Good lighting is essential on site. James Stanbury takes a look at 14 of the best camping lanterns
Have cutting-edge LED lanterns made the old fuel-burning models obsolete? James Stanbury tests 14 lamps to find out
THE SURPRISE HEATWAVE of 2018 has been a great reminder of just how pleasant warm evenings outdoors can be, rather than having to retire inside the van after a day exploring. Although lanterns were long ago replaced as a means of iluminating caravan interiors, they come into their own for lighting outdoor tables, gazebos and even awnings. LED models throw out lots of light, despite being compact and lightweight. Doesn’t it all seem a world away from those old gas-powered lamps of yesteryear? Well, yes and no. Modern lanterns are a bit like electric cars. These vehicles are clean and fume-free, but for long distances travelling with the family and a heavy caravan towed behind, they simply don’t compare to the mile-munching ability of a good old diesel engine. Similarly, for LED lamps, longevity per charge is the issue. It’ll surprise nobody that an LED lamp’s battery starts to deplete the second you turn it on. What’s less obvious is by how much. Our tests have found that many models’ light output dips to less than 50% of starting intensity after just an hour. In contrast, fuel-burning lanterns tend to give out a constant level of light until a few minutes before their tanks are empty. In other words, if you intend to use your lantern a lot, and want to be able to see your dessert as easily as your starter, a fuel-burning lamp should definitely remain a consideration.
Our tests started by measuring LEDS’ initial light output, plus levels after two, three, four and five hours of continuous use. We factored maximum against average output over that five-hour period, and considered quality. If used in the centre of a table, a lantern’s output should be suitably diffused to prevent glare when you look across. Similarly, the best lanterns spread their output widely and evenly, to illuminate a large area. Some even boast different types of light output, such as cool, warm, daylight and candle simulation. This might be a novelty, but it’s not without a degree of charm. Also essential, to prevent dazzle and increase battery life, is a selection of output levels. Traditionally, camping lanterns were also often suspended in some way – particularly when illuminating a structure like an awning or gazebo. So we checked which have hooks, rather than just handles. And we also considered all-in weights – the lantern plus its batteries – to see which models are within what most accessory hooks can cope with. Then we checked beam patterns, to make sure the reflector arrangement doesn’t leave a large dark spot beneath the lamp. Lanterns that can be hung upside down, acting as true downlighters, are even better. Finally, we took into account any extra features. Some models, for example, also sport USB charging facilities, allowing the lantern’s power source to boost mobiles, tablets and other gadgets. This could be very handy while you’re sitting around the picnic table of an evening. Better still, some lanterns even boast integral Bluetooth speakers, to either get the party going, or provide a chilledout soundtrack to enhance your warm summer evenings outdoors.
Some models even boast different types of light output, such as cool, warm, daylight and candle simulation, which is not without a degree of charm