. Some may have feet to keep them stable if you want to use them in a standing position. Some may have magnetic mounts. Choose a model that suits your needs.
- Ease of use: You might be fumbling with your tent light in cold, wet and dark conditions. Choose one that has simple, easy to operate controls.